Political Murder Meets Pedophilia to Cause Berlinale Stir

A Swedish TV series dealing with the rise of right-wing movements in Europe is among several contributions set to cause a stir at the 65th Berlinale starting in the German capital today.

“Blue Eyes,” in which an anti-immigrant Swedish politician is stabbed to death amid a surge in far-right terrorism, joins topical movies about torture, the plight of African refugees, and pedophilia in the Catholic church at the annual event, the biggest film festival open to the public.

Iranian director Jafar Panahi, whose secretly filmed “Taxi” is banned in his home country, will compete with industry icons Terrence Malick and Werner Herzog for the top prize.

“A lot of these films we show are in the center of this world, which means they are dealing with subjects discussed all over the planet,” Berlinale director Dieter Kosslick said at a press conference ahead of the event’s start.

Stars including Natalie Portman and James Franco are expected to cross the red carpet as regular Berliners and tourists vie to attend screenings of the 441 films for about 13 euros ($15) a show. Locations include the Friedrichstadt-Palast, a Las Vegas-style revue theater with 1,900 seats. More than 325,000 tickets were sold at last year’s festival.

Empty Life

A total of 19 films will be competing for the golden and silver bears awarded on Feb. 14. They include Herzog’s “Queen of the Desert” about historian and diplomat Gertrude Bell, who mediated between the Middle East and the British Empire after World War I, and “The Club” by Chile’s Pablo Larrain, which deals with child abuse in Latin America. In Isabel Coixet’s “Nobody Wants the Night,” Juliette Binoche portrays a famous Arctic explorer’s wife who follows her husband on his travels to the North Pole.

Malick’s “Knight of Cups” stars Christian Bale as Rick, a Hollywood persona torn between the glamour and emptiness of his life.

The premiers of Hollywood productions “Fifty Shades of Grey” and “Cinderella,” featuring Cate Blanchett, as well as arthouse movies from Chile to China complete the line-up.

Marianne Schaerer has been making trips to Berlinale from her home in Baden, Switzerland, for the past decade. Standing in line at a counter in a shopping mall at Potsdamer Platz yesterday, she was trying to get more tickets after securing a seat at “When We Were Dreaming,” a German entry by Andreas Dresen about a gang of boys in Leipzig after the collapse of the East.

Revenue Draw

“If all goes well I will see 13 films this year,” Schaerer said with a smiling face framed by short gray hair and oval-shaped glasses.

Visitors like Schaerer are expected to bring about 78 million euros in additional revenue to the city this year, according to the Investitionsbank Berlin.

The Mommseneck, a restaurant at Potsdamer Platz offering half a grilled chicken with fries and salad for 5.90 euros as one of its many lunch specials, is gearing up for a Berlinale boost, said waiter Joern Mueller. “Once the Berlinale begins we can very clearly feel its impact,” he said.

Founded in 1951 in the midst of the Cold War struggle over the then-divided city, the Berlinale has never shied away from controversial films.

In 1970, the jury resigned over a conflict about “O.K.”, a film showing U.S. soldiers raping and then killing a Vietnamese girl. Nine years later, another Vietnam film -- the U.S. war drama “The Deer Hunter,” starring Robert de Niro -- caused the Soviet and several eastern European delegations to walk out in protest at its depiction of Vietnamese.

Sweden Controversy

“Blue Eyes,” which premiered on Swedish public broadcaster SVT on Nov. 30 and features a right-wing party rapidly gaining voter support, came just a few months after Sweden’s real general election, in which the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats more than doubled their support to 13 percent.

Swedish media were quick to draw parallels between drama and real life, leading to complaints from the Sweden Democrats that SVT was betraying its political impartiality with the series.

“We wanted to do something about pessimism and depict the growing trend with protest parties in Europe,” Christian Wikander, the producer responsible for the series, told SVT. “TV drama should be relevant for the audience. Sometimes these stories can create debate.”

Kosslick, the Berlinale’s director, is no stranger to controversy. He spoke to a North Korean diplomat to defuse criticism by the regime over what it thought was a plan to screen Sony Corp.’s “The Interview” at the Berlinale, which isn’t actually showing the movie.

Ukrainian Filmmaker

The film starts in German cinemas the same day as the Berlinale, causing the confusion, Kosslick told reporters.

When presenting the festival program to journalists last week, he spoke out in support of Oleg Sentsov, a Ukrainian filmmaker and outspoken critic of Russia’s military intervention in Crimea, who was arrested and is awaiting trial in Moscow, the curator said.

“We hope he will get a fair trial, and I think there’s no need for a trial at all,” said Kosslick. “Actually, he should be released.”