The 61st Berlin International Film Festival so far…

Last Thursday the 61st Berlin International Film Festival opened with a screening of the Coen Brothers True Grit and although there’s still more to come, a great selection of films have already been shown.

As many as 400 films are shown as part of Berlinale’s public program and most of these are European premières. This year the President of the Jury is actress, Isabella Rossellini who is joined on the panel by Jan Chapman (Australian producer), Nina Hoss (German actress), Aamir Khan (Indian actor and director), Guy Maddin (Canadian director) and Sandy Powell (British costume designer).

Brit actor Ralph Fiennes premièred his directorial début, Coriolanus, at the festival, in which he also takes the lead. The film is based on the Shakespeare play, but with a twist. Fiennes, with the help of screen writer John Logan, shows us how relevant the playwright still is by setting the film in the modern day and turning it into an action movie. Gerard Butler, Vanessa Redgrave and Brian Cox also star in the film.

Coriolanus has received excellent reviews so far. Geoffrey MacNab from The Independent said the following, while giving the film four out of five stars.

“What they do deliver is a rousing and primal drama – one of the few films likely to appeal to action fans and Shakespeare lovers in equal measure.”

The highest prize awarded at the festival is known as the Golden Bear. One of the more interesting films selected for the competition is Iranian film Nader and Simin, A Separation (Jodaeiye Nader az Simin).

The film tells the story of a couple who find their lives are out of their control when a court rejects their divorce appeal. It not only looks at the gap between men and women in Iran but also the country’s class system. Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, who directed, wrote and produced the film, had this to say about the issue:

“There is a battle going on. There is a struggle between a class that is poor and religious and the other class that wants to live with more modern rules. There is a clash in our society.”

Nader and Simin, A Separation has had more than it’s fair share of problems before it finally got to première at the festival yesterday. The film’s production was halted last year after Farhadi publicly called for exiled film makers to be allowed back into the country.

Iran has a rather troubled background for film making due to ideological obstacles caused by the government. Anything which is considered to be vaguely critical towards the ruling regime or their version of Shia Islam is deemed as cultural treason.

One of Iran’s most famous directors, Jafar Panahi, was forced to turn down an invitation to join this year’s jury. He is currently serving a six-year prison sentence, and has been banned from making films in the country for the next 20 years, after being convicted of working against Iran’s ruling system.

The Berlin International Film Festival is a great chance to celebrate the freedom of speech and artistic prerogative that most film makers are allowed. It is also an opportunity to remember that there are some countries where this is still not the case. Freedom for film makers, that’s what we say.

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