I was invited to attend Filmfest Hamburg’s bicentennial as guest of the “Come To Hamburg” initiative; a project set up to highlight the city’s hidden treasures through the writing of culture and travel bloggers from around the world. Here's my dispatch from the festival, featuring reviews of Song of Granite (dir. Pat Collins), Taste of Cement (dir. Ziad Kalthoum) and Mrs Fang (dir. Wang Bing).
A moving story of self-discovery on the Yorkshire Dales, Francis Lee's God's Own Country isn't your average LGBT+ romance, something the director is keen to reiterate when we sat with him earlier this year at - of all places - the Transilvania International Film Festival.
Is death really the end? Katell Quillévéré's Heal the Living argues that death is merely the start of a much larger process. Adapted from Maylis de Kerangal's International Booker Prize-nominated novel Mend the Living, Quillévéré's latest is a medical procedural set over 24 hours, charting the transmigration of a heart after its donor Simon (Gabin Verdet), a 15-year-old surfer from the coastal city of Le Havre dies in a tragic road accident. While the news of Simon's death means tragedy for his family, it brings fresh hope to Claire (Anne Dorval), a middle-aged woman from the outskirts of Paris desperately in need of a heart transplant. We sat down with the Ivory Coast-born director prior to the film's UK release to discuss the difficulties of adapting Kerangal's novel.
In light of last year's Oscars So White controversy, the eight Academy Award nominations bestowed on Barry Jenkins' Moonlight could have felt like a reactionary attempt to rectify the ceremony's lack of diversity. However, unlike other films that attempt to juggle big issues with commercial success, the hype surrounding Moonlight is entirely justified. Not only does Jenkins' depiction of Black masculinity bring a world rarely seen on the big screen to the forefront; he's also created a movie of immense beauty and emotional acuity.
Here's a link to my coverage from the Berlinale, including the following reviews:
Adriana's Pact (Lissette Orozco), Ana, Mon Amour (Cãlin Peter Netzer), A Fantastic Woman (Sebastián Lelio), Barrage (Laura Schroeder), Call Me By Your Name (Luca Guadagnino), Casting JonBenet (Green), Centaur (Aktan Arym Kubat), Colo (Teresa Villaverde), Dayveon (Amman Abbasi), Félicité (Alain Gomis), God's Own Country (Francis Lee), Golden Exits (Alex Ross Perry), The Lost City of Z (James Gary)
My Happy Family (Nana Ekvtimishvili and Simon Gross), On Body and Soul (Ildikó Enyedi), Somniloquies (Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel), The Other Side of Hope (Aki Kaurismäki), The Party (Sally Potter), Vazante (Daniela Thomas), When The Day Had No Name (Teona Strugar Mitevska)
Ralitza Petrova's Locarno Golden Leopard winner Godless is the latest in an outpouring of punishing portraits of life in the New East. Rigidly conforming to the stark, unforgiving aesthetic now synonymous with post-soviet social realism, Petrova's debut is a gruelling exploration of the new political and cultural identities being forged in Bulgaria following the transition from socialism to a market economy.
Scottish director Scott Graham follows up his impressive yet underseen debut Shell with Iona, a similarly sombre tale of isolation and familial relations. A film inspired as much by the dark sophistication of Carl Theodor Dreyer's Ordet as the spiritual clash of cultures in Peter Weir's Witness, Graham's rural study of guilt, faith and redemption is a film swaddled in an alluring mist of mystery, yet lacking in narrative lucidity.
Holding a mirror to the concerns of contemporary society is a staple of the monster movie. So when Matt Reeves' Cloverfield arrived on US screens in 2008 it was clear a new breed of monster had emerged to embody the anxieties evoked by the surprise attacks of 9/11. 10 Cloverfield Lane, by debutant director Dan Trachtenberg (but produced by J.J. Abrams) is a would-be-sequel to Abrams' found footage monster movie, and although it bears little narrative or stylistic resemblance to its predecessor this taut thriller effectively mirrors the contemporary fears of a nation.
When history is violently forced from its intended path by the outbreak of war, it's society's poorest and neglected who suffer most. Ta'ang, the latest film from documentarian Wang Bing, focuses on the lives of the numerous refugees living on border between Myanmar and China. The Ta'ang (also known as the Palaung) are from Myanmar's Kokang region and have been displaced by civil war. At a time when migration has dominated the news in Europe, Wang forcibly reminds us that there similar tragedies continue to occur across the globe. Ta'ang opens on a makeshift tarpaulin hut, with a man dressed head-to-toe in camouflage kicking a woman as she cradles her child.
Loosely based on his own childhood experiences of living in similar conditions, The Commune is a film built around the intangibility and melancholy of childhood memories. What should have been a gritty work about a generation confronted with the implausibility of their beliefs is ultimately a banal and self-absorbed drama.
There's an alluring alchemy to the films of French formalist Green, his rigorous adhesion to the conventions of the Baroque theatre somehow combining weighty philosophical ideas with sardonic wit and anchoring it all to serious themes like depression and isolation.
The Yangtze River has played an important part in Chinese history, bringing life, death and industrial growth to the country. Beijing Film Academy graduate Yang Chao's Crosscurrent uses the river as its driving force, its current acting like the hands of a clock pushing time forward.
Guillaume Nicloux reunites with Gérard Depardieu - following last year's Cannes title Valley of Love - for The End, a lean, spiritual voyage into the unknown. Opening with the sound of a dog barking and the ringing of an alarm clock, the first shot of Nicloux's latest sees Depardieu strewn atop his bed in just his underwear. It's a revealing opening, but there's a sense we're going to learn a lot more about Depardieu than whether he's a briefs or boxers man.