(Refiles to remove garble from 2nd paragraph)
* Twenty movies competing for top Golden Bear award
* Prizes to be announced on Saturday night
* Linklater's epic wins praise but US films not favoured
By Michael Roddy and Gareth Jones
BERLIN, Feb 14 Films ranging from a
coming-of-age docudrama using the same actors over a 12-year
span, a feature about radical Catholics and an unflinching look
at Northern Ireland's troubles stand out as possible winners at
the annual Berlin film festival.
Twenty titles will compete for the Golden Bear award on
Saturday night at the 2014 Berlinale although some critics have
called the lineup a letdown despite the screening of more than
400 films from around the globe.
"It's been a disappointing Berlinale and there isn't all
that much I think for the jury to ultimately really consider,"
said Jay Weissberg, Europe-based critic for trade publication
His picks as frontrunners were Richard Linklater's
docu-drama "Boyhood", the harrowing "Kreuzweg" (Stations of the
Cross), which depicts a young girl's collapse under the
pressures of growing up in a strict Catholic family
, and a drama about a British soldier in Belfast
in the movie "71".
Gory thriller "Black Coal, Thin Ice", one of three Chinese
films in competition, also earned positive reviews this week.
Weissberg thought the Texas-born Linklater's film, which
follows siblings Mason and Samantha, played by actors Ellar
Coltrane and Linklater's daughter Lorelei, as they grow from
early childhood to university age, would find particular favour
with the jury's president, American producer James Schamus.
He also thought Linklater's opus, despite containing a host
of peculiarly American cultural references, including a black
Pontiac GTO muscle car driven by the kids' divorced father and
Coltrane's character Mason receiving a U.S. savings bond for his
graduation, would not alienate viewers or a festival jury that
has a reputation for spurning American cinema.
"It works its charms and it's a wonderful idea," Weissberg
said. "There's enough there that anybody can identify with it."
His praise was strongly echoed in the European press.
"No film in sight can match "Boyhood" in staking a claim to
the Golden Bear," German daily Die Welt said on Friday, though
it also noted the festival's tendency to favour films from
eastern Europe or countries such as Turkey or Iran.
Last year, Romania's "Child's Pose" took the top prize. No
U.S. movie has won in Berlin since Paul Thomas Anderson's
"Magnolia" in 2000.
There was some grumbling among festival followers that the
Berlinale, renowned for offering up politically controversial
films, had instead this year apparently kowtowed to Hollywood,
screening Wes Anderson's Ruritanian romp "Grand Budapest Hotel"
as the festival opener and also providing the international
premiere of George Clooney's "Monuments Men".
Friday saw the screening of the last two films in the main
competition - veteran Japanese director Yoji Yamada's "The
Little House", a romance set in Tokyo before and during World
War Two, and "Macondo" about Chechen refugees in Austria.
"Macondo" uses non-actors to tell the story of Ramasan, an
11-year-old Chechen boy living with his widowed mother and two
sisters in a refugee settlement on the outskirts of Vienna.
Iranian-born Austrian director Sudabeh Mortezai explores the
themes of identity, masculinity and the difficulty of cultural
and ethnic integration in her documentary-like film.
"I get angry sometimes about the whole integration issue.
There are people who say, 'All these foreigners should just
integrate'. I want to explore the issue from the boy's
perspective, to see what it is really like growing up like
this," she told a news conference.
The film's title is the nickname of the settlement, which
really exists and is currently home to some 2,000 people from 20
countries, especially Chechnya, Afghanistan and Somalia.
"The people living there are part and parcel of the whole
film," said Mortezai.
(Editing by Mark Heinrich)