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Culture

Berlinale Offers Drama and Glitz on Opening Night

The Berlinale has never been afraid of screening films dealing with big political events. So it's no surprise that the festival's opener is an action thriller about the dark and often crooked world of global banking.

A sign advertising the Berlinale

It's show time for the Berlin Film Festival

The Berlin Film Festival promises a memorable starting film when it opens on Thursday, Feb. 5.

German director Tom Tykwer's "The International" stars Clive Owen as an Interpol agent and Naomi Watts as a New York attorney who go after the world's biggest bank to try to expose the dirty business it runs in financing wars and terror.

"Anyone who has moved against this bank has ended up dead", warns Owen's character a short way into the movie.

Movie will set the tone

Actress Kate Winslett

There will be plenty of star power at this year's festival

While "The International" draws on the story of big global banks that have been caught over the years dabbling in dubious deals, Tykwer's movie seems likely to resonate with the current crisis gripping the world economy, which was triggered by upheaval in the banking business.

"The opening film sets the tone for the festival," said Berlinale director Dieter Kosslick in the run-up to the opening of what is one of the world's top three film festivals. The impact of the global economic turmoil on ordinary people has emerged as a major theme of the festival.

"Many films suddenly reflect reality better than anything else," Kosslick told a Berlinale press conference last week. "Reality has really caught up with fiction this year."

Expect a star-studded opening

Scene from The International of Clive Owen and Naomi Watts walking

"The International" will set the tone for the festival

Coming in the middle of a bleak Berlin winter, the 10-day festival provides a touch of glamour and glitz to the German capital, with the 59th Berlinale rolling out the red carpet for a slew of world stars.

The list of celebrities includes Michelle Pfeiffer, Demi Moore, Renee Zellweger, Kate Winslett, Steve Martin, Keanu Reeves, Gael Garcia Bernal and Joe Dellesandro, who starred as a hulky sexual presence in several Andy Warhol movies during the 1960s and 1970s.

"I don't think I'll be alone on the red carpet," said Kosslick.

Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio is also expected to be in town this month for the Cinema for Peace, which is held as a parallel event to the Berlinale. The Cinema for Peace seeks to promote the cause of peace in the international film business.

All eyes on the Golden Bear

Golden Bear in front of a sign

The Golden Bear is up for grabs

Of the 26 films selected to be shown in the festival's main lineup, 17 are world premieres and include productions from China, Britain, Iran, Poland, Uruguay and the United States.

A seven-member international jury headed up by Academy Award-winning British actress Tilda Swinton will decide which films take home the Berlinale's prestigious prizes, including its coveted Golden Bear, the winner of which is selected from a field of 18 films.

That field includes British director Stephen Frears' "Cheri" as well as "Darbareye Elly" ("About Elly") from Iranian director Asghar Farhadi and Chinese director Chen Kaige's "Forever Enthralled" about a famous Peking opera star during the first part of the last century.

Also in the competition line-up is Paris-born director Francois Ozon's "Ricky," about an extraordinary child, and veteran Polish director Andrzej Wajda's latest film, "Tatarak" ("Sweet Rush"), about how an ageing doctor's life is turned upside down when she meets a younger man.

Festival not afraid of politics

Scene from The Messenger showing Woody Harrelson in a car

Woody Harrelson has a difficult job in "The Messenger"

More than 6,000 films were submitted to this year's Berlinale, which is the first big international film festival of the year.

The Berlinale is also been held at the start of the year marking the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the implosion of communism across Central Europe.

As a result, this year's festival also includes a series of movies touching on the years surrounding the end of the Soviet empire.

The series, called After Winter Comes Spring - Films Presaging the Fall of the Wall, includes documentaries, animations and feature films made in eastern Europe in the years leading up to the fall of communism.

But then, the Berlinale has always been keen to face up to major political events.

Mouth-watering selection

Indeed, this year's Berlinale steps back from looking at the daily horrors of the Iraq war to portray the conflict's impact on the home front and the human costs of the war.

One exmample is Israeli-born Oren Moverman's "The Messenger" starring Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson. It tells the story of the army representatives who are assigned to visit families to inform that their relatives have died in combat.

But the festival program also includes some light-hearted moments such as British-born Richard Loncraine's "My One and Only."

Set in the 1950s and starring Renee Zellweger and Kevin Bacon, Loncraine's film is a comedy about a young woman's attempts to find a wealthy man to finance a new life for herself and her sons.

For the third year, the Berlinale is also mounting its Culinary Cinema section featuring gala screenings of food-themed films with meals prepared by top European chefs.

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