Economic crisis shapes Berlin Film Festival as stars line up

An action thriller about the often dark and crooked world of global banking opens the Berlin Film Festival on Thursday, dpa reported.

German director Tom Twyker's The International stars Clive Owen as an Interpol agent, Louis Salinger, and Naomi Watts as a New York attorney, Eleanor Whitman, who go after world's biggest bank to try to expose its business in financing wars and terror.

"Anyone who has moved against this bank has ended up dead", warns Louis as he and Eleanor attempt to track down the flow of funds in a high-risk-filled chase around the world.

Coming in the midst of a bleak Berlin winter, the 10-day festival provides a touch of glamour and glitz to the German capital with the 59th Berlinale rolling out the red carpet for a slew of world stars.

This includes Michelle Pfeiffer, Demi Moore, Renee Zellweger, Kate Winslett, Steve Martin, Keanu Reeves and Gael Garcia Bernal.

Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio is also expected to be town next week for the Cinema for Peace, which is held as a parallel event to the Berlinale. The Cinema for Peace seeks to promote the cause of peace in the international film business.

Of the 26 films selected to be shown in the festival's main lineup, 17 are world premieres and include productions from China, Britain, Iran, Poland, Uruguay and the United States.

A seven-member international jury headed up by Academy Award-winning British actress Tilda Swinton will decide who takes home the Berlinale's prestigious prizes, including its coveted Golden Bear, the winner of which is selected from a field of 18 films.

Among the films in the race for the Golden Bear is British director Stephen Frears' Cheri as well as Darbareye Elly (About Elly) from Iranian director Asghar Farhadi and Chinese director Chen Kaige's Forever Enthralled about a famous Peking opera star during the first part of the last century.

This year's competition line-up also includes Paris-born director Francois Ozon's Ricky about an extraordinary child and veteran Polish director Andrzej Wajda's latest film Tatarak (Sweet Rush) which tells the story of an ageing doctor, whose life is turned upside down when she meets a younger man.

More than 6,000 films were submitted to this year's Berlinale, which is one of the world's top three film festivals.

This year's Berlinale is also been held at the start of the year marking the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the implosion of communism across Central Europe.

As a result, the Berlinale also includes a series of movies touching on the years surrounding the end of the Soviet empire. But then, it is often the most political of the world's top movie festivals.

The Berlinale steps back this year from looking at the daily horrors of the Iraq war to portray the conflict's impact on the home front and the human costs of the war.

Among the movies are Israeli-born Oren Moverman's The Messenger starring Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson, which tells the story of the army representatives assigned to visit families to inform them that their relatives have died in combat.

However, the festival program also includes some light-hearted moments such as British-born Richard Loncraine's My One and Only.

Set in the 1950s and starring Renee Zellweger and Kevin Bacon, Loncraine's film is a comedy about a young woman's attempts to find a wealthy man to finance a new life for herself and her sons.

For the third year, the Berlinale is also mounting its Culinary Cinema section featuring gala screenings of food-themed films with meals prepared by top European chefs.

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