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Love in a cold climate: Moscow's mid-winter movie fest opens
January 13, 2003

Numbing Arctic temperatures will be no deterrent to Moscow movie-goers turning out for their annual festival of love in a cold climate, the mid-winter "Faces of Love" film festival that kicks off Monday.

Sixteen countries are represented in the 19 films in competition, but the cultures of several other nations will also feature as the predominant theme of the entries is love crossing borders, festival programme director Sergei Lavrentiev said.

A Chinese policeman falls in love with a Viennese colleague's daughter, an exiled Serbian musician moves in with a Norwegian writer, an Arab woman takes a shine to a Russian Jew: borders and barriers count for little in Lavrentiev's selection. "I didn't choose the films with that in mind, but that was the theme that emerged when I'd made my choice," Lavrentiev said.

The "Faces of Love" festival was launched in 1996, its mid-January timing chosen to position it half-way between successive editions of the better-known Moscow Film Festival which takes place in the summmer.

Its opening date on the eve of the Russia's "old" (Orthodox) new year means that it invariably takes place against a background of knee-deep snow and below-zero temperatures: this year around minus 20 degrees C (minus four F), as Moscow suffers its harshest winter for 15 years.

The films hoping to warm the heart -- though happy endings are not guaranteed -- come from Europe and Asia, with two from the United States.

In Europe the Nordic countries are favoured, with offerings from Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Norway, while the former Yugoslavia has three (Croatia, Serbia and Slovenia).

South Korea presents two films, and China, Iran, Israel and Thailand one each.

The biggest crowd-pleaser is likely to be "Far From Heaven", Todd Haynes's homage to the Douglas Sirk romantic melodramas of the 1950s that has scored a massive success in the United States since its release last November.

In Lavrentiev's view, other must-see movies include "Oasis", by South Korea's Lee Chang-Dong and the latest offering from the resurgent Iranian cinema, Rassul Sadr-Ameli's "I'm Taraneh, 15".

Another huge draw is certain to be the closing film, screened out of competition, Thomas Vinterberg's "It's all about Love", the Danish director's follow-up to his award-winning "Festen".

"This will be almost a world premiere, since to my knowledge this has not yet been seen outside Denmark," Lavrentiev said.

Special screenings have been laid on for Japanese maestro Takeshi Kitano's latest, "Dolls", for "Spider", David Cronenberg's offering at last year's Cannes festival, and for Stanley Kramer's oil-rig romance "Oklahoma Crude", which won the 1973 Moscow film festival.

Two side-bar sections feature tales of love gone by, divided into male and female categories under the headings "What a Man!" and "What a Woman!"

Strutting their stuff in the male corner are stars as diverse as Errol Flynn ("Captain Blood"), Humphrey Bogart ("Casablanca") and Jean-Paul Belmondo ("Breathless"), while on the distaff side the cast-list includes Greta Garbo ("Queen Christina"), Brigitte Bardot ("And God Created Woman"), Marlene Dietrich ("Knight without Armour") and the soft-porn actress Sylvia Kristel ("Emmanuelle").

Among the celebrities the organisers are hoping to attract is Faye Dunaway, the star of "Oklahoma Crude" better known for such classics as "Bonnie and Clyde" and "Chinatown".

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