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With over two months left of Oscar talk that isn't even half as oppressive now as it will feel in a few weeks, I find myself eagerly looking forward to the mini-wave of winter festivals that will bring some fresh films to our attention -- in particular, the Berlin Film Festival, which I'll be attending once more in February. It's at Berlin where I've previously got a hefty head start on such films as "A Separation," "Coriolanus" and "The Illusionist," and I'm antsy to see what the most civilized of the major European fests is serving up next year.
We already have a couple of titles locked in place, and one of them is a major one: Brillante Mendoza's "Captured," starring arthouse queen Isabelle Huppert. I'd previously thought the film sounded a likelier contender for Cannes, but I'm told Berlin was always the target: anyway, after competing twice at Cannes and once at Venice, he now completes the hat-trick.
If you can't quite place Mendoza's name, you might recall the media outrage when he won the Best Director award at Cannes 2009 for his film "Kinatay," a brutal, expertly constructed political allegory chronicling the rape and dismemberment of a prostitute by a gang of corrupt policemen, described rather excitably by Roger Ebert as the worst film in the festival's history. (The president of the jury responsible for that decision? Why, none other than Isabelle Huppert.)
As an unabashed admirer of both "Kinatay" and Mendoza's far gentler follow-up "Lola" (an old-age study that would make a superb companion piece to Lee Chang-dong's "Poetry," if only someone would distribute the damn thing), I can't wait to see what his and Huppert's firebrand sensibilities bring out in each other. The film, inspired by a true story, centers on the accidental kidnapping of a French humanitarian worker by a rebel group of Muslim extremists.
Also confirmed for the Competition is the Spanish title "Childish Games," while a pair of big-name Oscar hopefuls, Stephen Daldry's "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" and Zhang Yimou's "The Flowers of War," will both have their European premieres in safe out-of-competition slots.
Other directors set to present films in the non-competitive Berlinale special strand include Werner Herzog (the four-part documentary series "Death Row," of which "Into the Abyss" is one chapter), Kevin Macdonald (the Bob Marley doc titled, surprisingly enough, "Marley") and Guy Maddin ("Keyhole").
Finally, following the appointment of Mike Leigh as president of this year's Berlinale jury, festival juries have secured an impressively name-heavy jury to back him up: Jake Gyllenhaal, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Asghar Farhadi (who, of course, is the fest's reigning Golden Bear champ for "A Separation"), Francois Ozon, Anton Corbijn, Barbara Sukowa and Boualem Sansal. That's a group Cannes would be proud to assemble; with any luck, it's omen of a similarly world-class lineup to come.
For more views on movies, awards season and other pursuits, follow @GuyLodge on Twitter.
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