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Activities - 24/06/2011
Feedback from the Cannes Festival: a spotlight on 5 European films
Not content with being the most prestigious film festival and the largest film market in the world, the Cannes Festival also offers the best opportunity to discover the auteur films that will be hitting the headlines in the coming months. Now that we are back from the festival and have had a chance to digest all we have seen, we wanted to highlight five European films that we enjoyed, which we hope will be finding their way into cinemas and winning over audiences, both in Europe and beyond.
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Oslo, August 31st (Joachim Trier, NO)
Un Certain Regard
Two-thirds of the way through Joachim Trier’s second feature film, some of the characters take their bicycles and, in the silence of the dawn, set off along a deserted avenue. In this moment where time seems suspended, in the middle of the city, we forget what has been said shortly before. It seems possible to believe at this point that one of the characters, Anders, will rediscover his zeal for life when he meets a young woman exuding serenity, who invites him to go for a swim. But he chooses not to swim and the next day will dawn without him.
Certainly, given the subject-matter, adapted from a novel by Drieu la Rochelle, which had already been filmed in 1963 by Louis Malle, Oslo, August 31st is not an easy film. After Reprise, which won a number of awards and was released in around a dozen countries, Joachim Trier, working with the same actors, takes a deeper look at the topics of the meaning of life and creation, adopting an even more radical stance in the process: this time his protagonist will not escape unscathed.
Yet we would so much have liked to believe this might be possible when the thirty-year-old leaves the building where he has been following a detox treatment and heads to a job interview. He meets friends from his past during this film, which is also a stroll through the Norwegian capital over the course of a day and a night, just as summer is drawing to a close and the first chill is in the air.
If this film lingers on in our minds, it is perhaps because it focuses all its attention on the central character, from all angles, according him the right to exist with all his contradictions. In the course of this day, Anders will try to talk but no conversation will be enough. By suggesting that a sentence might perhaps have been enough to change this day, whilst also evoking the inevitability of the path Anders takes, the film perhaps offers a glimpse of the fragility of our lives. Which is precisely what makes it so valuable.
Sales agent: The Match Factory
Bullhead (Rundskop, Michael R. Roskam, BE)
Presented in the Panorama section at the 2011 Berlinale
Bullhead is a surprising film. It opens like a thriller, feet in the mud, peopled with a gallery of highly colourful figures. In particular Jacky, the son of a Flemish farmer, who, with his imposing build, has no hesitation about using physical force to compel clients to buy from him. An inspector is killed and whilst the investigation, leavened with a good pinch of humour when it crosses the border to Wallonia, scrutinises Jacky because of his links with the animal hormones mafia, Jacky remembers a painful past.
This first feature film, based on a real trafficking case, is on the same ambitious scale as another Flemish thriller, The Alzheimer Affair. Yet, even though it is just as effective, Bullhead sets itself apart by slipping, mid film, from a thriller into a drama. In a flash-back, we see Jacky as a child, a figure who has little to do with the taciturn beast who now injects testosterone into his rear. This happy child could have become a great guy. The tragedy that has left him with nothing but brute strength as a means of expression is revealed a few sequences later. From that point on, it is a different character we see before us: a man who could have been different, stuck in a body and an identity that are not his own. Cast brutally back into the past, with the net tightening around him, he tries clumsily to pick up the threads of the life he never had.
Carried along by a strong performance from actor Matthias Schoenaerts, who did some serious bodybuilding for the role, Bullhead has been released in Belgium and the Netherlands.
Sales agent: Celluloid Dreams
Stopped on Track (Halt auf freier Strecke, Andreas Dresen, DE)
Un Certain Regard
Andreas Dresen’s reputation has just kept on growing and growing over the last few years. He has enjoyed a successful directing career in Germany, where Summer in Berlin (Sommer vorm Balkon) notched up nearly a million viewers, and his work has also begun to be distributed internationally, with Cloud 9 (Wolke 9), also selected for Un Certain Regard. This was followed by a good dramatic comedy, Whisky with Vodka (Whisky mit Wodka), about the emotional mishaps of aging actors.
It seems fair to predict a sound career in arthouse cinemas for his new film, Stopped on Track, thanks to the strengths of both the subject-matter and the finished film. The father of a family in fine fettle, who has just moved with his wife and children, discovers that he has an incurable brain tumour. The film follows his last months – his anger, distress, the reactions of his loved ones – without concealing any of the cruelty of the situation, yet nonetheless daring to add a pinch of humour to the mix.
Much of the film was improvised by the team – the actors and crew came up with the dialogue – and the doctors shown are genuine doctors, underscoring the film’s realism.
A harrowing yet “life-affirming” film (Screen International), Stopped on Track won the Un Certain Regard award. It will be released in Germany in November.
Sales agent: The Match Factory
The Other Side Of Sleep (Rebecca Daly, IE, HU, NL)
A forest, a corpse alongside which Arlene awakes early in the morning. Is it a dream or reality?
Arlene, who has been a sleepwalker ever since she was a child, works in a factory in a small Irish town. When a young woman is killed, her nightly wanderings begin again and she plunges back into her experience of her mother’s disappearance twenty years earlier. She becomes involved with the young woman’s family and grows closer and closer to the dead woman’s sister and her boyfriend, whilst all around imaginations run wild as people in the small community discuss the hunt for the killer.
This directorial debut from an Irish director might create the impression as the narrative begins that it will be set on the borderline between dream and reality. However, if we simply look at what we are shown, that is not the case at all. Is Arlene dreaming? Is Arlene in such a bad state as we might think? Yes, she seems perturbed by what comes welling up again in relation to her mother’s death. Yes, she gets perhaps a little too close to the dead woman’s family. Nevertheless, can she really be said to be acting abnormally, especially compared with all those around her? We do not even know if the figure depicted in The Other Side of Sleep is ambiguous or not. While she and most of the other lead characters all appear suspicious at some point, it is perhaps not because we see them through the eyes of a young woman who is not very well, but rather because we wish to view them in this light, just as the local people are wondering about the killer’s identity.
The film succeeds simultaneously in embedding itself in a very tangible reality, a small run-of-the-mill town, whilst at the same time allowing a seemingly plausible psychological study to filter through. Inspired by a news story, the film proves to be a study of the phantasmagorias that seize a community after a crime. Whilst providing a partial response to a news story, the film leaves us with lingering doubts about the murderer’s identity and the main character’s role in events
Sales agent: Memento Films International
Blue Bird (Gust Van den Berghe, BE)
A year after his Little Baby Jesus of Flandr, at Directors’ Fortnight Gust Van den Berghe presented the second part of his trilogy on birth, the road and death. An adaptation of a play by Belgian writer Maurice Maeterlinck, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1911, Blue Bird tackles the topic of childhood and the loss of innocence by depicting, over the course of a day, the initiation voyage of twins from a Togolese village, Bafonkadié and his sister Téné, who set off in search of their lost bird.
The young Belgian director continues to demonstrate his originality with this film shot in Cinemascope and in monochromatic blue; its aesthetics, which might evoke Japanese cinema, plunge us into an oneiric universe, with a dreamlike, fairytale atmosphere. In the course of this highly “artistic” road movie, the two children gain access to invisible worlds where they meet, for example, their deceased grandparents and have a chance to experience the future.
A charming and intriguing film, Blue Bird, according to Screen, will be an interesting challenge for distributors and will certainly seduce audience at numerous festivals.
Sales agent: The Coproduction Office
Jb Selliez, Flora Anavi