“Do you really think a man must be strong, masculine, dominating, and the woman frail, obedient and sensitive? This is a conventional idea. Reality is quite different.” – – – – – Michelangelo Antonioni
Le meraviglie / The Wonders
Alice Rohrwacher – Italy, 2014
Back at the Cannes Film Festival this year with Lazzaro Felice, ambiguous, alluring Italian director Alice Rohrwacher won the Grand Prize of the Jury back in 2014 for only her second feature The Wonders. A uniquely compelling family fable of sorts, you are drawn into their little world, and all their innocence and imperfections. The Wonders offers a thoughtful hand rather than becoming mundane, where the more practical kids are optimistic, while the parents tackle the reality of everyday worries. The fragile family are what they are, baking in the sun, their main income through bee-keeping and harvesting the honey. Rohrwacher ignites emotive moments from the unlikeliest of places – one girl allows bees to crawl in and around her face without an inch of fear, or when an inspector visits and the kids scrambling to scoop fresh honey from the floor.
The film was tagged in some critical quarters as having its foot off the gas and lacking emotional reach. On the contrary, depicting certain hardships as well as natural beauty of rural Italy, I find Rohrwacher’s touch has an immersive poise. The central characters, many of them children, wear their hearts in their sleeves and call a spade a spade. There’s indeed a sedated wonder about the prospects of participating in a televised talent contest, given how out of reach it might seem through a child’s eye, or indeed ours. Could be an acquired taste, The Wonders took its time with me, it’s an unusual, pretty flower that still continues to blossom long afterwards. A rare flower at that. A national treasure for Italy you could say. – – – – – Robin Write
L’Eclisse / The Eclipse
Michelangelo Antonioni – Italy, 1962
Written and directed by Michelangelo Antonioni, L’Eclisse continued to stamp the Italian’s talented mark on the evolving world of cinema he was instrumental in. Following on from L’Avventura (1960) and La Notte (1961), L’Eclisse comes fresh with the same sort of finesse and film story-telling excellence he was now renowned for. Alain Delon and Monica Vitti (the actress, muse, and icon of the early 60s) have a formidable chemistry onscreen, even if their flourishing romance within the narrative hits certain roadblocks in the later stages.
L’Eclisse is a magnificent motion picture, full of under-stated passion, and the natural conversing of characters Antonioni had a deft hand at. Little wonder then that audiences so highly anticipated Antonioni’s features in that classic era of cinema, shining spotlights on Italian society as well as film culture itself. L’Eclisse won him his second Special Jury Prize in 1962, and that Palme d’Or would soon come. – – – – – Robin Write
Fúsi / Virgin Mountain
Dagur Kári – Iceland, 2015
I suspect a lot of people will be put off by the American title, the poster, and the fact that it is marketed as a comedy. This is not some formulaic, 40-year-old virgin silliness so please, do not dismiss ‘Fusi’ on those grounds. Bittersweet and brutally honest, Gunnar Jonsson nails it as the socially inept Fusi, with a low-key yet powerful performance that has the viewer falling in love with his character within minutes of his introduction. Have a watch and have a think, this movie is one of those unassuming projects that have the capability to stay with you for a long long time — if not forever. – – – – – The Greek
Mira Nair – India, 1988
A double winner at Cannes in 1998, Salaam Bombay! was honored with the Camera d’Or as well as the Audience Award. And audiences ought to be no stranger to the Oscar, BAFTA, César, and Golden Globe nominee, Mira Nair’s extraordinary film depicts the street-lives of children in Bombay. Prominently shadowing young Krishna (a quite marvelous Shafiq Syed) through hardships, drug dealing, abandonment. Nair directs with a true flair and emotive sensibility, this is neither trivial nor sentimental, rather a gritty, powerful tale of the troubles facing a young generation in an impoverished culture. Not to be forgotten. Not would I want to. – – – – – Robin Write
La Ruta Natural / The Natural Route
Àlex Pastor Vallejo – Spain, 2004
Imagine waking from death and living through your life backwards, against the grain of time and all that you once knew. The palindrome title of Alex Pastor’s short film is a think piece alone. It delves into one man’s crumbling existence as he experiences life in reverse to his inevitable birth, which is cleverly designed to appear as his idea of death. Divad wakes up from a fatal fall in the shower tub to realize that the woman in his home is his wife, Arual. They argue, but he doesn’t know why. We’re taken through a series of events in his life that reflect on what he knows to be true and what he discovers as life’s natural wonders are manipulated to appear as tragedies, and vice versa. Divad finds that the world has been so cruel to him. He feels his fate is inevitable and it convinces the viewer to ponder through new perspectives to better understand what’s at play here. With a narrative as encompassingly wise and existential as this one, ten minutes is all it takes to circle a man’s life in reverse, delivering great commentary on life, death, and memory. It’s no wonder the film went on to win the 2006 International Short Film Award at Sundance. Pastor uses the human experience to artistically evaluate how we perceive something that’s so grounded and contained. – – – – – Jessica Peña
Såsom i en spegel / Through a Glass Darkly
Ingmar Bergman – Sweden, 1961
Whenever you watch an Ingmar Bergman film, you can expect a unique combination of technical prowess and emotional power. I believe the greatest example of this is his 1961 film, Through a Glass Darkly. The film follows a family on an island vacation. A young woman named Karin (Harriet Andersson) suffers from schizophrenia, and her husband (Max von Sydow) feels helpless. Her younger brother Minus (Lars Passgard) is desperate to communicate with their father (Gunnar Bjornstrand), an author seeking to finish his novel.
Bergman and cinematographer Sven Nykvist light each face individually, a subtle nod to the various shades and contours present in each moment. Andersson gives a spellbinding turn in the lead role, and the other performances are powerful as well. Even more than the visuals and acting, however, it is the film’s words that had the greatest impact on me. I’ve never experienced such an emotional swing in a film’s closing scenes. The penultimate scene horrified me. Moments later, the final scene lifted me into rapturous joy. This film is nothing less than a spiritual experience. Many films have attempted to portray the power of love, but few do so as beautifully as Through a Glass Darkly. – – – – – Aaron Charles
Nuovo Cinema Paradiso / Cinema Paradiso
Giuseppe Tornatore – Italy , 1989
Who is Alfredo? Adult Toto has the poignant, nostalgic means to answer such a question, with a story about the wonders and woes of life and of cinema itself. Alfredo is a projectionist, a father figure, a mentor, a great man – and companion to Toto from when he was a small boy, discovering his love for the movies, and his journey to adulthood.
Nuovo Cinema Paradiso encapsulates movies in all their emotional glory and despair. Roberto Benigni clearly loves this movie too, borrowing much of it’s sentiment for Life is Beautiful. The cutting room floor censored footage of nudity, embraces, kisses, becomes one of the greatest montages you could see on a big screen, as Toto soaks up later in his life, that even in his absence Alfredo can still show him the magic of cinema. Bellissimo. – – – – – Robin Write
Ničija zemlja / No Man’s Land
Danis Tanovic – Bosnia, 2001
The conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina is the setting for the argument that in war, there can be no winners, especially if you’re the poor sucker laying on a land mine. Poor Cera has no choice but to lay there and witness two wounded soldiers from opposing sides argue their points of view that matter little to him, followed by the arrival of UN Peacekeepers who have no solution to the situation and a Christiane Amanpour-like English reporter who is determined to make sense, or at least a sensation, of the whole thing. Supposedly the most awarded first feature film in movie history (42 major awards), it’s a film for anyone who thinks that armed conflict is a solution to anything. “A pessimist thinks things can’t be worse. An optimist knows they can.” – – – – – Steve Schweighofer
Matteo Garrone – Italy / France, 2012
Luciano (Aniello Arena) is a Neapolitan fishmonger who supplements his modest income by pulling off little harmless scams together with his wife Maria. A likeable, entertaining guy, Luciano never misses an opportunity to perform for his customers and countless relatives. One day his family urge him to try out for Big Brother. In chasing this dream his perception of reality begins to change and he becomes convinced that he is being secretly filmed. With a gorgeous score from composer Alexandre Desplat which goes hand in hand with the plot, and cinematography by Marco Onorato, this film is full of life. Garrone manages to effectively capture just how miserable everyday life can be and how everyone is searching for a way to escape their reality no matter what the cost.
The director also reveals how some actions can be so evidently false as that of Luciano of being overly generous with poor people only for personal purposes because he believes it will put on a good show for the cameras. Part satire, part a comedy, and part-tragic portrait of our world with its narcissism and greed. This film address subjects such as vanity, obsession and a surrounding culture that feeds us these kind of fake feelings and desires. It’s highly amusing, and will make you begin questioning whether we are all losing our own grip on reality with our obsession with our public persona, especially on social media. – – – – – Bianca Garner
Mia Madre / My Mother
Nanni Moretti – Italy, 2015
Nanni Moretti’s family drama Mia Madre was talked about with high praise when it seen at the Cannes Film Festival in 2015. Stealthily paced, and consistently emotive (though never over the top), Mia Madre packs a subtle punch, a fine, grounded effort, bringing some light-heartedness and bittersweet tones to an otherwise sullen, strong drama. Depicting a woman, Margherita, balancing the strains of trying to shoot a film with a difficult actor, ending her current relationship, and helping her brother look after their ailing mother who now resides in hospital.
Margherita allows the weight of the world to fall on her own shoulders. Her conversing with others around is affected, the guilt and sorrow she feels shine through. John Turturro shows up as entitled actor Barry Huggins and flaunts his exuberance, causing some chaos and disorder on set. It is a great turn from Turturro, full of energy, providing the picture with some welcome humor – and also dabbling in some native Italian. In the acting stakes, though, the film belongs to Margherita Buy, clearly, openly suffering through the illness of her dying mother, with some family around her, while also trying to keep it together during her demanding role as a film director. Obstacles and potential grief collide, and it is all she can do to keep standing until the heat cools down. – – – – – Robin Write