Ever since Berlin Film Festival began in the bombed-out Berlin of 1951, it has always had a political edge. But at this year's festival, which opens on Wednesday, the harsh realities of war, corruption and personal loss are more present than ever.
By Damien McGuinness
It may be dark and chilly in the German capital in winter, but at least for the next 10 days, as the city's 56th film festival opens, Berlin will be lit up by Hollywood's glitterati.
Snow Cake stars Sigourney Weaver and Alan Rickman
The Berlinale, as the festival is known, traditionally tries to achieve a tricky balancing act between serious celluloid for the critics and celebrity voltage for the cameras.
The usual formula is to kick things off with a star-studded opening blockbuster worthy of the red carpet.
This year Sigourney Weaver and Alan Rickman are due in Berlin for the emotional and seemingly undemanding love story Snow Cake - and then get down to business with something more credible.
Although this year's celebrity presence may provide a bit of glitzy escapism, with George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Isabelle Hupert, Heath Ledger and Claude Chabrol all expected to attend, most of the films probably won't.
Harsh political realities abound, with It's Winter by Rafi Pitts depicting an unemployed man's struggle for survival at the bottom of Iranian society.
Or Grbavica by Jasmila Zbanic which deals with the story of a single mother in post-war Sarajevo.
V For Vendetta, on the other hand, starring Natalie Portman and directed by James McTeigue, is a dark science fiction drama set in a futuristic totalitarian Britain.
British director Michael Winterbottom, who won the Berlinale's top prize, the Golden Bear, for In This World in 2003, is equally political with his much anticipated dramatised documentary The Road To Guantanamo, about three British Muslims held in Guantanamo Bay.
Australian film Candy, starring Heath Ledger and directed by Neil Armfield, deals with drug addiction, while the German film, The Free Will, by Matthias Glasner, is a love story between a convicted rapist and a young woman who has been mentally abused by her father.
All in all, the competition section, which shows 26 films, is not exactly a cheery selection.
At a press conference in Berlin, Dieter Kosslick, the festival's director said this reflects the direction in which film is going at the moment.
"All over the world there is a move towards more political cinema, which is closer to reality and depicts a harsher world. I am pleased that the Berlinale reflects this."
But while the films may be downbeat, those attending the festival certainly aren't.
"The Berlinale is incredibly significant for every German film-maker," says Manuela Stehr, producer of The Red Cockatoo, a story of state repression in former communist East Germany.
"It really puts you out there on the international stage and gives you access to distribution companies from all over the world. As a German film-maker it gives you attention which you would never usually get."
For Manuela Stehr the Berlinale has certainly come up with the goods in the past. In 2003 she co-produced the international hit Goodbye Lenin! which won the Blue Angel Award for best European film.
"You are still really nervous every time," she says.
"Berlinale audiences expect a lot and can be tough," she said. "It can be very hard and not particularly pleasant. But it is terribly important to get an honest reaction."
Lee Young-ae, Charlotte Rampling and Matthew Barney are part of the festival's jury
According to Wieland Speck, director of the festival's Panorama art-house section, it is exactly these audiences which make the Berlinale so unique.
Unlike Cannes and Venice, tickets at Berlin are easy to get and relatively cheap - typically seven euros (£4.80).
This means screenings are full of members of the public, rather than only industry professionals and journalists.
Many buyers say this helps gauge more realistically whether a film will be a success once released.
"The Berlin public are very developed aesthetically and they like to be stretched by difficult films," Wieland Speck said.
"Because Berlinale audiences support challenging films, this helps me show distribution companies that art-house productions can also go down well in the cinemas."
The Berlinale is, along with Cannes and Venice, one of the most important events of the film calendar.
About 18,000 industry professionals and journalists are attending this year, and 360 films from 56 countries will be shown.
The competition winners will be announced on 18 February.