São Paulo Int’l Film Festival 2018

Papiro & Mint is back to cover the São Paulo International Film Festival, an important event that happens every year here in Brazil which this year brought movies like The Favourite, The House that Jack Built, Cold War, Leto, and many other international titles that have been going around the globe in many important festivals. Here’s what we have covered so far, and stay tuned for more!

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The Favourite (2018) by Yorgos Lanthimos

★★★☆☆

Being the film that opened the festival and proudly watched at a special session for the press, The Favourite is Yorgos Lanthimos latest film. Being in my opinion one of the most interesting filmmakers working today thanks to Dogtooth, The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer, my expectations for this film were huge – which I must admit they weren’t exactly fulfilled. Telling the story of a crazy and childish queen of England during the 18th Century and her governor, the film follows two cousins fighting for the queen’s attention and influence and how far they will go to achieve power.

A plot like this on Lanthimos’ hands sounded like the best combination that could possibly exist, but unfortunately, something went wrong. Starting with the script that wasn’t written by Lanthimos, but by Tony McNamara and Deborah Davis, The Favourite lacks madness. The tone that things will go crazy is always present but this moment never comes, affecting the time and the purpose of the film itself. On the other hand, this is Yorgos most beautiful and perfect movie when it comes to cinematography, production and costume design. The way natural light is used with candles and windows is something beautiful to watch, resulting in a gothic and strange view of what we’re used to seeing palaces on the big screen. Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, and Olivia Colman are amazing, and even Nicholas Hoult has his moments. It’s a shame that it became a movie more interesting to look than to care about.

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Cold War (2018) by Pawel Pawlikowski

★★★★★

Even though this film is at the festival, I’ve actually watched it about a month ago through the Curzon website. But Cold War is so freaking good that I feel I must talk about it. Winner of Best Director at Cannes Film Festival this year (and with great reason), Cold War is a 90-minute film about the period of 10 years of the relationship of a dancer and a composer during the cold war in Poland. More than that, the film explores this relationship through music, dance and politics set in Poland during winter, communist Russia, East Berlin, and smokish Parisian jazz bars. Everything shot in a black and white stunning cinematography that will make you wonder if this film wasn’t actually shot during the 50s. I believe Pawel Pawlikowski makes a huge improvement from his Oscar winner film Ida and gives us one of the most beautiful movies of the year. Hopefully, he’ll get another Oscar for this.

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Old Boys (2018) by Toby MacDonald

★★★☆☆

As I’ve said before, the UK seems to be having its moment with independent films. When I saw this was one of them and had a boarding school in it, I could not leave this title out of my list as this is one of the several subjects I love in film. Old Boys follows the story of a boy named Amberson who decides to help one of the most popular guys of his school to get romantically involved with their French teacher’s daughter. The problem, however, is that he is also attracted to the girl. Being a plot that has been told a thousand times, Toby McDonald may not deliver the best film you’ll see this year, but he gives charm and character to his little film, resulting in a pretty and well resolved romantic story, with some influences of The Loneliness of a Long Distance Runner and Sing Street.

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Diamantino (2018) by Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt

★★★★☆

Diamantino is an extremely famous Portuguese soccer player who sees big furry dogs while he plays and decides to adopt a refugee after his father dies. If you think that is a strange plot, try to add Bretix, Donald Trump, human clones and hermaphrodites into the mix. This may sound like I’m talking about a terrible film, but Diamantino is far from that. It may be insane but after being disappointed with The Favourite, this was exactly what I needed to watch. Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt create a surrealistic and silly film that becomes extremely relevant when it starts talking about fame, money and the political crises many countries are facing right now, resulting in an extremely original, strange, funny and surreal tale that can make any Hollywood comedy looks like a kid movie. Maybe I’m saying more than what the film actually is, but you can be sure you won’t be disappointed in watching Diamantino.

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The House That Jack Built (2018) by Lars Von Trier

★★★★☆

It’s funny to see that the internet made the new Lars Von Trier film Taboo. It was websites saying that 100 people walked out of the theater during the premiere at Cannes; it was tweets from critics saying that the artist this time went too far with a disgusting and bad tasteful film; and even Lars Von Trier himself saying that many people he invited to be part of the project declined it. What is even funnier than that though, is that The House of Jack Built is in its own way, a comedy. Movies like Antichrist and Nymphomaniac are way more violent and explicit than his newest work, and I dare to say his provocation this time isn’t supposed to be taken too seriously, which I believe is why it made a lot of people hate this film.

The House That Jack Built is Von Trier’s version of Dante’s Inferno with a cynic and satirical approach that tries to compare the life achievements of a serial killer with works of art. Narrated by a conversation between Jack and Virgil from Dante’s book, the film shows five killings where Jack tries to convince Virgil of the greatness in murder, death, hell and even the “dark light” of a human being. But just like every single Lars Von Trier film, the director is not worried about using unethical approaches to discuss what is right and wrong in society and art. Just because Jack is a horrible human being, who is constantly being laughed at by Virgil and the audience, it doesn’t mean that Von Trier is a misogynist, nazi, crazy man. He actually uses his classical signatures (explicit violence, extremely slow motions scenes and inserts of documentaries) to build a film, or maybe a house, that brings up questions more interesting than most of the films out there. It may become a little pretentious sometimes, but when the movie is finished, you’ll realize that this is also Lars vision of the character he’s created – especially because with the music used on the credits and you’ll understand how this works when you watch it.

It may not be an important film as it was his Trilogy of Depression, but The House That Jack Built is a beautiful, funny and disturbing political incorrect movie that jokes about what is the world’s biggest problem at the moment: people taking themselves too seriously. And if you are one of them, you can be sure you’ll detest this film.

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Friday’s Child (2018) by A.J Edwards

★★★☆☆

“Friday’s child” is an expression that comes from a fortune-telling song, that says this is a loving and giving child. This is not explicit in A.J Edwards movie, but once you google the meaning you’ll be able to relate with the film of the same name. This loving and giving child is supposed to be Richie, an 18-year-old who was abandoned from his foster family when he was young and for the first time is sent into the real world after spending years in a foster care school. This first contact with the world is brutal with Richie, which even though he tries his best to be a good person, everything goes wrong with him. More than that, Friday’s Child is the perfect version of a millennial Terrence Malick – who Tye Sheridan, who plays Richie, have also worked before in The Tree of Life. The cinematography, which is not only amazing and very similar to latest Malick’s films, is a big character in the story when it comes talking about trying to fulfill empty spaces and give meaning to life. It’s all shot in natural light, resulting in extremely beautiful shots and incredible camera movements. However, good-looking films don’t make good movies, and Friday’s Child biggest problem is the lack of story and depth, which I believe it’s the main problem in young filmmakers nowadays. Maybe Terrence Malick would have had pulled this off without a script, but A.J Edwards is just beginning. Still, it’s a very interesting try.

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Shoplifters (2018) by Hirokazu Koreeda

★★☆☆☆

I’ve never been such a big fan of the Japanese cinema and my interest in Shoplifters was only because it had won the Palm d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival this year. Unfortunately, this was another film that proved my theory and I couldn’t wait for the film to end after 30 minutes into the movie. The story follows a poor “family” living in harsh conditions and it tries to explore the relationships between them. The shoplifting, however, is not a major element in the film, but a characteristic. This family ends up taking care of a little girl who they find on the street, who just like the other characters, are not deeply explored, and the worst part of it is that you can’t relate or even care to any single one of them. Hirokazu Koreeda delivers a transparent and lifeless direction with a script that lacks content and emotions, and even when it delivers some sort of catharsis at the end, is barely explored. From all this year’s Cannes Film Festival movies I’ve seen, this is by far the weakest, and probably one of the weakest Palm d’Or winners I’ve seen. It’s not a bad film, but it’s just something that I wonder how long will it take to be forgotten.

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Burning (2018) by Chang-dong Lee

★★★☆☆

And since we’re talking about Japanese cinema, I’ve decided to comment on this Korean film that was also at Cannes Film Festival and even though it’s part of the São Paulo International Film Festival, I’ve watched previously online. Besides having incredible reviews, Burning seemed like a special film for me because it was based on a short story written by Haruki Murakami, a Japanese writer I enjoy very much. I haven’t read the story though, but his presence it’s everywhere in the film. It follows a man who falls in love for a girl he befriends at the street. They start hanging out and after she comes back from a trip, she introduces a man who she has become friends with. The three of them start an interesting and curious relationship, where every character has their own personalities and mysteries – until one day, the girl disappears. The film is way more complex than that, especially because it doesn’t give us any answers, which is very typical of Murakami. Chang-dong Lee homages his elements in a beautiful way, like the subjects of the double, the disappearance, the void, cats, sex, etc. The length, however, is a little tiresome and Murakami’s mysteries, which is usually the magic of his books, sort of fades away after a while, which it was a little upsetting in my view. Still, Burning is a very interesting movie to watch.

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BlacKkKlansman (2018) by Spike Lee

★★★☆☆

The representation of people of color has been gaining an enormous space within the Hollywood community. From Moonlight and Get Out to Black Panther, the voices of black people are being heard along with movements like MeToo. More impressive than that, the movies that are raising these voices are also incredible works of art that make us reflect on modern cinema and current social and political problems. This is not the case with BlacKkKlasman though.

Winner of the Special Jury Prize at Cannes Film Festival this year – which let me say, what a disappointment of line-up so far – BlacKkKlansman tells the story of a black police offer during the 70s that starts an undercover operation to infiltrate the local Klu Klux Klan. What is supposed to be a black comedy, neither makes us laugh or makes a strong statement by what is being shown at the screen. Yes, Spike Lee tackles the racist agenda, but in a very superficial way and in ways that have been done so many times before. A film that is very similar to this one is actually Daniel Ragussis’ Imperium, starring Daniel Radcliffe. Just change a black police officer to a white journalist and you almost have the same film. Yes, white racist supremacists are disgusting, what’s new?

Spike Lee answers that by giving us several real footages taken from events that have taken place around the US where a white wave of nationalists have grown strong and have protested and even attacked minority groups. But this appears at the end of the movie, and it has nothing to do with the real film, which even though it’s about the same subjects, are clearly different times and the gap that divides both political eras are huge. More than that, BlacKkKlasman’s script is lame, which barks a little but doesn’t even dare to bite. I’m not saying the movie is terrible though, it’s just very disappointing comparing with all the praise and prizes this film has been receiving. And honestly, comparing this with movies like Moonlight and especially 12 Years a Slave… I’m counting the days for Spike Lee’s film to be forgotten.

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Capernaum (2018) by Nadine Labaki

★★★★★

I was a little afraid of watching this movie after all the Cannes deception this year, but thankfully Capernaum was probably one of the best movies of the festival. Directed by Nadine Labaki, the film tells the story of a 12-year-old boy who decides to sue his parents for giving birth to him, which is actually just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to where Labaki will take us through 120 minutes. Shot in an unbelievable poor community in Lebanon with extreme realism, the film explores the horrible conditions of several poor families and refugees. More than that, Capernaum shows the life of an extremely smart, dedicated and hardworking kid whose opinions are too strong for his own good, putting himself in difficult situations and in a path that will change his life forever.

The way Nadine Labaki builds her film from point A to point B to point C is simply unbelievably hard-broken, making you feel speechless after the movie is over. There is also an incredible sense of realism in the film, which will make you wonder how much of that is real and how much of that is fiction. Not mentioning the amazing actor Zain Al Rafeea, who does not only do an amazing job but also portrays an extremely important role by giving voice to millions of children who are facing the same situation as his: children who are not taken care of. Is funny to say this because the character he plays never asks for love or a better family, but he just won’t accept being treated like a rat all the time. I’m really wondering why this film didn’t win the Palm d’Or.

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Maya (2018) by Mia Hansen-Løve

★★★★☆

Wife of no one else than movie director Oliver Assayas, Mia Hansen-Løve has built an incredible body of work with remarkable films such as Goodbye First Love, Eden and Things To Come. With an amazing sense of naturalism and deep French roots that reminds us of films of Eric Rohmer and Maurice Pialat, the movies of Mia Hansen-Løve brings up subjects like the soul of the human body, the rediscovery of the self and the influence of the space surrounding us. Maybe it’s not a type of cinema for everybody, but you can’t deny that even though they’re modern films, they feel timeless.

Maya is Mia’s latest work, with another one coming up called Bergman Island. If space is one of her many major themes, here is explored again in the country of India, where a war journalist who was held hostage in Syria decides to spend his time to try to reconnect with himself. He has an old house to be refurnished, a godfather to visit and a mother who he hasn’t seen in years. Even though the film doesn’t have one of the best endings, Maya feels like a pleasant voyage where we follow a character that doesn’t necessarily have strong emotions but is definitely in search for something, even though he doesn’t know what it is. And the female director is not worried about answering these questions, but taking us to his little adventures, which are extremely real and so easy to connect. There is a sense of realism that only a few movies out there can pass to the audience in the same way this film does, and maybe that’s why I think I liked it so much, even with its mistakes. It’s a movie that could be of any of us, and I think that’s what’s so interesting about Mia’s cinema and what will keep me looking forward to watching every release she drops at the big screen.

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Wildlife (2018) by Paul Dano

★★★★☆

Paul Dano’s debut film starts like the portrait of a perfect American family in the early 60s. The beautiful husband, wife and kid seem to live a happy life until one of them is fired, which leads to an emotional breakdown that will test the relationship between the three. What could have been a period melodrama, Paul Dano delivers a quiet, sensible and beautifully shot tale of despair. The haunting cinematography by Diego Garcia shows a minimalistic rural town of Montana, where fires are taking over the woods. This fire ends up attracting the husband, who is also in search of a fire in his life as a way of escapism from marital life. The person who suffers the most from this decision is their son Joe, who does not only sees his father giving himself up to his selfish need, but also watches her mother to go insane as she thinks her husband is abandoning them. With a very beautiful script and art design, Wildlife is a remarkable independent American production with outstanding performances by Carrey Mulligan and Jake Gyllenhaal. I wish it had a little bit more depth, but for an actor who is releasing his debut film, we can definitely expect great things from Dano.

Movies in order of preference:

01. Cold War
02. Capernaum
03. The House that Jack Built
04. Maya
05. Wildlife
06. The Favourite
07. Diamantino
08. Burning
09. BlacKkKlasman
10. Friday’s Child
11. Old Boys
12. Shoplifters