Though we’re a couple of days into the 44th edition, we haven’t yet seen all that many reviews coming out of Rotterdam. Not a good sign. When IFFR 2015 opened on Wednesday, the Hollywood Reporter ran a piece in which Scott Roxborough suggests that the festival is slipping. The first reason he offers—that “Rotterdam’s brand of avantgarde movies is out of fashion these days”—is, to put bluntly, ridiculous. If that were so, Locarno would not be on the rise (and most certainly it is).
Nonetheless, Roxborough does have Ab Zagt, film editor at Dutch newspaper Algemeen Dagblad, telling him, “The festival has lost a lot of its urgency, a lot of professionals are telling me there’s no reason to come to Rotterdam anymore.” According to Roxborough, “Zagt is among the many Rotterdam critics who put much of the blame for the festival’s supposed decline on the shoulders of IFFR director Rutger Wolfson, who will be stepping down after this year’s festival.” Wolfson counters: “Far from being out of touch with the industry, I think we have been very responsive, and innovative, to the challenges the industry faces.”
And Wolfson elaborates in Wendy Mitchell‘s interview with him for Screen, arguing that the festival has met those challenges with new initiatives such as IFFR Live!, a series of five premieres to be screened simultaneously in cinemas across Europe and on VOD, and Tiger Release, a partnership with Infostrada that’ll nudge festival films onto a variety of VOD platforms.
Neither piece mentions shifts in the festival calendar—probably not a decisive factor, but a factor nonetheless. Years ago, surfers along the festival circuit could “do” Sundance, then fly to Europe and catch a good week of Rotterdam before taking on Berlin. But Sundance has shifted its dates into IFFR territory; this year, the two festivals are running all but simultaneously.
WHITE COAL: Georg Tiller’s poetic 68min #IFFR carbon-based doc tritely juxtaposes Europe (b/w, film, mopey) & Asia (colour, digital, abuzz).
— Neil Young (@JigsawLounge) January 23, 2015
This much we do know: For those of us who can’t be there, the lineups of the various IFFR programs present plenty to look forward to hearing about and, at Twitch, Ard Vijn introduces a gallery of no less than “25 Recommendations and Anticipations.” We may be off to a slow start, but here come the first reviews.
For Cineuropa, Vitor Pinto reviews the first film to compete for the Hivos Tiger Awards and “the only Dutch film in competition this year.” Gustaaf Peek’s Gluckauf “is set in Limburg, a region in the South of the Netherlands that became economically unstable when the mines closed (for decades the mines represented the region’s principal source of resources). The protagonist, Lei (Bart Slegers), is one of these former miners who for years have been living off hunting and petty crime.” Pinto is reminded “of the Dardenne brothers’ cinema, although the photography by Mark van Aller and music by Jorrit Kleijnen and Alexander Reumers wrap Gluckauf up in a less oppressive environment than, for example, The Son .”
“Given his penchant for fictional features of epic onscreen time spans and runtimes, Lav Diaz’s latest film—a 2½-hour documentary about the aftermath of the deadly Typhoon Haiyan which swept across the Philippines in November 2013—seems like a departure of sorts,” suggests Clarence Tsui in the Hollywood Reporter. “But Storm Children, Book One shares more than a few similarities in aesthetics and underlying theme with the Philippine auteur’s previous film, the Locarno winner From What Is Before. A visually riveting, heart-rending account of young boys and girls struggling to survive in calamitous landscapes, Diaz’s film is offering yet another story of beginnings—in this case, a generation forcibly stripped of their innocence, fast-tracked into adulthood and ingrained with an ennui which could easily morph into cynicism later on in life.”
Update: The Festivalists have posted the booklet (PDF) for the revived Critic’s Choice program.
Updates, 1/24: First off today, the festival’s making the English versions of its publication, the Daily Tiger, freely available.
Photogénie has begun its coverage with a first dispatch from Ruben Demasure: “João Bénard da Costa – Others Will Love the Things I Loved is a homage to the eponymous Portuguese cinephile. Bénard, who passed away in 2009, was a major advocate of film culture in his country, but remains largely unknown outside the Portuguese-speaking community. He was the assistant director and subsequent director of the Cinemateca Portuguesa from 1980 until his death. He was a critic for the newspapers Público and O Independente and author of Os Filmes da Minha Vida (1990), books on the musical genre, Portuguese film history, next to monographic studies on Hitchcock, Buñuel, Lang, Ford, von Sternberg, Ray and Hawks. Bénard acted in films by Raúl Ruiz and mainly Manoel de Oliveira—that other Portuguese film legend of which an essayistic portrait, Les Gants Blancs, premieres in the same Signals Regained section.”
Screen has begun interviewing directors with films in competition: Martin Radich (Norfolk), Juan Daniel F. Molero (Videophilia (And Other Viral Syndromes)), Jeppe Ronde (Bridgend), Lisa Takeba (Haruko’s Paranormal Laboratory), Kyros Papavassiliou (Impressions of a Drowned Man) and Remy van Heugten (Gluckauf).
Tara Judah sends a dispatch to desistfilm covering the Critic’s Choice selections: “Kicking off the program was Kevin B. Lee’s A Chorus to the Love of Film. Inspired by both his admiration and respect for Roger Ebert as a critic, his own association with Ebert’s television show and, later, as a contributor to the Roger Ebert blog, Lee’s essay is in conversation with Steve James’ documentary, Life Itself (2014). It is also in conversation with the mother of all film critic lists, the Sight & Sound international critics’ poll: that is, it examines film criticism through film criticism.”
Updates, 1/25: “Does the world of cinema need Rotterdam?” asks Brandon Harris in a dispatch to Filmmaker. “And, if so, does the festival’s survival depend on it becoming a festival just like all the others, one that jettisons curatorial ethics for a ‘be relevant now’ newness that fades as quickly as it burns? To answer the latter question, I think not. But this opinion is, outside of the confines of the festival’s De Doelen headquarters, an increasingly unpopular one.” Harris lays out a passionate defense of IFFR’s strategies and then touches on some of the highlights so far, including “the international premiere of Françoise Miron’s Paul Sharits, a terrific talking-heads-and-archival bio of the great experimental filmmaker, Paul Sharits, whose T,O,U,C,H,I,N,G, (1969) and Razor Blades (1968) remain hallmarks of experimental film.”
“Backpacking through Laos in search of adventure and authenticity, director Daan Veldhuizen was intrigued by the relationship between the local people and the increasing influx of tourists,” writes Ruben Demasure for photogénie. Banana Pancakes and the Children of Sticky Rice is set up “like a three-stage rocket. What comes first is an observation of the [isolated Buddhist village of Muang Ngoi] and its inhabitants in an almost anthropological manner. Then tourism arrives, and eventually friction arises between the protagonists and the filmmaker himself. The documentary slowly shifts from an observational to a more participatory mode.”
“A pastoral tragedy detailing the fallout between a vengeful rural mercenary and his more idealistic teenage son, [Martin Radich’s Norfolk] has queasy atmospherics to spare and a stony human center in the improbably but compellingly cast Denis Menochet,” writes Guy Lodge for Variety. “The pic’s violently stylized directorial flourishes, however, occasionally impede the coherence of its allegorical narrative.” More from Mark Adams (Screen) and Thomas Humphrey (Cineuropa).
After Linda, Linda, Linda (2005) and Tamako in Moratorium (2013), La La La at Rock Bottom “fits perfectly in [the] oeuvre” of Nobuhiro Yamashita, suggests Ard Vijn at Twitch. “It features a pop group and indeed another real-life pop star breaking into acting: Subaru Shibutani, member of the incredibly popular band Kanjani Eight. And once again, Nobuhiro Yamashita delivers a pleasant film where all the actors shine.” More from Mark Adams (Screen).
For desistfilm, Tara Judah reviews Walérian Borowczyk’s Docteur Jekyll et les Femmes (1981, alternatively titled The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Miss Osbourne), “accompanied by a thoughtful and provocative video essay… Adrian Martin and Cristina Álvarez López cast their critical eyes across Borowczyk’s (willfully) forgotten surrealist stunner and created their own audio-visual work, one that I like to think of as the illegitimate lovechild of Edward Hyde and Miss Osbourne, post-bathtub transformation. Their video takes Johannes Vermeer’s painting, Woman in Blue Reading a Letter (1663-1664), as its departure point and uses it to highlight elements of Borowczyk’s skilled composition, his complex spatial design and gender-saturated subtext.”
The jury for the Tiger Awards Competition for Short Films—artist and filmmaker Beatrice Gibson, programmer and curator Xander Karskens and artistic director of Image Forum Festival, Koyo Yamashita—have announced the three winners and commented on their choices:
- Ben Rivers‘s Things. “We chose this film, for its exquisite crafting and ambitious approach to the personal and the diarystic. For its toilet-humor, and the way in which the filmmaker successfully collapses style and rhythm.”
- Safia Benhaim’s La fièvre. “For its poetic and human use of images and sounds to engage with complex political histories. Its feverish pace and arresting cinematography. Its ominous, hallucinogenic soundtrack.”
- Ben Russell‘s Greetings to the Ancestors. For its complex approach to ethnographic filmmaking, its sensuous psychedelia, its self-reflexive and intricate weaving of voice and landscape.”
And the jury’s selected Dane Komljen’s Our Body to compete in the short film category of the European Film Awards (EFA) later this year. “For its raw and direct confrontation with its own subject. Its interweaving of the literary and the philosophical, and compelling juxtaposition of the gentle and the abrupt.”
Updates, 1/27: “A bold, bracing immersion in the shark-infested pools of post-1945 global politics, Bitter Lake is the latest provocative polemic from BAFTA-winning British journalist Adam Curtis,” writes Neil Young in the Hollywood Reporter. Michael Pattison for Grolsch Film Works: “Evidently tired of the hot air with which our politicians reduce history to an ongoing battle between darkness and light, Curtis has taken it upon himself to impose some clarity upon the chaotic detritus of today’s three-way battle between US capitalism, Islamic fundamentalism and international communism. The result is as rocky as it is ambitious.”
Back to Neil Young: “The mute or electively wordless protagonist has become a cliched feature of global art-cinema, an unfortunate trend which makes the wit and elegance of Argentina’s largely dialogue-free Dog Lady (La mujer de los perros) all the more refreshing. This modest but sturdy showcase for veteran actress Veronica Llinas—who co-writes and co-directs with Laura Citarella—intimately chronicles one year in the life of a shack-dwelling middle-aged hermit on Buenos Aires’ outer fringes.”
And also in THR, Jonathan Holland: “Towards the end of [Joanna Lombardi’s] Alone, its four 30-something protags sit in silence, hung over with pisco, as though they’ve run out of things to say: and by the end, this thought-provoking but unfocused film seems to have done the same. This sometimes wobbly tightrope walk between feature and documentary about four friends who head into the jungle to screen a movie to the locals highlights the strengths and dangers of acting improv, with moments of arresting immediacy sitting alongside scenes of outright conversational tedium.”
And Clarence Tsui reviews Li Luo’s Li Wen at East Lake, which is “about a suppressed police officer grappling with vanquished artistic aspirations and political awareness as he patrols one of China’s most famous scenic spots.” It’s the “director’s most coherent, accessible and multi-layered outing in his four-feature career.”
For photogénie, Ruben Demasure talks with Juan Daniel F. Molero about Videophilia (and Other Viral Syndromes): “Molero describes his film as a ‘hack’ of different genres: comedy, boy-meets-girl movie, apocalypse and supernatural cinema. All put together in ‘this kind of Frankenstein film,’ at once (non-)fiction, experimental and video art…. The filmmaker points out how syncretism—the melding of different, often seemingly contradictory beliefs—has always been part of Peruvian culture.” Writing for desistfilm, Tara Judah finds that the film “speaks to the contemporary malaise that exists in lieu of anything ‘meaningful’ IRL.”
In his latest dispatch to Filmmaker, Brandon Harris surveys the American narratives programmed by Ralph McKay and Inge De Leeuw. “Perhaps the most uncommercial, often meandering bunch of films, Garrett Bradley’s featurette-length Cover Me, part of this festival new program of mid-length movies, ones that typically struggle so hard to get programmed anywhere, was also the most surprisingly buoyant emotional experience among McKay and De Leeuw’s selection.”
Harris also reviews Kyros Papavassiliou’s “sumptuous magic realist whatisit!?, Impressions of a Drowned Man. Kostas Karyotakis was a prominent Greek existentialist poet who killed himself in 1928 at the age of 32…. Papavassiliou isn’t interested in telling Karyotakis’s story per se, using the spectre of the poet and his work as a launching board for a film whose elevator pitch would resemble something along the lines of ‘Groundhog Day meets Last Year at Marienbad.’ … [U]ltimately the movie’s intentions remain too out of reach for it to coalesce into a very meaningful whole. Its obscurantist sensibility feels like, in many respects, a Rotterdam calling card.” More from Vitor Pinto (Cineuropa).
“An unimaginable reality is brought to the brink of clarity—only to plunge right back into a psychological abyss—in Danish helmer Jeppe Ronde’s potent, pain-ridden Bridgend,” writes Guy Lodge for Variety. “A big-screen dramatization of the much-scrutinized teen suicide epidemic that has plagued the eponymous Welsh town since 2007, Ronde’s first foray into narrative filmmaking isn’t the probing, verite-style anatomy of a tragedy one might expect from the acclaimed docmaker; rather, it’s a subjectively sensory interpretation of events, adopting the perspective of a well-adjusted new girl in town (an excellent Hannah Murray) who finds herself inexorably enveloped by the communal depression of her peers.” More from Thomas Humphrey (Cineuropa).
At Twitch, Ard Vijn takes on the horror anthology German Angst. “The first segment is called Final Girl and is directed by Jörg Buttgereit, who is (in)famous for Nekromantik and Schramm – Into the Mind of a Serial Killer…. The second segment is Make a Wish, by director (and producer) Michal Kosakowski, in which a deaf-mute couple gets captured and tortured by neo-nazis…. Finally, there is Alraune, directed by Andreas Marschall, in which a fashion photographer seeks solace in Internet pornography and online chats…. Buttgereit’s episode is an art-house piece, and very reminiscent of his work in Nekromantik. The other two segments feel like edgier versions of Twilight Zone episodes, with Kosakowski’s piece being the grittier of the two, while Marschall’s segment is a gloriously colorful, glamorously erotic look at Lovecraftian nightmares.” More from Thomas Humphrey (Cineuropa).
Also in Cineuropa, Stefan Dobroiu on Ana Lungu’s Self-Portrait of a Dutiful Daughter. Cristiana (Elena Popa) is “a young woman who tries to enjoy her new-found freedom after her parents move out of the apartment they used to share…. The screenplay written by Lungu effectively builds an imaginary prison made from invisible walls, highlighting Cristiana’s conformism.”
And Vitor Pinto on Philippe Fernandez’s Cosmodrama, in which “seven astronauts, accompanied by a dog and a monkey, wake up in a spaceship following a cryopreservation (freezing) operation. None of them know what they are doing there or what their ship’s final destination is. Seemingly the ship is programmed to function by itself.” And “each new scene, triggers thousands of (physical, philosophical, semiotic…) theories about man’s relationship with the universe, and then later shamelessly deconstructs that intellectual solemnity in its entirety.”
More Screen interviews: Ismail Basbeth (Another Trip to the Moon), Britni West (Tired Moonlight), Nicolas Steiner (Above and Below), Jakrawal Nilthamrong (Vanishing Point), Carlos M. Quintela (The Project of the Century), Lukas Valenta Rinner (Parabellum) and Laura Citarella and Verónica Llinás (Dog Lady).
Updates, 1/28: Vitor Pinto for Cineuropa: “At first glance, Above and Below might seem like a post-apocalyptic movie: initial scenes that are difficult to situate: teaching a group of explorers in a red place that could be Mars. Then, from this supposed planet we land on earth and we meet people living in the gutter. But let’s not fool ourselves, this new movie by Swiss director Nicolas Steiner is no dystopian tale; it’s a solid documentary about antiheroes that, in the words of Oscar Wilde, live (literally or not) in the gutter but are still looking at the stars.” More from Mark Adams (Screen).
And: “With Parabellum, the Austrian director based in Buenos Aires Lukas Valenta Rinner screens… the most unexpected and captivating example of disaster cinema in recent times. Unexpected because it rejects codes and almost inaugurates a new genre that could be called auteur disaster film. Captivating, because his style, bitter and tragically comical at the same time, challenges the viewer to enter into a radical movie with almost no dialogue, whi