‘International’ opens Berlin festival

Film brings current events to gala opening

A fitting start for the Berlinale, Tom Tykwer’s “The International” brought current events front and center at the film’s gala opening on Thursday. The pic — about an Interpol agent and a district attorney trying to bring to justice a multinational bank whose illegal activities include money laundering and destabilizing governments — has generated discussion here about its parallels to the present global meltdown.

Earlier in the day, Tykwer played down the similarities, stressing that the message of the film is not that banks are evil but that some banks are involved in such activities.

“We shouldn’t trivialize current events. The situation is dramatic, and we are all in the same boat. But the root of the problem is older than any banker alive today — they go back more than 100 years.”

While the film’s Naomi Watts was absent (having given birth to a baby boy in December), co-star Clive Owen generated plenty of glamour, remaining on the red carpet to greet fans for so long that fest director Dieter Kosslick quipped, “Clive broke George Clooney’s red-carpet record.”

Touching on the fest’s many themes — the financial crisis, globalization, terrorism, immigration and sinking food supplies — Kosslick joked, “We don’t have a film about the pope.”

Pope Benedict XVI has triggered an outcry in his native Germany and around the world after rehabilitating a conservative, Holocaust-denying bishop.

“We do have ‘Ben-Hur’ as part of our 70mm retrospective,” Kosslick deadpanned. He generated huge applause and loud cheers by adding, “Maybe it would be good if the pope saw the film — it would remind him that the founder of his company started out as a Jewish boy.”

Taking to the stage, German culture minister Bernd Neumann had plenty of good news for the German industry.

“This is a great opening for the Berlinale — a German director, international stars, a U.S. major and German co-producers. The amount of films with German participation in the Berlinale this year shows that Germany’s film industry is on a very successful path.”

Making his own pitch to foreign producers, Neumann added, “Come to Germany, invest in production, make your films here. You are always welcome.”

In what was perhaps a sign of the fest’s own cost-cutting, Thursday night’s kickoff did without the traditional live entertainment.

Among attendees were such familiar industryites as Michael Ballhaus, directors Wolfgang Becker, Detlev Buck, Marco Kreuzpaintner and Volker Schloendorff as well as stars David Kross, Heike Makatsch and Tom Schilling; former German president Richard von Weizsaecker; former foreign minister Joschka Fischer; and New Wave icon Nina Hagen.

Pubcaster 3Sat broadcast the event live on German television.

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