Bond star Seydoux joins Berlin female ‘revolution’

The latest Bond girl, Lea Seydoux, plays a turn-of-the-century servant using her wit and wiles to forge her own path, joining an all-star parade of trailblazing women at the Berlin film festival Saturday.

Bond star Seydoux joins Berlin female 'revolution'
Photo: DPA

James Bond co-star, Lea Seydoux, plays a turn-of-the-century servant using her wit and wiles to forge her own path, joining an all-star parade of trailblazing women at the Berlin film festival Saturday.

The 29-year-old French actress takes the role of Celestine in Benoit Jacquot's adaptation of the groundbreaking 1900 novel "Diary of a Chambermaid", one of 19 films in competition at the 65th annual event.

Escaping a childhood of grinding poverty, Celestine becomes a handmaiden at the sprawling home of a wealthy couple in the provinces.

Her strict new mistress, suspicious of her beauty and insolent manner — Celestine often insults her under her breath — makes her already grey life miserable, while her frisky master bombards her with unwanted advances.

In keeping with her role, she spends much of her time in the shadows, observing the power dynamics and vulnerabilities of her employers.

When she notices that the tight-lipped groundskeeper (Vincent Lindon) has fallen for her, she begins to hatch a plot to get the better of her superiors and leave servitude behind.

Jacquot said he aimed to make a period piece, complete with a subplot linked to France's Dreyfus affair, while turning the spotlight on a "revolution" against enduring sexual and class exploitation.

"What interested me immediately in this story of a young chambermaid — and at this time it really was a kind of slavery — was finding the contemporary echoes," Jacquot, 68, told AFP in an interview.

Jacquot said Seydoux, who shared the Palme d'Or in Cannes in 2013 for "Blue is the Warmest Colour", had devoured the role which Oscar winner Marion Cotillard was once slated to play.

He said he regretted that the actress, who was in Britain filming the next James Bond movie "Spectre", could not attend the red-carpet premiere of "Diary of a Chambermaid" in Berlin.

"That's why I hope the next James Bond film flops," he quipped.

Festival director Dieter Kosslick said the 2015 selection was marked by "strong women in extreme situations".

The 11-day event opened Thursday with French actress Juliette Binoche playing early 20th-century explorer Josephine Peary, who follows her husband on a disastrous trek as he attempts to reach the North Pole, in "Nobody Wants the Night".

Hot on its heels came another real-life heroine, with Nicole Kidman cast as British adventurer and spy Gertrude Bell, who helped redraw the map of the Middle East as the Ottoman Empire crumbled, in Werner Herzog's "Queen of the Desert".

Both films drew lacklustre reviews, and were outshone in critical reception by a small-budget Guatemalan film premiering Saturday, "Ixcanul Volcano".

Greeted by warm applause at a press preview, the debut feature by Jayro Bustamante is set among indigenous people living a hand-to-mouth existence on a coffee plantation.

Its story revolves around 17-year-old Maria, who dreams of running away to the United States with her indebted boyfriend, who has a plan to cross Mexico and the Rio Grande and move into "a house with a garden".

She loses her virginity to him and despite his assurances that "it can't happen the first time", gets pregnant.

Maria's parents, however, have already arranged a marriage with a foreman on the farm to ensure they can stay in their home in the lush fields at the foot of a volcano.

Maria's mother, in a widely hailed performance by Mayan theatre actress Maria Telon, tries to help her abort the child but after several failed attempts gives up, declaring "it has a strong will to live."

A horrifying plot twist in the final act underscores the powerlessness of Guatemala's peasant class, Bustamante, 37, told AFP.

"There were issues I wanted to talk about with the film, but I did not want to write a treatise," he said. "I presented an ethnic group, but didn't want to slip into folklore."

The festival runs until February 15th.

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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.