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Stars bring Iraq heartache to Berlin
2009-02-12 07:23:58

ĎThe Messengerí, featuring US soldier facing tough homecoming from Iraq, vies for Golden Bear top prize.

The Nation Press -

By Deborah Cole - BERLIN

Woody Harrelson plays a soldier facing a tough homecoming from Iraq and Robin Wright Penn stars as a woman rediscovering her wild side in two warmly received entries Monday at the Berlin Film Festival.

"The Messenger," one of 18 films vying for the festival's Golden Bear top prize, features Harrelson as a GI given the grim task of notifying families that their sons, daughters, parents or spouses have been killed in action.

And Penn leads a powerhouse cast including Keanu Reeves, Winona Ryder, Julianne Moore, Alan Arkin and Monica Bellucci in "The Private Lives of Pippa Lee," directed by Rebecca Miller based on her best-selling novel.

Both pictures drew praise as the 11-day festival neared its halfway point.

"The Messenger" is the first feature film by director Oren Moverman, who contributed to the screenplay of the Bob Dylan biopic "I'm Not There."

After he returns from Iraq, Harrelson's character Tony must carry out his emotionally-wrenching duties with the help of an underling (Ben Foster).

The tears and anger they confront day after day take their toll and the two turn to alcohol to blunt the pain. But one boozy night Tony winds up in the arms of a war widow, a serious violation of military rules.

Harrelson said his own vocal opposition to the US-led invasion of Iraq had at times blinded him to the devastating impact of the war for the soldiers and their kin.

"I've been pro-peace -- outspokenly and I think for good reasons," he told reporters.

"What was missing for my own philosophy was a real understanding of what these soldiers are going through. And the time that we spent... with them. These soldiers really left me with a profound respect and compassion for these people who were going over to Iraq and Afghanistan."

Moverman said he received the solid backing of the military in making the picture.

"The reason they wanted to support the film is because there is a lot of pride in this procedure, they feel it's an honourable thing that most people don't know about, including soldiers, and they want people to be aware of how they do it," he said.

"And for many soldiers, they described it as sort of the toughest job they had to do because it's an emotional landscape that they were not trained for."

"The Private Lives of Pippa Lee," meanwhile, is in the festival's main showcase but not in competition for the Golden Bear.

It tells a story of a woman who has turned 50 (Penn), who has just moved into a retirement community with her much older husband, a successful publisher played by Arkin.

But Pippa's beatific persona as the perfect wife begins showing cracks, then shatters completely when she learns her husband is having an affair with an even younger woman played by Ryder.

Enter a younger man, played by Reeves, into Pippa's life.

Penn, who is married to actor-director Sean Penn, said she and Miller had to cajole Reeves to play the role.

"We told him 'You're going to be a sage for Pippa, which ultimately you were'," Penn, flanked by Reeves, told a packed press conference.

"I couldn't say no," Reeves quipped.

Miller, the daughter of playwright Arthur Miller and the wife of Oscar-winning actor Daniel Day-Lewis, said she aimed to say something about the secret of a long marriage, which in the film is described not as a bond of love but "an act of will."

"I think that within every long marriage there are moments where marriage is an act of will. But when marriage becomes entirely an act of will then you know you are in trouble," she said.

The festival runs until Sunday.

Source : thenationpress serveciss
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