Berlin offers few standouts, spotlights

Festival yields few new discoveries thus far

Halfway through the 59th Berlinale, the lights of discovery were still burning low in the festival’s official selection.

Not for the first time, a potentially strong raft of names assembled by fest topper Dieter Kosslick has so far failed to yield much that works beyond a theoretical level, let alone revealing fresh talent or much B.O. potential. Though several titles press right-on buttons such as “globalization” or various socio-political issues, almost none have translated these into emotionally engaging, cinematic fare.

Opener “The International” received a much warmer reception from local crix — perhaps proud that a German director could seemingly take on Hollywood at its own big-budget thriller game — than from Anglo-speakers and international scribes. For locals, too, “The Reader” was predictably the next hottest ticket in town. Both, however, played safely out of competition.

In competition, one after another name has failed to come up with the goods, from promising German director Hans-Christian Schmid (“Requiem”), whose “Storm,” about the UN trial of a Bosnian war-crimes commander, proved far from electric, to Sweden’s Lukas Moodysson, whose “Babel”-like, globalization hodge-podge, “Mammoth,” was deservedly booed at its press screening.

Both were English-lingo productions by foreign directors, as was Bertrand Tavernier’s southern-U.S. noirish crimer “In the Electric Mist” — shown in its international director’s cut — that received a mixed reception.

In the early going, Iranian Asghar Farhadi’s “About Elly,” set among upper-middle-class Tehranis on vacation, was generally liked, as was Annette K. Olesen’s “Little Soldier,” praised mostly for its strong lead performance by Danish actress Trine Dyrholm as a returning Afghan vet. More established names like France’s Francois Ozon (“Ricky”) and the U.K.’s Sally Potter (the almost unreleasable talkfest “Rage”) came up with disappointing product.

Amid the sea of unfocused scripting and issue-oriented failures, the virtues of “classical” filmmaking were acutely demonstrated by 77-year-old French vet, Claude Chabrol, whose throughly likable detective riff, “Bellamy,” tucked away in Berlinale Specials, has proved the hit of official selection so far.

Despite Kosslick’s unification of the fest’s selection process eight years ago, the Berlinale is still plagued, at a programming level, by the problem of strong movies in the wrong sections, providing no clear signposts for auds and buyers wading through the vast annual lineup.

Panorama, for example, has yielded several strong, saleable items, from Philippe Lioret’s moving, classic Euro-drama “Welcome,” centered on a young Iraqi Kurd stranded in France, to Canuck Gary Yates’ Tarantino-esque crime caper, “High Life,” to the wry Norwegian “off-road movie,” “North,” a first feature by documaker Rune Denstad Langlo, and the confrontational race drama “Skirt Day,” starring Isabelle Adjani.

And amid its customarily more experimental fare, Forum has also yielded two baubles with commercial potential: Sophie Fillieres’ quirky comedy “Pardon My French” and Dante Lam’s stygian Hong Kong crimer, “Beast Stalker.”

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