Asian vets to take on Hollywood greats at Berlin film fest

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The Independent Culture

Asian movies will take pride of place this week at the 60th Berlin Film Festival, one of world cinema's top showcases, as new pictures by Roman Polanski and Martin Scorsese make their red-carpet premieres.

Hollywood stars will rub shoulders with Asian legends in the snowy German capital for the anniversary edition of the 11-day Berlinale, which will kick off Thursday with "Apart Together" by Wang Quan'an of China.

German director Werner Herzog ("Grizzly Man") will lead a seven-member jury including Oscar-winning actress Renee Zellweger, which will choose among 20 nominees for the coveted Golden and Silver Bear top prizes on February 20.

"Apart Together" is a period drama about a soldier forced to flee Mao's forces for Taiwan in 1949 who reunites decades later with the love of his life.

Japanese master Yoji Yamada, the maker of more than 80 films in his four-decade-long career, will bring down the curtain on the event with an out-of-competition screening of his latest picture, "About Her Brother".

"Nearly half the main showcase films are family films, although most of those families are fairly dysfunctional," Berlinale chief Dieter Kosslick quipped.

Chinese veteran Zhang Yimou ("Hero") will present "A Woman, A Gun and A Noodle Shop" while Koji Wakamatsu of Japan will unveil "Caterpillar". And Bollywood heart-throb Shah Rukh Khan is due in town with "My Name is Khan".

The 67-year-old Scorsese's thriller "Shutter Island" starring Leonardo DiCaprio will get its world premiere in Berlin but screen out of competition.

Meanwhile all eyes will be on Polanski's "The Ghost Writer", which he completed while under house arrest at his Swiss chalet awaiting possible extradition on US charges dating from the 1970s over his admission of having unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl.

The movie is based on the bestseller "The Ghost" and sees Ewan McGregor discovering skeletons in the closet of a former British prime minister modelled on Tony Blair (Pierce Brosnan).

While the French-Polish director, 76, will be absent, his stars are expected at the gala premiere in the 1,600-seat Berlinale Palast theatre.

German director Oskar Roehler has generated pre-festival buzz for "Jew Suss" about the making of the notorious Nazi-era anti-Semitic film of the same name.

"In it, you can see the kind of moral conflicts in which artists, in this case actors, can find themselves," Kosslick said.

Provocative British director Michael Winterbottom, a favourite on the festival circuit, will screen "The Killer Inside Me" with Jessica Alba, Casey Affleck and Kate Hudson in the story of a Texas sheriff's dark secret.

And reclusive British graffiti artist Banksy, who has kept his identity a mystery, is due to make a low-profile visit for a documentary about his work, "Exit Through the Gift Shop".

Also keenly awaited is a screening for the masses at the Brandenburg Gate of a restored version of the 1927 groundbreaking German classic "Metropolis" - complete with lost footage unearthed in Argentina two years ago.

The Berlinale, which ranks second only to Cannes among European film festivals, has a history of opening doors for smaller pictures.

Last year's laureate, "The Milk of Sorrow" by Peru's Claudia Llosa, is now nominated for the best foreign-language film Oscar and has had a respectable run in international art-house theatres.

"You have to compliment the Berlinale for discovering at an early stage what is cutting-edge in cinema and for having a sense what will move audiences," Jan Schulz-Ojala, chief critic of Berlin's daily Der Tagesspiegel, told AFP.

But he was concerned that in an anniversary year, the biggest names were directors in their twilight years such as Scorsese, Polanski and Yamada.

"It worries me to see that because I think it may then be harder to draw the best mid-career directors, who may just go to Cannes in the future," he said.

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