Art, commerce collide in sparkling Berlinale

From “Prairie Home Companion” to “Road to Guantanamo,” from banquets at the KaiserSaal to the bustle at the Gropius Bau, the Berlinale has proposed something for just about everyone during its 10-day 56th annual movie marathon.

Whether one came for the culture or the commerce, the politics — or just the partying — this Berlinale will likely go down as one of the more vibrant events on the world movie calendar.

Final curtain comes down Sunday; major awards including the Golden Bear are bestowed tonight at the Palast.

Not only was the official Competition of 19 movies a fairly heady collection of themes and styles, but also the European Film Market, which unspooled in gracious new digs, drew buyers and sellers in greater numbers than ever before.

Among the melange of talent, celebs and assorted auteurs one could have mingled with over the last 10 days were artists, rock stars, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, writer Armistead Maupin, celebrity chefs, ex-spies — and three former detainees of the U.S. Marine Corps at Guantanamo Bay.

These former inmates at the prison camp walked down the red carpet here Tuesday to attend the world premiere of “The Road to Guantanamo,” Michael Winterbottom’s drama-doc about their extraordinary odyssey.

The moment summed up the spirit of the Berlinale: “Nowhere else can you bring three tortured persons on the red carpet and say, ‘Let’s have fun,’ ” Berlinale topper Dieter Kosslick enthused on Thursday. “Anywhere else, I’d be locked up.”

“Guantanamo” was one of the hot-selling titles at the EFM, proving that the arrival of the big companies with their mainstream genre movies has not yet overwhelmed the Market’s core identity as a platform for quality arthouse fare.

But there was room for many types of product in Berlin, from mainstream genre pics to the arty and the offbeat.

Among the hot sellers:

Summit all but sold out its German-made, English-lingo thriller “Adrift,” and Lionsgate reported boffo biz on actioner “Rogue.” Distribs also vacuumed up Competition titles like Robert Altman’s “Prarie Home Companion” and Germany’s “Elementary Particles.”

Arguably the biggest buyers were Japanese distribs who paid serious money for top titles.

Buyers complained, as is their want, about a shortage of hot new scripts or obviously commercial finished movies, both in the fest and the Market. Yet a respectable number of deals got done anyhow and the mood of most attendees was upbeat.

As for the Yanks, headlinemaking deals were in short supply with weary U.S. acquisitions execs generally finding little new or to their taste.

One quipped: ” ‘Mi Fed’ up with Berlin too,” though another was more upbeat.

“This is such a cosmopolitan, diverse city, full of hip young people, and you get to go and enjoy that as well as doing business,” said Pascal Borno of L.A.-based sales outfit Consquistador.

And German distribs of all sizes were in more acquisitive mood than at recent sales events.

Perhaps the mood had something to do with the EFM’s magnificent new home in the Martin Gropius Bau.

With demand for stands now exceeding supply, Market topper Beki Probst sounded an optimistic note.

“Last November, we had a waiting list of 90 companies,” Probst said. That’s why the EFM decided to open an overspill space in an office block two minutes away from the Gropius.

“We never pretended to replace Mifed or the AFM,” Probst added. “The people who come here are going to decide what kind of market it is.”

Back in the Palast at the Competition, few peaks were climbed and few major discoveries made. But critics were kept from griping by a schedule whose high points were spread right across the fest rather than concentrated in the Competition and Panorama sections.

People even talked about movies in the semi-experimental section, the Forum, written off last year as moribund, and the Kinderfest, which has been quietly growing in stature.

The Competition was generally adjudged an improvement over last year’s lackluster selection. And Kosslick’s gamble of putting all potential U.S. Oscar contenders out of Competition worked, with “Syriana,” “Capote” and “The New World” all scoring kudos.

Aside from the folksy but life-affirming ensembler “A Prairie Home Companion” and the power-punch intensity of “Guantanamo,” there were a few other standouts. Notable was Claude Chabrol’s look at the French justice system, “Comedy of Power,” with a socko perf by Isabelle Huppert as an examining magistrate, and the Iranian crowd-pleaser “Offside.”

Local press focused on the four German features in Competition. Kosslick claimed the Berlinale has helped to change “the depressive mood in the industry” by showcasing the current range in Teuton fare.

All were dramas, and each had something to commend it: Oskar Roehler’s “The Elementary Particles,” Valeska Grisebach’s heartfelt “Longing,” Matthias Glasner’s 163-minute grungefest “The Free Will” and Hans-Christian Schmid’s “Requiem.”

All were sustained by terrific performances, though whether that’s enough to beat the jinx on German pics offshore distribution remains to be seen.

This go-round, other sections of the fest more than held their own, with Panorama and Forum each delivering meaty (and marketable) fare: Think “Family Law,” by David Burman- Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe’s black mockumentary “Brothers of the Head” in Panorama, and “Close to Home” and “Hotel Harabati” in Forum.

During the Fest’s closing hours, Kosslick opined that it had been “a smooth ride,” from the spread of movies to the usual tip-top organization. Tix hit a record high of 400,000, with all venues SRO.

(Adam Dawtrey, Patrick Frater and Derek Elley contributed to this report.)

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