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Berlin film fest kicks off with an international mix of upheaval

February 8, 2012 | 12:21 pm

Berlin film festival 2012
The 62nd Berlin International Film Festival kicks off Thursday, and with nearly 400 films screening over 10 days in Germany’s chilly capital, it's hard to find just one theme to describe this year's Berlinale. To be sure, the event’s signature blend of politics and pomp is on display, and festival director Dieter Kosslick may have summed it up best with one of his favorite words: upheaval.

Eighteen films will have their world premieres in the competition section, including “Barbara” from German favorite Christian Petzold, about a woman trying to flee 1980s East Germany to meet her lover; “Captive,” by Filipino director Brillante Mendoza, which concerns an aid worker (Isabelle Huppert) kidnapped by Islamic separatists; and “Bai lu yuan” (“White Deer Plain”) from Chinese director Wang Quan'an, who won a Silver Bear for “Tuya's Marriage” in 2007. The three-hour film, which focuses on three generations of a family from China's western plain over a half-century, is based on what's been called “one of the most controversial Chinese novels in contemporary times.”

The only U.S. competition entry this year is the 1960s drama “Jayne Mansfield's Car,” directed by and starring Billy Bob Thornton, with Robert Duvall, John Hurt and Kevin Bacon. The film is the first co-production between Russian AR Films and American Media Talent Group, which founded a film investment fund together.

The opening gala features “Les Adieux à la Reine” (“Farewell, My Queen”), from director Benoît Jacquot. Stars Diane Kruger, Lea Seydoux and Virginie Ledoyen will walk the red carpet, adding the requisite glamour and gowns. The film focuses on the last days of Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution, with Kruger taking the lead role.

“Everything's a bit French this year,” mused Kosslick at the festival's introductory news conference, referring to the numerous Gallic productions, co-production, and guests punctuating the program, from the Culinary Cinema section's “The Chef,” starring Jean Reno, to the jury's François Ozon and Charlotte Gainsbourg.

Among the other jurors this year are Jake Gyllenhaal, Dutch photographer and filmmaker Anton Corbijn, German actress Barbara Sukowa, and Asghar Farhadi, the Iranian director of “A Separation.” Mike Leigh is leading the panel.

Films screening out of competition include the seductive costume drama “Bel Ami,” with Robert Pattinson and Uma Thurman; the 3-D “The Flying Swords of Dragon Gate,” with Jet Li; and the IRA-themed “Shadow Dancer” with Clive Owen, Gillian Anderson and Andrea Riseborough.

The festival's highlights and classics section, Berlinale Special, will premiere several documentaries. One hotly awaited title is the bio-doc “Marley” from “The Last King of Scotland” director Kevin Macdonald. U.S. distribution rights for the portrait of the reggae legend were bought ahead of the festival by Magnolia Pictures; VH1 has secured first dibs for television. Also on tap is Werner Herzog's “Death Row,” a lengthy companion piece to last year's prison documentary “Into the Abyss”; the film will be shown in the U.S. as a series on the cable channel Investigation Discovery. Then there's “Anton Corbijn Inside Out,” from Klaartje Quirijns, which could mark the first time a member of the jury is profiled by a festival film.

The Berlinale this year includes a special focus on the Arab world, with films, panel discussions and installations representing Egypt, Syria, Jordan, United Arab Emirates, Lebanon and other countries. Among the screenings are “Althawra ... Khabar” (“Reporting ... A Revolution”) by Bassam Mortada, which documents the role played by independent media during the Egyptian revolution; “Hijos de las Nubes, La última Colonia” (“Sons of the Clouds, the Last Colony”) directed by Alvaro Longoria and produced by Javier Bardem, about the forgotten colonial war in the Western Sahara; and the World Cinema Fund-sponsored “Death for Sale,” about three friends trying to make their way through the underworld of an impoverished Moroccan city.

Keanu Reeves will premiere a film he produced, “Side by Side,” directed by Christopher Kenneally, which compares digital and “photochemical” filmmaking through interviews with people in the industry including Steven Soderbergh, Joel Schumacher, John Malkovich and Lars von Trier. Berlinale Special will also present a selection of films — from “Kramer vs. Kramer” to “The Iron Lady” — in tribute to Meryl Streep, who will receive this year’s Honorary Golden Bear.


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— Susan Stone in Berlin

Photo: A poster advertises the 62nd Berlinale film festival in Berlin's Potsdamer Platz on Wednesday. Credit: John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images.