The 2005 Berlin Film Festival opened to some controversy today, with the premiere of Regis Wargnier's Man to Man, starring Ralph Fiennes and Kirsten Scott Thomas. Some critics actually booed the film, in which Fiennes plays a 19th century anthropologist trying to establish scientific links between men and apes, for not taking a strong enough stance against racism. Others complained that the film was given a prime slot for its percieved star power - Fiennes and Scott Thomas both starred in The English Patient, which took several prizes at Berlin in 1997. Critic Peter Zander made both claims:
Man to Man could have made a tremendous case against racism and a grand appeal for more humanity but gets stranded along the way with a ridiculous conclusion. It seems clear that the only reason this film was picked by [Berlinale director Dietrich] Kosslick to open the festival was that it would present the sort of species he needs most — a male and female star.
The cast and director of Man to Man were quick to back the film at a post-screening press conference. According to Reuters, Fiennes was particularly defensive:
"It'd be a fascinating discussion to know how you think it was 'squandered'", he told one critic in a testy exchange. "If you look at the era, there were appalling abuses. It deals with the Victorian age and attitudes of that time. It throws up many questions."
The Hollywood Reporter has a review of Man to Man, with critic Kirk Honeycutt calling the film "a brilliant idea for a scientific adventure story … undercut by melodramatic excess."
The Berlin Film Festival will screen 343 films before it closes on February 20; 21 films are competing for Golden and Silver Bear awards. For the full festival line-up, check out their english language homepage.