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Scorsese’s “Shutter Island” Thrills Berlinale

Scorsese's "Shutter Island" Thrills Berlinale

The 60th Berlinale saved its star power for the Saturday night slot here in Berlin, with Martin Scorsese offering the splashy premiere of his 50s American mystery thriller, “Shutter Island.” The premiere tonight packed in crowds around the fest’s showcase venue, the Berlinale Palast. Despite continued snowy, bone-chilling weather here, the crowd gawked and caught glimpses of the celebrities on a giant video screen in front of the theater.

Stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Sir Ben Kingsley, Mark Ruffalo and Michelle Williams added to the frenzy in Potsdamer Platz, hyping Scorsese’s fourth film with DiCaprio over the past decade. Talking about the film today, the Oscar-winning director said that it appealed to him because the fear that forms the story’s backdrop harkened back to his own upbringing.

“I was ten years old in 1952, experiencing the Cold War in New York City. I used the secrecy and paranoia of the cinema of the time [such as] ‘Laura,’ ‘Out of the Past,’ and ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ as a reference point,” Scorsese explained, adding in the work of Val Lewton and even Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” for good measure. As is always the case in the work of this American master, his work opens up a door into movies’ past. Or as he explained today, “Using the history of cinema – noir, psychological thrillers and even German Expressionism.”

During a conversation with journalists on Saturday afternoon, the film’s stars, producers and Scorsese gathered to talk “Shutter Island,” but — as is often the case with Scorsese — the discussion was actually a nice mix of promotion and a lesson in cinema history. Scorsese rattled off directors, techniques, particular scenes and broad film movements with the ease of a scholar, saying that he used various elements of periods of that history, mostly from the ’50s, to guide the creation of “Shutter Island.”

Michelle Williams, Mark Ruffalo, Sir Ben Kingsley and Leonardo DiCaprio at the Berlinale earlier tonight, after the screening of Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island.” Photo by indieWIRE

“What I can really say is that I was attracted to the material and I was because it was set in the ’50s and it had all the secrecy and paranoia,” he noted. “I grew up then expecting air raids any day. We were told that like ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers,’ it takes your soul away. And, I believe there is fear and anxiety in the modern era. That’s just my opinion…”

A complex and thoroughly engaging thriller set in the early 50s as the Cold War raged, Scorsese’s “Shutter Island” is tough to describe for fear of compromising the fun of going along for the ride. But, it involves a pair of U.S. marshals (played by DiCaprio and Ruffalo) seeking a patient from a remote psychiatric clinic. The woman, a multiple murderer, has seemingly vanished and the search opens the door to a drama that offers its share of twists and turns.

Talking about the film today, Scorsese said that when he read Dennis Lehane’s popular novel upon which the film is based, he cried when he reached the end. He decided that adapting the book into a film would be a good way to explore those emotions. As with other Scorsese films, the movie delves into the highs and lows of human good and evil.

“This is a highly charged emotional piece because of all these different [parts],” DiCaprio said today in Berlin. “It’s a jigsaw puzzle, with each element a series of short stories…Even though [Teddy is] lashing out, it’s a fascinating character study on how a person deals with that much trauma…I fell in love with the story seeing how one person deals with that much trauma.”

DiCaprio, reflecting on the four films he’s made with Scorsese over the last decade, praised the filmmaker with whom he has collaborated, saying that he hopes to continue to do so going forward. He also added that working with Scorsese these past ten years has helped him grow.

“Any actor would be a fool not to work with Martin Scorsese,” he said. “Not only have I learned about acting, but he has this infectious love of cinema. We’ve worked for ten years, and over time, you develop a trust level and we both know what the other likes…he’s the definitive director of our time.”

“Rarely do you get to see a maestro work, they don’t usually let directors work long enough to be a maestro, but he’s that maestro,” Ruffalo said, adding to the rounds of Scorsese praise, with Sir Ben adding, “Martin places the actor in exactly the perfect place the actor should be for that time. The lens, where the furniture is placed, the way the light is arranged, if there’s enough smoke in the scene – he’s there with it all. Martin Scorsese is invariably the most intelligent person in the room, but he treats everyone as if they have the same intelligence.”

Later, asked whether he had any plans to do another mafia movie, Scorsese said he felt he had explored the subject to the best of his ability, but then added, “Bob DeNiro and I have been talking about something in that world, but it would be from the vantage of old men looking back. ‘Good Fellas’ was a style and ‘Casino’ was something different on a higher level.”

A guide to the Berlin International Film Festival Competition section is available here at indieWIRE. Get the latest from the 60th Berlinale daily through the end of the festival and anytime via iW’s Twitter feed.

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