Screen profiles the 65 films submitted for the foriegn-language film Oscar, including first-time entrants Ethiopia
EAST, WEST, EAST: THE FINAL SPRINT (LINDJE PERENDIM LINDJE)
The lowdown Italy-Albania co-production East, West, East follows an Albanian amateur cycling team which bikes to France to take part in a tournament, only to discover on the way that revolution has broken out back home. The satire picked up the best director award at last year’s Tirana Film Festival. Director Gjergj Xhuvani won the Cannes Youth Award and the Tokyo International Film Festival best director and grand prix awards for his 2001 comedy Slogans. Chosen by a committee from the Albanian National Centre for Cinematography, East, West, East is Albania’s fifth Oscar submission.
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OUTSIDE THE LAW (HORS LA LOI)
The lowdown French-Algerian director Rachid Bouchareb received a nomination in the foreign-language category in 2006 for Days Of Glory and he reunites with the three main actors from that film in his follow-up, Outside The Law. Starring Jamel Debbouze, Roschdy Zem and Sami Bouajila, the film follows three Algerian brothers caught up in the struggle for Algerian independence from France after the Second World War. Outside The Law premiered in Competition at Cannes this year and had its North American premiere in Toronto. It opens in November in North America.
Rachid Bouchareb says “I wanted the film to have an epic quality. I developed characters who run the revolution in the same way Al Pacino ran business and the family in The Godfather. That freed my hands from a historical point of view. My film isn’t a documentary — I make movies.”
What Screen said “A fascinatingly under-documented period of recent history — the armed Algerian resistance movement within France in the 1950s — gets a slick gangster-movie style treatment from Rachid Bouchareb in Outside The Law.” Mike Goodridge, May 2010.
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The lowdown Argentina picked up the foreign-language Oscar last year for Juan Jose Campanella’s The Secret In Their Eyesand its star, Ricardo Darin, also features in Argentina’s 2010 submission. Pablo Trapero’s Carancho was a premiere in Un Certain Regard at Cannes this year and tells the story of an ambulance-chasing lawyer who visits emergency rooms to find clients. Argentina has previously won two Oscars in the foreign film category, from six nominations.
Pablo Trapero says “This is a classic noir, like those of the 1940s and ’50s, where the police plot quietly became a portrait of a complicated social fabric.”
What Screen said “An expertly crafted thriller steeped in the social injustices of Buenos Aires, Carancho combines crisp storytelling with appealingly flawed characters and moments of startling violence.” Allan Hunter, May 2010.
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The lowdown The fiction debut of documentary directors Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel, La Pivellina tells the story of a circus artist who finds an abandoned two-year-old girl near Rome. The film premiered in Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes in 2009 and won the Grand Diagonale prize for best Austrian feature film in Graz last March. Austria won the foreign-language Oscar in 2008 for The Counterfeiters and picked up nominations in the subsequent two years for Revanche and The White Ribbon.
Tizza Covi says “The documentary approach is what interests us the most in terms of film-making. What you get from reality just can’t be re-enacted. Still, with documentary film… not being able to directly influence what’s happening bothered us.”
What Screen said “A remarkable first foray into narrative film-making from an Italo-Austrian documentary duo, La Pivellina sets an affecting and naturalistic foundling story against the backdrop of an extended family of Rome-based circus folk.” Lee Marshall, May 2009.
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THE PRECINCT (SAHE)
The lowdown Ilgar Safat’s feature debut tells the story of a famous photographer who must choose between accepting a valuable job offer in Africa and marrying his fiancée. The mystery-drama takes a surreal turn when the couple are taken to a precinct after a car accident and the self-centred photographer is forced by a sinister police chief to confront suppressed childhood memories. The feature is Azerbaijan’s third Oscar submission.
Ilgar Safat says “The entire film is a journey into the main character’s inner world, his mental space. The Precinct is an area of Garib’s consciousness.”
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THIRD PERSON SINGULAR NUMBER
The lowdown Mostofa Sarwar Farooki’s Third Person Singular Number tells the story of Ruba, a young woman negotiating her independence in present-day Bangladesh. Produced by Impress Telefilm, the picture had its world premiere at Pusan last year and has screened at festivals including Abu Dhabi and Rotterdam. Farooki is a pioneer of Bangladesh’s ‘chabial’ film movement, which emphasises a documentary feel and colloquial language.
Mostofa Sarwar Farooki says “I opened the film with the single woman out on the street all alone at night. I could have opened it in hundreds of ways, but I opened it like that just to see whether our streets and nights are safe for a single woman.”
The lowdown A premiere in Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes earlier this year, Illegal tells the story of Tania and her 14-year-old son, illegal immigrants from Russia who have lived in Belgium for eight years. One day Tania is arrested and placed in a holding centre — but will stop at nothing to find her son. The second feature from Olivier Masset-Depasse, Illegal is a Belgium-Luxembourg-France co-production.
Olivier Masset-Depasse says “The film is above all about a mother separated from her son. It was important to stick to this universal, clear and pure narrative line. The social commentary had to stay in the background. Early versions of the screenplay were very hard-hitting; they integrated all of the terrible things that had been reported to me. Yet very quickly the mother’s story became central. I took out everything that took us away from her story.”
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BOSNIA & HERZEGOVINA
The lowdown Danis Tanovic’s third film since his debut feature No Man’s Land won the foreign-language Oscar in 2002 is an adaptation of a novel by Bosnian writer Ivica Dikic. Set in the early 1990s, after the dissolution of Yugoslavia, the drama charts the emotional homecoming of a man who has spent 20 years in exile. Cirkus Columbia opened the Sarajevo Film Festival this year and screened in Venice Days and at Toronto.
Danis Tanovic says “Cirkus Columbia is in no way similar to my experience, but there is something about the book that touches the nerve of almost every Bosnian, or should I say Herzegovinian… I hope that putting this story on a big screen will help other children of war to remember.”
What Screen said “Tanovic’s shooting style here is beguiling, some old-fashioned touches seemingly defined by the period rather than budgetary constraints.” Fionnuala Halligan, July 2010.
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LULA, THE SON OF BRAZIL (LULA, O FILHO DO BRASIL)
The lowdown A biopic about the early life of recent Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, following his turbulent boyhood years, his work in the car industry and a move into trade unionism following the arrest of his brother. Fabio Barreto’s film premiered at the 42nd Brasilia Film Festival in November 2009, and took around $1m in its first week of release in Brazil.
Fabio Barreto says “The margin of error was great, because the film is about facts and real people that exist and are well known. It is difficult and it took courage to make this film. From the beginning, I knew that my biggest limitation would be fear, insecurity. I was fearless, but I had a great team at all stages, with an excellent cast and an impeccable production.”
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The lowdown The late Christo Christov plays a struggling artist falling in love with a Turkish girl who has been the victim of a racist attack in Sofia. Kamen Kalev’s film was selected for Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes in 2009 and was the winner of the top prize at Tokyo that year.
Kamen Kalev says “Family, friends, city and country take part in conditioning human beings, and then these conditioned beings are in constant conflict with the same environment that conditioned them. What interested me in this was to follow how the little brother became like his older brother. Georgi’s addiction or neo-Nazi gangs are mere illustrations of the same thing.”
What Screen said “An accomplished debut feature, Eastern Plays begins as if it were another slice of gritty realism from Eastern Europe but evolves into a sensitively observed portrait of a young man struggling to find himself after years as a drug addict… it is a moving, uplifting tale.” Mike Goodridge, May 2009.
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The lowdown One of the hits of Venice and Toronto this year, Denis Villeneuve’s latest tells the story of Canadian siblings investigating their mother’s past in war-torn Lebanon. Based on the play by Wajdi Mouawad.
Denis Villeneuve says “It’s about the way anger travels in a family. It has parallels on an individual level, a family level and on a society level, so it’s both a modern topic and a kind of Greek tragedy wrapped up like a great thriller. It is also a movie about consolation. The audience is not left alone. It’s obviously not a Hollywood happy ending, but it has a mature feeling of hope. To be a real adult, you have to be free of your anger from the past.”
What Screen said “The film is not just about Lebanese history (in fact the country is not mentioned once - a not entirely helpful mannerism) but about memories of trauma and the way they are manipulated, fudged or buried. This is managed without crushing symbolism. In fact, the best of the Lebanese scenes have a dramatic delicacy and keen local flavour, impressive in a film made by an ‘outsider’.” Lee Marshall, September 2010.
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THE LIFE OF FISH (LA VIDA DE LOS PECES)
The lowdown Berlin-based travel writer Andres (Santiago Cabrera) returns briefly to Chile for a friend’s birthday party and uses the event to say goodbye to old friends — and also ends up confronting the love of his life (Blanca Lewin). The film screened in Venice Days this year. Director Matias Bize’s In Bed was Chile’s foreign Oscar submission in 2006.
Matias Bize says “I wanted to tell the story in an emotional way, using the camera to penetrate deeply into the characters. The dialogue is very important in this film, but in some cases, what is not said — the silences, the looks — are even more important.”
Contact Adrian Solar, Adrian@ceneca.cl
The lowdown Chinese film-maker Feng Xiaogang’s ambitious disaster drama Aftershock has been a box-office record-setter across Asia, and is also notable as the first foreign-language film ever picked up for Imax release. It also leads the nominees for the Asia Pacific Film Awards. The CGI-heavy story involves heart-wrenching drama about a family devastated by the 1976 Tangshan earthquake. The film also played in Toronto, where the work of cinematographer Lu Yue (Red Cliff) was especially praised. Aftershock now has a North American distribution plan via a new partnership between AMC Entertainment and China Lion Film Distribution.
Feng Xiaogang says “During Chinese New Year, I told the story to several friends over dinner and they all burst into tears. I’ve since tried telling the same story about 10 times to different groups of friends, and every time they have the same reaction.”
What Screen said “Extolling old-fashioned family values and using China’s fast-growing economy as a backdrop, the sprawling plot — covering no less than 32 years and requiring yet another major earthquake, in 2008, before reaching its happy ending — this cannot fail to become a natural favourite, not only with home audiences but also with Chinese communities all over the world.” Dan Fainaru, September 2010
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CRAB TRAP (EL VUELCO DEL CANGREJO)
The lowdown The debut feature from writer-director Oscar Ruiz Navia made its world premiere at Toronto last year, signalling the emergence of a distinctive new talent. When an outsider arrives in the village of La Barra, an Afro-Colombian community on Colombia’s rugged Pacific coast, he is looking to leave the country and escape his past but soon becomes caught up in a local feud. Crab Trap won the forum Fipresci prize at Berlin and further awards at Fribourg, Havana and Las Palmas.
Oscar Ruiz Navia says “When shooting ended on this film I, along with my crew, felt we had ventured inside one of the communities living along Colombia’s Pacific coast to create a portrait of its complexities, desires and contradictions, avoiding at all costs foreign exoticism or urban paternalism.”
What Screen said “Not only does Ruiz Navia restrain himself, he also displays the discipline of a fine as well as empathetic director. It is difficult to believe this ambitious project is his first feature.” Howard Feinstein, February 2010.
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OF LOVE AND OTHER DEMONS (DEL AMOR Y OTROS DEMONIOS)
The lowdown Based on the novel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Of Love And Other Demons tells the story of a 13-year-old girl in 18th-century Cartagena who is bitten by a rabid dog. After the church accuses her of being possessed by a devil she is restrained in a convent, where she falls in love with a priest. The debut of writer-director Hilda Hidalgo, the film has screened at festivals including Pusan, Moscow and Shanghai and has drawn acclaim for the performance of Eliza Triana, aged 13 when she shot the film.
Hilda Hidalgo says “The novel Of Love And Other Demons has fascinated me ever since I first read it, when it was published in 1994. As I dived into it in a single reading I could not avoid the incessant flow of images, as in a film. I was captivated by this mystical and defiant love story, a story that transcends generations, beliefs and even death.”
What Screen said “Writer-director Hidalgo — and her largely female production team — have crafted an impressive and moody film, beautifully shot by Marcello Camorino, which veers between melodrama and over-heightened romance, though its literary drive keeps it from going too over the top.” Mark Adams, April 2010.
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THE BLACKS (CRNCI)
The lowdown A grimy portrait of a Croatian squad in the Balkan War, close to breaking point, who are driven to extremes by their commander. Directed by Zvonimir Juric and Goran Devic, the film won the Fipresci and best director awards at the Cottbus Film Festival.
Zvonimir Juric and Goran Devic say “This is a film about survivors’ guilt among combatants in a war zone. It is not the story of two belligerent parties at war with one another, but the story of a war taking place inside the characters themselves.”
What Screen said “A pitch-dark glimpse at the horrors of the Balkan war, the appropriately titled The Blacks is a relentless story of soldiers driven to psychological extremes by the pressures of the job. Running to only 78 minutes, it is a short but effective insight into the tortured minds and frazzled relationships within a squad known as the Blacks on a final, fateful mission.” Mike Goodridge, August 2009.
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KAWASAKI’S ROSE (Kawasakiho Ruze)
The lowdown When a legendary Czech psychiatrist and former dissident is singled out to receive a national honour, it emerges that he once collaborated with state security agencies. Directed by Jan Hrebejk and written by Petr Jarchovsky, the film premiered in the Panorama section at Berlin this year.
Jan Hrebejk says “We don’t want to relativise guilt — we want to present a realistic story about it, not just for those who remember those times but also for young people who have no experience of the totalitarian past.”
What Screen said “The latest from prolific director Jan Hrebejk re-opens old wounds in its fictional story based on true-life cases. Despite some dramatic missteps, it enters troubling grey areas in what is often viewed as a struggle of good against evil… Politicised viewers will welcome this dramatisation of the old regime’s skill at compromising its opponents.” David D’Arcy, February 2010.
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The lowdown Susanne Bier and her longtime collaborator Anders Thomas Jensen weave a complex story starring Mikael Persbrandt as a doctor who travels between Africa, where he works in refugee camps, and the sleepy Danish town which is home to his wife and child. Both places harbour danger and violence.
Susanne Bier says “In A Better World sets out to explore the limitations we encounter in trying to control our society as well as our personal lives. It asks whether our ‘advanced’ culture is the model for a better world, or whether the same disarray found in lawlessness is beneath the surface of our civilisation.”
What Screen said “In A Better World is another strong entry in the canon of intense human dramas from director Susanne Bier and screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen. A gripping meditation on the choices between pacifism and violence which are faced in so-called civilised society as well as extreme Third World situations, the film weaves the same tapestry of excruciating quandaries and crises for which the two collaborators have become celebrated in Open Hearts, Brothers and After The Wedding.” Mike Goodridge, September 2010.
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MESSAGES FROM THE SEA
The lowdown Leading Egyptian film-maker Daoud Abdel Sayed returns with this character-driven story about a young doctor with a speech disorder that causes him to isolate himself. He meets a variety of people (including a prostitute) when he returns to a family property in Alexandria. The acting by Asser Yasin, Basma and Mohamed Lotfy has been roundly praised. Egypt has never been nominated for a Oscar.
Daoud Abdel Sayed says “The important messages could be the ones we have rejected, ignored or forgotten… This movie is an attempt to remember and remind.”
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THE TEMPTATION OF ST TONY (PUHA TONU KIUSAMINE)
The lowdown Shot in black and white, the script for The Temptation Of St Tony won writer-director Veiko Ounpuu the European Talent Award in Cannes in 2008. He went on to shoot the film in 2009 and it premiered at Sundance in 2010. Businessman Tony (Taavi Eelmaa) follows a dark journey as he loses his job, wife and gradually his grip on reality.
Veiko Ounpuu says “This film is most of all about the problem of being — without giving any one answer to it. And salvation is tied to our being because it is one of the possible solutions to that problem.”
What Screen said “Veiko Ounpuu’s bold, contemporary update of the stations-of-the-cross genre more than lives up to the promise of his 2007 debut, Autumn Ball… his imprimatur is on every frame of this delicious black-and-white prestige product.” Howard Feinstein, February 2010.
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THE ATHLETE (ATLETU)
The lowdown Written and directed by first-time feature film-makers Davey Frankel and Rasselas Lakew, Ethiopia’s foreign-language Oscar entry tells the true story of the barefoot Ethiopian athlete Abebe Bikila (played by co-director Lakew) who stunned the 1960 Rome Olympics by becoming the first African to win marathon gold, before going on to win the gold at Tokyo as well. The Athlete, which combines archive footage and recreated period drama, had its world premiere at the 2009 Edinburgh International Film Festival, and screened at Montreal, Seattle, Chicago and Rotterdam where it won the Lions Award.
Rasselas Lakew says “Often the stories about Africa that reach beyond the continent affect audiences through tales of despair and hardship as a result of bad governance, environmental disaster or ethnic cleansing. The Athlete, on the other hand, is that rare African biopic which moves audiences to tears by celebrating a great African hero whose courage and amazing feats inspired the entire continent and ultimately the world. This is the Africa the world needs to know.”
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STEAM OF LIFE (MIESTEN VUORO)
The lowdown Joonas Berghall and Mika Hotakainen’s documentary has certainly picked up momentum on the festival circuit, with awards from SilverDocs to Tampere to Visions du Réel. Steam Of Life follows Finnish men into the sauna, as they pour out touching insights along with sweat. Some stories are tragic, some are funny, but all show a side of Finnish men never before seen on screen (along with some stunning cinematography of the local landscape). Nordisk has found big box-office success for the film at home, and it has also been sold for TV in Estonia, France, Germany and Sweden and for theatrical release in Poland and Sweden. The film is also up for the Nordic Council Film Prize 2010, and played in the IDA’s DocuWeeks in the US.
Joonas Berghall and Mika Hotakainen say “The most surprising thing has been to see the women and men with tears in their eyes after watching the film. The life situations that our protagonists discuss inside saunas seem to be universal enough for people to relate to everywhere.”
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OF GODS AND MEN (DES HOMMES ET DES DIEUX)
The lowdown A loose retelling of the true story of the kidnap and murder of seven French monks in Algeria in 1996. Lambert Wilson and Michael Lonsdale lead the cast in Xavier Beauvois’ film, which premiered in Competition at Cannes this year and won the festival’s Grand Prix. France has been nominated
36 times in the foreign-language category, winning nine times.
What Screen said “With Of Gods And Men, Beauvois’ time for wider recognition has surely come. This thoughtful but urgent piece shows Beauvois has matured into a masterly director with tight, calm control of his material. Miles from the edgy, confrontational tenor of Don’t Forget You’re Going To Die, Beauvois’ new film muses on the meaning of religious vocation in a violent world, and tackles its difficult subject with authoritative, non-sensationalist forcefulness.” Jonathan Romney, May 2010.
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STREET DAYS (QUCHIS DGEEBI)
The lowdown Levan Koguashvili’s feature debut is set in contemporary Tbilisi, Georgia and stars Guga Kotetishvili as a 45-year-old unemployed man caught between pre-1991 Soviet Communism and the capitalist system. The film had its world premiere at the Tbilisi film festival in December 2009, and screened at Rotterdam and Edinburgh. Georgia received a foreign-language Oscar nomination in 1996 for Nana Dzhordzhadze’s Chef In Love.
Levan Koguashvili says “This film is very personal, because it tells the story of a generation which I remember, which I love, and which I pity — the generation I feel I belong to.”
What Screen said “Levan Koguashvili’s feature debut is a well-crafted, hard-edged look at life in contemporary Tbilisi which is much more refined and profound than the scenes of ethnic strife which 24-hour-news organisations loop from Georgia.” Howard Feinstein, February 2010.
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WHEN WE LEAVE (DIE FREMDE)
The lowdown A premiere in the Berlinale’s Panorama section this year, Feo Aladag’s When We Leave stars Sibel Kekilli (Head On) as a woman who leaves her brutal husband in Istanbul for her parental home in Berlin, where she must counter the disapproval of her family. The film has also screened at Tribeca.
Feo Aladag says “I’m making a drama about the universal wish to be loved by our family for who we are — rather than for the way we choose to live. At its heart is, as a glimmer of hope, the missed opportunity for mutual reconciliation. It is a story in which nobody is condemned but I wanted it to make the compulsions and conflicts as well as the tragedy of all the characters emotionally comprehensible.”
What Screen said “A family melodrama about Turkish communities living in the West, Feo Aladag’s debut may have little to offer that hasn’t been seen before, but there’s still plenty in here to please liberal audiences everywhere.” Dan Fainaru, February 2010.
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The lowdown A stalwart of 27 festivals across 2009 and 2010, Yorgos Lanthimos’ drama marks out a major new talent. Sales and production powerhouse MK2 had no trouble selling the intriguing portrait of a dysfunctional family to major territories including the US, France, Germany, UK, Spain and Australia. The drama won the Un Certain Regard grand prix at Cannes in 2009, picked up awards in Sarajevo, Stockholm and Dublin and took five prizes, including best film, director and script, at the Hellenic Film Academy Awards.
Yorgos Lanthimos says “The idea came from speculating about the future of family. How would it evolve in the future, if it would evolve at all and what if this social organism ceased to exist as we know it. What would someone do to preserve it at any cost. And what would that do to the people involved. How distorted could bodies and minds become after being confined and shaped.”
What Screen said “Fixed camera shots, meticulous framing and several intentionally passionless but quite explicit sex scenes could carry Yorgos Lanthimos’ second feature through to film festivals and select arthouse exposure.” Dan Fainaru, May 2009.
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The lowdown Written and directed by Otto Rosing and Torben Bech, Nuummioq is Greenland’s first submission to the foreign-language Oscar category. Shot in Innuit and Danish around Greenland’s capital Nuuk, but featuring English-language folk songs, the story centres around carpenter Malik (Lars Rosing, brother of director Otto) who, diagnosed with terminal cancer, goes on a boat trip with his cousin and begins to analyse his life. The film world premiered in the World Cinema competition at Sundance where it received rave reviews, and secured US distribution with XYZ. It also screened at Karlovy Vary.
What Screen said “This impressively watchable drama — purportedly the first locally produced film made in Greenland — is a triumph of low-budget film-making.” Mark Adams, July 2010.
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The lowdown Based on a novel by the film’s director Alex Law, Echoes Of The Rainbow won the Crystal Bear for best film in the children’s jury Generation Kplus at the 2010 Berlin Film Festival. It tells the story of a hard-working family in 1960s Hong Kong whose teenage son is a top student and athletics star at school and his younger, far more rebellious, brother.
Alex Law says “Echoes of the Rainbow is a chronicle of… bittersweet childhood, along with its doom and surprises. It is also my love letter to Hong Kong, which braved the rocky and easy ’60s in beautiful style.”
What Screen said “Bittersweet family saga which mixes nostalgia for the Hong Kong of 1969 with reflections on the transience of life, fortune and happiness… One good reason to see Echoes Of The Rainbow is its larger-than-life child lead Buzz Chung, who lights up every scene in which he appears. The most winning aspect of the film, in the end, could be its portrayal of a long-married couple dealing with life’s slings and arrows.” Lee Marshall, February 2010.
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The lowdown Szabolcs Hajdu’s follow-up to White Palms was the top prize winner at Hungarian Film Week and an entry in Berlinale Forum. Orsolya Torok-Illyes plays a single mother whose bizarre and colourful adventures take her from Romania to Liverpool.
Szabolcs Hajdu says “While White Palms describes the world of my childhood from the outside, Bibliotheque Pascal is about the kind of internal world that I created.”
What Screen said “A flawed but beguiling fantasy in which a Romanian woman recounts — and reinvents — the story of how she ended up
working as a prostitute in England. The film is never boring though it is too long, and while it is audacious in its narrative convolutions, it ends up being too convoluted. It is the work of an imaginative film-maker with ambition and chutzpah, an original that will win admirers and detractors in equal measure.” Mike Goodridge, February 2010.
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The lowdown Fridrik Thor Fridriksson’s satirical Mamma Gogo follows a film director dealing with his mother’s Alzheimer’s disease, and Kristbjorg Kjeld and Hilmir Snaer Gudnason have both drawn raves for their performances (Kjeld won best actress at Iceland’s Edda Awards). The film premiered in Toronto. The director’s Children Of Nature was Oscar-nominated in 1992.
Fridrik Thor Fridriksson says “Mamma Gogo is based on two very personal aspects of my life — my mother’s Alzheimer’s and my previous struggles with financial problems. While writing the script, I studied the financial collapse in Iceland using my own experiences and had the idea of intertwining them with the process of dealing with my mother’s illness.”
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The lowdown Former journalist Anusha Rizvi’s Peepli Live tells the story of an impoverished farmer who sparks a media frenzy when he announces he will commit suicide so his family may benefit from an unusual government subsidy. In January, the Aamir Khan Productions — and UTV — produced film became the first Indian feature to be shown in the World Cinema section of the Sundance Film Festival; it later screened at the Berlinale. This is the fourth time the Film Federation of India has chosen an Aamir Khan production as India’s entry, including the 2002 foreign-language nomination Lagaan.
What Screen said “Rizvi’s tight, witty script spreads the drama around an ensemble cast and comes to life in wise, earthy dialogue among the most disadvantaged characters.” David D’Arcy, January 2010.
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HOW FUNNY (OUR COUNTRY IS)
The lowdown Deddy Mizwar won the best Indonesian director award at the Jakarta film festival in 2007 for his film Nagabonar Jadi 2, and his latest feature is a comedy satire recalling the glory days of not-so-old Indonesian cinema. Released in its home territory in April 2010, the film has had little international exposure.
Deddy Mizwar says “The main idea of this film is to present a social reality about the kids who never got a chance to go to school because of poverty resulting from a system created by ourselves. By criticising the ruling powers we thereby also criticise ourselves, as we have sanctioned them.”
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FAREWELL BAGHDAD (BEDROUD BAGHDAD)
The lowdown Mehdi Naderi’s debut feature Farewell Baghdad traces the interwoven lives of a deserting soldier, a grieving restaurant owner and a would-be suicide bomber in war-torn Iraq. Naderi participated in the Berlinale Talent Campus in 2007, has won various awards at Iranian theatre and film festivals and picked up the best documentary short at the 2003 Tampere Film Festival in Finland. Iran’s last Oscar nomination was Majid Majidi’s Children Of Heaven in 1999.
Mehdi Naderi says “Farewell Baghdad is my reflection on the war… a wish for permanent peace. Many movies are made about the Persian Gulf war, Iraq and Afghanistan by American film-makers. Farewell Baghdad is an attempt to be as accomplished as the chain of brilliant movies like In The Valley Of Elah, Redacted, Jarhead and The Hurt Locker.”
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SON OF BABYLON
The lowdownSon Of Babylon has been a festival favourite since appearing at Sundance and Berlin. The story follows Ahmed, a 12-year-old Kurdish boy, travelling with his grandmother across northern Iraq in search of his father — her son — a soldier missing since the first Gulf War. An Iraqi film has never won the Oscar but putting family emotions at the centre of this drama could help its chances.
Mohamed Al Daradji says “I saw it as a challenge for myself and my film-making and I have been rewarded by discovering more about Iraq.”
What Screen said “Al Daradji’s road movie delivers an emotional wallop at first sight.” Dan Fainaru, July 2010.
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The lowdown The story follows a Jerusalem factory manager who goes to Eastern Europe to bury a foreign worker killed in a terrorist attack — though this film is less political than the terrorism angle suggests. The Human Resources Manager won the audience award in Locarno before playing at Toronto and was the big winner at Israel’s Ophir Awards, taking best picture and best director. Israel has a strong track record for Oscar nominations, with appearances in the past three years (Ajami, Waltz With Bashirand Beaufort).
Eran Riklis says “There was something about the basic journey with death to discover life… and on a more personal level, the neverending quest to find yourself.”
What Screen said “Blessed with a distinct photogenic presence, Mark Ivanir’s assured performance is one of the best things in the film.” Dan Fainaru, August 2010.
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THE FIRST BEAUTIFUL THING (LA PRIMA COSA BELLA)
The lowdown Directed by Paolo Virzi, this is a bittersweet family drama set in provincial Italy, about a man persuaded to return to his home town by his sister to visit his vivacious but terminally ill mother. Set both in 1971 and the present day, the film has performed well in Italy with more than a million admissions and beat such titles as I Am Love to become Italy’s foreign-language Oscar submission. It was nominated for 18 David di Donatello awards.
Paolo Virzi says “Maybe because we’re all going through rough times, in which our society is seething with resentment and distrust, and maybe also because my last film, Tutta La Vita Davanti, brought me face to face with today’s disturbing issues and many troubling figures — this time around I wanted to take shelter in the warmth of this story, about characters we all grow to love.”
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The lowdown Based on the best-selling novel by Kanae Minato, Confessions is an intense drama which acts as a striking contrast to director Tetsuya Nakashima’s previous two films, the wildly funny, surreal and glossy romps Kamikaze Girls and Memories Of Matsuko. A teacher has identified the two students in her class who were responsible for the death of her four-year-old daughter, and — as she tells the class — she is planning her own brand of justice.
Tetsuya Nakashima says “No matter how much the characters appear to be pouring out their hearts, there really are no guarantees as to how true their confessions are. Some lie intentionally, and others tell a lie unconsciously. I attempted to reason and establish the lies from the truth as I wrote the script. This turned out to be a very exciting process for me, but I still do not know if I was right. Even after completing the picture, I feel I do not have complete understanding of the characters. But, I suppose I’m not the one to determine who they truly are. That can be done by audiences.”
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THE LIGHT THIEF (SVET-AKE)
The lowdown Aktan Arym Kubat’s film, about a heroic local electrician who fixes more than just light bulbs, screened in Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes this year. Kubat also plays the lead character in the film, who helps the common people — even if it means breaking the law. The Light Thief played at Locarno this year.
Aktan Arym Kubat says “I don’t shoot my films strictly according to the screenplay, but rely on my intuition, casual foresight and some inexplicable miracle to happen.”
What Screen said “Here comes another portrait of capitalism in its most brutish form, trampling all over the developing world. Disguised for a while as a gently poetical folktale, Arym Kubat’s third feature gradually turns on the screws, leading into a final grim note which leaves no doubt about its intentions.” Dan Fainaru, August 2010.
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HONG KONG CONFIDENTIAL
The lowdown Produced by Latvia’s Krukfilms and Hong Kong’s October Pictures, the film by Maris Martinsons is set in Hong Kong and follows six characters whose lives are somehow connected.
Maris Martinsons says “When creating this story, I wanted to reflect on our polarised worlds of the east and the west, of men vs women, showing how we — just like the film’s characters — are trying to find a common language, seeking to understand and accept each other.”
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The lowdown Director Milcho Manchevski’s Before The Rain was Oscar nominated in 1995 and this film features a similar three-story structure. Mothers and families take centre-stage as the director explores contemporary Macedonia. The Macedonia-France-Bulgaria co-production launched in Toronto.
Milcho Manchevski says “It’s a film about the society, but I’m more interested in individuals. It’s about Macedonia, but also about every other society because people are the same everywhere. Actually, it’s more a film from Macedonia than about Macedonia.”
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The lowdown A premiere in Competition at Cannes this year, Biutiful follows Javier Bardem’s Uxbal, an underworld figure and single father, as he tries to reconcile with a former love and secure a future for his children as his death draws near. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s first Spanish-language feature since his debut Amores Perros sold in numerous territories, including Lidell and Roadside for the US, Biutiful’s unrelentingly solemn tone could be a tough sell among Ampas voters. Mexico has never won a foreign-language Oscar but had seven nominations in the category. Inarritu’s Babel received a nod for a best picture and best director award in 2006.
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu says “I still react when I see this film. It’s rare because I’m normally vomiting by the time it comes to editing my films. I go through a hate process. But this is the first time a film still had a lot of meaning for me after the shoot. I think it’s very alive. If you see it a second time you will discover things because it’s very high impact and very close. My relationship with this film has been very different to previous films, so I’m very happy and proud of it.”
What Screen said “The film could conceivably be hailed as a masterpiece by those who feel social issues should be handled with the maximum solemnity. But a bleak subject matter and an unrelentingly grim tone will make Biutiful a very tough sell, with only Javier Bardem’s prestige likely to carry it.” Jonathan Romney, May 2010.
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The lowdown The film of Arnon Grunberg’s Dutch bestseller stars Gijs Scholten van Aschat as a man on a desperate journey into the heart of Africa in search of his daughter, Tirza. Directed by Rudolf van den Berg, the film opened this year’s Netherlands Film Festival.
Rudolf van den Berg says “What I intended to express through the film is the aimless wandering of the hollow modern man. The protagonist feels he is superfluous; Jorgen’s life is a failure. Then, a small black guardian angel appears in the wasteland of his life and gives him the strength to heroically free himself from the darkness in his heart. Tirza does not aim to explain but to overwhelm, as only film can.”
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The lowdown Florence Jaugey’s Spanish-language feature stars Alma Blanco as a strong-willed girl from a poor neighbourhood in Managua who dreams of being a boxer. Jaugey’s debut feature, which she also wrote, is the first feature to be produced in Nicaragua for 20 years. The film picked up the jury prize at the Malaga Film Festival as well as a host of awards for its lead actress, including at the Guadalajara International Film Festival. Nicaragua’s only previous foreign-language Oscar nomination was for its 1982 submission, Miguel Littin’s Alsino And The Condor.
Florence Jaugey says “The film highlights the positive energy which characterises the behaviour of the Nicaraguan people and their way of facing adversity with humour and inventiveness.”
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THE ANGEL (ENGELEN)
The lowdownThe Angel started life a decade ago as documentary project Pia’s World, as director Margreth Olin filmed a heroin-addict friend for several years. It became the story of a young woman whose troubled childhood has made her a drug addict, but who becomes a mother and struggles to provide her daughter with the protection she herself was denied. The story will be a tough sell for Oscar voters — chronicling child abuse which leads to heroin addiction. Olin’s debut feature has already won the Norwegian national film prize, the People’s Amanda, as well as the audience award in Gothenburg and the best actress prize for Maria Bonnevie at the Black Nights Film Festival.
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The lowdown Javier Fuentes-Leon’s directorial debut tells the story of a married fisherman in Peru (Cristian Mercado) who struggles to reconcile his devotion to his male lover with his town’s traditions. The film was a favourite at this year’s Sundance where it won the audience award before going on to win a slew of other prizes including San Sebastian’s Sebastiane Award. Wolfe Releasing picked up the US distribution rights. Peru received a nomination in the 2010 foreign-language category for The Milk Of Sorrow.
Javier Fuentes-Leon says“Contracorriente is a very personal project in which I explore themes I believe are very relevant today. Living a long time away from Peru has allowed me to see with a new perspective certain aspects of the society I grew up in.”
What Screen said “A delicate drama about a Peruvian villager’s struggle to keep his gay love-affair hidden… may be slight, but its simple, unhurried emotions have their pleasures.” Tim Grierson, January 2010.
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ALL THAT I LOVE
The lowdown Directed by Jacek Borcuch, this Sundance and Rotterdam selection presents a personal spin on Poland’s politics. The story centres around four teenagers in small-town Poland in 1981 who want to form a punk-rock band during the era of the Polish Solidarity movement. The last Polish nominee was Andrzej Wajda’s war story Katyn in 2007.
Jacek Borcuch says “There is a time in everyone’s life, those fleeting few years, when we’re no longer children but haven’t yet crossed the threshold of adulthood. The big history — manifestations, strikes, imposing of martial law —passes in the background. In the foreground is the passion for life, joy of youth, music, sex, first passionate love — everything that is most beautiful.”
What Screen said “The film’s evocation of its time is meticulously detailed, as rebellious young rockers mock authority in the dingy institutional interiors of communist Poland.” David D’Arcy, January 2010.
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The lowdown The story of Noy who, forced to find a job as his family’s breadwinner, poses as a journalist and trails real-life presidential candidate Benigno ‘Noynoy’ Aquino. The film mixes documentary footage and dramatic scenes and deals with the themes of poverty, survival and hope. Directed by Dondon Santos and starring Coco Martin, Noy was produced by CineMedia Productions and VIP Access Group and was released in the Philippines in June by Star Cinema.
The lowdown Joao Pedro Rodrigues’ latest film focuses on Tonia, a veteran transsexual in Lisbon’s drag shows, whose world starts to fall apart when the competition from younger artists threatens her status. Rodrigues’ third feature, following O Fantasma and Odete, world premiered in 2009 in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes. The film has had a strong festival run, including screenings at the Toronto and New York film festivals though the odds are against it — Portugal holds the joint record with Egypt for the most Oscar submissions without a nomination.
Joao Pedro Rodrigues says “To Die Like A Man is inspired by personal accounts from transsexuals, drag artists, doctors and showbiz people I interviewed during the months when I was preparing to write this story. They helped anchor me to real life while I invented my characters and their pitiless world.”
What Screen said “Centred on a commanding lead performance by Fernando Santos, the film has some moments of genuine exotic magic, but overall its languorous rhythm will tax the patience of all but the hardest-core arthouse faithful.” Jonathan Romney, May 2009.
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The lowdown Rafi Mercado’s debut is an adaptation of Javier Avila’s novel, Different, about an artist (played by Oscar Guerrero) whose life moves between reality and fiction. The psychological thriller, which has screened at festivals including the Havana Film Festival New York and the Sydney Latin American Film Festival, was selected from five other pictures by a committee led by Rafael Mediavilla, founder of the Puerto Rico Film School. A nomination would make it only the second Puerto Rican feature to feature on the Oscar shortlist, after What Happened To Santiago in 1990.
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IF I WANT TO WHISTLE, I WHISTLE (EU CAND VREAU SA FLUIER, FLUIER)
The lowdown A popular entry in competition at the Berlin International Film Festival this year, Florin Serban’s film follows a young delinquent who resorts to violence on the eve of his release from reform school.
Florin Serban says “We adapted the script from the original play to the medium of film, with its different restrictions and different audience. The
most important things we kept were the spirit and attitude of the inmates, the bold, uncompromising, somehow childish way of thinking and jumping into action without caring too much for the consequences.”
What Screen said “The key word to describe this debut film is ‘raw’, [though it is of] outstanding quality. [It] has rough edges and some evident shortcomings, but also a far more authentic ring than many similar, more sophisticated films made by experienced directors.” Dan Fainaru, February 2010.
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The lowdown Set in Siberia 1945, Alexey Uchitel’s film about a soldier trying to start a new life after the war had its world premiere at Toronto and opened the Warsaw Film Festival in October. Uchitel’s sixth feature beat stiff competition as the Russian entry, ahead of Alexei Popogrebsky’s How I Ended This Summer and Nikita Mikhalkov’s Burnt By The Sun 2.
Alexey Uchitel says “For me, The Edge is a kind of parable, full of almost magic things — but me and my colleagues did everything to believe in them.”
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SOLEMN PROMISE (BESA)
The lowdown From veteran director Srdjan Karanovic, this First World War-set story follows the impossible love affair between a Slovenian Christian and an Albanian Muslim who gives a traditional Albanian promise — or ‘besa’ — to take care of her. Chosen for submission by the Serbian Academy of Film Arts, the drama screened in competition at the Moscow International Film Festival — where it picked up the International Film Clubs Federation award — the Hamburg Film Festival and the Festival of Slovenian Film.
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LIFE, ABOVE ALL
The lowdown An adaptation of Allan Stratton’s bestselling novel Chanda’s Secrets, the film by Oliver Schmitz (whose credits include 1988’s Mapantsula) features an acclaimed performance by Khomotso Manyaka as 12-year-old Chanda, living in a South African township, burdened with a drunken stepfather and a gravely ill mother, and forced to grow up fast.
Oliver Schmitz says “We tried to be very specific when it came to language and culture. To me such details are very important because I want to make sure I represent the reality correctly. If one accomplishes that, then one automatically tells a universal story.”
What Screen said “A commanding performance from screen newcomer Khomotso Manyaka lights up Life, Above All. A classic coming-of-age story is given added dramatic heft by placing it in a South Africa where so many children are obliged to assume adult responsibilities, as the Aids pandemic leaves hundreds of thousands of orphans in its wake.” Allan Hunter, May 2010.
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A BAREFOOT DREAM
The lowdown Bypassing more expected arthouse choices such as Cannes selections Poetry and The Housemaid, South Korea’s Oscar committee picked this more commercial-leaning project about a football coach in East Timor. Crossing director Kim Tae-kyun directed the Japan-South Korea co-production, which is based on the true story of a football player, Kim Won-kwang, who starts a team for street kids in East Timor.
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THE BORDER (HRANICA)
The lowdown In 1946, the village of Slemence was divided by the Red Army into two parts, between Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union. Families were divided and the border remains in place, though the states it divides have changed. Shot between 2001 and 2008, The Border records events of this period including the opening of a border checkpoint. The film premiered in 2009 at the 13th International festival of documentary films in Jihlava where it won the best East European documentary prize.
Jaroslav Vojtek says “I wanted to reflect on the absurdity of creating any borders, and about how helpless man alone is, even now, against the power decisions made by the state.”
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The lowdown Ljubljana police inspector Dusan is assigned to investigate the unusual suicide of a piano teacher at a highway bridge, but becomes obsessed with the man’s life story. As Dusan’s own life unravels, he moves into the piano teacher’s apartment, adopts his identity and starts living the life of the deceased man. Writer-director Igor Sterk’s film won nine Vesna Awards at last year’s Festival of Slovenian Film, including for best film.
Igor Sterk says “Slovenia is among five countries with the highest suicide rate in the world. The suicide rate in my country is so high that in a group photo of any high-school class, there’s at least one schoolmate in the picture who will commit suicide eventually. Sadly, the photo of my high-school class is no exception.”
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EVEN THE RAIN (TAMBIEN LA LLUVIA)
The lowdown Gael Garcia Bernal brings some star power to Spain’s entry, Iciar Bollain’s Even The Rain. The drama is about the Bolivian government’s privatisation of the water company in 2000, which was heavily protested by citizens. Bernal plays a film-maker who is shooting a film about Christopher Columbus’ journey to the New World, but is caught up in the turmoil around the water price hikes. Paul Laverty, frequent Ken Loach collaborator, wrote the script. The film played in Toronto, and its Oscar chances improved when Vitagraph Films acquired US rights in early October.
Iciar Bollain says “Directing Paul’s script presented an enormous and exciting challenge — to make three movies in one. Firstly, a period drama, secondly the near-contemporary story of the water conflict and finally, a film connecting the shoot itself to the personal journeys of the main characters, Sebastian and Costa, and the decisions they are forced to make.”
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The lowdown Bill Skarsgard plays an 18 year old with Asperger’s syndrome whose life is turned upside down when his brother breaks up with his girlfriend in this Andreas Ohman-directed film.
Andreas Ohman says “On discovering the fascinating and wonderful world of Asperger’s, I felt this was the kind of character I wanted to see on the screen. Bringing Simon and his universe to life is a way of combining a visual world with a comic and simple — but yet so complicated — character.”
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The lowdown In the mid-1980s, four friends — led by Mosquito (Mark Chao) and Dragon (Rhydian Vaughan) — become members of a Taipei gang, which is threatened when a mainland gang moves in. Directed by Doze Niu Chen-Zer, Monga opened in Taiwan in February 2010, grossing $1.9m in its first weekend.
Doze Niu Chen-Zer says “Monga is about youth, passion, good old days; it’s also about blood and brotherhood, change and resistance, friendship and conspiracy.”
What Screen said “The film is a stylish whirlwind of colour and action, with everything brilliantly choreographed by director Doze Niu, who also plays an effective cameo as a chain-smoking gang boss.” Mark Adams, March 2010.
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LA PETITE CHAMBRE
The lowdown This Switzerland-Luxembourg co-production had its world premiere in Locarno’s international competition and is also nominated for the Prix Europa. Michel Bouquet and Florence Loiret Caille star in the story, directed by Stephanie Chuat and Veronique Reymond, of an independent elderly man who initially refuses help from a new home-carer.
Stephanie Chuat and Veronique Reymond say “We wanted to represent two thematic areas in parallel — that of the end of life and the start of life; a man who fears the imminent retirement home and a woman who cannot get over the loss of her stillborn child. At first glance, our two main characters have nothing in common… but nevertheless they both have to confront their grief and their loss.”
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UNCLE BOONMEE WHO CAN RECALL HIS PAST LIVES (LUNG BOONMEE RALUEK CHAT)
The lowdown A surprise winner of the Palme d’Or at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival, Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s film (a Thailand-UK-Germany-France-Spain co-production) is the final instalment of a multi-platform art project titled Primitive. Uncle Boonmee (Thanapat Saisaymar), who is suffering from acute liver failure, spends his last days in the Thai countryside where he is visited by the ghost of his dead wife and his long-lost son, who returns home in a non-human form.
Apichatpong Weerasethakul says “I believe in the transmigration of souls between humans, plants, animals and ghosts. Uncle Boonmee’s story shows the relationship between man and animal and at the same time destroys the line dividing them. When the events are represented through cinema, they become shared memories of the crew, the cast and the public. A new layer of memory is augmented in the audience’s experience. In this regard, film-making is not unlike creating synthetic past lives.”
What Screen said “The wonderfully titled Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives is a beautifully entrancing film… simple in story but complex in structure and subtext, and likely to deeply please those who are fans of director-artist Apichatpong Weerasethakul.” Mark Adams, May 2010.
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The lowdown Honey, the third and final instalment of Semih Kaplanoglu’s Yusuf Trilogy (which includes Egg in 2007 and Milk in 2008), premiered in competition at Berlin this year. The partly autobiographical trilogy runs in reverse chronological order, with Honey dealing with six-year-old Yusuf (Bora Altas) as he searches for his lost father, a beekeeper whose bees have disappeared unexpectedly. The film won the Golden Bear at Berlin.
What Screen said“Egg and Milk were festival darlings but achieved scant theatrical distribution. Honey might have more of a chance on the far reaches of the arthouse circuit, helped by a strong performance from child actor Altas… Honey is very beautiful and very studied, with a sometimes oppressive sense of directorial control. At the same time, however, the film’s protagonist is the most affecting of the three Yusufs we’ve seen so far.” Lee Marshall, February 2010.
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A USEFUL LIFE (LA VIDA UTIL)
The lowdown Federico Veiroj’s Spanish-language film about a lonely middle-aged man who loses his job at a film archive has been generating plenty of buzz since it scooped the industry award in San Sebastian’s Films In Progress section this year. Veiroj’s first feature, Acne, premiered in Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes in 2009, also winning the grand jury prize for international film at the AFI Fest. Uruguay’s A Place In The World was Oscar-shortlisted in 1992, but was disqualified when it was discovered the film was almost entirely Argentinian made.
Federico Veiroj says “‘La vida util’ means the estimated duration an object is capable of functioning correctly. In the film I ask myself about the future of a character conceived for an activity about to finish its existence. The ‘rebirth’ or the adaptation of that character to his new world is what interested me.”
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The lowdown Marcel Rasquin’s film follows two foster brothers who hope to overcome poverty when they are invited to join Caracas Football Club. This prize-winner at the Moscow International Film Festival was produced by A&B Producciones with funds from CNAC. It is also supported by UNICEF and has been used to prompt discussions on violence prevention in Venezuela’s poor communities. Venezuela has never had a film reach the Oscar nomination stage.
Marcel Rasquin says “We always trusted this film; every person who has watched it has been touched.”
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