Films confirmed for Berlin competition

'Rage,' 'Mammoth' 'The Messenger' lined up

COLOGNE, Germany -- The Berlinale has unveiled the first wave of films in its official selection for 2009, and the lineup features Berlin's favored mix of politics, stars and the occasional surprise.

Politics in the form of Rachid Bouchareb's "London River," the follow-up to the French director's Oscar-nominated "Days of Glory" (2006), which follows strangers looking for their missing children in the aftermath of the 2005 terrorist attacks in London. Or in "The Messenger" from screenwriter and first-time director Oren Moverman, about a U.S. solider who falls in love with the widow of his fallen comrade.

The aftermath of war is also the subtext in two out of competition titles: Theo Angelopoulos' "The Dust of Time," which traces the personal impact of upheavals from World War II to Vietnam and the Cold War, and Stephen Daldry's "The Reader," set in post-WWII Germany and starring Kate Winslet and Ralph Fiennes.

The initial selection suggests Berlin 2009 will not be lacking in star power. "The Messenger" features Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson and Samantha Morton. "Rage," a competition title from Brit director Sally Potter ("Orlando") stars Judi Dench, Jude Law, Dianne Wiest and Steve Buscemi. Gael Garcia Bernal and Michelle Williams appear in "Mammoth," the English-language debut of Swedish director Lukas Moodysson ("Lilja 4-ever"). Rebecca Miller's "The Private Lives of Pippi Lee" boasts a casting call that includes Keanu Reeves, Julianne Moore, Winona Ryder and Monica Bellucci.

And then there are the first two all-out Hollywood entries in Berlin's lineup: Tom Tykwer's opening-night action film "The International," starring Naomi Watts and Clive Owen, and "Pink Panther 2," a comic relief out of competition entry with an A-list cast headed by Steve Martin as Inspector Clouseau. Both will run, naturally, out of competition.

But it isn't all glitz. Berlin has kept up its art house credentials with several competition titles, including "Forever Enthralled," a look at famed Chinese opera star Mei Lanfang from director Chen Kaige ("Farewell My Concubine") and "Allen Anderen," a relationship drama from German director Maren Ade ("The Forest for the Trees").

The remaining Berlinale competition titles are expected to be announced by mid-January. The 59th Berlinale is set for Feb. 5-9.