After a hard-core art house lineup last year, the Berlin Film Festival may just have gone user-friendly for 2014. “It feels a bit more commercial than previous years,” said a U.S. buyer ahead of tonight’s kick-off. Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel opened the festival to raves this evening in competition, lending glitz to the proceedings with a Euro caper populated by well-liked stars. While reviews are coming out strong, it will be interesting to see how the jury reacts to the film: President James Schamus was still at Focus Features when the company released Anderson’s last film, Moonrise Kingdom. Fox Searchlight has Grand Budapest and is releasing in the U.S. on March 7.
There’s buzz, too, elsewhere in the lineup. One film I hear heavily talked about is Yann Demange’s Belfast-set action thriller 71, with a hot up-and-comer in Jack O’Connell and sold by Protagonist. Eyes are also on Rachid Bouchareb’s Two Men In Town with Forest Whitaker, Harvey Keitel, Brenda Blethyn and Luis Guzman. Whitaker plays an ex-con just out of prison who, despite his new-found faith, struggles with violent impulses. Keitel is the sheriff who wants to send him back to jail. Pathé has international sales. Another title, Aloft, was picked up today for the U.S. and Latin America by Sony Pictures Classics giving the film momentum. Director Claudia Llosa, whose The Milk Of Sorrow won the Golden Bear in 2009, makes her English-language debut with the drama that stars Jennifer Connelly, Cillian Murphy and Melanie Laurent. Dreamcatchers has sales.
Related: Hot Berlin Clip: Yann Demange’s ’71′
Across the sections, Berlin has proved itself key to the Foreign Language Oscar race in recent times. But of the five nominees this year, only The Broken Circle Breakdown started its career in the German capital in 2013, and that was in the Panorama section. Previous years’ Oscar selections included such Berlin bows as A Separation, which won the Foreign Language Academy Award in 2012, and 2013 nominees A Royal Affair and War Witch. Foreign language titles to keep an eye on this year include Competition pic Inbetween Worlds (Match Factory) from director Feo Aladag whose When We Leave was the German Oscar submission in 2010. With Scandinavia so hot, TrustNordisk’s Kraftidioten (In Order Of Disappearance) from director Hans Petter Moland can’t be discounted. The action comedy stars Stellan Skarsgård, Bruno Ganz and Kon-Tiki‘s Pål Sverre Hagen. Executive produced by Martin Scorsese, La Tercera Orilla (The Third Side Of The River) is from A Week Alone‘s Argentinian director Celina Murga. The coming-of-age story follows a teenager whose father lives a double life. A debut feature to watch is Sudabeh Mortezai’s Macondo, a German-Chechen drama about a Muslim boy caught in the divide between his ideals and reality. FilmsBoutique, the offshoot of France’s smart FilmsDistribution, is handling. Also out of Germany is Dominik Graf returning to Berlin with period piece Die Geliebten Schwestern (Beloved Sisters), his first time in competition since 2002’s Der Felsen. International sales are handled by Global Screen. Veteran French helmer Alain Resnais is in Competition with Aimer, Boire Et Chanter (Life Of Riley). It’s based on the play by Alan Ayckbourn who also penned the source material for Resnais’ Smoking/No Smoking which won the director a Silver Bear in 1994. Resnais also previously won that prize for 1998’s On Connaît La Chanson.
Also of note is a preponderance of titles from Asia after a lament that 2013 included very few. On the roster is controversial director Lou Ye’s Blind Massage which Wild Bunch is selling; Ning Hao’s No Man’s Land which opened hot in China at the end of 2013 after a struggle to pass local censors; Diao Yinan’s police thriller Black Coal, Thin Ice (Fortissimo); and emotional drama The Little House from Japan’s Yoji Yamada.
Not vying for prizes, but included in the Competition lineup are George Clooney’s timely The Monuments Men and Christophe Gans’ anticipated La Belle Et La Bête with Vincent Cassel and Blue Is The Warmest Color‘s Léa Seydoux starring in the director’s first feature since 2006’s Silent Hill. Also, a couple of films of note in the Berlinale Special program include Pascal Chaumeil’s A Long Way Down with Pierce Brosnan, Toni Collette, Aaron Paul and Imogen Poots; Hossein Amini’s The Two Faces Of January with Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst and Oscar Isaac; the Participant Media-backed César Chavez, directed by Diego Luna and starring Rosario Dawson, John Malkovich, Gabriel Mann, Michael Peña and America Ferrera; and Australian portemanteau The Turning.