“You make films to give people something, to transport them somewhere else, and it doesn’t matter if you transport them to a world of intuition or a world of intellect…The realm of superstitions, fortune-telling, presentiments, intuition, dreams, all this is the inner life of a human being, and all this is the hardest thing to film… I’ve been trying to get there from the beginning. I’m somebody who doesn’t know, somebody who’s searching.” – – – – – Krzysztof Kieślowski
La double vie de Véronique / The Double Life of Veronique
Krzysztof Kieślowski – France / Poland / Norway, 1991
Making it look oh so pure and simple, Irène Jacob is gently ravishing depicting The Double Life of Véronique. A marvel of a role, so fragile and awe-inspiring, I can’t imagine anyone other than Jacob fulfilling such promise. It is as though she is walking on water at times, bright and breezy, ponderous and melancholy, appearing to float through the film like an angel. The acting is so subtle and affecting, there are depths of pain and pleasure in Jacob’s face, every movement and word spoken is magnetic. In the most flattering way imaginable Irène Jacob would have made a truly legendary silent movie star – one we would most definitely still be talking about today.
With the exquisite, gorgeous photography of The Double Life of Véronique, Slawomir Idziak successfully and expertly experiments with reflections of light, sometimes blurry, sometimes contrasting shadows, always vivid. Never does he appear to be showing off either, Idziak captures more than enough of Krzysztof Kieślowski’s poetry and vision, were attention to detail and dream-like splendor go hand-in-hand. Even the colors and tones, often seemingly pastel-like, are more often than not glimmering and vibrant. A wonder indeed, even in its darkest moments, beautifully enveloping our hearts, while awakening some deep longing for euphoria. Visionaries like the iconic Kieślowski don’t invade our cinematic souls perhaps often enough. It breaks my heart knowing that Kieślowski was frustrated about supposedly not able to transfer the vision in his creative mind onto the screen with the same impact, affection, or power, and likely took that notion with him when he sadly left us. – – – – – Robin Write
Akahige / Red Beard
Akira Kurosawa – Japan, 1965
The young Dr. Noboru Yasumoto (Yûzô Kayama) reluctantly comes to a clinic under the supervision of Dr. Kyojô Niide (Toshirô Mifune) – known as Red Beard. Dr. Yasumoto initially sees the patients of the clinic as worthless wretches. The viewer may make similar judgments, but the film uses recurring monologues to subvert this tendency. As the patients tell their stories, the film unpacks one of its key ideas – that you cannot make judgments about a person until you’ve truly listened to them. As with any Akira Kurosawa film, Red Beard contains powerful imagery.
The cinematography is meditative and poetic, and it is supported by a score that often gives way to the melody of ambient sounds. The patients of the clinic have all been subject to tragedy. One in particular, Sahachi (Tsutomu Yamazaki), has made an incredible impact despite the tragedy in his life. His words seem to give another core ethic for this film: “The only thing I could do to make amends was to be useful to others.” In such a cruel world, it is our ability to love, care for and empathize with others that will bring light into the dark places. – – – – – Aaron Charles
Mi Amiga del Parque / My Friend from the Park
Ana Katz – Argentina, 2015
Being a mother is a hard task and one that is an unique personal experience from one mother to the next. Katz’s film is about a mother who befriends an unlikely friend and as a result becomes liberated, although there is a cost to this freedom. Living in the Patagonia region of Argentina, married couple Gustavo (Daniel Hendler) and Liz ( Julieta Zylberberg) are a creative working couple. With Gustavo away in Chile filming a movie, Liz is feeling alone and overwhelmed at home taking care of their first child, newborn Nicanor. Liz inherently already feels like a bad mother as she can’t produce enough milk to breastfeed. Although she has friends who are parents, she feels she can’t intrude on their already busy lives, and as a result feels isolated.
One day while playing with Nica in the park, Liz meets Rosa (Ana Katz), a working class factory worker, and her newborn daughter Clarisa, the two mothers who instantly bond. Through Rosa, Liz eventually also meets her sister, Renata. Slowly Liz begins to feel that her social life is improving. However, Liz slowly begins to regret having met Rosa, who she feels is taking more out of their friendship than she is giving. This moving drama deals with the topics of motherhood, class conflict and friendship, as well as showing the power of female solidarity. Expertly crafted by director Ana Katz, this intelligent film will leave you questioning what really matters in a friendship. – – – – – Bianca Garner
Mogari no mori / The Mourning Forest
Naomi Kawase – Japan, 2007
The Mourning Forest is a captivating, poetic piece of film-making, sadly clouded somewhat in reputation by Japanese director Naomi Kawase’s next two ventures to Cannes, Still the Water, and Sweet Bean, which were not at all well received. Setting amidst the occupation of care-giving, and the journey of grief, her 2007 film brings two very different people together in the forest of the title – a young nurse, and an elderly patient – both dealing with horrid loss in different ways. A grueling, somehow majestic, journey is about to befall them.
The central companionship portrayed by wonderful performances (Machiko Ono and Shigeki Uda), is utterly compelling, with minimal dialogue, but plenty of gorgeous, natural scenery, and a tender heart at it’s core. Kawase has been invited back to the Cannes Film Festival time and time again over the last 20 years, with The Mourning Forest awarded the Grand Prix of the Jury in 2007. No Palme d’Or to show for her extensive travel expenses, even though she did return last year with Hikari. – – – – – Robin Write
Ma vie de Courgette / My Life as a Courgette
Claude Barras – Switzerland / France, 2016
In little more than an hour, Claude Barras and Celine Sciamma etch out a portrait of a whole world, created from the fabric of reality. The tactility of stop-motion and the exaggeration of My Life as a Courgette‘s character design, constructing a world that feels real due to its dedication to artifice – the technical details that only adorn the depth of this film’s empathy. Barras and Sciamma display steadfast, accurate appreciation of the thought processes and behavioural characteristics of children, and not just any but those with most troubled histories. If the precision of their collective approach engenders our empathy, it’s the ways in which each element of that approach is combined with another that allows My Life as a Courgette to engender emotions we hadn’t even had cause to recollect.
Subtle, insightful details in the framing, the voice acting, the calibration of tone in this broad-ranging film reveal a limitless degree of perspectives, and the sensitivity of the film’s staging will recall one affective memory after another. We can all relate to being a child, but My Life as a Courgette is so strong in eliciting close relations between itself and us that it convinces us to relate to unfamiliar experiences. That empathy: it doesn’t just coax it out, it creates it anew. Not long into this outstanding film, one’s response to the layered ambiguity, the tonal bravado, the technical mastery will be of absolute submission – to relinquish all expectations, to trust that our confidence in the filmmakers need never diminish. And indeed, it only augments again and again. – – – – – Paddy Mulholland
István Szabó – Hungary, 1981
The sheer range of winners in Cannes with the Prix du scénario (award for best Screenplay) is still impressive, even if limited by the fact this particular prize was not even awarded for nearly half the years it existed. Also winning the FIPRESCI Prize as well as Screenplay in 1981, István Szabó’s Mephisto is an exhausting obsession movie. There’s a lot going on here too, like the rise of the Nazi party, while our protagonist has an affair with a mixed race woman. The elements that make this story truly mean something though are not just used flippantly, nor are they over-powering the narrative.
What does scream louder than anything else is that this is a movie about acting (however deeply you want to look into that as a social theme) with the incredible lead performance by Klaus Maria Brandauer. “I need the German language, I need the motherland, don’t you see!” he declares in despair at one point, in a moment, like many others, that is the most important thing in the world. Plenty of heavy politics and intriguing imagery here. Watch it with Cabaret, you decide the order. – – – – – Robin Write
Hany Abu-Assad – Palestine / Netherlands / Israel / Germany / France, 2005
When is comes to acts of terrorism, it’s easy to pick sides based on the judgment between what is right and what is wrong, but things get complicated when names and faces are applied to the situation prior to the actual event. The first-ever Palestinian film ever to be nominated for an Oscar dares to take this step and, thanks to the underwriting by The Netherlands, Germany, France and, yes, Israel, this heartfelt and sincere little drama got the attention it deserved. The 90-minute drama focuses on the last days together of two friends who have been recruited as suicide bombers.
It follows their preparations, including their receiving instructions from the cell in charge of the operation, changing their appearances and cover story, and the strapping on of unremovable explosive belts. Things go awry, however, and plans change. One of the friends is relived of his belt, but his partner, unaware of the change, has to be found and stopped. This allows the filmmakers to examine the suspense caused by the conflict between obligation and conscience as the plot continues to twist and turn. Our sympathies are deliberately herded in all directions, right up until the inevitable finish, as we are inside the minds of the would-be bombers. There is no proselytizing or politicking here – it’s a moving story of a situation we are seldom allowed to even consider on dangerously fragile, human terms. – – – – – Steve Schweighofer
La Belle Noiseuse
Jacques Rivette – France / Switzerland, 1991
La Belle Noiseuse, masterly and leisurely directed by Jacques Rivette, has garnered a reputation over the years since it’s 1991 release perhaps as prestigious as the corner of the art world it depicts. An excruciating portrayal of a painter (Michel Piccoli) and a new found inspiration to complete unfinished work, Rivette allows us to practically take the journey of the creative force, the brush strokes, the body language, not to mention the infamous amount of time we see Emmanuelle Béart in the nude.
La Belle Noiseuse clocks in at nearly 4 hours in total running time, which does of course imply that through it’s style of laborious film-making it may feel that long. Attention span aside, there is a rich tapestry of beauty and pain-staking effort here. On the flip side there is a 2 hour alternative version from Rivette subtitle Divertimento. At the 1991 Cannes Film Festival the film won the Grand Prix. – – – – – Robin Write
Sokout / The Silence
Mohsen Makhmalbaf – Iran / Tajikistan / France, 1998
Like a young Odysseus, little Khorshid travels life’s journey in search for his musical Ithaca, wandering into adventures involving modern-age Sirens lurking in every corner, a ‘faithful Penelope’s’ principle in the heart of his despondent mother, a coming of age Calypso falling in love with his unique outlook – and even a Cyclops figure, a grieving ogre to be defeated out of his strictly one-dimensional view. For the film’s short running time, our sprite of a protagonist follows lyrical beauty amidst the darkness — and has me doing exactly the same by following him, completely and utterly charmed by his antithetically stunning in colour, deeply multilayered, poetic innocence. – – – – – The Greek
Matka Joanna od Aniołów / Mother Joan of the Angels
Jerzy Kawalerowicz – Poland, 1961
Mother Joan of the Angels is a remarkably affecting film achievement, making full use of the talent and techniques of its time to make a genuinely eerie, compelling drama that gets under the skin. At the core of the seventeenth century Polish tale is the heavy theme of demonic possession, and a priest assigned to a local village to investigate a convent of nuns clearly marked by evil, where the Mother Joan of the title seems to be the biggest threat.
Directed by Jerzy Kawalerowicz, this is an assured and unrelenting motion picture, with stunning photography, writing, and acting – in particular Mieczyslaw Voit, Lucyna Winnicka, and Anna Ciepielewska in key roles. A frightfully brilliant picture, as alarming as it is masterfully crafted. At the Cannes Film Festival in 1961, Matka Joanna od aniolów won the Special Jury Prize. – – – – – Robin Write