From the 19th to the 22nd of October, I was at the 31st Braunschweig International Film Festival.
This was the best festival program for this year so far.
For the occasion, I watched 11 Arthouse films and none of them were bad.
Every single of them had its particularity and its charm.
For this blog post, I curated the films which were showcased within the competition “Der Heinrich”, which is an audience award competition, and the “New International Cinema” category.
I also watched film of the retrospective of the German actress Nina Hoss (The White Masai, Atomised, Yella, Homeland), who won the European Price and was the guest of honor of the festival.
In the category “Der Heinrich”, I’ll talk about Charleston by Andrei Cretulescu, A Date for Mad Mary by Darren Thornton, Dede by Mariam Khatchvani, Garden Lane by Olof Spaak, whom I interviewed, and Past Imperfect by Nathalie Teirlinck.
In the category “New International Cinema” about Arrhythmia by Boris Khlebnikov, Free and Easy by Jun Geng and The Killing of a Sacred Deer by Yorgos Lanthimos.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t watch The Square by Ruben Östlund, which won the Golden Palm at Cannes this year.
The selection I’d had the pleasure to watch at this film festival, was for the most part dedicated to love. Fraternal love, tragic love, impossible love, comic love, weird friendships, choosing between loves – sometimes with a deadly end – and the pain of letting go.
I would recommend every single one of them to you.
A banal scene at what seems to be a coffee shop. A woman is making a phone call, gets up and out and is hit by a car at the street corner. Later, a chain smoker stands at her grave hearing weird music. Alexandru (Serban Pavlu) is her widower, a drinker, and a cynic. As he seems to drink himself gradually to death, a young and frail man ring his doorbell and announces, that he’s been his wife lover for the five past months. Sebastian (Radu Iacoban) is devastated as well and make Alexandru a bizarre proposition: They could comfort each other. From now on, an odd friendship develops between the two men.
The locations of the film reflect the inner feelings of the protagonist. For the most part, the beginning of the film takes place in the apartment of Alexandru. It’s dark and full of wine bottles and seems to light up as Sebastian emerges in his life. The story begins, after a while, to take place outside, to places related to the dead wife. It ends on a bank, at what couldn’t be more open: The seaside.
Serban Pavlu (Toata lumea din familia noastra, Umbre, and Câinele Japonez) and Radu Iacoban (Amintiri din epoca and The Zero Theorem) couldn’t be more perfect for the role of this unequal pair. “Charleston” is indubitably a dark comedy about the weirdness of life and the difficulty, that human beings experience in letting go. It’s tragic and comic.
When Mary (Seána Kerslake) returns from prison, she hopes to connect with her best friend again, Charlene (Charleigh Bailey). But Charlene is busy with preparing her dream wedding and acts distant toward her friend. Mary sticks to her old patterns and lets her devastating anger control her life again, but is motivated by making an impress on Charlene, by bringing a date to her wedding and show, that she’s changed. A rather comical purchase of the right wedding companion begins as Mary tries to suppress, what she believes to be her true nature. Until she meets Jess (Tara Lee), a gifted musician, photograph and vibrant character, who doesn’t care about conventions as well. An unexpected love story begins between the two women.
“A Date for Mad Mary” portrays the hustle of a young lost woman, whos only way to get in touch with her feeling is through anger. It’s impossible to not feel enraged, amused and sad at the same time by watching Mary through her journey of resilience. Seána Kerslake, Tara Lee and Charleigh Bailey brilliantly brought their character to life on screen and it’s a delectation. In particular, I hope to watch Seána Kerslake on screen soon again, because she’s a genius.
Dina, a beautiful girl, is courted by most men in her small mountain village in Georgia, in 1992. She was promised by her grandfather to David (Nukri Khatchvani), who she doesn’t love. As her fiancé comes back from the war, he brings his best friend, Gegi (George Babluani), who already knows Dina. They’re in love with each other. As Dina chooses to refuse the marriage to David and turns to Gegi, a series of dramatic events take control of Dina’s life.
“Dede” has a slow rhythm, which fits the story of a community with long and rigid traditions. It’s not for everyone, but it’s difficult to remain insensitive to the faith of this modern woman in an old world, especially if you’re a woman yourself. The Caucasus landscape is magnificent and tolerates, therefore, long takes. Amateur of fast and solid storytelling should avoid it because they’ll be annoyed, but if you let “Dede” a chance, you’ll crave freedom, love, justice and after this nightmarish pilgrim through men stubbornness, wanting a release.
It’s summer in Sweden. Linda (Karin Franz Körlof) prostitutes herself to pay for her drugs. She doesn’t own a home and lives in a car with her daughter, Elin (Nike Ringqvist) and her “bodyguard”, Peter (Simon J. Berger), a junkie as well. They’re joined by Peter’s son, Eric (Emil Algpeus), whose mother is a Jehovah’s witness. Soon, Peter and Linda get closer and drag themselves mutually into more drug consumption. The four of them lead a bizarre family life, which Elin and Eric remember very differently as young adults.
“Garden Lane” is a reflexion on what humans are capable to endure and transform in their mind to make life experiences more bearable. At no stage, the author tried to draw tears – which is otherwise not a bad thing per se – from the audience. The captivating filming and intense performance of the actors do the job by itself and reinforce this dramatic story of those two junkies craving for excitement, but absolution and release at the same time.
Is the pretty Alice (Evelyne Brochu) a businesswoman… or an escort girl? For sure she’s alone and sad until she hears about the tragic death of her ex-husband in a car accident. Forced to look after her 6-years-old son again, who doesn’t know that she’s his mother, and reluctant to the idea of keeping him at first, Alice finds her way back to her long-lost humanity and her maternal feelings.
This plot sounds like it could easily fall down the slippery slope of dramatic kitsch and “Sorry-that-I-lack-imagination-but-I-wanted-to-make-a-movie-anyway”, but it didn’t! This feature film was one of my favorite among those I’ve chosen to watch. It was strong in every possible way. Firstly, because what it’s all about is not thrown into the audience face, like a user’s manual for a six-year-old. And secondly, because of the cinematography as well as the performance of the actors, in particular, Evelyne Brochu’s (Café de Flore, Inch’Allah, Orphan Black), which is tremendous. I was fascinated and touched by this story and wish you’ll feel the same.
Oleg (Alexander Yatsenko) has a very stressful life as an emergency doctor in Russia, enduring the rationalization of jobs, he has to be more and more efficient at the expense of his patients. His life gets more complicated as his wife, Katja, tired of him neglecting their relationship, wants to get a divorce. Their cohabitation turns to make things harder than Olaf is emotionally capable of standing.
The film conveys sadness, hectic, comic of situation and irony, sometimes sarcasm, in an elegant and charming way, that only a Russian evening accompanied by Vodka and nostalgia and surrounded by people you love could give you. It’s a cliché, but it works. “Arrhythmia” is a film about the loss of markers and love and the necessary balance every heart needs to feel to survive in this jungle called life.
A cunning soap salesman, who steals people’s belonging after making them unconscious, a conman, which panhandle as a Buddhist monk, a reforestation official, who is searching for the trees’ thief, a missionizing and simple Christian, and two disillusioned policemen cross each other’s path in a hopeless landscape – a rundown industrial area in North China – in winter. It turns out, that everybody is looking for something, is never going to get, not even by gouging each other, because nobody owns anything.
“Free and Easy” is made of long takes of the falling snow, stoic faces and dilapidated houses as an extension of the souls populating it. The actors – which are amateur actors, not amateurs – incorporate themselves this sluggish, funny, absurd and delirious world, with a couverture of bittersweet and dry humor.
“Free and Easy” won the World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Cinematic Vision at Sundance.
A heart that beats is surrounded by an operating sheet, on an operating table, in a clinic, animated by strange and aseptic characters. This very “Lynch-like” introduction presents characters who talk to each other as they were reading a script. The surgeon Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell) is visited regularly by an odd teenage boy, Martin (Barry Keoghan), who pretends wanting to be a doctor. Steven Murphy talks restrained and politely to his wife, Anna (Nicole Kidman), as well as to his both children, Bob (Sunny Suljic) and Kim (Raffey Cassidy), who talk back the same bizarre way.
Everything seems to be measured and orchestrated, even the intimacy of this successful physicians couple. Soon, it’s clear that Barry is not his hidden son, but has a far more bizarre connexion to the surgeon. A nightmarish and mythological curse operates on the sanity of this apparently perfect family.
Nicole Kidman and Collin Farrell work perfectly as this kooky couple of doctors. The kids played by Sunny Suljic and Raffey Cassidy are marvelous in the demonstration of their resilience. Barry Keoghan as Martin is creepy as he can get, and reminded me of Jake Gyllenhaal in “Donnie Darko”.
It seems that the closer Steven Murphy gets to an inevitable choice, the more distant and relentless his family seems to become and the more barbaric, but also vulnerable and human, he seems to become himself. “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” is harsh, detached, disconcerting, obscure and a monument!
Finally, I watched those two films starring the great German actress Nina Hoss, that I’ve wanted to watch for ages! I’m not going to make a review of these both, because they’re not new anymore, but were presented within a retrospective of the actress.
Nina Hoss has worked many times with Christian Petzold. Five films which they did together were shown at the festival: “Barbara” (2012), “Jerichow” (2008), “Phoenix” (2014), “Wolfsburg” (2003) and “Yella” (2007).
Nina Hoss did numerous other films and series like, among others, “Atomised” (2006) and “Homeland” (2014-2017) who weren’t shown at the festival.
“Barbara” tells the story of a doctor, who is transferred to the countryside for disciplinary reasons in the GDR of the 1980s. The film is about her journey and the discreet but oppressive and suspicious environment she has to adapt to and her attempt to escape, as well as her budding love for her new boss, Andre (Ronald Zehrfeld).
“Yella” tells the story of a woman who wants to escape something as well: her psychopathic and bankrupt husband and a world, where she sees no possibilities. A rather new and unexpected life begins as she meets the venture capitalist, Philipp (Devid Striesow).
In both cases, Nina Hoss played a woman trapped in a world, she doesn’t want to belong to. Both ending reflects the same outcome.
I liked the storytelling of Christian Petzold and the authenticity of the performance of Nina Hoss. I expected it to be good and was not disappointed. So, I don’t know how easy it’s to watch the films out of Germany on VOD-Streaming services, but if you love Arthouse and strong female characters, you should watch them both. Until then, those are the trailers:
Very bad quality, but with English subtitles
Hello there, I'm Martha, a tenacious optimist, multi passionated human being obsessed with improvement and breakthroughs. I'm a pain in the ass when it comes to accepting status quo and I love inspiring films and books because they go to the depth of our feelings, have the power to change perspective and sometimes to heal.
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