'Fifty Shades of Grey' to steam up Berlin film fest in overseas debut

'Fifty Shades of Grey' is headed to the Berlin International Film Festival

Berlin just got a few degrees warmer. "Fifty Shades of Grey," the erotic drama based on E.L. James' massively popular S&M-themed novel, will make its international premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival, organizers announced Monday.

"Fifty Shades" will screen Feb. 11, two days before its stateside release, with James, director Sam Taylor-Johnson and co-stars Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson in attendance.

By landing a spot at the European fest, studio Universal may be hoping to give the film an air of prestige that's somewhat lacking in the source material. Although James' book, which chronicles the torrid relationship between a mousy college student and a kinky billionaire, has sold more than 100 million copies, it's also been sniffed at by the literati and labeled "mommy porn."

The move has a certain logic for the festival too: With "Fifty Shades," the Berlinale lays claim to a buzzed-about, semi-provocative film that's sure to set tongues wagging as it tries to balance mainstream and artistic ambitions. Last year the fest courted interest similarly by debuting the uncut version of Lars von Trier's sex-addiction drama "Nymphomaniac Volume 1."

Universal is distributing "Fifty Shades" in conjunction with its specialty division Focus Features, which has a history of handling sexually provocative material, including "Lust, Caution" and "Brokeback Mountain."

Universal and Focus acquired rights to "Fifty Shades" (and its two sequels) in March 2012. Since then, Focus has undergone a major overhaul and emerged with a more commercial slate. The decision to go to the Berlinale gives "Fifty Shades" a potentially valuable platform as it tries to attract filmgoers several years after it hit its popularity peak.

On the other hand, a festival screening comes with some risks: If critics or fest-goers don't respond favorably, the film could encounter bad word of mouth just before tickets go on sale.

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