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Berlin sees US stars, French divas
Hollywood movies featuring A-listers Matt Damon and Jude Law and a trio of films starring French divas will be competing this year at the Berlin International Film Festival.
A diverse selection of 19 movies, including films from Kazakhstan and Iran, will vie for the main Golden Bear prize at Europe's first major film festival of the year, from February 7-17.
Gus Van Sant's Promised Land, starring Damon, and Steven Soderbergh's thriller Side Effects, featuring Law and Catherine Zeta-Jones, are the most prominent US offerings.
There's a strong contingent from eastern Europe, including Oscar-winning Bosnian director Danis Tanovic's An Episode In The Life Of An Iron Picker, about a poor Gypsy family; Calin Peter Netzer's Child's Pose, which highlights corruption in Romania; and Malgoska Szumowska's In The Name Of, a film about a gay priest in Poland.
French actresses Juliette Binoche, Catherine Deneuve and Isabelle Huppert all star in separate competition entries this year - Binoche in Camille Claudel 1915, about the French sculptor's later years; Deneuve in On My Way; and Huppert in The Nun, a movie about a convent.
From Iran comes Closed Curtain, directed by dissident filmmaker Jafar Panahi and fellow Iranian Kamboziya Partovi. Panahi was sentenced to house arrest in Iran and banned from filmmaking after being convicted in 2011 of "making propaganda" against Iran's ruling system. Festival director Dieter Kosslick said Panahi's no longer confined to his home but still isn't supposed to make films.
Kosslick said that organisers "tried to bring new people who are making films for the first or second time into the programme," continuing a tradition of having less-heralded directors rub shoulders with established names. This year, there's an entry from Kazakhstan - Harmony Lessons, directed by Emir Baigazin.
The top prize will be awarded by a seven-member jury under Chinese director Wong Kar-wai, whose members include actor-director Tim Robbins. Wong's new movie about two kung fu masters, The Grandmaster, is screening out of competition and will open the festival.
Last year's Golden Bear went to Caesar Must Die, by Italy's Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, which showed inmates of a high-security prison staging Shakespeare's Julius Caesar.