São Paulo International Film Festival | 2021

Papiro & Mint is back to talk about one of the most exciting moments of the year: film festival season! This will be the first time I’ll be attending the São Paulo International Film Festival in person since 2019 due to the Coronavirus pandemic, while I’ll also be watching many titles online since the festival has chosen to take place through a hybrid event. Movies such as Ahed’s Knee, The French Dispatch, A Hero, Petrov’s Flu, and Titane are some of the many films that I plan to cover throughout the upcoming two weeks, so stay tuned for weekly film reviews!

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Annette (2021) by Leos Carax

Winner of the Best Director Award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Leos Carax’s Annette is a campy and unapologetically self-indulgent musical that criticizes the relevance of comedians in the modern world, the exploitation of fame, and the insecurity of men while it’s also a part noir-film with german expressionist homages. You may think that all of that can’t fit in a single film, but Carax takes his time to go to extremes and explore his own awkwardness within 140 minutes of duration, which results in both an outstanding and tiring, but never dull show. I may not like many of this director’s films, but Annette is definitely something special and probably one of the most important movies of the year. ★★★★

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Drive My Car (2021) by Ryusuke Hamaguchi

Despite being a movie that isn’t part of the São Paulo International Film Festival, I still decided to talk about Drive My Car because of the fact it won the Screenplay Award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Based on a short story by Haruki Murakami, this three-hour minimalistic epic tells the story of a theater director who sees his life turned upside down when he discovers his wife has died. Trying to move on by starting the rehearsals of a new play in another city, the director embarks on a mysterious and curious journey of self-reflection and introspection through several characters he meets along the way. With a slight touch of poetic realism, Ryusuke Hamaguchi brings out the best of the spirit of Murakami’s magical elements through a simplistic yet beautiful work of mise en scenes, resulting in an incredible odyssey of grief, miscommunication, and the mysteries of life. ★★★★½

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Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn (2021) by Radu Jude

What if the right way for Wonder Woman to save the world wasn’t actually killing bad guys but making them suck a giant dildo? This isn’t really something Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn suggests but it’s actually something that is possible in this experimental and insane satire of the post-truth world that we live in, where fake news and conspiracy theories add fuel to corruption, hypocrisy, and sexism in our daily capitalistic society.

With a very unique and free format in terms of narrative, Radu Jude exposes our current problems in society through three segments that explore the background of a teacher whose sex tape has been leaked online, while it also critiques society’s hypocrisy, the constant search for political correctness, and religious conservatorship through right-wing ideologies through funny, cynical, and absurd moments. The result is definitely not a movie for everybody, but one that I wish we had more on the big screens, especially after winning such a big award as the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. ★★★★

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A Hero (2021) by Asghar Farhadi

Asghar Farhadi has built an impressive career made of powerful, realistic, and intense dramas that usually deal with complex characters in delicate situations. A Hero couldn’t be any different for telling the story of a prisoner who starts receiving major attention after he returns a lost bag with gold in it to its original owner during his two-day prison leave. But how to trust someone who is also in prison for not being able to pay his debts?

The reasons behind this noble gesture are simple but the situations that the main character finds himself in are so fragile that he ends up being tangled on a web of problems, resulting in a movie that is constantly debating what is right and what is wrong, what is ethical and unethical. More than that, Farhadi’s film can be seen as a social study about how one’s community and sense of family are built upon the trust of one another, and how we can be easily manipulated through little white lies and cheap sentimentalism. With a subtle but powerful performance by Amir Jadidi, A Hero is a movie that helps us to understand the world we live in and the people we share it with. ★★★★½

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Bergman Island (2021) by Mia Hansen-Løve

Some movies are better off if we don’t talk too much about them and that’s exactly the case with Bergman Island, a film so connected with the filmmaker’s soul that you feel closer to its characters doing random things than the ones from deep and complex backgrounds out there. Mia Hansen-Love, however, makes such a profound, light, and cool movie with so little that it almost feels effortless, like we’re chatting with the director herself. And that’s not only what filmmaking is about but it’s also the story behind Bergman Island: a movie about artists to artists that does not only pay homage to Ingmar Bergman and cinephiles, but it also talks about loneliness, love, and relationships, and how these subjects affect and inspire our work, for the better or worse. I haven’t smiled this much throughout a movie in a long time. Simply amazing. ★★★★½

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The Restless (2021) by Joachim Lafosse

Despite being a movie set during Covid times, Joachim Lafosse’s The Restless is actually a drama about bipolar disorder. More than that, it’s a film about accepting mental health issues and the problems that it brings to nuclear families. Damien Bonnard does an outstanding job in bringing out this uneasiness that comes to the surface when bipolar people are having a crisis, from wanting to do a thousand things at once to spending days without sleep and putting other people in danger.

This reminded me of the many occasions where I met people who deny the existence of such illnesses and the resistance they have toward medical treatments. Because it’s these types of movies prove that mental illness isn’t a matter of accepting people’s craziness or not, but an actual concern for one’s safety and the people who are around them. Unfortunately, Lafosse doesn’t go too deep to talk about such problems and ends up staying in a comfort zone, with a somewhat pessimistic outcome toward the people who have to take care of these sick individuals. Nevertheless, The Restless is still a pretty interesting drama with great performances by Damien Bonnard and Leïla Bekhti. ★★★½

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The French Dispatch (2021) by Wes Anderson

The French Dispatch is so perfectly shot and well made that it’s a shame the final result isn’t as good as Wes Anderson’s last four films. His distinctive style that has always made his body of work so great and interesting becomes so millimetrically staged here that the entire thing ends up feeling like the expensive advertising of a product we never really understand what’s for. 

Being divided into three separate stories, The French Dispatch is supposedly a homage to writers and journalists but ends up being just a big feast of Anderson’s style and antics, which despite being so incredibly pleasing for the eyes, it doesn’t necessarily work in its entirely. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I would love to keep watching Léa Seydoux posing naked for Benicio del Toro, and Timothée Chalamet protesting in France with his bad hair and growing mustache. But by the third tale, I was already wondering when this was going to end, especially when the movie suddenly becomes a cartoon out of nowhere for absolutely no reason. Not bad, just kind of disappointing. ★★★½

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Titane (2021) by Julia Ducournau

Titane is such a crazy, fucked up, intense and afflicting film that is almost impossible to take your eyes off of the screen. However, it’s definitely not the craziest, most fucked up, intense and afflicting film that you have ever seen. I like that Julia Ducournau’s film has won the Palm d’Or at Cannes but it also makes me question everything that has come before that didn’t receive the same praise or attention as this film is having, which is the only thing stopping me from absolutely loving it.

From having sex with cars to mass murder, stolen identities, and gender inversion, Titane drinks from the fountain of David Cronenberg’s Crash, Andrzej Żuławski’s Possession, and Catherine Breillat movies to tell a story that is actually quite touching: problematic people who just need love. The way Julia Ducournau builds her story, however, is so transgressive, violent, and radical that there’s no time for explanations, resulting in a movie that will probably produce many analyses and research throughout the academic field. Is it a feminist film? Is it a film about transgender people? Abuse? Identity? Gender? Probably all of that and much more, which despite its many ambiguousness, it’s definitely one that will stick to you after the credits roll, making me want to rewatch it several times to discover new meanings and interpretations. ★★★★

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Great Freedom (2021) by Sebastian Meise

Great Freedom is probably the closest thing we’ll ever get to experience if Robert Bresson had been born gay and German. Because this movie is so raw, simplistic, and claustrophobic that it’s impossible not to remember about A Man Escaped. Despite not being as genius as Bresson, Sebastian Meise’s film is a beautiful metaphor for how one’s sexuality can be a prison so arduous and terrible as a real one.

Being first sent to a concentration camp for being gay and later to prison for being caught in homosexual activities, Hans Hoffman seems to have spent more time behind bars than out of it. While the movie explores the ambient Hans has to live in and the relationship with other inmates, the director also creates an interesting reflection of how the world of a homosexual during that time was not so different from the world behind bars, with strict rules and harsh punishments. More than that, the movie is also a study of masculinity, community, and apathy, resulting in a very raw and cold movie that despite talking about something that happened between the mid-40s and late 60s, its problems and traumas still resound among the gay community until today. Franz Rogowski, as always, is superb. ★★★★

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Compartment No. 6 (2021) by Juho Kuosmanen

Winner of the Grand Prix along with A Hero at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Compartment No. 6 is a film that is mostly shot inside of a train, which shouldn’t be that much of a surprise since the name of the movie is “Compartment No.6”. However, I definitely didn’t expect this to be a somewhat Russian version of Before Sunrise.

The story follows Laura, a Finish student who is traveling from Moscow to Murmansk to see ancient rock paintings. When she is placed in the same compartment as a rude and drunk Russian man, their personalities are put to test. But the more time they spend together, the more they realize that both of them actually have a lot in common, resulting in a beautiful movie with a lot of style and personality about loneliness and finding connections in the most unlikely places. Seidi Haarla and Yuriy Borisov are great in this, and their chemistry is what makes Juho Kuosmanen’s film so cool and offbeat. ★★★★

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Luzzu (2021) by Alex Camilleri

This Maltese selection for the Best International Feature Film at the upcoming Academy Award is a good movie, but I’m afraid that’s all I have to say about it. Telling the story of a fisherman who is facing financial difficulties in the fish market while he also has to support his wife and daughter, Luzzo focuses on the current hardships of this craft, a profession that seems to be part of many families and generations of the Mediterranean island but is now being threatened due to social and economic reforms imposed by the Europe Union. While Alex Camilleri makes a fine job in bringing these concerns to the screen, it’s impossible not to feel that Luzzu is a film that has been made hundreds of times before. Not bad, but pretty generic by the end of the day. ★★★½

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Memoria (2021) by Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Being the most haunting movie of the year so far, Memoria is more of a film to be felt than fully understood. Talking about a woman who starts hearing sudden loud noises, Apichatpong Weerasethakul builds a slow, mysterious, and strange adventure about the sounds of the world and how its vibrations permeate through time and space, telling us stories. After two years with many sad and dangerous things happening in the world, Memoria feels like a spiritual exercise for us to get back in touch with our own’s spirituality, identity, and sense of place on earth, reminding us that reality is weirder, more magical, complex, and beautiful than we usually experience. A life-changing film. ★★★★½

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Reflection (2021) by Valentyn Vasyanovych

Directed, written, shot, and edited by the cinematographer of The Tribe, Valentyn Vasyanovych’s film is a cold, violent and raw movie about a Ukrainian surgeon who is trying to find his identity back after being captured and tortured by the Russian military during the war. With an extremely heavy and violent first 30 minutes, Reflection feels like the bite of a dog: it starts hurting until it heals and there’s nothing left but a scar in the end. What’s more hypnotizing about the movie, however, is Vasyanovych’s cinematography, which is composed of long and distant takes, with a square always in the background. Not mentioning the beautiful travelings, which were also prominent in The Tribe and his previous film, Atlantis. In the end, Reflection may not be a movie for everyone, but it’s definitely an interesting exercise of healing and camera work. ★★★½

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Silent Land (2021) by Aga Woszczynska

It’s impossible not to think about the cinema of Michael Haneke when you watch Silent Land, a movie in which its friction is caused by the shared silence between a Polish couple who sees their relationship shatter after they witness an accident occur in their Airbnb in Italy. More than having similarities with the cold and cruel characters of Haneke’s films, Aga Woszczynska’s debut feature also seems to be inspired by Force Majeure for dealing with the cowardice of men in extreme situations. The result is an interesting, eerie, and hypnotizing study of guilt, which despite being something that has been done before, Silent Land ends up clicking way too many right marks for me not to like it. ★★★★

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Ahed’s Knee (2021) by Nadav Lapid

It might take you a few minutes to understand what’s really happening at the beginning of Ahed’s Knee, a movie in which the camera is constantly moving and shifting in the middle of fast-paced editing to translate the main character’s feelings and spirit. The protagonist, who could probably be Nadav Lapid himself, is a movie director who travels to a small city in the middle of the Israelian desert to present his film. As the day passes, we’re introduced to this filmmaker’s views and opinions about his country, the traumas from his military service, and his position as an artist in Israel.

The result might not be a movie for everyone, but the way Lapid builds his film to talk about such subjects is hypnotizing, to say the least. With a mise en scene that is constantly changing and shifting like the videos and the information we receive in the cellphones of our pockets, Ahed’s Knee could be seen as an Eric Rohmer’s film that instead of talking about love and relationships, it’s talking about the love and hate relationship one has for their country, which in this case, is an Israelian director who is looking for redemption. The result is Nadav Lapid’s most personal and challenging film to date. ★★★★

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Petrov’s Flu (2021) by Kirill Serebrennikov

From the same director of the incredible The Student and the alternative musical Leto, Kirill Serebrennikov’s third movie is so big with energy and ideas that a cinema’s screen doesn’t seem to fit everything that happens in Petrov’s Flu, a movie impeccably made in terms of cinematography and production design, with long single-take scenes in which a thousand things are happening at once. Unfortunately, this is also the reason for the film being a little problematic.

Based on a book by Alexey Salnikov, the story follows the day of a cartoon artist who is having fever delusions, and what is real and imaginary starts to fade away while memories from his childhood come back to haunt him. It’s through this unreliable character that we’re presented to this Bukowskian-like world, which is brilliantly shot by Serebrennikov through clever, powerful, and beautiful transitions, making Petrov’s Flu a type of cartoon within the diegetic world of cinema. The story, however, it’s confusing, inconsistent, and a little all over the place, resulting in a film that could definitely be shorter. But I guess that’s also what makes Petrov’s Flu so interesting and Kirill Serebrennikov such a prominent director. ★★★½

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Bruno Reidal (2021) by Vincent Le Port

Following the real story of Bruno Reidal, a 17-year-old teenager who decapitated a child in the early 1900s, Vincent Le Port’s film seemed to tackle every theme I love in cinema: troubled teenagers, murder, prison, and sexuality. While the final result is a little inconsistent, Bruno Reidal is so raw, unexpressive, and simple that it’s impossible not to remember the coldness and passiveness of Robert Bresson’s cinema, especially Diary of a Country Priest. Despite this being a good thing, Le Port’s film feels a little too long and somewhat repetitive towards some subjects and events, which although it’s clearly the filmmaker’s intention, it seems to weaken the film’s potential and strength. Nevertheless, Bruno Reidal it’s still a pretty interesting movie with a great performance by Dimitri Doré, which I’d gladly recommend to anyone who is interested in similar themes. ★★★

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Lamb (2021) by Valdimar Jóhannsson

If you’ve seen anything from Iceland or Finland before, you have probably already watched Lamb, a movie that doesn’t offer anything new in terms of format or narrative and doesn’t go too deep to explore its premise. The story follows a couple who owns a farm in Iceland and ends up giving birth to a lamb-human hybrid. What could have been an interesting story in the hands of directors such as Yorgos Lanthimos or even Ari Aster, it becomes shallow by Valdimar Jóhannsson, who delivers a film that doesn’t seem too worried in neither raising nor answering any questions. The result is an interesting and good-looking film but that doesn’t quite go anywhere. ★★★

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As In Heaven (2021) by Tea Lindeburg

With probably one of the best works of cinematography of the year, As In Heaven is a beautiful tale about womanhood set in the late 1800s about a young girl who sees her future threatened by her mother, who is having labor complications. Following the period of a day, it’s incredible what Tea Lindeburg does within 85 minutes of duration, who follows her protagonist’s desires and fears through religious, familial, and sexual aspects in such a feminine and delicate way. Even though this could have been a 30-minute short film, the result it’s still a powerful, touching, and sometimes disturbing film about growing up. Tea Lindeburd rightfully won the prize of Best Director at the San Sebastian International Film Festival, along with Flora Ofelia Hofmann Lindahl, who won Best Actress. ★★★½

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Murina (2021) by Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović

Murina is not only the name of a fish but it’s also a metaphor for the coming of age of Juliija, a 16-year-old girl who is spending her summer on an island with her parents. While the movie starts off as a simple, familiar, and realistic portrait of a young girl who is tired of her parents, Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović’s film subtly shifts to a drama about abuse and toxic relationships within the nuclear family. While the final result may not achieve its full potential, the director makes a pretty decent job of portraying this girl’s anger and strength, especially when it compares her to a murina, which is a long, Mediterranean fish whose bite can be dangerous to humans. The result is an interesting study of anger, womanhood, and family. ★★★½

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The Story of My Wife (2021) by Ildikó Enyedi

Based on the novel by Milán Füst, The Story of My Wife is a beautifully directed, produced, and shot film about a sea captain who marries the first woman who walks in a bar in 1920s Paris. What starts out as a refined, classic, and interesting story, it ends up becoming a never-ending drag of a film that is constantly repeating itself in strange ways throughout the unnecessary 169 minutes. Ildikó Enyedi’s direction is indeed special and Léa Seydoux and Gijs Naber are simply hypnotizing to watch because of their beauty, charm, and chemistry. The story of their relationship, however, loses not only strength throughout the long minutes of duration but also our interest in it, resulting in an irregular film that could have had a lot of potential. ★★★

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Sundown (2021) by Michel Franco

Nothing will prepare you for what happens throughout Sundown, the latest movie by Michel Franco that deals with apathy and miscommunication, which are themes the Mexican director has already explored in the past. With a superb cast formed by Tim Roth and Charlotte Gainsbourg, this might be Franco’s most simple film since After Lucia for telling the story of a brother who suddenly abandons her sister and nephews on a trip to enjoy the daily routine of Acapulco. The motives for this sudden and strange attitude have deeper meanings with unexpected consequences, making Sundown a simple, short, and unpredictable ride, taking the audience to places you wouldn’t normally expect. All of that through Franco’s passive mise en scene that feels inspired by the cinema of Michael Haneke. ★★★★

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The Noise of Engines (2021) by Phillipe Gréogoire

Do you know when you watch a video clip and think it would make a great movie? The Noise of Engines is probably the closest thing we’ll have to that. Despite not being perfect, Phillipe Gréogoire creates an extremely interesting and fun movie about a young man who returns to his hometown after being on leave for sexual misconduct. The problem is that when he arrives home, the local police start investigating him for also appearing in mysterious sexual explicit drawings in the town. 

While The Noise of Engines isn’t a movie about sex, it’s definitely a hypnotizing exercise of one’s longing to belong. It’s about returning to our home and rediscovering our roots, even if we’re stuck in places with jobs that don’t have anything to do with our personality. Of course, Philippe Grégorie doesn’t always know what to do with his film, but Shawn Pavlin’s beautiful cinematography is constantly inviting us to discover this strange and awkward world of loneliness and tar, which challenges the spectator with Grégorie’s strange and different script. ★★★½

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Nine Days (2020) by Edson Oda

It’s impossible not to think about Wings of Desire and Soul when you are watching Nine Days, a movie that follows the story of a man who watches the lives of people through TV screens and has to choose a new soul to start a new life on earth. But unlike some of the others who are also in charge of this job, Will has also been alive, making him carry some views and traumas from his past. So how to choose someone to start living in a place where things can be both beautiful and terrible?

By creating a film that is supposed to answer big questions like “how, when, and where”, Nine Days has such a smart, beautiful, and touching script that some of its complexities are better be left unknown. What’s on focus here is how people see life in different ways, how we interact with one another, and how our lives are shaped by our choices, for better or worse. And the result is so unique and special that I’m afraid it’s probably one of the best movies of the year already. ★★★★½

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France (2021) by Bruno Dumont

Léa Seydoux probably deserved the Cannes Award for Best Actress for this, but Bruno Dumont’s latest film is so utterly bad and ridiculous that it astonishes me it even got to the main competition in the first place. I’ve never been a fan of Dumont’s movies before but this isn’t only his worst film to date but probably one of the worst movies of the year. 

With the interesting premise of portraying the life of a glamorous, white, rich, and privileged journalist who does anything in her power to get the perfect news, France is a problematic mess from start to finish, that you are never really sure of how far we’re supposed to take it seriously. For showing a plastic and superficial lifestyle, Dumont tries to do the same with his film but ends up falling so much into the ridiculous and the absurd that the real joke ends up becoming the movie itself, and not the character portrayed by Seydoux, who carries the entire film on her back for her outstanding performance. ★

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Captain Volkonogov Escaped (2021) by Alexey Chupov and Natalya Merkulova

Yuriy Borisov is definitely having a moment in Russian cinema for this is the third movie I’ve seen with him at the São Paulo International Film Festival. Set during communist Russia, the actor plays Captain Volkonogov, a soldier who decides to go AWOL after witnessing a comrade’s suicide. The reason for this decision isn’t very clear through the first minutes of the movie, but as time passes, we realize Captain Volkonogov is looking for redemption. After receiving a visit from a dead friend, he is told he is going to hell unless he receives forgiveness from someone, making the soldier start a race against everyone to spread the truth about Stalin’s regiment and the atrocities they have committed.

Being some kind of an eastern-European thriller, Alexey Chupov and Natalya Merkulova’s film isn’t only a story about guilt, but also one that denounces the crimes committed under the communist dictatorship of Russia. Through short flash-backs, we are presented with the situations Captain Volkonogov had to face during his time, from torturing innocent people to killing them in a mechanical and senseless manner. While the directors don’t really want us to feel sympathy for him, Captain Volkonogov Escaped raises important questions about how the political and ideological machinery can make us do inhuman things and how far can society go until we realize it’s too late. The result might not be very fair, but it gives us a glimpse that everyone’s soul can still be saved in the end. ★★★★

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Cow (2021) by Andrea Arnold

By following the life of a cow, Andre Arnold makes a pretty good job in terms of mise en scene. Through the first forty minutes of duration, we follow Luma, a cow that is giving birth to a calf, and how their separation at birth seems to affect the animal through the upcoming weeks. Unlike what I expected, however, Arnold isn’t interested in showing melodramatic scenes or making a statement. The conditions these cows live in are pretty regular and despite they being raised to eat, breed and milk, they all live a pretty natural life. But as Luma and her baby get older, the daughter starts to replace the mother. 

As much as I appreciate this film, it’s impossible to finish it without being in a state of wonder. Why was this movie made? Why is it more than 90 minutes? Why Andrea Arnold of all the people? Not that Cow is a bad film, just one that would probably be ignored by most people if the film didn’t carry the name of the director. ★★★

MOVIES IN ORDER OF PREFERENCE

01. Bergman Island
02. Memoria
03. Nine Days
04. Drive My Car
05. A Hero
06. Titane
07. Anette
08. Great Freedom
09. Compartment N.6
10. Ahe’s Knee
11. Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn
12. Sundown
13. Silent Land
14. Captain Volkogonov Escaped
15. Petrov’s Flu
16. The French Dispatch
17. The Restless
18. Reflection
19. As In Heaven
20. Murina
21. The Noise of Engines
22. Luzzu
23. The Story of My Wife
24. Bruno Reidal
25. Lamb
26. Cow
27. France

BEST MOVIE: “Bergman Island”
BEST DIRECTOR: Apichatpong Weerasethakul for “Memoria”
BEST ACTOR: Yuriy Borisov for “Compartment N.6” and “Captain Volkogonov Escaped”
BEST ACTRESS: Léya Seydoux for “France”
BEST SCREENPLAY: “Nine Days”
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: “The French Dispatch”

One thought on “São Paulo International Film Festival | 2021

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