Milagros Mumenthaler’s debut feature scooped both the Golden Leopard and the Critics Award at this year’s Locarno Film Festival and heralds the director as yet another promising talent from Argentina. Throughout this spare, melancholic film, she guards her narrative secrets – only gradually does it emerge [who] the three lost and bickering souls living under one roof are… The action never leaves the grand but neglected Buenos Aires family home. The camera beautifully stalks its rooms and contents and the piles of possessions – constant reminders of the past – that surround the [three young] sisters… With her preference for low light and a soft focus, a languid end-of-summer aimlessness hangs over the film. Meanwhile she patiently observes every snide comment and questioning stare shared between the three sisters, revealing clashing personalities and exploring in detail the dynamic between them.
It’s The Earth Not The Moon
The volcanic Portuguese island of Corvo, a mere four kilometres long, is the smallest island in the Azores. Though its social history remains largely unrecorded, its people, until the early 20th century, were a self-sustaining, agricultural community. Gonçalo Tocha (Balaou, NZIFF08) approaches Corvo with a mock scientific agenda – to know every plant, every inhabitant, every minute detail of the place. But when he and his sound man get there, they wander the steep, winding roads and ease us not at all rigorously into the tiny community. We encounter the island’s homely crafts, religious rituals, troubled politics and pumping lo-fi disco through its people. Attending with particular respect to the older inhabitants, Tocha emerges with an artefact of something like communal memory, a picture of tough reticent island people living in perpetual contest with the elements. Rendered increasingly untenable by globalism, the centuries-old patterns of life on Corvo have found their social historian just in time, in a tender, inquisitive, itinerant cine-laureate.
In The Fog
This intense, slow-burning Russian war drama considers moral choice in the moral vacuum of occupation. This second feature after My Joy by former documentarian Sergei Loznitsa took the international Critics’ Prize at Cannes this year. “Set in Belarus in 1942, the film begins with a lengthy travelling shot (the first of only 70 or so shots in the movie), which ends with the Nazis hanging Belarussian resistance fighters. It then proceeds to chronicle what happens after two partisans arrive at the house of a comrade widely believed (since he alone was freed by the Nazis after a train was sabotaged) to have betrayed the executed men. He protests his innocence, but they are no more persuaded by his claims than his wife, and they take him through the forest, hoping to avoid discovery by the German forces patrolling the district. What follows not only shows the respective destinies of the three men but sketches, in flashback, their characters and their different responses to the question of how best to deal with the occupying German forces. Loznitsa adopts a slow, stately pace, allowing a number of cruel ironies to emerge from the stark, simple storyline with steadily accumulating dramatic force… In the Fog is a war movie that foregrounds the emotions of individuals over the spectacle of battle, and uses metaphor and a calm mood of ethical enquiry rather than simplistic polemics arguing for or against military engagement. Loznitsa knows that war exists and won’t go away; he tries to show what it might do to our souls. And, in this writer’s opinion, he succeeds.” — Geoff Andrew, Time Out
Just The Wind
Picking up the Jury Grand Prix at Berlin and judiciously avoiding every cliché of ‘gypsy life’, this rigorously absorbing drama follows a day in the life of an underclass Romani family: a hard-working mother, her studious teenage daughter, and younger son who, unsupervised, skips school. All three are haunted by the spectre of a series of racist attacks on nearby villages. Small details give a compelling sense of the dread faced by the characters, all superbly played by non-professionals from the Romani community: the casual racism the mother faces on her cleaning job; the squeal of a runaway pig, the only survivor from a previous attack; the daughter chillingly Googling ‘gypsy murders’ on the school computer. Using a roving camera to closely follow the family through their day, director Bence Fliegauf (formerly known as Benedek) recalls the intense urgency of films like The Death of Mr Lazarescu and Elephant, as well as his own Dealer.
An adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment with no policeman, Kazakh filmmaker Darezhan Omirbayev’s film tells a stark tale of a shy young student who commits an almost random act of murder. Set in contemporary Almaty, it’s a ferociously political critique, cut and framed with Bressonian austerity. “You cannot look away from Darezhan Omirbayev’s Student… for each and every shot is quietly but powerfully charged. It always seems a minute charge until a simple shot’s condensation of narrative expression and emotional nuance sneaks up on you… Student pares away its source and the world until all that’s left is the everyday that speaks volumes, volumes materially, narratively and emotionally… Omirbayev sees how contemporary social, political and economic life in Kazakhstan ‘calls up’ stories of profound universality which, when stripped to their potent core, become absolutely of their new, specific place and time.” — Daniel Kasman