With four Berlinalecompetition films yet to screen, the critical consensus so far is that this hasnot been a vintage year for quality. It's not just that there has been nosingle standout title so far it's also the lack of pleasant off-the-radarsurprises, like last year's Golden Bear winner U-Carmen eKhayelitsha.

But as Nick James, editor of Sight and Sound, warns, this could turn out to be one of thoseback-loaded festivals that Berlin seems to specialise in: 'two years ago wewere all saying what a disappointing year it was... then along came Head On and Before Sunset'. If the sale's buzz the film has been generating isanything to go by, this year's Head-Oncould be another German entry, Hans-Christian Schmid'sRequiem, which purports to offer amore authentic take on the true-life tragedy that inspired The Exorcism of Emily Rose.

Two first features, JasmilaZbanic's Bosnian healing-the-scars-of-war drama Grbavica and Pernille Christensen's post- melodrama A Soap,were liked by many. Some critics also warmed to two nouveau-auteur products,Pen-ek Ratanaruang'saesthetic Thai yakuza yarn InvisibleWaves, Iranian anti-hero mystery It'sWinter, and Slumming, Michael Glawogger's edgy study of rich kids who think it'spost-modern to go downmarket. But as in Venice last year, the strongest titles so far have been twoanglophone offerings from established directors: Robert Altman's richly textured paean tothe lost tradition of radio variety shows, APrairie Home Companion, and Michael Winterbottom's tell-it-like-it-is docudrama The Road to Guantanamo,centring on the experience of the three British detainees known as the TiptonThree.

Even the eagerly-awaited, Candyfeature debut of Australian theatrical wunderkind Neil Armfieldfailed to set the critics on fire, despite what most acknowledged were strongperformances by awards-season darling Heath Ledger and nouvelle-Kidman Abbie Cornish.

For Fabio Ferzetti, criticwith Italy's Il Messaggero, this year's selection has seen too manyfilms wasting their cinematic potential. The Panorama sidebar has thrown upsome directors to watch like Moroccan brothers Sweland Imad Noury's no-budgetdebut Heaven's Doors. If anythingthough, it's the Forum section that has really proven its worth this year, witha consistently stimulating selection that has been especially strong ondocumentaries.