Gritty tales from mean streets to New Mexico kick off Berlin film race

Fri Feb 7, 2014 1:59pm EST
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By Michael Roddy and Gareth Jones

BERLIN (Reuters) - Two powerful films, one looking at the plight of boys abandoned in Berlin, the other about an ex-convict haunted by his violent past, kicked off the competition for best picture at the 64th Berlin International Film Festival on Friday.

A third competition film, the Northern Ireland-conflict themed "'71" capped the day with a harrowing look at a British soldier's plight when he is left behind in a rebellious Catholic nationalist neighborhood after his patrol gets ambushed in a riot in Belfast.

French-born British director Yann Demange said the title of "'71" came from the time in the Northern Ireland "troubles" when the lines between Protestants and Catholics were not yet set in stone. The soldier separated from his patrol, and new to Belfast, has no idea where he is and becomes a pawn in the increasingly murderous game between the two sides.

"Belfast was a kind of a forerunner for the kinds of insurgencies most Western European or most Western armies now find themselves involved in," screenwriter Gregory Burke told a post-screening news conference.

Demange told Reuters that his film could not have been made had it not been for Paul Greengrass's "Bloody Sunday" and Steve McQueen's "Hunger", both dealing with "troubles" themes.

"Those two films meant that this film could exist because those films had to happen first and of course they're amazing movies," he said.

German director Edward Berger's "Jack", starring the immensely persuasive first-time child actor Ivo Pietzcker in the title role, is the story of the 11-year-old and his blonde-haired younger brother Manuel finding their way through a labyrinth of Berlin's streets and its drugged-out nightlife.

It is one of four German films vying for the festival's top prize, to be awarded next week.   Continued...

Actor Christian Bale (R) and director David O. Russell pose to promote the movie American Hustle at the 64th Berlinale International Film Festival in Berlin February 7, 2014. The festival runs from February 6 until 16 in the German capital. REUTERS/Tobias Schwarz