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* Berlin film festival ends Saturday with prize ceremony
* Actresses in 40s, 50s and 60s dominate awards buzz
* Post-Communist injustices explored by several directors
* Iran's Jafar Panahi defies filmmaking ban to take part (Adds Deneuve film, Cage appearance)
By Mike Collett-White
BERLIN, Feb 15 (Reuters) - If older women can't find work in Hollywood they might want to come to Berlin, where this year's film festival has been studded with performances by seasoned actresses that have put them and their movies in the running for top prizes.
The 11-day cinema event, centred around the main competition of 19 films but showcasing hundreds more, winds up with an evening awards ceremony on Saturday.
Jude Law, Anne Hathaway, Hugh Jackman, Matt Damon, Nicolas Cage and Catherine Deneuve all passed through, while after a string of critical flops at the start of the festival the reception has picked up.
The two frontrunners for the coveted Golden Bear for best picture, which can help bring a low-budget movie to an international audience, centre around strong women in their 50s and 60s who overshadow the men around them.
"Gloria", arguably the biggest hit at the 63rd Berlin film festival, stars Paulina Garcia as the eponymous Gloria, a 58-year-old divorcee living alone in Santiago where she is determined to enjoy life to the full.
She goes out dancing on singles nights, drinks, smokes, has affairs, stays in touch with her children and works full time.
Director Sebastian Lelio said his inspiration for the character was his mother and her generation, rarely tackled in cinema which tends to be obsessed with youth.
"We all face crossroads in our lives where we can retreat into ourselves or we can hit the dancefloor," he said.
The Chilean cast agreed that sex scenes between Gloria and her 60-something boyfriend Rodolfo may prove shocking to some, but should not be.
"I don't think people should be shocked," said Sergio Hernandez, who plays the charming but weak foil to Gloria's indomitable spirit.
"It's always been there...adults making love as they never have before, perhaps better than they ever have before."
Another favourite for best film and best actress is "Child's Pose", about a wealthy 60-year-old Romanian mother whose obsessive love for her son sees her try to buy his freedom when he accidentally knocks down and kills a boy.
Jay Weissberg, critic for the Variety trade publication, called the performance of Romanian veteran Luminita Gheorghiu as Cornelia a "tour-de-force".
There was a warm critical reception for French star Juliette Binoche in a film about the tragic story of sculptress Camille Claudel, who spent the last 29 years of her life wrongly confined by her family to a mental asylum.
And compatriot Deneuve impressed in the darkly comic "On My Way", in which she plays a grandmother beset by problems who drives across France making unlikely friendships and trying to heal old family wounds.
"Directors seem to have discovered the value of maturity and been anxious to explore the female face and psyche as they age, gracefully or otherwise," said Deborah Young of trade publication The Hollywood Reporter.
"Child's Pose" also picks up on another theme running through the festival - Eastern European directors looking at the post-Communist world for their inspiration, and arguing that the ills of old have been taken over by fresh injustices and abuse.
Russian film "A Long and Happy Life", for example, follows an idealistic young farmer who refuses to sell his land to a wealthy developer, with dramatic consequences.
And Bosnian drama "An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker", about a man struggling to get enough money for his partner's life-saving operation, packs the added emotional punch of having the real-life subjects in the main roles.
Iranian entry "Closed Curtain" received mixed reviews, but because it was co-directed by Jafar Panahi in defiance of a 20-year ban on filmmaking, it commanded centre stage for much of the festival.
DreamWorks' latest 3D animation blockbuster "The Croods" launched in Berlin out of competition, bringing light relief from the dark tales that have dominated the festival.
But U.S. competition entries created little excitement this year, partly because so many of them had already premiered at the Sundance film festival.
The exception was "Prince Avalanche", a charming, low-key tale of two misfits, played by Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch, who head into nature where they talk, drink, squabble and fight yet in the end emerge the better for it. (Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato)