Snow and a puzzling opening pic combine for low-key opener

The Berlin Film Festival kicked off its 60th anniversary on Thursday with what was the most low-key opener in years.

Snow and sleet continued to bury the German capital in ice, causing chaotic traffic conditions around the fest hub in Potsdamer Platz and leaving droves of festgoers in Europe and the east coast of the U.S. stranded in airports and unable to reach Berlin.

The selection of Wang Quanan’s sober Chinese drama “Apart Together” to kick off the fest puzzled many used to the customary Hollywood-style red carpet glitz.

But the pic, about the price of war, national division, the aching loss of love and endurance of hope, provided fest organizers with parallels to Berlin and Germany’s own torturous division, proving a subtle but poignant start to the fest’s sixth decade.

“Apart Together” centers on an ageing Taiwanese man who travels to his native Shanghai in search of the woman he left behind a half a century ago following the communist revolution.

In what appeared to be veiled reference to China, Bernd Neumann, federal commissioner for cultural and media affairs, whose office funds the Berlinale, reminded the audience that the Federal Republic of Germany celebrated its 60th anniversary last year, having risen from the ashes of World War II and gone through the Cold War, Glasnost, the fall of the Berlin Wall and finally reunification.

“This festival, founded by America, gave a city that was destroyed by war new glamour and the children of the Cold War a window to the freedom of the West,” he said.

Adding that the Berlinale, more than any other fest in the world, brought together cinema, politics and an international openness, Neumann said Berlin continued to play a traditional role as “a bridge builder for Asian cinema” and that the bridge, as opposed to the wall, was the symbol of the 60th fest.

Clips of early editions of the Berlinale from the 1950s and a performance by Max Raabe and the Palast Orchestra, which specializes in recreating the sound of German dance and film music of the 1920s and 1930s, provided an appropriate historical atmosphere to the proceedings.

Twenty films are competing for the Golden Bear in the main section, while nearly 400 films will unspool before the fest wraps on Feb. 21.

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