* "'71" deals with Northern Ireland "troubles"
* Keitel, Whitaker feud in "Two Men in Town"
* Germany's "Jack" shows boys living rough in Berlin
(Adds screening for Northern Ireland movie "'71")
By Michael Roddy and Gareth Jones
BERLIN, Feb 7 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.
By contrast, "Two Men in Town" unfolds far from the city, in
the desert border country of New Mexico.
Directed by French-Algerian Rachid Bouchareb, it stars
Forest Whitaker as an ex-convict whose murder of a deputy is not
going to be forgotten by Harvey Keitel's sheriff.
Whitaker's character tries to build a new life after 18
years in jail, with the help of his new faith in Islam and a
girlfriend played by Mexican actress Dolores Heredia.
He is also supported by his feisty parole officer, played by
Britain's Brenda Blethyn, who tries to shield him from the
sheriff's vindictive desire to put him back in jail.
Whitaker gives an intense portrayal of a man - calm and
courteous much of the time but hungry for love - struggling to
repress the raw anger that once turned him into a killer.
The film, inspired by a 1973 French film of the same name
with Alain Delon, explores the interplay of humanity and rules,
immigration - the long wall marking the border with Mexico is a
brooding presence - and the search for personal redemption.
"I wanted to readapt completely to the Mexican border ... I
met several sheriffs who ... were very sensitive to the drama of
immigration, when it goes badly," director Bouchareb said.
"At the same time, there is a rigidity in the application of
the laws, in the construction of the wall, there is a violence
in all this," he told a news conference.
Bouchareb said he and his team spoke with political
activists, police officers, prisoners, Muslim clerics and
Afro-American Muslims while researching the film.
"Forest (Whitaker) gives us the American vision because we
are not American," he added.
Blethyn, who played the title role in the TV detective drama
"Vera", described having to work on her American accent for the
"One of the obstacles for me was that she (the parole
officer) was from Illinois and I had all these more southern
accents around me so it was hard for me to hold on to that
Illinois accent. But I am told I managed it," she said.
(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)