Jude Law in drag tops bill at Berlin film fest


June 18, 2010 Updated Feb 8, 2009 at 2:18 PM EDT

New releases featuring Jude Law in drag, Judi Dench as a pot-smoking fashionista and Gael Garcia Bernal and Michelle Williams as a New York couple in trouble premiered Sunday at the Berlin Film Festival.

"Rage" by British film-maker Sally Potter and featuring Law and Dench, and "Mammoth" by Sweden's Lukas Moodysson, starring Bernal and Williams, were hotly awaited at the 59th annual event thanks to their all-star casts and innovative European directors.

But both received lukewarm receptions during their screenings -- with several dozen viewers walking out of the former just a third of the way through, and a frosty reaction to the latter being blamed on an ambiguous ending.

Potter's picture is a send-up of the beauty industry set around New York's Fashion Week. It is constructed solely around a series of stand-up interviews with caricatures out of the world of glamour.

There is Minx, a vain pseudo-Russian supermodel (an almost unrecognisable Law in a black fright wig and bustier), 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.

And comic Eddie Izzard appears as Tiny Diamonds, a media magnate hunting for the next big thing.

The format was unique but audiences here got fidgety after the first few minutes when it became clear the monologues were all the film had to offer and many giving up soon afterwards.

But Potter (the director of "Orlando") said she had made a conscious decision 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 trade magazine The Hollywood Reporter.

"The actors just talking to this unseen and unheard diminutive person... It's a celebration of 'poor' cinema. Appropriate for these lean times."

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 Bernal and 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.

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 Bernal goes on a business trip that takes an unexpected turn, and the Philippines, where Gloria'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. But it points out that the wealthy have far more means at their disposal to bridge the gap.

Bernal brushed aside a question about the film's resemblance to the 2006 drama "Babel," which also involved interlocking stories set across cultures and featured the Mexican actor. But he admitted they shared similar themes.

"The basic necessities of affection are very universal, we all share them," he told reporters. "That is why the stakes are so high in film because those basic necessities are lacking here."

Moodysson acknowledged that the film was more conventional than his previous arthouse hits but said the more straightforward storytelling in "Mammoth" fit the subject.

"I try to speak with different voices and sometimes I really try to scream," he said. "There are times when you have to whisper.

"(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."

"Mammoth" also left viewers somewhat cold, in large part for its ending that left many feeling unsatisfied.

The 11-day Berlin festival ranks second only to Cannes in size and prestige.

"Rage" is screening out of competition while "Mammoth" is one of 18 films vying for the Golden Bear top prize to be awarded February 15.

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