BERLIN (Reuters) - "The International," the opening movie at the Berlin film festival this year, is a thriller starring Clive Owen that tackles dubious banking practices, terrorist funding and the impact of globalization.
Europe's first big film festival of the year tackles many burning issues from the real world, underlining its reputation as a showcase for hard-hitting, topical cinema that does not always set the box office alight.
But the 2009 edition, which kicks off on Thursday, also has its fair share of comedy with Hollywood crime caper "Pink Panther 2," starring Steve Martin as the hapless Inspector Clouseau, having its international premiere in the German city.
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.
"A lot of people are going to the cinema to escape," festival director Dieter Kosslick said recently.
"People are sick and tired of the word 'crisis' and they're glad to escape into a darkened cinema for two hours to forget their troubles. Cinema is a great thing in times like these."
As well as laughs there is plenty of love, with 1920s romance "Cheri" reuniting director Stephen Frears with actress Michelle Pfeiffer more than 20 years after their collaboration on "Dangerous Liaisons."
"Love is a great topic when there's no more money," Kosslick added.
In the main Berlin film festival competition this year there are 26 pictures, although eight are not eligible for awards at the closing ceremony on February 14. Hundreds more screen at cinemas across the city over 11 days.
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 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.
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.
Berlin also hosts a major market where titles are bought and sold, and this year's European Film Market will provide more clues as to how the international movie business is withstanding the global financial crisis.
(Reporting by Erik Kirschbaum and Mike Collett-White; writing by Mike Collett-White, Editing by Paul Casciato )
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