SUNDANCE 2023 World Cinema Documentary Competition Review:20 Days in Mariupol
by Nataliia Serebriakova, Cineuropa 30/01/2023
- Mstyslav Chernov’s film tells of the first few horrific weeks of the Russian invasion, presenting us with footage of shelling, civilian deaths and the bombing of a maternity hospital
Mstyslav Chernov, along with photographer Yevgeny Maloletka and producer Vasilisa Stepanenko, arrived in Mariupol on 24 February 2022, an hour before the start of the Russian invasion, as part of an Associated Press (AP) team. They recorded everything that was happening in the city, including the humanitarian disaster brought on by the siege, the mass burials of civilians, crimes by Russian troops and the work of doctors, and they were the first to show the world the consequences of the bombing of Maternity Hospital No 3. Chernov and Maloletka sent the media files, which were later watched by the whole world, while hiding under some stairs near a flattened grocery shop – the only place in Mariupol where a signal could be found.
20 Days in Mariupol, which has just won the Audience Award in the World Cinema Documentary Competition at Sundance (see the news), is very hard to watch and impossible to view without shedding a tear. It contains footage of children dying in hospital, which is hard to forget. The children who were brought to the hospital and were filmed all subsequently died. Editor Michelle Mizner has said that she had never cried so much while editing a video.
The documentary is very truthful and contains ambiguous footage of civilians looting the city. At that time, the film crew was in the hospital for a few days, spending the nights there. Then, when they went back to the city centre, they saw everything that was happening and that people were already looting the shops. There were even stores where people were simply allowed to go in and take whatever they needed. Chernov and his colleagues simply did not recognise the city.
The lack of information on the conditions of the blockade at that time served two purposes: the first was to sow chaos, as people did not understand what was happening and therefore panicked. The second reason was impunity, as without footage of destroyed buildings or dying children, the Russian troops could do whatever they wanted.
On 15 March, the AP team managed to leave Mariupol through the humanitarian corridor. The video footage that Chernov took out of Mariupol went on to form the basis of the documentary. However, during their escape, the problem was that by that time, Chernov and his colleagues had already lost their car, and they simply could not work or leave the city. They were lucky that a policeman who had helped them earlier came to their aid once again, and took them and his family through the Russian checkpoints, albeit in a wrecked car, riddled with shrapnel and with no windows. They succeeded because many people were leaving that day. Fortunately, there was so much chaos at the checkpoints that they were not under too much scrutiny, unlike those who passed through the following day.
Chernov is a Ukrainian videographer, photojournalist, director, military correspondent and writer, currently working for the AP. He is the president of the Ukrainian Association of Professional Photographers. He covered the Revolution of Dignity, the war in Eastern Ukraine, the aftermath of the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, the Syrian Civil War, the Battle of Mosul in Iraq, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022. Chernov's material has been published and broadcast by many media outlets all around the world.
For their work in Mariupol, Chernov, Maloletka and Stepanenko have already received myriad international prizes, such as the Livingston Award, the Rory Peck Award, the Royal Television Society Award and the Elijah Parish Lovejoy Award. They were also made “journalists of the year”, according to the Ukrainska Pravda online newspaper.
20 Days in Mariupol was produced by Ukraine’s Frontline and Associated Press.
- The results are in for the poll of Cineuropa’s journalists. Which are the best European works of the year?
One year on, and we are still here. 2021 tried hard to allow us to recover from 2020 (check out our list of the Best Films of 2021 here), but it wasn't until 2022 that the industry returned to what we once called "normal", and film festivals went back to their usual dates, schedules and red-carpet razzle-dazzle. Amidst all of this, what has been the state of European film and series production, now well and truly intertwined? The eternal struggle between veterans and newcomers to grab the limelight has arguably shifted in favour of the latter, with the newer voices drowning out the older ones, even though some of the older ones are proving they can deliver films that are just as fresh and daring as the youngest.
The results are in for the poll of Cineuropa’s journalists. Which European (co-)produced works world-premiered this year are the best, according to our team?
"Everybody needs a safe place, both in the physical and the metaphorical sense. For instance, safety is the key component of the concepts of home and family, which are rooted so deep in our society and our psychology. But what if the safe place is denied for somebody? Safe Place is a tense psychological drama that treats its serious topic from a sincere point of view belonging to those indirectly affected by it." (Marko Stojiljkoviæ)
"The Eclipse is a remarkable exploration of collective and personal memory and responsibility. Combining 16mm and manipulated Super 8 footage with an exquisite analogue, tape modulation-dominated soundtrack, the director has created a multi-layered work that resonates on several distinctive levels." (Vladan Petkovic)
23El agua, Elena López Riera (Switzerland/Spain/France)
"Impending doom, esotericism, tradition and the heavy family legacy also float, and sometimes sink, in this tense calm before the outbreak of the furious, sweeping storm, proving once again that López Riera manoeuvres harmoniously and confidently in any film genre." (Alfonso Rivera)
"One of the most surprising titles at this year’s Berlinale, The Quiet Girl is crafted with two simple tools: three excellent lead actors who play their parts with great honesty and the use of “naturalistic time”. It’s rare to see this type of tempo staged successfully in a contemporary film." (Davide Abbatescianni)
"I Have Electric Dreams isn’t your usual coming-of-age tale where a young woman turns into a young woman over the course of a summer. Eva sees beyond that. How and why has violence become a language within her family unit, a conversation between her father and herself, and sometimes even with her mother? What can be done about this legacy, this violence handed down between generations?" (Aurore Engelen)
"Divided into two time frames, The Beasts is not only disturbing but also deeply moving. Beneath its violent film texture (it is impossible not to recall films like Straw Dogs and Deliverance, to name a few of the “you are not welcome here” subgenre) pulsates a thrilling love story: a shared idealism capable of overcoming any fear, tragedy and threat." (Alfonso Rivera)
"In Mutzenbacher, one of the more curious Encounters at the Berlinale, Beckermann digs out one of the more scandalous literary works from her native country (or indeed any country) from the last century and checks it off against contemporary moral(ism)s. Enlisting a group of men of various ages, she has them share their reflections on the matter at hand. No women are ever in view, but they are certainly talked about." (Jan Lumholdt)
18Holy Spider, Ali Abbasi (Denmark/Germany/France/Sweden)
"It might be an odd way to describe this dark, unsettling story, actually inspired by a real-life case, but Abbasi never forgets that films – even ambitious and undoubtedly complex ones – should also be fun to watch. Also, there is something about this film that makes one feel utterly uncomfortable, but it’s not due to its violence. It’s mostly because the way people react here, the way they dehumanise women quickly and easily, feels recognisable and it feels true." (Marta Ba³aga)
"Akoka and Gueret's first feature provides material for a particularly topical sociological discussion. But above all, it has a real heart that beats wildly and a power that releases emotions that are both formidably lively and cinematographically very accomplished in their form, interweaving two worlds that wrongly misunderstand each other and that benefit from discovering each other." (Fabien Lemercier)
"Pamfir is an original Ukrainian movie, unlike anything we’ve seen before from the country, which not only speaks about the war (there is also a line about the conflict in the East), but also tells the story of a family tragedy, which will easily resonate with many viewers from different countries." (Nataliia Serebriakova)
"Although this is as merciless and as pointed – for Seidl's admirers – as ever, one can still identify a breakthrough, through characterising it as a “late work”. Rimini earns its laurel as a sensitive study of mortality, as well as a lacerating look at much else that Seidl sees in us, as is his wont." (David Katz)
"Folklore, environmentalism, queer desire and Hollywood musical-style ensemble choreography come together in this short but ravishing feature by Rodrigues. Films with these outré descriptions often dot festival catalogues and flatter to deceive, but this one absolutely lives up to the excitable copywriting on viewing, whilst beneath its pleasurable surface lie many thought-provoking ideas." (David Katz)
"Playing ever so gently with the colours and patterns of the fabric of all our lives, Hansen-Løve patiently weaves together a luminous film about our awareness of existing (just being here) in a place where love, in all its paradoxes, acts as a connecting thread. At times incredibly moving, the film nonetheless retains focus on a level of modesty and restraint which doesn’t hide anything, but which says everything there is to say." (Fabien Lemercier)
"If Vermut did not exist, he would have to be invented. Thanks to his unaccommodating audiovisual work, Spanish cinema reaches levels of disturbance that few dare to even contemplate. All we can say is that some may find the story amoral or scandalous, but which - under the surface - addresses the need for affection that we all have, even the most abominable and abject monster imaginable." (Alfonso Rivera)
"There is no avoiding a mention of Carrie in any Piggy-related conversations – once again, a girl’s body is treated as her own enemy and the stills of a blood-soaked girl serve as a reminder of that unfortunate bucket. But this one stands (and breaks one’s heart) on its own, an exceptionally skilful work that really proves that there is some genre-film revolution going on." (Marta Ba³aga)
"Nothing really happens in Alcarràs, and yet everything does, as one family’s entire world is about to change forever. Simón practises the “inside” kind of filmmaking, coming as close as she can, peeking through leaves and seemingly trying her best to refrain from hugging the protagonists. It’s nothing short of miraculous that they are all given their own moments to exist here. Frankly, she might be one of the most tender directors around." (Marta Ba³aga)
"The whole, subtle art of Mungiu is to introduce and truly bring into existence a huge number of supporting characters, thus painting a very comprehensive portrait of the microcosm that could almost be documentary-like, if the filmmaker didn’t also have the specific talent of being able to sensitively probe their private lives. It all makes for a perfect, fascinating and astute fresco, which takes shape around the key issue of the collective in the face of its urges for life and death." (Fabien Lemercier)
"Covering four seasons through the mirror of family work in fields of flowers and among the natural elements, Close proves a wonderful cinematographic balancing act, both incisive and thought-provoking, which combines realism, lyricism and melodrama with touching smoothness and without a hint of excess." (Fabien Lemercier)
"Östlund’s “Rubensonade” (if we may) provides maximal mischief and minimal nobility in any sense – the filthy-rich clientele on the flashy yacht bound for wreckage are at least as filthy as they are rich. As a storm brews and the very merchandise sold by our Russian peddler hits the proverbial fan (plenty of bodily waste flies around here, unproverbially so), we’re in for some desert-island hardships, better left untold here." (Jan Lumholdt)
"It feels almost strange to laugh during McDonagh’s films sometimes. They are hilarious, endlessly quotable and yet so very, very sad. It’s hard to say how all of it goes together, but it does. It’s almost as if after realising the world is doomed and all hope is gone, one were to just sit there, smiling. The Banshees of Inisherin is a smaller film, in scope and in spirit, as a tiny island community suddenly witnesses something exciting: the end of a life-long friendship." (Marta Ba³aga)
"Among the films devoted entirely to animal protagonists, EO still sticks out a little. The veteran Polish director’s take on the ever-changing fortunes (and whereabouts) of one donkey is weird and occasionally hilarious. There is something about it that feels very young, film school-y even, but it’s quite inspiring that instead of delivering safer fare, Skolimowski still feels like playing." (Marta Ba³aga)
"Godland is a work of very high artistic level, looking in-depth at the crushing link between the millennial powers of nature and the gaping moral faults that are revealed when humans are pushed to their limits. This very spectacular and no less intense film confirms the gradual rise in quality of world cinema by a very talented director." (Fabien Lemercier)
"Perfect performers, refined and inventive direction, a sense of rhythm, lighting and framing, an emotional sensitivity, a small crossover and a deft reversal of the film's major narrative subject, which shifts from the father to his daughter, a harmonious weaving of symbols and motifs that tell different stories: beneath its "banal" appearance, Aftersun is a truly impressive first feature." (Fabien Lemercier)
2Pacifiction, Albert Serra (France/Spain/Germany/Portugal)
"With Pacifiction, Serra deceptively seems to be shrugging off this Romanticism-and-oil-painting obsession, finally positioning our frightening modern world in his sights. Although containing some elements of a classic paranoid thriller, the film is really more of a detailed character study, uninterested in plot progression and more so in creating a fully rounded portrayal of a human being." (David Katz)
"Lifting the veil on "the story of a ghost woman whom nobody knows" and that of a "gradual disappearance to which a mother also subjects her child", Saint Omer works with delicacy on distance and on the prejudices and preconceptions surrounding a crime which goes beyond all comprehension, all the while releasing diffuse clues on the exact nature of its message (racism is very subtly evoked). Its opacity is the strength of this imperious yet cryptic film, which perfectly reflects its troubling protagonist." (Fabien Lemercier)
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CINEUROPA Cineuropa's Best Films of 2021
by CineuropaThe results are in for the poll of Cineuropa’s journalists. Which are the best European films of the year?
After the world was shaken to its core in 2020, all of us, professionals, cinephiles and occasional readers, were looking forward to what the future might bring.
While we still don't know what's in store for us, and with things looking bright one day and equally grim the next, one thing is for sure: 2021 has been an incredible year for cinema, with many titles being pushed back from last year to this one, and many others being finished and released during the last few months.
We have been able to enjoy film festivals again, and we have celebrated the reopening of the theatres with the releases of some eagerly awaited films. We want to hope that things are back on track, and wills are stronger than ever.
The results are in for the poll of Cineuropa’s journalists. Which European (co-)produced films world-premiered this year are the best, according to our team?
"In his third film, Bonito elegantly directs this "coming of age," garnishing it with evocative sequences (such as the slow motion in the scene of the flying seats at the village carousel or the run to the sea) and keeping a constant watch on Sofia Fiore's timelessly graceful face. Tears and emotion are assured for audiences over 25." (Camillo De Marco)
"Move over, Dangerous Minds, and your fierce Michelle Pfeiffer, as Dieter Bachmann has now entered the classroom. This over 200-minute-long documentary, which would make Lav Diaz proud, is a nice surprise – a lovely human story about a sixth-grade teacher. He wears a cool beanie and an AC/DC T-shirt, and plays guitar to boot, but his ultimate coolness lies not in his fashion sense, but in the way he approaches his job." (Ola Salwa)
"Trueba’s latest offering, a prodigious work with a runtime of over three hours centred on a group of teenagers who commit heart and soul to every scene, is so audacious, so gutsy that it’s verging on a kamikaze venture. The result is a simply stunning film that makes being in a cinema among strangers a new and more powerful experience, as we share the intense emotions evoked by watching a group of such likeable humans bare their most intimate selves in the name of cinematic art." (Cristóbal Soage)
"Displaying formal mastery at all levels, Thyberg's unflinching film dissecting an incredibly harsh initiatory journey from both an entomological and a female point of view, making the porn scene of the late 1970s, is a socio-melodramatic, ultra-realist work which is brutal, to say the least, but which offers an infinitely modern peak behind the scenes of an industry where dreams of glory come at a heavy cost." (Fabien Lemercier)
"The film might still end up somewhere in between “the weird Almodóvars” and “the vintage Almodóvars”, but if there is one thing that the director seems to be preaching here, it’s to be over and done with secrets already, be it the ones festering under the roof of an elegant Madrid home or in a mass grave that everyone in the village knew about yet never opened. With that closing scene alone, he is getting ready for the reckoning." (Marta Ba³aga)
"'Your poem is too long – in the 1970s, they prided themselves on doing short ones!' Words to this effect are exclaimed by a fatigued member of a Russian poetry club as she interrupts a particularly meandering reading. The ensuing ruckus, involving a prim librarian dishing out some mean, gravity-defying, almost Asian-choreographed action kicks, is quite a sight, and a bloody one at that. It’s surreal moments like these that perk up Serebrennikov's film, which, with its two-and-a-half-hour playing time, toys fearlessly with both the meandering and the fatiguing parts." (Jan Lumholdt)
"There is an element of William Golding's Lord of the Flies in seeing the terrible consequences of what happens when children gain power, over which they have autonomy. The Innocents also questions the nature of good and evil, pondering whether it is inherited, the work of the devil or something learned. Vogt's ambiguous narrative makes all of these conclusions possible." (Kaleem Aftab)
"A round of applause for Noé, if you will. As the history of cinema lopes by, even the finest directors at work seem to be beset by a particular anxiety of influence. Noé has his influences but every time he comes out, there’s a concerted drive to reinvent what cinema can do formally, and how the elasticity of the medium enhances our sense of various subjects. He’s gone from sex to crime to dance and, here, to death. Specifically, the lonely, sorrowful deaths befalling the ageing population of the “developed world”: and here, he examines love’s overlap and struggle with life’s great full stop." (David Katz)
"Lowery follows A Ghost Story with a stunning take on the Arthurian legend. Gloriously weird, sad and sexy, his might be the most surprising quest of the year, featuring beheaded ghosts, woodland chapels and the best talking fox since Lars von Trier's Antichrist. Absolutely bewitching." (Marta Ba³aga)
"Around spring of last year, when the true severity of the COVID-19 pandemic became apparent, thoughts turned to the fate of the arts and the creative industries: would we have them again? The more pertinent question, however, was how they might be transformed, just like nearly every aspect of global life. Gomes and Fazendeiro have created one of the better responses to this challenging existential riddle, further developing the former’s skill at blending fiction and documentary." (David Katz)
"An ultra-realist approach, which borders on documentarian, perfectly conveys the many, fine nuances in this film exploring a very simple yet somewhat shocking subject. It’s an initiatory journey as seen from the inside, depicted head-on by a film which is totally out of the ordinary, but it’s also a difficult and emotionally charged task for tiny tots thrust out into the world, alone." (Fabien Lemercier)
=Flee , Jonas Poher Rasmussen (Denmark/France/Norway/Sweden)
"One of the most mesmerising animated features in many a year, Flee uniquely documents an Afghan refugee’s harrowing attempts to find asylum abroad, his journey anything but a linear progression. Poher Rasmussen finds remarkable means to unearth the memories of his protagonist, Amin, congealing them into something akin to a classic suspense tale, yet one still rooted in documentary credibility." (David Katz)
"There is no questioning Gyllenhaal’s tenacity, as instead of flying low with her directorial debut, she went for the best actors and the hottest writer. Her film is one of those strangely unnerving stories unravelling not in the darkness, but under the sizzling sun, and certainly not another sweet take on the “rewards” that come with having a child. Here, the reality is just brutal." (Marta Ba³aga)
"Kuosmanen doesn’t so much make “period films” as films that seem to actually come out of their respective periods. He is also a very tender filmmaker, seemingly trying to stop himself from hugging these odd characters at any given moment and consistently delivering what some like to call “small stories with a big heart”. What a wonderful trip this is." (Marta Ba³aga)
"Although the filmmaker seems to be making a scathing satire of the world of television journalism as embodied by his main character France de Meurs, his film is in fact more about the brutal irruption of reality into the life of a people and a nation. It depicts the realisation of an upcoming annihilation, of a monstrous presence from which we’d been diverting our eyes for a long time." (Fabien Lemercier)
"As for the current shape of our sensory champion, it can safely be said to be as fine as ever, at times surpassing itself. In Swinton he’s found a perfect “antenna” and in Colombia some of the most fructiferous plant life seen on 35 mm celluloid. The ride, should one decide to join in, is pure, unadulterated and one-of-a-kind Apichatpong. No less. Or precisely that." (Jan Lumholdt)
"It is ambiguous as to whether Koberidze has answered the question of his own film's title, but one thing the film does definitely tell us is that we have never seen anything quite like it. The directorial approach borrows elements from silent movies, 1970s cinema in the broadest sense, observational documentary, and who knows what else. But almost incredibly, Koberidze wraps it all into a warm, coherent and, ultimately, romantic film that keeps you surprised and happy throughout its 150 minutes of running time." (Vladan Petkovic)
"There is something very young about this film, a delightful, considerate effort, and not just because of all those wonderfully pretentious students running around. Once Julie decides to make a film about what she went through, she needs to answer questions about herself. But as she finds her way through to addressing that, and then some, making cinema that invokes fantasy and moves away from the kitchen sink, it’s almost as if Hogg was giving herself a small pat on the back, too. And justly so." (Marta Ba³aga)
"The debate around abortion is as vibrant, important and contentious as ever. One only has to look at the protests led by women in Polish cities in early 2021 following the near-total ban on abortion. It's arguable that there should be more films about it. Diwan concentrates on what happened, rather than creating a morality around it, letting the audience bring their own feeling into the room without hiding just how painful and dangerous Anne's abortion attempts are." (Kaleem Aftab)
"Gradually, The Hand of God ventures down its own, darker paths, and as tragedy strikes the Schisa family, we’re reminded, if not before that, that perhaps we’ve been watching a true Sorrentino film all along. While the phrase “Sorrentino-esque” may not yet be in wide usage, it would not be entirely undeserved one day. At least the baroness upstairs would clemently agree." (Jan Lumholdt)
"From the moment that Sparks show up, joined by the whole cast singing “So May We Start” and waltzing onto the streets, Annette is a memorable kind of experiment, even if not all of it makes actual sense. But there is something delightful about this film, going back and forth between laughable, genuinely touching and just mad. So very, very mad." (Marta Ba³aga)
"Sciamma, while rightfully lauded for her portrayals of women, just seems to “get” kids. Or maybe she remembers it all, that lady magician – remembers what it feels like, how children see things and how they hurt. It's almost hard to explain how something so tiny, so simple and so unassuming can also be so touching, but again, she just knows how to speak that language, and she is probably still able to see those black panthers in her bedroom, too." (Marta Ba³aga)
"There is no stopping Ducournau, whose new effort, is just, well, pure mayhem. The Fast & Furious franchise might have long abandoned any pretence of reality, but this is the kind of car loving that Vin Diesel would probably not approve of. Or maybe he would just be jealous. There is just no questioning her talent, smoothly delivering the weird and the shocking like it’s take-out. And, somewhere along the way, she proves that “Macarena” will just never die, however hard people try. Hey Macarena!" (Marta Ba³aga)
"It’s nice to see Trier back in Oslo with a film that ventures where few dare to these days – right into romantic-comedy territory. It has charming meet-cutes and a cheery moving-in sequence, scored with a jazzy tune like it’s – shall we whisper it really quietly – a Woody Allen movie. But Norwegians do things differently, it seems, so a whole discussion about some missing bumholes also makes the cut, the most animated one since that infamous alternative edition of Cats." (Marta Ba³aga)
"One of those that are utterly divisive, Jude’s more than aptly (including the loony part) titled film revisits some of the director’s main themes, packing them into a feature that switches with great gusto from porn to philosophical collage and a chorus of idiots. This is definitely a must-see, as there are few features more stimulating or more able to emulate the craziness the entire world has been facing during the pandemic. The main thing the audience should truly embrace about it is the dare it confronts us with: to ponder honestly our own choices and decide whether, knowingly or unconsciously, we prefer to pay attention only to what we consider appealing in our lives. Appealing to others, that is." (ªtefan Dobroiu)
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ROME 2021 Review: The Will to See
by Camillo De Marco, Cineuropa 29/10/2021
A world tour of forgotten wars and urgent humanitarian crises from the perspective of French writer, philosopher and activist Bernard-Henri Lévy.
You can say what you like about Bernard-Henri Lévy, but not that he is a salon intellectual. Some old images included in the documentary The Will to See - co-directed by the writer, philosopher and activist with Marc Roussell and presented as an event at the 2021 Rome Film Festival - portray him in hot moments of recent history as a direct witness to conflicts and humanitarian crises; at 22, he was already in Bangladesh, and then in the 1980s, alongside Joan Baez or Liv Ullmann in Cambodia and Thailand.
"Writing, talking, but first of all going on the field," he said. Inspired by his book Sur la Route des Hommes Sans Noms (On the Road of the Nameless Men), this new film testifies, after 25 years of written reportage, to BHL's (as he is called in France) desire to capture his travels in images.
The philosopher without borders calls this documentary a 'world tour of forgotten wars,' and it really does feel like a descent into hell, with images that are often shocking, unsterilised by television censorship, showing the worst of mankind. It all began with a proposal from Olivier Royant, editor of Paris Match, who in the middle of lockdown offered BHL a series of investigations.
The doc begins with a plea for help for Christians in Nigeria, massacred by Boko Haram, the African Isis, and abandoned by a government poisoned by radical Islamism. In the Middle Belt, BHL meets Jumai Victor, who has seen houses burn and her husband and four children die before her eyes. She is pregnant, so her torturers limit themselves to butchering her arm. At the end of this journey, one is left with the terrible feeling of being back in 2007, when Khartoum's mounted militias sowed death in the villages of Darfur or South Sudan, or even longer ago, in Rwanda. BHL returns to Paris, feeling disconnected, not understanding the anger of the yellow vests.
Next trip: destination Syrian Kurdistan, to Rojava, the de facto autonomous region on the front line against Isis and which "the West shamefully abandoned in October 2019 when Erdogan invaded."BHL meets leader Aldar Khalil, "the invisible inspirer of the Kurdish democratic revolution."
On the frontline, he meets young Kurdish female fighters. "Equality with men is achieved through the weapons in their hands," he reflects bitterly. He thinks of the Amazon warriors of Queen Penthesilea, who defend cities in Homer's Iliad. He moves on to another forgotten war: the "low-intensity" one in eastern Ukraine, in the Donbass, 450 km of frontline "against elite units working for Putin." How do they resist, BHL asks, the world's second largest army? "'The aberration of a war in Europe."
And then the return to Africa, to Somalia. In Mogadishu, "a ghost town, abandoned to the warlords." In Dhaka, Bangladesh, he meets Sheikh Hasina, "the only woman on Earth who rules a Muslim country," and then visits the refugee camps of Cox's Bazar, where the pandemic has worsened the situation. He returns to a Paris deserted by lockdown, "but more important than being at home is being near those who have no home."
He leaves for Lesbos, Greece. The Moria refugee camp is the most inhuman in Europe. Then on to Libya, which brought him so much criticism after his controversial documentary The Oath of Tobruk.
Finally, Afghanistan, where he meets the leader of the anti-Taliban resistance Ahmad Massoud, the son of the national hero Commander Massoud, killed by Al Qaeda. Why this incessant travelling? To the class of Parisian students who meet him, BHL answers that it is "the desire to transmit knowledge." You never get used to it, you are always a newcomer to abuse and horror.
The documentary was produced by Kristina Larsen with Madison Films, in co-production with France 2 Cinéma and the participation of France Télévisions, Canal+ and Ciné+.
THE WILL TO SEE
by Bernard-Henri Lévy, Marc Roussel international title: The Will to See original title: Une autre idée du monde country: France year: 2021 genre: documentary directed by: Bernard-Henri Lévy, Marc Roussel film run: 92' screenplay: Bernard-Henri Lévy producer: Kristina Larsen production: Madison Films, France 2 Cinéma, France Télévisions, Canal+, Ciné+
Chess of the Wind: Rediscovered Iranian Drama is a Revelation (LFF Review)
Screened only twice (once for an empty theater) before it was banned in 1979, Mohammad Reza Aslani’s rediscovered and newly restored film Chess of the Wind (Shatranj-e baad) was destined to be lost forever. That is, until six years ago, when Aslani’s daughter found the original print in an antique shop in Tehran.Still banned in Iran, she had to smuggle the film out using a private delivery service straight to Paris. Once there, the film was restored in gorgeous 4k thanks to Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project and the Cineteca di Bologna.
Not only is the tale of finding and restoring Chess of the Wind supremely satisfying, but the film itself is a revelation: a sensual, politically charged tale of aristocracy and class struggle through the lens of sumptuously crafted gothic storytelling. The film is dense with color and ornate set designs, indulging in a similarly elegant visual style as the works of Italian director Luchino Visconti. The camera moves sparingly throughout, clearly capturing the near-overwhelming decadence of the locations. When the camera does move, it usually signifies a shift in the narrative, newly revealed information, often spelling doom for the characters.
These characters, as well as two adopted brothers, all eventually find themselves tangled in a web of murder, deceit, lust, and rivalry. While the pacing is often fairly slow, the narrative twists and turns in astonishing ways, leading to a shocking and surprisingly dreamlike climax. Each actor gives a convincing performance, but it is really Fakhri Khorvash and Shohreh Aghdashloo who steal the show. Khorvash portrays an elusive, mysterious figure who may be capable of more than she lets on, and Aghdashloo gives the maid an innocent, dependable veneer that belies possible ulterior motives.
Chess of the Windis a stunning visual experience backed by a terrific and eerie score, courtesy of Sheyda Gharachedaghi, as well as a cast of determined actors. The film reaches revelatory heights due to its insightful and progressive political commentary.
Aslani depicts a society controlled by greed and capital: in fact, capital is the motivating force for many of the characters. The film even quotes the Quran at the very start, stating that competition in worldly gains breaks people apart.
Aslani is heavily critiquing what he sees as a money-obsessed, competition-obsessed society where someone’s value is based on what they own. Furthermore, Aslani takes aim at the patriarchal figure of the central family, showing his vicious dominance and misogyny and how he is but one aspect of an oppressive, patriarchal society.
Lastly, I am a fan but by no means an expert of Iranian cinema, and yet I have never seen an Iranian film with an explicitly gay character. The empathetic representation alone makes Chess of the Windan essential watch, but it is also bolstered by lavish visuals, compelling commentary, and a stellar cast.
Chess of the Wind (Shatranj-e baad) is currently screening digitally at the BFI London Film Festival, and will be available to watch on the BFI Player until Tuesday 13 October 2020.
Winners of the 2021 ‘Sepanta Awards’ 14th Annual Iranian Film Festival – San Francisco September 18-19, 2021
Welcome to the 14th Annual Iranian Film Festival – San Francisco, the first independent Iranian film festival outside of Iran. This year, the festival presented 60 films from Iran, USA, United Kingdom, Italy, Canada, Germany, France, China, Bulgaria, Tunisia…
We are proud to continue our mission to discover and support the next generation of Iranian filmmakers living and working around the world, while we honor the veteran filmmakers for their distinguished careers. Please join us to celebrate the outstanding works of Iranian filmmakers..
Please Note: Due to the current pandemic situation, the festival has been Virtual this year.
September 18-19, 2021
While some specifics of Iranian culture are on display, African Violet is universal in its approach to everyday people and their daily lives. -- Susan Wloszczyna (AWFJ Women on Film)
Best Director:Mona Zandi Haghighi Best Actor: Amir Hossein Fathi for The Slaughterhouse Best Actress:Fatemah Motamed Aria Best Screenplay: Hamidreza Bababeigi for African Violet Best Cinematography: Mehdi Rezaei for KulbarF Best Documentary: Duchenne Boys by Sohrab Kavir Best Short Film:Tattoo Best Director for a Short Film:Farhad Delaram for Tattoo Best Screenplay for a Short Film: Meysam Fard for A Simple Examination Best Documentary Short: Nahma by Masoud Mirzaei Best Actor in a Short Film: Babak Karimi for Muncher Best Actress in a Short Film: Mahshid Ajam for 2 Weeks Later Best Cinematography for a Short Film: Ali Eskandari for To Be Best Children’s Short Film: Bread & Dementia by Kaveh Azizi Best Music Video: One More Kiss by Aydin Aryainejad Best Animation Film: Stars in the Rain by Sara Namjoo Best Experimental Film: The Phoenix by Farzin Nobarani
The history of animation films in Iran goes back to the 1950s, decades after it was invented. Since then, despite all the obstacles from lack of equipment to lack of knowledge, animation films have still were made by aspiring filmmakers all the way through the present time.
With the latest technology and dedicated filmmakers, the highest number of animation films are being made today in Iran. Iranian Film Festival dedicates its Spotlight on Animation Cinema in Iran, created by a group of talented artists by showing: Imaginary scene, Wavelength, A Goodbye, Crisis, Lines of Exile, Goodbye Earth, Nail, Stars in the Rain, The Letter, House…
Aside from the fiction, the Iranian Film Festival pays special attention to the documentary genre with some of the best young talents Iranian cinema can offer. Films such as: Simin Behbahani: Love at Eighty [a retrospective of Simin Behbahani’s life and unique poetry], Ill Fate [about women in Iranian cinema before the Revolution], The United States of Elie Tahari [about the fashion designer and mogul Elie Tahari], Duchenne Boys [an epic quest to form a virtual football team made up of young sufferers of Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy]…
The genre of short films, if we can call it that, is a platform for the filmmakers to tell a story with a beginning, middle and end in a short amount of time. While they can be under time pressure to tell their whole story, but it gives them the time management to work within that time frame. For that reason, the short films are always the jewel of filmmaking, and we are happy to present a fraction of a large number of short films we received this year, among them: Muncher, Hiss…, Closed Circuit, The Phoenix, To Be, The Dagger, For the Clean Up, Tattoo, A Simple Examination, The Shadow, Psycho, The Sign, Witness, Flasher, Demonstration…
The Shorts Programs are scheduled on Saturday, September 18 and Sunday, September 19 at 12:00 PM.
Music & Dance Films
This year, the Iranian Film Festival received the highest number of music videos showing that the music is alive and well in the hearts of Iranian people specially the younger generation. Among those chosen are: The Goodbye [directed by Arman Karkhanei], Sanam [directed by Nemat Zareian], Entangled [directed by Sam Javadi], I Fell in Love [directed by Sobhan Farzaneh], Daya [directed by Maryam Yadegari], Capriccio [directed by Dareios Haji Hashemi], One More Kiss [directed by Aydin Aryainejad], Nahma [directed by Masoud Mirzaei]…
Films for Children & Young Adults
For the past few years, the Iranian Film Festival – San Francisco, has paid more attention to the films made by or about the children and young adults. These are some of the films that are selected for this year: Permission Ms., Present [about a boy who can’t afford to go to school to help his family], The Kids [about a teenage boy and girl who are brother and sister but want to separate from each other], White Clad [about a young boy who tries to save someone’s life], Bread & Dementia [about a small girl who loses her grandfather who suffers from dementia], Behind the Glasses [about a skyscraper glass cleaner who finds a way to communicate with some children in a hospital]…
Iranian Film Festival- San Francisco holds a contest for its annual poster in order to introduce some of the best graphic artists working in the field in Iran. The winner of this year’s poster contest is Rasool Haghjoo, who created his design based on 12 blue Lotus leaves [the flower of life], which was a symbol of old Persia, and a camera lens.
When the Iranian Film Festival decided to give awards, the first name came to mind was Abdolhossein Sepanta [1907-1969], the father of sound in Iranian cinema. Sepanta, was also a director, screenwriter and producer who made The Lor Girl (1931), Ferdowsi, Shirin-o-Farhaad, Black Eyes, and Leyli o Majnun (1936). In honor of his role in Iranian cinema, the Iranian Film Festival chose his name for its awards in 2013, and presents the Sepanta Award every year in various categories.
Support the Festival
If you like what we do, to continue bringing the best of independent films made by or about Iranians from around the world, support our efforts by sponsoring, advertising, and your contributions. We, Iranians, need to have a strong voice in our host country by unity and representing the best talents any community can offer. This support can be in variety of ways but for sure it benefits the Iranian community.
We know there are many talented Iranian artists out there, aside from those in film that can share their talent with us in visual art. If you are a photographer, graphic artist, musician…join the festival and participate in whatever capacity the festival can offer you. Drop us a note and be a part of our festival.
VENICE 2021: Giuseppe Tornatore’s tribute to Morricone is a gargantuan, occasionally exhausting, homage, taking in an exceptional musical journey
The first frame of Giuseppe Tornatore’s homage to the genius of Ennio Morricone, titled simply Ennio and premiering out of competition at the 78th Venice International Film Festival, shows a metronome clicking into life. This trick, seen in many a music documentary, is far from original, and neither is the denomination of “genius”. For the next 168 minutes, though, one can live with it.
Address him as “maestro”. Refrain from the expression “spaghetti western”. These were two of the (ahem) fistful of instructions conveyed to those few chosen ones given an interview appointment with Ennio Morricone. They would be received in his renaissance palace home, a stone’s throw from Piazza Venezia in the heart of Rome, surrounded by a cacophony of traffic.
In this stately oasis, he created his own cacophonies, mainly for the cinema. In the world of film, he scored soundtracks throughout seven decades, for titles such as The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Danger: Diabolik, A Lizard in a Woman's Skin, 1900, Days of Heaven, The Mission, Once Upon a Time in America, The Untouchables, The Hateful Eight and some 400-500 others. The very last one, Correspondence, was directed by Giuseppe Tornatore, who, after 13 Morricone-scored films, would give the maestro one more task: to receive him in his own home, filming him telling him about himself and his work. This constitutes the foundation of Ennio, a gargantuan tapestry, abundantly quilted with film and sound clips taking in a musical journey, some will claim, on a par with Bach, Mozart and Verdi, “but in his own time”, as is declared by at least one voice here.
From the music side, there’s Joan Baez, John Williams, Hans Zimmer, Bruce Springsteen, Pat Metheny and Quincy Jones. Some, like Metheny, who aside from his career as a jazz guitarist also scores films, provide interesting thoughts, while others add little more than a repetition of the “g” word. Missing, regrettably, are Burt Bacharach, whose own musical journey may be the closest of all to Morricone’s (and vice versa), as well as, more understandably, those no longer alive, not least that most iconic fellow worker Sergio Leone.
Being an Italian film about an Italian artist, many a compatriot shows up, among them pop singers like Edoardo Vianello, whose early 1960s hits like “Abbronzatissima” and “Guarda come dondolo” sported some gorgeously innovative Morricone arrangements. Throughout this occasionally exhausting multitude of eulogising heads, the maestro himself remains comfortably seated in his armchair of choice in his renaissance palace, where he calmly, with as sharp a memory as they come, revisits the exquisite minutiae of his compositions, humming, chirping and “whau-whauing” his way through an exceptional treasure trove. “I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t like his music,” says Eastwood. Yup, one can live with the “g” word.
Ennio is an Italian-Belgian-Chinese-Japanese production staged by Piano B Produzioni, Potemkino, Fu Works, Terras, Gaga and Blossoms Island Pictures, with sales overseen by Block 2 Distribution.
An interview with Asghar Farhadi A Hero, the most successful at 2021 Cannes so far
“A Hero,” which sees Farhadi returning to filmmaking in Iran, is about a man named Rahim who is in prison because of an unpaid debt. While on a two-day release, he and the woman he loves hatch a plan to try and convince the creditor to let him off the hook. But it spirals out of control due to social media, which plays an important part in this drama exposing the pitfalls of media manipulation in Iran’s repressive regime but also, by extension, the world. Farhadi spoke to Variety in Cannes about his concerns over social media and his certainty that the best antidote to the disconnect it can create is cinema.
How did ‘A Hero’ originate? From time to time in the news in Iran you get stories about very average people who in their daily lives do something that is very altruistic. And that humane way of being makes them very noticeable in society for a few days, and then they are forgotten. The story of the rise and fall of these kinds of people was really what interested me.
Has social media manipulation been on your mind in recent years, especially as it pertains to Iran? When I started working on the story I wasn’t so aware of social media. I developed that aspect when I realized that this is something so pervasive in every society around the world these days. It has become such a powerful tool of communication in every society and there are no borders. It’s the same in Iran and the rest of the world.
But I think that what’s specific in Iran is that because there are tensions in society between different groups, opinions, ideologies, it becomes a tool in the hands of [groups of]people to confront the others. That’s the reason why it plays such as major part in the development of this story.
In ‘A Hero’ media manipulation intersects with the Iranian justice system. Are you concerned about this manipulation when it comes to putting people in jail? Well, it’s not even at the level of being a concern anymore. It’s a fact. It’s just the way we are living. I think it’s not even relevant to question this. It’s just the way we are. And the way we express things to each other. What I found interesting in the issues of this film is to see that all institutions and social groups use this tool. It’s a way of opening up to the other. But what I found paradoxical and interesting in this story is that instead of being a way of communicating and opening up to the other, it’s the exact opposite: a way of hiding and dissimulating things.
What’s also interesting is the speed [of social media]and its very few words: the very small space that you need and use to present a piece of news, a person, a story. It goes very quickly and very often the situation is more complex; the person is more complex. You need more space to actually present the nuances and the complexity of the situation. When you do it with so few words then of course it becomes the perfect space for misunderstanding.
‘The Salesman’ star Taraneh Alidoosti last year risked going to jail after she shared a video on Twitter of a member of Iran’s plainclothes ‘morality police’ insulting and attacking a woman on the street for not wearing the hijab headscarf. Tweeting can be dangerous. This has to do with the fact that Iran is a repressive country in which you have no freedom to speak up and say what you think. When you have a medium like this which gives you the opportunity to express your feelings and what people have kept inside for years, of course they burst out. I think Iran must be on top of the list of countries in which the content of the conversation on social media is more about social and political issues. I’ve been researching this subject. Once when I was in Hong Kong I asked people: “What do you mainly talk about on social media?” They said: “It’s mainly personal or about cooking or more random everyday life issues.” Of course now with the troubles with China they also use social media for politics, but not as much as in Iran where I think people are really using it as an opportunity to finally speak up and connect on issues that they felt had been repressed.
In the U.S. one of the biggest social media manipulators in politics has been Donald Trump who basically prevented you from going to the U.S. to attend the Oscars. Do you think something will change with President Biden, especially when it comes to U.S. policy in Iran? I think extremes are very similar, no matter what country or political systems. Of course having Joe Biden in place makes the whole world a better place. I have no doubt about that. But as for Iran and trying to predict whether it’s going to help things with Iran, well while Trump was having such extreme behavior and reaction towards Iran, there was the same kind of extremism in Iran. So, of course they were on the opposite side, but their way of behaving and reflecting was the same. And in Iran the same people are still in power. So there should be a change also on the Iranian side in order to make sure that there can be an improvement on both sides.
How do you think the social media disconnect is affecting cinema? I had a discussion with a friend a few days ago and he was saying that this flow of information, images and sound that is pouring on all individuals nowadays is going to kill cinema, because it’s a competitor that cinema cannot catch up with. But I think that it’s quite the opposite because it’s really the reverse side of the use of images and sound with speed. Cinema is the medium that can take time to develop, to show different aspects, to show the complexities, the nuances. And to take this time. That’s exactly the reason why I think social media is in no way a threat to cinema. What you don’t have in social media is time for reflection and being able to see the different aspects and dimensions of a question. For that there is cinema.
Cannes 2021 Where Is Anne Frank, a film by Ari Folman
By Sheri Linden, Hollywood Reporter on 07/09/2021
There’s a lot going on in this feature — at times too much, although that surfeit of story is designed to click with the younger viewers the film aims to reach.
Kitty, the imaginary friend addressed in Anne Frank’s diaries, jumps off the page as a pen-and-ink version of a flesh-and-blood girl in Ari Folman’s vividly rendered Where Is Anne Frank.
Given that the Anne we meet in the film is an ardent movie fan, it’s fitting that Kitty’s exploits cover a Hollywood-style narrative range — historical drama, action-adventure, romance, social commentary.
There’s a lot going on in this feature — at times too much, although that surfeit of story is designed to click with the younger viewers the film aims to reach.
The son of Auschwitz survivors, Folman set out to make the first international Holocaust film for young people, ages 12 and up. In collaboration with the foundation established by Frank’s father, Otto, he and his filmmaking team have developed an accompanying educational program as well.
There’s an instructive element to the film, and adult audiences likely will find one or two passages conspicuously didactic. Despite this, and putting aside the occasionally convoluted plotting, Where Is Anne Frank spins around exceptionally engaging central characters, expresses the story’s unspeakable sadness with eloquence and sensitivity, and winningly captures the intelligence, humor and adolescent exuberance so evident in photographs of Anne Frank and in her writing.
Working with animation director Yoni Goodman, whose innovative work gave Folman’s 2008 documentary, Waltz With Bashir, its hauntingly distinctive look, the filmmaker has taken another novel approach, placing 2D characters against stop-motion backgrounds.
In its depiction of Amsterdam, where the story is largely set (with a heartrending visit to present-day Bergen-Belsen, the concentration camp where Frank died), there’s an architectural integrity to match the historical one.
Most of the action revolves around the Anne Frank House — in its contemporary status as a world-famous museum and during its use from 1942 to 1944 as the secret annex where the Franks and the van Pels (called the Van Damms in the diaries and this film) hid from the Nazis.
In the present day, designated for the sake of narrative license as “a year from now,” museumgoers queue up in a blustery storm. Sowing the seeds of a subplot, a family of refugees from Mali, living on the street, struggle to save their tent from the violent winds.
On special exhibit inside is Anne’s original diary, with its red plaid cover and pages overflowing with her cursive writing. Through a serendipitous collision of weather and magic, the book’s glass display case shatters, an antique fountain pen is brought to life, and Kitty (voiced by Ruby Stokes) materializes from the lines of ink. She’s a resourceful and willowy redheaded teen with a fierce devotion to her creator, Anne (Emily Carey, whose unforced soulfulness matches that of Stokes), and she has no idea that she’s stepping into another world, 75 years after the girls last communicated.
Kitty’s baffled to find an endless stream of strangers crowding into Anne’s bedroom, peering at its sparse furnishings and the fangirl movie-star photos hanging on its walls. Kitty is invisible to them. The logic of when she can and can’t be seen is explained to her — and us — by Peter (Ralph Prosser), a young street kid whose skills as a pickpocket would make Robert Bresson smile.
According to the somewhat shaky logic, whether she’s visible or not, the diary is the crucial puzzle piece she needs. She removes it from the museum as she embarks on her quest for Anne, and the missing diary becomes the city’s top story, a 100,000-euro reward in the offing.
The film’s title refers to Kitty’s search, but it’s also something of an accusation, a reminder that totems of cultural significance like the diary can become cast in amber, detached from their meaning. In the contemporary setting, Anne Frank’s name emblazons a hospital, theater, bridge and school.
At the same time, the government is cracking down on war refugees and refusing to grant them asylum. Among the seekers is the Malian family from the opening sequence, whose young daughter Awa (Naomi Mourton) charms Kitty with her dazzling knack for cat’s cradle.
In a more subtle paradox than the immigrant issue, before the diary goes missing the police break into the museum — the same building where two families lived in fear of the authorities for two treacherous years — in order to protect the prized book from suspected vandals. One policeman (voiced by Folman with a slurry of the weary, the snide and the sincere) pronounces the diary “the biggest spiritual treasure this country’s produced since Rembrandt,” as if repeating a memorized line.
Trading in vintage jewelry for fast fashion, Kitty plays the part of a modern girl (with the musical contributions of Karen O and Ben Goldwasser heightening the metamorphosis). But when she reads the diary she’s likely to shift back into Anne’s world. (Again, the magic’s logic is of the delicate just-go-with-it variety.) Through the girls’ openhearted conversations, Kitty learns of the Nazis’ targeting of Jews and comes to understand the day-to-day realities of life during the occupation for Anne, her parents (Michael Maloney and Samantha Spiro) and her sister, Margot (Skye Bennett).
On the streets, the SS loom as stylized, towering figures with death’s-head masks. Within the Franks’ clandestine quarters, new boarder Albert Dussel (Andrew Woodall) brings harrowing news of “the East,” where the machinery of extermination is in motion.
Scenes of the war-era past pulse with the perspective of a bright, perceptive teen. Folman doesn’t deny the weight of fear and oppressiveness — indeed, he builds to it powerfully. But he makes sure to give time and space to the joys that shaped Anne’s privileged youth before the dark days took hold. A rundown of the boys who loved her, presented in the whimsical form of a parade, bursts with color and zingy schoolgirl language, 1940s-style: “He’s a tough guy, but he’s a brat,” she declares of one unqualified hopeful. In another scene the image on a jigsaw puzzle comes to life, and there’s a wonderfully wry commercial for the company Otto Frank works for, complete with a Felix the Cat look-alike.
Anne’s budding romance with the shy Peter Van Damm (Sebastian Croft) is paralleled by Kitty’s with her more worldly-wise Peter. The latter pair get to skate down the city’s frozen canals; back in the annex, the greatest adventure Anne and Peter can muster is an imaginary exploration of a radio’s innards.
The intertwined layers of history and imagination fuel the drama with greater urgency as it moves toward the awful days after the Franks were discovered in their hiding place. With high emotion and thriller tension, a bravura sequence interweaves Kitty’s ride on a passenger train with Anne’s forced ride to the dreaded East.
Folman doesn’t depict the camps explicitly, but he taps into the enormity of their horror: a Hades incarnate for Anne, a born writer with a love of Greek mythology.
That the film’s lessons about intolerance are still urgent is hardly news. And yet there’s something surprisingly urgent in the way Folman and company turn clean, simple lines into full-blooded characters.
It’s not kid stuff the way Anne’s brow furrows with worry, and the tears of her beloved Kitty, when she learns what happened to Anne, just might knock you sideways.