The 60th Annual Berlinale Film Festival: Half-time report

Metropolis by Fritz Lang Trailer - For more funny videos, click here

While the weather is cold in Berlin and the streets are a treacherous ice-skating rink, the 60th Berlinale is continuously afforded a red hot reception by an enthusiastic public. After all, there are 400 films to be seen, including the big productions competing for the Golden Bear, the Panorama Series with its many exciting offerings, and the New German Cinema and Forum, where the search for developing trends is obvious, and where young directors try to find success and acceptance.

But these various categories were not enough for Festival Director Dieter Kosslick. Highlights of the best films spanning 60 years of festival glitz can be revisited in Retrospective. The focus here is on revisiting the grand movies of the East German DEFA.

Potsdamer Platz, the epicenter of the film madness is dominated by people rushing to and fro, from long lines at the ticket outlets to the long lines at sold out movie theatres. English is the unifying language in this Babel of different tongues, and is also predominant in the subtitles of the various foreign films.

Thus it comes at no surprise that the original version of Metropolis, lasting almost two and a half hours, took center stage in the opening days of the festival. This uncut version, found in a Buenos Aires museum, restored at a cost of 600,000.00 Euro by the F.W.Murnau Foundation, was accompanied live during viewing by the 50 members of the Rundfunk Symphonie Orchester Berlin. This production with the original musical score was enjoyed on January 12 by 1,500 people at the Friedrichstadt-Palast and aired live on the TV channel ARTE, thus making it the biggest production of the Berlinale. It is an entirely new movie now, not any longer the Hollywood-cut version in which the machine-turned-monster-woman takes center stage, but it is dominated by breathtaking scenes of de-humanized masses and a somewhat saccharine love story. Fritz Lang, if he were alive today, could not claim, as he did in London in 1927 after the cuts, that this was no longer his film.

Sixty is the important number this year at the Berlinale. This may explain, somewhat tongue in cheek, that the 60 years of separation of the aged lovers Liu from Taiwan and his sweetheart Yu-E in Tuan Yuan were the main reason to choose the Chinese movie by Wang Quan'an as the big opening film of the Berlinale. Otherwise it remains an unanswered question, why this quiet and slow-moving film, although well acted in an unassuming way, was bestowed such great honor.

There could have been so many better choices for an opening film. For example, Roman Polanski's The Ghost Writer would have been exciting and timely, but Polanski's real life drama ran interference. The German -Austrian The Robber by Benjamin Heisenberg, an excellent movie about obsessions both criminal and personal, could have been another option. Unfortunately, another great option, the Indian production My Name is Khan by Karan Johar and with India's most famous actor Shah Rukh Khan while screened, was not included in the competition. It hits on the human tragedies caused by discrimination, this time against Muslims. Sometimes a little too sentimental, it remains spellbinding during all of its two-and-a-half hours.

Martin Scorsese's horror drama Shutter Island did not get good ratings. It is filled with endless clichés and became the biggest disappointment so far. Berlin likes the more quiet tones, less flash, more soul-searching, more intellectual drama. There are indeed some fine films dealing with the criminal side of life, though. Besides the serious movie by Heisenberg, there is a most delightful Norwegian film noir A Somewhat Gentle Man by Hans Petter Moland. Here, a murderer finds, after his release from prison, an escape from his criminal connections.

It was a great relief, to find a kind and light-hearted treatment of a serious theme in this Norwegian film. So far, humorous touches are difficult to find in the huge selection of films covering a wide spectrum of human struggles, be it political, social or personal. Lisa Cholodenko's movie The Kids Are All Right brought American light-heartedness to the predominantly serious approach of so many films. Integration conflicts of Turkish/German issues, religion, gayness, interpersonal conflicts — all these are big issues at this Berlinale, but, do they have to be so somberly treated, all the time? Oh, so German â?? or is it because the internationally renowned and eccentric movie-maker Werner Herzog is president of the Berlin Jury? One can only hope that jury member Reneé Zellweger will add the lightness of being to the selection process for the big prize â?? the Golden Bear.

â?? Angelika Jansen