Economic downturn is mirrored on the bigscreen

BERLIN — In his eight years as Berlinale topper, Dieter Kosslick has had more than his fair share of international crises to weather. In his first year, Berlin was the first full-service fest to feel the downdraft of 9/11. Later, there was the gathering storm of the Iraq War.

And now? A global financial crisis.

As usual, the ebullient Kosslick has his own spin on the situation.

“It’s not a real financial crisis,” he opines. “It’s a crisis of idiots in suits and ties who gambled with billions of dollars and the tax money of ordinary people.”

Crisis or not, Kosslick is proud to say several films in the fest’s official selection reflect aspects of the current situation, not least the opener, Tom Tykwer’s action-thriller “The International,” with Clive Owen as an Interpol agent and Naomi Watts as a New York attorney investigating a major bank’s dark deeds.

“I chose it a while ago,” says Kosslick, “but in the meantime the international financial system has mirrored the movie. Tom’s film almost looks like a documentary, given what’s hap-pened in the past three months.”

In practical terms, the crisis is too fresh to have affected the fest’s E17 million ($22 million) budget — a third of which comes from the central government’s Ministry of Culture. And in general, Germany, with strong economic fundamentals, has been taking a more measured approach to the whole situation than some other countries.

But on a broader level, adds Kosslick, “There are a lot of seismic changes going on at the moment. The so-called ‘crisis’ is actually a big, big part of the result of growing globalization — of the bizarre economic mechanisms that support globalization — and you can see that very clearly in several of our competition films.”

He cites three that are “very much of this world”: Sundance entry “The Messenger”; “Storm,” from German helmer Hans-Christian Schmid (“Requiem”); and Lukas Moodysson’s “Mammoth,” with Gael Garcia Bernal and Michelle Williams.

He’s especially excited about “Mammoth,” which follows a New York workaholic whose life unravels when he goes to Thailand on business.

“I’m really looking forward to how this will be received, as it’s quite an accomplishment, showing something very complicated — how private lives are affected by globalization — in a clear way.”

On a lighter note, Kosslick adds, “We close with (Steve Martin starrer) ‘Pink Panther II.’ So it doesn’t always have to be Clive Owen who’s trying to figure out which bankers are cheating us; it’s sometimes much more fun if Inspector Clouseau is hunting the criminals.”

Between the two, Kosslick has packaged a competition that has a good spread of vets (Stephen Frears’ Collette story “Cheri,” Bertrand Tavernier’s U.S.-set crimer “In the Electric Mist,” Andrzej Wajda’s “Sweet Rush”), fest faves (Sally Potter’s “Rage,” Chen Kaige’s “Forever Enthralled,” Francois Ozon’s “Ricky”) as well as three first films: “Gigante” by Uruguayan Adrian Biniez, “Katalin Varga” by Brit Peter Strickland and the aforementioned “The Messenger” by Oren Moverman.

Big names jostle elsewhere in the official selection, with vets like Theo Angelopoulos (“The Dust of Time”), Claude Chabrol (“Bellamy”), Costa-Gavras (“Eden Is West”), Ermanno Olmi (docu “Terra madre”) and Paul Schrader (“Adam Resurrected”).

Globalization is also present in the facts that many of the foreign directors at the Berlinale are working in English (Tavernier, Schmid, Moodysson) and helmers are dealing with foreign cultures (Stephen Daldry’s Germany-based “The Reader” or Florian Gallenberger’s “John Rabe,” about a German businessman who saved thousands of Chinese during the Nanjing massacre).

German movies are strongly repped, including “Hilde,” a biopic of actress Hildegard Kneff starring Heike Makatsch, and a new adaptation of “Effi Briest,” with hot young actress Julia Jentsch (“Sophie Scholl”).

With only 18 titles, the competition is Kosslick’s tightest yet, and there is more of a balance this year in the spread of big names and number of titles in the competition and the official selection’s two other sections, out of competition and Berlinale special. Part of the reason, however, is sheer logistics.

“Last year,” explains Kosslick, “we sold a record 240,000 tickets, and we could have sold tens of thousands more if we’d had the right venues. We’d been looking for some time for a new place that could really open up the festival to the audience, and finally this year we have the Friedrichstadtpalast.”

The huge theater usually stages exotic Euro-style cabaret and legit tours but has been struggling for some time to fill its vast auditorium, with 1,900 seats. “It’s perfect for us,” says Kosslick, “as we can seat about 1,600 people. If it works out this year, we’ll go back there.”

As a result, and because this year the International, in the east of the city, is being used for the 70mm retrospective instead of repeat competition screenings, Kosslick had more latitude to program big films, and ones with big names, outside the competition.

Next year the Berlinale celebrates its 60th anni, but Kosslick, already 60 himself, isn’t planning any “big bang.” He says: “I can’t understand why festivals always celebrate their 60th; but of course we can’t just let it pass. We’ll do a special section looking back but also looking forward to where cinema is headed. We want to say: Stop, reflect, what has happened, and where are we going?

“As long as we have an audience, everything is fine. But maybe we have to make a new model for the festival, introduce some more radical changes.”

Whatever happens, Kosslick, who’s just had his contract extended from 2011 to 2013, will be around for a while, “so there’s no hope for anyone who doesn’t like me!”

TIP SHEET

What: Berlin Intl. Film Festival

When: Feb. 5-15

Where: Berlin

Web: Berlinale.de

Opening-night film: “The International,” Tom Tykwer

INTERNATIONAL JURY

Tilda Swinton, actress, president

Isabel Coixet, director-writer

Gaston Kabore, filmmaker

Henning Mankell, writer

Christof Schilingensief, film/theater/opera director/writer/artist

Wayne Wang, filmmaker

Alice Waters, food writer

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