The 51st Thessaloniki International Film Festival will open on December 3rd with Danny Boyle’s “127 hours”. Boyle’s follow-up to his Oscar winning film “Slumdog Millionaire” is based on the book by Aron Ralston and tells the heroic adventures of the young climber Aron Ralston played in the film by James Franco.
Other films in the festival include 20 films to be screened in the Open Horizons section:
The Hunter by Rafi Pitts (Shekarchi, Germany/Iran, 2010) is a Kafkaesque tale in which the central character, played by the director, is a released convict working as a security guard in a Tehran factory. When a tragic event destroys his family, the reformed man lashes out against the system by murdering two policemen. The film, shot amidst the chaos of real elections, portrays an ordinary man pushed over the edge and accomplishes a delicate balance between political commentary and gripping thriller.
The Imperialists Are Still Alive! by Zeina Durra (USA, 2009) is the director’s impressive debut, offering a glimpse on how the war on terror seeps into the facets of everyday American life. The film’s protagonist lives in post-9/11 Manhattan and is divided between her Middle-eastern origins –which inform her work and life- and the glamorous life of the art circuit in which she belongs. When a friend disappears, she starts experiencing paranoia; the director handles these issues with a witty, insightful understanding of cultural stereotypes and how they affect people’s lives.
Our Day Will Come by Romain Gavras (Notre jour viendra, France, 2009). Romain Gavras is not only the son of Costa Gavras, but is primarily known as the creator behind the controversial and violent music video Born Free by M.I.A. His feature debut, Our Day Will Come is again concerned with societal violence, injustice and racial intolerance and stars Vincent Cassel as a psychotherapist “mentoring” a troubled young man. Under the pretext of creating a utopian community, Cassel and his protégé get themselves into outlandish situations, beyond the limits of what is acceptable in Western society.
The Tree by Julie Bertuccelli (France/Australia, 2010). Based on the celebrated novel Our Father Who Art in the Tree by Judy Pascoe and starring Charlotte Gainsbourg, The Tree is a story of grief and hope about a girl who hears her dead father whisper to her through the leaves of her favorite fig tree. Shot in a small Australian town and the stunning backdrop of the surrounding nature, the film is a lyrical tale of a family seeking comfort, infusing ordinary life with magic and wonderment.
Womb by Benedek Fliegauf (Germany/Hungary/France, 2010) is the Hungarian filmmaker’s English-language debut and it tells the story of a woman who, distraught by the loss of her soul mate, decides to bear and raise a child that is his clone. Despite the inventive sci-fi premise of the story, the true core of this haunting film lies in the mother-son bond, drawn out in unsettling tensions and uneasy silences.
The Light Thief by Aktan Kubat (Svet Ake, Kyrgystan/France/Germany/Netherlands, 2009), a charming fable about the financial destruction of Kyrgyzstan since the collapse of the USSR, stars the director himself in the role of Mister Light, the electrician of a poverty-stricken rural community. Mr. Light helps everyone, not only with their electrical, but also with their emotional problems. He is beloved to all, apart from the opportunistic authorities, police and politicians, who have no appreciation for heroes; he therefore makes it his purpose to “illuminate” their corrupt practices.
A Somewhat Gentle Man by Hans Petter Moland (En ganske snill mann, Norway, 2010), stars Stellan Skarsgård as a man who comes out of prison after serving a 12-year sentence and discovers there is a life for him outside: a real life with an apartment, a woman who likes him and a son who is almost grown. Soon, however, remnants of his past life start to haunt him and those around him; and in this wonderfully quiet and quirky film, he has to learn how to put his past behind him and live with the consequences of who he is.
How I Ended This Summer by Alexei Popogrebsky (Kak ya provyol etim letom, Russia, 2010). In a remote and bleak meteorological station on Chukotka, a frozen peninsula on the eastern edge of Russia, two very different men, a seasoned meteorologist and a student, cope with the extremes of cold, endless sunlight, isolation and loneliness. The result is a stunningly shot drama, with psychological and existential overtones, but also a thriller of formidable suspense. The film won two Silver Bears (for both lead actors and cinematography) at the 2010 Berlin IFF.
Silent Souls by Alexei Fedorchenko (Ovsyanki, Russia, 2010) chronicles the ritual journey undertaken by friends Aist and Miron in order to bury the latter’s dead wife according to the ancient customs of the Finno-Ugric tribe from which they are descended. In a universe that is reminiscent of Tarkovsky’s milieu, the story of the two men and their lost loves becomes an absorbing, emotional and affecting drama. The film garnered the Best Cinematography award in the previous Cannes IFF, as well as the FIPRESCI and Nazareno Taddei prizes.
Independence Days, the Festival’s main side-section programmed by Lefteris Adamidis, includes (as previously announced on April 16th) the Retrospective to the work of Apichatpong Weerasethakul and is completed by the section’s core lineup, ID-10, which identifies this year’s political, aesthetic, and thematic landscape of worldwide independent production.
As in previous years, a strong Latin-American presence apparent in this year’s art house and independent cinematic crop is represented through several films:
A Useful Life by Federico Veiroj (La Vida Util, Uruguay/Spain, 2010). A small black-and-white gem about Jorge, a film programmer who loses his job after the closing of the Montevideo Cinematheque, this is a film about the passion of film and the meaning of cinema in people’s lives, as well as the need to adapt to new variables in a changing world.
To the Sea by Pedro Gonzalez-Rubio (Alamar, Mexico, 2010). Awarded the Golden Tiger in the Rotterdam IFF, To the Sea can be described as a semi-documentary, focusing on people who play versions of their real selves. Beautifully shot, the film records the vacation of a father and son in the idyllic landscape of Mexico’s largest coral reef before the young boy returns to his mother in Italy; it is a bonding experience for the two of them and an opportunity for the boy to understand the communion between man and nature.
Octubre by Daniel and Diego Vega (Peru, 2010). In Lima, October is “purple month”, the color of clothes worn by thousands participating in the country’s biggest religious procession, dedicated to the “Lord of Miracles”. In the Vega brothers’ bittersweet and humorous debut, the protagonist, an emotionless moneylender, gets stuck with a baby and needs to discover not only newfound feelings, but also how to hold a family together.
The Lips by Santiago Loza and Ivan Fund (Los labios, Argentina, 2010). The three female protagonists of the film won a shared Certain Regard Special Prize for their poignant portrayal of social workers who travel to an impoverished part of Argentina to help people in need. In the patients’ roles, the directors used local people with real afflictions, giving the film a rare degree of authenticity, realism and emotional resonance.
Summer of Goliath by Nicolás Pereda (Verano de Goliat, Mexico/Canada, 2010). A unique film, made by a young and very prolific Mexican director, Summer of Goliath discards the boundaries between fiction and documentary to record the real lives of the natives in the rural community of Huilotepec, using both interviews and constructed scenes. Through the story of Teresa, who is looking for her vanished husband, Pereda takes a close, astute look into the specific environment and its inhabitants. He succeeds in unearthing the emotions that dominate the impoverished town: suspicion, hatred and fear have come to govern people’s relationships in this intriguing community and this truly fascinating film.
Other titles screening in the ID-10 program are:
Incendies by Denis Villeneuve (Canada/France, 2010). One of the most lauded films of 2010 –an adaptation of Wajdi Mouawad’s play- Incendies recounts a heart-wrenching family narrative that moves between story fragments of different generations, geographies and ethnicities. The Middle Eastern conflict at its center, the film nevertheless succeeds in transcending the purely political; it tells a moving story of individuals and of family bonds, nevertheless maintaining the complex themes that tie the personal with the collective.
Winter Vacation by Hongqi Li (China, 2010). This year’s Locarno Golden Leopard winner, Winter Vacation is a deadpan comedy about bored adolescents in a small Chinese town on their last day of vacation. Director, poet and novelist Hongqi Li’s work has often been preoccupied with the theme of mind-numbing, pointless lives in China and the film, shot in Inner Mongolia, is a superb visual and narrative example of this state of existence.
Don’t Be Afraid, Bi by Dang Di Phan (Bi, dung so!, Vietnam/France/Germany, 2010). Bi is a six-year-old boy, too young to understand the tensions between the people in his life, particularly the erotic and sexual ones. The film is frank about issues that are not readily discussed in Vietnamese society and cinema; observing the adult world through the eyes of a child provides it with a certain purity and authenticity.
In the tradition established by the ID section since its inception in 2005, this year’s gems of the American independent scene will be screened during the 51st TIFF.
In Cold Weather by Aaron Katz (USA, 2010), the mystery of a girl’s disappearance becomes a bonding experience for two siblings. For the director, the film is a departure from mumblecore, an evolution in cinematic style, as well as more sophisticated and subtle character presentation, arising from a polished and intelligent script.
Putty Hill by Matthew Porterfield (USA, 2010) is centered on the funeral of a young drug addict and the ripple effect it causes in his community, a working-class district of Baltimore. Casting young unknowns and working mostly with improvisation in a cinema verité style, Porterfield succeeds in creating an authentic, vivacious film, full of genuine emotion.
The Myth Of The American Sleepover by David Robert Mitchell (USA, 2010). In this Detroit-set film, we follow four young people as they search for romance and adventure on the last night of summer. The teen experience gets a makeover here, in a sweet, fresh and unconventional way, aided by a multitude of wonderful first-time actors
Tiny Furniture by Lena Dunham (USA, 2010). Starring the director and her real-life family in a fictional account of genuine situations, the film recounts Dunham’s new post-college life. Full of funny moments, Tiny Furniture is the honest, beautifully shot account of how a young person tries to find their footing and purpose in life.
The Thessaloniki Film Festival will end on December 11th.