Iranian Film 'Nader and Simin' Is Clear Front Runner for Berlin's Golden Bear (Berlin)

Courtesty of Berlinale 2011

Ralph Fiennes, Vanessa Redgrave tipped for acting honors.

BERLIN -- Nader and Simin, A Separation, director Asghar Farhadi's family drama set against the backdrop of political repression and dissent in Iran, is the clear front runner to win the Golden Bear at the 61st Berlin International Film Festival.

"There were a lot of horrible films in Competition this year but there was one masterpiece, Nader and Simin, and that's enough," said one German film critic, neatly summing up the opinion of many festival goers.

Awarding the top honor to Nader and Simin, with its implied critique of the Iranian government, would also send a clear signal to the regime in Tehran, which prevented Iranian director Jafar Panahi from leaving the country to take his place on Berlin's international jury this year. Instead, Panahi remains in jail, serving a six-year sentence and a 20-year film-making ban for allegedly supporting opposition forces in Iran.

Farhadi's feature was the only one in this year's Competition to unite critics but a handful of other titles could still steal the gold, if they can win over president Isabella Rossellini and the rest of her jury.

Chief among these are Joshua Marston's The Forgiveness of Blood, which was well received at its Friday premiere; Ralph Fiennes' bloody Shakespeare adaptation Coriolanus and The Turin Horse from Hungarian master Bela Tarr, which divided critics between the ecstatic and the despising.

The real battle this year may be over the Silver Bears – the runner-up jury prize for best film as well as the acting awards.

The latter offer the best chance for Hollywood star power at Saturday night's gala. Ralph Fiennes as the cold-hearted warrior Coriolanus has a good chance of picking up a Bear as does Vanessa Redgrave as his iron willed mother Volumnia.

But the jury might also give the best acting nod to Kevin Spacey playing an investment banker going through the financial meltdown in JC Chandor's feature debut Margin Call.

Other potential Silver Bear winners include local stars August Diehl and Susanne Lothar for their starring roles in Andreas Veiel's 60s terrorist biopic If Not Us, Who? and The Forgiveness of Blood leads, the amateur actors Tristan Halilaj and Sindi Lacej.

The winners of the Gold and Silver Bears will be announced at the Berlin Film Festival closing gala Saturday night Feb. 19.