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Berlinale film festival: eventful build-up to Bear Awards

media Photographers covering an event: UK Actress Charlotte Rampling's arrival at her Berlinale Film Festival press conference, 14 February 2019 Hyams/RFI

At the 69th Berlinale Film Festival where its famous golden and silver awards will be handed out on Saturday night in the German capital, it's a particular year for events.

Who would have imagined that a work by Chinese master Zhang Yimou would drop out at six days before awards-night? Expectations of another period film from the 68 year-old, this time set during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 70s in China, were high.

The most official reason is " technical difficulties encountered during post-production", but this did not prevent rumours circulating in Berlin about censorship being the cause of Yi miao zhong - One Second's no-show.

From the original 17 films in the main competition, only 16 films are now vying for the Bear awards.

Each film in the running could be considered an event in its own cinematic right, the same way that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

One of them is Di Jiu Tian Chang - So Long My Son by Zhang's fellow countryman, but younger generation film maker, Wang Xiao-shuai.

Walking, talking events

Some of the international guests at the Berlinale this year are events in themselves. French photographer and film director Agnès Varda was a recipient of an honorary Bear.

She could win another one, as the 90 year-old's film Varda by Agnès is one of the 16 entries in competition.

It follows close on the heels of her joint effort with JR called Visages, Villages - Faces,Places (2017) whose charm won it tens of best documentary awards in France (Cannes Golden Eye, Lumières) and abroad.

In this latest one, Belgian-born Varda and her work are the subject of the film. Cheeky as she is, she didn't wait for anyone else to do it, she has made her own retrospective, to her own specifications.

Being European, woman-power

Another honorary Bear went to France-based British actress Charlotte Rampling who is already the proud owner of a Silver Bear for Best Actress as Kate Mercer in Andrew Haigh’s 45 Years in 2015.

British actress Charlotte Rampling shares a light moment with the press at the Berlinale 2019 Hyams/RFI

In Berlin, the 73 year-old stood out as a special ambassador of European-human while the British government and the European Union are haggling over Brexit.

Her responses at times sounded tough and irritable somewhat like British prime minister Theresa May in her interactions with the UK parliament of late.

Fortunately, in answer to a question about how she felt at receiving the award she replied more creatively, "I’m really pleased to get the bear because I’ve got a silver one and he was asking me the other day: ‘Where’s the gold one?’ So I said, 'I’m going to be back soon with it. They can box together."

Rampling has been acting since the 1960s and has worked with directors like Woody Allen and more recently with French director François Ozon.

Priests, children and justice

Which leads us on to another event at Berlinale 2019. The lawyer of a French priest accused of paedophilia wanted Ozon's current entry to be pulled out because Ozon names the priest in his By the Grace of God.

The film may well win a Bear at the Berlinale. However, the courts will decide on Monday if the film can be released in France as scheduled on Wednesday 20 February.

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