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Far right, Israel-Hamas war, call for boycott... The Berlinale opens in a flammable context

Political news is on the agenda of a film festival which aims to be a “place of dialogue and inclusion” in a world rife with conflict.

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Far right, Israel-Hamas war, call for boycott... The Berlinale opens in a flammable context

Political news is on the agenda of a film festival which aims to be a “place of dialogue and inclusion” in a world rife with conflict. In question, the decision to cancel the invitation made to elected officials from the far-right German party AfD, while hundreds of thousands of Germans have demonstrated in recent weeks against the radical ideas of this formation.

The announced presence of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) at the opening ceremony on Thursday sparked protests among German film professionals. The Berlinale took note, highlighting its concern about “the rise of anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim sentiment, hate speech and other anti-democratic attitudes.” The AfD denounced a gesture of “exclusion”.

More broadly, this 74th Berlinale opens in a flammable context, after four months of war in the Middle East. Germany has shown resolute support for Israel since the October 7, 2023 attack by the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas on Israeli territory, and Israel's war against Hamas that followed in the Gaza Strip.

In mid-January, a boycott campaign was launched by artists, including French Nobel Prize winner Annie Ernaux, against German cultural institutions, accused of repressing Palestinian voices. The Berlinale has assured not to be affected by this boycott while other cultural events in Berlin have experienced cancellations.

So many subjects that will resonate on the screen, from a German film in competition on resistance to Nazism, to a rereading of Eugène Ionesco's Rhinoceros by Amos Gitaï, a great voice of Israeli cinema, with Irène Jacob. “The place that geopolitics will take at the Berlinale will be a question this year,” confirms Scott Roxborough, Europe correspondent for the Hollywood Reporter, for AFP. He believes that the directors of the Berlinale, who will leave their posts this year, will do so without having managed to find the balance between "political or art house cinema and Hollywood blockbusters", which Berlin is struggling to attract again. .

The legendary American director Martin Scorsese will no less be applauded on the red carpet. He will be awarded an honorary Golden Bear for his career. He will be succeeded by star actors, starting with Irishman Cillian Murphy - one of the Oscar favorites for his role in Oppenheimer - starring in the opening film. Also expected are the Mexican Gael García Bernal, in Another End, in competition, Rooney Mara, winner of the acting prize at Cannes in 2015 for Carol and who will play Audrey Hepburn next year in a biopic, or Omar Sy, who is continuing his career international. South Korean Hong Sang-Soo reunites with Isabelle Huppert.

Mexican-Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong'o will chair the jury, which awards the Golden Bear on February 24. She is the first black person to hold this position in Berlin. Twenty films are in the running to succeed the documentary Sur l'Adamant, by Frenchman Nicolas Philibert.

Mauritanian director Abderrahmane Sissako, who had not filmed since the success of Timbuktu, César for best director in 2015, is back with Black Tea, a love story in the African community of Canton. The Franco-Senegalese Mati Diop (Grand Prix at Cannes in 2019 for Atlantique) presents Le Retour, a documentary on the restitution of the royal treasures of Abomey in Benin, taken during the colonization of the country.

Tunisia will be represented with a first feature film by director Meryam Joobeur. And two years after the Cannes competition for France, Bruno Dumont returns with The Empire, a Star Wars, ch'ti version. This whimsical remake, shot on its grounds in northern France, features Fabrice Lucchini (Ma Loute) and a cast of in-demand French actresses: Anamaria Vartolomei (The Event), Lyna Khoudri and Camille Cottin.

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