“If I had the body and the voice of an alpha male, it would be easier. It took nine years from leaving film school until Mustang was screened at Cannes, and those years were demoralising. It’s difficult not to be affected.” – – – – – Deniz Gamze Ergüven
Bir Zamanlar Anadolu’da / Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
Nuri Bilge Ceylan – Turkey, 2011
Enduring, melancholy, intriguing, somewhat distressing, and yet overwhelmingly fascinating and beautifully shot. The cinematography, in fact, dominates Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, in particular the film’s first half, crawling through the plot like a snake. The landscape so indistinguishably vast, plays a huge part in the film’s plot, a search which drags on through the night – the darkness adding to their obstacles as well as slowing them down. It’s majestic that it takes its time, amidst that incredible scenery, every frame could be a painting. I mean, the framing, even if only the tiny lights of the cars in the huge blackness, is just miraculous at times.
Directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia sets up a group of men from different professionals, but all linked to the search for a body buried somewhere on the plains of Anatolia. The police, those potentially responsible, a doctor, those needed to dig the grave. A mixed bunch indeed, the task is not a smooth one, and neither are the philosophical conversations that transpire. As always with a Ceylan picture, the long bouts of meticulous dialogue and stunning photography are key. Later in the film, during a power outage, a girl brings the resting me refreshments, the light of the lamp illuminating her beauty. The men are literally speechless, in awe of what they are seeing. Just as you would be, watching this. – – – – – Robin Write
Yaşamın Kıyısında / The Edge of Heaven
Fatih Akın – Turkey / Germany, 2007
As a screenwriter, Fatih Akın scribes complex, accessible characters with real problems and unknown futures. Caught amidst the conflicts and bonds between many in Turkey and Germany. They suffer trauma like many of us, but they strive to reach their summit, whatever that might be. Many of his characters in The Edge of Heaven are willing to travel great distances, put aside personal views or agendas. As a director, captures his words onto the screen in such an accomplished, compelling way. He clearly knows his worlds inside and out, delivering a heavy, often emotive, impact, and getting pensive, powerful performances from his acting ensemble.
Akın splits his film into three chapters, but all concern the same social issues, character relations, and political woes. The title of the first two segments reveal significant spoilers. Akın is not interested in hiding bad news, it’s coming, and here’s how we get there. A prostitute, Yeter, is propositioned by an old Turkish immigrant, Ali. Her daughter, Ayten, grabs a police officer’s gun during a riot, she’s part of the Turkish anti-government resistance group. Later she meets Lotte, a student who offers to help her out of her hardship. Ali’s son, Nejat, is a young professor of German Literature. We bounce back and forth between the characters, in detail, as their links force them to meet in some way. Those life collisions are part of what make The Edge of Heaven truly great. There’s urgency in these people’s live, but Akın still gives them the space and time to just talk about the good stuff, like a father’s loyalty or the appeal of a little book store. – – – – – Robin Write
Edward Yang – Taiwan / Japan, 2000
Yi Yi is an impeccable observation of a family which are all represented at varying stages of life. There is a father struggling to retain his sense of thinking that work is still important, his wife struggling with looking after her ill mother. And his children learning in their own ways about what life has to offer. On paper it sounds like this would be a slow moving dull affair with an epic runtime of 173 minutes, however Yi Yi is a thoroughly captivating film which draws you into this world of a family so you almost feel like you are part of this family.
Edward Yang uses wide angles and shots through windows in order to give the film an almost voyeuristic feel, but this doesn’t alienate the viewer, instead it gives the feeling you’re watching real lives unfold, a kind of privileged ‘fly on the wall’ style, and the ‘slice-of-life’ term often used to describe Yi Yi is appropriate. The film manages to balance humor, sensitivity, and emotion. Yang’s script is very poetic and allows for a lot of reflective pause and the dialogue is intelligent and well written. The characters feel very real and their problems and concerns move us, my personal favourite character is the son who is simply adorable and his perspective on life is quite refreshing. This is such a charming and enchanting film that I can recommend it enough. – – – – – Bianca Garner
Abderrahmane Sissako – Mauritania / France, 2014
Sissako takes on the scourge of the 21st Century, that of the incomprehensible rise of fundamentalism and its effect – not on the West and all its creature comforts, but on the indigenous population. It was the best reviewed foreign language film of its year and pulls no punches as it examines both the ridiculousness and tragedy that is oppression by way of religious intolerance of an intensity not seen since the Inquisition in medieval Europe and, later, its various empires worldwide. What begins as an argument between a cattle herder and a fisherman quickly becomes mired in the abomination that is Sharia Law as it is interpreted and executed by Jihadi thugs.
Sissako juxtaposes normal Mali life with the repressive rules that even those charged with its implementation and enforcement cannot follow – except when it conveniently amps up their power and control of the population. We Westerners drag out our righteous disgust at every terrorist incident that hits Paris, London or New York, yet how many of us consider what life must be like under their oppressive thumb on a daily basis? – – – – – Steve Schweighofer
Medianeras / Sidewalls
Gustavo Taretto – Argentina, 2011
Medianeras (or Sidewalls) just goes to show how two people might not ever have the knowledge that they were oh so close to meeting. As depicted in Gustavo Taretto’s refreshing comedy, Martin (Javier Drolas) and Mariana (Pilar López de Ayala) live across from each other, in housing blocks, and almost bump into each other more than once. At one moment, he stops to look at a shop display one second after she walked out of the window. The Taretto’s convincingly makes them compatible to the audience watching, and we are desperate for them to meet. As the film progresses you even start to genuinely fear Martin and Mariana won’t catch each other’s eye.
Given both characters have failed love behind them, and somewhat neurotic, reclusive traits – he fears flying, she fears riding in elevators – Taretto executes infuriatingly good comic and poignant timing. Using Buenos Aires architecture as a metaphor but also mapping the physical space Martin and Mariana have for themselves, and ultimately, between them. Both seriously need to knock through a wall to create a window to the outside world. Banish the isolation, and embrace the intimacy. A kind of Where’s Wally? of a tale for the fragile folk of mishap relationships. And we can’t help them from our seats, they have to find each other themselves. They must. – – – – – Robin Write
Samuel Maoz – Israel / Germany / France / Switzerland, 2017
Foxtrot illustrates a tale of life and grief with compelling visual wit and instinctive characterizations of how we cope with loss. When army officials visit the home of Michael and Dafna Feldman, they bare the news that their son, Jonathan, was killed on duty. Filled with anguish and frustration, Michael struggles through a great deal of vulnerability while Dafna is heavily sedated from having fainted from the shock. Director Samuel Maoz carefully tells this story through the Feldman’s experience and flashbacks to Jonathan’s timeline of events at his squad’s roadblock post. Desolate with beautiful visuals, Foxtrot isolates us to look inward and make peace with things we cannot control. The film paints anti-war as the escapism from a life of confinement.
Contemplative and raw, the film manages to become curiously lighthearted in ways that remind us to feel human again, even after loss. When we’re faced with grief, a reflex is to deny rational thinking. A father’s pain (masterfully translated through Lior Ashkenazi’s excellent performance) is tested as he questions his faith and resilience to the world that has taken his son. Foxtrot can be widely felt, as we wage war against ourselves and those around us in an attempt to feel anything. “Wherever you go, you will always end up in the place you started.” It’s the cycle of loss and life that translate this Israeli gem to something much more universal. – – – – – Jessica Peña
Le Scaphandre et le Papillon / The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Julian Schnabel – France / USA, 2006
Transporting you through cinema to a place you could hardly imagine or want to comprehend. Julian Schnabel directs the film version of Jean-Dominique Bauby’s memoirs Le scaphandre et le papillon (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) like a breathless splash of cold water to the senses. A suffocating, emotionally powerful film, depicting Bauby’s life when he has a stroke and is left paralyzed from the neck down – going on to form a communication through the blinking of his left eye. A laborious, but extraordinary feat.
We witness the main character’s imagination, his aspirations, his memories, as well as the people around him, including his distraught father, his loyal former spouse, and the woman who helped develop Bauby’s method of communicating. And remarkable performances Schnabel pulls from his cast. A rare cinematic achievement, and a real heart-crusher this one. Schnabel was nominated for the Academy Award, César Awards, and DGA, winning at the Golden Globes and at the Cannes Film Festival. – – – – – Robin Write
Lu bian ye can / Kaili Blues
Gan Bi – China, 2015
Back in 1989, as newborn baby Gan Bi was breathing in peaceful sleep, all nine Muses gathered around him, touched their pointers on his rising chest and in an exhale, blessed him with a seed of an idea. The seed grew inside him. Alongside him. All around him. And it kept growing. And growing. Until it took over, in height, in stature, in demand. Gan, much like The Little Prince and his rose, thought it his duty and honor to take care of his friend, to love and nurture it to full bloom. And when that time came, when the idea had blossomed to perfect ripeness, Gan dared to immortalize its beauty using the most encompassing medium to its fullest.
Colours, sound and echoing silence, shadows, poetry and violence, the rough and the velvety, time, love, devotion, laughter, hope and sorrow — everything, all of it comes together like a Clotho-weaved veil of mystique, heavy with droplets of ambition that weigh it dangerously with ageless wrinkles without ever breaking its threads. Can you tell I’m still engulfed in this feature’s ever-folding, dreamscape palpitations? In awe, this is the most human movie I have watched, possibly ever. I am caged. And here I want to stay. – – – – – The Greek
El ángel exterminador / The Exterminating Angel
Luis Buñuel – Mexico, 1962
You know those dreams you have, or perhaps nightmares, were you’re in a place and you can’t leave? Or there’s a cycle of space and time you can’t quite explain. Perhaps even an irrational logic to the experience. This is likely no mystery to the great Luis Buñuel, writer and director of The Exterminating Angel, in where mere dream sequences would not be the explanation here. Buñuel was making movies for fifty years, spanning the likes of Un chien Andalou in 1929, or That Obscure Object of Desire in 1977. So familiar are the connotations of social practice and isolated people forming groups.
The Exterminating Angel leaves a lasting impression, as a well-to-do bunch attend a formal gathering in a mansion. But rather than leave at the end of the evening, they linger, seemingly trapped inside. There’s little struggle or panic, but somehow Buñuel gives the surreal imprisonment a forward-moving, fathomable narrative. Time doesnt stand stop, and so, condition of hunger and thirst and fatigue start to form cracks in this arisstocrats. Moods worsen, there’s a mutual suicide, some animals stop by, the formalities became kind of savage. It’s an astonishing motion picture, a flowing fallacy of simultaneous normalcy and oddity. – – – – – Robin Write
Boi neon / Neon Bull
Gabriel Mascaro – Brazil, 2015
One of the most confounding foreign films to come out in recent years, Neon Bull is all about body politics. The camera gets into the grime of these cowhands–the dirt and shit on their skin; their unkempt hair; human flesh touching human flesh; and the heat–oh, the heat. We watch these people (among whom are a woman and her daughter, and a man who wears cologne and dreams of designing clothes) use and abuse their bodies to make a living. It’s hard to watch a movie that’s merely about the people who do the work no one else would do. And it’s just as hard to see them do some of the things these characters have to do. But, ultimately, Neon Bull has a mysterious lure about it–a sweet, earnest sexuality lingers over the film, even when these characters appear to be so far outside our world, human nature and desire become the bedrock of this unusually told story.. – – – – – Ian Nichols