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Ralph Fiennes Attacks Rome, Spacey’s Bank Fails at Berlin Fest

A scene from "Coriolanus" directed by Ralph Fiennes. The film is a modern-day updating of William Shakespeare's play using the original text, and showing in competition at the 2011 Berlin Film Festival. Source: Coriolanus Films/Berlin Film Festival via Bloomberg

Ralph Fiennes makes his debut as a director at this year’s Berlin Film Festival with a modern-day setting for Shakespeare’s tragedy “Coriolanus.”

Fiennes plays the blunt soldier of the title who botches his political career, and Vanessa Redgrave is his ambitious mother. It’s among the 16 movies competing for a Golden Bear in this year’s festival, which runs from Feb. 10 to Feb. 20. Rivals include “Margin Call” starring Kevin Spacey, a thriller set on Wall Street during the financial crisis of 2008, as toxic debts mount and bankruptcy looms.

Two veteran German directors are represented, out of competition, with new 3-D documentaries: Wim Wenders’s “Pina” features Pina Bausch, the genre-crossing German choreographer who died in 2009. Werner Herzog was granted rare access to a cave in southern France which contains 400 murals, believed to be the world’s oldest, for “Cave of Forgotten Dreams.”

“We have lots of 3-D films,” festival director Dieter Kosslick said at a news conference presenting the lineup. “We asked -- where is there something new, what are the new trends? We have a lot of young directors in this program.”

Fiennes’s and Spacey’s are among the few big names competing for awards this year. The mostly European films in the competition section include an Albanian revenge saga directed by Joshua Marston; Hungarian director Bela Tarr’s “The Turin Horse,” which features a demented Friedrich Nietzsche; and Alexander Mindadze’s “Innocent Saturday,” about the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

Confused Biotechnologist

Liam Neeson and Diane Kruger will present “Unknown,” a thriller set in Berlin, in which Neeson plays a biotechnologist who appears to lose his identity in a car crash. Jaume Collet-Serra directs. The film is screening out of competition, as is the opening movie, “True Grit,” already nominated for 10 Oscars. Directors Joel and Ethan Coen will be at the festival. Colin Firth also happens to be in town, for the German premiere of “The King’s Speech,” nominated for 12 Oscars.

A seven-member jury led by “Blue Velvet” star Isabella Rossellini will pick the competition winners. Rossellini has her own film at the festival, though fortunately not in competition. In “Late Bloomers,” directed by Julie Gavras, she and William Hurt play a middle-aged couple who are drifting apart.

One jury member is unlikely to attend -- Jafar Panahi, the Iranian director of “Offside,” a 2005 comedy about women who disguise themselves as men to gain admittance to a soccer game in Tehran. After he was invited to join the jury, Panahi was sentenced by the Iranian regime to six years in jail.

“We hope to send a signal that we, as a film festival, cannot accept freedom of expression being suppressed through such drastic methods,” Kosslick said.

The “Retrospective” section of the festival features Ingmar Bergman and will screen all the Swedish director’s films, many with new prints provided by the Swedish Film Institute. An exhibition at the Deutsche Kinemathek on Potsdamer Platz for the first time shows Bergman’s private archive of correspondence, notebooks, annotated scripts and photos.

For more information on the Berlin Film Festival, go to The main sponsors are Bayerische Motoren Werke AG, L’Oreal SA and German broadcaster ZDF.

(Catherine Hickley is a writer for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are her own.)

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