Archive for the ‘European Film Festival’ Category

Death is Always with Us

The Traitor

Director: Marco Bellocchio

Cast: Pierfrancesco Favino, Maria Fernando Candido, Nicola Cali, Fausto Russo Alesi, Luigi Lo Cascio

If viewers want an authentic Italian mafia film, then watch director Marco Bellocchio’s brilliant and atmospheric thriller The Traitor starring international Italian actor Pierfrancesco Favino (Rush, My Cousin Rachel) as Tommaso Buscetta a former member of the Cosa Nostra, the Sicilian Mafia who flees Italy to go and live an exiled life in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.

Buscetta then turns state witness and joins the Italian prosecutors in attempting to persecute the high ranking members of the Cosa Nostra who evolved their cigarette smuggling business into a multi-million dollar heroin operation. All the implicated members of the Sicilian mafia are ruthless gangsters who feel nothing at killing an opponent’s children or relatives as well as killing them off. People are murdered in broad daylight or have their arms hacked off.

Toto Riina is the mafia kingpin who controls all these high ranking gangsters and as Buscetta turns traitor and rats on all of them. They all get arrested and stand trial in a bizarre and outrageous trial which is chaotic, sinister and shambolic from the potential convicts having epileptic fits to stripping naked in a packed courthouse.

Buscetta’s turbulent life is balanced by the calm guidance of Judge Giovanni Falcone played by Fausto Russo Alesi who realizes that by helping the traitor he is putting a target on his own back. In a poignant scene between Falcone and Buscetta they both realize that their imminent death is guaranteed and that death is always with them.

Certainly in The Traitor, there are a lot of killings including a particularly brutal seen whereby Buscetta’s two sons are tortured along with a devastating explosion along a Sicilian highway killing a key character in the film.

Buscetta gets witness protection for himself and his wife Cristina wonderfully played by Maria Fernando Candido who was nominated for a Best Actress Award at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival.

They move to America and keep relocating to various places from Tampa, Florida to Salem, New Hampshire to Fort Collins, Colorado. Ultimately, Buscetta makes the decision to return to Rome to assist in prosecuting some of the remaining members of the notorious Cosa Nostra.

In the tradition of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather and more recently director Martin Scorsese’s Oscar nominated The Irishman, director Marco Bellocchio’s The Traitor is more of an authentic chronological account of the rise and fall of the Cosa Nostra in Italy from Palermo to Rome, from Rio de Janeiro to Miami, a gritty and grand narrative of arrests, assassinations and sacrifice without an extravagant American flourish.

The best scenes in The Traitor are the bizarre courtroom scenes in Rome and Palermo and Bellochio’s method of pacing the film to not only shock audiences but keep them in utter suspense.

The Traitor is sometimes difficult to watch, violent, unapologetic and cruel but ultimately at the end it is a rewarding and thought provoking film about the Italian mafia which for over the last 50 years has been mythologized by the abundance of American films on this subject.

Thankfully, The Traitor is written and directed from a uniquely Italian perspective which gives it an operatic quality and gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10. Highly recommended viewing, but be warned this is a two and a half hour film.

Love Demands Sacrifice

Narcissus and Goldmund

Director: Stefan Ruzowitzky

Cast: Jannis Niewohner, Sabin Tambrea, Roxanne Duran, Henriette Confurius, Elisa Schlott, Emilia Schule, Georg Friedrich, Matthias Habich, Andre Hennicke

Austrian Entry for the European Film Festival 2020

This film is in German with English Subtitles.

Winner of the 2008 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film for The Counterfeiters, Austrian director Stefan Ruzowitzky returns to the Big Screen with the film adaptation of famed 20th century German author Hermann Hesse’s medieval novel Narcissus and Goldmund which is the Austrian entry for the European Film Festival.

Set in the 14th century in medieval Germany at the time of the Black Death plague which swept Europe, Narcissus and Goldmund focuses on the homoerotic friendship of two young men in the monastery Mariabronn. Narcissus is devoted to the monastic life of prayer and soliture and aims to become an Abbott.

His life is upended by the arrival of the gorgeous yet adventurous Goldmund, wonderfully played by German actor Jannis Niewohner, whose blond hair and sparkling blue eyes lands him in all sorts of trouble. Narcissus is played by Romanian actor Sabin Tambrea whose portrayal of tortured love and self-flagellation is nuanced and perfect.

Unlike Narcissus who has to constantly suppress his unrequited love, Goldmund on the other hand is a drifter, who decides that the Church life is not for him and embarks on a picaresque adventure as a young and handsome man who frequently lands himself in the beds of every available German maiden.

Goldmund is duped by the German noblewoman Lydia played by Emilia Schule and is taken up by the wealthy and entitled Julia played by Elisa Schlott. Riviera star, French actress Roxanne Duran also has a brief role as a noblewoman who seduces Goldmund.

Besides his numerous romantic adventures, Goldmund also has to use his wits to survive the growing devastation of the Bubonic plague which swept through 14th Century Europe as well as surviving the rage of his numerous patrons from Furst played by Georg Friedrich and Burger played by Matthias Habich. Goldmund possesses a unique talent of creating beautiful wooden sculptures and when he returns to Narcissus for assistance, his friend commissions him to create a beautiful altar for St Catherine at the Monastery.

Haunted with eternally searching for his lost mother, Goldmund creates a ravishing wooden sculpture reflecting all the woman he has met and seduced, a religious art piece that causes controversy amidst the cloistered monks. Narcissus confronts Goldmund about his suppressed love for him, but unfortunately their social circumstances forces them to remain apart.

As the prying Lothar played by Andre Hennicke says to Narcissus, a lifetime devotion to God is a love which demands sacrifice.

Narcisssus and Goldmund is a fascinating film about male friendship in the medieval times, about two diametrically opposed characters that ultimately lean on each other to survive in a harsh and judgmental society which was completely controlled by the Church.

Gorgeously shot with some unforgettable and enlightening sequences, Narcissus and Goldmund gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10 and is definitely worth seeing.

Sylwia’s Stalker

Sweat

Director: Magnus Von Horn

Cast: Magdalena Kolesnik, Julian Swiezewski, Aleksandra Konieczna, Zbigniew Zamachowski

Polish Entry for the European Film Festival 2020

The Polish entry for the European Film Festival is director Magnus Von Horn’s intimate examination of the moral duplicity of a social media star and fitness trainer Sylwia wonderfully played by the beautiful actress Magdalena Kolesnik in his film Sweat set in Warsaw and surrounding areas. Sweat was also part of the official selection for the 2020 Cannes Film Festival held virtually this year.

Sweat presents Warsaw as a glossy and sophisticated contemporary European capital complete with upmarket apartment buildings and thriving shopping malls and the main character Sylwia is a vain and ambitious social media star whose only concern is how many followers she has on Instagram and whether her beloved dog Jackson is loved.

Director Von Horn follows his main character Sylwia around as he guides the viewer through her hollow and utterly vacuous existence as she tries to deal with her mother Basia played by Aleksandra Konieczna and her new boyfriend Fryderyk played by Zbigniew Zamachowski (Three Colours: Red, Three Colours: Blue, Three Colours: White).

Sylwia also has a rather weird relationship with her male fitness star Klaudiusz wonderfully played by Julian Swiezewski who she sexually manipulates to beat up a male stalker who has been following Sylwia and become erotically obsessed with. An incident occurs late at night whereby Klaudiusz forces Sylwia to directly confront and assist her stalker.

Besides the moral repugnance of the main character, Sweat is more of a direct commentary on the age of obsessive social media and as the overly long film portrays Sylwia does not come clean about her ordeal with a stalker but rather seeks the self-congratulatory limelight of Polish Television as she does more to increase her social media visibility and her brand by ironically portraying herself as a victim of her own success.

Sweat is a fascinating and incisive portrayal of social media obsession but unfortunately it needed to be drastically edited since basically every frame of the film focuses on the life of Sylwia and her media obsessed fitness world and its inherent darkness. This microscopic obsession does tend to drag the film down and perhaps the viewer might find the subject matter tedious without their being any form of cathartic release or even an alternative point of view.

Sweat gets a film rating of 6.5 out of 10 and unfortunately is not the best Polish film I have seen, but is certainly the most bizarre in terms of subject matter: vanity and self-obsession.

Desert Fox and the Informant

Curveball

Director: Johannes Naber

Cast: Sebastian Blomberg, Thorsten Merten, Dar Salim, Virginia Kull, Michael Wittenborn, Franziska Brandmeier

German Entry for the European Film Festival 2020

German director Johannes Naber’s brilliant political satire Curveball is an absolute must see and this year’s European Film Festival held virtually in South Africa and scheduled to be released in Germany in November 2020. Curveball premiered in the Berlinale Special section at the 70th Berlin International Film Festival held in February 2020.

Sebastian Blomberg (The Baader-Meinhof Complex, The People vs Fritz Bauer) plays the unassuming but slightly naïve German chemical weapons expert Dr Wolf who unwillingly gets roped into a political conspiracy to prove that Saddam Hussein, the former Iraqi president was harbouring chemical weapons.

Set between 1998 and 2003, Curveball is the terrifyingly true story of an Iragi fugitive Rafid Alwan wonderfully played by Iragi actor Dar Salim who has also appeared in Lee Tamahori’s brilliant film The Devil’s Double opposite British star Dominic Cooper.

Alwan is questioned by Dr Wolf on the existence of anthrax and other chemical weapons and their existence in Baghdad, which he eventually concedes that there could be such weapons driven around Iraq on trucks which is flimsy and unreliable intelligence at best. What makes Dr Wolf rely on this informant even more is that in Curveball they form a formidable friendship with Wolf teaching Alwan how to use a snow sleigh and Alwan proving that he is quite an unreliable source especially after his drunken escapades with whiskey.

Thrown into this bizarre friendship, is Dr Wolf’s feisty and ruthless CIA agent Leslie played by Big Little Lies star Virginia Kull who exploits Dr Wolf’s naiveté to steal the informant from the Germans to assist the Americans to construct a premise for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. No matter that both the German and American espionage service know that the Intel that Alwan has fed them is entirely fabricated.

Director Johannes Naber skilfully guides the audience through the key events of that period from the chemical weapons experts employed by the UN to search for biological weapons in Iraq in 1998 to the election of George W. Bush as U. S. President in November 1999 to the 2001 World Trade Centre attacks in New York City.

Curveball is both surreal, hilarious and utterly unbelievable made more bizarre by the Kafkaesque bureaucracy of the intelligence services of America and Germany.

Thorsten Merten plays Dr Wolf’s ambitious boss Schatz while Michael Wittenborn plays the more pragmatic Retzlaff.

Curveball is fascinating viewing especially as it deals with recent historical events and demonstrates that the truth can be constructed for a political purpose in this case used to invade a foreign country. Curveball gets a film rating of 8 out of 10 and is highly recommended for those that enjoy incisive political satires.

Zaheer’s Journey

Mogul Mowgli

Director: Bassam Tariq

Cast: Riz Ahmed, Anjana Vasan, Aiysha Hart, Andrea Hart, Alyy Khan

British Entry for the European Film Festival 2020

British Pakistani actor Riz Ahmed’s fame in Hollywood rose quite substantially after his initial big screen performance opposite Kate Hudson in Mira Nair’s stunning film The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Since then Ahmed has gone on to star in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Venom and Jason Bourne.

Riz Ahmed and director Bassam Tariq co-wrote the British Pakistani film Mogul Mowgli which will be screened virtually at the 2020 European Film Festival, which focuses on the unlikely tale of a Pakistani rapper in a British city, the son of a traditional Pakistani family who immigrated to the UK to make a better life for their children.

Riz Ahmed plays Zed which is short for Zaheer a loud-mouthed and confident rapper who has proven his worth against a group of Nigerian immigrants at a rap competition and is on the cusp of a British tour aided by his manager Vaseem played by Anjana Vasan when tragedy strikes.

Zaheer, after an altercation in an alleyway with a disgruntled rap fan, collapses and is admitted to hospital. After several tests done, Zaheer is diagnosed with motor-neuron disease and his muscles are slowly deteriorating. The diagnosis comes as a shock to Zaheer and his parents particularly his father Bashir played by Alyy Khan.

Zaheer’s reflection on his condition which forces him to revaluate his hopes and dreams and specifically the side effects of the stem cell treatment which will make him infertile, makes up the basis of director Bassam Tariq’s over-directed film Mogul Mowgli which is saved by a stand out performance by Riz Ahmed who is basically in every scene of the film as he shows all of Zaheer’s vulnerability and subsequent humiliation especially as he has to rely on others to survive.

There is a particularly touching scene between Zaheer and his father in the hospital bathroom. Overall Mogul Mowgli is confusing to watch and the script is lacking some form of closure as to the real destiny for Zaheer, but nevertheless it’s his personal journey that counts. Riz Ahmed carries Mogul Mowgli and although this film has a niche appeal, it does showcase the lives of an immigrant community in contemporary Britain.

Mogul Mowgli is an interesting film, but it will not have a broad appeal as it deals with a very specific immigrant community and the strange and difficult choices they have made in attempting to integrate into a Western culture.

Mogul Mowgli gets a film rating of 7 out of 10 is a flawed film about a performance artist that has to deal with a devastating disease.

Manipulated Intelligence

Official Secrets

Director: Gavin Hood

Cast: Keira Knighley, Matthew Goode, Matt Smith, Rhys Ifans, Ralph Fiennes, Jeremy Northam, Indira Varma, Tamsin Greig, Jack Farthing, Conleth Hill

Set in London in 2003, South African director Gavin Hood’s British political film Official Secrets revolves around the complex story of Katherine Gunn who broke the Official Secrets Act and leaked highly classified Government information on British and American efforts to sway the vote in the UN in favour of a resolution legitimizing the 2003 invasion of Iraq on the dubious premise that Saddam Hussein was harbouring chemical weapons or weapons of mass destruction.

Oscar nominee Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game) stars as the morally conflicted Katherine Gunn who despite working for a highly classified division of the British Foreign Office and Mi6 deliberately leaked a politically sensitive memo to The Observer newspaper in London whereby political news reporter Martin Bright played by The Crown star Matt Smith.

Oscar nominee Ralph Fiennes (The English Patient, Schindler’s List) reunites with Keira Knightley onscreen after their starring roles in director Saul Dibb’s magnificent costume drama The Duchess as he stars as human rights lawyer Ben Emmerson who decides to take on Gunn’s case in which she could be charged by the Crown prosecution for treason and for being a spy.

Official Secrets was Britain’s entry into the recent European Film Festival https://www.eurofilmfest.co.za/ which had recent screenings in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Pretoria in November before being released on the general circuit in December 2019.

Official Secrets is an engaging political thriller about manipulated intelligence and about the length powerful nations will go to, to legitimatize a foreign invasion even if the premise for such an invasion are both legally and morally flawed.

Featuring an array of British stars including Downton Abbey star Matthew Goode and Rhy Ifans along with Jeremy Northam and Poldark star Jack Farthing, Official Secrets is an engaging if slightly dark political thriller about recent events that led to the 2003 invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan by American and British forces.

Recommended for those that enjoy murky political thrillers, Official Secrets gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10 and is interesting but not nearly as brilliant as such films as Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy or The Constant Gardener.

Dancer Dysphoria

Girl

Director: Lukas Dhont

Cast: Victor Polster, Arieh Worthalter, Oliver Bodart, Katelijne Damen, Valentin Dhaenens

Flemish with English Subtitles

Warning this film is not for sensitive viewers and contains a strong adult theme.

Nominated for a 2019 Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, Belgian director’s Lukas Dhont’s intimate and controversial examination of gender dysphoria in Girl is a fascinating and touching film to watch.

Girl examines the fictionalized story of Lara a fifteen year old cisgender person who is in the transitional process of having gender reassignment surgery from being a boy to a girl, all while dealing with puberty and her desire to be a ballerina in Ghent. Girl is inspired by the true story of Nora Monsecour a professional dancer and transwoman in Belgium who experienced gender dysphoria.

Traditional definitions of binary gender roles are smashed in this explicit examination of what a trans-teenager has to deal with in a society which has preconceived stereotypical notions of what defines masculine and feminine and the roles associated with those binary definitions.

In society, there is still stigmatization of boys wanting to do ballet and director Lukas Dhont examines this intense stigma with a far more psychological twist as Lara has to not only deal with the rigours of training as a female ballerina but also the shame associated with having a penis. Lara even uses a separate change room from the other traditionally female ballerinas.

In a particularly poignant scene, Lara’s French father Matthias asks a group of young men to help carry heavy furniture upstairs as they move apartments, whilst Lara flits around uninterested in the heavy lifting.  Played by Arieh Worthaler, Matthias is supportive of his cisgender person’s decision to psychologically and physically transform from a boy to a girl with all the associated trauma involved.

While Girl fixates too much on the actual genital transformation highlighted by one particularly disturbing scene when Lara cuts off the penis with a pair of scissors in front of a mirror, Girl ultimately is a psychological film about transition, shame and stigmatization and has divided the transgender community in Europe and America and will continue to produce some fascinating post film conversations.

Director Lukas Dhont is young and brave enough to tackle such a controversial subject in his debut feature film Girl, helped enormously by the transformative acting of Belgian actor Victor Polster who is in virtually in every frame of the film. Girl gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10 and is an incredibly brave cinematic debut from a first time director. Recommended viewing for those that savour discerning cinema.

Girl deservedly won the Queer Palm award at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival is now going to be shown in South African cinemas at the European Film Festival – https://www.eurofilmfest.co.za/. Be sure to catch this fascinating Belgian film at Cinema Nouveau in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Pretoria from Friday 29th November  to Sunday 8th December 2019.

Hopefully in 2020, Durban can once again be included on the itinerary for the European Film Festival and we can galvanize support for this important cinematic event.

Zeus of the Soccer Field

Diamantino

Director: Gabriel Abrantes & Daniel Schmidt

Cast: Carloto Cotto, Cleo Tavares, Anabela Moreira, Carla Maciel, Margerida Moreira, Chico Chapas, Hugo Santas Silva

Portuguese with English Subtitles

Directors Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt utterly bizarre allegorical fantasy about celebrity, cloning and refugees is set in the world of Portuguese football and focuses on a gorgeous but vacuous young soccer player Diamantino played by Carloto Cotto who is unwittingly controlled first by his father and then his evil twin sisters played by Anabela and Margerida Moreira.

Diamantino is clearly a thinly veiled reference to the most famous Portuguese soccer star in the world Cristiano Ronaldo a professional Portuguese soccer player whose fame and good looks has immortalized him on and off the field. Ronaldo’s brand has been commodified and sold as one of Europe’s most successful and talented soccer players. Ronaldo even has his own underwear brand!

If viewers are expecting the Portuguese language film Diamantino to be an intelligent allegorical tale about Ronaldo then they will be completely surprised.

As the directors are clearly influenced but not enhanced by famed Spanish director Pedro Almodovar, Abrantes and Schmidt turn the film Diamantino into an utterly bizarre tale of celebrity, cloning and the plight of refugees while also making comments about Portuguese nationalism.  

Besides the fluffy puppies that Diamantino’s imagines that he sees every time he scores a goal, this sports, espionage tale gets truly strange as Diamantino gets tricked by the Portuguese secret service in the form of two lesbians one of which is Rahim who pretends to be a refugee named Aisha from Cape Verde and gets inadvertently adopted by the clueless soccer player.

In the meantime, the evil twin sisters plot to have Diamantino’s gorgeous body and his football skills cloned by a bizarre geneticist named Dr Lamborghini which is in actual fact working for the Portuguese National Front that plan on using Diamantino’s star power in a propaganda media campaign to convince the citizens of Portugal to leave the European Union

Set mainly in Lisbon and the surrounding coastline, Diamantino is an utterly strange and bizarre film not even saved by the cardboard box acting of Carloto Cotto, who despite his beautiful looks does not convincingly portray Diamantino with an ounce of character dimensionality or willpower.

Diamantino might be the Zeus of the soccer field, but this film lacks any credibility as an original allegorical fantasy and turns out to be utterly weird in a terrible way.

Diamantino gets a film rating of 6 out of 10 and perhaps will find a unique audience in Portugal or Brazil but certainly not in mainstream international cinema.

Warsaw is the Paris of the East

Cold War

Director: Pawel Pawlikowski

Cast: Joanna Kulig, Tomasz Kot, Borys Szyc, Agata Kulesza, Cedric Kahn

Polish and French with English Subtitles

Polish British-based director Pawel Pawlikowski gives the cinematic world another beautiful masterpiece in all its stark complexity with the poignant film Cold War which was nominated for three Oscars at the 2019 Academy Awards including Best Director, Best Cinematography and Best Foreign Language Film.

As part of the 6th European Film Festival https://www.eurofilmfest.co.za/ which will have screenings at Cinema Nouveau in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Pretoria, South African audiences will get a chance to watch Cold War and admire filmmaking at its best.

Pawel Pawlikowski won the Best Director prize at the prestige 2019 Cannes International Film Festival and watching Cold War viewers can understand why. This film’s stark beauty is mesmerizing and seductive.

Pawlikowski’s masterful story centres on the epic romance of Zula beautifully played by Polish actress Joanne Kulig and Wiktor played by actor Tomasz Kot as they first encounter each other at the rudimentary auditions for a Polish folk song competition whereby Wiktor immediately spots the sultry Zula as a talent to behold. Cold War is set between the years 1949 and 1964 when Poland was under strict Soviet control and the harshness of this oppression is accentuated in the gorgeous black and white cinematography which heightens the plight between these two star crossed lovers.

Gradually as the action moves from rural Poland to East Berlin to Paris and then the former Yugoslavia and then back to Poland, Zula and Wiktor experience a tempestuous relationship laced with all the ironies of betrayal, fear and lust as the Soviet Party apparatus attempt to intervene in their lives and control the Polish folk singing group for propaganda purposes and to further push forward the agenda of Communism and Populism.

Joanna Kulig as Zula and in the background Tomasz Kot as Wiktor

Against this harsh setting, Cold War weaves a fascinating tale filled with brilliant music from traditional Polish folk music to Elvis Presley all gorgeously shot by two time Oscar nominated cinematographer Lukasz Zal (Ida, Cold War) as Zula and Wiktor‘s relationship is examined, dissected and reconfigured through the 1950’s when Wiktor decides to defect to Paris and work as a film musician.

Pawlikowski’s Cold War is a beautiful examination not just of a relationship between a man and woman through music and love, but also of the brittle and distrustful relationship between the Soviet Bloc of Countries and the West which defined the political stagnation which the film gains its distinctive title.

Cold War is a superb film and anyone interested in quality cinema should make an effort to see this flawless film, which gets a film rating of 8 out 10 and deserves all the international recognition heaped upon it. A cinematic gem.  

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