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Women and War to The Fore at Berlin Film Festival
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A tragic screen portrait of Edith Piaf kicks off the Berlin Film Festival on Thursday, a fitting opening to a competition where women, many of them in trouble, play a central role. Asia's four competition entries include a Chinese film Lost in Beijing.

Alongside them in the main competition lineup of 26 films comes the theme of war, with Clint Eastwood's Letters From Iwo Jima, Israeli production Beaufort, and The Counterfeiters, about a Nazi plan to ruin Britain's economy.

Asia and Latin America feature strongly in a typically international selection of films, and Berlin hopes to garnish its reputation for hard hitting world cinema with a sprinkling of Hollywood stars on the red carpet.

Dieter Kosslick, the festival's director, hopes that La Vie En Rose, starring Marion Cotillard as Piaf from the age of 20 until her death at 47, will solve the problem of opening films that have tended to be critical flops.

Singer of classic ballads like La vie en rose and Non, je ne regrette rien, Piaf rose from poverty to superstardom, but the path was strewn with tragedy, including the death in a plane crash of her lover.

Also in competition is Yella, by German director Christian Petzold, about a young woman from ex-communist East Germany whose old life continues to haunt her as she seeks work in the western part of the country to escape a wretched marriage.

In Irina Palm, the real-life singer and actress Marianne Faithfull plays a 50-year-widow who, in a desperate search for cash, unwittingly accepts a job in a sex club.

Tuya's Marriage, from China, is about a woman's search for a new partner who can take care of her and her sick ex-husband, while Angel, the closing film, plots the rise and fall of a young woman in early 20th Century England.

In Notes On a Scandal actresses Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett play teachers whose relationship turns sour. Both performers are nominated for Oscars -- Dench for best actress and Blanchett for best supporting actress.

They are expected to be joined in Berlin by fellow Academy Award nominee Eastwood, whose Letters from Iwo Jima is up for best picture and best director. Also due to be in Berlin are Sharon Stone, Lauren Bacall, Robert De Niro, and Matt Damon.

Asia's four competition entries include Lost in Beijing, which has been granted a film license yesterday by the China Film Bureau, a required step before it can be screened in Berlin.

Also in competition is I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK, a South Korean entry featuring pop star Rain in his movie debut.

Berlin, with a booming film market, ranks behind only Cannes in terms of commercial clout, although it lacks Venice's glamour.

Kosslick said he would work hard this year to make more seats available to the public, who flock to see films in the main competition and other sections.

"We've got to create more opportunities for the public because the Berlinale is a festival for the public," he told German radio this week. "And if we ever forget that principle, that will be the end of the Berlinale."

He also renewed criticism of newer festivals, like Dubai and Rome, which he said used cash to lure Hollywood stars.

"If we started to pay stars for appearances, then we'd go bankrupt by Friday evening and the Berlinale would last just 2-1/2 days." The festival ends on February 18.
(Agencies via CRI.cn February 8, 2008)

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