Political resistance on Berlinale red carpet | Film | DW | 09.02.2017
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Political resistance on Berlinale red carpet

The 67th Berlinale, Berlin's international film festival, opened with a star-studded gala and talk from film artists about politics and resistance.

As another Berlinale begins in the German capital, the global celebration of film promises to be the most political yet. 

Industry luminaries descended on Berlin Thursday evening, taking to the red carpet at the Berlinale Palast to kick off the 67th Berlin International Film Festival. Leading the way were members of the international jury: US actress Maggie Gyllenhaal, Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson, German actress Julia Jentsch, Chinese director and former Golden Bear winner Wang Quan'an and Dutch director Paul Verhoeven, who serves as president of the jury this year.

They weren't the only international stars in Berlin for the festival. Also in attendance were actor Richard Gere, fresh from a meeting with Angela Merkel, director Loira Poitras, Oscar winner for "Citizen Four" and Berlinale documentary award judge, and actress Sandra Hüller, star of the German Oscar-nominated hit, "Toni Erdmann."

'Django' - a timely opening

The stars took to the red carpet ahead of a viewing of the French film "Django," one of 24 international films in competition, including 18 competing for the coveted Golden Bear and Silver Bear. Based on the life of legendary French-Romani jazz guitarist Jean "Django" Reinhardt, "Django" is a biopic with powerful political overtones as it traces the musician's struggles to escape Nazi-occupied France with his family.

Image of Django Reinhardt with his guitar (c): ullstein bild - Roger Viollet

The original Django, who fled Nazi-occupied Paris in 1943

Director Etienne Comar has created a lament to the persecution of Roma and Sinti people during the Holocaust, and he was not afraid to compare the film's main theme to the racism and xenophobia underlining populist politics today - both in the United States under President Donald Trump as well as in France, where anti-immigrant Marine Le Pen is a strong contender for presidency this year.

"I realized that there were a lot of parallels," said Comar. "Refugees, the way you can contain people from travel."

French actor Reda Kateb, who plays the main character in the film, hoped it would help spread awareness. "Music and art change the way we look and listen to the world," he said.

Camar added that authoritarianism opposes artistic expression that is often borne of diversity. "It's no secret that Nazi propaganda tried to draw up these rules for jazz, which blended all sorts of different cultures," he said of an attempt to strip Django's music of black American blues and jazz influences.

Cecile de France, who plays Django's star-crossed lover and rescuer, spoke of the strong female characters in the film (including a Romani mother who stands up to her persecutors). "She's a woman who represents emancipation," she said of her own character. "She has several lovers. She embodies this amazing freedom of the jazz age. I like the idea that Django is surrounded by these women."

Political resistance on everyone's tongues

Maggie Gyllenhaal waves to the crowd (c): REUTERS/F. Bensch

Jury member Maggie Gyllenhaal drew screams from the crowd

Despite a promise made by the director of the Berlinale, Dieter Kosslick, to never mention the US president by name during the festival "until he is impeached," the man was already a consistent topic of conversation on the first day.

"It's an amazing time to be an American at an international festival," said actress Maggie Gyllenhaal, a member of the jury, on which her brother, actor Jake Gyllenhaal, had served in 2012. "I feel I want people to know that there are many people in my country who are willing to resist."

Mexican director and actor Diego Luna of "Rogue One" fame was asked to comment on the subject of the wall that Trump wants to build between the US and his home country. "The only positive thing is there has to be reaction, and I want to be a part of that," he said. "I'm here to investigate how to tear down walls, apparently there are many experts here and I want to bring that information back to Mexico."

Claudia Roth wearing a shirt that says 'Unpresidented' (c): picture-alliance/dpa/B. von Jutrczenka

Political messages abounded, including on German politician Claudia Roth's ball gown

The theme continued at the opening gala at the Berlinale Palast, with presenter and German comedian Anke Engelke asking - in a lightly-veiled dig at Trump's Muslim ban - the foreign guests in the audience: "Are you here to attend the festival, or is someone keeping you from going back to your home country?"

Politicians among attendees

In addition to members of the film industry, celebrities of all stripes were in attendance. Also speaking at the gala was German Federal Commissioner for Culture and the Media Monika Grütters, who implored film artists to portray the truth in an age of "fake news" and "alternative facts." Berlin's mayor, Michael Müller, also promised that once-divided Berlin would resist the rise of populism and nationalism. 

There were long queues for tickets on the opening day of the Berlinale, the only major European film festival open to the public. Around 400 films from 70 countries will screen during the Berlinale, the first major event on the European film calendar.

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