February 14, 2009 / 1:59 AM / 10 years ago

London tale, Iran tragedy lead Berlin film charge

BERLIN (Reuters) - The story of an odd couple coming together in the aftermath of the London suicide attacks of 2005 and an Iranian tragedy about social conventions are among the favourites for the Berlin film festival’s top prize on Saturday.

The 11-day annual showcase of international cinema winds up with an evening awards ceremony when the Golden Bear for best picture and Silver Bears in other categories are handed out.

Berlin traditionally champions independent, small-budget pictures from arthouse directors that tackle tough issues.

There are nearly 20 films in the main competition and hundreds more shown in sideline sections, attracting reporters from around the world and hundreds of thousands of cinema-goers.

Although the 2009 competition lineup has been described by critics as disappointing, several films emerged as frontrunners.

They are led by “London River”, French-Algerian director Rachid Bouchareb’s tale of a white woman and black man united in their search for two children missing after the 2005 attacks.

Also broadly popular was “About Elly”, about middle-class Iranians whose trip to the Caspian Sea turns to tragedy as they seek to uphold social customs by layering lie upon lie.

“The Messenger”, starring Woody Harrelson as an army officer assigned to inform next of kin about soldiers killed in combat, won warm praise. Renee Zellweger in the witty 1950s comedy “My One And Only”, a late entry, is also in the running.

BIG NAMES FLOP

For other big names the reviews were less kind.

“Mammoth”, starring Gael Garcia Bernal, tackles the pros and cons of this year’s hot-topic issue globalisation, but its aggregate score in a poll of critics fell short of “poor”.

Faring little better was minimalist fashion spoof “Rage”, in which not even Jude Law playing a cross-dressing model called Minx could save director Sally Potter from a critical mauling.

And “Happy Tears” had a sorry reception, despite Demi Moore and Parker Posey playing the lead roles.

More positively, reviewers said “Gigante” from Uruguay told a simple tale of a supermarket security guard effectively and China’s “Forever Enthralled” was a visually sumptuous take on the life of Mei Lanfang, a famous Peking opera star.

Also likely to be on the jury’s radar is “Everyone Else”, a German entry, “Little Soldier”, about a Danish female soldier who returns home after serving abroad, and revenge saga “Katalin Varga”, British director Peter Strickland’s debut feature film.

Mournful Peruvian tale “The Milk of Sorrow” is seen as an outside bet.

Enough stars hit Berlin’s red carpet in 2009 to keep director Dieter Kosslick, and the media, happy.

Zellweger, Moore and Bernal were joined by Keanu Reeves, Clive Owen, U2’s The Edge, Kate Winslet, Steve Martin and Leonardo DiCaprio, who was in town for a peace award.

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