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February 8, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

After the traditional red carpet procession of dignitaries and the principals of the opening-night film, The Kindness of Strangers, the 69th annual Berlin Film Festival — the Berlinale — kicked off Thursday night. The opening-night audience gave a standing ovation to outgoing festival director Dieter Kosslick, who, in his 18-years of supervision, lifted the festival to one of Europe’s top annual attractions.

The Berlinale is traditionally the first major film festival of the year, always taking place in Berlin’s notoriously frigid winter weather. Unfortunately the opening film, written and directed by Lone Scherfig (An Education, One Day), also received a frigid reception from critics. Most agreed that Scherfig has her heart in the right place, focusing as she does on the trials of a woman, played by Zoe Kazan, who is forced to flee her abusive husband, taking along their two children, and winding up homeless on the streets of New York. But the critics suggest that it all feels conspicuously contrived and never draws the emotional response from its audience that the director had obviously hoped to evoke. In the words of critic David Sexton in the London Evening Standard, it is “a tearjerker that doesn’t quite draw tears.” Peter Bradshaw had harsher words for it in Britain’s Guardian newspaper, calling it “this inert, implausible, often bafflingly acted ensemble movie.” He further faulted Scherfig for her naiveté in attempting to show “homelessness as a problem to be cured with romance.” Guy Lodge in Variety commented on the heavy-handedness of the film’s dialogue, singling out a remark by one of the characters near the end of the film who blurts out, “Can’t you just be kind!” Commented Lodge, “[T]he outburst feels like a gentle tease to Scherfig’s own critics.”