The Cornered Mouse Dreams of Cheese
The Cornered Mouse Dreams of Cheese

The 44th edition of Hong Kong International Film Festival (HKIFF44) which was cancelled last month following the recent spike in COVID-19 infected cases in Hong Kong revealed what would have been the complete line-up of films. The 14-day festival was due to start from August 18.

According to HKIFFS Executive Director Albert LEE, more than 185 titles from 55 countries and regions were selected originally for HKIFF44, including 53 world, international, and Asian premieres. “While we are unable to screen these films publicly because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are still happy to share our team’s choices and discoveries with our audience,” said Mr LEE.

HKIFF44 covers a broad spectrum of distinguished classics and exciting new works from all over the world. Among this year’s highlights is Roman POLANSKI’s An Officer and a Spy, a retelling of France’s Dreyfus Affair which won the Grand Jury Prize at the 76th Venice Film Festival. In Voices in the Wind, which received a special mention at Berlinale Generation, promising Japanese actress Serena MOTOLA evokes profound emotions throughout her cathartic journey under SUWA Nobuhiro’s elegant direction.

Christian PETZOLD’s Undine is a tale of fantasy and humor galvanized by the magnificent performance of Berlinale Best Actress Paula BEER. Her Korean counterpart, KIM Min-hee, also draws us into women’s delicate inner world in The Woman Who Ran, with which HONG Sang-soo was named Best Director at Berlinale. The late Raúl RUIZ’s unfinished debut feature, The Tango of the Widower and Its Distorting Mirror, is rediscovered and completed by his widow and collaborator, Valeria SARMIENTO, after half a century.

Renowned documentarian HARA Kazuo continues to probe with his two new works: Reiwa Uprising follows the election campaign of a new political party formed by marginalized communities, and Minamata Mandala delves into the lingering pain of residents suffering from mercury poisoning.

In the Fantastic Beatssection, Eliza HITTMAN shows extraordinary sensitivity to young women’s plight in unintended pregnancy in Never Rarely Sometimes Always, thevwinner of this year’s Berlinale Grand Jury Prize. Likewise, LIU Kuang-Hui boldly explores the forbidden passion of two high school classmates and the persecution they faced in Your Name Engraved Herein.

Equally fascinating from theMidnight Heat section are two hot picks for the young and adventurous audience: First Love, an unconventional yakuza comedy from cult favorite MIIKE Takashi, and TEZKA Macoto’s Tezuka’s Barbara, featuring pop idols INAGAKI Goro and NIKAIDO Fumi as a dangerously sexy couple.

Animation lovers, too, would have much to enjoy: from the enchanting and beautifully hand-painted romance of Bombay Rose to Anca Damian’s playful celebration of the incomparable bond between human and their four-legged friends, Marona’s Fantastic Tale.

Earlier, HKIFFS had disclosed the three world premieres – MAN Lim-chung’s Keep Rolling, Joseph HSU’s Little Big Women, and YUKISADA Isao’s The Cornered Mouse Dreams of Cheese – which would have bookended this year’s festival. Also announced were four specially-curated programs, including a tribute honoring Michael HUI, HKIFF44’s Filmmaker in Focus; a full retrospective of Federico FELLINI; a celebration of the 30th anniversary of The Film Foundation; and Journey Through Italian Cinema, featuring restored classics from the world-renowned Cineteca di Bologna.

GALA PRESENTATION

Keep Rolling
Dir: Man Lim-chung

One of Hong Kong’s most influential filmmakers, Ann Hui, becomes a “star” for the first time in Man Lim-chung’s directorial debut. A forerunner of the New Wave, Hui’s tumultuous, forty-year career is an unequivocal testimony to her unyielding dedication to filmmaking, and her expedition into the metamorphic city. This biopic probes into the acclaimed director’s idiosyncratic world, where we witness her rashness and goofiness, as well as her humanistic concerns for the everyday nobodies which make her films so moving.

Little Big Women
Dir: Joseph Hsu
Cast: Chen Shu-Fang, Hsieh Ying-Xuan, Vivian Hsu, Sun Ke-Fang

Conceived from his grandmother’s real-life story, Joseph Hsu’s debut feature is a quietly devastating yet heartwarming story about a family of women, struggling in their relationships and marriages. On her 70th birthday, a successful single mother receives the shocking news of her estranged husband’s death. Entangled in bittersweet memory, she also has to deal with the intricate emotions of her three daughters, and the sudden appearance of the husband’s lover. Will she get the closure she has longed for all her life?

The Cornered Mouse Dreams of Cheese
Dir: Yukisada Isao
Cast: Ohkura Tadayoshi, Narita Ryo, Yoshida Shiori

One of Japan’s most prominent filmmakers of romantic dramas, Yukisada Isao (River’s Edge, 42nd) branches out into new territory in this story of a philandering husband who faces an unusual proposition from a former classmate. Kyoichi’s chronic indecisiveness steers him into numerous affairs, until his wife hires a private investigator. But the detective agrees to keep the affairs secret, in exchange for a night of intimacy. What unfolds is a journey of tentative experimentation, and perhaps an explanation for a life plagued by lingering dissatisfaction.

No.7 Cherry Lane (Director’s Cut)
Dir: Yonfan
Cast: Sylvia Chang, Zhao Wei, Alex Lam

Hong Kong cinema legend Yonfan makes his first foray into animation with this richly evocative and seductive nostalgia trip into the Hong Kong of his youth. Set in 1967, the film follows a university student caught between the affections of his young new tutee and her elegant mother. Featuring a unique 2D hand-drawn aesthetic, this gorgeously rendered love letter to the crossroads of art and lust captures Hong Kong during its most promising, and most tumultuous, eras. Best Screenplay winner at Venice.

Shadows
Dir: Glenn Chan
Cast: Stephy Tang, Philip Keung, Tse Kwan-ho, Ben Yuen

With the mystical power to delve into people’s subconscious, Ching, a psychiatrist, discovers that a social worker is compelled by an inner voice to kill his family and commit suicide. Suspecting his former psychiatrist, Ching collaborates with a cop to investigate, which leads to a revelation from her own traumatized past, and casts a doubt over her motivation. In his first big- screen adventure, Glenn Chan delivers an exceptional psychological crime thriller that explores the dichotomy of good and evil lurking in our shadows.

Stoma
Dir: Kit Hung
Cast: Sing Lam, Stefan Kollmus, Derek Tsang, Chan Wai-man

The final screenplay by the late cultural icon Julian Lee is finally brought to life by director Kit Hung (Soundless Wind Chime, 33rd). Based on Lee’s own fight with cancer, the film follows an emotionally harrowing journey endured by young gay photographer Alex, after he is diagnosed with peritoneal cancer. Abandoned by his brother and his on-again, off-again lover, Alex is forced to face his mortality and the loss of his sexual identity through sheer resilience. A devastating, but ultimately hopeful story of survival and resolve.

Days
Dir: Tsai Ming-Liang No dialogue
Cast: Lee Kang-Sheng, Anong Houngheuangsy

Rain pours. Trees sway. Lee sits still on his sofa, watching the days go by, with the pain in his neck and back lingering. Under a different sky, Anong lives a life no less ordinary, spending his days alone. Love transpires in an encounter between the two men, as gentle caresses soothe the pain and loneliness in each of them. Tsai Ming-Liang’s (Your Face, 43rd) experimental feature extends the boundaries of abstract realism, distilling his subtle cinematic language into its purest form. Teddy Award Special Mention, Berlinale.

Dear Tenant
Dir: Cheng Yu-Chieh
Cast: Mo Tzu-Yi, Chen Shu-Fang, Bai Run-Yin

Cheng Yu-Chieh (Yang Yang, 33rd), the director of award-winning television series Days We Stare at the Sun (2010), returns to filmmaking with this heartrending and gripping mystery drama. Chien-yi has been taking care of his landlady, Mrs. Chou, and her grandson for the past five years. When Mrs. Chou dies under mysterious circumstances, her son suspects foul play. As secrets about Chien-yi’s life come to the surface, the devastating truth gets further out of reach. Best Actor, Taipei Film Awards.

GALA PRESENTATION

About Endlessness (Om det oändliga)
Dir: Roy Andersson
Cast: Martin Serner, Jessica Louthander, Tatiana Delaunay, Anders Hellström

The poignant contemplation of human life in A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (39th) is elegantly distilled in this infinite tragicomedy, for which Roy Andersson was awarded Best Director at Venice. Opening with a Chagallesque couple flying over war-torn Cologne, inconsequential dreamlike moments follow, guided by an angelic voice murmuring observations on life’s ennui and human foibles. Simultaneously a lament and an ode of lost souls, the film is achingly beautiful with a profound humanity.

Charlatan ( arlatán)
Dir: Agnieszka Holland
Cast: Josef Trojan, Ivan Trojan, Juraj Loj

Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, Jan Mikolášek established himself as a herbalist and faith healer to some of the most powerful figures in the former Czechoslovakia. Celebrities, Nazi officers, and even Communist president Antonín Zápotocký were among his most esteemed patients. Agnieszka Holland’s beautifully lensed biopic casts Czech star Ivan Trojan and his son Josef as her troubled protagonist, vividly embodying Mikolášek’s public struggles, darker, sadistic compulsions, and his secret romance.

DAU. Natasha
Dir: Ilya Khrzhanovskiy, Jekaterina Oertel
Cast: Natasha Berezhnaya, Vladimir Azhippo, Olga Shkabarnya, Luc Bigé

Since 2006, director Ilya Khrzhanovsky has constructed an alternate world in the Ukraine, where citizens, scientists and actors have not only recreated a 1950s Soviet research center but have lived and worked in it, on and off screen. Distilled from this formidable project, this feature follows two working women entrapped in the system, cafeteria workers who interact with scientists and foreign visitors as well without grasping the operations of this sinister behemoth. Outstanding Artistic Contribution, Berlinale.

Ema
Dir: Pablo Larraín
Cast: Mariana Di Girolamo, Gael García Bernal, Paola Giannini

From the metaphysical dialogue of Neruda (41st) to the lyrical portrait of Jackie (2016), Larraín continues his experimentalism in this psychological thriller that is, simultaneously, a visually expressionistic hymn to female liberation. Taking “playing with fire” to new extremes, the stylised drama fixates on Ema, a reggaeton dancer of ferocious beauty and indomitable free will, as she sets out on an odyssey to resolve a problematic adoption, which throws her artistic life and her marriage into crisis. In competition, Venice Film Festival.

Marghe and Her Mother
Dir: Mohsen Makhmalbaf
Cast: Ylenia Galtieri, Margherita Pantaleo, Raffaella Gallo

Struggling with both financial and romantic travails, a young single mother has to leave her six-year-old daughter in a convent while she searches for work, only to be drawn into a maelstrom of crime after she is tricked by two men who steal puppies for ransom. With a moral link to Italian neorealism, Makhmalbaf’s (The President, 39th) empathetic lens continues its exploration of poverty and social issues through the eyes of a hilariously insolent girl, who shatters the illusion of love, religion and human dignity.

An Officer and a Spy (J’accuse)
Dir: Roman Polanski
Cast: Jean Dujardin, Louis Garrel, Emmanuelle Seigner, Grégory Gadebois

Controversial filmmaker Roman Polanski shores up his position as one of Europe’s greatest living auteurs with this long-gestating retelling of France’s infamous Dreyfus Affair. Infusing the story of a Jewish soldier wrongly convicted of treason with an ample helping of political prescience, this feisty courtroom epic centers on Picquart, the head of counter-espionage who discovered the real culprit, and exposed systemic antisemitism within the French military and society at large. Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Venice.

Only the Animals (Seules les Bêtes)
Dir: Dominik Moll
Cast: Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Denis Ménochet, Laure Calamy, Damien Bonnard

Beginning with a woman vanishing from a rural French town during a snowstorm, the story jumps back and forth in time, to unveil and deepen the layers of mystery. Chopped into a Rashomon-style narrative, where the whole truth remains elusive, Moll crafts a smart whodunit from the entangled web of an African cyber-scam, in which five strangers each play an integral part in the puzzle. Even after the identity of the murderer is revealed, a mystery remains: how far would someone go to escape loneliness?

Proxima
Dir: Alice Winocour
Cast: Eva Green, Zélie Boulant-Lemesle, Matt Dillon

After Ad Astra (2019) and First Man (2018), Winocour provides a refreshingly female-centric alternative to space adventures. Chosen for a year-long mission on the International Space Station, Sarah must contend with male colleagues who doubt her abilities, and her extended separation from her young daughter. This heartfelt story of a woman torn between her professional ambitions and personal obligations cleverly weaves a delicate balance between mind and heart. San Sebastián, Special Prize of the Jury.

Seberg
Dir: Benedict Andrews
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Anthony Mackie, Jack O’Connell, Margaret Qualle

Star of Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless (1960), American actress Jean Seberg remains one of the French New Wave’s most enduring icons. But Seberg lived a troubled life, plagued by her relationship with civil rights activist Hakim Jamal, and support of the Black Panthers which saw her targeted by the FBI. Kristen Stewart, an equally enigmatic gamine, is effortlessly captivating in Benedict Andrews’ compassionate retelling of the tragically tormented waif.

Undine
Dir: Christian Petzold
Cast: Paula Beer, Franz Rogowski, Maryam Zaree, Jacob Matschenz

Beholden to a legend retold throughout European folklore, Undine is compelled to murder any man who betrays her. When we meet her, the man she loves leaves her for another woman, thus propelling writer-director Christian Petzold into the as-yet untested waters of fantasy and humor for his latest gift to discerning cinephiles. Reunited with his stars from Transit (42nd), with Paula Beer as the eponymous water nymph and Franz Rogowski as a potential romantic salvation, Undine proves as bewitching as it is, inevitably, politically barbed.

Voices in the Wind (Kaze No Denwa)
Dir: Suwa Nobuhiro
Cast: Motola Serena Motola, Nishijima Hidetoshi

Setting the scene around a real disconnected “wind phone” that allows mourners to “call” lost loves, Suwa (The Lion Sleeps Tonight, 41st) delves into the mental scars of the 2011 earthquake in Japan through the story of one teenage girl’s long road to closure during a conciliating homecoming journey. Winner of a Special Mention in the Berlinale Generation section, this quietly cathartic road drama sensitively uncovers intricate social layers, and captures the wounded souls in a traumatized Japan.

The Woman Who Ran (Domangchin Yeoja)
Dir: Hong Sang-soo
Cast: Kim Min-hee, Seo Young-hwa, Song Seon-mi, Kim Sae-byuk

What do women want? Many films – especially those directed by men – have posed superficial answers, but Hong Sang-soo’s thoughtful films let women talk to one another, explore their own lives and the men who hit on them. Three interconnected conversations between Gamhee and her diverse friends, skillfully anchored by Hong’s muse, Kim Min-hee, draw us into subtle yet meaningful worlds, where alternative choices are real life trajectories on which these women reflect. Best Director, Berlinale.

Young Cinema Competition(Chinese Language)

All About ING
Dir: Huang Zi
Cast: Ko Hon-man, Pang Hang-ying, Sit Lap-yin

Family patriarch Weiming has been admitted to hospital for an illness, but his wife, Muling, will do everything in her power to prevent him from knowing his real diagnosis. Meanwhile, their son, Yiming, has been accepted to a university in the US, but he also decides to keep it a secret as he ruminates on his future. Huang Zi’s poignant and delicate semi-autobiographical debut is a beautifully observed portrait of how one ordinary family faces mortality and the fear of uncertainties.

Be Alive Just Like You
Dir: Lai Meng-Jie
Cast: Rexen Cheng, Chiu Ssu-Chin, King Jieh-Wen

Six is a disabled man, who spends his days peddling lottery tickets and snacks on the streets. When he is introduced to Noodle, a lonely young woman working in a run-down stationery shop, their mutually shared desperation for connection leads to an unusual bond. Raw and empathetic, this gritty romance offers an audacious exploration into the sexual desires of the disabled, shining a light on the silent outcasts who are defenseless against the cruelty of the real world.

The Cloud in Her Room
Dir: Zheng Lu Xinyuan
Cast: Jin Jing, Chen Zhou, Liu Dan

Muzi returns to Hangzhou for another Lunar New Year, but this is hardly a warm homecoming. Visiting her old family home, seeing her divorced parents and meeting a bar owner, Muzi observes the perpetually changing landscape surrounding this shell of a place she once knew. Experimental in its narrative form, Zheng Lu Xinyuan’s stunning autobiographical debut is a hypnotic and entrancing visual collage about urban alienation in contemporary China. Winner of the Tiger Award at Rotterdam.

Damp Season
Dir: Gao Ming
Cast: Huang Yucong, Chen Xuanyu, Liang Long, Phoebe Lin

Gao Ming’s first fictional feature explores the melancholy and uncertainty facing young people as they transition into adulthood. At a deserted Shenzhen waterpark, Dong, a young security guard, dreams of becoming an actor and playing the Monkey King on stage. Meanwhile his girlfriend Juan, delivers and arranges flowers, but hopes one day to open her own florist. As the encroaching dampness of spring bleeds into every pore, these two wandering souls slowly drift apart, discovering a vague promise of a hopeful future in the arms of other people.

Stoma
Dir: Kit Hung
Cast: Sing Lam, Stefan Kollmus, Derek Tsang, Chan Wai-man

The final screenplay by the late cultural icon Julian Lee is finally brought to life by director Kit Hung (Soundless Wind Chime, 33rd). Based on Lee’s own fight with cancer, the film follows an emotionally harrowing journey endured by young gay photographer Alex, after he is diagnosed with peritoneal cancer. Abandoned by his brother and his on-again, off-again lover, Alex is forced to face his mortality and the loss of his sexual identity through sheer resilience. A devastating, but ultimately hopeful story of survival and resolve.

Summer Is the Coldest Season
Dir: Zhou Sun
Cast: Deng Enxi, Li Gan, Wu Guohua

Director Zhou Sun tells an uncompromising coming-of-age story about vengeance and redemption in her quietly suspenseful directorial debut. Adolescence is tough on 13-year-old Jiahe. Bullied at school because of her father’s job as a delivery courier for a slaughterhouse, she also learns that Yu Lei, the young man involved in her mother’s death, has been released early from the reformatory. Jiahe secretly plans to get revenge on Yu Lei, but is caught in a moral dilemma when she begins to get close to him…

Wild Swords
Dir: Li Yunbo
Cast: Zhang Xiaochen, Liu Yongxi, Sui Yongliang, Shang Bai

The Nameless Sect and the Tang-men Sect had been in a violent feud for generations, but the future of the feuding clans ended at the hands of a notorious assassin named Chang. Years later, Kuo, the only man tied to Chang, is captured by a mysterious man who is desperate to find Chang. Over the course of a dangerous journey, the truth about the clan murders is slowly revealed. Produced by filmmaker Feng Xiaogang, the latest film by screenwriter and film critic Li Yunbo is a bold, visually arresting new take on the wuxia genre.

Wisdom Tooth
Dir: Liang Ming
Cast: Lv Xingchen, Wu Xiaoliang, Wang Jiajia

In an icy northern town, Gu Xi shares a close relationship with her half- brother, Gu Liang. About to become unemployed, and feeling threatened by the arrival of Gu Liang’s new girlfriend, Gu Xi tries desperately to hold onto her way of life. A fascinating hybrid of genres – a ménage-a-trois romance, crime thriller, and neorealist social drama – anchored by intriguing and finely-observed characters, the directorial debut from actor Liang Ming is a sublime coming-of-age tale, made with confidence and maturity.

Young Cinema Competition(World)

All About ING
Dir: Huang Zi
Cast: Ko Hon-man, Pang Hang-ying, Sit Lap-yin

Family patriarch Weiming has been admitted to hospital for an illness, but his wife, Muling, will do everything in her power to prevent him from knowing his real diagnosis. Meanwhile, their son, Yiming, has been accepted to a university in the US, but he also decides to keep it a secret as he ruminates on his future. Huang Zi’s poignant and delicate semi-autobiographical debut is a beautifully observed portrait of how one ordinary family faces mortality and the fear of uncertainties.

Be Alive Just Like You
Dir: Lai Meng-Jie
Cast: Rexen Cheng, Chiu Ssu-Chin, King Jieh-Wen

Six is a disabled man, who spends his days peddling lottery tickets and snacks on the streets. When he is introduced to Noodle, a lonely young woman working in a run-down stationery shop, their mutually shared desperation for connection leads to an unusual bond. Raw and empathetic, this gritty romance offers an audacious exploration into the sexual desires of the disabled, shining a light on the silent outcasts who are defenseless against the cruelty of the real world.

The Cloud in Her Room
Dir: Zheng Lu Xinyuan
Cast: Jin Jing, Chen Zhou, Liu Dan

Muzi returns to Hangzhou for another Lunar New Year, but this is hardly a warm homecoming. Visiting her old family home, seeing her divorced parents and meeting a bar owner, Muzi observes the perpetually changing landscape surrounding this shell of a place she once knew. Experimental in its narrative form, Zheng Lu Xinyuan’s stunning autobiographical debut is a hypnotic and entrancing visual collage about urban alienation in contemporary China. Winner of the Tiger Award at Rotterdam.

Damp Season
Dir: Gao Ming
Cast: Huang Yucong, Chen Xuanyu, Liang Long, Phoebe Lin

Gao Ming’s first fictional feature explores the melancholy and uncertainty facing young people as they transition into adulthood. At a deserted Shenzhen waterpark, Dong, a young security guard, dreams of becoming an actor and playing the Monkey King on stage. Meanwhile his girlfriend Juan, delivers and arranges flowers, but hopes one day to open her own florist. As the encroaching dampness of spring bleeds into every pore, these two wandering souls slowly drift apart, discovering a vague promise of a hopeful future in the arms of other people.

Stoma
Dir: Kit Hung
Cast: Sing Lam, Stefan Kollmus, Derek Tsang, Chan Wai-man

The final screenplay by the late cultural icon Julian Lee is finally brought to life by director Kit Hung (Soundless Wind Chime, 33rd). Based on Lee’s own fight with cancer, the film follows an emotionally harrowing journey endured by young gay photographer Alex, after he is diagnosed with peritoneal cancer. Abandoned by his brother and his on-again, off-again lover, Alex is forced to face his mortality and the loss of his sexual identity through sheer resilience. A devastating, but ultimately hopeful story of survival and resolve.

Summer Is the Coldest Season
Dir: Zhou Su
Cast: Deng Enxi, Li Gan, Wu Guohua

Director Zhou Sun tells an uncompromising coming-of-age story about vengeance and redemption in her quietly suspenseful directorial debut. Adolescence is tough on 13-year-old Jiahe. Bullied at school because of her father’s job as a delivery courier for a slaughterhouse, she also learns that Yu Lei, the young man involved in her mother’s death, has been released early from the reformatory. Jiahe secretly plans to get revenge on Yu Lei, but is caught in a moral dilemma when she begins to get close to him…

Wild Swords
Dir: Li Yunbo
Cast: Zhang Xiaochen, Liu Yongxi, Sui Yongliang, Shang Bai

The Nameless Sect and the Tang-men Sect had been in a violent feud for generations, but the future of the feuding clans ended at the hands of a notorious assassin named Chang. Years later, Kuo, the only man tied to Chang, is captured by a mysterious man who is desperate to find Chang. Over the course of a dangerous journey, the truth about the clan murders is slowly revealed. Produced by filmmaker Feng Xiaogang, the latest film by screenwriter and film critic Li Yunbo is a bold, visually arresting new take on the wuxia genre.

Wisdom Tooth
Dir: Liang Ming
Cast: Lv Xingchen, Wu Xiaoliang, Wang Jiajia

In an icy northern town, Gu Xi shares a close relationship with her half- brother, Gu Liang. About to become unemployed, and feeling threatened by the arrival of Gu Liang’s new girlfriend, Gu Xi tries desperately to hold onto her way of life. A fascinating hybrid of genres – a ménage-a-trois romance, crime thriller, and neorealist social drama – anchored by intriguing and finely-observed characters, the directorial debut from actor Liang Ming is a sublime coming-of-age tale, made with confidence and maturity.

Young Cinema Competition(World)

The Alien (Namo)
Dir: Nader Saeivar
Cast: Bakhtiyar Panjeei, Sevil Shirgi, Naser Hashemi, Hadi Eftekharzadeh

Fear and paranoia spread through an ordinary Iranian town, when the residents notice two mysterious strangers, who park their car in the same spot each day and sit there for hours at a time. Believed to be National Security agents, suspicion soon falls on Bakhitar, a Kurdish teacher, and the son of a controversial political figure. Co-written by Jafar Panahi, Nader Saeivar’s debut feature film is a chilling depiction of life under a totalitarian regime, where poisonous seeds of guilt and victimhood can fester within all of us.

Los Conductos
Dir: Camilo Restrepo
Cast: Luis Felipe Lozano, Fernando Úsuga Higuíta, Camilo Restrepo

A once-indoctrinated disciple of a religious sect, Pinky is now running for his life. Working at a T-shirt factory, he scrambles to put his life in order, but remains haunted by memories of the murderous acts that led him there. Freely based on a true story, Los Conductos questions the instrumentalization of religion, and the links this forges with violence, especially in the countries, impoverished neighborhoods, where predatory churches have sprung up just as quickly as the state has abandoned them.

Dust and Ashes (Tuhk ja tolm)
Dir: Park Hee-kwon
Cast: Ahn So-yo, Lee Kang-ji

Park Hee-kwon casts a frustrated gaze over the daily social injustices faced by the struggling underclass in contemporary Korea. Overworked and underpaid, Hae-su is left to fend for herself and her rebellious teenage brother, after her mother commits suicide. She must also convince the insurance company that her mother died of natural causes in order to collect the payout. Carefully infusing his social critique with the essence of a crime thriller, Park delivers a raw yet captivating debut.

Exile (Exil)
Dir: Visar Morina
Cast: Mišel Mati evi , Sandra Hüller, Rainer Bock, Thomas Mraz

After discovering a dead rat at his door, Xhafer suspects he is the subject of a racially-motivated hate campaign. An Albanian engineer working in Germany, he becomes obsessed with singling out indications of prejudice and persecution in his daily life. His German wife believes he is imagining things, but Xhafer’s paranoia builds to suffocating levels. Writer-director Morina (Babai, 40th) creates a measured, slyly sinister portrait of the modern immigrant experience, where the smallest suggestion can be perceived as an unprovoked attack.

Kala Azar
Dir: Janis Rafa
Cast: Pinelopi Tsilika, Dimitris Lalos, Michelle Valley, Tassos Rafailidis

Penelope and Dimitris drive, collect and cremate deceased pets, returning with their ashes. They also remove and destroy the carcasses of roadkill left along the roadways of an unspecified Southern European city. This delicate balance between life and death, humans and animals, the natural and the urban world is shattered when, one day, they too hit an animal with their car. Writer-director Janis Rafa’s debut feature is a stark contemplation of loss, mortality, and our self-elected status as both groundskeeper and gravedigger to the living things around us.

Piedra Sola
Dir: Alejandro Telémaco Tarraf
Cast: Lucia Bautista, Maykol Tolaba, Rubén Tolaba, Rosa Romas

In the northern highlands of Argentina, an indigenous herder and his family’s meager life is threatened when his flock of llama is terrorized by an invisible puma, to which he has to make an offering. While tracking the predator, he confronts his ancestors, the shapeshifting creature, and himself, in a series of enigmatic encounters. Inspired by the Andean cosmovision, Tarraf’s debut feature is an honest, sympathetic portrait of a culture bound to an unforgiving mother nature, lyrically infused with myth, ethnography, and mysticism.

The Shepherdess and the Seven Songs (Laila aur sat geet)
Dir: Pushpendra Singh
Cast: Navjot Randhawa, Sadakkit Bijran, Shahnawaz Bhat, Ranjit Khajuria, Mohammed Yasin

Set against the contemporary backdrop of conflict-ravaged Kashmir and inspired by the poetry of 14th century mystic Lalleshwari, Singh’s sophomore feature follows the plight of a beautiful nomad, who marries into a remote hilltop tribe, only to attract the attention of the local police chief. Infusing traditional folklore with the music and cinematic grammar of classical Indian cinema, the unfolding story of romance and ritual underlines one woman’s desire and determination to remain the mistress of her own fate.

This Is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection
Dir: Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese
Cast: Mary Twala Mhlongo, Jerry Mofokeng Wa Makhetha, Makhaola Ndebele

After learning of her son’s accidental death, an old widow ties up her worldly affairs and arranges her own funeral. Her plans are disrupted when the village must make way for the construction of a reservoir, and she rekindles her lust for life, vowing to defend the ancestral cemetery and preserve her own dignity. Returning to his home country, Mosese imbues the first feature to be filmed entirely in Lesotho with the texture of his grandmother’s story, and a lyrical sobriety about the resilience of the human spirit.

Documentary Competition

Acasa, My Home
Dir: Radu Ciorniciuc

The appeal of civilized society is called into question in Radu Ciorniciuc’s heartbreaking new film, winner of the Best Cinematography award for World Cinema – Documentary at Sundance. Two parents and their nine children live rough on a patch of abandoned scrubland in Bucharest. Urban renewal is now encroaching on their idyllic enclave, in the form of bureaucrats, construction crews, and social workers, determined to insert them into the system, even if it means inflicting irreparable harm on the family.

Born to Be
Dir: Tania Cypriano

Under the leadership of revered plastic surgeon Dr. Jess Ting, Mount Sinai Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery has become a home for gender confirmation procedures for transgender patients. Cypriano’s compassionate documentary follows Ting’s own story and transformation, breaking ground in a new field of medicine, and fighting to ensure world class health care is available to the entire LGBTQIA+ community. Her camera gives voice to those in search of their authentic selves, and sheds light on the ever-evolving complexities of gender, identity and human rights.

i -Documentary of the Journalist
Dir: Mori Tatsuya

Mochizuki Isoko, the Tokyo Shimbun reporter who provided the inspiration for last year’s The Journalist, becomes the subject of a probing documentary from Mori Tatsuya. Adapted from Mochizuki’s own book, the film tails the “problematic” journo, whose relentless investigations and refusal to toe- the-line have earned her an official rebuke from the government. Mochizuki tackles a number of hot button issues, but Mori’s scathing exposé is less interested with the stories themselves as it is with an establishment that brazenly obstructs press freedoms.

Little Girl (Petite fille)
Dir: Sebastien Lifshitz

In this spiritual continuation to his 2013 award-winning documentary, Bambi, Sebastien Lifshitz once again explores the struggles of living with gender dysphoria and the oppressive nature of gender norms. Seven-year-old Sasha was born a boy, but she has known that she is a girl since the age of three. Her parents have accepted Sasha for who she is, but are worried whether her peers and the other adults in her life can do the same. Empathetic and captivating, the film quietly observes Sasha in her everyday life as her parents fight for their daughter’s right to be herself.

Once You Know (Quand on sait)
Dir: Emmanuel Cappellin

Climate change is no longer merely a threat to our planet and our way of life, but an inevitability that must be confronted and accepted. Traversing the globe by container ship, Cappellin meets with some of the world’s foremost climate scientists, experts cursed with the “toxic knowledge” of Earth’s imminent fate. What does one do with that information? His film seeks out beauty amidst the decay, explores the importance of “collapse awareness” and suggests that what we are all hurtling towards may not be the end, but an opportunity to begin again, and build a new, better world together.

The Painter and the Thief
Dir: Benjamin Ree

Two paintings by Czech artist Barbora Kysilkova are stolen from a gallery in Oslo. When the thief, Karl Bertil-Nordland, is caught, Barbora asks Bertil if he would sit for her next painting. The offer sparks a long-lasting friendship as Barbora learns that there is far more to the tortured Bertil than his criminal record. Benjamin Ree’s moving and illuminating documentary tells an incredible true story of empathy, compassion and finding a muse in unexpected places. Winner of the Special Jury Award for Creative Storytelling in the Sundance Film Festival’s World Cinema Documentary competition.

This Is Not a Movie
Dir: Yung Chang

For more than three decades, award-winning journalist Robert Fisk has personified the gold standard of Middle Eastern coverage, while reflecting thoughtfully on wider issues of international relations. Before that, he had probed the Northern Ireland troubles, and revolutions in Portugal and Iran. Fisk interviewed Osama Bin Laden several times, and has reported on-site from war zones ranging from Afghanistan to Algeria, most recently the conflicts in Syria. His reporting has proved insightful, but also controversial, issues that director Yung Chang tackles in this timely documentary.

Zero (Seishin O)
Dir: Soda Kazuhiro

Twelve years after Mental (33rd), Soda returns to the Chorale Okayama mental health clinic, to quietly observe the retiring doctor, as he bids farewell to his patients. “Place yourself at zero, and be thankful to your life” is the therapeutic code Dr. Yamamoto Masatomo has lived by for half a century, while dedicating his life to helping people cope with their mental struggles. The maverick documentarian captures the gestures of trust and respect between the doctor and his patients, painting a portrait of genuine warmth with beguiling grace.

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