Archive for the ‘Tallinn Film Festival’ Category

Driving Mum (2022) Tallinn Film Festival | Winner Grand Prix 2022

Wri|Dir: Hilmar Oddsson

Hilmar Oddsson offers up another tale of Icelandic family strife and dysfunction, a black comedy very much along the lines of his fellow countryman Grímur Hákonarson’s dour and determined tale of sibling rivalry set in a farming community, Rams.

Although here the drift is towards melancholic fantasy, it’s a brave and bracingly impressive feature proving Icelandic cinema to be one of the most offbeat and ingenious in the magnetic north.

Þröstur Leó Gunnarsson cuts a dismal figures as the son whose existence is diminished by the force that gave him life – and we feel for him. His indomitable mother (Kristbjörg Kjeld) is the classic monster matriarch – feared and yet revered in equal measure.

This son, his dog and his deceased mother – the ultimate back seat driver – take to the road in a final surreal cross-country journey. Sardonic is the watchword as long-discussed funeral plans are finally put in motion in this grim valedictory voyage. Although dead, mother still dominates from beyond the grave as a gaunt and ghoulish physical presence to ensure her wishes are followed to a tee.

Óttar Guðnason creates a saturnine sense of place with his stark black and white cinematography providing a bleak and baleful backcloth to Jon’s rumination on an unfulfilled existence and his lonely life. Revenants from his past include a solitary female figure, a group of karaoke revellers and a recurring carnival motif.

Reality occasionally rears its head in the understandable queries he receives from people he meets along the way, and this contrast between the mundane and the ephemeral provides the piece with its rich vein of tragi-comedy.

Although his dead mother remains tight lipped and stoical, her wishes become real-time in-car conversations that really need no voice; they are seared into Jon’s unconscious like some macabre maternal spell that bizarrely echoes from the other side. MT

GRAND PRIX winner at Tallinn International Film Festival 2022

The Punishment (2022) Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival 2022

Dir: Matias Bize | Wri: Coral Cruz | Cast: Antonia Zegers, Nestor Cantillana | Drama 85′

A small child turns the tables on his parents in this taut and discursive two-handed drama from the accomplished Chilean director Matias Bize and his screenwriter Coral Cruz.

Ana and Mateo have stopped their car in the woods on their way to visit Ana’s parents for dinner. But a heated argument soon absorbs their attention and seven-year-old Lucas is left to fend for himself. When they are ready to leave, the boy is nowhere to be seen.

Both blaming each other for his disappearance, uncomfortable truths start to surface as the couple question their failure as parents. Ana sternly calls out to Lucas, threatening him with all sorts of privations for his bad behaviour, before eventually ‘phoning the police. It’s a fraught scenario that rings alarm bells for every parent, anything could happen in this bosky backwater, and the camera roves through trees and undergrowth during one tense take.

Zegers’ Ana is ‘mean-mummy’ with her hard-faced disciplinarian approach to dealing with Lucas, and our sympathies lie with her son and his more tolerant father (Cantillana) who, at least, tries to come up with solutions. But then it emerges that Lucas is a bit of a rebel, and not easy to manage, his teachers suspect he is suffering from ADHD.

Gradually Zegers’ wins us over with her plausible confession that eventually brings the drama to its satisfying conclusion, persuading us that motherhood is no picnic; much of the time it is frustrating, gruelling and thankless.

The Punishment is a well-crafted but dour drama that could have worked better as a radio play given the monotonous confines of its setting. Zegers and Cantillana do their best to make Ana and Mateo feel authentic and relatable in a drama that proves, once again, that we are always toughest on the ones we love. MT

TALLINN BLACK NIGHTS FILM FESTIVAL | IN COMPETITION 2022

A Letter from Helga (2022) Tallinn Film Festival 2022

Dir/Co-Wri: Așa Hjorleifsdottir | Romantic Drama | Iceland, Netherlands, Estonia | 118′

The wild and windswept fjords and mountains of Iceland are the setting for this visually resplendent romantic drama that sees a poet fall hopelessly in love with his neighbour. A Letter from Helga is based on a novella by Bergsveinn Birgisson who co-scripts.

Așa Hjorleifsdottir follows her first feature The Swan with another lyrical and more accomplished look at how nature and Iceland’s rural and folkloric heritage shapes the emotions of the inhabitants of this extraordinary scenic island in the Northern hemisphere.

For Helga (Hera Hilmar) and Bjarni (Thor Kristjansson) loves comes like a lightening bolt although they are both – unhappily – married, Helga has two young kids with Hallgrimur (Bjorn Thors), Barni and Unnur (Anita Briem) are locked in childless misery. Forbidden fruit is always more tantalising, and the lovers secret trysts grow more passionate as they reflect on their stale marriages, in heart-rending flashbacks. And yet changing their lives seems impossible in the disproving social set-up.

The story is simple with its themes of infidelity, jealousy and bitter regret, but embellished with such poetic poignancy and passion and leads Hera Hilmar and Thor Kristjansson really feel real in their romantic adventure. Hjorleifsdottir scores the intimate scenes and teasing tete-a-tetes with a sweeping score from Kristin Anna Valtysdottir that often tingles with its icy top notes and strident strings, riffing on local ballads and dances. Dreams of starting a new life in Reykjavik hint of a promising future that can never be but seems so possible in the brave new world after the War. MT

WORLD PREMIERE | TALLINN INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL | BALTIC COMPETITION 2022

 

And Yet We Were All Blind (2022) Tallinn Film Festival 2022

Dir.: Beatrice Pollet; Cast: Maud Wyler, Geraldine Nakache, Gregoire Colin, Fanny Cottencon, Pascale Vignal, Pascal Demolon, Ophelia Kolb; France 2022, 95min.

Based on real events, French writer/director Beatrice Pollet recreates a courtroom drama centred on Claire Morel, a lawyer and mother of two daughters, whose denial of her pregnancy nearly led to the death of her newborn son and landed her in front of a court, accused of infanticide.

Claire (Wyler) is a happy mother of two and lives a contended middle-class life with husband Thomas (Colin), a tree surgeon. One night, when Thomas returns late home from work, he finds his wife bleeding heavily, her life hanging in the balance when the police arrive. But rather than help, they accuse her of infanticide after a neighbour found a new born baby in a dumpster opposite her house.

Claire’s best friend, a lawyer called Sophie (Nakache) takes over her case. But it’s not going to easy. Claire was in denial of her pregnancy, she the court and jury take a dim view of her, pressing a harsh sentence. The Judge (Demolon) takes a sympathetic view, the prosecutor (Kolb) asks for the maximal custodial sentence of seven years. Sophie researches Claire’s medical history. It seems she was only aware of being pregnant with her daughter Babou three months into the term. But nobody really believes Claire has “repressed” the birth of her baby son – and she cannot remember dumping him on the container. Even Thomas has his doubts. Yet Sophie remains convinced of her friend’s story. In the end, it falls to the medical experts.  The public – and particularly women – aggressively calling Claire “a Sorceress” and asking “for the protection of the womb”.

There are echoes of Alice Diop’s recent Venice winner Saint Omer another example of filicide with no rational motive. Claire is in a much stronger position being a lawyer, and aware of how the system works. But she is reluctant to exercise her professional knowledge incase she loses her status as a lawyer. But more than anything, she fears her new baby, Simon, will never bond with her.

Pollet tries very hard to avoid any sentimentality, and she succeeds most of the time, although we don’t feel get a strong impression of the characters, they seem to fade into George Lechaptois washed out aesthetic. A worthwhile drama but one that could have certainly benefited from more more emotional cut and thrust and a less academic approach. AS

World premiere at the Tallinn Festival | The 23rd of November at 6.30pm

The Poet (2022) Tallinn Film Festival 2022

Dir.: Giedrius Tamosevicius, Vitautas V. Landsbergis; Cast: Donatus Zelvys, Dainius Gavenonis, Indre Patkauskaite, Martynas Nedzinskas; Lithuania 2022, 111 min.

The Poet is not just another epic drama about the grim days of Russian- occupied Lithuania in the late 1940s. First time director Giedrius Tamosevicius and veteran Vitautas V. Landsbergis avoid cliches, derring-do and bloody battlefields, instead opting for a cerebral look into the mind of a talented yet emotionally unstable creative spirit, the poet Kostas. This is a drama that turns on a moral dilemma and explores heroism from another angle. And to make things really authentic the directors have gone for a Soviet realist aesthetic – popular in many Eastern bloc countries after the fall of communism.

Kostas (Zelvys) has been sent down from university for his Anti-Soviet poetry that undermined the ‘great leader’ Stalin. He gets a second chance by agreeing to be a double agent for the KGB, into the bargain saving his family from deportation to the infamous GULAG. His first assignment involves infiltrating a group of partisans fighting the Soviet occupation forces from their hideouts in the woods. Under the guise of a teacher, he falls for librarian Jule (Patkauskaite), unaware she is in league with the partisans and is put off  by Kostas’ opportunism. But life gets complicated when Kostas is asked by Taurus (Gavenonis), the leader of the partisans, to become a double agent in their own ranks. He agrees, hoping to win Jule back.

At a Teacher’s Congress in Vilnius Kostas meets up with an old friend Eduardos (Nedzinskas), who has found a way of working the system and making a living from his anti-Soviet poems. He wants Kostas to do the same and move back to Vilnius. But Kostas gets embroiled with his KGB case officer, and finds himself being blown off course work-wise and emotionally. His double life starts to implode after the partisans come under attack from Russian forces during a night’s celebration in the woods. Kostas and Taurus dive for shelter in an underground bunker where they explore the enormity of their decisions during a dark night of the soul. AS

WINNER – BALTIC COMPETITION – TALLINN BLACK NIGHTS FILM FESTIVAL | 17 NOVEMBER 2022

River of Desire (2022) Tallinn Film Festival 2022

Dir.: Sergio Machado; Cast: Sophie Charlotte, Rômulo Braga, Daniel De Oliveira, Gabe Leone, Coco Chiarella; Brazil 2022, Romantic thriller 107 min.

Brazilian writer director Sergio Machado started his film career as assistant to Walter Salles and went on to win the Youth Award at Cannes in 2005 for his feature Lower City. After success with credits in TV, documentary and commercial video his latest drama River of Desire is a passion-fuelled waterside ménage-à-quatre based on Milton Hatoum’s “Farewell Captain”. Machado’s well-structured script is sadly let down by the overtly male gaze of the graphic sex scenes and a melodramatic tele-novella ending.

The story centres on three brothers Dalberto (de Oliveira), Dalmo (Braga) and Armando (Leone) who get along amicably in the house they have inherited from their father after his wife left with a Gringo. But when the Dalberto is joined by his beguiling new wife Anaíra (Charlotte) the dynamic shifts as masculine desires are unleashed and – inevitably – family tragedy ensues as the three find themselves in love with the same woman. One day Dalberto’s work takes him up the Amazon river from Brazil to Peru Anaira becomes lonely and despondent and looks to the other two for her entertainment.

Machado’s intriguing character drama is suffused in the vibrant colours and sensuality of this sweltering tropical paradise that plays on the hormonal rush of the remaining siblings once their brother has gone upstream. Anaira is playful and naive, and has no idea what reality has in store for her in this watchable thriller which makes fabulous use of its Amazon locations. AS

WINNER – BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY – TALLINN BLACK NIGHTS FILM FESTIVAL 2022

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