Europe's big winter film festival is starting with films that are generating a lot of heat.
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20 Dec 2013 - 10:57 AM  UPDATED 20 Dec 2013 - 10:57 AM

For its 64th edition The Berlin Film Festival (Feb 6-16 2014) has pulled out some highly anticipated films to lead the charge with Wes Anderson's period comedy The Grand Budapest Hotel (pictured) opening proceedings and George Clooney's fifth directing effort, The Monuments Men in hot pursuit. Bill Murray appears in both movies while Cate Blanchett is in the latter. The films release here through Fox Searchlight, one of the last studios supporting projects by adventurous artists.

A UK-German co-production shot in various German locations, The Grand Budapest Hotel, with its sprawling star-studded cast (Saoirse Ronan with a huge facial scar, Tilda Swinton under cakes of make-up and Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman returning for more mayhem) playing a range of idiosyncratic characters, harks back to Anderson's The Royal Tenenbaums. Sporting a manicured triangular moustache, Ralph Fiennes stars as Gustave H, a legendary concierge at a famous European hotel between the wars, and the film revolves around the theft and recovery of a priceless Renaissance painting. Edward Norton looks just as uptight as is captain of the police squad as he did as the scout leader in Moonrise Kingdom.

The Monuments Men, a German/U.S. co-production, boasts just as impressive a cast, including Clooney, Matt Damon, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin and Hugh Bonneville. It's again comedic and chaotic. A WW2 riff on Clooney's previous Oceans movies with Steven Soderbergh, the caper heist the follows Clooney's conservator who recruits an unlikely platoon of art historians and curators to recover art stolen by the Nazis. Blanchett plays French art historian Rose Valland. The film was initially an Oscar contender, though bowed out of the overcrowded race and its US release was delayed till Feb 7. (Grace of Monaco starring Nicole Kidman did likewise.)

Blanchett, a likely Oscar nominee for Blue Jasmine (we'll know by then) also has two further films in the Berlin program. Together with actors including Diane Kruger and Thomas Kretschmann, the Australian actress provides her inimitable voice to The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden, a well-reviewed documentary that debuted in Telluride. More enthralling than most feature films, it follows the exotic lifestyles, sexual intrigue and suspicious deaths of a group of Europeans who couldn't get along when they separately settled on one of the tiny Pacific uninhabited islands in the early 1930s.

Blanchett also appears in the Australian Tim Winton-penned anthology The Turning, a surprise hit with audiences here. Robert Connelly, the film's creator says : “To have The Turning's international premiere in Berlinale and return to such a fantastic festival and to where my international feature film career started with The Boys is particularly exciting.”
Both The Galapagos Affair and The Turning screen out of competition in The Berlinale Special, together with A Long Way Down, which will release here through Transmission Films and is another of the festival's high profile world premieres. Based on Nick Hornby's bestseller, it follows a group of people who find themselves on the same London skyscraper rooftop about to jump. Pierce Brosnan plays a once-beloved TV personality, Toni Collette is a single mother, Aaron Paul from Breaking Bad is a failed musician turned pizza-delivery boy and Imogen Poots is a disillusioned teen. Ultimately the four strangers make a pact to stay alive—at least until Valentine's Day.

Five competition entries were announced to join The Grand Budapest Hotel. Most prominent of these is Aloft, a Spain-Canada-France production which will have its world premiere in Berlin. It marks the English-language debut of Peruvian-born Claudia Llosa, who won the Golden Bear with her second feature, The Milk of Sorrow, in 2009 and was nominated for an Oscar. Aloft focuses on a mother (Jennifer Connelly) and her son (Cillian Murphy), whose lives were marred by an accident that tore them apart. Melanie Laurent plays a journalist who pulls them back together.

The other four Competition titles comprise : 71, the debut feature from French-born UK director Yann Demange, starring Jack O'Connell (Starred Up) as a British soldier stranded in hostile Belfast in 1971; French veteran Alain Resnais' Aimer, boire et chanter (The Life of Riley, based on Alan Ayckbourn's play), about a group of friends who discover that one of them has only a few months to live; German helmer Dominik Graf's 18th-century-set Die geliebten Schwestern (Beloved Sisters), a study of love focusing on writer and philosopher Friedrich Schiller (Florian Stetter from Sophie Scholl); and Yannis Economides' Greece-Germany-Cyprus co-production, Stratos.

Two Australian films have been included in the first 12 films announced as part of the Generations line-up of children's films. Sophie Hyde's family drama 52 Tuesdays, is already headed for Sundance, while writer/director Rhys Graham's Galore had world premiered at the Melbourne Film Festival and will release here through Hopscotch. A teenage love story set against the backdrop of Canberra's devastating 2003 bushfires, Galore features rising Australian stars Ashleigh Cummings (Puberty Blues, Tomorrow When the War Began), Lily Sullivan (Camp, Mental), Toby Wallace (Never Tear Us Apart, Return to Nim's Island) and Aliki Matangi (Chris Lilley's upcoming Jonah).

The Generations also includes God Help The Girl, the directing debut of Belle & Sebastian singer Stuart Murdoch, who had released an album of the same title in 2009. The film starring Australia's Emily Browning will come direct from Sundance. The section's two world premieres are both from Argentina: Matias Lucchesi's Natural Sciences and Ines Maria Barrionuevo's Atlantida. Cao Baoping's Einstein and Einstein, should be topical as it tells of the impact of China's one-child policy on a single family; there's also Italian director Fabio Mollo's South Is Nothing; Samuel Kishi Leopo's Mexican musical drama We Are Mari Pepa; Jacques-Remy Girerd's animated comedy Aunt Hilde!; Martin Miehe-Renard's Danish drama The Contest; and the animation feature Wolfy, the Incredible Secret, the story of a courageous wolf and a timid rabbit directed by Gregoire Solotareff and Eric Omond.

Yesterday 19 of the 50 films were announced for the Panorama section. Jalil Lespert's Yves Saint Laurent (releasing here through Hopscotch) has been announced as the opening night film. Tracing the life of the French haute couture fashion designer from the beginning of his career in 1958 when he met his lover and business partner, Pierre Bergé, the film shows how Laurent revolutionised the world of fashion, eventually competing with his friend and fellow designer Karl Lagerfeld for decades. The film received the full support of Bergé, who allowed access to original YSL designs and for the filmmakers to shoot inside Laurent's opulent homes from Paris to Marrakech.

Also eagerly anticipated are new films from Michel Gondry and Robert Lepage. In his animated documentary, Is The Man Who Is Tall Happy? Gondry converses with Noam Chomsky (the film premiered last month at DOC NY; while Lepage presents Triptyque (Triptych), a Canadian feature he co-directs with his frequent collaborator Pedro Pires. Inspired by a character from Lepage's nine-hour stage play Lipsynch, the filmmakers embark on a three-part narrative delving into the depths of personal upheaval. The film features Lise Castonguay, Frédérike Bédard and Hans Piersbergen.

Also in the Panorama Tsai Ming-liang has the world premiere of his France-Taiwan co-production Xi You (Journey To The West) starring Lee Kang-sheng and Denis Lavant; Sophie Fillières has a world premiere from France, Arrête Ou Je Continue (If You Don't, I Will) with Emmanuelle Devos, Mathieu Amalric; Jürgen Vogel, Moritz Bleibtreu star in Maximilian Erlenwein 's German film, Stereo; Wes Bentley, Jason Isaacs and Vinessa Shaw appear in Saar Klein's US film, Things People Do; André Wilms, and Georg Friedrich star in Über-Ich Und Du (Superegos) a Germany-Switzerland-Austria production directed by Benjamin Heisenberg; while A. J. Edwards's The Better Angels starring Aussie Jason Clarke and Diane Kruger will come from Sundance as will Ned Kelly scribe John Michael McDonagh's Calvary starring Brendan Gleeson.

The Panorama section has been reinstated in Berlin's refurbished flagship cinema, the Zoo Palast, where the festival once had its prime focus in the centre of former West Berlin. Another new location announced yesterday was that the queer film-oriented TEDDY Award ceremony will take place for the first time in the baroque setting of the Komische Oper in the former East Berlin. It's always one of the festival's best parties and should be a hoot.

British director Ken Loach, 77, will be the subject of a Berlin homage and will receive the Honorary Golden Bear for his lifetime achievements.

“Ken Loach is one of Europe's great directors. Over his almost 50-year career, he has shown an extraordinary degree of continuity, while remaining innovative at all times,” says Berlinale Director Dieter Kosslick. “His profound interest in people and their individual fates, as well as his critical commitment to society have found expression in a variety of cinematic approaches. We are honouring Ken Loach as a director and greatly admire him for how he reflects on social injustices with humour in his films.”