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German film eyes the Berlinale’s big prize

Director Christian Petzold, right, and cast members Nina Hoss and Ronald Zehrfeld during the Berlinale photocall for ‘Barbara.’

BERLIN: The German drama “Barbara,” which deals with the repressive world of communist East Germany in 1980, is the critics’ favorite to take away the Golden Bear for best picture at this year’s Berlin film festival.

Such a win would be the first since 2004.The 10-day cinema showcase, which attracts thousands of journalists, critics and movie industry executives from around the world, ends Saturday with an awards ceremony.

Hundreds of movies have screened at theaters across the city, while blockbuster titles and shoestring budget projects have been bought and sold at the film market. As the Berlinale winds to a close, the main focus becomes who is set to win.

Victory for “Barbara” would clearly resonate at a ceremony held just a stone’s throw from where the Berlin Wall once divided the country. Whether it would then go on to enjoy global recognition, in the same way last year’s Iranian winner “A Separation” has, is less certain.

“I personally would be surprised if there is anything like ‘A Separation’ to come out of the festival so far,” said Lee Marshall, film critic for Screen International. “It started off looking like a real dark horse of a selection – there were a lot of unknowns. But actually it’s turned out to be quite a strong selection in terms of film quality though not in terms of star power.”

An informal poll of critics in Berlin puts “Barbara” narrowly ahead of Italian entry “Caesar Must Die,” a docu-drama made in a high-security prison near Rome where inmates rehearse for and stage a production of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar.”

Critics praised veteran filmmakers Paolo and Vittorio Taviani for their black and white picture where the words of Shakespeare gain added significance coming from real-life inmates, some of whom are behind bars for life.

Not far behind is “Tabu,” another black and white picture by Portugal’s Miguel Gomes about a self-centered woman called Aurora set in Lisbon and later in Africa, which reviewers praised for playing with narrative conventions.

Another African tale, “War Witch,” was warmly applauded and drew an impressive performance from young Congolese newcomer Rachel Mwanza as a child soldier.

“Sister,” which features French actress Lea Seydoux, in one of her two starring roles in Berlin, was generally popular, telling a touching story of a young boy who steals ski equipment from a smart Alpine resort to make ends meet.

Seydoux also plays a central role in “Farewell My Queen,” a costume drama featuring Diane Kruger as Marie Antoinette set in Versailles in 1789 as the aristocracy contemplates the consequences of the popular revolt.

“A Royal Affair,” set a few years earlier in the Danish court, tackles many of the same themes. Mads Mikkelsen portrays the real-life court physician Johann Friedrich Struensee, who tends to the mentally ill king, takes over his powers and has a passionate affair with queen Caroline before the nobility seeks its revenge.

On the market, specialist publications reported steady yet unspectacular business, with emerging markets making up for slow sales in troubled European economies like Spain and Italy.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 18, 2012, on page 15.

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