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BERLIN (Reuters) - An Arctic survival movie about two women - the wife of North Pole explorer Robert Peary and a young Inuit - fighting for their lives together in a snowbound shack kicked off the 65th Berlin International Film Festival on Thursday.
"My first bear," high-society matron Josephine Peary, played by French actress Juliette Binoche, says triumphantly in the opening moments of Spanish director Isabel Coixet's "Nobody Wants the Night" as she fells a polar bear with a single shot.
Life goes rapidly downhill as the bullheaded and wealthy Peary forces Inuits and veteran Arctic hands, one of them played by Irish actor Gabriel Byrne, to take her on an ill-fated foray to find her husband, whom she rarely sees at home in Washington, in 1908 during one of his attempts to reach the North Pole.
Mrs. Peary's voyage of self-discovery in the ice and cold, in a film that says it is "inspired by real characters", includes finding out that the Inuit woman Alaka, played by Japanese actress Rinko Kikuchi, has had sexual relations with her husband.
Despite that, the two bond, in a female take on a buddy movie, as they struggle to survive with no heat and only dog and seal meat to eat.
Spanish director Isabel Coixet fended off suggestions the significance of her film lay in the fact it was only the second work by a woman director to launch the prestigious Berlin film festival.
"We talk about gender...the way we talk about it is going around in circles," Catalan told a news conference. "I want more money for women, I don't want equal pay, I want more."
Although the script is the work of a male scriptwriter who Coixet pointedly said "is not gay", the film is an intimate and deeply personal look at two women forced into a relationship that results metaphorically in Mrs Peary's rebirth as someone with a greater understanding of what it is to be human.
"She (Peary) goes into the wilderness and she encounters a new way of feeling, a new way of behaving," Binoche said. "I had this image of being a peacock in the film, and becoming the dog with four legs on the earth, trying to survive."
Stephen Schaefer, film critic for the Boston Herald newspaper, said the film was "a wonderful departure" as a festival opener because it had "none of the hallmarks of being a big, glitzy, global movie".
Coixet's film was the first to be shown of 19 that are in contention for the main Golden Bear prize awarded on Feb 14.
Editing by Mark Heinrich