Posts Tagged ‘ROTTERDAM FILM FESTIVAL’

Rotterdam Film Festival | Retrospectives 2022

A retrospective in this year’s Rotterdam Film Festival is dedicated to China’s Qiu Jiongjiong, one of the world’ most innovative artists and filmmakers, with a series of films and an exhibition. Intimate memory and national history resonate in Qiu’s baroque rhapsodies of music and design.

Six of his films are presented, including his latest masterwork A New Old Play. Its overview of China from the 1930s to the 1980s, filtered through the semi-fictionalised life of a Sichuan opera star, won the Special Jury Prize at the 74th Locarno Film Festival; the film was supported in development by IFFR’s Hubert Bals Fund. The accompanying exhibition Qiu Jiongjiong: A Play with Paintings, Drawings and Manuscriptsdisplays different stages of Qiu’s creative process.

Madame, Qiu Jiongjiong, 2010, China, European premiere

The Moon Palace, Qiu Jiongjiong, 2007, China, international premiere

My Mother’s Rhapsody, Qiu Jiongjiong, 2011, China

A New Old Play, Qiu Jiongjiong, 2021, China

Ode to Joy, Qiu Jiongjiong, 2008, China

Portrait of Mr. Huang, Qiu Jiongjiong, 2009, China

ROTTERDAM INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL | 27 JANUARY – 5 FEBRUARY 2022

Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror (2021) IFFR 2021

Dir: Kier-La Janisse | US, Doc 193’

Everything you wanted to know about horror films: this immersive three hour documentary is an expansive study of the macabre genre of “folk horror”  from the lurid to the surreal and downright ghastly. A gruesome and immersive trip to Hell signposted by the trilogy of cult classics: Michael Reeves’ Witchfinder General (1968) Piers Haggard’s  Blood of Satan’s Claw and Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man. 

Canadian filmmaker and scholar Kier-La Janisse embellishes her film with insightful talking heads and over a 100 clips from the archives, to explore how “Folk horror” came into being relatively recently, casting a spell over a growing audience with enigmatic qualities often escaping definition yet firmly rooted in the countryside with local mores and primitive superstitions providing its down to earth life blood, sustained by a fear of the unknown. This “juxtaposition of prosaic and uncanny”, coined by author and actor Jonathan Rigby, lies at its heart.

A must for genre fans Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched also provides a valuable potted history for newcomers, divided into six chapters, for ease of reference. Commentatory from occult experts, historians and cult filmmakers enriches the informative brew.

The only two surviving directors from the unholy trilogy also give their pennyworth on their rural cult outings: Robin Hardy’s terrifying ‘pagan meets pious’ tale The Wicker Man (1973) and Piers Haggard’s The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971) a tale of villagers fearing possession by the Devil in 17th century Christian England.

Britain has always harked back to past socially and architecturally, and so UK folklore provides a particularly rich trove to draw with its rural  traditions and literary heritage of ghost stories and the supernatural. American directors can mine the puritan sensibilities of the pilgrim fathers onwards for their source of folk horror. Here Robert Eggers talks about his breakout revivalist features The Witch and The Lighthouse. Janisse then skates more broadly over the international scene showing how folk horror in countries such as Australia and South America is largely influenced by Colonialism and its literary traditions of magic realism. Canadian cult filmmaker Guy Maddin also makes an appearance talking about his surreal, award-winning work.

Janisse has crafted a worthwhile and entertaining compendium film that can be enjoyed in an afternoon, or dipped into from time to time. MT

ROTTERAM FILM FESTIVAL | SUMMER SEASON June 4-6 2021

 

 

 

Scarecrow | Pugalo (2021) IFFR 2021

Dir: Dmitri Davydov | Cast; Valentina Romanova-Chyskyyray, Anatoly Struchkov, Artur Zakharov, Sargylana Lukovtseva | USSR Drama 72′

Sakha director Dmitry Davydov, a rising star internationally, has built an intriguing drama with horror genre elements on the basis of this frosty story about a social outcast ostracised by uncompromising locals whose obdurate demeanour reflects their dour surroundings and harsh outlook on life.

A modern day fable of witchery is wrapped round an astonishing central performance from Valentina Romanova-Chyskyyray who plays a healer who lives in the vast, snowy expanse of the Sakha Republic in Russia. Ostracised by the local population despite her proven supernatural powers, she is clearly a neutralising conduit of disease and toxic negativity, suffering grotesquely- or even entering a trance-like state each time she treats a patient, making this feel authentic as well as intriguing and visually arresting with its evocative occasional score that features the ‘krymppa’, a rustic violin-like instrument.

Enigmatic, spare on dialogue and immaculately photographed in picturesque widescreen long takes and in intimate close-up by Ivan Semyonov in a monochrome palette of taupe and snowy greys, Scarecrow is one of the strongest, recent examples of the flourishing Sakha cinema, where local makers stray beyond the confines of Russian cinema, creating their own cinematic identity.

Like many other Sakha makers, Davydov is a self-taught director who combines serious drama with genre elements, Sakha folklore and landscapes. The disturbing scene, shot in one long take, in which the troubled lead takes great gulps from a vodka bottle whilst crying, is haunting, mesmerising and memorable. MT

ROTTERDAM FILM FESTIVAL | SUMMER SEASON | 3 -6 JUNE 2021

The Day Today | Au jour d’aujourd’hui (2021) IFFR June 2021

Dir/scr: Maxence Stamatiadis | Doc with Suzanne Mouradian, Edouard Mouradian. Sci-fi mokumentary, France. 67′

Artificial intelligence can unite us with a loved one, as we saw in the recent British sci-fi flick Archive. In his documentary debut Franco-Greek director Maxence Stamatiadis goes a step further showing what could happen in real life.

The mockumentary mishmash of art installation, archive footage, sci-fi,  and droll satire is very much redolent of recent Greek ‘weird wave’ fare. Close-up camerawork projects us forward to the near future in Paris where an elderly couple are going through the motions of everyday life. Still very much in love with her husband Edouard, 88 year old Suzanne Mouradian is addicted to sharing kitten videos and her innermost thoughts on losing her soulmate on social media through her various devices, Edouard (1929-2013) meanwhile puts up with her tender overtures, secretly yearning for a second chance as he struggles on resentfully with his pills, and his glasses, their obnoxious grand-daughter laying down the law on impromptu visits.

My own father once said to me: just because you’re old you don’t change, ‘you still have the same ideals, and romantic desires’. And Stamatiadis captures this couple’s romantic affection and closeness drenching his story in documentary-like authenticity, using his grandparents as the lead characters clearly intensifies the experience; the knowledge that life is coming to and end lacing the film with a melancholic tristesse heightened barely disguising his subversive humour with a sultry Claude Chabrol style occasional score.

The narrative slides back and forward beginning in Les Pavillons-sous-Bois in 2013 where the couple live out a claustrophobic domestic existence darkened to assist their addiction to technology. Moving on to 2024, Suzanne is now a nostalgic widow and has found an internet site (The Day Today) that bizarrely enables her to recreate Edouard, right down to that burgundy jacket he wore the time that love was in the air (“il etait si chouette”) courtesy of a volunteer ‘swapper’.

So along comes the new version of Edouard his latent dark side this time ramped up: he tools with a flick-knife and sports gaudy knucke-dusters along with his pink halo. Monosyllabic, churlish and generally unbiddable to Suzanne’s constant need to control, he even darts demonic looks in her direction while she slaves over his ‘petites tartines’ and lovely prepared dinners. While Edouard is own on his mysterious evening strolls, Suzanne resorts to her devices, describing him as “tragic”, the whole endeavour as “mal foutu” but carries on all the same with a “better the devil you know” acceptance of her new hubby.

The Day Today is a darkly delicious satire of modern life, highlighting the perils of internet dating, artificial intelligence and even our human tendency to go with the flow even when the going gets rough. MT

IFFR CONTINUES ITS SUMMER FESTIVAL | 2 – 6 June 2021

 

Winners | 50th Rotterdam Film Festival 2021

The 50th Celebration of Rotterdam Festival wrapped after a successful week of films, interviews and Big Talks under the fresh new leadership of festival director Vanya Kaludjercic who took over the reigns from Bero Beyer for this exciting anniversary year.


Tiger Competition 2021 winners Pebbles, I Comete – A Corsican Summer and Looking for Venera will be made available to watch on IFFR.com for an extended period: from Sunday 6 February 18:00 (CET) to Tuesday 9 February 21:00 (CET), with streaming exclusively accessible in the Netherlands. The festival will be back in June for a summer celebration

ROTTERDAM FILM FESTIVAL 1-7 FEBRUARY 2021

Night of the Kings (2020) BFI player

Dir: Philippe Lacote | Cast: Bakary Kone, Steve Tientcheu, Jean Cyrille Digbeu, Rasmene Quedrango, Denis Lavant | Drama, 93′

The Cote Ivorian contender for this year’s Academy Awards is an vibrant and atmospheric modern day riff on the legend of Sherherazade set within the confines of an Abidjan prison.

A second feature for Philippe Lacote who gained International acclaim for his Cannes competition film Run, it sees a young man struggle to survive in the hostile hellhole of La Maca prison (now home to 5,000 prisoners) by keeping the inmates entertain – risking certain death if he doesn’t, by sunrise.

Lacote blends elements of folklore and local history with exotic lighting techniques (casting ghoulish shadows on the felons’ faces) and a rhythmic soundscape that reaches fever pitch by the hyperrealist closing scenes, in this story within a story.

The inmates themselves have taken over this mammoth concrete  ‘asylum’ surrounded by the lush tropical scenery of the Ivory Coast, in West Africa (Senegal was used in locations). The chief henchman, Blackbeard (Tientcheu), is head of the prisoners, and will remain in power until he cedes to a more powerful rival, forcing him calmly to take his own life. His successor or ‘Roman’ (literally storyteller) has only just arrived on the prison scene, and seems rather lightweight by comparison but soon rises to the occasion.

On the night of a ‘red’ moon this Roman must mesmerise his fellow prisoners through until dawn with original stories of epic proportions. Luckily he only has to cast his mind back to his own family: his aunt was a noted West African storyteller, who grew up with an infamous rascal called Zama King. At this point the film takes on a fantastical dimension transporting us back in time to the reign of a Cleopatra-like queen (Laetitia Kay) with an outlandish wig.

At this point Denis Lavant arrives on the scene (as Silence) inspiring the young Roman (Bakary Kone) to wax lyrical as he gets into his stride with a tale of increasingly outlandish proportions. Roman reaches fever pitch with the constant threat of death creating palpable dramatic tension, and he diverges again and again spinning another string to his yarn, like some voluable over-excited salesman desperate to keep the patter going. The fellow inmates warm to the story adding their own embellishments with strident body movements, singing and dancing. This is a magical film that lives and breathes its unique sense of place deep in the heart of the mysterious African jungle. MT

BFI ONLINE | The Ivory Coast’s submission to the 93rd Academy Awards won awards in 2020 at Toronto, Thessaloniki, and the Youth Jury Award IFFR 2021.

Archipel (2021) IFFR 2021

Dir.: Felix Dufour-Laperriere; Documentary with FlorenceBlain Mbaye, Mattis Savard-Verhoeven; Canada 2021, 72 min.

Canadian director/writer/producer/editor Felix Dufour-Laperriere has created a visually striking portrait of his hometown Montreal (Quebec) with only a few real names and an assortment of mostly animated super-imposed images making any attempt at categorisation near impossible. One could call it a journey into poetry, music and live action held together by the voice-over of the two nameless narrators: a woman and man trying to communicate.

 

 

We never leave the titular Archipelago: old maps, footage and pictures give us an idea of times gone-by: people dominate, working, playing and wandering around in the delta. Names mentioned are Pierre Vallieres, a Quebec separatist politician and Jacques Verron, a reformist doctor. With animation and live-action correlated, we do not always know if this is a dream, even though the change of framing is a further point of reference guiding us, but also threatening to engulf us in this labyrinth of images. The score of Feu Doux underlines a semi-narrative of stream of consciousness and magic. Cryptic, often poetic, musings are like signs in a watery jungle landscape. The Saint Lawrence River keeps the boundaries in place and a native Innu-Aimon poem strikes a poetic and artful tone too hard to define in this multi-dimensional adventure composed of myriad art forms. It certainly  transcends any filmic reference, exuding a timeless quality which is both beguiling and discombobulating. Words may dominate, giving us some directions, but overall the enigmatic Archipel does not want be to classified, just to be watched like an seamless adventure; wild, untamed and free. AS

Rotterdam Film Festival | 2021

The Dog Who Wouldn’t be Quiet | El Perro que no calla (2020)

Dri: Ana Katz | Argentina, Drama 73′

A dreamy absurdist meditation on life with man’s best friend seems well-pitched for this time when many increasingly rely on their pets – particularly dogs – to see them through loneliness and crisis. Screaming kids are part of life but not everyone tolerates a barking dog. But our canine friends can often highlight the general mood better than humans.

In her offbeat debut feature Argentinian filmmaker Ana Katz offers a gentle lowkey reflection of the life and times of Sebastian and his canine companion, that gradually opens out to touch on wider concerns. Set in a community struggling to survive economic turndown, Sebastian is struggling to hold down a job but his dog Rita spends her lonely days howling, much to the annoyance of his neighbours. Watching calmly and intelligently as Sebastian deals with the negative comments  about her at his place of work, the realisation dawns that he will have to leave his job. But on a walk through the surrounding countryside, the decision is made for him. And this is delicately conveyed in a series of black and white sketches that carry a poignant sorrowful message.

The dog’s anxiety ripples out into a widespread ‘cri de coeur’ expressing the collective concern of a population lacking in agency and forced into passive endurance of their uneventful daily lives.

Essentially this is a series of episodes in Sebastian’s life as he goes from place to place gamely looking for work, while also playing an active part in his mother’s days with her sophisticated friends. This all culminates in a romantic meeting on the dance-floor and a family of his own.

A comet disaster, shown again in drawing form, provides an ecological watershed and the film’s lowkey Sci-fi twist that sees the Earth’s atmosphere become contaminated above ground level. Sebastian, who is now working in a farming collective, is forced to adapt to the confusing changes, including wearing a glass bubble mask (you can appreciate the social resonance here). This new normal situation becomes a routine that Sebastian and his fiends will have to accept. But it somehow is the making of him.

Filming in black-and-white film with an inconsequential original score, this is a promising debut that doesn’t quite manage to hang together despite some strong ideas, and the comedy angle is amongst them. Ana Katz get some naturalistic performances from her cast, and Daniel Katz makes for a likeable Sebastian in the central role. Rita is rather underwritten, and it’s a shame her role is so truncated as she could have provided the link to bringing the narrative together and garnering empathy from dog lovers everywhere. MT.

ON CURZON HOME CINEMA | 21 MAY 2021

ROTTERDAM FILM FEST | WINNER – BIG SCREEN AWARD 2021

Black Medusa (2021) Mubi

Dir: Ismael & Youssef Chebbi | Drama, Tunisia, 95′

The Black Medusa Nada is in some ways emblematic of her home town of Tunis in this enigmatic fantasy thriller portrait of contemporary North African womanhood.

In this first feature Tunisian filmmakers Ismael and Youssef Chebbi are clearly supportive of their embittered main character – who choses not to communicate verbally – investing her with the power to hit back at the male-dominated Arab society where she has grown up in the aftermath of the revolution. Nour Hajri makes for a mesmerising Nada – the aptly named Black Medusa – who modestly goes her about her daily routine before diving into the nighttime shadows to prey on unsuspecting suitors.

Nada’s modus operandi is a ritual of revenge unfolding over nine. First, she poses as a sympathetic confidante to her male suitors – then she stabs them viciously, and seemingly with impunity. But her murderous behaviour soon rouses the suspicions of her workplace colleague Noura, who discovers a knife used in the attacks, and die is cast.

Underwritten characters and a slim but suggestive premise are clearly the result of the filmmakers budget constraints in a feature shot at lightening speed, and scripted in only two weeks. Enigma somehow works to their advantage here but not in the way they had anticipated with Nada serving the narrative as a beguiling counterpoint to the film’s much stronger (and in some ways more interesting) character – Tunis itself, gradually emerging in the nocturnal odyssey through this intriguing capital.

Stylistically brave in its striking black and white beauty and eclectic soundscape, the film makes for a slow and sinuous study of the nighttime antics of urban Tunisians in a voyeuristic expose of this classic coastal city with its ancient medinas and modern architectural flourishes and broad palm-fringed boulevards that will eventually lead to Carthage and Sidi Bou Said.

The directors meld Noir and Giallo styles satisfyingly in a memorable revenge thriller that serves as a sophisticated showcase to a siren-like capital city where a serial killer is on a voyage of discovery to liberate herself from the past. MT

ON MUBI FROM 25 January 2022

 

 

 

Liborio (2021) Mubi

Dir: Nino Martinez Sosa | Dominican Rep Drama 99′

A violent hurricane in the tropical jungles of the Dominican Republic in the early years of the 20th century is the catalyst for transformation deep in this debut feature from Nino Martinez Sosa.

And the focus for change is Olivorio ‘Liborio’ Mateo who takes refuge in a cave only to reappear much later as a messianic figure and force for positive change and healing in his local community. Will this Jesus-like figure bring lasting hope or is he just another false prophet?.

An age old question and one Nino Martinez Sosa explores with some ingenuity in his lively feature debut that shines a light on this largely unknown episode of history. His film imagines a bright and self-determining future for an impoverished farming community in the South of his homeland. And one that serves as a metaphor for our world today where injustice continue despite social and economic advancement, and it will always be thus.

Since Jesus came down from the Cross, people everywhere have being looking for redemption and positive change – through cults, sects and new-fangled religions. Based on local history, Liborio is another figure who captures the collective imagination of his community, and from the time he reappears after the storm his prophecies and healing powers enrich his group of followers who have, up to this time, been dominated by Catholic doctrines. He retreats with them into the mountains to start a commune in the name of freedom, but faces still opposition from invading US marines after the 1916 American invasion when tensions developed into an armed struggle.

Atmospherically lensed by Oscar Duran (who honed his skills on Sexy Beast) this highly sensory tale takes the form of seven scenes showing how Liborio (a luminous central turn from Vicente Santos) inspires the locals with his teachings amid hostility from Catholic believers, much as Jesus got a bad rap from the prevailing Jews in Palestine; the shadow of colonialism eventually making its presence known in the shape of the soldiers.

Today in the Dominican Republic ‘Liborism’ is kept alive in ritual, prayer and song connecting this dramatised history to the present, and is here brought to us by Martinez Sosa’s illuminating historical drama. MT

Rotterdam Film Festival | premiere | this year’s festival kicks off on 26 January 2022

The Edge of Daybreak (2021) IFFR 2021

Dir: Taiki Sakpisit | Thailand, Switzerland | Drama, 116′

Four decades of political turmoil and violent history unfold in this deeply visual monochrome meditation whose intimate focus is the family tragedy at its core.

A thematically rich feature debut for Thai filmmaker Taiki Sakpisit who has made quite a name for himself as a director of shorts to create an impressive body of work linked to his country’s history. He now takes on a much more ambitious project that traces back to the distant history of his homeland in a film that scratches at the edges of Gothic fantasy taking it roots from reality.

Experimental in nature and strangely beguiling carries with it a palpable tension as turmoil in running high in its Bangkok setting. A prominent government figure is spending his final hours in safety before fleeing into exile. In the chiaroscuro shadows DoP Chananun Chotrungroj’s roving voyeuristic camera alights on a naked body and we are led to believe by the film’s narrator this incident is connected to the family who inhabit a decrepit riverside mansion steeped in a mysterious past.

Days are marked out by silent rituals. Pailin, the mistress of the house, is recovering from a traumatic accident involving her daughter Ploy. Wordlessly moving around in spellbound somnambulant state she is one of the female protagonists with little agency, suppressed by her stultifying surroundings in a story that serves as a metaphor for the suffering of the Thai people who have undergone years of repressive regimes and brutal trauma.

Sakpisit directs with confidence keeping his distance from his mysterious protagonists while maintaining a focus on the females, and evoking a creeping sense of dread with an ominous soundscape to create an artistic response to his country’s legacy of militarisation and impunity.

This is a narrative which very much connects to the global concern that psychosis and traumatic stress disorder can be passed down to later generations into the collective consciousness eventually becoming endemic in the nation’s heart and soul.

 

Rotterdam Film Festival | FIPRESCI Award 2021

Suzanna Andler (2021) IFFR 2021

Dir: Benoit Jacquot | France, Drama, 88′

A romantic chamber piece for Charlotte Gainsbourg to strut her stuff and she makes a soigné star in YSL, faux fur and high-heels in this sophisticated drama from Cesar winning Benoit Jacquot (Farewell My Queen, Eva).

Set in a sumptuous seaside villa in Cannes – reminding us to get our skates on for this year’s revised July festival – it muses on the constantly changing dynamics of love and fidelity, and the continuing fascination for women of a certain age by younger men.

The young guy in this case is Michel (Niels Schneider most recently seen in Xavier Dolan’s Heartbeats). Gainsbourg plays forty something Suzanna Andler who describes herself to the estate agent showing her the villa, as “the most cheated-on woman in the Riviera”. Her millionaire husband Jean (who never appears, but speaks to her over the ‘phone from Chantilly where he also has a lover) will spend two weeks there with the family, she will then be joined by Michel keeping a low profile, naturellement.

Jacquot bases his script on a 1960s play by the famous French novelist, director and actor Marguerite Duras (he worked as her assistant in the early 1970s), set back in the day when it was ‘de rigueur’ to have a lover to compensate for the confines of the marital bed, and here cleverly escapes the strictures of the stage with an evocative seaside soundscape, the lush villa is a character in itself, and a beachside walk with the third character Julia Roy (who also appeared in Eva) as her daughter, Monique.

Staying faithful to the original, this is elegantly performed and delightful to watch, its discursive love story playing out amid gentle lulling waves and seagulls on a spring day on the Riviera, distilling the essence of this magical part of France. MT

Rotterdam Film Festival 2021 | LIMELIGHT STRAND

Pebbles (2021) IFFR 2021 | Tiger Award 2021

Dir: P S Vinothraj | Drama, India 74′

Drought is a killer in Southern India. And the village of Arittapatti is suffering. Women keep calm and patiently carry on – roasting rats to feed the family – but the men are full of rage, against themselves and the environment.

Powered forwards by a seething debut performance from Karuththadaiyaan, who plays the central character Ganapathy, this first feature from P S Vinothraj – essentially a two hander – is as much a social portrait of rural India’s patriarchal society as a anti-buddy movie about a father and his young son (Chellapandi, also a non-pro).

Forget solidarity. The desiccated landscape has reduced humanity to desperation, Ganapathy’s wife fleeing from his domestic abuse to her in-laws in a neighbouring village. Furious and determined to get his back – she is his possession, after all – Ganapathy drags his sons on the 13 km journey across a wasteland, Walkabout style, in the searing heat of the hottest day of the year.

In an odyssey Punctuated by occasional violent outbursts, and intensified by a handheld camera, what we remember most about Pebbles is the silence: this is actually a meditation on the miracle of nature and also the cruelty of man towards the environment, seen largely through the eyes of Chellapandi, a calm and thoughtful boy who refuses to give in to his father’s draconian  dominance and physical abuse preferring to marvel instead at their  their journey through this ravaged but characterful landscape. At one point they are followed by a stray puppy, the father kicks it away but Chellapandi befriends it and takes it home, he’s emerging a nature boy and the hero of the film.

Despite a dysfunctional relationship with his father the two are inexorably drawn together, the father’s negative energy fuelling the boy’s positivity and resourcefulness. It’s an intriguing study of how opposites continue to stick together somehow complimenting each other in the face of all odds.

Minutely observed and captured on the widescreen, and by use of drones, this wonderful feature, over a year in the making, is an arthouse gem that fills the viewer with a feeling of calm contemplation. A tribute to the patient resourcefulness of poverty-stricken people all over the developing world. MT

Rotterdam Film Festival 2021 | TIGER COMPETITON WINNER 2021

 

The Year Before the War | Gads Pirms Kara (2021 IFFR

Dir.: Davis Simanis; Cast: Petr Buchta, Inga Salina, Girts Kesteris, Lauris Dzelzitis, Eduards Johansons, Edgards Kaufelds, Gints Gravelis, Uldis Silins, Daniel Sidon, Janis Putnins; Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Czech Republic | 2021, 95 min.

This stylish third feature from Latvian historian and now filmmaker Davis Simanis is a tour-de-force artfully imagining the final events of 1913 before the outbreak of war. Shot in black-and-white and combining the aesthetics of early cinema with a surrealist twist, it is a ravishing odyssey of ideas and their main protagonists seen through the eyes of nascent revolutionary Petr on his peripatetic journey through a Europe in turmoil. Romantic passion, world revolution, psychoanalysis, and seduction: Simanis’ inspired drama bubbles with ideas in a caldron of change heralding the 20th century when Europe and the world would be transformed forever.

We start the journey in Riga on New Year’s Day 1913. A young fisherman drowns himself in an icy lake “he wants to be with the fish, who know the secret of death”. Meanwhile Petr (calling himself Hans), a doorman in a posh hotel, is fired on suspicion of revolution ideas.

With the arrival of Spring Petr has made it to Switzerland, shooting his newly acquired gun into the air with a triumphant flourish. Somehow he wanders into the “Lebensreform” sanatorium where patients are  dancing around naked to escape the ravages of TB and psychosomatic illness.

Petr meets the philosopher Wittgenstein (Silins); and later, at a séance, Alma (Salina), who could  be the future spy Mata Hari. Alma is an emotional woman, full of wild and passionate expression and we see her before an audience in a cinema tent, where Biograph pictures are being shown. Alma will reappear in later episodes, emerging as an increasingly enigmatic seductive figure for Petr.

In June, our hero visits Prague and decides to enlist, running into Trotsky (Gravelis) at a political rally. Later in July, the trigger happy Petr visits Vienna where his gun comes in handy for more attacks on the establishment, shooting at a well known politician. Later, in London he will be hailed a hero as more political enemies come under fire. But by August he is already tired of all the killing.

Summer draws to a close and Petr, now in Riga, sees Alma again. He also has a brush up with Lenin (Dzelzitis). Moving to Prague in September, he visits Freud (Kesteris), who, not un-surprisingly, diagnoses Petr with an Oedipus complex, after he expressed his desire to kill his father (who has died in the meantime). The narrative gets more unhinged, with an orgy, an empty coffin and forays to government offices. At a demonstration we spot Schicklgruber (Kaufelds), who tries to break up the anarchist meeting.

All good things come to an end, and finally, Petr must face the music. Winter is once again closing in and Lenin reappears to give him instructions for the planned revolution. The film draws to a close on New Year’s Eve in Riga where Alma begs him to leave and let her die. We somehow jump forward to the Great War, where symbolically Petr satisfies his gnawing hunger by boiling and eating a human hand. He is called by his comrades Petr Ivanovitch, but still insists on being called Hans. By now he is a prosecutor in a Stalinist system, condemning dissidents to death, he “cannot see any meaning at all”.

A visual triumph for DoP Andrejs Rudzats and PD/Kristina Jurjane whose black and white camerawork leads us on a magical journey  brimming with intrigue. The second half of the feature could easily have been scripted by Kafka. Sidon, who makes a guest appearance is able to re-imagine the atmosphere of the Golem series, and Jurjane is equally brilliant at re-building cities, as we have seen in the cinema of German Expressionism. There is so much to be admired that – for once – an extra thirty minutes of this stunningly torrid rush of imagination would be most welcome. AS.

Rotterdam Film Festival | BIG SCREEN COMPETITION.

 

Madalena (2021) Mubi

Dir: Madiano Marcheti | Thriller Brazil 85′

More transexuals are killed in Brazil than anywhere else in the world and this sobering thought provides the touchstone to Madiano Marcheti’s assured feature debut that premiered exactly a year ago at Rotterdam’s film festival’s 50th celebration.

Madalena is a murder mystery that is never solved. We see a broken body lying in a field of lushly swaying soya, but we never discover much more – this is not a crime procedural or a whodunnit. What Madalena does provide is a haunting and unsettling snapshot of the cultural and societal references that support intolerance in this deeply religious, patriarchal and macho part of rural Brazil that remains connected and influenced by the modern world and yet at the same time, tethered in the past. In this sense the setting (where the director himself grew up) is very much a character that influences what has gone before. In this eerie tropical landscape, ostriches strut like creatures out of a Sci-fi thriller and drones trawl the skies patrolling the vast acres of farmland. Meanwhile monsters are being bred in the frivolous disco-dancing, vape-smoking, body-conscious urban hinterland, and they’re called men.

Capturing the vast open skyscapes and deathly silences of the spooky agrarian setting Marcheti stealthily explores the aftermath to Madalena’s death through three protagonists who are unknown to each other as they gradually become aware of her disappearance. The details are left unclear and we never find out how the death eventually leaks out into the news.

Club hostess Luziane calls round at Madalena’s simple village home several times, her mother pressurising her to borrow money, but Madalena is nowhere to be found. The narrative then shifts to body-builder Cristiano who works for his land-owning father, spending his time smoking drinking and injecting himself with hormones. He can’t forget what he’s seen in the soyafields, so he takes his friend Gildo back to where he originally saw the body but it’s a hostile and inhospitable terrain that keeps its secret well hidden.

In a mellow and soft-centred finale it’s left to trans woman Bianca and her girlfriends to pack up Madalena’s possessions as they share memories of happier times with their friend. Marcheti never passes judgement on his characters, they are merely there to serve the narrative – but none is particularly likeable, leaving us to reach our own conclusions on this sinister story and the hostile and unknowable place where it all unfolds. MT

NOW ON MUBI I TIGER COMPETITION

Friends and Strangers (2021)

Dir/Wri: James Vaughan | Cast: Emma Diaz, Victoria Maxwell, Fergus Wilson, Greg Zimbulis | Australia, Comedy drama 82′

Sydney is the setting for this filmic breath of fresh air from promising newcomer James Vaughan exploring displacement and modern ennui with a humorous touch seen through the eyes of an easygoing young Australian. For fans of Joanna Hogg – this might appeal.

Setting off with a jaunty piano soundtrack the film opens with a rather awkward but entirely convincing conversation by two directionless millennials Alice (Diaz) and Ray (Wilson) who are set adrift in the holidays and discussing their putative travel plans in the balmy urban confines of a leafy Sydney’s suburb. Eventually they fetch up camping in a caravan by a lakeside. But the story’s focus then increasingly turns to Ray as his summer adventure broadens.

Defined by its freewheeling style and naturalistic performances (Wilson is particularly good) Friends and Strangers avoids a structured narrative playing out as a series of amusing vignettes that riff on the theme of wanderlust and endless travel for millennials before the constraints of Covid came along. Much of Alice and Ray’s time together is interrupted by members of the older generation adding context to their aimless behaviour and accentuating the solipsistic nature of the young characters un-centred existence. They say a lot but actually mean very little, and there is no real focus to their interactions. Maybe their whole style of language and dialogue results from their inherent lack of direction or need to do anything at all, dictated by the vague unpressurised lives they lead.

Cleverly observed and unhurried in its gentle style Friends and Strangers derives its humour from the fact that nothing really happens in their freewheeling laissez-faire lifestyle. Perceived slights and vague mood changes accentuate their lack of purpose and often arise out of the characters’ need to overthink situations, because nothing of real consequence ever happens as the days stretch out into a pointless void. Vaughan has certainly perfected millennial dialogue with its ubiquitous interpolations of ‘like’ and ‘kind of’ peppered everywhere. And dramatic heft – and texture – arrives in the scenes where Ray finds himself filming a wedding video for a wealthy art collector at an uptown house where the mounting stress levels are much more in tune with modern urban life – adding an hilarious Mr Bean twist to proceedings.

Dimitri Zaunders’ camera occasionally swings into widescreen mode giving us an enjoyable travelogue of Sydney’s sites and monuments not to mention some less crowded beaches and gorgeous modernist villas, where the Mr Bean accident occurs.

Slim but highly entertaining while it lasts, this is an ‘amuse bouche’ of a film that shows Vaughan as an acute observer of life, and a real talent in the making with a promising career ahead of him. MT

IN CINEMAS FROM 8 NOVEMBER 2021 | TIGER COMPETITION 2021

Aristocrats (2021) IFFR 2021

Dir: Sode Yukiko | Japan, Drama 124′

Two women look for love and marriage in this elegant and slickly realised social drama from Good Stripes director Sode Yukiko whose third feature is in the Big Screen Competition at Rotterdam Film Festival 2021.

Dating is a highly sophisticated affair in contemporary Tokyo. Hanako is left in the lurch by her fiancé and has to find another prospective husband to satisfy her wealthy parents. Miki, comes from the other side of the tracks but both find themselves competing for the same man, the upwardly mobile lawyer Koichiro.

Based on a novel by Mariko Yamauchi, Aristocrats is refreshingly rather old-fashioned film – despite its modern setting – describing polite society in the restrained style of Hirokazu Koreeda and same sense of stillness as Kogonada’s Columbus (2017), Yukiko letting the narrative play out in the form of chapters with utmost attention to detail in beautifully framed shots that create a evocative sense of place in this highly organised society that puts great value on class, age and tradition.

The female friendships and solidarity is the remarkable aspect of the plot line, so rarely seen in romantic dramas; Miki and Hanako never vying jealously but retaining their relationship through thick and thin.

The scene where Koichiro takes Hanako back to his family home is particularly impressive. And although the path to true love is fairly straightforward there is a strange underlying tension at play throughout that makes this a compelling film to watch, Yukiko handling the material with a deft lightness of touch and leaving her finale open-ended yet ultimately satisfying and memorable. MT

Rotterdam Film Festival 2021 | BIG SCREEN COMPETITION

 

Mighty Flash | Destello Bravio IFFR 2021

DIR: Ainhoa Rodrigues | Spain, Fantasy Drama 90′

Life in Southern Spain hasn’t changed for God fearing and deeply suspicious rural communities locked away but dying to burst out from landlocked Extremadura, especially the womenfolk. Or at least that’s the impression we get from Ainhoa Rodriguez deliciously dark and delightfully observed feature that unfolds with a cast of non-pros on the widescreen and in intimate – often voyeuristic – closeup.

Serving as an ethnographic portrait of this remote community and an amusing story of country folk and their women’s sexual frustrations spiced up with magic realist touches. These country dwellers may be cut off from the rest of Spain but they are tightly knit and as thick as thieves supporting one another and sharing tales of farming exploits, folklore and strange happenings in the surrounding countryside – not to mention vicious social gossip. Like Dickens’ Mr Micawber they are constantly waiting for something to turn up, not just the Madonna at the local Semana Santa processions. 

Isa records suggestive messages to herself that speak of strange events: “A mighty flash of light will appear above the village, which will change everything”, she hears herself say. “It is magnificent. We will all get a headache, we will lose our memories and we will disappear.” Cita is not satisfied with her existence and sets he hopes on something more, leaving her warm matrimonial bed she heads to the church to pray, all dolled up in a mini dress and blow-dry. This naturally sparks criticism and wagging tongues amongst the other women: “nothing will come of her” they chunter conspiratorially. 

The men are content with their daily grind. The women are dissatisfied with in this deadbeat backwater. Nothing happens but actually everything happens. High hopes are met with unrealised dreams. But the tone is dry and upbeat, always positive, never bitter.

Loneliness has no place in the community, despite its lack of potential. Days are fraught with the social round. All done up in pearls and fur coats – not to mention high heels – ladies lunch together and talk of sexual desire and personal fulfilment – and their dissatisfaction with the menfolk in scenes enlivened by surrealist flourishes. María mourns her deceased husband, Paco. Sometimes, someone hears a sound that escapes everyone else. Can it be real or just a fantasy.? Female imagination catches fire while the men simply hunker down with their mates and animals – especially the little goat farmer who describes tricking a female goat into bringing up a kid from another litter.

Cleverly observed, pert and well-paced with its punchy electronic soundtrack and touches of magic realism deftly woven into the narrative, working hard – and successfully – to build a bond of trust with her cast Rodriquez’ first feature fizzes with intrigue behind its zipped up facade. A brilliantly observed portrait of modern Spain that could be from the dark ages. Ironic, inspired and in the delicate spirit of Victor Erice. MT

ROTTERDAM FILM FESTIVAL | TIGER COMPETITION | VILNIUS FILM FESTIVAL | EUROPEAN DEBUT COMPETITION Best Director: Ainhoa Rodríguez

 

 

 

Gritt (2021) IFFR 2021

Dir.: Itonje Sømer Guttormsen; Cast: Brigitte Larsen, Marta Wexelsen Goksoyr, Lars Vauler, Andrine Sœther; Norway 2021, 118 min.

Gritt is slowly losing her mind and that’s a feeling many of us can appreciate as we languish in lockdown. Premiering at Rotterdam International Film Festival her story, Gritt, is the focus of first time Norwegian writer/director Itonje Sømer Guttormsen whose portrait of a desperate actor trying to combat feelings of failure by connecting with others through her art. Sadly though, Gritt is her own worst enemy.

Brigitte Larsen really shines in a standout performance as the titular Gritt, based on Guttormsen’s 2016 short film Retrett. We first meet her describing herself as an “undercover support person” in the play described as “3 Colours Ibsen” This involves looking after Marte (Goksoyr) an actor affected by Downs Syndrome, who actually appears to have a better handle on her life than her helper, and has written two books for a major publishing house.

Discussing the rest of the cast, Gritt is drawn to the male actors with a ‘soft’ personality, Marte preferring rough and ready types, like the crime writer Jo Nesbo. But then Gritt nearly falls out with Marte who is far more easygoing about things in general.

Gritt wants to write and perform a play about the end of “patriarchy and capitalism” – but she has no idea how to realise her project. Then she she meets up with a group of actors claiming to be the famous “Living Theatre”, but they are amateurs, just like Gritt.

Next she meets Lars, the director of “Theatre of Cruelty”, who wants to perform a play about the ‘symbolic nature of plastic bags’, which were a sort of currency for Polish women in the run up to 1989 (when the country completed its post-communist transformation) – although this means nothing in the West. Gritt tries to wheedle herself into the project, and soon finds herself sleeping in the theatre when her aunt Rakel (Soether) no longer needs her to housesit. Feeling sorry for Gritt, Lars offers her a room and a role filming actors during rehearsals. But Gritt has other plans: she wants to perform ‘White Inflammations”, a play about men and the middle classes, and she starts casting from refuge centres, angering Lars, and finding herself – once again – homeless.

Seeing a psychiatrist, she is told to solve her own problems, even though a stay in the ward would have been a better solution. Joining a women’s collective, she again cannot convince them to produce her newest brainchild, the Kairos project, about the biblical figure of Lilith.

Leaving with a stolen jacket, she beats a fast retreat to an old friend in the country, who is married with two children. Again, she misjudges the mood, relating the story of Lillith who “came at night and stole the semen of men” in front of the young girls. Finally Gritt retreats to the lake with her aunt.

DoPs Patrick Säfström and Egil Hâskjold Larsen have a tricky job on their hands to convey Gritt’s mental illness: at first, the dolly camera shows a settled environment, leading us to believe Gritt has a future in the world of theatre. Then comes the switch to handheld, and a gradual loss of control, mirroring Gritt’s own state of mind. Finally, we end up with Super eight home movie images during her stay at the lake. Guttormsen directs with great sensibility, treating Gritt like a child who has fallen into the world of adults. But Brigitte Larsen carries the feature, her face (nearly always neutral) showing no change in her close-ups. Gritt is not easy to watch, but very satisfying in the end. AS

ROTTERDAM INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2021

Landscapes of Resistance | Pejzazi Optora (2021) Heart of Sarajevo

Dir.: Marta Popivoda; Documentary with Sofija Sonja Vujanovic, Ivo Vujanovic; Serbia/ Germany/France 2021; 95 min.

Sonja was one of the first female partisans in Serbia and helped lead the resistance in Auschwitz during the Second World War. Her exceptional journey is the subject of this revealing documentary from Serbian director Marta Popivoda and her co-writer and Sonja’s granddaughter, Ana Vujanovic.

Sonja comes across as a kindly old lady living in her small flat in Belgrade with her cat for company. Ten years in the making the film is brought to life by Marta and Ana’s diary entries make during the shoot along with animated drawings of Sonja’s forced travels in a bleak landscape that further convey a picture of authenticity, Popivoda avoiding any archive material.

Bookended by partisan songs Sonja tells her life story which begins when she was expelled from school for being a member of a Communist Youth Organisation. Her parents would not take her back, so she eloped to Belgrade with boyfriend and fellow comrade Sava, and a forged passport (she was a minor) which allowed them to get married. Joining the Partisans early, Sava becoming one of the first victims of the Nazi occupiers. Sonja was shielded by the men during outbreaks of fighting, but she was no shrinking violet, later killing an SS officer.

Ana’s diary shares the story of a march in Belgrade to celebrate International Women’s Day, once a holiday in socialist Yugoslavia. Reflecting with Marta, Ana admits they looked an odd crowd. Some teenagers asked them what we were doing, then answered their own question: “these fags are celebrating something again”. Later, the two emigrated to Berlin, the diary talking about the clean face of capitalism, whilst the bleak and dirty reality has been banished to the Balkans.

Ana and Marta share their doubts with Sonja, who makes a clear distinction: “It was not the Germans, but the Nazis who butchered us”. Sonja later fleshes out her story in the Banjica camp where she was tortured with a horse whip. After the Gestapo interrogated her in Belgrade, she was then isolated in a small dark cell before being taken to Auschwitz. On their way, they saw Poles making the sign language for gas, so they thought they were going to a processing plant. After a three-day journey they were forced to stand in the sun’s glare all day waiting for a fate that Sonja narrowly missed as she was invited to organise a military resistance group. This involved teaching how to build Molotov cocktails and cut the wires of the electric fence which surrounded the camp. The story of her narrow evasion is riveting and matches any ‘boys own’ war escape story. She was finally saved by Russian troops, Sonja asking them if they were Tito partisans, ready to join the Red Army. The officer laughed: “Why do you want to join the Red Army, the war is over”.

DoP Ivan Markovic lets the images of the open landscape speak for itself, contrasting the hopefulness of nature with the horrible ruins of Auschwitz. We do not see very much of Sonja, long sequences play out in silence. This is an emphatic ‘Trauerarbeit’, dedicated to Sofija Sonja Vujanovic, who died aged 97 on 5.5.2019 – and of the 108 women deported from the camp of Banjica. AS

ROTTERDAM INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2021 | ? Marta Popovida won the Heart of Sarajevo 2021 for the best documentary #27 thSFF

Feast (2021) IFFR 2021

Dir: Tim Leyendekker | Cast: Trudi Klever, Oscar van den Boogard, Katerina Sereti; Netherlands 2021, 84 min.

A dramatic reconstruction of the infamous 2007 HIV case in the Dutch city of Groningen where drugged guests were injected with HIV-positive blood during sex parties.

Feast is a first feature for Dutch director Tim Leyendekker who is well known in Holland for his short films. This film essay evocatively explores how three men ended up being convicted of rape and infection of others with HIV. The main perpetrator, Peter M. was a nurse at a care home and after his early release from prison actually returned to nursing eventually being disqualified for good.

Feast – an odd and unexplained title – is really a series of seven short films, photographed by seven different DoPs. First off is a police officer (Klever) who empties three boxes of exhibits onto a table, among them many items: a dildo, lubricants, a bathrobe and an empty crisp bag. The static camera is supposed to be symbolic of the formal process leading to the trial, but gives little information. This is followed by a rather pretentious discussion by a group of seven gay men who, were are part of the group invited to Peter M.s sex sessions.

Sometimes these men are watched by another group of males behind a glass partition, another cryptic symbolic cypher. The discussion is mainly centred around Sado-masochistic sex, its rituals and meaning. It also sheds some light on how they met Peter – in one case in September 2007 – and how they viewed their participation in these orgies, where everything was allowed, participants eventually losing sight of whom they had sex with. The argument was made that the internet ads for these meetings categorically stated unsafe sex was to be practised. So the fact that Peter and his friend injected their own HIV affected blood into the bodies of others was unlikely to alter the health status of their victims since they were HIV positive at the outset. There are also explicit descriptions of how Peter injected the infected blood.

After another chapter-dividing interlude (usually a silent night-time image of naked man on a park bench, or in the waiting area of a bus stop), we arrive at the main thrust of Feast: an interview with Peter (den Boogard), who lives with his partner Wim in a very bourgeois house in the countryside. Peter is unrepentant, still maintaining he did not deserve to be sent to prison:”The fourteen people who pressed charges, assumed the role of victims. I only did what they asked me to do. I gave people drugs, but they wanted them. Things have happened, they call it rape, but I do not. They have surrendered themselves to me, when they came voluntarily to my house. In retrospect, I find it quiet beautiful, not criminal at all. What happened there was full of love”. Asked how he feels about being HIV positive, Peter answers, “that it is a nice certification. Form of belonging, sort of beautiful.” This certainly raises questions surrounding freedom of the individual along with that of eugenics.

After that, a biologist (Sereti) shares with us the positive effects of infection on tulips, turning them yellow to green. There again eugenics springs to mind, and this theme continues throughout whole feature. The chapter, in which Max tries to convince us of his right to accuse Peter, turns again into a defence of Peter’s action, with Max being accused “of being a victim”. The final section is the most enigmatic: it features a permanently changing scenes of people bathing at a lakeside retreat.

Perplexing, and often very provocative. Is Leyendekker simply a provocateur, convinced of the outrageousness of his position, or is using his role as a filmmaker to cover his position. We shall never know. If Peter or the rest of the group believed their opinions were completely justified then Feast certainly is provocative, and any criticism lays itself open to homophobia. It is up to the audience, to decide to take sides. AS

 

ROTTERDAM FILM FESTIVAL 2021

 

The Cemil Show (2021) Rotterdam Film Festival 2021

Dir.: Baris Sarhan; Cast: Ozan Celik, Nesrin Cavadzade, Alican Yücesoy; Basar Alemdar, Fuat Kökek; Turkey 2020, 106 min.

This first feature by Turkish writer/director Baris Sarhan is an inventive spoof, combining ‘old’ footage of classic Turkish B-pictures with a Kafkaesque setting in a modern shopping mall. Charisma alone is not enough on to justify the film’s generous running time, and so much of the playful impact is lost as The Cemil Show strains to entertain for nearly two hours on a wafer thin story.

So the plot is simple: Cemil (Celik) is a security guard in a maze-like mall where he holds down his mundane day job desperate to be an actor. When one his favourite films is due for a re-make, Cemil throws himself into rehearsing the role of his hero, the monster villain Turgay Göral from the original outing. Full of hope he then heads off for an audition, but leaves empty-handed, disillusioned and angry.

There is a silver lining when Cemil discovers Göral (Kökek) is still alive, although very much down on his luck. He then discovers his hero’s daughter Burcu (Cavadzade) is working in the same mall, and has set her heart on Zaher (Yücesoy), the draconian staff manager. A bittersweet but rather weak ending sees Cemil watching old films with his hero Göral (Alemdar), the monstrous villain in all his films.

All said and done, The Cemil Show is a charming romp with its stylish retro B-picture extracts. DoP Soykut Turan gets a chance to show off a variety of skills, his grainy black-and-white images contrasting impressively with the more baroque colour sequences of the parallel action. Sarhan is a talented newcomer who would excels with a more disciplined approach to his filmmaking. AS

BIG SCREEN COMPETITION | ROTTERDAM FILM FESTIVAL 2021

Bebia: a Mon Seul Desir (2021) IFFR 2021

Dir.: Juja Dobrachkous; Cast: Anastasia Davidson, Anushka Andronikashvili, Anastasia Chanturaia, Guliko Gurgenidze; UK/Georgia 2020, 113 min.

This first feature film from Russian born Juja Dobrachkous is a visually stylish and evocative drama tracing three generations of Georgian women with a timelessness reminiscent of classical Russian cinema.

Ariadna (Davidson) works as a model in Tbilisi and is still suffering from her traumatic experiences at boarding school and the female influences in her life. The sudden death of her grandmother Bebia (Gurgenidze) forces her to confront the past returning to the village where she grew up, at odds with her both the women, particularly her mother (Chanturia).

When she finally gets to the village Ariadna realises nothing has changed as far as her mother concerned – she is in the throes of a second divorce, having driven Ariadna’s father away. Tradition dictates that as the youngest member of her grandmother’s family, Ariadna must now unite Bebia’s soul (she died in the hospital) with her home 25 kilometres away, by means of a connecting thread. Dato, the village elder, explains to Ariadna how to go about her task, asking Temo (Gurgenidze) to accompany her on the trip. But for some reason the two don’t get on, Ariadna accusing him of pushing his luck, despite his rather calming presence during their eventful journey to fix the thread.

Turbulent storms enliven their exhausting journey and presents challenges, mirroring their emotional conflict, particularly when a violent storm sees Ariadna fighting to save the barn where she and Temo take shelter. It soon emerges that Temo has had his own share of family difficulties, having run away from home after finding out out his mother was raped by a local bandit; his father, the country’s attorney general, failing to bring charges fearing for his own position: “In the end, I hated them both equally” claims Temo.

Rather than presenting village life as a calming retreat from the big city, the rural setting merely brings back bad memories for Ariadna, Georgia’s rugged countryside serving as a metaphor for her troubled past, as she reflects on her life in Tbilisi wondering why on earth she is going back to place that only brought trouble: “This is the 21st century, why am I doing this?”

Ariadna is annoyed to find out she has inherited her grandmother’s house “I do not want the house, as I did not want her dresses as a child, or her fine stockings, I became a model to prove that I was beautiful, and that she was wrong.” After the wake, she tells Temo that it was all a delusion: “The train cut the thread. We did it all for nothing, Bebia’s soul is lost”. But worse is to come when she discovers her mother has fallen ill.

DoP Veronica Solovyeva’s magic black-and-white images, full of poetry, yearning and loss, save the often nebulous feature from being an “atmospheric” pretence, making great use of light and shadow with subtle chiaroscuro camerawork.

Dobrachkous’ narrative is strong on detail, but leaves us too often in the dark as to its thematic concerns. The sequences from the boarding school, wonderfull as they are, do not really explain why Ariadne suffered, or how she got a nasty injury on her arm. The nonlinear narrative muddies the story, making us feel an even more urgent need for structure. The ensemble acting is wonderful,  Davidson always finding the right tone of disquiet with her family and herself in this graceful study of matriarchal discontent. AS

ROTTERDAM FILM FESTIVAL 2021 | 6 February 2021

I Comete: A Corsican Summer (2021) IFFR Rotterdam Film Festival

Dir: Pascal Tagnati | France, Drama 124′

Warm, light-hearted and drôle : this free-wheeling cinema verite take on Corsican village life dances away from a formal narrative capturing the gentle offbeat nature of the Mediterranean island in summer. The first feature film from Corsican ‘theatre-maker’, actor and author Pascal Tagnati plays out in a series of quirky inconsequential vignettes – some of them quite risqué – that picture the locals at play, swimming, flirting, arguing (and even crying) as they enjoy the sumptuous scenery of this hilly island paradise at a time where villagers get together to enjoy the last days of the summer holidays.

Beautifully composed and refreshing, Tagnati’s observational approach cleverly combines drama and fiction, relying on a natural soundscape of birdsong and breeze, occasionally traditional folksongs are heard in the distance, sung in Corsican dialect (which sounds a bit like Italian, unsurprisingly), culminating in the heartrending ‘La mort de Filicone’.

I Comete is very much a collaborative effort between Tagnati and the local villagers in a cast of predominately non-pros – apart from the major roles – ad-libbing most of the way, it certainly offers an essence of the island and its people for those who’ve never been there, it works as an accidental travelogue stimulating an interest to discover more about the place. Franje, appears to be the only black resident of the village, and the kids make an older character the butt of their jokes although he seems a kind and resourceful type, and we feel quite sorry for him in his undeserved role as the ‘village idiot’. In other more downbeat moments Theo reflects on the possibility of the less happier times in his life, and Lucienne talks of freedom.

At the end of the day, the Corsicans are just like everybody else in Europe where daily life centres on friends, football, infidelity and fertility, family traditions probably loom slightly larger here than in Northern Europe but the pace is certainly slower, Tagnati lulling us into a pleasant reverie about his home, that brims with a sense of national pride and a collective joie de vivre. MT

ROTTERDAM INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL | 1-7 FEBRUARY 2021 | TIGER COMPETITION | SPECIAL JURY PRIZE

Rotterdam Film Festival 2021 – a hybrid two-parter

 

The 50th celebration of Rotterdam Film Festival (IFFR) will take place in two parts, kicking off in the first week of February followed a physical event from June 2-6, 2021,

A light-hearted comedy opener seems fitting for this special edition: Anders Thomas Jensen’s Riders of Justice  stars Mads Mikkelsen and Nicolaj Lie Kaas. The first week of the festival is dedicated to The Tiger Competition this year feature 16 titles (a larger competition line-up for the future) , Big Screen Competition and its Ammodo Tiger Shorts and Limelight sections which will see 60 titles taking part. Other talent in competition includes Benoît Jacquot, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Mosese, Dea Kulumbegashvili and Nicolás Jaar.

The Tiger Competition winner will be announced on 7 February by a (virtual) jury headed this year by Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese joining IDFA’s artistic director Orwa Nyrabia, visual artist and filmmaker Hala Elkoussy, critic Helena van der Meulen and film producer Ilse Hughan.

Taking over from IFFR’s artistic director Beyro Beyer, Vanja Kaludjercic has faced a challenging year where filmmakers “have gone above and beyond to complete works in challenging circumstances, and there has been no shortage of great films looking for a home at IFFR”.

Once again the selection aims to ‘encapsulate IFFR’s spirit as a platform for the discovery of visions that pique our curiosity and capture our imagination. The sheer determination of these striking new voices is exhilarating, and I’m proud that we can bring an outstanding selection to our film-loving audiences in new ways that captivate the collective spirit.”

This is reflected in the one-off festival re-design in response to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, which is expected to keep much of Europe under full or partial lockdown in the early months of 2021. In a very welcome move, IFFR has awarded US director First Cow director Kelly Reichardt the festival’s honorary Robby Müller Award named after the late Dutch cinematographer and granted to a filmmaker who has ”created authentic, credible and emotionally striking visual language throughout their work”. The festival has been a platform for her features Old Joy, Meek’s Cutoff and Wendy And Lucy. 

TIGER COMPETITION |  1-7 FEBRUARY 2021

Agate Mousse (Lebanon) world premiere
Dir. Selim Mourad

Bebia, à mon seul désir (Georgia, UK) world premiere
Dir. Juja Dobrachkous

Bipolar (China) world premiere
Dir. Queena Li

Black Medusa (Tunisia) world premire
Dir. ismaël, Youssef Chebbi

A Corsican Summer (France) world premiere
Dir. Pascal Tagnat

The Edge of Daybreak (Thailand/Switzerland) world premiere
Dir. Taiki Sakpisit

Feast (Netherlands) world premiere
Dir. Tim Leyendekker

Friends and Strangers (Australia) world premiere
Dir. James Vaughan

Gritt (Norway) international premiere
Dir, Itonje Søimer Guttormsen

Landscapes of Resistance (Serbia/Germany/France) world premiere
Dir. Marta Popivoda

Liborio (Dominican Republic/Puerto Rico/Qatar) world premiere
Dir. Nino Martínez Sosa

Looking for Venera ( Kosovo/Macedonia) world premiere
Dir. Norika Sefa, 2021

Madalena
Dir. Madiano Marcheti

Mayday (US) international premiere
Dir, Karen Cinorre

Mighty Flash (Spain) world premiere
Dir. Ainhoa Rodríguez

BIG SCREEN Competition

Archipel (Canada) world premiere
Dir. Félix Dufour-Laperrière

Aristocrats (Japan) international premiere
Dir. Sode Yukiko

As We Like It (Taiwan) world premiere
Dir. Chen Hung-i & Muni Wei.

Aurora (Costa Rica, Mexico) world premiere
Dir. Paz Fábrega

Carro Rei (Brazil) world premiere
Dir. Renata Pinheiro

The Cemil Show (Turkey) world premiere
Dir. Bariş Sarhan

Drifting (Hong Kong) world premiere
Dir. Li Jun

The Harbour (India), world premiere
Dir. Rajeev Ravi

The Last Farmer (India) world premiere
Dir. M. Manikandan

Lone Wolf (Australia) world premiere
Dir. Jonathan Ogilvie

The North Wind (Russia) world premiere
Dir. Renata Litvinova

El perro que no calla (Argentina) European premiere
Dir. Ana Katz

Sexual Drive (Japan) world premiere
Dir. Yoshida Kota

Les Sorcières de l’Orient (France) world premiere
Dir. Julien Faraut

The Year Before the War (Latvia) world premiere
Dir. Dāvis Sīmanis

Limelight (World Premieres)

Dead & Beautiful (Netherlands, Taiwan) world premiere
Dir. David Verbeek

Mitra (Netherlands) world premiere
Dir. Kaweh Modiri

IFFR | 1-7 FEBRUARY | 2-6 JUNE 2021

 

Queen of Hearts (2019) ****

Dir.: May el-Toukhy; Cast: Trine Dyrholm, Magnus Kepper, Gustav Lindt, Liv Esmar Dannemann, Silja Esmar Dannemann; Sweden/Denmark 2018, 127 min.

May el-Toukhy (Long Story Short, Cairo) has made a name for herself on Danish radio and TV with the series Borgen. Her third feature is a chilling portrait of the Nordic bourgeoisie. Set in an almost perfect environment, Trine Dyrholm shimmers as an elegant working wife and mother acting out a tragedy which is as heartless as avoidable. The complex narrative is structured like a thriller: guilt, lust and power dominate the proceedings.

Anne (Dyrholm), a counsellor for abused minors, and her doctor husband Magnus (Kepper) live with their blond/blue-eyed twins Frida and Fanny (Liv and Silja Esmar Dannemann) in a fabulous modernist house surrounded by woods. But the couple are living a lie: Anne is a control freak, and Magnus too keen on his work. The twins are clearly an afterthought and make up the perfect façade, but they are emotionally neglected. Then Gustav (Lindt), Magnus’s son from his first, failed marriage, joins the household. He has been excluded from school and thrown of the house by his mother – he is a godsend for Magnus, to assuage his guilt. All goes well at the beginning, the twins are thrilled with their new brother, who gives them lots of attention and reads them bed stories. But Anne is overcome by lust for the young man, and kicks off a passionate sexual relationship with Gustav, right in the family home. But her passion does not last long; eventually her intellect takes over and she ends the relationship abruptly. On an outing with his father, Gustav tells all, and Magnus confronts Anne – who plays the innocent victim. All very convincing. Magnus actually believes his son instinctively, but fears the consequences.  And it’s easier for him to send his son away. Gustav confronts Anne at her work place, but she shuts him down with the words: ”Who will be believed, you or me?” Gustav make a last ditch attempt during the Christmas holidays. But the drawbridge is up and it all ends with a family outing, everyone dressed in black.

Gustav is by no means idealised: he is a nasty piece of work who really wants to ruin the family. But that does not alter the fact that he is a minor, and Anne has taken advantage of him. Yes, he consented, but a minor who consents is still – in the eyes of the law -a victim. Nobody knows that better than Anne. But the truth would ruin her reputation.

This is a slick and enjoyable arthouse drama complimented by its stylish visual aesthetic. Jon Ekstrand’s eerie score – a mixture of late Janacek and early Schnittke – fits perfectly in a saga of icy, calculating relationships.

Queen of Hearts is available to stream and on Prime Video

A Perfectly Normal Family (2020) ****

Dir.: Malou Reymann; Cast: Kaya Toft Loholt, Mikkel Boe Folsgaard, Rigmor Ranthe, Neel Ronlolt | Denmark 2020, 93 min.

Dutch filmmaker Malou Reymann directs and co-writes this thoughtful family drama about a sex change: the football mad father decides to live in a woman’s body, having fought his owns demons to reach a decision. His wife and two young daughters are left to cope with the shock of their new reality in small-town middle-class Denmark.

It all starts with the birth of the youngest daughter Emma who has hardly left the womb before she is watching a rowdy football match sitting on her father’s lap. Fast forward to her preteen years (played by Loholt) as a striker for the local girl’s team, father Thomas (Folsgaard) in rapt attendance. The whole family is flabbergasted when he admits to being on hormone replacement therapy in preparation for the sex-change operation in Thailand. Although his wife Helle (Ronlolt) feels alienated; teenage daughter Caro (Ranthe) takes it all in her stride, criticising Emma for not accepting Thomas as ‘Agnete’. A therapist doesn’t help matters, and Emma finds it difficult when Agnete refers to ‘her femininity’, insisting the family use her new name in public.

Caro’s big family confirmation celebration passes without incident, Helle even dancing with Agnete. But Emma is awkward around her ‘new mother’, who wants to be referred to as such in front of Dutch strangers on a family holiday on Mallorca. Emma hits the bottle after hearing her friends slagging Agnete off (“he had his dick cut off”). This is all too much for Thomas/Agnete who makes some radical changes.

Reymann interweaves the beautifully crafted narrative with home videos of the daughters at a young age, showing how things change. Loholt is undoubtedly the star of the show in a performance that perfectly conveys feelings of bewilderment when her football-loving dad suddenly pretends to “know nothing about football”, in a bid to cosy up to women in his new gender status.

If Reymann is critical at all it is when Thomas overdoes the female angle, showing a distinct lack of sensitivity towards Emma and her efforts to take it all onboard. Occasionally erring on the didactic, A Perfectly Normal Family packs in the small details in a texturally rich drama, seen from Emma’s perspective, adjusting to the new status quo without the emotional filters of adulthood. Never melodramatic or sentimental, Reymann’s debut is a mature and measured experience of modern sexuality. AS

NOW IN CINEMAS | ROTTERDAM FILM FESTIVAL | Big Screen Competition (Voices) WINNER 2020

 

Proxima (2019) **** Rotterdam Film Festival 2020

Dir: Alice Winocour | Wri: Alice Winocour, Jean-Stephane Bron | Cast: Eva Green, Lars Eidinger, Matt Dillon, Sandra Huller | Sci-fi Drama 107′

Proxima is Alice Winocour’s most ambitious film to date and certainly her most unique and cinematic. It depicts the struggle of an ordinary mother (Green) who is an outstanding engineer and cosmonaut. Melding docudrama with a moving love story, Proxima is full of haunting images heightened by Ryuichi Sakamoto’s ethereal score, all enveloped in a gripping storyline: Will a woman deeply attached to her young daughter make it into Space and back.

Green’s female engineer Sarah is at the heart of Proxima. She is a luminous presence – fragile tough and strangely otherworldly. Given the opportunity to join the European Space Agency’s Mars probe mission along with other seasoned spacemen – including Matt Dillon’s macho but golden-hearted leader – she takes the plunge. What starts out as matter of fact preparation for the long term mission soon becomes a fraught and increasingly affecting exploration of what is means to love, to be a parent, to meet professional goals, and to thrive and appreciate our own planet. Proxima is a ground-breaking and beautiful film as much about our life here on Earth as is about this perilous journey into the unknown.

The Parisian-born part Russian director, who has Russian blood, avoids melodrama until the final remarkable scenes. And she doesn’t stint on detail when describing the gruelling physical and emotional preparations for space travel. The final titles include a roll-call of famous cosmonaut mothers – because the crucial twist here is that Sarah must leave her daughter Stella (a determined Zelie Boulant) for six months to join the mission. Convincingly shot on location in the ESA facilities in Cologne and in Star City near Moscow, Winocour spent two years researching and writing the script (with regular Jean-Stephane Bron). It shows how motherhood can thwart ambition particular when along comes a small, needy child. And it cuts both ways – Sarah often being driven to tears of doubt and remorse rather than her toddler Stella – kids are tough! And this element gives the drama its rich emotional underbelly.

Green is convincing both as the highly driven scientist and the tender-hearted parent who may lose her life. Lars Eidinger is a lowkey but supportive presence as the astrophysicist dad. There is a subtle suspense at play throughout this remarkable journey and the moving love story at its core. MT

NOW AT UK PICTUREHOUSES| ROTTERDAM FILM FESTIVAL 2020 |

Villa Empain (2019) **** MUBI

Dir: Katharina Kastner | Doc, Belg/France/Ger/ 25′

Katerina Kastner’s impressionistic documentary debut captures the essence of the Villa Empain, one of the most beautiful architectural masterpieces of Art Deco in Brussels. In 1930, at the age of 21, Baron Louis Empain commissioned the building of a private mansion in 55 acres on the prestigious Avenue de la Nation which was later on renamed as Franklin Roosevelt Avenue.

Using the finest materials available in those interwar years (marble, bronze and precious wood), the luxurious house consisted of four polished granite facades, surrounded by a large garden with a pergola and swimming pool. A collector and curator, Louis Empain eventually decided that the property was better served as a museum of decorative and contemporary art, and it was donated to the Belgian Nation in 1937. But the Second World War changed everything and the villa languished until 1943, when it was requisitioned by the German army, eventually becoming an embassy for the USSR in peacetime when Empain recovered his property in the beginning of the sixties, before reselling it in 1973. For nearly ten years it was rented to the TV channel RTL then falling to semi-rack and ruin during the 1990s. It was eventually saved by a wealthy family who set up the Boghossian Foundation in 2007, transforming the building into an East West cultural centre and guaranteeing the revival of its fortunes.

Shot in 16mm this is a sensual creation that resonates with the passage of time, showcasing the the house’s former glory through its trials and tribulations to its present reincarnation. The clever editing brings an eerie and fleeting sense of human presence drifting through the empty rooms and light-filled gardens where leaves swirl and valuable materials shimmer in shafts of sunlight. This short but ravishing documentary takes us on a dreamy distant journey to the coast where the family once enjoyed beach holidays in a space reflected by evocative fantasies and haunted by the war years. A century of memories recorded in a treasured place in time. MT

COMES TO MUBI ON 15 JULY 2020 |

Carmine Street Guitars (2018) ****

With Rich Kelly, Cindy Hulej, Dorothy Kelly2018 | CANADA | Doc | 80′

This genial music biopic explores the laid-back vibe of Carmine Street Guitars, a little shop in the heart of New York’s Greenwich Village that remains resilient to encroaching gentrification.
Custom guitar maker Rick Kelly and his young apprentice Cindy Hulej build handcrafted instruments out of reclaimed wood from old hotels, bars, churches and other local buildings. Nothing looks or sounds like the classic instruments they have created with loving dedication. The film shoots the breeze with Rick and his starry visitors who treat us to impromptu riffs from their extensive repertoires and talk about how much they treasure this village institution and its reassuring presence as a little oasis of calm in the ever-changing, fast-paced world of the music business.
Rick’s pleasant banter with these lowkey luminaries is what makes this enjoyable musical therapy for fans and those who have never heard of the guitars, their craftsman or those who have commissioned and cherished the hand-made instruments since the 1960s: Bob Dylan, Lou Reed and Jim Jarmusch, to name but a few. A small gem but a sparkling one. MT
STREAMING ON DIGITAL PLATFORMS FROM 26 JUNE 2020

Take Me Somewhere Nice (2019) *** MUBI

Dir: Ewa Sendijarevic | Drama | 91′

In her impressive debut feature, Ewa Sendijarevic takes a fresh and playfully cinematic approach to this semi-autobiographical expression of ‘positive experience of loneliness’ for the average multi-cultural person. To put it more simply, her central character Alma has grown up in Holland from Bosnian parentage and returns there to visit her father for the first time, with the gaze of an alien. Although this theme has been done before, most recently in a radical way by Jonathan Glazer in his mystery thriller Under The Skin, Take Me Somewhere Nice is a much more down to earth affair, enriched by its stunning visual approach and minimal dialogue. Alma is an Alice in Wonderland like character who goes on a Kafkaesque journey to visit her origins. She is accompanied by her cousin and his best friend, both from Bosnia, both unemployed and just as “care free” as Alma herself.

This triangle of characters represents a West-East European power balance between the privileged, and those left behind; the bitter and the opportunistic, the ones who would like to join the West and the ones who actively turn their back to it. This tension between the three bright young things occasionally becomes recklessly sexual, at other times gently attempts to forge a meaningful connection. Each frame completes the brightly coloured jigsaw of Alma’s eventful story, and even when it ventures into darker themes – a road kill incident and beach attack – still feels hopeful and energetic, in contrast to the clichéd portrayals of migrant misery and put-upon womanhood in the beleaguered Balkans.

Sometimes Sendijarevic inverts expectations, making us uncomfortable in a Brechtian way, and more acutely aware of traditional approaches the buzzy subject matter. TAKE ME SOMEWHERE NICE is also a film about using our contact with nature and the animal kingdom to celebrate being alive and being present in our world, wherever we lay our hats. Spirited performances and a lively colour palette make this journey fun and highly watchable. Sendijarevic believes in the Romantic – and laudable – idea that in “the moments we spend alone, preferably in nature, we can connect to our true selves in a spectacular way”. a sentiment that holds true now more that ever. A delightedly inventive and lively first feature. MT

NOW ON MUBI from 21 MAY 2020 | THE SPECIAL JURY AWARD WINNER | ROTTERDAM FILM FESTIVAL 2019 |

 

Only You Alone (2020) **** Rotterdam Film Festival 2020 | FIPRESCI award

Dir: Zhou Zhou | Cast: Yun Chi | Drama, China 89’

Chinese director Zhou Zhou follows Meili (2018) with another thoughtful female-centric story of alienation this time exploring the isolation of a young epileptic woman in North Eastern China. Zhou Zhou co-scripts this delicately drawn arthouse gem with Yun Chi who also plays the central character with subtle fleeting gestures and charming vulnerability. Chi Li has a job in a cinema and a roof over her head in her aunt’s house who is away in Australia when Chi Li meets a boy who seems keen to get to know her. Although initially things go well this romantic attachment seems to unlock and intensify her confidence as well as her defensive feelings while bringing out the protective side of her new friend.

Li Chun-yu’s muted visuals convey this tentative prelude to love on the widescreen and in intimate close-up as the couple explore the surrounding countryside and neon-tinged urban settings together, Chi Li growing more relaxed and confident as her life story is teased out during the couple’s gentle interactions that also introduce moments of humour. However, a night out to a dance performance painfully reminds Chi Li of her past as a dancer and when she finally meets the boy’s mother it becomes clear that the relationship is not going to be as unproblematic as it started out. Traumatic scenes follow as Chi Li deals with her demons alone in sequences complimented by Fabio Anastasi’s sensitve score that echoes the changing rhythms of Chi Li’s emotional landscape.

When her aunt returns and decides to sell her house inviting Chi Li to join her in Australia, she is forced to make some radical decisions, but already feels more prepared for the challenge. Only You Alone is a graceful and life-affirming drama that ultimately reminds those suffering in silence that the key to emotional security always lies within ourselves. MT

ROTTERDAM INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2020 | FIPRESCI AWARD

Piedra Sola | Lonely Rock (2020) **** Rotterdam Film Festival 2020

Dir: Alejandro Telemaco Tarraf | Writers: Lucas Distefano, Telemaco Tarraf | Drama | Argentina, 82′ | Spanish/Quechua

High up in the Andes mountains a herder sees his lamas threatened by a puma in this impressive feature debut that melds fiction, documentary and ethnographical elements to tell a mystical story full of breathtaking landscapes. Co-writing with Distefano, Tarraf makes minimal use of dialogue, which is mainly in the native Quechua. A unsettling soundscape accompanies this haunting piece of filmmaking.

Set on the widescreen and in intimate close-up the film follows herder Ricardo and his family. And although they seem cut off from humanity in this remote part of the world the hypnotic human interest story very much connects to a global narrative of survival for small communities everywhere. Pitting his wits against animals and the elements rather than sales figures and corporate competitors, Ricardo is constantly aware that self-sufficiency is paramount: one of his lama pelts barely fetches £5, and no one seems very interested in the animal’s meat when he eventually makes it to the nearest market, a long trip away on foot and bus.

So tracking down the puma is vital. According to local custom, he must also make an offering to the beast. At one point an anonymous funeral cortege passes by serving as a token of awareness of the fragility of man’s existence here, rather than marking an actual death. The herder joins in chanting: “do not forget you are mortal”. The burning byre is an eerie counterpoint to the darkness enveloping the ‘mourners’ as they commune in silence.

Ricardo’s quest for the puma is gradually transformed into an exploration of something deeper and more spiritual. The Andes are a mysterious range of mountains that seem to possess a transformative power. The white horse in the opening scene becomes the wooden statue representing death. Meanwhile the titular lone monolith metamorphoses into an Andean version of Ayres Rock with its strange potency that suggests an otherworldly force is at play beyond the humans and their animals. MT

ROTTERDAM INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2020

The End Will Be Spectacular (2020) **** Rotterdam Film Festival

Dir.: Ersin Celik; Cast: Arjin Baysal, Delil Piran, Cîan Seve, Sevda Kina, Sahire Ozhari; Syria 2019, 135 min.

Ersin Celek’s feature debut celebrates the Kurdish fight for independence. Shot in the autonomous region of Northern Syria, The End Will be Spectacular tells the story of the siege of Diyarbakir and the ancient city of Sur, attacked by the Turkish army for over hundred days, from December 2nd 2015, after the declaration of independence by the Sur’s Kurdish assembly.

Zilan (Baysal) enters Diyarbakir to meet up with friends of her brother Andok, killed here fighting for the Kurdish PKK. She encounters a number of women fighters amongst them the commander Nucan (Ozhan), and Dilan (Kina) who also wants to avenge her brother. The overall leader is Ciyzger (Seve), whose titular speech ends with “When hope and resistance come together, no matter what happens: the end will be spectacular”. The slow and bespectacled Zilan is not the model of a resistance fighter. But she soon speeds, and gets quite nifty with her semi-automatic gun. Dilan (Kina) decides to burn her diaries, she feels personal memories are no longer relevant in times of hardship. Then Zilan and Nucan watch in horror as Dilan gives herself up to the Turkish forces. But to their surpise, the diary she is gives the Turkish commander is not a plan of the defence lines but an explosive device, killing a load of Turks, Zilan and Nucan saving her in  the aftermath. The Turkish army with their tanks makes progress, and there is an impressive burial scene amidst the first snows. Later, a traitor is caught having sold the location of the anti-tank mines to the Turks. He meets a sticky end. The siege grinds to a conclusion, Ciyager sending out a small group, including Zilan, who will tell the Kurdish villages and towns in the area about the heroic fight in the hope of garnering support and swelling their ranks.

Shot imaginatively by DoP Cemil Kizildag, The End resonates with Pontecorvo’s Battle of Algiers narrative-wise, but aesthetically it is closer to Malle’s Viva Maria!. Celik is very much an idealist at heart, and his portraits of women fighters is the highlight of his feature. A little overindulgence by Celek manifests itself in the running time of 135 minutes, but the emotional suspense created by the brilliant ensemble (including seven, who act out their roles in the real uprising) makes up for it. AS

ROTTERDAM INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2020

 

The Trouble with Nature (2020) **** Rotterdam Film Festival 2020

Dir: Illum Jacobi | Writers: Illum Jacobi, Hans Frederik Jacobsen | Cast: Antony Langdon, Nathalia Acevedo | DoP Frederic Jacobi | Drama, Denmark, 95′

Illum Jacobi’s sumptuous imagined drama, exquisitely co-photographed with his brother Frederic, sees the Anglo-Irish writer and philosopher Edmund Burke (1729-97) embarking on a tour of the French Alps.

Antony Langdon brings a whiff of the ridiculous to his witty and fey performance as Burke. Pompous and filled with a sense of his own superiority and importance, the puffed up politician takes with him a member of his brother’s staff, a young and attractive servant servant girl named Awak (Nathalia Acevedo), to carry his personal effects. She clearly doesn’t care for Edmund anymore that he does for her, and bears the brunt of his cantankerous ill humour with a kind of bemusement that borders on disdain, making this 18th century ‘road movie’ faintly amusing.

The Whig politician was by now rampantly in debt due to the failure of his family’s plantations  and Burke’s defensiveness about this loss of face brings out a deeply unattractive side to his personality. Also clearly undergoing some sort of midlife crisis, Burke witters and whinges like a man twice his age, still imagining himself in London ranting on about the value of his work and not wanting to waste time. Poncing about the countryside all decked out in burgundy velvet and a powdered wig, he demands utter obedience and respect from everyone he meets along the way, including a couple of French farmers who he abruptly addresses: “Do you know who I am”. Burke is clearly ill-equipped for the outdoor life, so the enlightened Awak is forced to massage his ego and powder his face and wig, while he frets feverishly about his writing making comments like: “This nature stuff, it’s all a bit too much”.

Hats off to the Danish first time director for this delicately stylish and inspired piece of cinema. Clearly there are shades of Albert Serra in the mise en scene and the upbeat comical touches echo Andrew Kotting add an innovative and ironic twist to proceedings. In the third act ecological overtones – melting glaciers and natural disasters – and magical realism lift this into another sphere altogether, hinting at the enormity of the universe with its metaphysical as well as philosophical concerns. Not only is this beautiful to look at with its soaring snowy landscapes and magnificent Alpine peaks, but amusing and enlightening as well as Burke is eventually released from placing a rationale on the wonder he is experiencing in the natural world far from the limits of his structured existence back home. MT

ROTTERDAM FILM FESTIVAL 2020

Filles de Joie | Working Girls (2020) Rotterdam International Film Festival 2020

Dir: Frédéric Fonteyne | Wri: Anne Paulicevich | Cast: Noemie Lvovsky, Jonas Bloquet, Sara Forestier | Drama Belgium 91′

Belgian filmmaker Frédéric Fonteyne (1968) studied film at Institut des arts de diffusion in Louvain-la-Neuve. He realised several successful short films before his two acclaimed features, Max & Bobo (1998) and Une liaison pornografique (1999), which were both screened at IFFR. This drama about sex workers starts on a light note but soon develops into a more dejected tale of life and death. An excellent cast cannot always overcome Paulicevich’s uneven script.

Sarah Forestier’s thirty-something sex worker Axelle (aka Athena) lives with her three unruly children and a cantankerous mother in a council flat. Every morning she joins neighbour Conso (Legronne) and Dominique (Lvovsky) in a battered car to drive over the border to Belgium, where they ply their trade. Conso, a long legged black women has to run a scary racist gauntlet from the youth of the estate. Axelle is separated from her husband Yann, who still has his fingers in the pie. Their their youngest son is caught in a violent incident at Kindergarten, shouting ‘Allah Akbar’ before his attack – even though he is not a Muslim. Conso meanwhile has a boyfriend, Jean-Philippe, who gives her an expensive pendant for her birthday, raising her hopes for a way out of her depressing life.

But the women’s light hearted banter soon gives way to darker developments. Axelle’s husband Yann trails her, and confronts her as a ‘customer’, threatening to take the children away from her. Then Conso is invited to a special party by Jean-Philippe. It turns out that he is celebrating the very recent birth of his first child. The devastated Conso nearly overdoses, and Dominique and Axelle decide to teach J-P a lesson. Meanwhile, the former is appalled to find her daughter Zoe (Dewaels) “earning some pocket money”, but the real drama starts when Yann attacks Axelle in a domestic set-to defused with the help of a hammer.

Suddenly this bitter-sweet comedy gets serious morphing to a real life and death scenario in a sobering and awkward tonal shift. But these feisty women have learnt to deal with their work related ups and downs – quite literally – so anything else is all in a day’s work.

DoP Juliette Van Dormael’s nimble camera-work captures the raucous near heart-breaking hysteria. Lvovsky is the leader of the pack, looking after ‘her’ girls like a lioness with her cubs  – but failing to keep her own domestic life on track. Forestier is the most ambivalent, often attacking Conso for not being ‘serious’ enough. Working Girls doesn’t always succeed in conveying the complexities of life for sex-working parents. But Fonteyne has a good certainly crack of the whip at it nonetheless . AS

ROTTERDAM INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2020

 

 

Kala Azar (2020) Mubi

Dir: Janis Rafa | Penelope Tsilika, Dimitris Lagos | Greece, Eco-drama 90′

The Greek Weird Wave is alive again and kicking with this bizarre eco-drama the title of which relates to a potentially fatal parasitic disease affecting humans and dogs.

The illness captured the imagination of first time filmmaker Janis Rafa whose debut feature sees animals and humans living together in virtual squalor in a timeless, nameless post-apocalyptic place somewhere in Europe.

Kala azar is a strange and for the most part disgusting film to watch. And Rafa really rubs it in, quite literally. There are scenes where ointments are massaged into animals’ open sores. If you enjoy watching people pick their nails and teeth – then this is for you. It is the disgusting side of sensuous and makes a virtue out of its squalid dirtiness – the yuck factor prevailing throughout.

Rafa plays fast and loose with a narrative largely preoccupied with putting people on the same level as animals in a world focused on extreme animal-lovers – not just those who adore their pets and want the best for them, but people who want to get down and dirty with them too.

The film follows a couple of hippies (Tslilka and Lalos) who dedicate their lives to looking after a motley brood of mutts and pit-bulls. They also offer animal funerals with individual cremations thrown in. The pair are obsessed with collecting roadkill and picking and preening their own bodies while preparing food for their personal consummation – we see them peeling eggs and grapes without ever washing their hands, any sense of cleanliness or decorum is not the order of the day, and this makes for a stomach-churning watch.

At one point the main female protagonist (Penelope Tsilika) eats an apple while rummaging through a skip full of dead animals, weirdly placing segments of the fruit in amongst the furry corpses. Ringed fingers continually rummage through jars as they fish around in the gooey contents. The couple are also seen making love with bestial urgency, cleaning their dogs’ teeth by hand rather than using a brush, and generally compromising their own hygiene at the expense of the beasts.

This gruesomeness is interleaved with touching vignettes where the couple visits those recently bereaved of their pets – budgies, fish and cats.

Constantly on the move, the lead pair recover animal corpses from the highway and assist mourners in their pet funeral arrangements ensuring a sensitive ending for their faithful companions. Even caged birds and fish, who have lived a life of containment where they’ve never been touched by their owners, seem devastated at their demise. One woman requests a cremation for her fish, reduced to bones, and wrapped carefully in a silk napkin.

For the most part dialogue-free, the film is accompanied by the ambient sounds of animals licking, clawing, howling and scuffling. There are moving and inspired moments such as the scene where an orchestra of trumpets plays an eulogy to hens and chickens before they are taken away for slaughter. When we consider that these animals endure the worst conditions in factory farming, suffering terribly when they are killed (they are left to bleed to death in halal slaughter methods) this somehow feels appropriate.

DoP Thodoros Mihopoulos hangs around at dog’s eye level, focusing on mid section shots and occasionally panning out to take in the blustery windswept landscapes of the rural locations. This is not a film to be savoured – Kala Azar explores not only loss but our increasing attachment to the animal kingdom. We now live in an anthropocentric world where our pets are elevated to human level, as important as friends and family members, and sometimes more so.

Rafa comes from a background of art-based projects relating to the celebration of mourning and bereavement in all its different forms and has captured the zeitgeist of our growing obsession with animals being an essential part of our domestic lives. But it cuts both ways: recent surveys indicate that pets are increasingly feeling stressed out by our own anxiety levels as we rely on them for support in these angst-ridden times. They can’t take it, as it runs contrary to pack mentality (rather like parents continually relying on their small children for emotional support). An odd but prescient film which may not be pleasant to watch but certainly makes a valid point. MT

NOW ON MUBI | ROTTERDAM FILM FESTIVAL 2020

Young Hunter | El Cazador (2020) *** Rotterdam Film Festival 2020

Dir: Marco Berger | Drama, Argentina 90’

Marco Berger’s latest film is a sympathetic exploration of gaydom in modern day Buenos Aires.

Berger won the Teddy award for Absent in Berlin eight years ago. This latest is an enigmatic feature that pictures its young protagonist on the hunt for a partner. Fifteen-year-old Ezequiel (Juan Pablo Cestaro) is seen discussing a porn magazine with his heterosexual friend in the open scene. He is not sure how to approach his sexuality, but with his parents away travelling now seems as good a time as any to take things forward.

In the skater park he meets the tattooed Mono (Lautaro Rodríguez), who seems ready to be his friend – but is so cool and laid back it may be that he is not gay. And soon Ezekiel finds out that he was right to be diffident about Mono.

This LGBTQ+ feature manages to keep us intrigued with its undercurrent of tension and Cestaro’s acting talent that conveys palpable chemistry and playfulness retaining a certain vulnerability about his character. Rodriquez’ Mono reciprocates with sultry glances and a certain insouciance which adds to his allure.

But there are some plot issues and the heavy-handed score telegraphs moments of caution almost cueing them to happen rather than allowing the story to unfurl naturally. Berger introduces another character to the story in the shape of a younger boy Juan Ignazio (Patricio Rodriquez) and this adds adds another dimension to the piece informing act three.

There is nothing particularly innovative about the film’s straightforward camerawork and aesthetic but the performances are impressive across the board and particularly thoughtful is the subtle interplay between Ezekiel and his father (Luciano Suardi) who is there for his boy although he does not necessarily understand his motivations.  MT

ROTTERDAM INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2020

Los Fantasmas (2020) **** Rotterdam International Film Festival 2020

Dir: Sebastián Lojo | Guatemala / Argentina, 2020, 75′ | world premiere

Lojo brings a distinct retro look to his impressively filmic feature debut that follows Koki, a charismatic young man making a living as a petty criminal in the hilly backwaters of Guatemala City.

Under the glowering skies of this impoverished capital, Koki and his mates are forced into a nether world of  deceit and violence; the banal, repetitive realities of working class life adding a facade of normality to their grim existence. Grifting is a fact of life not just a lifestyle choice for these troubled individuals, it is a necessity. In crafting his antiheroes, Lojo is clearly influenced by Arturo Ripstein’s Bleak Street but this is a much darker less stylised affair that seethes with subdued discontent, the soulful female characters remaining firmly in the background, weak and undeveloped, merely there to serve their men.

Koki’s sultry afternoons give way to intense nighttime forays as he plies his trade, ducking and diving in bars and shady nightclubs. He befriends gringos (tourists) who are suddenly and suspiciously mugged. After dark, he seduces male strangers, leading them to an hotel room where they are robbed by his older associate Carlos (real life wrestler Carlos, El Punisher), a middle aged, senior member of staff at the hotel. Lojo often pictures Koki glaring straight into the camera, giving this cool urban thriller a complicit fourth wall. And like the figures in Edward Hopper paintings, there are others just like Koki; anonymous men who sit alone and morose in penumbral shadows, their intense gaze searing out of the semi-darkness, challenging our preconceptions about their motives with steely resignation. Away from the daily grind of his claustrophobic workplace, the white-shirted Carlos has another string to his bow, moonlighting as a wrestler, disguised under a thick mask of make-up. But retribution eventually catches up with Koki. And when the tables are turned, and when it does her finds himself pushed even further down the food chain, forced to witness the violent effects of his own actions from an almost disembodied perspective.

Lojo works makes great use of a minimal budget in a country without much infrastructure or film expertise creating a palpable snapshot of modern Guatamala with authentic settings and convincing local characters. This is a slim but captivating mood piece that keeps its distance throughout its modest running time. The ambiguous characters and minimal dialogue keeps the tension taut but strangely leave us alienated and unmoved. Los Fantasmas always remains a mystery, never really catching fire, sizzling in its night-bound neon aesthetic before fizzling out, its cypher-like antihero reaching a nebulous nadir.  MT

ROTTERDAM INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 22 JANUARY  – 3 FEBRUARY 2020

Phases of Matter | Maddenin Halleri (2020) **** Rotterdam Film Festival 2020

Dir.: Deniz Tortum; Documentary; Turkey 2019, 71 min.

In this unusual documentary, three years in the making, Turkish director Deniz Tortum also acts at his own DoP. It sees him returning to the place he was born, the Hospital Cerahpasa in Istanbul which is now threatened with closure. His father is still working as a doctor and so the film works as a sort of long goodbye.

Phases of Matter is not an easy watch and certainly not for the squeamish. There is enough blood and guts going on to make horror fans happy, although this is clearly a serious and heartfelt paean to medical history. Phases is primarily about everyday life in the hospital, the little events that make everything tikitiboo. It starts with a female doctor prescribing a shedload of drugs for a bed-bound patient, the nurse taking it all down in detailed notes. The medic then reads aloud from a book on the patient’s bedside table – it’s as if it were a love poem. In another ward a group of doctors discusses the use of Excel – not everyone was able to use the spreadsheet for diagnostics back then. Meanwhile next door, a girl has accidentally swallowed a needle and the medical team are examining her – trauma surgery.

The camera remains in the theatre where a middle aged man is undergoing thyroid surgery. The doctors are concerned about the organ weighing in at one kilogram –  a normal thyroid would be just a tenth of this – 100 grms. The surgeon’s knife veers too near the thyroid, a colleague sarcastically uttering “poor patient”, but there is not much empathy to be felt. Surprisingly everyone is smoking, particularly the men. One of the top surgeons complains about his team’s lack of preparation for key-hole surgery: “Have you forgotten everything about the surgery preps, my beauty?”, he berates a nurse. Another snapshot showcasing a lack of political correctness that has become so vital nowadays. But this was back then.

In the corridors of this eminent medical establishment cats sleep lazily on chairs. A man who has given the last six years of his life to working in the morgue claims the pets makes patients feel more comfortable: Life, according to him, can best be described as a journey from the safety of the womb into the threatening world; the joy of living and then the relief of death: no more bills to pay, “no coup, no war, just peace”. The finale sees the hospital closure as a philosophical scenario that plays out in black and white. It ends in the pathology department, where dimming fluorescent light makes for an eerie denouement.

With the use of Sensory Ethnography and other ultra-modern devices from the Istanbul University Faculty of Medicine, Phases perfectly illustrates the chasm between between the instruments of healing and the humans who use them. Medical advances but also social changes – and not always improvements. An innovative and unique poetic essay about healing and the healers themselves. AS

ROTTERDAM FILM FESTIVAL 2020  | Bright Future Main Programme 

 

 

Bitter Chestnut (2020) *** Rotterdam Film Festival 2020

Dir: Gurvinder Singh | Wri: Gayatri Chatterjee | Drama, 100′

Bitter Chestnut is an intimate, authentic coming-of-age story that sees a teenager torn between a steady traditional life in his village in the Himalayan hills of Himachal Pradesh and the bright lights of modern Delhi. Another local man tried his luck down in the city but soon returned bankrupt.

Kishan is pleasant and hard-working in Gurvinder Singh’s film that successfully incorporates a lowkey drama with documentary style footage of locals going about their everyday life which is very much a communal affair: the women discuss childbirth and weaving methods, while the men are busy building houses and working in the fields – although these activities are not gender exclusive. Kishan seems to come from a more educated family, his grandmother owns the local  Cloudoor Cafe which Kishan runs while also preparing her food. She teaches him English, a language she speaks daily with her close friend in Delhi.

Meanwhile Kishan remembers when the village was burnt down by a fire when he was only six. He is still haunted by the memory, but those who lost their houses in the blaze have never got back to normal. It takes 12 trees to build a wooden house but due to the danger of fire, village houses are now built of concrete, which is not so comfortable or warm. The proud owner of a designer-style beanie and the latest mobile phone, Kishan is also versed in local folklore and knows why the chestnut got its bitter taste. The fruit of the Kaunach tree, these chestnuts were cursed when one fell on the head of a woman who was cleaning her scalp. No washing can get rid the fruit of its bitterness. Likewise the locals believe that no one can change their fate. Later Kishan is seen asking advice from the local soothsayer who tells him to go away.

Singh works with local, non-professional actors, and is maintains his distance from the debate about migration to the cities being an existential threat to traditional village communities. Kishan is placid despite his curiosity about life in the developed world. He is still deeply rooted in his village, and knows that moving to Delhi is not without its risks from the stories of prison and abuse he hears from returning friends. Kishan’s family try to talk him out of his plans to go there. His fate is clearly still in the balance. MT

ROTTERDAM INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2020

 

Eden (2020) ***** Rotterdam Film Festival 2020

Dir: Ágnes Kocsis | Cast: Lana Baric, Daan Stuyven | 153′ Drama, Hungary

Ágnes Kocsis is now a forbidable figure in European arthouse film. Her 2006 debut Fresh Air won a FIPRESCI prize and her second Pol Adrienn (2010) went on to win awards across the board. Eden is her formally austere and thematically rich character driven third feature that explores the main preoccupations of our modern world: loneliness and immune hyper-sensitivity.

Éva suffers from both. And she’s allergic to just about everything, so living in a bubble becomes a fact of life to avoid toxic shock, breathing difficulties and possibly even death. To venture outside her starkly decorated high-rise apartment in Budapest she must don a space suit.  Éva’s days are spent in a local clinic with doctors experimenting on her, and these scenes are gruelling and quite upsetting to watch. Mate Toth Widemon’s luminous camerawork also captures the silent stillness of the desert where Éva undergoes light therapy in an isolated glass igloo.

Ágnes Kocsis sets out to explore the complexities of mind over matter and the ambiguities of  contemporary living, suspended between sustainability and emptiness. Essentially a three hander – with support from a range of convincing minor characters – the plot revolves around Eva, her brother and András. The illness started after she collapsed on a bus, and now middle-aged Eva is dangerously ill, her immune system in total collapse. Her sole contact with the world is her brother Gyuri, who brings her food and keeps her company. But he has his own issues. This situation changes when András enters her life – a specialised psychiatrist, he will represent her in a court case about whether her condition is caused by pollution, or whether her mental state is so fragile that she herself is the cause of her allergies. Is she sick, or is the world making her ill? Or is her loneliness the root cause of her malaise.

Eden often echoes the bracing quality and otherworldliness of Tarkovsky, Lucile Hadzihalilovic and Bela Tarr (who was also involved in the film’s production). And although it is often difficult to engage with and requires a certain perseverance with its obtuse characters and hard-edged, blue-tinged interiors, what gradually dawns through Kocsis’ textured characterisation is that Andras and Eva are forming a meaningful bond that could potentially be the start of love.

Lana Balic plays Eva as a poignantly troubled soul who is suffering, lonely and alienated. She collects baby turtles and her pastime of twisting bits of wire to make angular sculptures is one that inevitably leads to further pain, and even draws blood from her delicate fingers. Baric has the soulful eyes and tortured, pointed face of a medieval martyr, or even a saint from a painting by Carlo Crivelli. Yet she imbues Eva with quiet dignity, and we feel for her. This is a film full of anguish: apart from the awful scenes in the clinic, birds often collide into the glass windows of Eva’s home, dropping to certain death below. But there are also beautiful light-filled images as spring arrives in Budapest to soften the sorrowful scenario.

The relationship between Éva and András becomes more intimate, and her condition seems to improve. He encourages her neighbour upstairs to play his piano: Chopin of course. But the romantic tones of Lucio Dalla’s ‘Il Cielo’ are what really sets the night on fire in this mournful piece, and the ballad plays out through the bittersweet, heart-breaking finale. The final scene is one of the most extraordinary you’ll see this year. And watch out for the post credit ‘sting’. MT

ROTTERDAM INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2020 

Merry Christmas, Yiwu (2020) **** Merry Christmas, Yiwu (2020)

Dir: Mladen Kovacevic | Doc, Serbia, Sweden, France, Germany, Belgium, Qatar | 94’

China has cashed in on Christmas. In this socialist pre-dominantly non-Christian superpower  capitalism reigns in a city just south of Shanghai. Yiwu is best known for its Christmas-related merchandise. And that’s a tall figure –  accounting for 90% of the domestic output of festive fare, and around 70% of the world’s total. As early as May the industrial heartlands pound with preparations for the Christmas season amid strong demand from all over the globe.

Mladen Kovacevic focuses on the smaller more intimate story: that of the workers caught up in the still relatively new Chinese Dream. In his first full length documentary feature the Serbian filmmaker has no trouble in making this a cinematic experience – the bright colours and sparkly decorations providing a striking visual foreground to the subdued underlying narrative. Behind the tinsel and pizazz there are more serious issues at play. The workers producing these goods are under pressure to perform. Despite rising wages offering them the ability to have the latest smart phones they are still forced to work long hours in airless conditions returning to their meagre lodgings at night where they miss friends and family left behind in their rural hometowns. The dream of wealth in the prosperous new China is a distant one. the truth is a different story.

Keeping dialogue to a minimum the film shares the stark reality of the human story at its core: and we feel increasingly sympathetic of these stressed individuals who try to smile and think positively despite the gruelling workload as they choke back traces of glitter and dehydrate beneath the harsh overhead lighting. Work has become the family, their colleagues are their new sisters and brothers and they joke and share their lives far away from home and ask each other: “what is celebrated on Christmas”.

Kovacevic then explores the other side of the coin. The bosses who have built a fortune from this risky business venture with a view to exploring new markets through cross-border e-shopping platforms, adapting the decorations to suit the cultural sensibilities of the overseas clients in Russia, South America, and Europe. They too have made sacrifices, rarely seeing their families living miles away. They are conscious of the gruelling work load placed on staff but are keenly aware they must not push them too hard. There are 470,000 market dealers in Yiwu. Merry Christmas, Yiwu presents the reality of modern China: a thriving capitalist nation enveloped within the iron claws of modern day communism. MT

ROTTERDAM FILM FESTIVAL 2020 | Bright Future Main Programme

 

 

 

Invitation | Nimtoh (2019) ***

Wri/Dir: Saurav Rai | With: Pravesh Gurung, Chandra Dewan, Suni Rai, Teresa Rai, Digbijay Singh Rai | Drama India, 85′

There is a farcical nature to this quirky human drama set in rural Darjeeling where a war of attrition plays out between a boy and the feudal landowner who puts a roof over his head. The humour is offbeat but appealing.

Based on the filmmaker’s own experiences growing up in a village in West Bengal near Darjeeling,  Saurav Rai’s family make up the cast and provide naturalistic performances along with the local people. Invitation (Nimtoh) sees its 10-year-old protagonist Tashi being naughty and spiteful from the outset when he is tasked with delivering wedding invitations on behalf of the landowner he works for. Not only does he throw some of the invites away, but he also shouts rudely at their intended recipients. Apparently one complained about him stealing a guava from a tree on their property. But this does not endear us to Tashi, despite his lament. The strange thing about the characters is that everyone looks poverty-stricken and disheveled by western standards – even the landowner’s house is a meagre rambling place with crumbling interiors, and he is forced to milk his own cow – so we don’t particularly have sympathy for the underdogs whose life appears to runs on similar lines to their overlords – on the surface of it.

All that said, Invitation is certainly a breath of fresh air with its irreverent humour and unpredictable storyline. Tashi attends the local school and is seen disappearing down the hillside but clearly wants an easier life. His old granny is certainly not to be messed with as she rushes around the hillside banging a tin dinner bowl at the slightest opportunity. Although set in the present there a feeling of being in the past, and a beguiling one, the exotic landscapes of the tea plantation off-season give the film a lush and verdant backcloth. Clearly Tashi has had a difficult start in life, but nothing is said of his parents of siblings.

Tashi and his grandmother live in a tithe dwelling opposite the old man and his wife but must service them by doing odds jobs. The son who is going to be married seems ambivalent about it all, but goes along with his parent’s plans. Family and staff seem to muck in together, Tashi sneaking into his master’s living room to watch TV, the old man pulling rank by quickly turning over the channel to something more serious. Although the film often cues the audience how to feel about a little Tashi, he’s not a particularly likeable child and neither is his grandmother.

The wedding is a desultory affair that once again seems low key and disorganised, and we wonder if it will happen at all. The son is a portly young city boy, his bride encumbered by her traditional costume seems keener to have a cigarette and get back to the city, rather than join him on their wedding night. In fact the only thing the couple are wedded to are their jobs. Tashi wants to be there for the nuptials but is made busy collecting pig fodder, which he then throws away. Another subversive trick to needle the old landowner and his wife.

Later Tashi is seen tied to a tree in the nearby wooded hillside so clearly more naughtiness has gone on in the interim, although quite what, seems almost insignificant by this stage in the game. This enigmatic approach to the narrative does not always work in the film’s favour but the quirky tone lets things ride for the most part as there is plenty to admire in the glorious locations and random goings on, making our understanding of the cultural significance less and less clear. The accent here is on the laidback nature of this tight community locked between the past and the future in a rural idyll. MT

ROTTERDAM INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2020

Fidelity | Vernost (2020) **** Rotterdam Film Festival 2020

Dir: Nigina Sayfullaeva | Drama, Russia 82′

Nigina Sayfullaeva’s erotic drama makes a brave and unbridled bid to explore and unravel the complex nature of human desire through the story of young Russian obstetrician and her husband whose relationship has hit the buffers.

They say sex – or the lack of it – is the barometer of a healthy relationship. And Lena is not getting anywhere with her actor husband Stergey despite her best efforts to cajole him into some action between the sheets – and this is a drama that doesn’t hold back on scenes of an explicit sexual nature – despite its endorsement from the Russian authorities announced as the opening credits role. Russia has always been keep to promote (same sex) marriage, and actively encourages procreation – so the sexual taboo is clearly out of the bag now and this ratification is as an intriguing and welcome prelude to what follows in this raunchy affair.

Obviously Lena suspects Sergey (Pal) of having an affair, particularly when she notices a palpable chemistry with one of his fellow actors, but she decides to keep her own counsel – and Evgeniya Gromova gives a teasingly guarded performance in the lead, but one that gradually builds to a head of steam. The lack of sexual attention from her husband eventually drives her to a series of one night stands in an effort to satisfy her pent up natural urges in the summer heat.

Comparisons with Steve McQueen’s Shame are ill-founded: Lena is not an avoidant, not is she a nymphomaniac – she is just driven to distraction by her husband’s lack of interest in her. Gromova’s performance makes it amply clear that she still loves Sergey and would prefer to have sex with him rather than the muscled lifeguard who pays for a room in a local hotel, an tepid encounter that leaves her amused and ambivalent. But when she meets Ivan beachside, things heat up. Is it his top of the range 4X4 that attracts her? The two enjoy a lusty encounter before the Police arrive and Ivan scarpers along the dunes.

Writing again with Lyubov Mulmenk (Name Me was their feature debut in 2014) Fidelity at times has the feel of a Russian-style telenovela but it is a courageous and sensitively thought out for the most part, with some convincing characterisations as well as some more cartoonish figures – Ivan is a case in point and is clearly just there to serve the rather snaky plot which eventually sees these saucy scenarios jeopardising Lena’s job at a plush private clinic in a western Russian coastal town. And the film does shed light on a woman’s point of view – and should be celebrated as such. Lena is not immoral, she is just forced to breaking point, and that happens to women as well as men. Although, as surveys keep telling us: Women only tend to cheat when they are being ignored and by inattentive partners. Just saving. The film has its international premiere here in Rotterdam Festival. 

ROTTERDAM INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2020 

Tench | Muidhond (2019) **** Rotterdam Film Festival 2020

Dir: Patrice Toye | Greet Verstraete, Line Pillet, Tijmen Govaerts, Dominique Van Malder | Drama, Belgium 99′

Flemish director Patrice Toye adapts Inge Schilperoord’s book to create a distinctive arthouse psychodrama that veers from vaguely clinical to stylishly dreamlike in its convincing and counterintuitive study of sexual obsession.

Belgian indies Bullhead, Allelujuia and most recently Adoration see their main characters struggle with physical or emotional conflicts. And Muidhond does this with calmness serenity Toye gracefully mastering her material in a film whose troubled waters run deep only occasionally breaking the limpid surface of the sunlit domestic settings and lowland landscapes of Holland’s white sandy coast.

Tijmen Govaerts turns in an impressively subtle and deeply affecting performance as the gentle Jonathan, a complex, wistful and outwardly placid young man who is deeply troubled and has recently returned from a spell in prison – flashbacks show him taking a brutal beating from the disapproving inmates – apparently there was not enough evidence to commit him longterm for pedophilia. He channels his troubled psyche into rescuing a flaying Muidhond carp which he rescues from the shallows “you’re going to get better… and so will I”, before returning to his job at a fish factory in Schependijk, a lock complex in the Dutch city of Terneuzen.

But feelings for his pre-teen neighbour Elke will not go away despite intensive sessions in CBT with a doctor barely older than himself. Jonathan’s obsession grows scene by scene his gnawing longing for her burgeons into an uncontrollable infatuation that haunts him day and night. Naturally Elke is completely carefree and innocent in her teasing friendship with the 25 year old yet grows increasingly tuned in to his febrile behaviour. Days in the fish factory see Jonathan trying to hold down his menial job while being at the constant receiving end of physical abuse from more or less anybody in his small-minded community – at one point he is stared down by his factory colleague and showered by bucket of putrid fish – the impact of all this on Jonathan’s fragile state of mind is harrowing to watch and sensitively captured in Richard Van Ossterhout’s moody camerawork. Attempts to date a girl from the fish factory fall flat. But clearly he is not the only abused character in the softly meadowed backwater. Elke herself is recovering from some kind of childhood abuse and taunts Jonathan with the vestiges of this troubled past adding a toxic twist to their doomed yet strangely companionable relationship.

Despite the nature of his emotional damage Toye makes us root for Jonathan and we feel for his pain largely due to his obvious contrition and desperate fear of recidivism which is palpable Govaerts’ extraordinary piece of acting. A nimble handheld camera adds to the film’s trippy aquamarine aesthetic and a timidly plaintive score brings a note of hope to Jonathan’s own situation despite what transpires in the final depressing segment, Toye avoiding a happy ending but being realistic about the facts of this condition. Jonathan emerges a decent character with a terrible affliction as he returns the flourishing carp to its watery home. A creature given a second chance in life, from another who deserves one of his own. MT

ROTTERDAM INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2020

Rotterdam Film Festival 2020

In his final year as creative director Bero Beyer recently announced the 2020 line-up for the 49th International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR) including the 10 films selected for the Tiger Competition. Known for its edgy arthouse bias, this year’s film include Kim Yong-hoon’s South Korean crime drama Beasts Clawing at Straws; Arun Karthick’s Nasir, a portrait of theHindu-nationalist province of Tamil Nadu; and Jorge Thielen Armand’s drama La fortaleza, set in the jungles of Venezuela.

The festival also features the Big Screen Competition and the revamped Bright Future Competition, the fifth theme programme Ordinary Heroes and a special screening of David Cronenberg’s Crash (1996) with a live musical score by the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra. The festival opens on the 22 January 2020 with Joao Nuno Pinto’s period drama Mosquito, exploring a Portuguese soldier’s adventures in Mozambique during the First World War, and close on 2 February with Marielle Heller’s Oscar contender A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood that revisits the popular children’s television personality Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks) through his meeting with skeptical journalist Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys).

The Tiger competition will be judged by a panel composed of Dutch-Palestinian filmmaker Hany Abu-Assad (Paradise Now), Visions du Réel artistic director Emilie Bujès, South Korea-born American filmmaker Kogonada (Columbus), Dutch filmmaker Sacha Polak (Dirty God) and Indonesian artist Hafiz Rancajale.

The Big Screen Competition features nine films including Danish filmmaker Malou Reymann’s A Perfectly Normal Family; Eden from Hungarian filmmaker Ágnes Kocsis (who made Pál Adrienn) and Argentinian auteur Marco Berger’s El cazador (Young Hunter) which stars End of Century’s Juan Barberini

The Bright Future Competition, comprising a selection of 15 feature-length debuts, includes Liang Ming’s Pingyao film festival award-winning Wisdom Tooth, and feature debuts from Russian filmmaker Artem Aisagaliev’s (Babai) and Bolivian Diego Mondaca’s Chaco.

The 49th International Film Festival Rotterdam | 22 January – 2 February 2020

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Images from the Tiger Competition selection

Tiger Competition

Beyer said: all the films in Tiger Competition radiate a strong sense of personal urgency and cinematic relevance, fuelled by boundary-pushing directorial visions.”

All films selected for Tiger Competition 2020:

El año del descubrimiento, Luis López Carrasco, 2020, Spain/Switzerland, world premiere

Beasts Clawing at Straws, Kim Yonghoon, 2020, South Korea, world premiere

The Cloud in Her Room, Zheng Lu Xinyuan, 2020, France/China, world premiere

Desterro, Maria Clara Escobar, 2020, Brazil/Portugal/Argentina, world premiere

Drama Girl, Vincent Boy Kars, 2020, Netherlands, world premiere

La fortaleza, Jorge Thielen Armand, 2020, Venezuela/France/Netherlands/Colombia, world premiere

Kala azar, Janis Rafa, 2020, Netherlands/Greece, world premiere

Nasir, Arun Karthick, 2020, India/Netherlands, world premiere

Piedra sola, Alejandro Telemaco Tarraf, 2020, Argentina/Mexico/Qatar/UK, world premiere

Si yo fuera el invierno mismo, Jazmín López, 2020, Argentina, world premiere

The Tiger jury consists of Dutch-Palestinian filmmaker Hany Abu-Assad, artistic director of Visions du Réel Emilie Bujès, South Korean-born American filmmaker Kogonada, Dutch filmmaker Sacha Polak and Indonesian artist, curator and filmmaker Hafiz Rancajale.

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Images from the Big Screen Competition selection

Big Screen Competition

The Big Screen Competition, part of IFFR’s Voices section, features nine films which, according to IFFR programmers, deserve to hit the big screen after the festival. A jury consisting of five audience members picks the winner of the VPRO Big Screen Award. This film gets a guaranteed theatrical release in the Netherlands and will be broadcast on Dutch TV by VPRO and NPO.

All films selected for Big Screen Competition 2020:

El cazador, Marco Berger, 2020, Argentina, world premiere

Eden, Ágnes Kocsis, 2020, Hungary/Romania, world premiere

Énorme, Sophie Letourneur, 2019, France, international premiere

The Evening Hour, Braden King, 2020, USA, international premiere

Fanny Lye Deliver’d, Thomas Clay, 2019, UK/Germany, international premiere

Mosquito, João Nuno Pinto, 2020, Portugal/France/Brazil, world premiere

A Perfectly Normal Family, Malou Reymann, 2020, Denmark,world premiere

Synapses, Chang Tso-chi, 2019, Taiwan, international premiere

A Yellow Animal, Felipe Bragança, 2020, Brazil/Portugal/Mozambique, world premiere

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Images from the Bright Future Competition selection

Bright Future Competition

The Bright Future Competition comprises a selection of 15 feature-length film debuts, screening in world or international premiere. IFFR’s competition for first-time filmmakers presents a variety of innovative, cutting-edge and promising discoveries from all over the world. The Bright Future Award is chosen by a jury of three film professionals.

All films selected for Bright Future Competition 2020:

Babai, Artem Aisagaliev, 2020, Russia/USA, world premiere

Chaco, Diego Mondaca, 2020, Bolivia/Argentina, world premiere

Los fantasmas, Sebastián Lojo, 2020, Guatemala/Argentina, world premiere

Fellwechselzeit, Sabrina Mertens, 2020, Germany, international premiere

For the Time Being, Salka Tiziana, 2020, Germany/Spain/Switzerland, international premiere

I Blame Society, Gillian Wallace Horvat, 2020, USA, world premiere

Moving On, Yoon Dan-bi, 2019, South Korea, international premiere

My Mexican Bretzel, Nuria Giménez Lorang, 2019, Spain, international premiere

Ofrenda, Juan María Mónaco Cagni, 2020, Argentina, world premiere

Panquiaco, Ana Elena Tejera, 2020, Panama, world premiere

A Rifle and a Bag, Isabella Rinaldi/Cristina Hanes/Arya Rothe, 2020, India, world premiere

Sebastian springt über Geländer, Ceylan-Alejandro Ataman-Checa, 2020, Germany, world premiere

The Trouble with Nature, Illum Jacobi, 2020, Denmark/France, world premiere

Truth or Consequences, Hannah Jayanti, 2020, USA, world premiere

Wisdom Tooth, Liang Ming, 2019, China, international premiere

ROTTERDAM INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2020 | 22 JANUARY – 2 FEBRUARY 

Present. Perfect (2019) ***

Dir: Zhu Shengze. USA/Hong Kong. 2019. 124mins

Live-streaming in China is big business. The severely disabled, wheelchair-ridden and low-paid have finally found a nifty way of making an extra yuan. Sharing their everyday lives on the internet brings them an income as well as garnering support and emotional inter-dependence. It works both ways as the streams establish a mutually beneficial connection.

Present.Perfect makes for compelling viewing – up to a point. It’s a strong premise but the execution is flawed.  What initially seems intriguing to watch eventually becomes tedious. And by the end the doc does its worthy subject matter a disservice, playing out as a laborious and repetitive slog, without any kind of narrative or real explanation. Zhu Shengze made the film from more than 800 hours of filmed footage taken from an output of 12 ‘anchors’ (sharers of their footage) over a period of 10 months. Tighter editing would have made the film more pithy and enjoyable. What we do learn is that 2016 was apparently “Year Zero” for live streaming – and now the industry has expanded exponentially. In 2017, over 422 million Chinese shared streamed films on the internet. But it’s not all doom and gloom, content-wise.

The segments from each showroom are often overlong, and the content can be extremely dull, made more so by the black and white camerawork. Do we really want to watch a woman’s gruelling trip down the road – wheel-chair bound, while she stares pitifully into the camera? Or a physically challenged guy do his washing? And then there’s a man showing his wounds bleeding, clearly he’s into self-harm. But clearly these Chinese audiences do, and they’re prepared to pay for it, finding comfort in these banal everyday lives fraught with trauma (Eastenders, anyone?). Besides the obvious need for recognition, fostered by all types of social media, there is the loneliness and alienation out there, and the streamers have tapped into this rich vein of income, benefiting in more ways than one from the comfort-seeking connection with others. Our hearts go out to the ‘anchors’ but most of us don’t need to experience their pain to understand their suffering. despite their cheerful perseverance. But that’s not the point. For those who become invested in their daily struggle to survive, the film tells a valuable story. One of mutual support, and even entertainment. Distances in China are vast and many peoplelive alone in remote locations miles away from any form of social contact. These ‘anchors’ are actually their keeping them on the straight and narrow, emotionally at least.  

Other anchors have used the streaming device as a way to drum up business. A case in point is a farmer keen on branding his particular form of labour as ‘agritainment’. There is a bored crane driver, who invites us to visit him way up in his cab that towers above a vast building site. Another, a woman, is tooling away at making men’s underpants. She shares the trials and tribulations of her love life with all her followers, as she peddles away at her gruelling work. The more you watch the stories the more you understand how compulsive the experience becomes in providing a vital support system for those reaching out from the desperation of their own lives. In the end, the banal almost becomes beautiful; providing comfort and consistency: we need never be alone. MT

ON RELEASE AT ARTHOUSE CINEMAS | ICA CINEMA from 24 January.

ROTTERDAM INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL | TIGER AWARD WINNER  2019

Alva – White (2019) ***

Dir.: Ico Costa; Cast: Henrique Bonacho; Portugal 2018, 98 min.

Renowned Portuguese short-film director Ico Costa creates an impressive first feature which he also wrote. It tells the story of Henrique Bonacho who has been abandoned by family and driven delirious, punishing the ones he held responsible. 

We first meet Henrique (a very intense Henrique Bonacho) as a shepherd, living in a dilapidated  hovel in the mountains. Uncommunicative, he also looks unkempt and lost. We later learn that his wife Vitoria and his two daughters have left him. Driving into the local village he kills a woman psychologist and puts her male college into a coma, punishing the people he holds responsible for the break-up of his family. He then threatens Vitoria’s mother, demanding to see his daughters. When she calls the police, he flees into the mountains where he cannot live with with the unbearable isolation for long and, so he soon returns to his home. This time he decides to put on his best clothes: a beautiful white suit. But Henrique’s problems are not over.

Alva plays out in an elliptical way, the title stands for Henrique’s re-birth: the white suit representing the old, unspoiled self. In between he looks more like a hunted animal than a human. DoP Hugo Azevedo makes imaginative use of the wild woods and mountains crafting glorious images as a hideout for the fugitive. The colours in town are more subdued, the streets become a labyrinth for Henrique. Only at the end, when he has found his place again, do we get some sunlight. But there is a powerful impression that this happy-end will not last forever. Alva is a study in loss, and eventual redemption. A small gem told in a minimalist cinematic language, with a towering performance by Bonacho. AS

NOW AT AT THE ICA LONDON

Dirty God (2019) **

Dir: Sacha Polak | Wri: Susie Farrell | Cast: Vicky Knights, Eliza Brady-Girard, Rebecca Stone, Dana Marineci | Drama, 114′

Random acid attacks reflect the expression of generalised angst and have been recorded since the late 19th century throughout European cities. DIRTY GOD, the first English language feature by Dutch director/co-writer Sacha Polak (Hemer), is daring and questionable in equal parts.

Told uncompromisingly in a style that somehow blurs the boundaries between openness and voyeurism, it incorporates the looks-obsessed instagram polemic that sees a London based woman disfigured by chemicals. Fiesty first timer Vicky Knight plays Jade, the woman in question. Her looks prior to the attack are the main currency for her existence as a young young mother with limited education and opportunities. So predictably Jade (Knight) seeks solace in the precarious world of online liaisons where she soon finds the passion and connection she’s craved for so long. But there is a downside to these internet meetings and her personal life soon starts its downhill progression, as family life and friendships start to be affected by her change of circumstances.

We first see parts of Jade on the day she is released from the hospital in London. Her face and upper body scarred, the camera does not leave any doubts as to the extent of her injuries, and she returns to the East London council estate where her mother Lisa (Kelly) awaits her with her little daughter Rea (Brady- Girard), the latter screaming in fear when her mother tries to cuddle her. Jade’s best friend Shami (Stone) is now with Jade’s ex, Naz (Robinson), yet the relationship between the Jade and Naz stays unresolved. Jade takes to chat rooms, leaving her face in the dark. To get money for a ‘miracle’ operation in Morocco, she works as a telemarketer, having to put up with some nasty comments about her appearance. As we all knew, the Morocco ad was a con, and we follow every step of Jade’s trip to Africa – used by Polak to get to a constructed ending.

DoP Ruben Impens is unsparing, relentlessly sharing every detail.  And alhough some of the dream sequences are clumsy, we have to admire newcomer Vicky Knight who suffered scars from burning when she was a child, and acts with great passion. But overall this an uncomfortable film to watch: when does honesty becomes an embarrassment? After all, Knight is a real victim, but a feature film is still a work of fiction. It is not easy to decide where to come down in this argument. At best, the ambiguity is open to interpretation, with the audience making up their minds. AS

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 7 JUNE 2019 NATIONWIDE.

Transnistra (2019) | **** IFFR Rotterdam 2019

Dir: Anna Eborn | Doc, 93′

There’s a breezy insouciance to this slice of realism set in the tiny unrecognised state of Transnistra, which split from Moldova after the civil war in 1992. Atmospherically shot on gritty 16mm, it follows a group of close friends and their emotional ups and downs from the sultry days of summer to the bitterly cold winter. Technically the country doesn’t exist at all and that mood uncertainty is conveyed by Anna Eborn’s freewheeling approach to her narrative and a seductive occasional score of woozy jazz tunes and ambient sounds that convey a feeling of surreal dispossession. Far from the buzz of modern life and social media, they shoot the breeze and hang out amid crumbling Soviet buildings. You get the impression the Transnistrans don’t really care what happens now or in the future, beyond their secluded bubble, as long as they can enjoy life in this peaceful softly wooded wedge of land on the Black Sea south of Ukraine and North East of Romania.

There’s a still strong Soviet vibe to the infrastructure and Transnistra has its own police force, currency and army. And they make proud soldiers as we see them graduating from military school to the sounds of a full band and stage appearance, and there are congratulations all round. Russian is their language and the red and green flag sports a sickle but that’s as far as it goes. Eborn’s watchable, un-judgemental fourth feature portrays a happy little ‘country’ content to jog along proudly for as long as it can. And after all, love is still love wherever you are in the world. MT

ROTTERDAM FILM FESTIVAL | 23 Jan – 3 Feb 2019 | VPRO BIG SCREEN WINNER

 

The Harvest (2019) **** IFFR Rotterdam Film Festival 2019

Dir: Misho Antadze  | Doc, 70’ | Georgia

Georgia’s past collides with the future in Misho Antadze’s debut documentary feature that unfurls at Rotterdam Film Festival’s Perspectives strand. 

In the ancient countryside Georgia is softly making its way into the 21st century as the second largest exporter of bitcoins. And while bees still buzz in the flowery fields of the Gombori Pass a louder buzzing is heard from the space-age machines that crackle and whir from their neon lit hives housed in disused villas, ushering in a new and thriving form of capitalism.

Once only home to vines and fruit, the rural Kakheti wine region sees the boundary between the natural and the virtual virtually eradicated. Cows placidly graze alongside satellite dishes in a bizarrely bucolic lunar-like landscape. While the shepherds still talk of the past and of family disagreements, their kids chatter over gaming devices or exercise their drones in the leafy landscapes.

This almost silent sinister meditation grows more and more unsettling as the finale looms. Fluid camerawork deftly dices the old and the new in long takes that picture placid protagonists working on the countryside or on computers, unaware that the landscape is changing – both literally and figuratively. MT

ROTTERDAM FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | PERSPECTIVES

 

End of Season (2018) **** IFFR Rotterdam FIPRESCI award winner

Dir.: Elmar Imanov; Cast: Rasim Javarov, Zulfiyya Gurbanova, Mirmousum Mirzazade; Germany/Azerbaijan/Georgia 2019, 92 min.

Elmar Imanov’s first feature is a homage to Antonioni. Set in Baku on the Black Sea, Imanov not only re-creates the atmosphere of many features of the Italian master, he also revitalises Antonioni’s main theme – the marginalisation of women – in a very up-to-date fashion. His intimate slow-burner is a carefully constructed and memorable low budget gem.

Samir (Javarov) and his wife Fidan (Gurbanova) are living in a Baku high-rise, after their son Mahmud (Mirzazade), a web-designer, has fled the nest. Things are really over for this couple, relationships-wise: Côté Samir loafs around,all day. His wife, a doctor, contemplates a move to Berlin, where she has been offered a job. Samir tries to sabotage her move, it’s still unclear if  Mahmud is actually his son. The three of them go on a trip to the Black Sea, Sami and Fidan attacking each other in their usual passive-aggressive way: Whilst the men doze off, Fidan suddenly disappears. Later a male body is found in the sea – and she suddenly vanishes too, Fidan then re-appears in the Baku flat the next day. But Samir is still grumpy, not believing her story that she nearly drowned. “Are you not happy that I am alive?” asks Fidan. But Samir still cannot trust her, not able to let go of his victim-role. Son Mahmud is no help either: he is critical of his father, and treats his girl friend with the same disdain: he is unable to commit, and is somehow relieved when she signals the end of the relationship. Leaving us with an open-ended finale, Imanov lets the camera search for some meaning.

DoPs Berta Valin Escofet and Driss Azhari conjure up a languid atmosphere where the bleached colours softly melt into the horizon. The resonance with Antonioni is clearly felt: landscape dominates and reduces the protagonists to minor roles. Fidan is the only person of substance, the simply men chasing the chimera of freedom. END OF SEASON is an intimate play of emotions, small gestures – often more meaningful than words. There are also shades of Sartre’s Huis Clos, the trio living in a perpetual state of alienation in their stultifying dynamic. Imanov conjures up quiet desperation which we watch with a certain fascination. We leave  with the feeling that Imanov is a rising talent. AS

OTTERDAM INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL | 2019 | FIPRESCI AWARD 2019

Hail Satan! (2019) *** Rotterdam Film Festival 2019

Dir: Penny Lane | US, Doc 95′

Satanism is gaining ground, but don’t panic. Penny Lane’s drôle but disappointing documentary will explain why. According to her findings, the old Devil we can come to know and love has actually been foisted by his own petard. His cult has been hijacked by a motley crew of rather ordinary people who just want to get together and counter the mainstream forces they see dominating America. No harm done. Counterbalancing  is certainly a reasonable idea, but not a compelling premise for a a full length feature documentary. 

Satanists have chosen the rather apt name of The Satanic Temple (TST for short) to represent their cause – and simply because no one else had chosen this title, they checked on the internet, and it was available. And their main man and co-founder really looks the part too with his glazed right eye and shifty expression: Lucien Greaves – not his real name – works jolly hard for the organisation as its spokesperson, ensconced in the black-painted wooden clad house (straight out of the film Halloween) in Salem Massachusetts. Some of the other supporters look rather weird too in their Gothic garb and horned headgear, but that’s about as scary as it gets. And they don’t have much to say for themselves  either, beyond criticising the people they vehemently oppose.

But doesn’t a religion have to have conviction, spirituality, beliefs and customs that transcend mere civic duty?. Amongst their seven tenets the Satanists list: compassion, a struggle for justice, and ‘the inviolability of the body’. But this doctrine could easily apply to the Girl Guides.

And Lane’s documentary certainly doesn’t make us quake in our boots over these so-called Satanists. Mild fascination turns gradually to boredom as Hail Satan! plays out, running round in ever decreasing circles in its effort to get to the crux of the organisation. What TST purports to represent seems ill-defined, but its certainly anti-establishment. The thrust of their activity is clearly to oppose government efforts to establish religious totems such as a granite structure listing the The Ten Commandments in front of a state house, and to erect their own idol which is a metallic figure called Behemoth.

But once we discover that name Satan is just a facade for TST’s rather pointless activities – such as attending ‘unbaptisms’ – and it adherents are just a bunch of average punters with nothing salacious or particularly macabre about them (except their black garb) the whole documentary starts to feel quite tedious. And the fact that they feature regularly on Fox News spinning endless ‘Satanic’ narratives won’t have a novelty value forever. On their website they maintain: We acknowledge blasphemy is a legitimate expression of personal independence from counter-productive traditional norms”. Isn’t this just the same as supporting free speech?. And there’s nothing evil about that.

There’s nothing even o suggest that Satanism is a religion. Ok, it doesn’t espouse violence or evil. Infact it doesn’t really espouse anything cogent at all, apart from being a force for decency and liberalism, and a mealy-mouthed opposition to the mainstream. But behind their black hoods and wicked headgear, there is little talk of faith, spirituality or even morality. Infact there’s no talk of anything other than their smug feeling of hiding behind something that actually doesn’t represent them at all. So their whole existence is misleading. But it’s gathering ground. Their numbers swell day by day, and you might even find yourself joining them one day. But make no mistake. If you’re drawn to this film in the hope of experiencing of something dark and dastardly, you will leave feeling disappointed. At the end of the day, these Satanists are just a bunch of small-town do-gooders.  MT

ROTTERDAM FILM FESTIVAL 2019

God of the Piano (2019) Digital release

Dir: Itay Til: Cast: Naama Pries, Ron Bitterman, Shimon Mimran, Andy Levi | Drama | Israel 80′

Anat is a young woman who will let nothing get in her way, least of all accidents of nature, in this tightly-scripted and quietly chilling first feature from Israeli director Itay Tal. Prepare to be shaken and stirred.

This study of obsession brings to mind the so-called ‘tiger’ mothers who are so focused on achieving their goals, the well-being of their family is secondary, as long as everything goes according to plan. Sadly these women often come from high-performing backgrounds themselves, and such is the case with pregnant concert pianist Anat (a superbly slick Naama Pries from Laila in Haifa), whose waters break while she’s on stage.

Anat ignores this call of nature until the end of her piece, the liquid slowly pooling round her feet. But when she discovers her chortling baby has hearing difficulties, she takes the sinister step of swapping him over with another child in the hospital birthing room.

Control freaks have been vividly portrayed in arthouse cinema of late, recent examples are Calin Peter Netzer’s Golden Bear winner Child’s Pose (2013) where a mother does her utmost to change the course of law for her son. Michael Haneke’s The Piano Teacher (2016) also reworks this thorny theme with a similar cold visual aesthetic and unlikeable central character. In fact, Tal’s film is full of unpleasant types, cyphers whose means to an end makes them frighteningly real in these success-focused times.

Anat’s family are all accomplished musicians including her new son Idam, who plays like a professional pianist from the early scenes – despite his lack of genetic connection with the rest of the family. Her son’s music career gradually becomes the focus of Anat’s days, coaching him as he learns to compose and perform. Even sex with her husband goes out of the window (she is seen half-heartedly pleasuring him with her hands) as she transfers her amorous efforts to composer Shimon Mimran – the only character here with charisma – who gamely offers to help the boy with his composing.

Sex with Mimran seems to satisfy Anat more than anything else in her life: it’s as if she’s finally been fed after starving for years. But rather than trusting her intuition and taking things further with this interesting man, Anat suppresses her own needs and rushes off to promote her son to the next stage of his career.

Alarm bells ring when the local hearing-impaired centre tries to get in touch, Anat eradicating any further communication from them, even visiting the clinic to make sure they strike Idam’s records from their books. Anat’s father is a fiercely competitive man and his reaction to Idam’s talent is quite chilling: rather than encouraging the boy he seethes with anger at Idam’s perfect performance of a piece he wrote at the same age. Although we cannot like Anat’s character, we start to understand her motivations, and the strain she’s under to compete in this unforgiving family environment. A slick and enjoyable thriller and a brilliant debut from Itay Tal. MT

NOW ON iTUNES AMAZON VUDU FANDANGO ON DEMAND DVD | ROTTERDAM FILM FESTIVAL PREMIERE | Big Screen Competition 2019 

 

Chèche Lavi (2019) *** IFFR Rotterdam 2019

Sam Ellison, 2019, Mexico/Haiti/USA, world premiere

A poetic and peaceful paean to Haitians seeking a better life, Sam Ellison gloriously colourful images tell a story we already know but in a zingingly positive and honest way. Low on dialogue but long on musical interludes Chèche Lavi offers its characters a chance to tell their tale while we listen and enjoy the scenery and creatively composed shots of the laborious odyssey via Brazil and Peru, in order finally to ride into Mexico in the cargo hold of a truck. Hoping for a new life in the USA, but then there’s the wall.

Director Sam Ellison cut his teeth as a cinematographer of narrative fiction, and his film’s meticulously constructed visual language – formal compositions, long takes, and long silences – draws from that experience. This appealing style draws us into the emotional world of Robens and James as they embark on their borderland adventure, deepening our understanding of their trails. Gradually they cease to feel inaccessibly foreign.

Haiti and Haitian immigrants, specifically, are often singled out as undesirable in crude and racist attacks. And Ellison has tried to push back against this ideological climate with his calm and placid approach that avoids “headline” sensationalism as the protagonists go about their journey.

French and Portuguese speaking Haitian refugees Robens and James naively dreamed of utopia. They come up against unpleasant surprises, but Sam Ellison quails away from the horror of displacement. His portrait sees two likeable young men adopt a philosophical approach to their journey, always looking on the bright side despite their sense of disappointment and resignation. Getting what you want was never going to be easy. And we feel for them. Ellison’s humane but detached approach honours this timeless yet topical theme. Chèche Lavi is a documentary that works like a narrative art-house feature, and looks like one too.

ROTTERDAM FILM FESTIVAL | BRIGHT FUTURES | 23 JANUARY – 3 FEBRUARY 2019

 

Une Jeunesse Dorée (2019) *** IFFR Rotterdam 2019

Dir: Eva Ionesco | Drama,

Writer-director Eva Ionesco made her debut in Roman Polanski’s horrifying drama The Tenant in 1976. Since then she has made her way into directing. Her second feature is an enjoyable if hollow semi-autobiographical hark back to her disco days at one of Paris’ most legendary nightspots in the late 1970s.

The Palace nightclub was synonymous with stylish couture from Karl Lagerfeld, St Laurent and Missoni. It was also the time of Human League, Grace Jones and Brian Ferry, And this where our young impoverished heroine Rose (Galatea Bellugi) comes to dance with her artist boyfriend Michel (Lukas Ionesco). Both are looking to make their name in the world, and finance the rest of their lives. And this is where they run into decadent ‘beau-monde’ duo Lucile (Isabelle Huppert) and Hubert (Melvil Poupaud), in their fifties and eager for new experiences. Fired up by a cocktail of youth, cash and charisma, the couples feed off each other in an orgy – both literal and metaphorical – of coke and champagne-fuelled sexual encounters – decked out in the latest couture – and Isabelle Huppert is as sexy as her much younger counterpart Bellugi. After rocking the dance floor they all repair back in a Jaguar to Lucile’s soigné chateau in a the country where the young ones are eager for money and contacts, while the older pair paw them with unwanted sexual advances, to spice up their flagging libidos. 

This retro drama is very much a family affair, and it makes for an entertaining drama, if rather glib in its louche emptiness and threadbare script. Ionesco deftly captures the Seventies zeitgeist, but narrative-wise the drama plays out with no surprises. And while Huppert holds court with her sterling support, Poupard also holds sway with his graceful nonchalance, the young two providing alluring eye candy as the doomed and clingy lovers, caught between a desire to succeed and a need to be loved. 

Une Jeunesse Dorée feels slightly overlong at just under two hours, but despite the flagging plot line, expert camerawork comes courtesy of Claire Denis regular Agnès Godard, and there are cossies to die for including ubiquitous sequins and floor length furs from the designers Jurgen Doering and Marie Beltrami. The girls lie back lustfully in Agent Provocateur lingerie and Huppert even flashes her tits and utters outré lines such as: “Hubert has a very beautiful penis, and he knows how to use it”. Now that’s a showstopper, if ever there was one. MT

ROTTERDAM INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL | 23 JAN – 3 FEB 2019

Magnetic Pathways (2019) | **** IFFR Rotterdam 2019

Dir.: Edgar Pera; Cast: Dominique Pinon, Alba Baptista, Pauko Pires, Ney Matograsso, Albano Jeronimo; Brazil/Portugal 2018, 90 min.

Avant-garde Portuguese auteur Edgar Pera follows his weird and wonderful adaptations of Rio Turvo and O Barao with this mystery drama screening as part of a retrospective of his work here at Rotterdam International Film Festival.

Again he indulges in the creation of a Lynchian universe, where past and future amalgamate in an anarchic dance of loss and angst, all held together by the overwhelmingly monstrous images of DoP Jorge Quintela.

Elderly Raymond (Pinon) lives a nightmarish life without escape: he is either drowning in his dreams, or running helpless and disorientated through a dystopian Lisbon. His main obsession is his daughter Caterina (Baptista) who is getting married to Danio (Pires), one of the henchman of the autocratic regime, which runs on the lines of Orwellian surveillance, the TV anchor giving out the orders for the day. During his nightly sorties Raymond encounters the past and present Portugal, meeting among others General Spinola (Jeronimo), who was one of the Generals in the successful revolution of 1974, before he turned against the socialist government and joined Ex-president Caetano and his fellow generals in exile. Raymond is never quite sure if he is living through the period of post- or past revolution. Raymond falls under the spell of Andre Leviathan (Matograsso), a mixture of religious leader and revolutionary. But Raymond develops a jealous obsession with Caterina and Danio. When the couple have sex, Raymond kills Danio with a knife, only to wake up with a feeling of joy despite realising that Caterina would have never forgiven him. 

Whilst the couple are on a barge, Raymond jumps into the water, but is rescued. Fearing the worst, he is amazed not to land up in prison, but back home, which by now resembles a brothel.

Dissolves dominate this spectacular poem of male madness: Raymond is straight out of L’Age d’Or, and Lisbon is a rather drab background, the city’s modern architecture An emblem for the soul destroying world of the Regime. The religious fanaticism of the President echoes Bunuel; Raymond’s hallucinations are the reflection of male impotence. Some music by Manoel de Oliveira embellish this unique feature, directed by a masterful and uncompromising Pera. AS

SCREENING as part of the EDGAR PÊRA Retrospective | IFFR 23 January – 3 February 2019

Murder Me Monster (2018) *** IFFR Rotterdam 2019

Dir Alejandro Fadel. Argentina. 2018. 106′

MURDER ME MONSTER’S widescreen solemnity might bring to mind the murder investigation in Once Upon a Time in Anatolia. There are vague echoes too of Amat Escalante’s The Untamed, but that’s where the similarity ends. This brooding Andes-set crime mystery is the gruesome work of Los Selvajes director Alejandro Fadel, and it is certainly not for the feint hearted with its bestial themes and deformed zombie-like characters. Infact everyone in this stomach-turning horror fantasy is on edge and whispering morosely, for one reason or another. And a series of macabre murders, where heads are torn from bodies, seem to be the reason why.

The opening scene sees the dying moments of a woman whose throat has been severed and as a herd of sheep, and some other livestock are slowly make their supper of her remains, a blind man mumbles on about the murder, as slowly Fadel builds suspense out of a series of weird incidents that seem to indicate that a feral beast is on the prowl and out of control in this remote corner of Argentina where it invariably appears to be night.

Rural police officer Cruz (Victor Lopez) is tasked with investigating the murders and the finger seems to point to local thick-lipped weirdo David (Esteban Bigliardi) who claims that a savage creature is using certain phrases to commune with him, as if through telepathy, with a ‘silly’ voice that repeats ‘Murder Me, Monster’.

Cinematographers Manuel Rebella and Julian Apezteguia evoke nightmarish visuals often using the same technique as the painter El Greco – where the characters’ faces are often starkly backlit against a murky darkness. And there’s a garish otherworldly quality to the outdoor mountain scenes that turn increasingly Lynchian as the plot thickens. Pus-yellow, murky mustard and puke green make up the colour palette of costume and set designers Florencia and Laura Caligiuri. An atmospheric ambient score keeps the tension brewing.

This is intriguing stuff, if rather too enigmatic for its own good. A rather unsatisfying narrative eventually leaves us stranded in its own mysterious backwater, and we feel rather nauseous and bewildered by the end. MT

ROTTERDAM FILM FESTIVAL 2019 |

 

X&Y (2019) **** IFFR Rotterdam 2019

Dir.: Anna Odell; Cast: Anna Odell, Mikhael Persbrandt, Shanti Roney, Thure Lindhardt, Trine Dyrholm, Sofie Grabol, Jens Albinus, Vera Vitali, Per Ragnar, Ville Virtanen; Sweden/Denmark 2018, 112 min.

Artist and filmmaker Anna Odell (The Reunion), the enfant terrible of the Nordic film scene, is back with a new feature. X & Y is a star studded ensemble peace, which explores hidden female/male identities. Odell came to prominence in 2009 with her student project Unknown Woman, 2009-349701:  in a life performance in Stockholm, she acted out her psychotic breakdown and suicide. She was later fined for this, but insisted it was not about her own experience in the Swedish Mental Health system, but an attack on the power structures within the institutions. 

X & Y is tamer in comparison, even though structure and topic are extremely (thought) provoking. Odell plays a female director who fancies macho film star Mikhael Persbrandt, who has just published a memoir in which he tackles his image. Odell has chosen three actors for herself and Persbrandt, to play the alternative personalities of the lead couple: Grabol (brilliant as always), Albinus and Vitali act out Odell’s alternate personalities, whilst Roney, Lindhardt and Dyrholm (matching Grabol’s performance) are the alter egos of Persbrandt. Two psychologists, Ragnar and Virtanen try to help the octet come to terms with Odell’s cryptic and basic script.

Odell, to give her credit, holds her own in a star studded cast. After the opening chapter, in where Odell and Persbrandt get close up and personal, the Alter-Egos take over, and start attacking or lusting after their counterparts. Best are the scenes when the leading couple is represented by a different gender actor, showing that the ambivalence of feelings like jealousy, dominance and sexual obsession are not as gender specific as one might think. In the play, Odell is always behind with the script, infuriating her cast. The actors sleep in two groups, and Odell, who has manufactured a frisky animal costume for herself, becomes sexually aggressive with the trio in her bed. Finally, at a re-union month later, it turns out she is pregnant with an “art-child”, obviously drawing on her recent experience of giving birth. Odell, always the provocateur, stated in an interview that, “she is looking forward to introducing her own child to Lars van Trier, who is also the product of an artistic relationship”. 

 X & Y is provocative, but stays inside a concept: every person has three identities: the self, the one we would like to be, and the way we are seen by others. These identities often differ often, and Odell works it out without shrinking from exposing herself. A great ensemble helps, as well as DoP Daniel Takacs, whose images range from distant froideur to aggressive close-ups. Odell’s temper tantrums still are still hard to take, but she is more much reflective now, without having lost the talent to excite.

SCREENING AT ROTTERDAM INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL | 23 Jan – 3 Feb   

The Best of Dorien B (2019) *** IFFR Rotterdam 2019

Dir: Anke Blonde | Cast: Kim Strauwaerts, Dirk van Dijk, Peter De Graef | Belgium, Drama | 106’

Anke Blonde’s contemporary portrait of loneliness in a seemingly busy and successful life will be familiar. And THE BEST OF DORIEN B’s subdued aesthetic and slow pace reflect a deep-felt dissatisfaction within its heroine’s  humdrum existence in an ordinary town in Belgium. Viewed from the outside wife and mother Dorien has everything to live for: a loving husband, three healthy boys and a vocation she always dreamed of: caring for animals in a busy veterinary practice. 

So what’s missing? A real connection. It feels like everyone is projecting their own needs onto her capable shoulders. But Dorien just plods on oblivious. With no-one to confide in while she soaks up the draining negativity of her parent’s emerging marriage crisis and her vet husband’s previous infidelity with a colleague – which seems to be far from over – she soldiers on. In her deft feature debut, the Belgian director reveals the deep cracks in a perfect facade. And then Dorien’s world crashes down. And from this personal crisis comes an epiphany moment for the former wildchild to bring the focus back firmly to her own hopes and dreams. This thoughtful comedy drama with its sensitive nuanced performances – particularly from lead Kim Snauwaert – plays its serious side lightly but makes a firm point: that sometimes we need to be selfish in order to keep on supporting those whose depend on us. Playing to packed audiences in Rotterdam’s Big Screen Competition line-up it certainly seem to strike a chord.  MT

ROTTERDAM FILM FESTIVAL | BIG SCREEN COMPETITION | 23 Jan-3 Feb 2019

Dirty God (2019) ** Rotterdam Film Festival 2019

Dir: Sasha Polak | Cast: Vicky Knight, Eliza Brady-Girard, Rebecca Stone, Jake Wheeldon | Drama | 104′

Londoner Jade has to come to terms with being disfigured by her partner in this English languages debut of filmmaker Sacha Polak. Dirty God is uncompromising – but somewhat blurs the boundaries between openness and voyeurism.

This is the astonishing debut for Vicky Knight who who suffered scars from burning as a child, and acts with great passion. We see her emerging from hospital, her face and upper brutally scarred by the acid, she returns to the East London council estate, where her mother Lisa (Kelly) is waiting with Jade’s daughter (Brady- Girard), who is driven to tears when her mother tries to cuddle her. And Polak’s non British status allows her to see things from refreshing angle in contrast to the usual sink estate realism and this also gives her character a sense of vulnerability and verve that feels convincing despite the film’s narrative flaws and the weak support cast. The resonance with Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank is clearly felt, but Polak’s film has an upbeat sense of hope and a more refreshing visual allure despite its downbeat setting.

Jade’s mother Katherine Kelly) works from home turning around stolen luxury items. She is also supported, up to a point, by her best friend. Jade’s ex is awaiting arrest for the assault on her, an act that has clearly reduced her potential to be an accomplished and sexually attractive woman. And Jade suffers from nightmares in which her ex sports a crow’s suit. Clearly the scars are psychological as well as physical

DoP Ruben Impens is unsparing, showing every detail, although some of the dream sequences are clunky. But this is clearly newcomer Knight film and she carries it with passion and honesty, raising the question: when does honesty becomes an embarrassment? After all, Knight is a real victim, but a feature film is still a work of fiction. It is not easy to decide where do come down in this argument. At best, the ambiguity is open to interpretation, with the audience making up their minds. AS

FROM 7 JUNE 2019 NATIONWIDE

 

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The Seven Last Words (2019) *** IFFR Rotterdam 2019

Dir.: Kaveh Nabatian, Ariane Lorrain, Sophie Goyette, Juan Andres Arango Garcia, Sophie Deraspe, Karl Lemieux, Caroline Monnert; Canada/Columbia/Haiti/Iran/USA 2018, 73 min.

Canadian filmmaker Kaveh Nabatian has always believed that music and film are inextricably linked: they form a unit, and he illustrates the point with this essay film. The seven chapters are underpinned by the music of The Seven Last Words of our Saviour on the Cross (1787) by Joseph Haydn, played by the Callino Quartet. 

Forgiveness; Salvation; Family; Abandonment; Distress; Triumph and Life after Death all relate to Jesus’ words in his last hours. The chapters are aesthetically very different, reaching from Fiction; Documentary; Experimenta; Magic Realism to a matter of fact conventional narrative. Perhaps most impressive is Distress, a mixture of on on-screen writing and theatrical pantomime. The walls are blood red, naked people pose in front of the dripping blood, and furniture is positioned in front of the walls as in an exhibition. Water is an element common to some essays: in the prologue a woman climbs into a plane which then soars into the sky over the ocean. She later opens the cabin door and jumps out, flying over the water like a bird, her white clothes making her look like a dove. In Triumph we see the same configuration: a boy at the sea front, a woman under water with doves flying above them. Haydn’s music carries The Seven Last Words, its dominance is the connection between the very diverse chapters which leave the interpretation to the audience. The remarkable images shock, inspire and amaze. A cinematic and meditative piece of filmmaking.

ROTTERDAM INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL | BRIGHT FUTURE PROGRAMME | 23 JANUARY – 3 FEBRUARY 2019

The Man Who Surprised Everyone (2018) **** IFFR Rotterdam 2019

Dir: Natasha Merkulova, Aleksey Chupov | Cast: Evgeniy Tsiganov, Natalya Kudryashowa, Yuriy Kuznetsov, Vasiliy Popov, Pavel Maykov, Aleksey Filimonov, Elena Voronchikhina, Maksim Vitorgan | Drama | Russia Estonia France | 105’

Russian directing duo Natasha Merkulova and Aleksey Chupov tackle a thorny subject with deftness in this classically styled and  surprisingly moving arthouse drama that had its premiere in the Orizzonti sidebar at Venice Film Festival 2018

LGBT issues are still viewed with hostility back home in Russia but the leads are completely convincing in their subtlely nuanced and solemn portrayal of a modern couple coping with extremely challenging conditions in a remote rural outpost.

Egor is a respectable family man who we first meet navigating his boat along the Siberian Taiga where he works as a forest ranger looking out for poachers. He and his wife Natalia are expecting their second child when Egor discovers he has terminal cancer but keeps his wife in the dark about his imminent death. But this is not the only secret the thoughtful middle-aged man harbours, and the filmmakers gradually draw us in establishing the couple’s joint and several feelings of joy for her, and mounting grief and unease for him: Egor must bear alone the double burden of his cancer trauma and his nascent sexual yearnings that will certainly require his wife’s forbearance. When he tells Natasha she persuades Egor to seek further help in looking for a cure. But no traditional medicine or shamanic magic can save him. Finally, left with no other option, he makes a desperate attempt to escape the reality of his death by channelling his feelings into self-identifying as a woman with initial alarm to his close community, followed by anger, disbelief and acceptance by Natasha, and we feel for both of them. His family and the local society now have to accept his new self.

Moody rain-soaked settings and subdued interiors add to the feeling of angst and quiet desperation as the couple struggle on trapped by poverty and Natasha’s ageing and ailing father in a scenario that will be feel familiar to many.

This is a grim and provocatively complex tale that needs clever handling and one that could have gone severely awry with disastrous consequences without the skill of a competent directing team. But instead clever scripting, skilful handling of the complex issues at stake and sensitive performances make for an absorbing feature and one with considerable dramatic heft as we wait for the startling denouement that requires a certain leap of faith but one that feels plausible and satisfying in the circumstances.MT

ROTTERDAM INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2019

Bangla (2019) *** Rotterdam Film Festival 2019

Dir: Phaim Bhuiyan | Drama | Italy | 90′

Phaim Bhuiyan’s endearing romcom Bangla has already been likened to last year’s standout hit The Big Sick, and it’s easy to see why. Strangely I actually preferred Bangla for its unassumingand disarming central character. And although the film lacks the star power of The Big Sick, this tale of young Bengali Muslim Phaim – who also directs from a script based on his experiences as a second-generation Italian, about falling for a feisty young Italian girl – is watchable and even quite funny, despite the rather clunky awkwardness of the twenty-something himself.

Directing-wise Phaim clearly has a lot to learn but he makes for a decent lovelorn ingenue alongside  the spunky Asia (a convincing turn from Carlotta Antonelli) who is instantly charmed by his cool reticence – which actually masks his desperate desire to get closer and more personal. He describes himself at one point as: “something in between, like a cappuccino – 50% Bengali, 50% Italian and 100% a Torpignattara guy”, referring to a melting pot of different nationalities in that corner of the Italian capital, and he clearly loves his home town and doesn’t want to move to London when his parents need to up stakes and join a new family business.  .

But his observations and nouse is spot-on for a cool Roman dude. And we certainly feel for him when he struggles to explain his feelings of lust and love for this totally unsuitable and forbidden playmate in the shape of Asia. Clearly, Phaim is caught between his own instincts and his those of his   traditional parents. The scenes showing his love hate relationship with his sister work particularly well and there’s a vulnerability and truth to their sibling rivalry that certainly rings true. There are also some nods to rampant racial prejudice that are sadly all too familiar. By no means perfect but a promising first effort, Bhuiyan takes his own story and develops it with this decent debut that has an honesty to it and some really funny lines. Let’s hope his next project builds on his promising start with with Bangla. MT

ROTTERDAM INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2019

Edgar Pêra – A genuine original | Retrospective IFFR 2019

There is no filmmaker like Edgar Pêra (b.1960). His work may be an acquired taste but it is always inventive and Avant-garde referencing his heroes in creative ways and keeping the past alive. The Portuguese auteur often pays tribute to Dziga Vertov, Branquinho da Fonseca and Fernando Pessoa – but always in an ingenious way – transforming their ideas into bizarre and refreshing features, some will screen in a retrospective at the Rotterdam International Film festival 2019

Edgar Henrique Clemente Pêra first studied psychology, but soon realised his vocation in Film at the Portuguese National Conservatory, currently Lisbon Theatre and Film School.  But it was the work of Russian director Dziga Vertov that made him pick up a camera in 1985, and his strange visual style and quirky dark humour found an outlet in twisted arthouse fare that is completely unique. He has made over 100 films for cinema, TV, theatre dance, cine-concerts, galleries, internet and other media, and his latest mystery drama Caminhos Magnetiykos screens at Rotterdam International Film Festival in 2019.

His love of music influenced his work in the mid 1980s, and he filmed Portuguese rock bands in a Neo-realist, ‘neuro-punk’ style. In 1988, Pêra shot a film in the Ruins of Chiado, a neighbourhood in the heart of Lisbon, decimated by a large fire that year. In 1990 Reproduta Interdita was shown at the Portuguese Horror Film Festival, Fantasporto. In 1991, his documentary short raised the profile of Portuguese modernist architect Cassiano Branco – The City of Cassiano, (Grand Prix Festival Films D’Architecture Bordeaux). But from thereon his penchant for the weird and radically different took over.

In 1994, Pêra’s first fiction feature Manual de Evasão LX 94/Manual of Evasion (for Lisbon 1994 Capital of Culture), channelled the aesthetic legacy of soviet constructivist silent films, with what the filmmaker called “a neuro-punk way of creating and capturing instantaneous reality”. The film has divided the critics in Portugal and abroad. It will be also screened at the retrospective Rotterdam Film Festival 2019.

In 1996 Edgar Pêra started an ambitious project which would take four years to edit. The surreal comedy feature entitled, A Janela (Maryalva Mix)/The Window (Don Juan Mix), premiered at the Locarno Festival in 2001. From then on Pêra’s work, veered towards a more emotional style, but still kept the emphasis on non-realist aesthetics and eccentric humour. Pêra’s 2006 retrospective at Indie Lisboa won the festival prizes for Best Feature, Best cinematography and Audience Award: Running at just over an hour,: Movimentos Perpétuos/Perpetual Movements is a cine-tribute to legendary Portuguese guitar composer and player Carlos Paredes. Critic and programmer Olaf Möller wrote that “Pêra is too different from everything which we regard as ‘correct’, ‘valid’ within the culture of film, ‘realistic’ in a cinematic, socio-political way. Put more precisely: Edgar Pêra is different from everything that we know about Portugal”.

O Barão  is an adaptation of Branquinho da Fonseca’s short story, premiering in 2011 at the International Film Festival Rotterdam it won the Gold Donkey Award. In 2011 he also started experimenting with the 3D format. His most controversial film yet, Cinesapiens is a short drama, a segment of 3x3D , described by our critic Michael Pattison as “an assaultive triptych that caused walkouts when it premiered at Cannes in 2013”. It forms part of a trio with two other films by Jean-Luc Godard and Peter Greenaway at La Semaine de la Critique in Cannes.

In 2014 Pêra directed two 3D films, Stillness and Lisbon Revisited. Stillness was considered by many as  “astonishingly offensive”. Lisbon Revisited, with words by Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa, premiered at the Locarno Festival. Pera’s first commercial success came in 2014 with pop comedy feature Virados do Avesso/Turned Inside Out. This was followed by Espectador Espantado/The Amazed Spectator, a “kino-investigation about spectatorship” which premiered at Rotterdam Film Festival, 2016 and was also the title of his PhD thesis. In 2016 his Delirium in Las Vedras, about the Portuguese Carnival in Torres Vedras, premiered in Rotterdam and São Paulo 2017.  And in 2018, O Homem-Pykante Diálogos Kom Pimenta, about the poet Alberto Pimenta, was shown for the first time at IndieLisboa. Caminhos Magnéticos/Magnethick Pathways, starring Dominique Pinon, will also be shown during his retrospective this year at Rotterdam International Film Festival.

ROTTERDAM INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | 23 JANUARY – 3 FEBRUARY 2019

The Baron (2011) O Barao *** | IFFR Rotterdam 2019

Dir: Edgar Pêra   Script: Luis Costa Gomes  Novel: Branquinho da Fonseca |Cast: Nuno Mela, Marcos Barbosa, Leonor Keil, Marina Albuquerque | 94mins   Portugal   Neuro-Gothic Horror

Dark, demonic and weirdly witty: Edgar Pera’s The Baron is an experiment in neuro-Gothic horror based on the novel by Branquinho da Fonseca and inspired by a film destroyed in the 1940s by the Fascist dictatorship under Salaza – who in the same amusing vein met his death falling off a deckchair.

Edgar Pêra shot the images and then apparently waited for the footage to lead his imagination into a world of ghastly horror surrounding a visit of a school inspector to the strange and beastlike Baron played masterfully by his longtime collaborator Nuno Melo whose hypnotic chant ‘Aqui Quem Manda Sou Eu’ (I’m the one in charge here) will haunt you, pavlonian-style long after the closing titles roll.

To Edgar Pêra sound is a vital element in his films: here in this low budget piece, the soundtrack is crucial in conjuring up a highly mystifying atmosphere to a simple storyline that echoes Mary Shelly’s Dracula. Pêra has Costa Gomes’s script to hand but uses it for reference only so the dialogue is largely improvised. The Baron himself is a Portuguese Nosferatu with Nuno Melo’s butch bone structure playing the leading role in contrast to Klaus Kinski shard-like talons and tombstone teeth. Rather than a hovering, tentative ghoul, he has a frighteningly dominatingly physicality and Kafkaesque presence and is clearly also a womaniser strangely under the thumb of his maid Idalina, played with succubus-like charm by Leonor Keil. If you do get a chance to see this one, grab it! MT

NOW SCREENING AT ROTTERDAM FILM FESTIVAL 2019| The Baron won the Gold Donkey at Rotterdam Film Festival 2011 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rotterdam Film Festival | 23 January – 3 February 2019

Rotterdam is one of the largest shipping ports in Europe and forms part of the prosperous oil-trading triangle known as ARA, along with Amsterdam and Antwerp. Rotterdam is the cradle of Modernism from the 1930s onwards and although it was almost completely destroyed during the Second World War (apart from the iconic Sonneveld House Museum which still remains, built in the Nieuwe Bouwen style). The vibrant Dutch city takes pride in its Avant garde and Art Nouveau architecture and buildings such as the Cube House (left), Kunsthal Museum and the Erasmusbrug Bridge (below) making it a magnet for design lovers – and cineastes alike.

This year’s Rotterdam Film Festival takes place from 23 January until the 3rd February with the latest World premieres running alongside 4 sections entitled Bright Future, Voices, Deep Focus and Perspectives – and a cutting-edge arts programme to add a cultural dimension to the 10 days, and this year includes SLEEPCINEMAHOTEL a one off project by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, and never before seen outtakes from Sergei Parajanov’s masterpiece The Colour of Pomegranates (196

The 2019 jury comprises Chilean filmmaker and artist Alfredo Jaar; Daniela Michel, festival director of Morelia Film Festival; Katriel Schory, former director of the Israel Film Fund; Pimpaka Towira, Thai filmmaker/producer and programme director of Singapore Film Festival; and Italian filmmaker Susanna Nicchiarelli. The festival’s Big Screen Competition awards a prize of €30,000 to its winning director whose film will be guaranteed a theatrical release in the Netherlands, as be broadcast on the Dutch public TV network NPO.

Sacha Polak’s Dirty God will open the festival.

T  I G E R   C O M P E T I T I O N

Sons Of Denmark, Ulaa Salim, 2019, Denmark, world premiere

No coração do mundo, Gabriel Martins Alves/Maurílio Martins, 2019, Brazil, world premiere

Take Me Somewhere Nice, Ena Sendijarević, 2019, Netherlands/Bosnia and Herzegovina, world premiere (left)

Present.Perfect., Shengze Zhu, 2019, USA/Hong Kong, world premiere

Sheena667, Grigory Dobrygin, 2019, Russia, world premiere

Nona. If They Soak Me, I’ll Burn Them, Camila José Donoso, 2019, Chile/Brazil/France/South Korea, world premiere

Koko-di Koko-da, Johannes Nyholm, 2018, Sweden/Denmark, international premiere

Els dies que vindran, Carlos Marqués-Marcet, 2019, Spain, world premiere

B I G   S C R E E N   C O M P E T I T I O N

Bangla, Phaim Bhuiyan, 2019, Italy, world premiere

The Best of Dorien B., Anke Blondé, 2019, Belgium, world premiere

God of the Piano, Itay Tal, 2019, Israel, world premiere

Hail Satan?, Penny Lane, 2018, USA, international premiere

Joel, Carlos Sorín, 2018, Argentina, European premiere

Queen of Hearts, May el-Toukhy, 2019, Denmark, European premiere

Transnistra, Anna Eborn, 2018, Sweden, world premiere

X&Y, Anna Odell, 2018, Sweden/Denmark, international premiere

ROTTERDAM FILM FESTIVAL | 23 JANUARY – 3 FEBRUARY 2019 

The Return (2018) | **** London Korean Film Festival

Dir: Malene Choi | Writer: Sissel Dalsgaard Thomsen | With Thomas Hwan, Karoline Sofie Lee | Doc | Denmark | 85′

Two Danish-Korean adoptees return for the first time to the country of their birth in search of their origins, in this refreshingly thoughtful and quietly devastating arthouse documentary debut from Malene Choi. Based on her own experiences THE RETURN is a stunningly photographed and touchingly resonant meditation on destiny and identity, nature and nurture. Muted visuals and Philip Nicolai Flindt’s subtle sound design lend a dreamlike quality of mystery and alienation to this contemplative study of two young people uprooted from Denmark, the country that has become their home and where they have grown up, and returned to their original their birth lands. Despite this yearned for homecoming, they somehow feel disorientated and thrown into confusion in the search for their biological parents. Both internalise their feelings into discrete expressions of loss, anxiety and sadness. So locked away is their private grief, that they often admit to feeling nothing, but the trauma clearly lives within them, hidden deep in their souls.

Thomas’s story is particularly harrowing as it emerges during the emotionally-charged first meeting with his birth mother that he was actually conceived after a one night stand. Clearly he is devastated, but remains dignified in front of his mother, suppressing the trauma that slowly seeps out in dramatic physical expressions during a trip around Seoul  – together with Karoline, where they both let off steam by going boating together and enjoy cocktails. For her part Karoline is less emotionally buttoned up but equally traumatised, especially during a meeting with a hospital adviser who tries to help but simply lacks the necessary resources to further the Korean girl’s inquiries. Clearly she is angry, but also disappointed.

Without resorting to sentimentality or even attempting to create a falsely romantic narrative arc, Choi paints a realistic and utterly convincing portrait of two people who cannot go forward until they have gone back – with satisfaction and closure. MT

ROTTERDAM INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | Now SCREENING DURING London Korean FILM FESTIVAL 2018

Pin Cushion (2017)***

Dir: Deborah Haywood | Cast: Lily Newmark, Joana Scanlan | UK | Drama |

The age-old subject of bullying is tackled here with tender aplomb by first time writer director Deborah Haywood in her poignant mother daughter buddy movie currently doing the festival rounds and now at Rotterdam International Film Festival.

Iona (Lily Newmark) and her mother Lyn (Joana Scanlan) are trying for a fresh start in a new town, but their close relationship soon comes under pressure largely due to Lyn’s physical challenges, causing Iona to retreat into her own fantasy world in a bid to escape the constant teasing and ridicule from schoolfriends. The deftly entitled PIN CUSHION is very much a contemporary tale highlighting the often claustrophobic nature of today’s nuclear family where mothers often see their world entirely through their daughter’s experiences rather than reaching out for emotional and intellectual fulfilment in their own peer group, partner or even the workplace. While we have every sympathy for Lyn (Scanlan), her life totally revolves around Iona – they share the same hobbies, and even a bed! Not only does this cramp Iona’s style by preventing her developing at school with kids her own age, but it also discourages her mother from reaching out to contacts in her local community which could in turn benefit both mother and daughter, lending her more respect all round. Scanlan’s brilliant performance as a kindly and caring parent is what really makes PIN CUSHION so enjoyable as an insightful look inside the brutally miserable world of the bullied and abused. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE

Jonaki (2018) * * * * | Rotterdam International Film Festival

Dir.: Aditya Vikram Sengupta; Cast: Lolita Chatterjee, Ratnabali Bhattacharjee, Sumanto Chattopadhyay, Jim Sarbh; India/France/Singapore 2018, 97’.

Director/writer Aditya Vikram Sengupta follows his impressive debut Labour of Love with another love story set in a decaying world after the British left India and featuring a great comeback from 81 year old actress Lolita Chatterjee in the title role. Elliptical structure JONAKI (meaning firefly in Bengali) incorporates episodes from the life of beloved grandmother whose arranged marriage at the age of sixteen ruined her life.

Lying on her deathbed in hospital, Jonaki is lost in memories recalling the love her life, a young Christian man (Sarbh) she was forbidden to see by her strict mother (Bhattacharjee) and father (Chattopadhyay). Her parents want her to marry a rich man who runs his own business, and owns a local cinema. During British rule, Kolkata was made the capital of the “Jewel in the Crown”, that lead to the Indian upper classes in the city becoming quite wealthy: The magnificent locations featured in the film now look like a mixture of Buñuel’s Viridiana and Mrs. Havisham’s mansion in Great Expectations. But the old glory is gradually falling into decay, and Jonaki feels imprisoned in her home. Sengupta acts as his own DoP, creating ethereal and otherworldly images underlined by a unusual casting choices: Jonaki’s parents seem to be the same age as she was in her teens and early adulthood – whilst she is now eighty, and is criticised and often punished by much younger protagonists. Only her lover is the same age as she is, accentuating their spiritual bond.

There is a surreal and eerie quality running through this distinctive drama: In the dormitory of a girl’s Christian boarding school, the girls’ sleeping patterns sleep are synchronised, we also come across an orange-loving scientist who dreams of England and grows a horn on his forehead, which he later burns off. The local cinema is destroyed by fire, and is then replaced by a modern version – without seating. In the boarding school, oranges roll out of the rooms into the corridor; Sengupta partitions these rooms with glass walls and coloured windows, to allow the action to unfold simultaneously. At one point, we see poor Jonaki listening to her parents discussing her difficult behaviour in a room next door.

Jonaki falls between genres; the  viewer is drawn in and memerised by the ravishing images, the continuously changing lights and shadows. The episodic narrative is stringent, working like memory itself – meandering, reminiscing, leaving threads and picking them up again later. Sengupta offers his own cinematic vision, unique in todays’s so often predictable film landscape – and is all the better for it.AS

WORLD PREMIERE AT ROTTERDAM INTERNATIONAL  FESTIVAL UNTIL 4 FEBRUARY 2018

 

 

Have you Seen the Listers? *** (2018) | Rotterdam International Film Festival

Dir.: Eddie Martin; Documentary with Anthony Lister, Anika Lister, Kye Lister, Lola Lister, Molly Lister | Doc | Australia 2017, 87′

Rarely have form and content been so complimentary as here in Eddie Martin’s (Lionel) documentary about the installation and graffiti artist Anthony Lister and his family. Editor Johanna Scott puts the whole project on fast-forward – very much in keeping with an artist whose lifestyle is a non-stop, emotional mayhem.

Anthony Lister (*1979) studied at the Queensland College of Art under Max Gimblett and was awarded a BA in 2002. As a teenager in Brisbane he had already starting developing graffiti into an art form. “Being as reckless as possible” was the headline under which he painted and lived. His wife Anika – the couple has three children – bore the brunt of Anthony’s hectic life, more often than not fuelled by drugs and alcohol. He dedicated his first exhibition in Brisbane (2001) to his grandmother, who encouraged him to paint after his father has left the family just before Anthony’s sixth birthday – a transgression the artist would later repeat himself. Soon he earned good money, and bought a house for his family in Brisbane – only to leave for New York, because “Brisbane was too small for me”. In his Brooklyn studio he engaged his family in his work (“We were a team”), we can watch Kye and Lola painting on the pavement in front of the house. Soon Anthony was exhausted, and the family returned to Brisbane where his murals were much admired until the council painted over them – and would later fine him for the graffiti work they had ask him to create.

Lister then set off to New York and Miami again, missing his family, but living the life of a free artist – while Anika was left to look after the children alone. London, Italy and Paris followed, before yet another return to the family in Brisbane. His work is often centred very much around his children, his super-heroes and villains delighted him as much as his off-spring. But he craved the life with mates in the art set, and Anika was written slowly out of his life. Feeling this estrangement, Anthony took his family on a long camping holiday beside the ocean, followed by a moved to Sydney, where they lived in a four-storey house which was more like a squatters hideout, than a family home but suited Lister down to the ground. At this point, Anika cleared on and left him with the children. leaving Anthony’s life out of control: he was arrested in New York and appeared to be“blind to the needs of his children and wife”. Work provided compensation. But in reality his selfish concerns would have an impact on the family he neglected but very much needed.

Most of the family story is told by the Super-8 and video films Anthony and Anika shot during their relationship. These portray a recalcitrant artist crying whilst painting his family on canvas. Lister is his own harshest critic – although he continually falls back on his promises, sharing aJekyll and Hyde personality with countless men who have not grown up emotionally – allowed their to suffer for the art the public adores. A deeply disturbing portrait of a self-destructive creator. AS

ROTTERDAM INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL | 24 JANUARY – 4 FEBRUARY 2018 | International Premiere

Mes Nuits Feront Echo (Still Night, Still Light) | Rotterdam International Film Festival 2017

Dir.: Sophie Goyette | Cast: Eliane Prefontaine, Gerardo Trejoluna, Felipe Casanova; Canada/Mexico | Drama | 98 min | 2016

First time director/writer/editor/producer Sophie Goyette has created her own universe with this evocative feature, which is best described as a dreamy poem about love, loss, longing and music. The Canadian director, whose short films have been shown at all major film festivals, has successfully moved the boundaries: Mes Nuits allows us to see through the cracks of human nature in a reverie that is half dream, half reality.

The characters linger, we only get glimpses of them, but music, in many forms, is the connecting element. Debut DoP Lena Mill-Reulliard’s images heighten an atmosphere of yearning; colours dissolve delicately as tunnels and railways link the transience of the narrative. The nature scenes have a strong link to the poetry of Hermann Hesse. But the overall impression is elusive: Goyette has developed a film language which feels quite unique and unlike more conventional films.

Set in Montreal and Mexico, the film is divided into three chapters, in the first we meet Eliane (Préfontaine, who also composed the score), sitting in a Montreal garden in a ‘princess’ costume, entertaining a group of young girls at a birthday party. The atmosphere is somewhat unreal, the staging feels like we are watching a dream: this is the consistent element through the whole film. But after the ‘performance’, when talking to the host of the birthday party, Eliane gives us clues about herself: she wanted to go to the conservatoire to study singing but although her voice was up to the challenge she had never learnt how to read music, never mind score a melody played by a pianist during the examination. “I gave in an empty sheet with my name on it”.  Clearly there are reasons for this : Eliane has lost her parents in an accident, and she has not come to terms with it. To put some distance between herself and the trauma she travels to Mexico where she takes up residence in a house owned by the middle- aged Romes (Trejoluna), whose son she is teaching piano.

Once in Mexico, Eliane feels threatened by her new surroundings: “Mexico is hot, dangerous”. But she stays, and visits an open-air concert with Romes, where music by the German Baroque composer Johann Pachelbel transports her to another level – a fairy tale featuring an ancient dog. Romes has learned his English from watching American TV, and their communication is often difficult. Nevertheless, they seem to be at peace with each other. Elaine then talks about Chopin’s lifelong  depression, and we learn that he dedicated his last composition to his doctor. Eliane and Romes visit a mystical place called Cutemaco, where Romes has spent magical holidays as a child.

The focus then switches to Romes, who has lost his mother two years previously and still yearns for her. They talk on the phone together, but we don’t know if this is Romes’ dream or past reality. Romes is married, but we never see his wife, as he grows more and more morose. He is also troubled by the relationship with his father Pablo (Casanova), whom he accuses of having been cold towards his mother. He visits the old man in a care home, and they suddenly decide to visit China, “because we don’t have much time left”. In an unnamed metropolis in China, Pablo then becomes the central figure of the third chapter and as the denouement unspools, Romes’ story becomes clearer. Utterly unique and spellbinding. AS

MES NUITS FERONT ÉCHO by Sophie Goyette wins Impact Cinema Bright Future Award

SCREENING AS PART OF THE CINEMA BRIGHT FUTURE STRAND | INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL ROTTERDAM | 25 JANUARY – 5 FEBRUARY 2017

 

Rotterdam Film Festival | Award Winners 2016

796_392x221ROTTERDAM INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL kicked off on 27th January in the Dutch major shipping port. Of the 250 features on offer, over 100 were world or international premieres. We’d like to point you in the direction of some worth watching out for in the 10-day jamboree and the coming year. All the winners are here 

 5 OCTOBER Polish director and photographer Martin Kollár’s cinematography is the reason to see this impressive documentary debut. What unfolds in this silent story of a man preparing for life-changing surgery is an absolutely captivating journey across Europe shot with great verve, tenderness and humour. 5 OCTOBER features the director’s 52-year-old brother Ján in centre frame with a moving narration comprised only of postcards, mementos and the relentless count-down that rises up unimpeded from his journal. With a “flip of the coin” probability of surviving a necessary but very complicated surgery, Ján embarks on his own Easy Rider momento mori odyssey as we slowly discover what he’s running away from.

038_392x221ALBA is an extraordinary debut from Ecuadorian director Ana Cristina Barragan. Macarena Arias is the standout here as a pre-teenage girl who goes to live with her solitary father while her mother is in hospital. Barragan tackles themes of bullying, relationships and shyness as Alba (Arias) is forced to bear the humiliation of frequent nosebleeds and wearing a corset to straighten her crooked spine. With minimal dialogue, a tentative bond slowly develops between daughter and father as Alba blossoms cautiously. This strikingly mature and poignant debut comes from a country that until the beginning of this century had only made one film a year. Young leading actress Macarena Arias is one to keep an eye on. She manages to bring a rare intensity to this tender coming of age tale.

490_392x221BELLA E PERDUTA  A paean to Italy’s faded glory, this poetic imagined drama and essayist documentary is set in magical Carditello Palace, once owned by the Bourbon dynasty. The fictional clown Pulcinella comes across the real-life Tommaso, self-appointed guardian angel of the palace. Evokes the decaying splendour of Italy’s rich and magnetic past.

The Palace is in decay and has been stripped clean by plunderers. The local farmer Tommaso earned his nickname ‘Angel of Carditello’ by guarding the estate and restoring it out of his own pocket. Documentary maker Pietro Marcello saw here the start of a journey through the provinces of Italy in which he would examine the state of his country: stunningly beautiful yet in decay. But when Tommaso suddenly dies, this true-life fairytale comes to an abrupt end, pushing Marcello in a new direction. He introduces the crazy Pulcinella, a figure from 17th-century commedia dell’arte, anglicised as Punch. A journey that is smaller in scale yet greater in effect than the journey Marcello first wanted to make.

dejanSerbian director Bakur Bakuradze grew up in Georgia and studied in Russia. In BROTHER DEJAN He bases his central character loosely on the Bosnian-Serbian General Ratko Mladic, but sidesteps important issues of politics in order to explore those such as good and evil. Much more important in this sober and observing story is the question: Can a man like Stanic really start to understand in his last years of life? BROTHER DEJAN explores several months from the life of Dejan Stanic, a general wanted for war crimes during the Yugoslavian Civil War. At first managing to stay out of the hands of justice, he flees to neighbouring Slovenia with the help of his old compatriots, due to political changes. With his heavy beard and slovenly appearance, no one recognises Dejan Stanic as the one-time war hero/criminal. A simple excuse is enough for him to be able to move around an isolated mountain village in relative peace; he pretends to be an old friend of one of the inhabitants, Slavko, whom he supposedly met many years ago at a health resort. Slavko’s house is his last hiding place before Dejan finally leaves the country. The loneliness forces him to start thinking, for the very first time, about his own past.

21_NIGHTS_WITH_PATTI_hotpants21 NIGHTS WITH PATTIE is an intriguing title for a film that blends black comedy with fantasy and magic realism. Arnaud and Jean-Marie Larrieu’s provocatively entitled Vingt et Une Nuits Avec Pattie certainly rolls off the tongue better in French, but this is a tricky tale to digest in any language, and after two longs hours and a final act that lets it all hang out, you may well come away wishing the brothers had left it at that: a boozy French drama with a touch of ‘Midsomer Murders’ and a dash of discretion.

Plunging into the bosky hillsides of Languedoc Rousillion, Caroline (Isabelle Carré) arrives at her mother’s bohemian retreat on a blazing hot August day. The two were not close in real life and her mother is now lying ‘in wake’ in the cool stone cottage, and Caroline must arrange her funeral. Despite this morbid event, the tone is light-hearted; almost jubilant and even more so when she meets Pattie (Karin Viard) the caretaker and best described as ‘une femme mûre’, who regales her with explicit tales of her recent sexual conquests with various local lads. Later on the corpse of her mother disappears, leading to a police investigation that drifts into a Savannah-style ghost story and an erotic awakening for the bewildered Parisienne.

11 minut 2 copyBest described as a suspense thriller, 11 MINUTES explores themes of fate and paranoia. Set in the sweeping urban spaces of contemporary Warsaw, it could also be entitled Crossover, dealing, as it does, with eleven minutes in the lives of a random bunch of characters whose lives collide in the centre of the capital. Wildly frenetic and octane-fuelled, the action unfurls chaotically with moments of surreal beauty and hard-edged passion. Invasion of privacy insinuates the narrative in the shape of security cameras, webcams and mobile phones which track the protagonists during this frenzied few minutes of precision filmmaking.

Thrilling, bewildering and at times quite exhausting to take in, Skolimowski’s dramatic storyline is not the most involving or satisfying of experiences. Like a vintage wine, this is a multi-layered tour de force whose infinite subtleties will emerge with each viewing. The mesmerising set-pieces are brilliantly crafted and certainly amongst the most extraordinary action sequences ever committed to film. The final moments are simply breath-taking and mark out Jerzy Skolimowski as a director who, after 50 years, is still quite clearly at the top of his game. MT

450_392x221Locarno FIPRESCI winner SUITE ARMORICAINE sees directori Pascale Breton returning to her birthplace in Rennes, Britanny where her main character Françoise (Valérie Dréville) intends to teach at the university. Evoking memories of her lively time as a student by clever use of flashbacks and archive footage, Breton lengthy narrative explores the relationship between Francoise and a student Ion (Kaou Langoët), who, for less nostalgic reasons, is there forget his troubled childhood. But teacher and student turn out to have more in common than expected. Stunningly set in the the heavily forested Breton landscape, Breton’s story switching between the two protagonists and it slowly becomes clear how much they are linked together. Key moments are shown twice, from the perspective of the teacher and of the student. This results in a personal and nostalgic story with avant-garde elements. A dreamy constellation in which Pascale Breton muses and reflects on the time when mobile phones had not yet been invented. MT

ROTTERDAM INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 27 JANUARY UNTIL 7 FEBRUARY 2015

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