Cate Blanchett, Jennifer Connelly, Pierce Brosnan in first wave of Berlinale titles

Posted by · 7:40 am · December 17th, 2013

It only just occurred to me that in two months’ time, the 2014 Berlin Film Festival will already be over. Before that, of course, comes the bustle and frenzy of Sundance; throughout all that, of course, Oscar season will press on unabated. Just thinking about the next few weeks makes me feel slightly ill, even as I look forward to it all.

Largely unattended by US press, the Berlinale has become one of my favorite stops on the year-round festival trail. It doesn’t attract the Hollywood wattage of Sundance (though it frequently borrows from the January fest’s programme), nor, for the most part, the Euro-auteur elite of Cannes or Venice — but that, in a way, has become it’s strength. Many a future critical darling or Oscar winner from a previously under-estimated director has been hatched in the ice-bound vicinity of Potsdamer Platz: recently, “A Separation,” “The Grandmaster,” “Tabu,” “La Vie en Rose” and “The Illusionist” all had their world premieres there.  

This year, Berlin has secured at least one A-list premiere that any festival would kill for: it was announced a few weeks ago that Wes Anderson’s typically all-star comedy “The Grand Budapest Hotel” will open the festival on February 6. Today it was confirmed that the film will indeed be in Competition for the Golden Bear — unlike George Clooney’s “The Monuments Men,” which will have its European premiere in one of those confusing Competition-But-Out-Of-Competition slots.

Also announced today were the first five films that will be competing alongside Anderson for the Bear, and it’s a typically diverse, unexpected lot. I had no idea, for example, that Jennifer Connelly had made a film with Peruvian director Claudia Llosa, who won the Golden Bear (and received a surprise Oscar nomination) four years ago for her glum feminist allegory “The Milk of Sorrow.” The new film, a Spanish-French-Canadian co-production called “Aloft,” also stars Cillian Murphy and Melanie Laurent in an era-hopping tale of a mother and son separated by an accident.

The lineup also boasts one certified legend in 91-year-old French master Alain Resnais, who has been more of a Cannes favorite of late. His last film, “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet,” had the sense of a farewell, its titles notwithstanding, but he’s not done: “Life of Riley” is, like “Smoking/No Smoking,” an adaptation of a comedy by British playwright Alan Ayckbourn, and stars his usual assortment of seasoned French pros (Sabine Azema, Andre Dussolier, and so on). Resnais won the Venice Golden Lion 52 years ago for “Last Year in Marienbad,” but has never taken the top prize at Cannes or Berlin. Might this be his year?

The Competition thus far also includes: British director Yann Demange’s “’71,” a thriller set against the backdrop of Ireland’s Troubles and starring the rapidly rising Jack O’Connell; German director Dominik Graf’s “Die geliebten Schwestern”; and Greek director Yannis Economides’ “Stratos.” All Competition films announced thus far will be world premieres.

Also making its debut, in the non-competitive Special section, is “A Long Way Down,” a British adaptation of Nick Hornby’s black-comic bestseller from French directorPascal Chaumeil (“Heartbreaker”). It stars Toni Collette, Pierce Brosnan, Aaron Paul and Imogen Poots.

It’ll be joined in that section by the international premiere of an intriguing Australian anthology film, “The Turning,” based on a collection of short stories (woven around a single protagonist) by Tim Winton. 18 artists, including actress Mia Wasikowska, Justin Kurzel (“Snowtown”) and Warwick Thornton (“Samson & Delilah”), have directed segments, while Cate Blanchett, Rose Byrne and Hugo Weaving are among the stars. Consider me very, very interested.

Blanchett is triple-dipping at Berlin, actually: not only will be appearing on screen in “The Monuments Men” and “The Turning,” but she also contributes narration (along with Diane Kruger, Josh Radnor and others) the documentary “The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden,” which premiered at TElluride a few months ago and will have its European premiere in Berlin.

The Berlin Film Festival runs from February 6-16, 2014. I’ll once more be covering. 

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