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FILM

Star-studded Berlinale to explore crisis fallout

Next month's 63rd Berlin film festival will comb through the 'collateral damage' of the global economic crisis with Hollywood movies and independent releases vying for prizes, organisers said on Monday.

Star-studded Berlinale to explore crisis fallout
Photo: DPA

The February 7- 17 Berlinale, the first major European film festival of the year, will showcase 24 pictures from 22 countries in the main programme, with a total of more than 400 films screened in its sprawling sidebar sections.

A jury led by Chinese director Wong Kar Wai will choose among 19 films in competition for the Golden and Silver Bear top prizes, to be awarded at a gala red-carpet ceremony February 16.

Oscar-winning actor Tim Robbins, New York-based Iranian film-maker Shirin Neshat, Greek producer Athina Rachel Tsangari, Danish Academy Award-winner Susanne Bier, German director Andreas Dresen and US camerawoman Ellen Kuras round out the panel.

Festival director Dieter Kosslick told reporters as he unveiled the full programme that the Berlinale was continuing its tradition, begun during the Cold War, of featuring politically-charged cinema from big names and upstarts.

“On the one hand we have major Hollywood films, but we have also brought in

filmmakers who are on their first or second picture,” he said. “Thematically throughout the programme you have a lot of women at the heart of the stories… and the collateral damage of the crisis on various societies.”

Star-gazers can expect Matt Damon, Jude Law, Juliette Binoche, Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Nicolas Cage, Emma Stone, Geoffrey Rush, Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, Christopher Lee and Zhang Ziyi, among others.

Damon teams up with US director Gus Van Sant for the first time since their 1997 Oscar winner Good Will Hunting in Promised Land, a film about US families facing the economic pinch who sell their land to companies extracting natural gas through fracking.

Steven Soderbergh, who has said he is heading into semi-retirement, reunites with Law from Contagion and Catherine Zeta-Jones from Traffic to present Side Effects, about the pharmaceuticals industry preying on stressed-out Americans.

Deneuve stars in the light-hearted French road movie On My Way, about a down-on-her-luck restaurant owner who sets out on a transformative trip.

Academy Award-winning Bosnian filmmaker Danis Tanovic (No Man’s Land) returns with An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker, in which he turns a small hand-held digital camera on a Roma village locked in grinding poverty.

Kosslick said the sidebar sections would feature a number of new productions from European countries stricken by the eurozone debt crisis, including Greece, Spain and Portugal, and would look at its corrosive effects.

And British director Ken Loach will premiere a documentary about the economic hardship in post-war England that revived the socialist movement.

Last year the Golden Bear went to Italy’s veteran filmmakers Paolo and Vittorio Taviani for “Caesar Must Die”, a docu-drama about inmates at a high-security prison staging Shakespeare.

AFP/pmw

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CULTURE

German town resurrects 400-year-old biblical play tradition

Walk around the German Alpine village of Oberammergau, and the chances are you'll run into Jesus or one of his 12 disciples.

German town resurrects 400-year-old biblical play tradition

Of the 5,500 people living there, 1,400 — aged from three months to 85 — are participating this year in the once-a-decade staging of an elaborate “Passion Play” depicting the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Dating back to 1634, the tradition has persisted through four centuries of wars, religious turmoil and pandemics — including the most recent Covid-19 crisis which caused the show to be postponed by two years.

“I think we’re a bit stubborn,” says Frederic Mayet, 42, when asked how the village has managed to hold on to the tradition.

Mayet, who is playing Jesus for the second time this year, says the Passion Play has become a big part of the town’s identity.

Oberammergau Passion Plays

Posters for the 42nd Oberammergau Passion Play – which was originally scheduled to take place in 2020. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Angelika Warmth

The only prerequisite for taking part in the five-hour show, whether as an actor, chorister or backstage assistant, is that you were born in Oberammergau or have lived here for at least 20 years.

“I remember that we talked about it in kindergarten. I didn’t really know what it was about, but of course I wanted to take part,” says Cengiz Gorur, 22, who is playing Judas.

READ ALSO: REVEALED: The best events and festivals in Germany this July

‘Hidden talent’ 

The tradition, which dates back to the Thirty Years’ War, was born from a belief that staging the play would help keep the town safe from disease.

Legend has it that, after the first performance, the plague disappeared from the town.

In the picturesque Alpine village, Jesus and his disciples are everywhere — from paintings on the the facades of old houses to carved wooden figures in shop windows.

You also can’t help feeling that there is a higher-than-average quota of men with long hair and beards wandering the streets.

Religious figurines Oberammergau

Religious figurines adorn a shop window in Oberammergau. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Angelika Warmuth

An intricate image of Jesus graces the stage of the open-air Passion Play theatre, where the latest edition of the show is being held from mid-May to October 2nd.

“What has always fascinated me is the quality of the relationship between all the participants, young and old. It’s a beautiful community, a sort of ‘Passion’ family,” says Walter Lang, 83.

He’s just sad that his wife, who died in February, will not be among the participants this year.

“My parents met at a Passion Play, and I also met my future wife at one,” says Andreas Rödl, village mayor and choir member.

Gorur, who has Turkish roots, was spotted in 2016 by Christian Stückl, the head of the Munich People’s Theatre who will direct the play for the fourth time this year.

“I didn’t really know what to do with my life. I probably would have ended up selling cars, the typical story,” he laughs.

Now, he’s due to start studying drama in Munich this autumn.

“I’ve discovered my hidden talent,” he says.

READ ALSO: Nine of the best day trips from Munich with the €9 ticket

Violence, poverty and sickness

Stückl “has done a lot for the reputation of the show, which he has revolutionised” over the past 40 years, according to Barbara Schuster, 35, a human resources manager who is playing Mary Magdalene.

“Going to the Passion Play used to be like going to mass. Now it’s a real theatrical show,” she says.

In the 1980s, Stückl cut all the parts of the text that accused the Jews of being responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus, freeing the play from anti-Semitic connotations.

“Hitler had used the Passion Play for his propaganda,” Schuster points out.

Stückl

Christian Stückl, the director of the Oberammergau Passion Play, holds a press conference announcing the cancellation of the play in 2020. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Angelika Warmuth

The play’s themes of violence, poverty and sickness are reflected in today’s world through the war in Ukraine and the Covid-19 pandemic, say Mayet, the actor playing Jesus.

“Apparently we have the same problems as 2,000 years ago,” he says.

For 83-year-old Lang, who is playing a peasant this year, the “Hallelujah” after Christ has risen for the final time in October will be a particularly moving moment.

“Because we don’t know if we’ll be there again next time,” he says, his eyes filling with tears.

By Isabelle Le Page

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