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Culture

Berlinale Log: Festival Gets into Gere

Richard Gere plays the gentleman, Catherine Zeta-Jones the Queen Bee and Renée Zellweger the tearful young actress at the first showing at this year's Berlin International Film Festival.

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An explosive start to the Berlinale: Rob Marshall's musical firework, Chicago

Berlinale Palace cinema, 1 p.m.: Outside, snow flakes drift slowly across Potsdamer Platz and an icy wind makes passers-by snuggle deeper into their winter coats. Inside, a firework of colours explodes on the screen, and viewers snuggle deeper into their red, plush seats at the Berlinale Palace film theatre. It is the first day of Berlin's 53rd International film festival, and what better film to start the show with than "Chicago," Rob Marshall's magnificent musical firework?

And magnificent it was. With its whirlwind of colourful, glittering costumes, flurry of gorgeously dressed dancers spinning across the stage and host of famous faces, "Chicago" was the movie to start a festival which may equal with film venues Cannes and Venice in significance, but lacks the charm of these elegant, southern European coastal resorts. Indeed it warmed the hearts of Thursday's first audience so, that they even applauded and cheered Marshall's masterpiece when it was over. As one spectator from a Hollywood magazine said, obviously moved after the showing, he had been to Berlinale for five years, but "had not experienced such response before."

Grand Hyatt Hotel, 3.15 p.m.: Hundreds of journalists struggle to get into a room which is already bursting with members of the press. Cameramen fight for the best places in front of a long, white table, on which name tags are taped: "Rob Marshall, director", " Catherine Zeta-Jones, actress", " Richard Gere, actor" and " Renée Zellweger, actress". A melange of languages from all over the world mingle to form a constant buzz, which only subsides when a severe-looking bodyguard walks across the stage.

A long wait later, someone starts clapping to one side of the stage. A jet-haired, queenly looking Catherine Zeta-Jones steps on the stage, followed by a comparatively small, lithe and blond-haired Zellweger, both dressed in black. Richard Gere, in grey flannel suit and spectacles, follows, with quick, light steps. The cameramen are ordered by a bodyguard to sit down. There is a short confusion as to who sits where, then finally, the conference begins.

Renee Zellweger, Richard Gere und Catherine Zeta-Jones

What follows is a mixture of ongoing praise from the cast for their director, and a show of joviality from the side of the actors. The stars are in a good mood. Rob Marshall is requested to give a "Marshall Plan" for upcoming directors who aim to film a musical, Gere is asked by a serious looking German journalist to link the film to the motto of this year's festival "towards tolerance" (which he refuses to do), and Zellweger loses herself in a gush of emotion over the "truly extraordinary" experience. Gere rolls his eyes and makes a show of looking bored.

The conference reaches a peak when a Danish journalist reads a letter aloud which says that every woman in the world experienced an orgasm when Richard Gere was awarded a Golden Globe. Gere, suddenly wide awake grins and mouths into the microphone: "are there any women actually having orgasms now?".

Catherine Zeta-Jones

4p.m. The organizer, rather like a pub owner calling for "last orders", announces the last questions. Questioned on any possible rivalry between the two actresses in real life (they are rivals in the film), Catherine Zeta Jones flashes a smile and counters with a request that every woman in the room should kiss their next female neighbour. A male voice shouts from somewhere in the throng: "Are the men allowed to kiss the girls too?". Everyone laughs.

Outside, a straggle of fans mill in the cold around the hotel's back entrance. A sleek, black Mercedes shoots out of the garage's gaping entrance and noses its way through the crowds. A small group of young girls start to shout, it is Richard Gere inside the car, waving majestically from its dark inside. Passersby stop and turn their heads, but quickly move on, hurrying in the cold, seemingly unperturbed. After all, for Berliners, it is only Berlinale.