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Gritty tales kick off fest race Kids in trouble breakout stars

BERLIN, Feb 8, (Agencies): Two powerful films, one looking at the plight of boys abandoned in Berlin, the other about an ex-convict haunted by his violent past, kicked off the competition for best picture at the 64th Berlin International Film Festival on Friday. A third competition film, the Northern Ireland-conflict themed “’71” capped the day with a harrowing look at a British soldier’s plight when he is left behind in a rebellious Catholic nationalist neighbourhood after his patrol gets ambushed in a riot in Belfast. French-born British director Yann Demange said the title of “’71” came from the time in the Northern Ireland “troubles” when the lines between Protestants and Catholics were not yet set in stone. The soldier separated from his patrol, and new to Belfast, has no idea where he is and becomes a pawn in the increasingly murderous game between the two sides.

“Belfast was a kind of a forerunner for the kinds of insurgencies most Western European or most Western armies now find themselves involved in,” screenwriter Gregory Burke told a post-screening news conference. Demange told Reuters that his film could not have been made had it not been for Paul Greengrass’s “Bloody Sunday” and Steve McQueen’s “Hunger”, both dealing with “troubles” themes. “Those two films meant that this film could exist because those films had to happen first and of course they’re amazing movies,” he said. German director Edward Berger’s “Jack”, starring the immensely persuasive first-time child actor Ivo Pietzcker in the title role, is the story of the 11-year-old and his blonde-haired younger brother Manuel finding their way through a labyrinth of Berlin’s streets and its drugged-out nightlife. It is one of four German films vying for the festival’s top prize, to be awarded next week. Berger’s film shows the older of the boys rising to the challenge of survival after his unmarried mother puts him in a children’s home because she cannot cope with the two at home.

Jack is bullied there and almost drowned by his main tormenter.  He then runs away and embarks on an odyssey with his brother Manuel around Berlin to find his mother. “This is not always reality but it can happen,” Berger told a news conference. Berger said he had deliberately tried not to make the film “Berlin-specific” in order to portray the universal problem of young people growing up in broken families. “Right from the start we decided not to show the cliches,” screenwriter Nele Mueller-Stoefen said. “We showed her (the mother) in a caring way, but we show Jack taking responsibility, which is something that happens often in a family.” “It was a great fun because when we did a shoot I didn’t have to go to school,” said the young actor Pietzcker. Breakout performances of kids in the crossfire of brutal adult life took centre stage at the 64th Berlin film festival Friday, set in 1970s Belfast and today’s German capital. “When I was doing my research, I was struck because I found out that a lot of the key players active in ‘71 were just boys,” Demange told AFP.

He said Barry Keoghan, who delivered a stand-out performance as the teenage Sean with youthful excitement and mournful eyes, had been crucial to portraying “young boys looking for a tribe” on the battlefield. “He hadn’t done much when we met, he’s just got an amazing face and there’s an amazing soulfulness — he brought so much to the film,” Demange said. Director Edward Berger said he had intentionally set the action in the centre of the German capital, rather than, for example, isolating it in a depressed former communist housing block. Jack is played with shattering natural talent by the now 11-year-old Berlin schoolboy Ivo Pietzcker, who drew loud cheers after a preview screening. Berger said casting Pietzcker was “like in the scene in the ‘Fabulous Baker Boys’ with Michelle Pfeiffer — after thinking we’d never be able to find our Jack he came in at the very end of the casting call, wet from the rain, and blew us away.” Pietzcker said he had to imagine what it would feel like to be alone in the world.
“I think Jack is extremely mature for his age in the decisions he makes,” he said. “I was never in such an extreme situation where I had to make such a choice.”

The stars of crime caper “American Hustle” Christian Bale and Bradley Cooper said Friday that their director’s “raw” atmosphere on set and risk-taking were behind its 10 Oscar nominations. Promoting the picture at the Berlin film festival, Bale and Cooper said director and screenwriter David O. Russell’s remarkable haul of Hollywood honours were down to the fact that he was an actors’ filmmaker.
“You must trust the director completely. Plot should never trump character. That’s what makes it so nice and enjoyable as an actor because it shows that he’s actually enjoying the same things that actors enjoy,” said the British Bale, who is nominated for an Academy Award along with all three of the film’s other main actors: Cooper, Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence. “And that’s why I think you get so many actors just willing to go balls out and give these ultimately extraordinary performances. But for any extraordinary performance you’ve got to risk being an absolute fool.”

Bale, who gained a belly for the role, said Russell had been willing to scrap key plot elements during the filming of “American Hustle”, which was based on a 1970s FBI sting operation known as ABSCAM.
He added that Russell went as far as to hide on set to stay close to his actors when they were filming difficult scenes. “You don’t feel like you’re really alone in the process, he’s right there with you emotionally,” Cooper said. “As raw as the environment is... it’s very alive. “That’s sort of why I would ever want to be actor, to be in that kind of arena with these type of people.” Russell said he tried to push actors beyond their usual limits, making them unrecognisable in parts such as Bale’s Oscar-winning turn in “The Fighter”, Cooper in “Silver Linings Playbook”, or the 1970s macho types with elaborate hairstyles they play in “American Hustle”. “What means everything to me is their trust, it means everything to me. It inspires me to write for them,” Russell said. “We were all taking huge risks, it was a high-wire act, every single actor playing a role they had never remotely played, me doing a movie I had never done like that. Failure is very exciting and frightening.” The Berlin film festival runs until Feb 16.

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