Jude Law, Matt Damon Bring Fracking, Drug Drama to Berlin

Jude Law, Matt Damon, Juliette Binoche and Anne Hathaway are among the stars converging on the German capital for this year’s Berlin Film Festival, traditionally a showcase for gritty, political dramas.

Damon persuades American farmers to give up their land for fracking -- drilling for gas -- in Gus Van Sant’s environmental drama “Promised Land,” competing with 18 other movies for the Golden Bear award at the festival opening today. Law plays a psychiatrist investigating the dark side of the pharmaceutical industry after a patient apparently commits murder and remembers nothing about it in Steven Soderbergh’s “Side Effects.”

Festival director Dieter Kosslick makes no apologies for the hard-hitting nature of the movies. Other competition offerings include a drama about corruption in rural northern Russia and a Bosnian film called “An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker” about a desperately poor Roma family facing a medical crisis and unable to pay for treatment.

“It is a political festival because it was founded in the Cold War, and it has always been political,” Kosslick told reporters before the opening. Many of the 2013 films address the “fallout of the economic crisis,” he said.

“Now we see the collateral damage on society,” he said. “The capitalist crisis isn’t the end of the story. We see that systems are breaking apart.”

The Berlin Film Festival boasts the highest audience participation rate of any such event worldwide, with as many as 300,000 cinema-goers. This year a total of 404 movies will be screened between today’s opening and Feb. 17.

Kung Fu

The festival opens with “The Grandmaster,” a kung fu tale of betrayal and challenge set in 1936 by the Chinese director Wong Kar Wai. The movie is showing out of competition because Wong heads the festival’s seven-member international jury this year. Other jury members include the actor Tim Robbins and German director Andreas Dresen.

Binoche plays the title role in “Camille Claudel,” the sculptor and lover of Auguste Rodin, committed to a psychiatric clinic by her family. Isabelle Huppert is the mother superior in a drama about a young woman sent to a convent against her will in “La Religieuse,” adapted from the novel by Denis Diderot.

“Dark Blood” stars River Phoenix, who died 10 days before the end of the shoot in 1993. Director George Sluizer decided to finish his western in 2012, reading the missing scenes aloud off screen. In “On My Way,” Catherine Deneuve plays a woman who goes out to get cigarettes and ends up taking a long break from her mother and her restaurant.

The Iranian director Jafar Panahi is a regular fixture at the Berlin Film Festival. His competition entry this year is “Closed Curtain,” featuring a couple on the run from authorities and a filmmaker who is no longer allowed to work.

The Berlin Film Festival runs from Feb. 7 through Feb. 17. For more information, go to https://www.berlinale.de/en

Muse highlights include Jason Harper on cars, Martin Gayford on European art, Lance Esplund on U.S. art and Scott Reyburn on the art market.

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