All-stars face upstarts at Berlin film fest

New movies from Wes Anderson and Richard Linklater will go head-to-head with upstarts from Europe, China and Latin America for the Golden Bear top prize at the Berlin film festival starting Thursday.

All-stars face upstarts at Berlin film fest
Photo: DPA

The 64th Berlinale, as the 11-day event is known, marks the first major European festival of the year and serves as a launchpad for Hollywood fare and risk-taking independent movies from around the world.

US producer James Schamus ("Brokeback Mountain", "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon") will lead a jury including double-Oscar-winning Austrian actor Christoph Waltz, Hong Kong star Tony Leung and French filmmaker Michel Gondry awarding the main prizes among 20 contenders on February 15th.

The sprawling festival will screen more than 400 films in cinemas across the snowy German capital, and many of the hottest tickets are for movies outside the main competition.

George Clooney is due in town to present "The Monuments Men", about a team of art experts who fought to protect precious artworks from the Nazis during World War II.

The picture also stars Matt Damon, Bill Murray and Cate Blanchett.

Jan Schulz-Ojala, chief critic for Berlin daily Der Tagesspiegel — who has been covering the festival for two decades — said that anticipation was also building for a director's cut of Danish provocateur Lars von Trier's new sex epic "Nymphomaniac Volume I" starring Charlotte Gainsbourg.

"It is 30-35 minutes longer than the version already running in Denmark and other places and so it's of very special interest for cinephiles," he told AFP.

"What was cut out of the cinema version — is it explosive or superfluous? I'm really curious."

However, he noted that von Trier was not expected to appear in public in Berlin following a disastrous stop in 2011 at the Cannes film festival where he was ignominiously booted out for making a Nazi joke about himself at a press conference.

"You'll essentially have a red carpet for an invisible man," Schulz-Ojala said.

On opening night, Anderson will unveil his keenly awaited "The Grand Budapest Hotel", starring Ralph Fiennes, Adrien Brody and Tilda Swinton, about the escapades of a crafty concierge between the two world wars.

Linklater, who brought his now Oscar-nominated "Before Midnight" to Berlin last year, will show "Boyhood", made over more than a decade and starring frequent collaborator Ethan Hawke as well as Patricia Arquette.

Academy Award-winner Forest Whitaker teams up with Harvey Keitel in Rachid Bouchareb's "Two Men in Town", about an ex-convict who has converted to Islam.

The French-Algerian director is best known for the 2006 drama "Days of Glory" (Indigenes), about north Africans serving in the French army during World War II.

Schulz-Ojala said he was also intrigued by entries from Argentina and China, "two strong countries for cinema".

The drama "History of Fear", set in a gated community in the suburbs of Buenos Aires, is director Benjamin Naishtat's first feature.

And Celina Murga's "The Third Side of the River" tells the story of a respected doctor who lives a double life with separate families. She is one of four women vying for prizes.

China will be represented by the thrillers "Black Coal, Thin Ice" by Diao Yinan, Ning Hao's "No Man's Land", and the novel adaptation "Blind Massage" by Lou Ye.

"These are independent, genre-inspired films, set far from the glittering cities," festival director Dieter Kosslick told reporters.

Peruvian director Claudia Llosa, who captured the Golden Bear in 2009 for her harrowing drama "The Milk of Sorrow", will present her English-language debut, "Aloft", featuring Jennifer Connelly and Cillian Murphy.

Austrian filmmaker Feo Aladag, who picked up prizes on the festival circuit in 2010 for "When We Leave", about so-called "honour killings", will unveil "Inbetween Worlds", about a German soldier in Afghanistan.

Iranian-Austrian director Sudabeh Mortezai will present a docudrama about young refugees in Vienna called "Macondo".

The festival will also honour veteran British director Ken Loach, 77, with a Golden Bear for lifetime achievement and a retrospective of his work.

The Romanian family drama "Child's Pose", about a growing cleft between rich and poor since the end of communism, took home the top prize last year.

The event will wrap up on February 16 with screenings of its biggest hits.

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EXPLAINED: Berlin’s latest Covid rules

In response to rapidly rising Covid-19 infection rates, the Berlin Senate has introduced stricter rules, which came into force on Saturday, November 27th. Here's what you need to know.

A sign in front of a waxing studio in Berlin indicates the rule of the 2G system
A sign in front of a waxing studio indicates the rule of the 2G system with access only for fully vaccinated people and those who can show proof of recovery from Covid-19 as restrictions tighten in Berlin. STEFANIE LOOS / AFP

The Senate agreed on the tougher restrictions on Tuesday, November 23rd with the goal of reducing contacts and mobility, according to State Secretary of Health Martin Matz (SPD).

He explained after the meeting that these measures should slow the increase in Covid-19 infection rates, which was important as “the situation had, unfortunately, deteriorated over the past weeks”, according to media reports.

READ ALSO: Tougher Covid measures needed to stop 100,000 more deaths, warns top German virologist

Essentially, the new rules exclude from much of public life anyone who cannot show proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid-19. You’ll find more details of how different sectors are affected below.

If you haven’t been vaccinated or recovered (2G – geimpft (vaccinated) or genesen (recovered)) from Covid-19, then you can only go into shops for essential supplies, i.e. food shopping in supermarkets or to drugstores and pharmacies.

Many – but not all – of the rules for shopping are the same as those passed in the neighbouring state of Brandenburg in order to avoid promoting ‘shopping tourism’ with different restrictions in different states.

2G applies here, too, as well as the requirement to wear a mask with most places now no longer accepting a negative test for entry. Only minors are exempt from this requirement.

Sport, culture, clubs
Indoor sports halls will off-limits to anyone who hasn’t  been vaccinated or can’t show proof of recovery from Covid-19. 2G is also in force for cultural events, such as plays and concerts, where there’s also a requirement to wear a mask. 

In places where mask-wearing isn’t possible, such as dance clubs, then a negative test and social distancing are required (capacity is capped at 50 percent of the maximum).

Restaurants, bars, pubs (indoors)
You have to wear a mask in all of these places when you come in, leave or move around. You can only take your mask off while you’re sat down. 2G rules also apply here.

Hotels and other types of accommodation 
Restrictions are tougher here, too, with 2G now in force. This means that unvaccinated people can no longer get a room, even if they have a negative test.

For close-contact services, such as hairdressers and beauticians, it’s up to the service providers themselves to decide whether they require customers to wear masks or a negative test.

Football matches and other large-scale events
Rules have changed here, too. From December 1st, capacity will be limited to 5,000 people plus 50 percent of the total potential stadium or arena capacity. And only those who’ve been vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 will be allowed in. Masks are also compulsory.

For the Olympic Stadium, this means capacity will be capped at 42,000 spectators and 16,000 for the Alte Försterei stadium. 

3G rules – ie vaccinated, recovered or a negative test – still apply on the U-Bahn, S-Bahn, trams and buses in Berlin. It was not possible to tighten restrictions, Matz said, as the regulations were issued at national level.

According to the German Act on the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases, people have to wear a surgical mask or an FFP2 mask  on public transport.

Christmas markets
The Senate currently has no plans to cancel the capital’s Christmas markets, some of which have been open since Monday. 

According to Matz, 2G rules apply and wearing a mask is compulsory.

Schools and day-care
Pupils will still have to take Covid tests three times a week and, in classes where there are at least two children who test positive in the rapid antigen tests, then tests should be carried out daily for a week.  

Unlike in Brandenburg, there are currently no plans to move away from face-to-face teaching. The child-friendly ‘lollipop’ Covid tests will be made compulsory in day-care centres and parents will be required to confirm that the tests have been carried out. Day-care staff have to document the results.

What about vaccination centres?
Berlin wants to expand these and set up new ones, according to Matz. A new vaccination centre should open in the Ring centre at the end of the week and 50 soldiers from the German army have been helping at the vaccination centre at the Exhibition Centre each day since last week.

The capacity in the new vaccination centre in the Lindencenter in Lichtenberg is expected to be doubled. There are also additional vaccination appointments so that people can get their jabs more quickly. Currently, all appointments are fully booked well into the new year.