Saturday, December 18, 2010


"In addition to presenting the biggest selection of foreign language Oscar submissions of any festival, we are shining the spotlight on some dynamic emerging filmmakers," said Helen du Toit, Director of Programming. "Our New Voices / New Visions Showcase for first narrative features and the John Schlesinger Award for best first documentary feature are two distinctive ways that the Festival will be identifying exciting new talent who are stretching boundaries and forging new ground in narrative and non-fiction storytelling."

The New Voices / New Visions Award will honor one of 12 features from new international talents marking their feature film debut at the Festival, with the additional criteria that the films selected are currently without U.S. distribution. The films will be judged by a jury which includes Marc Mauceri, vice president of First Run Features; Farhad Arshad, president and CEO of Olive Films; and Frederic Demey, senior vice president, international sales and acquisitions, Neoclassics Films.

Films selected for this year include:

40 (Emre Şahin, Turkey)—Chaotic, modern-day Istanbul, a city of 12 million inhabitants and a multitude of cultural influences, provides the backdrop for this taut, suspenseful tale setting three people from radically different backgrounds on a collision course over a bag that may hold the answer to each of their dreams. Official site [Turkish]. IMDb. Facebook [Turkish]. Vimeo trailer. Zimbio photostream. U.S. Premiere.

Emre Şahin's 40 screened in the 2010 edition of the Toronto International's City to City spotlight on Istanbul, Turkey. As
Cameron Bailey wrote in TIFF's official description: "For centuries, Istanbul has been a magnet for dreamers. The seat of empire and the crossroads of continents and civilizations, it invites the imagination to run wild. But with a population in excess of twelve million, many of them unofficial immigrants or new arrivals from the country's rural areas, the city's air is perhaps a little too thick with aspiration nowadays. Disappointment is rife and exacerbated by increasing unemployment and worsening housing shortages.

"Emre Şahin's debut feature opens amid Istanbul's maze of streets and proceeds to follow three individuals. Metin (Ali Atay) is a cabbie and petty thief who fled violence in his Anatolian village in the hopes of something better. He comes into chaotic interaction with Sevda (Deniz Çakir)—a nurse, long-suffering wife and a believer in numerology—and with Godwill (Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine), a Nigerian who risks everything to sneak to Europe on a container ship so he can rejoin the love of his life. Godwill's hopes are smashed when he emerges from his claustrophobic quarters to discover he is in Turkey and not France.

"40 is a film about hope and chaos, how the dumb luck that may seem like a godsend can change course as swiftly as it appeared. But it is also a stark, documentary-infused portrait of a city both enlivened and stressed by mass immigration and still shaping a twenty-first-century identity. The film is further able to capture a totally universal feeling of urban dislocation; ironically, it is the world's booming metropolises that can instigate the most acute manifestations of loneliness. Şahin follows his three protagonists with pathos and sensitivity and reveals a city charmed by history and splendor, but as yet unable to fulfill all its denizens' dreams."

Elliot Pen favorably reviewed 40 for Toronto Film Scene. At Cinemaroll, it's determined that 40 refers to a bag containing €40,000,000: "The story depends on coincidences to move forward, but I don't think it is a coincidence that the movie 40 is so fun to watch. On the contrary, it is obvious that the young writer and director Emre Şahin knows what he is doing."

The Albanian / Der Albaner / Shqiptari (Johannes Naber, Germany / Albania)—An Albanian illegal immigrant in Berlin tries to earn the dowry demanded by the family of his pregnant beloved back home in this social-issues drama. Winner, Best Actor, Special Jury Prize, Moscow Film Festival. Official site. IMDb. Wikipedia. Facebook. North America Premiere.

At Variety,
Alissa Simon confirms The Albanian is a showcase for appealing lead player Nik Xhelilaj ("who looks set for a big international career"). "Appearing in practically every scene, Xhelilaj manages to maintain audience sympathy for Arben, even when the character makes some bad decisions." The Albanian premiered at the Moscow International where Xhelilaj scored the Best Actor nod. He's also won the Best Actor awards at the Prishtina International Film Festival and the Antalya "Golden Orange" International Film Festival. On Xhelilaj's Facebook fanpage there's a large gallery of stills from the film. At Cineuropa, Theodore Schwinke states "The Albanian is an engaging film that poses important questions regarding Europe's humanity." He adds: "Director-scriptwriter Naber seems to suggest that Europe's professed values of humanity and equality are ephemeral. Illegal immigrants like Arben—or, for that matter, anyone without the necessary papers, connections and cash—are disposable, despite what our charters say."

As If I Am Not There (Juanita Wilson, Ireland / Macedonia / Sweden)—A harsh dose of realism about the Bosnian War of the 1990s, director Wilson's drama chronicles the fate of a school teacher forced into sexual slavery by Serbian soldiers. A harrowing depiction of the horrors of war from a woman's point of view.
Official site. IMDb. U.S. Premiere.

Michèle Maheux writes in her official description for TIFF 2010: "Harrowing, tragic and based on true events, As If I Am Not There tells the story of a young woman from Sarajevo who finds herself in the wrong place at the wrong time in 1992. Based on Croatian writer Slavenka Drakulic's real-life experiences overseeing the proceedings of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia at The Hague, Juanita Wilson's debut feature chronicles a moment in history that must never be forgotten." At Toronto Film Scene, Kelly Stewart admits As If I Am Not There "was one of the more difficult films I have ever had to watch. In particular the ongoing rape and violence to a young girl is particularly hard to watch. Having said that though, the film is an artistic triumph that works both as a historical document and brilliant piece of film making." At Exclaim!, Christine Estima writes: "Arresting, philosophically elegant and morally complex, Wilson directs this story with a marvelous straightforwardness and simplicity."

Beyond / Svinalängorna (Pernilla August, Sweden / Finland)—Acclaimed actress Pernilla August makes her directing / writing debut with this compassionate look at a woman who fought all her life to let go of her grief over her dark childhood as the daughter of bitter, hard-drinking Finnish immigrants. Winner, Audience Award, Critic's Week Venice Film Festival; Best Film, Nordic Film Days, Lubeck. Cast: Noomi Rapace, Ola Rapace, Outi Maenpaa, Ville Virtanen, Tehilla Blad. Official site. IMDb. Wikipedia. North America Premiere.

At The Hollywood Reporter,
Natasha Senjanovic writes: "Toni Morrison once said that regardless of how many beautiful, sappy or tired lines we've heard about the moon, the moment a master writer finds a new way of describing it, we are moved to tears. This holds true for much-lauded actress Pernilla August's treatment of domestic violence and alcoholism in Beyond, a simultaneously restrained, gut-wrenching, but hopeful feature debut." At The MovieHamlet, Stefan Hedmark praises Beyond as "a knockout" and "a confident, deeply moving experience that lifts ingredients from Susanna Alakoski's best-seller and molds them into a film that stands on its own."

Black Field / Mavro livadi (Vardis Marinakis, Greece)—This gorgeous, delicately crafted period piece chronicles a forbidden love story, set in 1654, when Greece was under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. When a wounded young soldier and novice nun take refuge in a forest, some surprises are in store. Official site. IMDb.

At Variety,
Andrew Barker characterizes Black Field as "a woozy, enigmatic period piece that should raise eyebrows as well as the profile of its first-time auteur, Vardis Marinakis, who exhibits a sense of pacing and tonal control that serves him well even when his discretion lets him down. ... Film is undeniably handsome and delicately crafted, and only occasionally encased in period-picture gloss. And while far from perfect, the film bears almost none of the telltale uncertainties of a learning-on-the-job debutant helmer; Marinakis is sure and confident with the camera." At Cineuropa, Joseph Proimakis proclaims that Black Field "delves into a dark period in Greek history, and turns the heart of it into a bright sample of a promising period in Greek cinema." Proimakis likewise interviews Vardis Marinakis. In his preview for Black Field's screening at the Mill Valley Film Festival, Michael Hawley researched 17th century Turkish janissaries.

Eighteen Years Later / Diciotto Anni Dopo (Edoardo Leo, Italy)—Two brothers who haven't spoken for 18 years are forced by their father's will to undertake a road trip together to bring his ashes to Southern Italy. It's a dramatic comedy, with a touch of the fantastic, that surprises and moves. IMDb.

Eighteen Years Later swept the 2010 edition of the
Ibizia International Film Festival, winning Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Script and the festival's Special Falcó D'Or Award. At The Hollywood Reporter, Natasha Senjanovic synopsizes: "18 Years Later is a decade-long labor of love for actor and first-time director Edoardo Leo and his co-star and co-writer Marco Bonini .... Though it breaks no new ground in the family drama / road movie genre, the film has a gentle charm that grows as the story weaves towards a satisfyingly cathartic but not cutesy ending."

Hello! How Are You? / Buna! Ce faci? (Alexandru Maftei, Romania / Spain / Italy)—A witty, stylishly crafted tale of a husband and wife whose 20-year marriage has long since lost its zing. In humorous contrast to their staid, passionless lives, characters in a constant state of sexual arousal surround them.
Official site. IMDb. U.S. Premiere.

Nothing's All Bad / Smukke mennesker (Mikkel Munch-Fals, Denmark)—A mother confronts the death of her husband while her daughter faces life after a mastectomy. A father, who can't control his need to expose himself in public, has a son whose handsomeness has become more curse than blessing. This daring and darkly funny film links all four in sometimes disturbing ways. IMDb.

At Variety,
Boyd von Hoeij writes that Nothing's All Bad "affectingly explores the relationship between sexuality and loneliness" and "thoughtfully tackles quite a few thorny issues that would trip up lesser filmmakers." He found the film to be "a tonally complex, thematically wide-ranging yet structurally compact item" and praises "the helmer's willingness to experiment with narrative form while keeping the film's contents very much of a piece." At his site Phil on Film, Philip Concannon characterizes Nothing's All Bad as "bleakly funny" and observes that "more often than not, director Mikkel Munch-Fals successfully walks the very fine line between offending and amusing." At BFI, Sarah Lutton notes: "Munch-Fals gradually builds an empathetic portrait of people at the margins of society. Refreshingly, he avoids the broad brushstrokes of stereotype, with each character and their search for intimacy being subtly drawn and sensitively realized."

Oxygen / Adem (Hans Van Nuffel, Belgium / Netherlands)—Centering on a teen with cystic fibrosis, Oxygen skirts disease-of-the-week cliché to deliver a touching portrait of youth facing mortality far too soon. Winner, Grand Prix of the Americas, Montreal Film Festival, Variety New Talent Award, Zurich Film Festival, Alice in the Cities Award, Rome Film Festival. Official site. IMDb. Facebook. U.S. Premiere.

PSIFF's brief synopsis is largely drawn from
Dennis Harvey's Variety review, wherein he adds: "Excellent performances, astute direction and a thoughtful script (by Jean-Claude Van Rijckeghem and Van Nuffel) resist milking the theme for maudlin dramatics. Pic's look appropriately echoes the antiseptic neutrality of medical institutions." At the Montreal Gazette, Bill Brownstein writes: "Oxygen is an eye-opener on so many levels. It enters a world most are fortunate enough not to know. The film will certainly sensitize as well as disturb, but it never stoops to cheap sentiment."

Paper Birds / Pájaros de papel (Emilio Aragón, Spain)—This touching tale of the bonds of friendship amongst the members of a traveling entertainment troupe in a post-civil war Spain celebrates the lost art of vaudeville and features superb performances by Spanish acting royalty Imanol Arias, Lluis Homar and Carmen Machi. Winner, Audience Award, Montreal World Film Festival. Official site [Spanish]. IMDb. Facebook [Spanish].

At the Montreal Gazette,
Bill Brownstein enjoys synopsizing the plot and concludes: "As added bonuses, the acting is inspired, the choreography and costuming are stunning and the cinematography is exquisite."

Sound of Noise (Ola Simonsson & Johannes Stjärne Nilsson, Sweden / France)—The sound and image anarchists behind the 2001 cult short Music for One Apartment and Six Drummers successfully take their concept and talent to a larger arena in Sound of Noise, a delightful comic cocktail of modern city symphony, police procedural and love story. Official website [French]. IMDb. Wikipedia. Facebook.

PSIFF's short synopsis is largely drawn from
Alissa Simon's rave Variety review. Named by indieWIRE as "Bonnie and Clyde on drums", Eric Kohn furthers: "Light on story but heavy on ingenuity, the Swedish musical comedy Sound of Noise portrays musicians as the ultimate outlaws. In truth, the movie only incidentally relates to the musical genre, since everything onscreen is ostensibly diegetic—but magically so. An account of several villainous drummers intent on wreaking havoc across an entire city by turning it into their own instrument, its magnificent premise suggests a feature-length version of Stomp forced into the structure of a classic detective yarn." Kohn concludes: "Despite its constant slapstick demeanor, Sound of Noise offers a fairly reasonable snapshot of the punkish anger that often drives experimental music. Loaded with ingeniously devised beats, it hammers out a unique rhythm deserved of many repeat performances."

Square Meter / Metro Cuadrado (Nayra Ilic, Chile)—As Francisca and Andres settle into their love nest, their pasts continue to intrude upon the idyllic situation they both had envisioned—the baggage they cannot shed much like the boxes they seem unable to unpack.
IMDb. U.S. Premiere.

Cross-published on


Michael Hawley said...

Thanks for your research on these films, Michael. I'll certainly be returning to it once the full line-up is announced and it comes time to hammer out a schedule. I'm dying to see SOUND OF NOISE and can strongly recommend BLACK FIELD. I believe 18 YEARS LATER ended up winning the audience prize at New Italian Cinema last month. And THE ALBANIAN sure looks handsome.

Boyd said...

"Oxygen" is one of the best films I've seen this year and "As if I Am Not There" is also pretty powerful. "Hello, How Are You" is hilarious but also poignant -- I can see a remake of that one coming already.

Maya said...

Michael, I look forward to seeing how our festival itineraries match up.

Boyd, my deep thanks for your recommendations. I trust your critical judgment implicitly and will make a point of catching these three suggestions. Any foreign language Oscar hopefuls I should not miss?