The hottest tickets at the Berlin film festival

Berlin - The Berlin film festival, one of Europe's top cinema showcases, gets under way Thursday, bringing a parade of stars to its famed red carpet.

Nearly 400 movies will be screened during the 11-day gathering. Here's a preview of highlights from the Berlinale, now in its 67th year, that are already generating a buzz.

Portraits of the artist 

Right from opening night, the festival will throw a spotlight on biopics and documentaries that explore famous creative lives.

Etienne Comar's debut feature Django is focused on the Gypsy-jazz great Django Reinhardt and the little-known story of his family's persecution by Nazis in occupied Paris.

Geoffrey Rush plays Swiss sculptor and painter Alberto Giacometti in Final Portrait, directed by Hollywood actor Stanley Tucci.

Canadian folk artist Maud Lewis comes to life in Maudie starring Sally Hawkins as the beloved painter with a debilitating illness and Ethan Hawke as her devoted husband.

Long before there was Damien Hirst and shark preserved in formaldehyde, there was Joseph Beuys and his dead rabbit. The documentary Beuys explores the controversial life of one of Germany's most important post-war artists.

And veteran German filmmaker Volker Schloendorff (The Tin Drum) tells the story of his friend Max Frisch, played by Stellan Skarsgard, in Return to Montauk based on the Swiss novelist and playwright's life.

'No country for old women' 

Agnieszka Holland (Europa Europa) returns with Spoor, a humour-tinged "feminist fairy tale" about an eccentric retiree facing bloody high jinx in her male-dominated village.

The prize-winning filmmaker says the movie, with its unflinching look at the failings of post-communist Polish society, could have been called No Country for Old Women, a play on the Coen brothers' classic.

Holland is one of four female filmmakers in competition this year, including Britain's Sally Potter who has brought together Patricia Clarkson, Emily Mortimer, Bruno Ganz and Kristin Scott Thomas for The Party, set during one night in contemporary London.

See a clip here:

Rounding out the list are Teresa Villaverde, whose Colo looks at a family buffeted by Portugal's economic crisis, and Ildiko Enyedi with On Body and Soul, a tender love story set in a slaughterhouse in Budapest.

 Trump talk 

Berlin has a reputation for being the most politically minded of the big film festivals. With actors and directors from around the world in front of the microphones, expect many to sound off on Brexit, populism, fake news and, of course, Donald Trump.

Festival director Dieter Kosslick refused to mention the US president's name as he discussed this year's line-up. But he said the choice of films was a "kind of protest" against the global state of affairs.

"But despite all the discontent in the world, this is a programme that says 'yes' to life. The artists describe everyday apocalypses, but not without escape routes," he said.

Refugees on and off screen 

Quirky Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki will present The Other Side of Hope about a Syrian refugee who winds up in Helsinki.

But off-screen too, the festival has also launched initiatives to help the more than 100 000 asylum seekers who have arrived in Berlin since 2015.

See the trailer here:

Fundraisers, screenings for newcomers accompanied by local volunteers and educational events for refugee kids have all been folded into the programme.

And after George Clooney popped in to talk to German Chancellor Angela Merkel about the migrant influx during last year's festival, Richard Gere, in town to present his new thriller The Dinner, will have an audience with the world's most powerful woman to discuss Tibetan rights.

 Bears and Wolverines 

Eighteen movies will duke it out for the Golden and Silver Bear top prizes, to be awarded on February 18 by a jury led by Dutch filmmaker Paul Verhoeven (RoboCop, Elle).

But while the contenders are expected to pack a dramatic punch, the festival has a long tradition of popcorn fare too.

This year's biggest blockbuster is the latest Wolverine instalment of the X-Men superhero series, Logan starring Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart and Richard E. Grant, which will have its world premiere.

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