‘La Vie en Rose’ opens Berlin fest

This year's crowd thinner than usual

BERLIN — The 57th annual Berlinale kicked off Thursday evening and will unspool, between festival and market, more than 1,000 movies over the next 10 days.

Perhaps because of the icy weather, the crowd gathered in front of the Palast to hail the arrival of stars was thinner than usual.

On the other hand, the opening pic was from France, not from Hollywood, a fact which might too have dampened the enthusiasm of the bystanders. As a rule, Gallic films do not enthrall German moviegoers.

A contingent of the good and the great of Teutonic media duly walked the red carpet, including Wim Wenders, Hans-Christian Schmidt, Bruno Ganz and Doris Dorrie.

Among the international guests, many of whom figure in films here at the fest, were Jeff Goldblum, Steven Soderbergh and Arthur Penn. Latter was warmly applauded outside and inside the auditorium, and will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award this week.

The center of attention for the paparazzi though was naturally Marion Cotillard, the gamine star of the Gallic contender for the Golden Bear, “La Vie en Rose.”

Cotillard plays French chanteuse Edith Piaf, taking the character from her tough teenage years through to her death at age 47. The singing in the movie is left to Piaf, or rather vintage recordings of the singer, but Cotillard carried off the acting challenge convincingly. In this case, the Germans viewing a Gallic movie seemed moved by the experience.

Before the screening of the 140-minute pic, there was the inevitable parade of political bigwigs to the stage, all choreographed to fit the needs and reflect the tastes of Germany’s arty channel 3Sat.

Mistress of Ceremonies Charlotte Roche, a popular TV comedienne, bantered pleasantly with Berlinale topper Dieter Kosslick. For his part, Kosslick spent most of his speech thanking the various ministries that fund the German film industry and the corporate sponsors who also help bankroll the 11-day cinematic extravaganza.

Culture Minister Bernd Neumann took the podium to bestow kudos on the local film industry, which arguably has made more strides in the last few years than it has since the days of uber-directors Fassbinder and Herzog.

“In 2006 we had the biggest local share of overall box office in decades,” he enthused to warm applause from the mostly German audience. He went on to term the state of the local biz “euphoric.”

The hip and openly gay mayor of Berlin, Klaus Wowereit, was asked by Roche who he’d like to see play him in a movie about his political rise. Alec Baldwin, he said with no hestiation.

Even hipper, or at least eclectic, is the international jury for the main Competition, which includes Willem Dafoe, Gael Garcia Bernal and a Palestinian actress named Hiam Abbass.

The jury is chaired by writer-director Paul Schrader — who recalled “the cold-war” jury he sat on back in 1987 when politics fueled heated arguments over the films in Berlinale contention.

Nothing so heated is likely to arise over the 26 films in the present Competition, which on paper look fairly safe in terms of subject matter. (None, for example, is sourced from the Mideast or deals specifically with thorny Islamic issues.)

After an hour of preliminaries, it was left to Schrader and Kosslick to officially declare the festival open — Schrader doing the honors in German, Kosslick in his trade-mark rapid-fire English.

While almost all the back-and-forth between Roche and guests was conducted in German, that choice at least made the proceedings less stilted and ponderous than if things had been methodically translated. Helping too were a couple of funky interludes, featuring a band led by Hamburg singer Jan Delay, and another featuring a black Berlin soul singer named Joy Denalane.

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