Last screenings add bounce to Berlin

'Angel,' 'King,' 'Hallam Foe' lift spirits

It looked better on paper, with a promising lineup of vets and lesser-known filmmakers, but as the 57th Berlinale’s Official Selection bumped along to its final day, fest boss Dieter Kosslick unveiled enough fireworks to send crix home with a few memories.

With closer Francois Ozon’s English-lingo “Angel” the only Competition title left to unspool, the Official Selection gained some badly needed bounce in its final days.

Lifting spirits were Czech vet Jiri Menzel’s accomplished period ensembler “I Served the King of England” and David Mackenzie’s superbly tooled rites of passager “Hallam Foe.”

As in fellow final-furlongers “Yella” (from Germany) and “Lost in Beijing” (from China), performance-driven pics were the keynote to Kosslick’s selection, headed by French thesp Marion Cotillard’s amazing perf as Edith Piaf in opener “La Vie en Rose.”

“I realized it when the selection was complete,” Kosslick admitted. But veteran Berlinale watchers griped that the topper still lacks a feel for scheduling pictures to create an ongoing head of steam throughout the 10 days rather than backloading his bonbons.

Apart from Menzel, the veteran helmers delivered either disappointments (Steven Soderbergh’s “The Good German”), ho-hum fare (Bille’s August’s apartheid drama “Goodbye Bafana”) or pics that were respectfully received (Clint Eastwood’s “Letters From Iwo Jima,” Jacques Rivette’s Balzac costumer “Don’t Touch the Axe”).

From that generation, only France’s Andre Techine surprised people with the lively and involving ’80s AIDS drama, “The Witnesses.”

Berlinale juror Paul Schrader’s “The Walker,” in a non-competing slot, fell somewhere between the two extremes. Crix appreciated the well-turned dialogue and perfs by Woody Harrelson and a celeb cast, but the Washington-set political-socialite drama is more high-end, specialist fare.

Many films either drew shrugs (“The Other,” “Desert Dream,” “In Memory of Myself,” Gregory Nava’s Jennifer Lopez starrer “Bordertown”), or plain thumbs-down (Sharon Stone topliner “When a Man Falls in the Forest,” the Taviani brothers’ “The Lark Farm”).

Most of the best stuff came from younger and lesser-known filmmakers, with Austrian helmer Stefan Ruzowitzky’s WWII camp drama, “The Counterfeiters,” which screened early on, gathering a growing rep as the fest progressed, especially for its strong performances, and Mackenzie’s “Hallam Foe” proving a late fest pleasure.

Also liked, if not ecstatically, were Israeli director Joseph Cedar’s Lebanese-war set “Beaufort,” Wang Quanan’s Mongolian peasant drama “Tuya’s Marriage” from China, and Bazilian Cao Hamburger’s ’70s-set kid charmer “The Year My Parents Went on Vacation.”

Typically for Berlin, Kosslick’s selection traversed many contempo and 20th-century social and political issues. But if it’s to be remembered for anything, it will be for performances rather than major directorial revelations.

From the U.K.’s Marianne Faithfull (“Irina Palm”), Judi Dench (“Notes on a Scandal”) Jamie Bell (“Hallam Foe”), through Germany’s Nina Hoss (“Yella”) and Karl Markovics and Devid Striesow (“The Counterfeiters”), to China’s Yu Nan (“Tuya’s Marriage”), thesps ruled this year’s roost.

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