Big-name filmmakers and stars are awaited in Berlin for one of Europe's largest film festivals, as Germany posts more than 150,000 new Covid-19 cases per day.
The Berlinale, Europe's first major international film festival of the year, has returned as a live event just as Germany faces record daily Covid-19 infections.
The Berlinale will open with "Peter von Kant", a gender-flipped adaptation of Rainer Werner Fassbinder's classic "The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant" on Thursday.
The film by acclaimed French director Francois Ozon stars Denis Menochet, Isabelle Adjani and Hanna Schygulla, now 78, who played the cruel young seductress in the original.
It is among 18 contenders for the festival's Golden and Silver Bear top prizes, to be handed out on February 16.
Indian-born American director M Night Shyamalan ("The Sixth Sense") is leading the jury, which includes Japan's Ryusuke Hamaguchi, whose "Drive My Car" is now nominated for four Oscars.
Seven of the filmmakers in competition are women.
The festival will also award an honorary Golden Bear for lifetime achievement to French screen legend Isabelle Huppert.
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'Social function' of cinema
Organisers of the event, which started in 1951 as a Cold War culture showcase for the divided German capital, say a raft of precautions will keep audiences safe as they take in the latest movies from around the globe.
Artistic director Carlo Chatrian defended the decision against accusations it was irresponsible at this stage of the pandemic, saying the communal movie experience was crucial for the battered industry, as well as for society at large.
"Seeing a film in a theatre, being able to hear breathing, laughter or whispers next to you — even with correct social distancing — contributes in a vital way not only to the viewing pleasure, but also to strengthening the social function that cinema has," he said.
Berlin ranks with Cannes and Venice among Europe's biggest film festivals and prides itself on being most welcoming to the general public, selling thousands of tickets to red-carpet premieres and screenings across the city.
Last year, the Berlinale competition was staged strictly online, just as the first vaccines were rolling out across Europe.
This time the event will screen around 250 films, a quarter fewer than in previous years.
It will include limited cinema capacity as well as vaccine, testing and mask requirements and a shorter competition run, as Germany posts more than 150,000 new coronavirus cases per day.
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