'True Grit' spurs Berlin film fest start
Oscar nominees Jeff Bridges and Joel and Ethan Coen rode into the German capital Thursday for the European premiere of "True Grit", a Western remake kicking off the 61st Berlin film festival.
The US film-making brothers have scored one of their biggest box office hits to date in the United States with the remake of the John Wayne classic shoot-em-up, which is up for 10 Academy Awards this month.
Bridges, who plays a US marshal helping a girl avenge her father's death, said he thought the Coens, longtime critical darlings and cult favourites, were finally coming into their own with audiences at home and abroad.
"I think it's kind of a cumulative thing (with) people finally getting hip to how incredible the Coen brothers are," said Bridges, who played The Dude in the directors' quirky slacker comedy "The Big Lebowski" 13 years ago.
"They're the best film-makers we have. They make it look so easy that you're not always aware of what's behind it," he told reporters.
Josh Brolin, who plays the killer in a cast that also includes Matt Damon as a bumbling Texas Ranger, said he thought the picture would also resonate abroad.
"Why has 'True Grit' done so well in America? I think it goes back to this simplicity of loyalty and community and hard work and stuff like that I think our country, from my point of view, has kind of lost," he said.
But Ethan Coen bristled at persistent questions about the current relevance of a violent tale of vengeance set in the 19th century American West.
"We have trouble with questions that try to make the story relevant by relating it to contemporary things," he said.
"We don't think about it in terms of contemporary relevance or autobiographical relevance."
Hailee Steinfeld, the 14-year-old wunderkind who is nominated for an Oscar for her riveting performance as the girl bent on seeing her father's murderer brought to justice, said the cast and crew quickly put her at ease.
"I think walking into this I was a little intimidated by the thought of it all but once I met Joel and Ethan and Jeff and Josh and Matt -- they're all so easy-going and they just love what they do," she said.
"They all kind of became father figures to me."
"True Grit" is screening out of competition for the festival's Golden Bear top prize, which jury president Isabella Rossellini will award to one of 16 contenders on February 19.
"I am delighted that I was asked to be in the jury and to be the president swelled my ego," the Italian-American actress told reporters.
"I want to see as many films as I can and it's fantastic to be at a festival where the primary duty is just to watch films."
Last year's Golden Bear went to Turkish drama "Bal" starring a seven-year-old boy as a struggling pupil who loses his father in a freak accident.
The Berlinale will screen nearly 400 films from 58 countries including 3D pictures from art-house directors such as Wim Wenders and Werner Herzog, while Madonna may drop in to unveil out-takes from a new movie she directed, "W.E".
In keeping with its reputation for political engagement, the festival will also pay tribute to Iranian dissident director Jafar Panahi, widely known for award-winning films such as "The Circle" and "Offside".
Iranian authorities slapped Panahi with a six-year jail sentence and a 20-year film-making ban in December for making a film about unrest after the disputed re-election of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June 2009.
The Berlinale invited Panahi, who is free on bail but cannot travel abroad, to serve on its jury and will screen five of his films as a tribute to him in his absence.
"I really wish he was here. I think all of us are with him," Aamir Khan, a Bollywood star, jury member and associate of Panahi, told reporters, as the 50-year-old director's chair stood symbolically empty.
For her part, Rossellini said: "We are still hoping that he will be able to come. We haven't given up."
© 2011 AFP