THE 52ND BERLIN INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL February 6-17. Berlin, Germany. www.berli nale.de Rating: NNNNN
berlin -- the rain darts down like needles and the air's all fogged with doubt, but the lights still shine at the Berlinale. Fake sun pours from two huge brutes mounted six storeys up above Potsdamer Platz. White glare pops from a blinding outdoor video screen, reflecting Berlin's high-gloss glamour back on itself. An hour before each night's premiere, it's brighter out here than on an icefield at noon.
Every film festival is a show, but Berlin's pageant feels showier than ever. The first big international film festival since September 11 is the same old celluloid flesh fair, except different. Different in small, significant ways.
Outside the scarlet Berlinale Palast on opening night, clean-cut young Germans in dramatic black capes usher us into lines, where we wait to pass through metal detectors. To get into a movie. Notices warn us to carry photo ID at all times. Germans do this every day, but for North Americans it puts a chill on your festival groove.
The films themselves show no more concern for geopolitics than in any other year, but pundits still strain for context. What does The Shipping News, screening here in competition, mean in light of America's New War? Is Cate Blanchett a force for good?
Blanchett strode the red carpet on opening night for Tom Tykwer's Heaven. With her neck sheathed in a high collar and her eyes raccooned in black, she looked like the diva version of Gwyneth Paltrow's Royal Tenenbaums character. That film also competes for this year's Golden Bear, and if the zeitgeist plays out as expected, next Monday's prize-winners will lurch between the sort of artifice that delights Tenenbaums director Wes Anderson and what film types persist in calling realism.
In Heaven, Blanchett plays an accused terrorist helped by Italian cop Giovanni Ribisi. But Tykwer is the director of the super-jazzed toy box Run Lola Run. And he's working from an old script by Krzysztof Piesiewicz and Krzysztof Kieslowski. So the style isn't exactly gritty.
Nor is 8 Femmes', a melodrama/ mystery/musical set in a country house in the 50s, and as constructed as a 50s bosom. Director François Ozon has shot to the top of the buzz chart with this one. That's partly for his masterful navigation of movie artifice, and mainly for his astounding direction of his actors.
The cast includes Catherine Deneuve, Fanny Ardant, Isabelle Huppert, Emmanuelle Bart and Virginie Ledoyen -- this movie trumps Gosford Park for Big-Name Acting, and there's not a single man in it.
Artifice drives some of the best films in Berlin's competition section. By far the weirdest is Spirited Away, a hallucinatory anime from Hayao Miyazaki, the director of Princess Mononoke. It feels like a Japanese take on Alice In Wonderland, but with plenty of dread to balance the whimsy.
Bertrand Tavernier's new film, Laisser-passer, draws on real events, but it too gleams with movie-ness. Set in 1942, it follows the conflicts of the French men and women working for a German film company in occupied Paris.
Laisser-passer deploys the international style of filmmaking I call Miramaxism. Handsome, stately and alternately brisk and heartfelt, it's a foreign movie the way pasta is a dish from a foreign country.
On the other hand -- and this is without doubt a year for other hands -- there are the Berlinale movies that trade on transparent style.
Zhang Yimou's Happy Times comes heralded as one of his toss-offs, a light romantic comedy in advance of his upcoming Hero, which boasts more megastar casting: Jet Li, Zhang Ziyi, Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung. It was announced here this week that it's been bought whole, by Miramax.
Bloody Sunday is the rawest film so far in the competition, which of course makes it every bit as stylized as the gilded glory of 8 Femmes. Director Paul Greengrass makes a radical departure from The Theory Of Flight, turning in an all-vérité, all-the-time version of the events of January 30, 1972. That was when British forces squared off against marchers in Derry, Northern Ireland, and shot 13 of them dead.
Bloody Sunday takes a clear anti-military position, but it leans too heavily on the persuasive force of handheld cameras. It is refreshing, though, to see a film here condemn such a clear-cut case of terrorism.
This year's competition jury is headed by Mira Nair, who made both the realist Salaam Bombay and the luscious Monsoon Wedding, screening out of competition. Dieter Kosslick, the new director of the Berlin film festival, may have chosen wisely. By all accounts, he has a very dry sense of email@example.com Berlin film festival