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'American Hustle' stops at Berlin festival ahead of Oscars; Forest Whitaker presents new role

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BERLIN - Leading Oscar contender "American Hustle" put in an appearance at the Berlin International Film Festival on Friday, while "Two Men in Town," in which Forest Whitaker plays a newly released convict struggling to build a new life, had its premiere. Here are some notable moments from the second day of the event.

CALL IT OPERA

"American Hustle" already has 10 Oscar nominations, but director David O. Russell has a whole new category for the 1970s con-artist tale. "It's an opera in a way," he told reporters. "The emotions are big and operatic; the predicament is twisted and operatic, with big highs and big lows. People sing right into the camera."

Christian Bale, who stars as con artist Irving Rosenfeld, said that "if video stores still existed ... they would have an immense problem working out which category to put this film is, because it's drama, it's tragedy, it's comedy — who knows which category." The film is screening outside the main competition in Berlin.

BAD HAIR DAY

Rosenfeld's attention-grabbing hairpiece is almost a star in its own right. "For me, it was so unexpected to see this con artist having such an unconvincing con on his head," Bale said. The filmmakers wanted to ensure that the character — based on actual con artist Mel Weinberg, who was forced to conspire with the FBI to evade doing time — didn't fit with the usual image of confidence men as smooth operators.

"He was so brilliant at what he did, but so terrible at what he did on top of his head, that there was a great juxtaposition," Bale said. "It became to me a very vital thing to add to it."

WHITAKER'S INSIGHT

"Two Men in Town," one of 20 films competing for the festival's Golden Bear award, teams Forest Whitaker with French director Rachid Bouchareb. It's very loosely based on the 1973 film of the same name starring Alain Delon. Whitaker plays a released convict attempting a fresh start after 18 years in prison, but sees his efforts to build a quiet life in a New Mexico border town complicated by a vengeful sheriff and a former partner in crime. Whitaker said his character is "pushed further and further and further into a corner, (loses) more and more and more of his dignity."

Bouchareb said Whitaker gave the largely French crew "the American vision, because we are not American." The Oscar-winning actor said he shared with the film crew his feelings about issues such as racial profiling and how a convert to Islam, like his movie character, would be perceived.

OFFICER BLETHYN

Starring alongside Whitaker is British actress Brenda Blethyn, playing a tough parole officer in some distinctly unflattering uniforms. Blethyn said she spent time with a parole officer in Albuquerque who taught her the ropes. "That's such a tough job — personally I could go nowhere near that job," she added.

The outfits are an accurate fit for her movie character, Blethyn said — "practical and she's not someone who looks in the mirror very often."

YOUNG STAR

The day's up-and-coming star: 11-year-old Ivo Pietzcker, who plays the title role in "Jack," from German director Edward Berger. He plays a boy taking care of his younger brother in Berlin in the face of their largely absent mother. It's his first film, and Berger said its makers despaired of casting the character until Pietzcker dropped by after soccer practice.

So what does the future hold? "I gave up on being a professional soccer player a while back," Pietzcker said. "Being an actor is a lot of fun ... but I don't see doing it as a job as my calling, though I don't do it badly."

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