Berlin film fest opens with jazz biopic and Trump 'resistance'

 09 Feb 2017 - 16:58

Berlin film fest opens with jazz biopic and Trump 'resistance'
The logo of the Berlinale film festival is pictured in the festival's press conference room in Berlin on February 9, 2017. The Berlin film festival, one of Europe's top cinema showcases, runs from February 9 to 19, 2017, bringing a parade of stars to its famed red carpet. / AFP / Tobias SCHWARZ


Berlin: A politically-charged Berlin film festival opened Thursday with a biopic about Nazi persecution of Gypsy-jazz great Django Reinhardt and a vow by Hollywood's Maggie Gyllenhaal that Americans were "ready to resist" Donald Trump.

A total of 18 movies are vying for the festival's coveted Golden Bear, which will be awarded on February 18 by a jury led by director Paul Verhoeven ("RoboCop", "Elle").

"I hope we will see a lot of movies that are different, hopefully controversial," the Dutch filmmaker said at the opening press conference, adding that he was ready for "heated arguments" with the jury.

Living up to the Berlinale's reputation as the most politically minded of the big festivals, his fellow jury members wasted no time in taking aim at the US president who has drawn fierce criticism from the art world, particularly over his disputed travel ban.

"I want people to know there are many, many people in my country that are ready to resist," 39-year-old Gyllenhaal told reporters.

Mexican director and actor Diego Luna, at the same press conference, used humour to criticise Trump's plan to build a wall on the border with Mexico.

"I'm here to investigate how to tear down walls," the star of "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" quipped, in a nod to Berlin's decades-long history as a divided city.

Virtuoso guitarist

The festival's kick-off film "Django" marks the directorial debut of Etienne Comar, a screenwriter and producer behind hits such as "Of Gods and Men" and "My King" and co-producer of the award-winning film about radical Islam "Timbuktu".

A virtuoso guitarist and composer who shot to global renown with his delicate melodies, Reinhardt was a member of the Sinti minority and was forced to flee German-occupied Paris in 1943.

Festival director Dieter Kosslick called the movie a "poignant tale of survival".

"It is also a wonderful story about a man who created his own world... in which the greatness of his music allowed us to forget the circumstances under which it was born," he said.

The film stars Reda Kateb, who appeared with Viggo Mortensen in the Algeria-set war drama "Far From Men".

Comar told AFP that Reinhardt's tragic aspect comes from being a "character blinded by his music, who doesn't see the world changing, in which the war sneaks up on him and only then does he finally see what is happening."

The 11-day Berlinale, Europe's first major cinema showcase of the year, will screen nearly 400 movies from 70 countries.

Off-screen with Trump 

In keeping with its long post-war tradition, the event will mix arthouse cinema from European veterans including Poland's Agnieszka Holland ("Europa Europa"), Britain's Sally Potter, Germany's Volker Schloendorff, previous Golden Bear winner Calin Peter Netzer of Romania and Aki Kaurismaki of Finland with new features from Brazil, South Korea, China and Senegal.

The latest Wolverine instalment of the X-Men superhero franchise "Logan" starring Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart and Richard E. Grant will have its world premiere.

Hollywood actor Stanley Tucci ("The Devil Wears Prada") will unveil his new biopic about Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti, "Final Portrait" starring Australian Oscar winner Geoffrey Rush.

Potter ("Orlando"), one of four female directors in competition, pulled together a cast including Patricia Clarkson, Bruno Ganz, Kristin Scott Thomas and Timothy Spall for the comedy "The Party" set at an MP's London soiree.

Richard Gere stars with Steve Coogan, Laura Linney, Rebecca Hall and Chloe Sevigny in the thriller "The Dinner", an adaptation of the Dutch novel by Herman Koch about two families with an awful secret.

As a festival that is traditionally heavy on the politics, stars are expected to use its stage to sound off on global affairs, with Trump likely to be a frequent topic of debate.

Organisers said the Berlinale, which is sponsored by the German government, would send a message of "cultural diversity to fight populist over-simplification".

"There is nothing that those who owe their power to playing on vague fears and base instincts are more intimidated by than the powers of art: to move people, break taboos and silence, and awaken a desire for a better world," Culture Minister Monika Gruetters said. 

Last year the Golden Bear went to Italian refugee documentary "Fire at Sea" from a jury led by Meryl Streep. It is nominated for an Academy Award this month.