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Berlinale 60 Day One: Apart Together, Backless Zellweger

Berlinale 60 Day One: Apart Together, Backless Zellweger

Intrepid San Francisco film and food writer Meredith Brody will be filing daily reports from the Berlin International Film Festival (as will indieWIRE, which picks 20 films to watch). Here’s diary number one:

The coldest, snowiest, iciest, slushiest winter in decades hasn’t slowed down the festivities of the 60th anniversary celebration of the Berlinale, which began in 1951 with funds from America.

More than 400 films are scheduled (and scores more in the European Film Market). The competition’s jury, is headed by longtime expat Werner Herzog, and includes director Francesca Comencini of Italy, German actress Cornelia Froboess, Chinese actress Yu Nan, Spanish producer and distributor Jose Maria Morales, Somalian author Nurrudin Farah, and actress Renee Zellwegger. The jampacked traditional programs including Shorts, Specials, Panorama, Forum, German Cinema, children’s films, and hommages including one for Hanna Schygulla, film writer David Thomson has curated a retrospective covering the Festival’s sixty years.

[Photo by Brian Brooks, indieWIRE]

After planning to sleep on the ten-hour flight from San Francisco to Paris for the connection to Berlin, I was distracted by Air France’s Cinema on Demand, catching up on The Invention of Lying and Funny People as well as Alain Resnais’ Pas Sur La Bouche and Henri Verneuil’s Un Singe en Hiver. Luckily I only had one Berlin film to see, opening night’s Tuan Yuan (Apart Together) by Wang Quan’an (winner of the Golden Bear at the Berlinale for Tuya’s Marriage in 2007).

The lengthy pre-film festivities are televised, hosted by the glamorous comedian Anke Engelke and ebullient, charming Festival director Dieter Kosslick. The jury is introduced and interviewed onstage (including Renee Zelwegger in a trademark strapless blue satin Carolina Herrera ball gown).

Tuan Yuan is the story of a soldier who escaped to Taiwan 50 years ago when the People’s Republic of China was formed, and returns to Shanghai to reconnect with the love of his life and the son he never met. I was seated next to British writer Peter Cowie, author of The Berlinale: The Festival, published to mark the 60th anniversary, with a foreword by my other seatmate, Michel Ciment of the venerable French film journal Positif. Afterwards they cited Leo McCarey (Make Way for Tomorrow) and Ozu as impressive touchstones for Tuan Yuan (trailer below.)

Buses shuttled us away from Potsdamer Platz to an opening night party at the Club Moscou on Karl Marx Allee in what was once East Berlin, where Werner Herzog and Tom Luddy were whisked away to the VIP room, while the rest of us picked at rather baroque fare and listened to a band covering the early Beatles. Apparition’s Bob Berney, on the hunt for acquisitions, has The Runaways, which premiered at Sundance, on offer in the European Film Market, and tantalized us with tales of the new untitled Terrence Malick project (with Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, and discovery Jessica Chastain), while Strand Releasing’s Marcus Hu happily found his briefly-errant Blackberry. I was more scared by the thought of missing movies than messages, so beat a retreat to West Berlin, to see what the morrow would bring.

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