Monday, February 9, 2009

BERLIN | A new release featuring Jude Law in drag and Judi Dench as a pot-smoking fashionista and another with Gael Garcia Bernal and Michelle Williams as a New York couple in trouble premiered Sunday at the Berlin Film Festival. Both films received lukewarm receptions at the 11-day festival, second only to Cannes in size and prestige.

“Rage” by British filmmaker Sally Potter and featuring Mr. Law and Miss Dench, and “Mammoth” by Sweden’s Lukas Moodysson, starring Mr. Bernal and Miss Williams, were hotly awaited at the 59th annual event, thanks to their all-star casts and innovative European directors. Several dozen viewers walked out of “Rage” a third of the way through; the boos following “Mammoth” were being blamed on its ambiguous ending.

Miss Potter’s picture is a sendup of the beauty industry set around New York’s Fashion Week. It is constructed solely around a series of stand-up interviews with caricatures from the world of glamour. There is Minx, a vain pseudo-Russian supermodel (an almost unrecognizable Mr. Law in a black fright wig and bustier), Miss Dench as a ruthless critic with a taste for marijuana, and Steve Buscemi as a jaded photographer.

Real-life model Lily Cole’s giant blue eyes peek out from behind her copper tresses as she tells of her loneliness in the business and begs the person behind the camera - a boy blogger called Michelangelo - to take her away. Comic Eddie Izzard appears as Tiny Diamonds, a media magnate hunting for the next big thing.

The format is unique, but audiences here got fidgety after the first few minutes when it became clear the monologues were all the film had to offer. Many gave up soon afterward.

Miss Potter, director of 1992’s “Orlando,” said she decided to make a minimalist low-budget film about the luxury industry against the backdrop of the global financial crisis. “The way we filmed it - digitally on a hand-held camera with a very small set, I was the camera operator - allowed a very intimate approach,” she told the trade magazine Hollywood Reporter. “It’s a celebration of ‘poor’ cinema. Appropriate for these lean times.”

Mr. Moodysson is best known for his devastating drama about sex trafficking, “Lilya 4-ever,” and his bittersweet look at a 1970s commune in “Together.” “Mammoth,” his first English-language production, stars Mr. Bernal and Miss Williams as a husband and wife who find their careers pulling them away from their young daughter, who is cared for by a Filipino nanny, Gloria.

Mr. Bernal’s character is a computer-game tycoon, a kind of man-child who has made a fortune with his hobby, while his wife is a surgeon working night shifts in a hospital. The action then shifts to Thailand, where Mr. Bernal goes on a business trip that takes an unexpected turn, and the Philippines, where the nanny’s small children still live and miss her desperately.

The film shows that the first and third worlds are united in the guilt parents experience when they cannot provide their children with what they need.

With this film “I felt the need just to speak so people would just look and listen and hopefully understand some parts of what I was saying,” Mr. Moodysson says. The film left viewers somewhat cold, in large part for its ending, which left many saying they felt unsatisfied. It is one of 18 films vying for the Golden Bear top prize, to be awarded Sunday.

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