Posts Tagged ‘Semaine de la Critique’

The Southern Brides | Las Novias del Sur (2024) CANNES FILM FESTIVAL

Dir: Elena Lopez Riera | Spain, 40′

Las Novias del Sur premieres in the Queer Palm competition at this year’s 77th CANNES FILM FESTIVAL. It’s another unique snapshot of life in Southern Spain from Elena Lopez Riera who has carved out a niche for herself with similar ethnographical fare such as El Agua (2022), Those Who Lust and The Entrails.

Screening during Cannes Critics’ Week Southern Brides features the stories of various mature women who discuss their intimate experiences of love and marriage from the middle of the last century. Whether positive or negative this emotional heritage provides a shared history for themselves and their future generations.

Lopez Riera, who is unmarried and childless by choice, comes to the realisation that this vital thread connecting her to the future is missing, setting her adrift in the Universe.

Whereas the recent Costa Rica documentary Memories of a Burning Body (2024) focused on the sense of freedom and self-realisation middle age entailed for a group of now single women, here the director combines interviews with archive footage to craft a documentary where the accent is more on the personal voyage of discovery gleaned from sharing these sometimes poignant and riveting revelations. @MeredithTaylor



Dalva (2022)

Dir: Emmanuelle Nicot; Cast: Zelda Samson, Alexis Manenti, Fanta Guirassi, Sandrine Blancke, Jean-Louis Coulloc’h; Belgium/France 2022, 85 min.

Emmanuelle Nicot wrote and directed this audacious first feature about a sensitive twelve-year old girl, the titular Dalva (Sansom), who has been sexually groomed by her incestuous father, the two sharing an intimate and outwardly loving relationship, more like lovers rather than father and daughter.

Nicot’s skills as a casting agent are key to her successful drama: Samson is totally convincing in the role of the outwardly shy and vulnerable young girl who has the assured gracefulness of a Geisha girl, knowing how to play every man she meets. Dressed titillatingly in lacy black dresses, drop earrings and stockings, she has clearly been a target for paedophile clients and the film’s violent opening scenes witness her being forcefully separated from her father (Coulloc’h) who has literally kept her to himself, moving rapidly from place to place, to escape the authorities, and her mother (Blancke).

She arrives, kicking and screaming, at the foyer for vulnerable females demanding to be re-united with her father. When she is told by her new carer Jayden (Manenti) that he abused her sexually, she claims: “But I never said no”. Isolated from the other girls, she tries several times to escape, and these scenes picture her negotiating walls in slinky evening dress. Brought back to the home, she befriends Samia (first timer Guirassi) who has been raised by a negligent sex-worker mother, the two offering each other complementary tips on how to survive the rough and tumble of the institution.

But Dalva has not given up the idea of seeing her father again, and she tries to manipulate Jayden with inappropriate sexual overtures, trying to seduce him into being a second father figure. Finally, the authorities give in, and Dalva is allowed to visit her father in jail, accompanied by Jayden. In a moving vignette, her father admits to being a paedophile abuser, destroying Dalva’s world for good.

Nicot directs with assurance, guiding Samson through the often upsetting confrontations. DoP Caroline Guimbal captures the ‘female gaze’ with her delicate images of Dalva’s interpretation of mature womanhood, keeping to the role her father has groomed her for, to perfection. It’s a performance within a performance. The close-ups of Dalva are particularly evocative, Samson has that rare ability of conveying strong emotion without over-acting, quite an achievement for one so young.

But Nicot is also honest enough to show the reasons for Dalva’s insistence at being a “wife” to her father, who is acting out against her mother, still frantically searching for Dalva. This portrait of evil shows a father poisoning his daughter against his ex-wife in allowing Dalva to believe she has succeeded in replacing her mother – just to make her even more malleable to his illicit intentions. Dalva takes the audience on a strange psychological journey: the long and painful way back to girlhood, after the enforced role of being an ‘adult’ sex object. Passionate, provocative and brilliantly executed.


Litigante (2019) **** Curzon | Edinborough Film Festival 2020

Dir.: Franco Lolli; Cast: Carolina Sanin, Leticia Gomez, Antonio Martinez, Vladimir Duran, Alejandra Sarria; France/Columbia 2019, 95 min.

South America is delivering some really good films at the moment and Colombian filmmaker Franco Lolli (Gente de Bien) continues the trend with LITIGANTE. Aiming successfully for psychological hyper-realism it centres on an upper-middle class family where mother and daughter, both top-lawyers, argue each other, quite literally, to death.

Middle-aged Silvia (Sanin) is having a hard time: as chief lawyer for the public works department in Columbia’s capital Bogota, her boss has implicated her in a scandal. On the local radio she holds her own against the host Abel (Duran), and then bumps into him later at a party where he apologises. The two end up in bed, but other conflicts threaten to overwhelm Silvia: her controlling mother Letitia (Gomez) is dying of lung cancer, but is still very much in fighting mood as far as her daughter is concerned, even from her deathbed. When Letitia complains about her relationship with Abel: “he took you down in front of the entire population of Bogota in that interview”, exasperated Silvia exclaims: “You never want me to have a life that’s independent from yours”.

Then Silvia’s pre-school son Antonio (Martinez) has a tantrum, destroying toys and endangering other children. Apparently the other kids are bullying him about not having a father. And this is all because his mother refused to admit that his biological father, a high-ranking judge, actually sired her son. Silvia doesn’t even get on with the family’s housekeeper  ‘Majo’ and so her budding relationship with Able collapses even before getting off the ground.

Lolli manages the turmoil with great aplomb, creating a scenario where high octane emotional output is the norm. We watch Silvia and Letitia competing for the role of victim, trying to make each feel guilty in a classic family dynamic. Their sparring is the raison d’être of their lives – in a perverse way, they enjoy it. 

Litigante is not only much more honest than Cuaron’s Roma, it also has a stronger dramatic impact and a more convincing cast, led by the indomitable Carolina Sanin, who seemingly conquers all. DoP Pablo Romero Garcia uses handheld close-ups of the warring factions and his panoramic shots of Bogota evoke the chaos of a family in crisis.


Nuestras Madres (2019)

Dir: Cesar Dias | Guatemala/Bel/France | 75′  | World Premiere |

Guatemalan filmmaker Cesar Diaz is known for his documentary Why Do Humans Burn? (2010) commemorating the massacre of 32 Guatemalan civilians during the country’s 1980s Civil War, and his work on Jayro Bustamente’s multi award-winning drama Ixcanul (2015).

Diaz returns to the subject of civil war in his debut drama Nuestras Madres that screens in the Semaine de la Critique sidebar during Cannes Film Festival 2019. During the first ten years of the civil war, the victims of the state-sponsored terror were primarily students, workers, professionals, and opposition figures, but in the last years they were thousands of mostly rural Mayan farmers. More than 450 Maya villages were destroyed and over 1 million people became refugees, or were displaced within Guatemala. Diaz sets his drama against the backdrop of the ongoing trial of the military officers accused of inciting unrest and causing the death of these ordinary villagers. As testimonials pour in from neighbouring villages, Ernesto (Armando Espitia/Heli), a young anthropologist at the Forensic Foundation in Guatemala City, is tasked with taking statements from the victim’s families and identifying people who have gone missing. But when an old lady’s turns up, claiming to have lost her husband Mateo, Ernesto thinks he has found a lead that will allow him to find his own father, a Marxist guerillero who disappeared during the war and who has never been put to rest. His fight for the truth is vehemently apposed by his boss at the Foundation, who wants the past to stay in the past. But it also helps Ernesto to grow closer to his mother (Emma Dib). Part ethnographical study, part drama Nuestras Madres is set in and around the country’s magnificent mountain and volcanic countryside (Guatemala has 37 volcanos, of which 3 are active), Nuestras Madres is a straightforward but affecting story about the plight of thousands of Guatemalans who went missing, and whose story has never been told. MT


Heroes Don’t Die (2019) **** Semaine de la Critique 2019

Dir.: Aude Léa Rapin; Cast: Couzinè Haenel, Antonia Buresi, Jonathan Couzinè, Hasija Boric, Vesna Stilinovic; France, Belgium, Bosnia Herzegovina 2019, 85 min.

Aude Léa Rapin’s feature debut drama is certainly a unique undertaking. Led by a terrific performance from Adele Haenel (The Unknown Girl) it explores re-incarnation, hope and forgiveness to deliver a passionate conclusion amid the emotional ruins of war.

The films opens with Joachim (Jo) (Couzinè) bursting into the Parisian apartment of his filmmaker friend Alice (Haenel), to report that he might be the reincarnation of a solider who died in Bosnia in August 1983 –  Joachim’s own birthday. Or at least that’s what he has just been told by a man on the street corner. It soon emerges that Alice has spent a long time looking into the aftermath of the Balkan crisis which led to the breakup of Yugoslavia. But she’s not convinced about Joachim’s claims, or his ‘nightmares’ about his military past. Jo is adamant that these are no ordinary bad dreams. So Alice packs her filmmaking equipment and sets off with her sound designer Antonia (Buresi) to Sarajevo, hoping to find a basis for Jo’s former identity as Zoran Tadic, only to discover that the tragedy is by no means over.

On entering the suburbs, they find the mass graves of the victims, with new bodies buried in small coffins – the identifications of victims still going on – often more than 8000 civilians were killed per day. Alice accuses Jo of having made it all up, but then she remembers that a cardiologist did say that Jo could die at any moment after his 35th birthday due to a chronic heart condition. They meet one of Alice’s former sources who takes them to the – now – dilapidated bob sleigh track, used at the Sarajevo Olympics in 1984. They learn, that the track was once the frontline between the two war factions. Later they meet Hajra (Boric), another of Alice’s acquaintances from her war time reporting. And soon she discovers that a beekeeper living on the outskirts of the town of Brutonac, had a husband called Zoran Tadic, who was a soldier in the war. Here the finale is both devastating and breath-taking.

This is a moody, enigmatic drama touched by eternal sadness and Haenel keeps it all together as the deus ex machina of this experiment in poetry, essay and history lesson all rolled in to one. In the end, the audience has to decide if re-incarnation is simple a device for escaping from our sins.AS


The Unknown Saint (2019) **** Semaine de la Critique 2019

Dir.: Alaa Eddine Aljem; Cast: Younes Bouab, Salah Bensalah, Bouchaits Essamak, Mohmed Naimane, Anas El Vaz, Hassan Ben Bdida, Abdelhaini Kitab, Ahmed Yarziz; Morocco/France/Qatar/Germany, Lebanon; 100 min.

Alaa Eddine Aljem’s debut feature is a little gem: filmed with great confidence, it is the story of a thief in a small Moroccan desert village trying to recover his loot, while the villagers pray for rain. In tune with its sun-baked environment the tautly inventive narrative unfolds in a languid style in scenes showcasing the fleshed out characters and talented cast.

On the run from the police, a young thief Amine (Bouab)has just time enough to bury his booty on a desert hill, camouflaging the scene as a modest grave. Ten years later, Amine and his accomplice, simply called “The Brain” (Bensalah) for his lack of the grey matter, return to discover a Mausoleum for an unknown Saint has been built over the grave. No rain has fallen for over a decade and the villagers are desperate; one of them, Hassan (Essamak) wants to go elsewhere, but his father Brahim (Naimane), the religious leader of the village holds him back. Then there is Aziz (Kitab), the self-appointed mausoleum guard who treats his son with contempt, his life revolving around his Alsatian dog. For some unknown reason, the new doctor (El Baz) is only getting women patients at his surgery. His long suffering nurse (Ben Bdida), who survives on alcohol and weed, explains that the women use the surgery as a “hangout”, while collecting their prescriptions. Meanwhile, Amine and his helper wonder how to tackle Aziz so they can recover the loot. This is a sinuous and slow-burning drama with just enough irony not to reduce it to a farce. The characters are larger than life, appealing despite their foibles and full of humanity and charm. Even the two criminals come across as incompetent bunglers rather than hard-edged thieves. DoP Amine Berrada uses the desert as a majestic background, his panoramas are impressive, particularly the night shots. Judging by this impressive debut, Aljem is a filmmaker with a bright future ahead of him.  

SEMAINE DE LA CRITIQUE | Wednesday 15 May 2019 |11.30am




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