A German film on Saturday brought harrowing stories from the United Nations war crimes court for the former Yugoslavia to the competition at the 59th Berlin Film Festival.
"Storm" by German film-maker Hans-Christian Schmid is an English-language drama about the workings of the tribunal in the Hague and its imperfect quest for justice.
The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was set up to try atrocities committed during the 1990s Balkans wars. Its chief prosecutor Serge Brammertz was to attend the gala premiere later Saturday.
Although the picture was blasted by some at a press preview as inaccurately portraying the workings of the ICTY, the audience reacted strongly to the emotions stirred on one of the darkest chapters in recent European history.
Anamaria Marinca, who dazzled audiences in the 2007 Cannes Palme d'Or winner "Four Months, Three Weeks and Two Days", a Romanian abortion drama, plays a Bosnian woman subjected to mass rape by Serbian soldiers.
The film pairs her with a driven prosecutor before the tribunal, played by New Zealand actress Kerry Fox, who is best known for her performances in Jane Campion's "An Angel at My Table" and Michael Winterbottom's "Welcome to Sarajevo".
Marinca told reporters that it was crucial that the plight of the woman she plays -- who stands in for the thousands of victims -- not be forgotten as the work of the court winds down in the coming years.
"The story hasn't left me since I read the first draft," said Marinca, who had to learn some Bosnian and German to play the role.
Schmid said he had been deeply impressed by the courage of the witnesses who come forward to testify before the ICTY and said they deserved to be given the time it takes for them to tell their stories and seek justice.
"As much as the sides are opposed to each other, no one wants to have to complete the trials under huge time pressure," he said.
"Maybe the film will help raise awareness about that. The time pressure is very, very trying for the witnesses."
The film entered the competition in Berlin three years after Bosnian director Jasmila Zbanic won the festival's Golden Bear for best picture for "Grbavica", which dealt with the impact on a single family of the mass rapes.
"Storm" examines with the intricate workings of the ICTY and the political pressure that bears down on its work as European Union diplomats seek to ensure stability in the region, even at a high price.
Fox said she was inspired by the dedication human rights lawyers have to maintain against extremely difficult odds.
"I feel it must be a calling...and they feel a great sense of fulfilment when they have success with what they do. But most often they meet with failure," she said.
The Golden Bear will be awarded by the Berlinale jury president, Scottish actress Tilda Swinton, on February 14 before the 11-day festival wraps up the next day.
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