Berlin - New movies starring Juliette Binoche, Nicole Kidman, Cate Blanchett, Helen Mirren and Lea Seydoux will put women in the spotlight when they premiere at the 65th Berlin film festival starting on Thursday.
The 11-day event in the frosty German capital, the first major cinema showcase in Europe each year, will begin with Oscar winner Binoche playing Josephine Peary, who accompanied her explorer husband Robert on treacherous Arctic expeditions, in Nobody Wants the Night.
The film is directed by Spain's Isabel Coixet, only the second woman in the history of the Berlinale, as the event is known, to hold the coveted opening-night slot.
Dieter Kosslick, who has run the festival since 2001, told reporters that many of the more than 400 films that will screen focused on "strong women in extreme situations".
Kidman plays British adventurer and spy Gertrude Bell opposite former Twilight heartthrob Robert Pattinson as TE Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia, in German veteran Werner Herzog's Queen of the Desert.
Blanchett joins Natalie Portman and Christian Bale in Knight of Cups, a new feature about the perils of fame by reclusive US director Terrence Malick.
Kosslick said he hoped Malick, who won Berlin's prestigious Golden Bear top prize for The Thin Red Line in 1999 and the Palme d'Or at Cannes in 2011 for The Tree of Life, would attend the red-carpet premiere.
Seydoux, the latest Bond girl in the British spy franchise, returns to Berlin with French director Benoit Jacquot in Diary of a Chambermaid, based on a novel already adapted by cinema greats Jean Renoir and Luis Bunuel.
British actress Mirren stars in Woman in Gold, the true story of Holocaust survivor Maria Altmann who fought the Austrian government for nearly a decade for restitution of valuable Klimt paintings that the Nazis stole from her family.
The Berlinale, launched during the Cold War as a window on the world for embattled West Berlin, prides itself on ripped-from-the-headlines political relevance along with high-wattage glamour from major Hollywood productions and stars.
This year's event will feature the first screening of dissident Iranian director Jafar Panahi's Taxi, in which the filmmaker himself presents his impressions of contemporary Tehran from behind the wheel of a cab.
Panahi was detained for a documentary he tried to make on the unrest following Iran's disputed 2009 presidential election and officially banned from making more films for 20 years.
"We invited him but the Iranian state must give its permission for him to attend," Kosslick said.
"We are hopeful - we have the feeling that changes are underway in Iran."
The only documentary in the race, The Pearl Button by Patricio Guzman, traces an arc from the story of Chile's indigenous people to the more recent bloody history under Augusto Pinochet.
Germany's Wim Wenders, who will accept an Honorary Golden Bear for his life's work during the festival, will screen his new 3-D drama Everything Will Be Fine featuring James Franco, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Rachel McAdams.
Andrew Haigh, director of the HBO television series Looking about gay friends in San Francisco, will enter the competition with 45 Years starring Charlotte Rampling in a surreal drama about a long-married couple.
Japanese filmmaker Sabu will join the competition with Chasuke's Journey about an angel who comes back to earth to rescue a woman.
Vietnamese director Phan Dang Di, a European festival favourite, will premiere his latest picture, Big Father, Small Father and Other Stories.
And Peter Greenaway will present Eisenstein in Guanajuato about the legendary Russian director of Battleship Potemkin and his Mexican exile.
US director and screenwriter Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan) will serve as president of the jury judging the 19 main contenders and handing out the Golden and Silver Bear prizes on 14 February.
He will be joined by Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner, French actress Audrey Tautou (Amelie), South Korean director Bong Joon-Ho (Snowpiercer), US producer Martha De Laurentiis (Hannibal), Spanish-German actor Daniel Bruehl (Rush) and previous Golden Bear winner Claudia Llosa, the Peruvian director of The Milk of Sorrow.
Last year, Chinese director Diao Yinan's gritty cop thriller Black Coal, Thin Ice took home the Golden Bear.
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