It’s that time of the year again: film festival season! Even though I’m used to covering the São Paulo International Film Festival in October with titles from Cannes, Sundance, Venice and Berlin, I actually got the chance to watch movies from other festivals that are happening online due to the Coronavirus. With that, I decided to make an article talking about all the titles that I’m being able to watch, resulting in the first Papiro & Mint International Film Festival Coverage post ever.
The Disciple (2020) by Chaitanya Tamhane
Winner of the FIPRESCI International Critics Prize at the 77th Venice international Film Festival along with the Best Screenplay award; The Disciple is a beautiful Indian movie about a young man who devotes his life to master the vocals of Indian classical music. More than that, it’s a film that talks about the importance of art, culture and tradition in a modernized world where the capitalist society usually takes these topics for granted, making future generations forget where their culture comes from.
It also talks about the importance of heroes in our lives and how sometimes they can be both inspiring and misleading, resulting in a very realistic portrait of an artist trying to achieve success in a developing country which is being influenced by western society. The result is a little pessimist but a very realistic one, proving that even the most underrated subjects can still survive the changes of time through passion and love. ★★★★
Servants (2020) by Ivan Ostrochovsky
Being a movie that I’ve been wanting to watch since I saw it appear in film festivals worldwide, Servants is a Slovakian-Czech production about a Catholic school for boys set in the 80s during the early Communist regime in Czech Republic. With an outstanding black and white cinematography by Juraj Chlpík, the movie had every potential to be the next Ida or Cold War. However, Ivan Ostrochovsky’s film is so loose in terms of story and script that its powerful images weren’t enough to sustain the entire piece, resulting in a somewhat confusing film that sometimes we feel that we are missing something.
I usually don’t mind this lack of explanation since the images of the film tells the story, but Ivan Ostrochovsky seemed to have relayed too much on them. Being 76 minutes long, the director could have used more time to add depth to his film, especially since it’s such a beautiful one, with astonishing images and a strong sense of mise en scene. In the end, Servants it’s not a strong movie, but it’s probably one you should check it out. ★★★
Atlantis (2019) by Valentyn Vasyanovych
Directed and shot by the same cinematographer of The Tribe, Atlantis is a film that may not be for everyone, but it will definitely be an interesting experience for those who choose to take a chance on it. Following the story of an ex-soldier in a futuristic Ukraine post-war, Valentyn Vasyanovych explores themes of loneliness and the search of one’s self in a world that has been destroyed and taken from us. More than that, Atlantis is a movie with beautiful cinematography and composition, where the contemplation of its images become part of the narrative and the film’s strength, resulting in a fine piece of modern cinema. ★★★½
Sweat (2020) by Magnus von Horn
It was about time to make a movie about an Instagram influencer, but I had never imagined it would come from Magnus von Horn, the director of the interesting The Here After. By following the story of a fitness influencer, Sweat deals with many important and relevant topics that hasn’t been explored a lot in cinema, such as the social market behind Instagram, the psychological effect of likes and the dangerous behind exposing ourselves online. When it comes to that, Magnus von Horn creates a magnificent film.
On the other hand, the script isn’t really strong and doesn’t really go anywhere with the themes it carries, making Sweat a little disappointing through the last thirty minutes. It isn’t at all bad, it just lacks consistency, which is really a shame because there are so many good things here, specially Magdalena Koleśnik’s incredible performance. It’s definitely worth taking a look, and hopefully, this will be the start of many important films dealing with this subject. ★★★½
Saint-Narcisse (2020) by Bruce LaBruce
Bruce LaBruce has always been known for mixing art, cinema, porn, experimental videos and politics throughout his career, making him more of an avant-garde artist than a filmmaker. Even though he isn’t as influent as similar directors such as Andy Warhol and Derek Jarman, he is definitely someone whose work is worth checking out sometimes.
I wasn’t really sure of what to expect from Saint-Narcisse, but I was surprised to find a film with great performances and strong dialogues, even though the story doesn’t make much sense. But since it’s Bruce LaBruce, we kind of just go with it and the fact that it isn’t supposed to take itself too seriously is also what makes the movie so fun to watch. The movie follows the story of a young man who discovers that his supposedly dead mother is alive living with a witch, while he discovers he has a twin brother who is being abused by a priest. With a lot of homoeroticism and taboos subjects, Saint-Narcisse is a strange, fun and curious experimental gem that is definitely worth taking a look if you are into absurd storytelling. ★★★
Apples (2020) by Christos Nikou
There’s a new wave of Greek cinema happening in Athens and Apples is one of the latest films to have come out of this trend, which seems to be formed by strange stories with awkward situations and white color pallets. Christos Nikou’s movie fits well in the category by following the story of a Greece where an epidemic of amnesia creates new victims everyday, and they are bound to start a new treatment where they literally learn how be human beings again. The process evolves listening to a tape recorder and following instructions like going to the movies and have sex in bars. Not to mention they have to take a picture of the event later to prove they are following all the instructions.
With that, Apples becomes an increasingly funny and interesting movie that we don’t only amuse ourselves by watching people behave awkwardly towards specific situations, but also it’s also a reflection about the absurdity of things we do in order to fit in a society we consider normal. What is normal, after all? Not only that, there’s a secret twist in the story evolving the main character that I believe it makes Apple even more intriguing, resulting in a very interesting and funny movie to watch. ★★★★
Undine (2020) by Christian Petzold
Undine is the name of a mythological water nymph that becomes human when she falls in love with a man. However, she is bound to die if the same man is unfaithful to her. Based on this legend, Christian Petzold gives us Undine, his new movie staring Paula Beer and Franz Rogowski. The movie doesn’t necessarily follows every logic of this story, but it gives us plenty of clues and mystery to emerge ourselves in the enchantments of cinema’s magic realism.
It also deals a lot with Berlin’s architecture due to the fact the character of Undine works as a guide for the government’s Department of Urbanism, where she has to decorate the stories of the buildings of a Berlin post-communism. This creates a fine contrast considering she is supposedly a creature of water but her work is related to the land, while her lover is an earthly creature but his work happens mainly on water. With that, this short and simplistic film can be more touching and beautiful than most movies that come out every year, making Undine one of the best movies of the year. ★★★★½
Summer of 85 (2020) by François Ozon
It’s impossible not to think about Call Me By Your Name when you see the trailer of Summer 85. However, the only real similarity between Ozon’s film and the one by Guadagnino is that both are set in the mid-80s. While Call Me By Your Name is a universal love-story that happens to be set in this period of time, Summer of 85 uses not only this year as the film’s title but it also embraces the exaggeration and tackiness of that era to evoke the magic of first love and the nostalgia of being a teenager.
Not only that, but the movie is also a tragic story with a creepy premise: to dance on one’s grave in case one ever dies. When we are teenagers and we wish to live fast and die young, this may happen sooner than we think. And Summer of 85 is a movie about testing this death-wish while understanding what was real and what was imaginary in our sixteen-year-old minds. All of that while we dance, dance, dance, dance, dance to the radio…. ★★★★
Luxor (2020) by Zeina Durra
There’s something Antonionesque in Zeina Durra’s sophomore feature, Luxor; a movie about an aid worker who spends her days alone in the beautiful Egyptian city of Luxor, and ends up encountering an ex-lover. The tension between these two characters comes from a lack of communication that is usually a central theme in Antonioni’s movies. However, Zeina Durra’s film never seems to find itself and just like its character, is in constant search of something else.
This wouldn’t usually be a problem in the hands of an expert director, but all the possible points that Zeina Durra tried to make simply never take shape in its short 85 minutes of duration. Who is this character that we are following? What’s the story with her ex? Why is she feeling sad? These are questions that don’t necessarily need answers when we watch a contemplative and sensorial movie – and Luxor gives us that by having the Egyptian city as a character itself and the spiritual energy that surrounds it. But the movie never seems to focus on anything, leaving the story, the characters, and the premisses just floating in the air; which is really a shame because it’s such an interesting movie with a beautiful cinematography and a subtle performance by Andrea Riseborough. ★★½
New Order (2020) by Michel Franco
It’s been a while since I’ve watched a movie that made me feel uncomfortable, and Michel Franco’s New Order did just that. One of my first impressions was that this was some kind of Mexican Bacurau, but it’s more violent and politically charged. Some people have been saying that the violence in this movie is used for more dramatic effect than actually saying something with it; and even though I tend to agree with this a little, I believe violence is one of the themes of the movie, just like the way Michel Franco’s coldness towards it, making him a kind of Mexican Michael Haneke.
The movie follows the story of a wedding that is happening throughout some kind of protest/coup/revolution in Mexico. What’s really about is never explained, but the more the movie progress, the more we realize that it’s about the poor overcoming the rich and the military overtaking control. But even in extreme situations like this, we still have corruption, blackmail, and lies, which unfortunately is what prevails the most in developing countries like Mexico and Brazil. The result is an eerie and nihilist film, that even though I can agree it shocks more than develops the question it raises, I still believe it’s a powerful tour de force that deserves to be watched and discussed. ★★★★
My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To (2020) by Jonathan Curates
We could say My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To is a vampire movie, but to classify it as such is a misconception. Jonathan Curates’ debut feature is actually a movie about three brothers who are forced to become serial killers to provide blood for one of them, who can only survive with human blood. The word vampire is never mentioned and even though one character drinks blood and can’t stay under the sun, he spends most of the time on his bed and doesn’t have the strength to take a shower alone.
What’s most interesting about this film is how it focuses on the psyche of the brothers, especially the older one, who seems not to handle the pressure of the situation he is in. Everybody here is extremely alone, from the brother who pays a prostitute to talk to him to the sick one who desperately tries to make friends with the kids he hears outside of his home. And Jonathan Curates makes a very interesting job by studying these characters in a very subtle and eerie way, with a great sense of direction and cinematography by Michael Curates. It’s not like something that has never been done before, but for a feature debut, it’s a very interesting one. ★★★½
Bad Tales (2020) by Damiano and Fabio D’Innocenzo
It’s summer in Italy and being a kid is hell. It actually took half the movie for me to understand what Bad Tales was about. It starts with a man narrating the story of how he found a girl’s diary and how he was impressed with what it was written in it; even though the writing wasn’t any good and there were definitely parts of the story missing. But once you start watching the feature of Damiano and Fabio D’Innocenzo, you’ll also realize there are also many things missing there.
In short, Bad Tales is a bad coming of age story about some strange kids who end up doing some really fucked up things by the end of the movie. But more than that, is a film about how parents treat their children and it raises questions about the influence of teachers on kids. The biggest problem with the film, however, is that the D’Innoocenzo brothers never really explore any of the themes they chose to talk about. As the narrator in the beginning of the movie says, there are many things missing in the story and you don’t really understand why certain things happen or simply why some characters exist. But at the same time, this mystery gives us a certain bittersweet taste, like the kids in the movie are also playing a certain trick on us, just like they do with their parents. In the end, it’s not really convincing, but it may be worth discussing it. ★★★
Spring Blossom (2020) by Suzanne Lindon
We must give some credit for Suzanne Lindon writing, directing, and acting this with only 20 years of age. That’s what I love the most about French cinema and the French film industry; it’s all about the support and it doesn’t matter how light and simple your movie is and what age you’ve written it. It’s a movie that should be made.
Spring Blossom doesn’t have anything special. Is a movie about a 16-year-old that falls in love with a 35-year-old man. The movie doesn’t really go anywhere with this and it explores the feelings and reactions of the main character that is trying to understand how to make her relationship work. Will it ever? Suzanne Lindon also doesn’t answer these questions, which can be a little disappointing, with a very open and lazy ending. But we have to admit, let’s see what Suzanne Lindon comes up with next. ★★½
Father (2020) by Srdan Golubović
A woman and her two kids arrive at a factory carrying a bottle full of gasoline. She screams at the workers that she will put herself and the children on fire if the company doesn’t pay what they owe to her husband, who was fired two years ago. She eventually torches herself but ends up surviving, which makes the local government put her kids in foster care, claiming the mother isn’t stable to take care of her kids and the father is too poor and doesn’t have a job to sustain them. With that, the father decides to take his appeal to a city 300km from his village and does so by walking, calling attention to the local news.
I had never heard about this movie before checking the line up at the São Paulo International Film Festival and I was surprised to see a different road movie that deals with politics and humanity in a very touching and subtle way. Coming from a developing country, what happens in Father is not very far from what I see in the news of Brazil and what I have witnessed in Srdan Golubović’s movie is not only impressive and moving, but it makes me question the world we live in. With a beautiful cinematography, Father is a simple but powerful film about what we do to protect our children, the ugly side that comes from having power, and most importantly, the impact of small acts such as helping the others, from giving people a ride to offering them a place to sleep at night. Probably one of the best movies of the year. ★★★★½
Summer White (2020) by Rodrigo Ruiz Patterson
Troubled teenagers in coming of age movies are probably one of my favorite themes in cinema, so I may be a little suspect to talk about this film; especially because I’ve liked it so much. Summer White follows the story of Rodrigo, a 13-year-old teenager who still sleeps with his mom sometimes and is used to giving her kisses on the lips and seeing her naked on the bathroom while brushing his teeth. Their relationship is tested when she starts dating a new guy, which despite the fact he can be quite nice with him and her mother, Rodrigo still faces jealousy attacks, making him do irresponsible and dangerous things.
By telling a story that has probably been told a thousand times, Rodrigo Ruiz Patterson makes an outstanding job with his 85-minute film by following a silent character who doesn’t necessarily swear and act constantly angry with the world. Instead, he presents us with this realistic and sensitive boy who hasn’t been through all the stages of puberty yet but is desperately trying to achieve manhood by smoking cigarettes, driving cars, and setting things on fire. With that, Summer White becomes extremely honest and relatable. A mother and son movie where they try to communicate through silence and the burning of things, resulting in a beautiful, subtle, and powerful film. Not mentioning the great acting. ★★★★
Exile (2020) by Visar Morina
Khafer is a foreign chemical engineer who lives and works in Germany with his wife and three daughters. He suspects that he is being purposely ignored by his co-workers because of his nationality, and when dead rats start to appear on his mailbox, Khafer descends into a state of paranoia with everyone around him, putting his life and work at risk. Despite the fact Exile appears to be a movie about xenophobia, Visar Morina’s feature is more concerned with exploring the themes of fragile and toxic masculinity. After all, it doesn’t take long for us to realize that Khafar can also be quite a jerk and that maybe he needs to pull his head out of his ass.
The film also talks about the prejudice faced among foreigners as well, who are treated differently among them just because of their social status. And even though these are very important topics, Exile is a very long movie that misleads the audience a little bit too much to make its point across. It’s beautifully well done, but I’m afraid Visar Morina stays too much in his comfort zone to make a big impact, making me wonder if the movie wouldn’t be better in the hands of more challenging directors, like Michael Haneke, for example. The final result is not bad but could have been better. ★★★
In The Dusk (2019) by Sharunas Bartas
I guess that we can say the only bad thing that came out of the cinema of Andrei Tarkovsky and Michelangelo Antonioni are the modern directors who think still and beautiful and shots in a movie without story are synonyms of good filmmaking. The only movie I have seen by Sharunas Bartas was The House, which even though is visually pretty, it’s a very difficult film to endure – I actually never finished it. And even though In the Dusk isn’t as slow as his 1997 feature, it’s definitely inferior.
By focusing on the story of the Lithuanian partisans who fought against the Soviet invasion of their country, Sharunas Bartas presents his film through Ounté, a 19-year-old boy who lives on a farm with his parents who are not on speaking terms. The story doesn’t evolve more than that, having some events taking place in the house and the partisans that his dad helps. The result is a mess of narrative and focus, resulting in a confusing film that has nothing to say or show, with a boring and meaningless miss en scene that doesn’t even try to spark the spectator’s interest, making me wonder Sharunas Bartas’ position as a director. Why did he want to make this film? Does he really think his work is interesting? Surprisingly, there are people who admire him. But after having watched more than three thousand movies, I’m not hesitant to say In the Dusk is pure pretentious and meaningless cinema. ★½
Nadia, Butterfly (2020) by Pascal Plante
We usually think that cinema has shown it all when it comes to stories, but Nadia, Butterfly has actually something special for portraying the daily life of a swimmer during the Olympics. Despite this fiction taking place in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games that still hasn’t happened, Pascal Plante makes a great job for bringing to life a supposedly future event in the most natural and realistic way possible.
Nadia, who is played by the real Olympic swimmer Katerine Savard, is a 24-year-old athlete who is about to retire from her profession after years of training and discipline. This will be her last Olympics and the pressure that her peers make for her to stay start to collide with the fact that the sport has taken all the joy from life. With that, Nadia, Butterfly had great potential to be a very good movie but ended up being just a regular one. We understand Nadia’s problems and concerns but there are so many missing gaps to fulfill here that it’s impossible not to fully comprehend her actions. Where are her parents in the middle of all of this? How much pressure has she really been through? Has she ever won any medals before?
For focusing entirely on a couple of days to talk about a trauma that has been consuming her for years, the movie feels a little superficial. This creates a huge contrast when we see how well done this movie is, with actual Olympic swimmers swimming in Olympic pools, partying in the Athletics Village, and walking around Tokyo. With so many great tools, Pascal Plante has forgotten the most basic one: his script. ★★★
Mosquito (2020) by João Nuno Pinto
Zacarias enlists himself to fight in the First World War, hoping to be sent to France. He is sent to Mozambique instead but still carries the ambition to fight for his fatherland. What he doesn’t know, however, is that he is about to face another war; one that started decades ago when Portugal decided to colonize part of the African soil.
Is impossible not to think about Come and See while we watch João Nuno Pinto’s Mosquito, a film that overflows so much suffering and violence that you start wondering which boy from what movie suffered the most. But unlike Elem Klimov’s film, this violence doesn’t come from the Germans, but from the land that the Portuguese left behind. It is the diseases that you can catch in African soil, the hostile weather, the wild animals, and the black people that are being slaved. All of this comes to bite Zacaria’s fragile body, who throughout the 122 minutes of film, faces the suffering that his country imposed on other civilizations on his own skin.
With that, João Nuno Pinto gives us an extremely powerful film about the consequences of colonization, and the wars fought in the name of the misunderstood of different cultures and languages. More than that, Mosquito is an impeccable movie in terms of production and sound design, with an outstanding cinematography by Adolpho Veloso and an impressive performance by João Nunes Monteiro. ★★★★
February (2020) by Kamen Kalev
Being part of the 2020 Cannes Film Festival official selection, February is a movie that is yet to be discovered. By following the story of a man throughout three ages of his life – eight, eighteen, and eight-two, respectively – Kamen Kalev creates a contemplative film about the search of one’s self through nature and solitude. It starts with a boy helping out his grandfather on a farm while he wanders through the woods, imagining things. We are then introduced to the best part of the movie, where this boy is now a grown married man who starts his military service. Afterward, we see his routine with the same age that his grandfather had, completely lonely in a remote part of Bulgaria.
Despite being a portrait of a man’s life, February is actually a film whose central character is nature itself. It’s constantly there, and the main protagonist seems to be on an eternal search for it. He claims to a soldier that he will be a farmer because his father was a farmer and his grandfather was one too. The land is in his blood, and he doesn’t face it as something to be afraid of, but something that he has grown around it, learned from it, and misses it. The result is a beautiful movie that isn’t always easy to watch. It demands patience and commitment from the spectator, just like the relationship of this man with the earth. But if there’s anything we can learn from Kamen Kalev’s film is that beauty is a contemplative thing and is in the most lonely, slow, and pointless moments that we can take great introspection from it. ★★★★
More reviews coming soon!