By Gareth Jones
BERLIN (Reuters) - U.S. director Richard Linklater's "Boyhood" which portrays an American family over a 12-year-period as the two children mature into young adults has emerged as a leading contender for the top award at this year's Berlin film festival.
The movie, shot at regular intervals from 2002 as the actors steadily aged, is a tender meditation on the passage of time, the messiness of human relationships and modern American life.
More than 160 minutes long, the film delighted viewers at Thursday's showing at the 64th Berlin International Film Festival and drew glowing praise at both the post-screening news conference and on social media.
Linklater, best known for his romantic trilogy "Before Sunrise", "Before Sunset" and "Before Midnight", said it was a "leap of faith" to embark on such a long-term project.
"You can't contract anyone to do anything over (such a long period), and much less a kid ... Getting a six-year-old to agree to do something for 12 years, I mean, that's technically illegal, I think," said Linklater, who is from Houston, Texas.
"Everything about this movie was just different. It's a very independent, low budget film but it's kind of epic," he said.
"We had 143 scenes that we shot in ultimately 39 days (over the 12 years) with a huge crew for a small film. Everything about it was just unlike anything I've ever experienced."
The film focuses on Mason, played by Ellar Coltrane, from about the age of 6 until he leaves for college at 18. It shows his evolving relationships with his divorced parents, his elder sister Sam, schoolmates and his mother's succession of partners.
"CAPTURING" PASSAGE OF TIME
Mason evolves before our eyes from a little kid who collects rocks and fights with his sister through difficult early adolescence, dawning sexual awareness, encounters with drugs and alcohol, towards more balanced early manhood.
"The film was trying to be very realistic ... I was trying to capture the way time works through our lives, the way our life unfolds. And I felt there would be a kind of cumulative drama," said Linklater.
The film also depicts the changing culture and political backdrop, with references to movies such as "Star Wars" and "Harry Potter", the Iraq war and Barack Obama's 2008 election campaign. Kids' video games give way to iPhones and Facebook.
"It was fun to be playing off the culture of the time as much as possible," said Linklater, commenting on how the music his characters listen to changes with the passing years.
Linklater said he had let his actors be for most of the time over the 12 years when they were not shooting and said they were only allowed to watch the film when it was completed.
"It was a lot to deal with watching it two months ago and very cathartic and emotional," said Coltrane. "I can't imagine how difficult it would have been at 10 years old to see that much of myself, but (now) it is beautiful."
Linklater's daughter Lorelei, who plays Mason's sister Samantha, described how it felt finally to watch herself.
"It was really, really strange ... honestly quite painful sometimes. I mean who wants to watch themselves go through all these awkward stages? I mean it was hard, I was crying."
(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)