BERLIN The annual Berlin Film Festival opened Thursday, with the musical Chicago bringing a burst of choreographic flair and Hollywood star chemistry to the 10-day event.
The Berlinale, now in its 53rd edition, ranks alongside Venice and Cannes as one of the major European film festivals. More than 300 movies are being screened before the festival closes Feb. 16, with 22 competing for the top Golden Bear award. Chicago, which is screening out of competition, likely will contrast with the more sombre tone of the festival as a whole, which Berlinale director Dieter Kosslick said will reflect the world's troubled political climate.
The screening brought stars Richard Gere, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Renee Zellweger to Berlin, along with director Rob Marshall.
"It was the best experience I have had as an actor," said Gere, who plays sleazy lawyer Billy Flynn in the film made in Toronto and based on the Broadway musical about murder and jealousy in 1920s Chicago.
The actors credited Marshall with helping draw out their singing and dancing talents - a compliment that he returned.
"If I could have had one more week for rehearsals, I could have put it on stage," Marshall told a news conference.
"It was thrilling to be part of an ensemble cast," Zeta-Jones told a news conference. Zellweger added that they shared "an incredible life experience."
The musical, with its jazz-belting female prisoners, already picked up the award for best musical or comedy at last month's Golden Globe awards, where Gere and Zellweger won for best actor and actress.
Chicago and Berlin shared a reputation in the 1920s as centres of decadence. The musical Chicago originally was performed in 1975 - and was produced by the team behind Cabaret, which evoked the pre-Nazi era in Berlin.
Reflecting Kosslick's promise of a more serious tone, the festival will feature three films examining the plight of refugees, including In this World, by renowned British director Michael Winterbottom, which traces the journey of two Afghan refugee across Iran, Turkey, Italy and France to England.
Documentaries include Oliver Stone's Comandante, about Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.
Among films from the United States in competition are 25th Hour from Spike Lee, Adaptation from Spike Jonze, and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, the directorial debut of George Clooney.
The Berlin festival prides itself on being open to a wider audience than its more glamorous rivals. More than 130,000 tickets were sold to the public in 2002.
Last year's Golden Bear was shared by Bloody Sunday, a film from British director Paul Greengrass dramatizing one of the most infamous incidents in Northern Ireland's history, and Spirited Away, an animated adventure from Japan's Hayao Miyazaki.