BERLIN, Feb 13 (Reuters) - Duds stuck in the memory more
than discoveries at the Berlin film festival, where critics were
underwhelmed by the quality of the main competition line up.
As the 11-day annual showcase of international cinema draws
to a close with the awards ceremony on Saturday, there are four
or five out of 19 entries seen as contenders for best picture.
They are led by "London River", French-Algerian director
Rachid Bouchareb's tale of an odd couple united in their search
for two children missing after the 2005 suicide bomb attacks in
London which killed 52 people.
Britain's Brenda Blethyn and Sotigui Kouyate of Mali gave
compelling performances, and the picture's subject matter could
boost its chances in the eyes of the jury.
Not everyone liked it, however, and there was no clear
favourite for the coveted Golden Bear award in 2009.
"With no single stand out masterpiece, handicapping the
Berlinale Golden Bear winner ... is proving a difficult task,"
Scott Roxborough wrote in The Hollywood Reporter.
"Whatever the choice, be certain it will be praised and
damned in equal measure by critics here."
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, while Renee Zellweger in the witty 1950s comedy
"My One And Only", a late entry, is also in the running.
For other big Hollywood names the reviews were not so kind.
"Mammoth", directed by Swedish filmmaker Lukas Moodysson and
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 far-from-happy reception, despite
Demi Moore and Parker Posey playing the lead roles.
As usual, the geographical spread of competition films in
Berlin and hundreds of other pictures screening in peripheral
sections was impressive.
Within the main line up, reviewers said "Gigante" from
Uruguay told a simple tale effectively and China's "Forever
Enthralled" was a visually sumptuous take on the life of Mei
Lanfang, a Peking opera star who defied Japanese troops.
Also on the jury's radar is likely to be "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, while Polish veteran film maker Andrzej Wajda's
"Sweet Rush" and Greek-born Costa-Gavras's "Eden Is West" have
yet to screen.
Outside the main competition, critics singled out "John
Rabe", about a German who saved thousands of Chinese from
invading Japanese forces in 1937.
Several films tackled the topical issue of big business,
particularly the ethics of banks and food companies, and the
core of government policy across most of the Western world --
market capitalism -- was challenged time and time again.
Enough stars hit Berlin's red carpets in 2009 to keep
director Dieter Kosslick, and the international media, happy.
Zellweger, Moore and Bernal were joined by Keanu Reeves,
Clive Owen, U2's The Edge, Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio,
who was in town for a peace award. Steve Martin is expected to
be in the city on Friday to present "The Pink Panther 2".
The Berlin festival also hosts the European Film Market, and
trade publications Hollywood Reporter and Variety said that
while far from disastrous, the economic crisis had a noticeable
impact on the buying and selling of movies.
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"Fan Fare" online at http://blogs.reuters.com/fanfare)
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