BERLIN (Reuters) - The 60th Berlin film festival opened on Thursday with the moving story of an elderly Chinese couple reunited decades after civil war forced them apart.
The premiere of “Apart Together” kicks off 10 days of screenings, publicity and star-studded glamour at the cinema showcase, which hopes for a strong showing in a big anniversary year after the lukewarm critical reception of recent editions.
Director Wang Quan’an’s Apart Together comes three years after he won the best picture Golden Bear for “Tuya’s Marriage,” and he said political divisions between China and Taiwan were no wider than those of time and distance.
He also told reporters after a press screening and before the red carpet world premiere that his aim was to paint the broader picture through ordinary people’s lives.
“When I shoot a film I’m not particularly influenced by external circumstances,” he said, speaking through an interpreter.
“What is important to me is the life of the common people and their emotions. It’s a tragedy our country is divided. Of course it’s a tragedy for any country that is divided.
“We know about this from history. What’s interesting about this film is that it focuses on some of the details of this — it puts the spotlight on that and that is very important.”
In the movie, aging former National People’s Party soldier Lui Yansheng is finally able to travel to mainland China from Taiwan, where he was forced to flee in 1949 following civil war against the Communists.
Decades after leaving his long-lost love in the turmoil of the time, he seeks her out in Shanghai and finally meets his son for the first time.
But Qiao Yu’e, played by veteran actress Lisa Lu, remarried long ago and is surrounded by children and grandchildren, complicating Lui’s plans to take her back to Taiwan with him.
“It gave me a chance to think back to those sweet days of being in love,” Lu, in her early eighties, told reporters.
“I could play the entire spectrum of love — the romantic side of love, and this second love characterized very much by gratitude. It was a fantastic screenplay that captured the different aspects of love.”
There is comedy amid the heartache, as when Lu’s character must formally marry her husband before they can divorce, and the tale is told against the backdrop of a soaring Shanghai skyline which is changing at a relentless pace.
On Friday, attention will turn to Roman Polanski’s “The Ghost Writer” starring Ewan McGregor and Pierce Brosnan, and on Saturday Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island,” with his regular collaborator Leonardo DiCaprio, has its premiere.
Polanski, under house arrest in his Swiss chalet and fighting extradition to the United States to face sex charges dating back more than 30 years, will not be in Berlin, where anticipation of a movie he completed while behind bars is high.
Organizers are hoping that A-listers like Scorsese, DiCaprio, jury member Renee Zellweger and Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan make up for the absence of the 76-year-old director of classics like “Chinatown” and “Rosemary’s Baby.”
Festival director Dieter Kosslick must balance attracting stars to the red carpet with championing experimental cinema from around the globe. The level of business at the accompanying European Film Market is also essential to Berlin’s prospects.