Somber Opening To 70th Berlin Film Festival Led By Tributes To Hanau Victims

Tom Grater

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The 70th Berlin International Film Festival, and the first under new leadership team Mariette Rissenbeek and Carlo Chatrian, got underway tonight with a screening of Philippe Falardeau’s My Salinger Year, starring Sigourney Weaver and Margaret Qualley.

The Opening Gala included a minute’s silence to honor the victims of yesterday’s terror attack in the German town of Hanau, which claimed at least 11 lives.

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“Originally I wanted to say a few words about how delighted we are about the 70th anniversary of the Berlinale, but the events in Hanau yesterday have shocked all of us, it hit us all hard,” said Rissenbeek, addressing the audience. “The Berlinale symbolises freedom, tolerance, respect and hospitality. The Berlinale is opposed to violence and racism. Our sympathy and thoughts go out the victims in Hanau and their families.”

“We stand here as a community, and being a community is what defines cinema,” said Chatrian. “When we sit in a cinema, we are an audience, with no distinction of class, language, religion. Cinema is what brings us together. When I look back at the history of this film festival, I see that films and celebrities brought something that became so vital for this town.”

“Cinema allows people to dream, and dreams are very important when life is getting hard. That’s probably why this film festival is so meaningful to Berliners and so dear to them. It is dear also to foreigners, to people like me,” the artistic director added.

Taking to the stage, My Salinger Year director Philippe Falardeau said, “I think I speak for all Canadians by conveying my unflinching solitary with the German people in these troubled times. My film is not an antidote to world problems but it might give you a little light tonight.”

Actor Samuel Finzi hosted the ceremony and, during his opening monologue, called on German politicians to “realise we have a problem with the right wing”.

“Even if the general climate is really toxic, we’re never going to accept that as par for the course, the normal state of affairs. I can assure you we want to welcome all of you to the Berlinale. Welcome to Berlin, it remains an open city,” said Finzi on stage.

Reactions to the opening film itself were mixed. Some reviewers praised the movie as feel-good, while others criticized it as overly muted. Pic stars Once Upon A Time In Hollywood actress Qualley as a college grad who takes a clerical job working for the literary agent of the renowned, reclusive writer J.D. Salinger.

The 2020 Berlinale runs until Sunday, March 1, with the awards ceremony taking place Saturday eve (February 29).

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