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Capote headed for Berlin Film Festival

Capote headed for Berlin Film Festival

A fatal road accident will provide a fitting start on Thursday to what critics say is a strong yet morbid Berlin Film Festival line-up featuring brutal murder, drug addiction, political corruption, exorcism, and rape. With grim reality comes plenty of glamour, though, with Oscar hopefuls George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Heath Ledger expected to attend an annual festival that sometimes lacks the star power of Venice or Cannes.

At least five films about soccer will give audiences a foretaste of Germany's hosting of the World Cup in four months' time, including Offside, an Iranian picture about women's obsession with the game. "On paper it looks strong. It's a balancing act to get the mix right. They also need a bit of glamour," said Verena Luecken, film critic at the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

Alan Rickman and Sigourney Weaver will be the stars at Thursday's gala opening of Snow Cake. Rickman's car is struck by a juggernaut, killing a young female hitchhiker he had just picked up. Weaver plays the woman's autistic mother. Festival director Dieter Kosslick is aware of criticism of openers; the stars of Cold Mountain failed to show up in 2004, and last year Kristin Scott Thomas and Joseph Fiennes joined Kosslick on the red carpet, but their film was poorly received. Critics say Snow Cake appears more promising. It is one of 26 movies showcasing at the festival, 19 of them in competition for the coveted Golden Bear for best film and Silver Bears for best director, actor, and actress.

Those with bigger prizes in mind should also be present, including Hoffman in Capote, which has already been released in the United States, and Ledger, star of Brokeback Mountain, here as a heroin addict in Candy. Clooney, with director, supporting actor, and screenplay Oscar nominations, should also appear to plug Syriana.

Critics said they were looking forward to Robert Altman's A Prairie Home Companion and The New World, the first film directed by Terrence Malick since The Thin Red Line in 1998. The Road to Guantanamo, Michael Winterbottom's account of three British men held at the U.S prison camp, is already setting tongues wagging ahead of a world premiere next Tuesday.

The glamour should come in the form of Weaver, Clooney, Vin Diesel, Isabelle Huppert, Natalie Portman, Isabella Rossellini, and Meryl Streep. Out actor Ian McKellen and Polish director Andrzej Wajda will also receive lifetime achievement awards. Italy's Roberto Benigni, who won an Oscar for Life Is Beautiful, will present his latest work The Tiger and the Snow, while France's Claude Chabrol brings Comedy of Power. Outside the main competition, provocative and intriguing titles include Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price, 37 Uses for a Dead Sheep, One Way Boogie Woogie / 27 Years Later, and Bye Bye Berlusconi!

Unlike previous festivals, Kosslick says there will be no formal motto and no obvious theme, though there is a prevailing mood of harsh reality. Hanns-Georg Rodek, critic at Die Welt newspaper, said politics was not just a Berlinale preoccupation. "I think it's a general trend--2006 will be a very political year for film." The serious tone has not discouraged visitors. A record number of 18,000 film buyers, sellers, producers, directors, actors, and journalists will crowd the screenings of the 400 films in the main competition and various sideshows. (Reuters)

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