Shelagh M. Rowan-Legg hand picks a sample of cinematic gems you may have missed from this year's festival.
Sally Potter returns with arguably her most accessible, but no less brilliant film to date. Ginger & Rosa tells the story of two life-long friends, struggling in their teenage years with sexual and intellectual longings, caught in the confusion of the early 1960s of nuclear threats and broken families. Potter films this through a judicious combination of close-ups and deep focus, moving across the faces of her cast to capture their moments of vulnerability, when the love and anger of their hearts is unmistakable. Elle Fanning and Alice Englert are tremendous as the title characters, displaying a wisdom about the heart of the teenage girl whom Potter captures with an unwavering honesty.
Michel Gondry's work is nothing if not varied, and The We and the I is no exception. Unfolding in real-time on a bus ride through the Bronx, Gondry seamlessly moves his camera through the group of teenagers (predominately black and hispanic) on the last school day before summer, as they negotiate bullies, lovers, friends and frenemies. Gondry's use of a free moving camera, music, rapid cuts and dialogue makes for a youthful tone that helps the film embrace the style and perspective of its young cast.
Like most Icelanders, Baltasar Kormákur has an inherent affinity for the sea. It is therefore unsurprising that his latest film, The Deep, based on the true story of one fisherman's miraculous six-hour swim and survival through frigid waters and volcanic landscapes, is so personal, intimate and heartbreaking. Following the story not just of the disaster, but the aftermath and media frenzy imposed on a private and shy man, Kormákur shows the sea in all its lack of mercy, and a vulnerable man ill-equipped for the role of hero, despite his strength of heart. It showcases a brutal landscape juxtaposed against a kind and tight-knit community, with a sensitive camera eye.
Pablo Berger spent nearly 10 years working on Blancanieves, his tribute to European silent film, and it shows with a story dripping in sensuous, gorgeous wonder. A black-and-white silent reworking of the Snow White fairy tale, Berger transports us to 1920s Spain, populated by matadors, flamenco dancers and the carnivalesque. Rather than serving as a nod to the industry, the film is a nod to the format itself, invoking the likes of Carl Dreyer, Sergei Eisenstein, and Abel Gance, and yet remaining true to its Spanish cultural roots in its grand melodrama, never shying away from the grotesque, and creating a very brave and real heroine.
The end of the world may not come with a bang, but with a whimper, and Jorge Torregrossa examines just such a whimper in his debut feature, Fin. A group of estranged friends discover that they are seemingly the last survivors of humanity, and in their search for help they each begin to disappear one by one. Torregrossa shows how small humans can feel against a vast natural world that has no place for them anymore, and how it is loss of love and faith that will drive us to the brink, with an intelligent eye for showing an imposing, increasingly abstract landscape and the small human hope that endures.
The horrors of the Spanish Civil War continue to scratch at that nation's subconscious; in Painless, writer/director Juan Carlos Medina takes such physical metaphors literally and seriously. Moving between the 1930s and a group of children who do not feel physical pain and are subsequently imprisoned, and today and a doctor looking to find the secrets of his parentage, the film is a slow-burner but nonetheless frequently horrifying meditation on superstition, childhood, parenthood and cruelty. Its best moments are found when Medina's unflinching camera moves into the dark corners where naked evil and love are strange bedfellows.
Grace Lee's Janeane from Des Moines presents itself as a doc about a typical working-class, right-wing woman who is trying to pick a candidate for the Republican party leadership. But Lee changes the perspective from standard single-camera to two-camera, dramatic form. Not only does this make the viewer question how we judge Janeane and her political views, but how we view documentary itself, and the presumed neutrality of the filmmaker and the subject.
Leviathan, directed by Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel, is not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach. The two take a journey on a small commercial fishing boat off the New England coast. A combination of handheld cameras and ones mounted to various parts of the boat provide a close and incredibly intense perspective of a physically demanding job, one where constant water, dead eyes of the catch and the dark night sky, create a cacophony of sights and sounds that immerse the viewer in a beautiful and terrifying experience.
It is sad that avant-garde and experimental films are usually only seen at festivals, and by few people. The wider audience would benefit from exposure to films such as Athina Rachel Tsangari's (director of Attenberg and producer of Dogtooth) The Capsule. A short film that takes a clever and funny eye to the fashion industry, its quirky mixture of vignettes, animation and live action, make it a kind of contemporary feminist fantasy. Set in a gorgeous mansion populated by gorgeous women, it challenges in an offbeat way not only concepts of fashion and beauty, but concepts of traditional film narrative.
Paraguay is not a country known for its films, so it is a delight to when a gem such as 7 Boxes, directed by Juan Carlos Maneglia and Tana Schémbori comes along. Set in a busy urban market, young Victor is desperate to be a film star and takes on a shady job that sees him dodging jealous rivals, the police, and somewhat inept criminals. It's part comedy, part crime caper, with boundless energy as Maneglia and Schémbori mash-up mounted shots, handheld frenzy and a wonderful sense of geography as the film seamlessly weaves together several plot threads with a hysterical and tense finale.
Horror anthologies seem to be very popular these days; The ABCs of Death seems to be the kings of these, with 26 films from various well-known directors, each of whom was given a letter of the alphabet and told to fly with it. As with any anthology, there are going to be some weak links. But there are a few stand-outs, such as O is for Orgasm, a giallo-styled sensorial piece by Hélèn Cattet and Bruno Forzani; Nacho Vigalondo's appropriately overdramatic and loving A is for Apocalypse; and Xavier Gens' X is for XXL, in which a large woman goes to bloody extremes to lose weight. This film might be best viewed in small doses.