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Look back at the Opening Night at Berlin 69

By Alex Deleon

Dieter Kosslick's Departure after 18 years as festival topper continues to be the talk of the town and the opening film, "The Kindness of Strangers" was more kinky than kindly, not the best choice, to say the least.  (Haven't  I heard that song somewhere before?)
The opening film of the festival is a prestige slot and usually goes to a filmmaker with a track record of awards at Berlin. This year the director was Lone Scherfig of Denmark, a 59 year old veteran of talky arty type films and  a Golden Bear recipient in 2000 for her post Dogma Danish success "Italian for Beginners".  Her latest film made in English as a Canadian Danish coproduction seemed to have all the ingredients of a winner with an elite international cast and Manhattan locations, but "The Kindness of Strangers" turned out to be an opening night dud panned by most reviewers, even those who were trying hard to find reasons to praise it, and squirmed through by viewers who were equally unimpressed.  

Although not yet a big star but nevertheless a big name is lead actress Zoe Kazan, merely because she is the granddaughter of legendary star director Elia Kazan. The film, billed as "a love letter to the city that never sleeps" nearly put me to sleep in spite of the presence of an actor I really like, the handsome Algerian French star Tahar Rahim, who played an Armenian genocide survivor dynamically in Fatih Akin's "The Cut" (2016) and some nice comic shtik by senior British character actor Bill Nighy whose fake Russian accent (he owns the Russian restaurant where most of the film takes place)  provides occasional chuckles to alleviate the burden of a heavy handed script with a forced story about a driveaway wife with her two teenage boys  hitting town from Buffalo while trying to elude a psychotic husband who is a cop, of all places, guess where, in New York.  

The story centers on the gradually growing romance between Rahim who manages the restaurant and Clara, Ms. Kazan, who sports the most prominent proboscis of any lead actress around today. When the car in which she and her boys have been living ( mainly from her skills at shoplifting and other forms of larceny). is towed away and the trio is now literally homeless Rahim takes them in and, ho hum -- one thing leads to another.  I found it for one thing hard to believe that an extremely good looking dude like Rahim could be so enthralled by a basically unattractive loser of a  woman with a big nose like Zoe. There is a lot of business in the film about shelters for the homeless and a  group therapy angle that is thrown  in to tie the diversely tangled threads of the story together but the phoniness of the whole deal is best exemplified by the band at the restaurant where all these strangers are so kind to each other, when they play a totally Russian version of "The House of the Rising Sun"  which is the best joke in the movie. It took me a while to realize that "Hey, I've heard that Russian Song somewhere before" was not a Russian song at all!
On stage at the opening ceremony with Dieter  Kosslick receiving protestations of praise from every angle and every celebrity in sight  for  his energetic eighteen year tenure as head of the festival the jolly impresario (now seventy) could not hold back a couple of tears but a good time was had by all as usual.


                 Dieter Kosslick, jovial to the Bitter Sweet end.

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About Berlin

Chatelin Bruno

Berlin 2019: The dailies from the Berlin Film Festival brought to you by our team of festival ambassadors. Vanessa McMahon, Alex Deleon, Laurie Gordon, Lindsay Bellinger and Bruno Chatelin...
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