While we haven’t completely wrapped up Sundance 2013, it’s high time we turn our attention to Rotterdam, which opened last week and runs through February 3. We begin by opening up De Filmkrant‘s Slow Criticism 2013 package and setting it alongside Daniel Kasman‘s first dispatch to the Notebook—because he’s written, too, about a few of the films we find inside. First, De Filmkrant editor Dana Linssen: “The idea was to bring film critics from all around the globe together with premieres from the International Film Festival Rotterdam from countries that were as far away from their current location as possible.”
So we find Richard Porton on Shireen Seno’s debut feature, Big Boy: “While documenting a specific moment in the history of The Philippines—a period after World War II when American economic hegemony became solidified despite the country no longer being an official American colony—Seno’s film veers away from the macrocosmic generalities beloved by commercial filmmakers and filters history through the microcosmic prism of a family struggling to survive in the tumultuous postwar era.” Scott Macaulay interviews Seno for Filmmaker.
Pamela Biénzobas notes that Michiel ten Horn’s The Deflowering of Eva van End (De ontmaagding van Eva van End) “follows a certain tradition that could draw a circle around such diverse films as Teorema by Pier Paolo Pasolini, Dry Cleaning (Nettoyage à sec) by Anne Fontaine and François Ozon’s recent In the House (Dans la maison). In all of them, a mysterious and blondish youngster (ok, Terence Stamp was far from blond but he could fit the role with his deep blue eyes) shatters a family’s apparent stability by one way or another seducing its members.”
Vladan Petkovic finds watching Frédérick Pelletier’s debut feature Diego Star worth the effort. “It may be named after a rusty old bucket of a barely-seaworthy ship, but admirable social-realist drama Diego Star proves a more than watertight cinematic conveyance,” writes Neil Young in the Hollywood Reporter. “Indeed, this admirably unsentimental tale of a veteran African sailor who pays the price for taking a stand should surely have been competing for a Tiger award in Rotterdam’s ‘main’ section.”
Michael Pattison: “At 74 minutes, Éden is a suitably slim work that invests more into atmospherics than it does narrative intricacy. The third feature by Brazilian writer-director Bruno Safadi, this evocative film enjoys favorable if unlikely comparisons to Paul Thomas Anderson’s more widely seen effort, The Master, in its portrait of a recently traumatized soul whose vulnerability is nursed and/or exploited by an ambiguous religious leader.”
Chris Fujiwara on Bernadette Weigel’s Fair Wind – Notes of a Traveler (Fahrtwind – Aufzeichnungen einer Reisenden): “The space of the film is not just ‘post-Communist Eastern Europe and Central Asia,’ but also the space of a hundred or a thousand separate encounters between the filmmaker (once she has set off from her home in Vienna) and the people of the post-Communist world. There is no program, simply the succession of frames, highlighting the texture and the squareness of the image, making possible a kind of explosion of reality in movement, color, industrial forms (the Odessa funicular with its solid-color cars) and forms of ritual (elderly Ukrainians dancing to a town-square band’s performance of ‘In the Mood’). Every view, however enchanted, still implies what is, and remains, a social and historical context, but that context becomes displaced—not so much ‘made strange’ as offered up to the delirious purposelessness of cinema, of this cinema.”
Adrian Martin: “If you stay to the end credits, to the 140th minute of Peter Schreiner’s Fata morgana—and many viewers will not—you will learn that there are two shooting locations: Lausitz in Germany in the Sahara in Libya. Which explains something about the making of the work, but nothing about the work itself.” Though it does spark references to nearly a dozen other films, one of them being Stephen Dwoskin‘s final film, Age Is…, which comes to Danny Kasman’s mind as well. Fata morgana also brings Danny back to the film he opens his piece with, Letter, “a short work, not so much a documentary but a fragment drawn carefully and gently into immanence by Sergei Loznitsa.”
Back to Adrian Martin for a moment. Rotterdam’s screening Mehrnaz Saeedvafa’s latest, about which he writes in LOLA: “What is most fascinating for me in Jerry and Me is the quality of something I could call fan psychoanalysis. A type of self-analysis, arrived at through (to use the classic psychoanalytic couplet) introjection of, and projection onto, a beloved object: in this case, the performances, films, image and career of Jerry Lewis.”
Thoughts on Godard race through Ivo De Kock‘s mind before he turns to Mátyás Prikler’s “self-conscious slow cinema effort Fine, Thanks (Dakujem, dobre), based on his eponymous medium-length graduation movie (a festival favorite that made it to the Cannes Cinéfondation selection in 2010). It’s a fine and well-made movie, with a respect for the codes that will please festival-dwellers—but why so serious?”
Tommaso Tocci finds that “the visual language of [Sérgio Andrade’s] Jonathas’ Forest [A floresta de Jonathas] is entirely based on the act of staring as the primary mode of intercultural exchange… This is more Herzog than Malick: there’s no transcendence in the surrealism of nature, only weirdness.”
Ruben Demasure on Tsuchiya Yutaka’s GFP Bunny, a “wacky mix of (anti-slow) video diary, live webcasts, Google Street View itineraries, expert and street interviews” that “reconstructs the true story of the ‘Thallium girl’, who attempted to poison her mother in one of her experiments with the substance which she is named after.” It’s “a film packed with wild ideas on our world under surveillance, body modification and genetic engineering. Through a genetic chain of associations, I want to reflect on how the movie itself is also a laboratory of a mutating film culture.”
Leo Goldsmith visits “the Taipei of David Verbeek’s How to Describe a Cloud, where the slick, high-definition cityscapes, seen through windows and screens and flat surfaces, would seem to have thrown off the ache and the awkward dimensionality of the rural.” More from Marc van de Klashorst (International Cinephile Society).
Diego Lerer: “The city of Guimaraes, ‘the birthplace of Portugal’ with a history of more than ten centuries, was the backdrop for a collection of feature and short films celebrating its selection as European Capital of Culture in 2012, including works from filmmakers such as Pedro Costa, Victor Erice, Aki Kaurismäki and Manoel de Oliveira.” That omnibus film is Centro histórico, and Danny Kasman hones in on Costa’s short: “Sweet Exorcism, as it is called, shocked me anew with each image, as the director’s work did upon my first encounter with it.”
Back to Diego Lerer: “In Torres & cometas [Towers & Comets], the director of It’s the Earth, Not the Moon, Gonçalo Tocha, moves around the ancient city with his sound engineer, Didio Pestania, trying to capture the ways the past morphs into the present and how the long and mythic history of the place mixes with the daily realities of a country in deep crisis.”
James Gabrillo: “Based on the writings of a young woman who lived near a concentration camp in the 1930s, The View from Our House shows contemporary images the directors Anthea Kennedy and Ian Wiblin felt could relate to the horrifying memory.”
And back to Danny, here on Filipa César’s Cacheu: “The short film is a single, mobile 16mm shot recording two elements about the same thing: the deposed statues of Portuguese historical heroes from their place in the fortress of the title, located in the Portuguese colony of Guinea Bissau. The single shot is made up of a series of still images and movie excerpts about the statues projected on a wall, and a performance by a female lecturer, who presents these projections, on the same subject…. A remarkably clever work, its poetic ellipses and brief, unintended fiction-breaking sillinesses become part of the text and lend a sense of experimentation and bravery.”
Before turning to fresh reviews from elsewhere (i.e., from sources other than De Filmkrant and Notebook), let’s note that we have mini-roundups on three films screening at Rotterdam that have just won awards at Sundance here—Michael Almereyda’s Skinningrove, Jacek Borcuch’s Lasting, and O Muel’s Jisuel—and on two that screened in last month’s First Look series, Pedro González-Rubio‘s Inori and Jang Kun-Jae’s Sleepless Night. And we’ve got full-blown, stand-alone entries on Haifaa al-Mansour’s Wadjda, Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Mekong Hotel, Olivier Assayas‘s Something in the Air, Bernardo Bertolucci’s Me and You, Sophie Fiennes and Slavoj Žižek’s The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology, Matteo Garrone’s Reality, Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Penance, Pablo Larraín‘s No, Sergei Loznitsas’s In the Fog, Takashi Miike‘s Lesson of the Evil, Manoel de Oliveira‘s Gebo and the Shadow, Park Chan-wook’s Stoker (Rotterdam’s Closing Night film), Carlos Reygadas’s Post Tenebras Lux, Ulrich Seidl’s Paradise: Faith, Johnnie To‘s Drug War (Ard Vijn at Twitch: “Is it a classic? Probably not. Did I like it? Oh HELL yes!”), and Ben Wheatley’s Sightseers.
Now then. Here’s Screen‘s Mark Adams: “Brutally violent, darkly funny and cinematically inventive, the snappily titled The Resurrection of a Bastard (De Wederopstanding van een Klootzak), which opened this year’s International Film Festival Rotterdam, has the oddball quirks and genre style to find an audience intrigued by its Tarantino-style sensibilities and impressive performances.” Directed by Guido van Driel, based on his own graphic novel. More from Marc van de Klashorst (International Cinephile Society).
“True completists of Woody Allen and/or Larry David will need to seek out Shelly Silver’s intriguingly offbeat Manhattan essay-film Touch, whose latter stages include brief but amusingly ‘unofficial’ cameos from both comedy superstars captured while location-filming for their 2009 flop Whatever Works,” writes Neil Young in the Hollywood Reporter. “But the left-field incursion of these showbiz eminences is far from being the only notable feature of the latest hybrid creation from avant-garde veteran Silver, in which she ambitiously explores New York’s present-day Chinatown through the fictionalized, autobiographical prism of a returning emigree’s ruminations.”
Giovanni Columbu’s The King (Su Re) is a “radically bare-bones version of the Passion,” notes Neil Young (THR): “[T]his is forbiddingly austere stuff, along the lines of what might have happened if highbrow Catalan experimentalist Albert Serra had elected to remake Pier Paolo Pasolini‘s landmark 1964 The Gospel According to Saint Matthew.”
Again, Neil Young (THR): “The ‘J-Horror’ wave of terrifying Japanese chillers that started 15 years ago with Hideo Nakata’s The Ring has ebbed into a tepid, clumpy foam on the evidence of his Rotterdam-premiering The Complex (Kuroyuri Danchi). Starring local pop star Atsuko Maeda as a meek high-schooler who moves into an apparently haunted apartment-block with her family, it’s a compendium of clichés that outstays its welcome long before its protracted, ludicrous finale.” More from Mark Adams (Screen). At Twitch, Ard Vijn finds the film “has a very creepy first half, a thrilling second half, and a good beginning of its finale, but shoots itself in the foot with some silly effects that deflate much of the tension.”
Ioncinema‘s Nicholas Bell: “It’s easy to see why long time Carlos Reygadas producer Jaime Romandia (who has also produced for Amat Escalante and Pedro González-Rubio) got on board with director Sebastian Hofmann’s exquisite debut, Halley, as it combines the existentialist ennui of Reygadas with Cronenbergian body horror. Hauntingly surreal, and sometimes maddeningly oblique, it never fails to be consistently compelling, and Hofmann’s eerie protagonist manages to resonate long after its final frames.” More from Mark Adams (Screen) and Duane Byrge (THR). Elsbeth Jongsma interviews Hofmann for the Daily Tiger. Halley also screened at Sundance as part of the New Frontier program.
“For her third feature film, Chilean born director Alicia Scherson adapts cult Latin American author Roberto Bolaño’s novel [Una novelita lumpen], an Italian language oddity that’s basically a coming of age tale dressed up in a puzzling narrative of symbolism,” writes Nicholas Bell at Ioncinema. “Throw in a possible heist angle and you have what sounds like an instant cult item. While intriguing, and at moments, striking, there’s an unfortunate distance from the events and characters in Scherson’s film, and an undeniable indifference to what’s unfolding before us.” Variety‘s Alissa Simon notes that “Scherson’s screenplay is not concerned with realism. The story she relates is bizarre and twisted, yet contemporary. Even though mood trumps character psychology, the entire cast provides mesmerizing, evocative performances.” Il futuro, which also screened in the World Dramatic Competition at Sundance, features Manuela Martelli, Luigi Ciardo, Alessandro Giallocosta, Nicolas Vaporidis, and, as John DeFore notes in the Hollywood Reporter, “offers a fine showcase for costar Rutger Hauer.” Indiewire interviews Scherson.
“From its very first moments, writer-director Daniel Hoesl’s Soldate Jeannette exhibits a practiced but seemingly effortless control that signals a filmmaker with utmost confidence in his material,” writes Michael Nordine for Film Threat. “As funny as Dogtooth and as silently observational as Bestiaire, the film follows [its] intriguing cold open with brief fragments of its heroine’s karate classes and a long scene in which she snores loudly through a revival-house screening of C.T. Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc. Even funnier than this latter sequence is a telephone conversation ending with Fanni telling whoever’s on the other end of the line, ‘Too bad you’re not here; I’m going to watch this funny movie called Jeanne Dielman.'” James Greenberg in the Hollywood Reporter: “Produced by something called the European Film Conspiracy, the film was shot without a script on a miniscule budget as the actors improvised their characters and the action…. The presentation may verge on the precious and pretentious, but at least Hoesl and his collaborators are trying something bold as soldiers of cinema.” Indiewire interviews Hoesl. Soldate Jeannette‘s also screened in the World Dramatic Competition at Sundance.
“The high-profile slaying of a French banker at the hands of his mistress is transformed into a pretentious and yawn-inducing affair in Tied (Une histoire d’amour), the debut feature from actress-turned-filmmaker Helene Fillieres,” writes Jordan Mintzer (THR). “Based on a novel by Regis Jauffret—itself inspired by the murder of financial tycoon Edouard Stern—this impressionistic melange of violent hanky-panky and overwrought drama is hardly the best showcase for stars Laetitia Casta and Benoît Poelvoorde.”
“With its found-footage look and scary monsters showing up aplenty, [Richard Raaphorst’s debut feature] Frankenstein’s Army resembles a ride though a carnival’s haunted house,” writes Ard Vijn at Twitch. “Thankfully it’s a good one, though, and while the film has a literally shaky start, the finale had the audience intentionally in stitches.”
Updates, 1/30: “The first winners of IFFR 2013 are here: Beatrice Gibson’s The Tiger’s Mind, Zachary Formwalt’s Unsupported Transit and Erik van Lieshout’s Janus are the winners of the Canon Tiger Awards for Short Films.”
From Kira Muratova’s ‘Brief Encounters’ (1967)
Daniel Kasman in his second dispatch: “Tender, like the night, are the first two feature films by Ukrainian auteur Kira Muratova, subject of a large retrospective here in Rotterdam.” And: “Jean-Claude Brisseau, like many older, contemporary cinephile filmmakers, has retreated to the control and freedom afforded by low budget digital cinema with La fille de nulle part (The Girl from Nowhere), made in the director’s own apartment and starring himself in as the film’s protagonist. The retreat provides a fruitful simplicity for a blend of fantasy symbolism and humble reality, allowing it to blossom into sweetness and tragedy.” Plus: Notes on David Gatten’s By Pain and Rhyme and Arabesques of Foraging.
Marc van de Klashorst for the International Cinephile Society: “The links between Mikael Marcimain’s debut film Call Girl and Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy are manyfold: Marcimain was an assistant director on his illustrious countryman’s film, using the same cinematographer (Hoyte van Hoytema, coincidentally born in Rotterdam), and the story is a political thriller set in the same timeframe of the ’70s, only this time in Stockholm instead of London. The films also share the same reserved tension, often letting silence instead of music set the mood.” Also reviewed are Fernando Guzzoni’s Carne de perro, Ricky Rijneke’s Silent Ones, and Eduardo Villanueva’s Penumbra.