BERLIN (Reuters) - The Berlin film festival opens on Thursday with "The International," a thriller starring Clive Owen as an Interpol agent investigating the dubious practices of one of the world's most powerful banks.
Festival director Dieter Kosslick has said that the choice of opening movie was fortuitous, given the global banking crisis gripping the Western world.
"If we had showed this film six months ago, a lot of people wouldn't have believed it," he said recently. "But now it might come across to some as a sort of documentary film."
The International, directed by Tom Tykwer, kicks off 11 days of screenings, red carpet glamour, celebrity spotting and publicity in Berlin, the first of the three big European film festivals each year. The others are Cannes and Venice.
The German city has earned a reputation for tough, hard-hitting cinema, and 2009 will be no exception.
In the main competition "Storm" examines the legacy of war in former Yugoslavia while "Mammoth" tackles issues of globalization and economic migrants.
Director Rachid Bouchareb, who made the critically acclaimed war drama "Days of Glory," brings "London River," about two people in London trying to find their children who go missing after the public transport bombings of July 7, 2005.
Outside the main competition, Michael Winterbottom presents "The Shock Doctrine," a documentary based on a book by Naomi Klein arguing that people in power around the world exploit war and disaster to push through their agendas.
"Rachel" is a documentary that investigates the death in 2003 of U.S. activist Rachel Corrie, fatally run down by an Israeli bulldozer as she tried to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian building.
And Hollywood actor and green campaigner Leonardo DiCaprio is expected to attend the Cinema for Peace gala during the festival to promote awareness of environmental issues.
But unlike some years, Berlin has more than its fair share of comedy and romance.
"Pink Panther 2," starring Steve Martin as the hapless Inspector Clouseau, has its international premiere.
The last-minute addition of 1950s comedy "My One and Only," featuring Oscar winner Renee Zellweger, will also turn up the star power on the red carpet, ensuring Berlin the kind of media exposure a film festival needs to thrive.
And 1920s romance "Cheri" reunites director Stephen Frears with actress Michelle Pfeiffer more than 20 years after their collaboration on "Dangerous Liaisons."
Berlin also hosts a major market where titles are bought and sold, and this year's European Film Market will provide further clues as to how the international movie business is withstanding the global financial crisis.