“I hope to build a house with my films. Some of them are the cellar, some are the walls, and some are the windows. But I hope in time there will be a house.” – – – – – Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Sebastian Schipper – Germany, 2015
Motion pictures are crafted from so many moving, visual, sensual parts. In some cases, rare cases, some of those artist components can linger beautifully as a single element, A lot like the marvelous cinematography alive and kicking in Sebastian Schipper’s breath-taking Victoria. Hats off to Sturla Brandth Grøvlen, the man behind the camera work, as the movie drifts through its engrossing, multi-layered narrative in one continuous take from start to finish. You read that right. And this is a movie that surpasses the two-hour mark. It’s remarkable achievement, given the characters themselves change throughout the hours, through night, then day, they are seemingly constantly on the move, getting tired, sweating, anguish clearly showing.
At the center is the sensational Laia Costa as the Victoria of the title, a Spanish girl recently arrived from Berlin who knows nobody and is up for a good time. When she meets a group of boys, the potential suspicion of such a scenario following a busy night clubbing blends into a more amiable situation as she builds a kind of rapport with them. The hours that tick by though are far from smooth-going, as Victoria finds she has nested with a crowd that quickly attracts fatal danger. The blistering pace and frenetic energy sweep you up, racing along from one memorable scene to the next. And as the film reaches an inevitable, dramatic closure, there is even room for some poignant and heavy repercussions for the overwhelmed Victoria. – – – – – Robin Write
Luca tanzt leise / Dancing Quietly
Philipp Eichholtz – Germany, 2017
Dancing Quietly comes loudly recommended as a down-to-Earth, every day portrayal of Luca (Martina Schöne-Radunski), a young woman with a clear (but never over-cooked) trail of depression by her side. As well as a fetching feline Mata, as she attempts to regain her footing by studying for and sitting her high school diploma. The movie is not about the actual education per se, or at least as text books and illegible notes go, but the level of discipline required with a hectic social agenda, the progression beyond the line of darkness, and a bright future. Not to mention forming a friendship with an older student while not quickly enough kicking her dickbag boyfriend into touch.
At its core, Dancing Quietly channels the psyche of Luca, touching on her melancholic side, but also allowing her to express her somewhat carefree, quirky nature. This is not then a movie that particularly drags your mood right down to the floor. Writer-director Philipp Eichholtz echoes many familiar downsides to mental health, but continues a natural flow of wit and honesty in impressing the characters’ imperfections and what essentially makes us human. – – – – – Robin Write
La niña santa / The Holy Girl
Lucrecia Martel – Argentina / Italy / Spain / Netherlands, 2004
Set in La Salta, a small Northern Argentine town, La Nina Santa takes place at a run down hotel that is hosting a medical convention. The scene is a constant flux of people and movement and it is difficult at first to sort out the characters but this is what makes the film so interesting because it is about human interactions. Amalia (Maria Alché) is the sixteen-year old daughter of the hotel’s manager Helena (Mercedes Moran) who is recently divorced and lives with her brother Freddy (Alejandro Urdapilleta). Amalia meets . Dr. Jano (Carlos Belloso) while she stands in a group listening to a performance on the Theremin, an instrument that is not touched, but is played by disturbing the surrounding air. And there’s some sexual tension in the air as well.
Helena, still seething that her ex-husband has just fathered twins by his new wife, is also attracted to Jano. Amalia thinks that her mission from God is to save Dr. Jano and seductively follows him around the hotel, even entering his room when he is not there. Jano discovers Amalia’s stalking and becomes concerned about his career, but he is not without his own sexual desires. The film is full of intensity and uncomfortable tension, as the characters struggle to contain their inner emotions and their repressed desires come slowly bubbling up to the surface. Yes, the events that occur are somewhat inappropriate but it never crosses the line into the realms of perversion, and instead director Martel presents these characters as flawed human beings who are all lost in the world, trying to find some meaning. – – – – – Bianca Garner
După dealuri / Beyond the Hills
Cristian Mungiu – Romania, 2012
Strolling backwards in time, you would not be forgiven for not seeking out some of the finest works in European cinema of the last 10 years – and a glass-shattering part of the Romanian new cinema movement. Cristian Mungiu picked up the Best Director award for Graduation in Cannes recently, and back in 2007 won the prestigious Palme d’Or with 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. Sandwiched between those coveted wins is another fascinating social drama from 2012, Beyond the Hills, which scooped double prize for Best Actress at the festival with leads Cristina Flutur and Cosmina Stratan both selected.
Mungiu was awarded Best Screenplay too for his gritty, religious, occultist tale, an adaptation of orphan friends who appear to have gone their separate ways over the years. As always his narrative is unforgiving and raw, seemingly always brimming on the edge of the unknown, while not allowing you to take your eyes from the screen – even in many moments of little action. – – – – – Robin Write
En duva satt på en gren och funderade på tillvaron / A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence
Roy Andersson – Sweden, 2014
Roy Andersson’s films resist definition. Don’t pay attention to the pretentious title, this Swedish film is actually quite an amazing miracle. The 2014 Golden Lion winner at Venice is an episodic, deadpan dramedy from Andersson’s brilliant, twisted psyche. The conclusive piece of his “living” trilogy that started with 2000s Songs From the Second Floor shows us the abyss of human existence and the pointlessness of some human lives. A knowledge of Kafka’s works might help, I was also reminded of Waiting for Godot in this seemingly modern tale of two unsuccessful and troubled travelling salesmen – it all feels like a metaphor for something otherwordly that cannot be comprehended.
There’s nothing conventional or familiar about it. Roy Andersson’s movies are like that. You better brace yourself for a sequence of images, scenes and characters that may or may not fit together but are guaranteed to surprise, amuse and shock you. Andersson tackles death here, but tries to give it a twisty irrevocably deadpan style. sometimes you’re not sure what his point is but that’s part of the charm. I’ve heard some people say that they were bored to tears by the film, but then again this isn’t a film for short attention spans. – – – – – Jordan Ruimy
Fehér isten / White God
Kornél Mundruczó – Hungary / Germany / Sweden, 2014
The Palm Dog Award at the Cannes Film Festival is no joke, gloriously honoring the performance of the dog variety in film. Look at terrific previous winners like Lucy (Wendy and Lucy), Mops (Marie Antoinette), and of course the late, great Uggie (The Artist), and then tell me this is not a bone-afide merit (pun intended). In 2014 the Palm Dog was awarded to a canine ensemble, led by Body / Luke as Hagen, in the Hungarian film White God directed by Kornél Mundruczó.
Teenager Lili fights for her companionship with her dog Hagen against family, school, but it is the vengeful dog that seeks Lili out. It is a gripping movie in its own right, but the sequences with the dogs in action are executed so proficiently the credit to the film-makers, and the dogs as cast members, is completely warranted. They say don’t work with children and animals, this compelling gem begs to differ. White God also scooped the Prize Un Certain Regard.. – – – – – Robin Write
Busanhaeng / Train to Busan
Yeon Sang-ho – South Korea, 2016
Wasting no time, Yeon Sang-ho sets the scene, a swift, affecting introduction to some fine characters, before letting rip with a form of zombie apocalypse we’ve not quite seen before. All hell breaks loose on the train when a stray woman, clearly bit, gets the blood ball rolling. One bite leads to another, as it goes, and the transformation and chaos is almost instant. The frenetic pace is so exhilarating you barely have time to stop for breath. The enclosure of a passenger train has rarely been so claustrophobic, with hardly any place to climb or hide, let alone run.
What Train to Busan also achieves, that many horrors or thrillers fail on or neglect, is the pure, human story-thread. Terrific characterization and key scenes of engaging dialogue builds relationships and genuine rapport between people now living in immediate fear. tic story-telling, and a narrative that zooms by like a hurricane. The blistering scenes of special effects make its mark in accommodating elements of entertainment and suspense – including a couple of ludicrously brilliant set-pieces you have to see to believe. – – – – – Robin Write
L’Inconnu du lac / Stranger by the Lake
Alain Guiraudie – France, 2013
A slow-burn French thriller, Stranger by the Lake is perhaps one of the most cohesive LGBT films to come out in recent years. Young and fit Franck falls for a tall, dark-and-handsome type at a nude beach on a secluded lake, the shores and surrounding forest of which are a cruising spot. While the lake glimmers in the sun, and beautiful bodies wade in and out of the water, Franck is obsessive over the mysterious, mustachioed man–and you can bet his furrowed brow and towering figure house a tortured soul. Stranger by the Lake says a lot of things about being a gay man in a society that would rather they hide their sexuality. But among all the tension and drama exists a beautiful body of water that allows men who like men to be men who like men. – – – – – Ian Nichols
Mia aioniotita kai mia mera / Eternity and a Day
Theodoros Angelopoulos – Greece, 1998
In the midst of Eternity and a Day there’s an unforgettable image of children clinging for dear life to a fence on the Albanian border amidst the vast white of snow. They could easily be angels, imagery not distracting us from the fact this is a moment of horror and beauty. A reminder that some children are indeed lost in the world, and need help getting home. Bearded writer Alexander appears to be suffering from a terminal illness when he comes across the young refugee boy, and begins a journey to return him to Albania.
Theodoros Angelopolulos’ camera drifts ever so slowly back and forth and wherever it may take us, including hovering through Alexander’s own memories. One charmingly endearing sequence of a bride and groom uniting in dance in a village street is certainly not out of place (and one of many enamoring long takes). It is in keeping with the notion that, as boy observes to man in a manner at one point, we can smile over the sadness. As well as the Palme d’Or (Jury president Martin Scorsese was completely smitten), Eternity and a Day took the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury in 1998. – – – – – Robin Write
Der Krieger und die Kaiserin / The Princess and the Warrior
Tom Tykwer – Germany, 2000
There are some directors who know no limits when establishing a narrative, and Tom Tykwer is definitely one of them. This is a strange, fairy-tale like story between a nurse in a psychiatric hospital and a PTSD-suffering former soldier who keeps finding himself on the wrong side of the law and stars two outstanding actors of German film, Franka Potente (of Run Lola Run and the American Bourne series fame) and Benno Furmann. The chemistry between them is magnetic as they bounce from adventure to adventure, and Tykwer’s use of time, camera movement and imaginative use of fantasy and flashbacks make for the desire for repeat viewings.
As he did with Lola, Tykwer’s kinetic style is present here but more introspective, allowing us to absorb what may or may not be real in what can only be called an absurdist romance. Ah, if only all romantic comedies had this originality and nerve, plus the capability to truly surprise. So flexible is Tykwer’s screenplay that there are two endings to the film – and both work perfectly. This is one of my go-to films when I find myself suffocating in Hollywood mediocrity- it’s a beautifully shot bedtime story with a healthy attitude towards life and all its pitfalls. – – – – – Steve Schweighofer