14 December, 2009

European Film Awards 2009: Winners

OK, OK, so I got it completely wrong, I'm here to have a giggle at just how bad a pundit your faithful reviewer is. :-)

In the end, it was Michael Haneke's Das weiße Band - Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte (The White Ribbon) that dominated the 22nd edition of the European Film Awards, collecting three prizes.

Set in northern Germany on the eve of World War One, the black-and-white film won the best film, best director and best screenwriter prizes at the 2009 EFA ceremony in Bochum, Germany, and also took the prestigious Palme d'Or at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival.

I can't stand the pain any more - get thee hence to the new European Film Awards website for the complete list of winners. Me, I am going to spend a few days in a darkened room somewhere, NOT watching films...


11 December, 2009

And The Winners Might Be...

This reviewer, during the 13 years or so he has been watching films for a living, has gained something of a reputation for himself as a passionate (though not always particularly accurate) pundit, when it comes to predicting the winners of the big film awards - check out a couple of his earlier efforts here and here.

This, to be fair, is the first time I have had a bash at the European Film Awards so, as is my customary modus operandi, I will be restricting my predictions to the 'big five' categories. These are European Film, European Director, European Actor, European Actress, European Screenwriter, plus there's a special 'bonus guess' thrown in for the Carlo Di Palma European Cinematographer 2009. You can check out the complete nominations here - on with the show, and best of luck to all the nominees, who will be in their finery in Bochum, Germany tomorrow (12 December 2009) for the awards ceremony.

And the predictions are:

This is going to go to Låt den Rätte Komma In (Let the Right One in), Swedish director Tomas Alfredson's marvellous, moving and genuinely creepy reboot of the vampire myth. You heard it here first.

A genuine toughie, this one - for me, it's a toss-up between Michael Haneke for Das Weisse Band (The White Ribbon) and Lars von Trier for Antichrist, but I think that Haneke will hold sway.

The young, excellent thesp David Kross (who was also lucky enough to get up close and personal with Kate Winslett) will lift this for his performance in Stephen Daldry's The Reader (Der Vorleser).

For my money, nobody else but Charlotte Gainsbourg should grab this - her performance in Von Trier's Antichrist was simply amazing.

Going for a gamble here - it is this reviewer's belief that director Gianni di Gregorio will take it with his sugar-sweet but sassy script for his charming Pranzo di ferragosto (Mid-August Lunch).


And finally - the crisp, idyllic, black-and-white cinematography that hides wheels within wheels and fires within fires will take the gong for Christian Berger's work in Das Weisse Band.

Well, you haven't got much time to disagree with my predictions - all part of my plan, heh, heh, heh. I look forward to the 13 December backlash, naturally. :-)

For further information concerning all the EFA 2009 nominations, click here.


09 December, 2009

The 22nd European Film Awards: Presenters and Guests

When the doors open for the 22nd European Film Awards on Saturday, 12 December, the world of European cinema will step onto the red carpet at the spectacular venue of the Jahrhunderthalle in Bochum. Winners, nominees and EFA members - altogether, 1,400guests will be welcomed by German comedy star Anke Engelke who will be host for the evening.

An impressive line-up of actors and actresses will present the individual awards, among them Victoria Abril(Spain), Caterina Murino (Italy), Johanna ter Steege (the Netherlands), and María Valverde (Spain), as well as Detlev Buck (Germany), Jesper Christensen (Denmark), Sir Ben Kingsley (UK), Maciej Stuhr (Poland), and Anatole Taubman (Switzerland).

Joining them will be documentary director Nino Kirtadzé (France/Georgia), actor/director Aksel Hennie (Norway) who was part of the European Film Promotion's SHOOTING STARS programme in 2004, and director/actor Branko Djuric (Bosnia & Herzegovina).

The list of presenters is completed by Dr. Gottfried Langenstein, President of ARTE, EU Information Society and Media Commissioner Viviane Reding and EFA President Wim Wenders.

Among the guests this year will be actresses Hannelore Elsner (Germany), Krystyna Janda (Poland), Julia Jentsch (Germany), directors Roland Emmerich and Sönke Wortmann. Award winners already announced include Peter Liechti (EFA Documentary 2009: Prix ARTE), Diana Elbaum and Jani Thiltges (European Co-production Award: Prix EURIMAGES), Andrzej Wajda (EFA Critics' Award 2009: Prix FIPRESCI) and honorary awards recipients Ken Loach and Isabelle Huppert.

04 December, 2009

European Film Academy Critics' Award 2009: Prix FIPRESCI

Prix FIPRESCI goes to Andrzej Wajda

The European Film Academy, EFA Productions, and the International Federation of Film Critics FIPRESCI have announced that the Prix Fipresci goes to Andrzej Wajda, for Tatarak (Sweet Rush) (2009).

As FIPRESCI's General Secretary Klaus Eder explained: "For we critics it is without doubt a big pleasure to honour Wajda, who wrote European film history already with his first films ( A Generation (1955), Kanal (1957), Ashes and Diamonds (1958)) and who has influenced generations of filmmakers. We are therefore pleased and honoured to show him all our respect as critics. Our award also honours his latest film Tatarak. It's not at all what you would call a 'later work' - on the contrary, it is the film of a young spirit, with which Wajda in a risky and courageous way undertakes to open new and very personal perspectives for the European authors' cinema of today."

Andrzej Wajda will be attending the 22nd European Film Awards Ceremony on 12 December in Bochum to accept the award on stage.

17 November, 2009

Ambassadors of European Film

The European Film Academy (EFA) is proud to announce a new group of selected, distinguished personalities from the world of European film to promote European cinema and the European Film Awards. In close co-ordination with the European Film Academy, these renowned filmmakers will represent EFA and the European Film Awards at various prestigious events.

The European Film Academy takes great pleasure in welcoming as EFA Ambassadors:

Moritz Bleibtreu, Actor, Germany
One of the best-known German faces in international cinema, Moritz Bleibtreu first shot to international attention as Manni in Tom Tykwer's Run Lola Run (1998). He was nominated in 2001 for the EFA People's Choice Award for The Experiment by Oliver Hirschbiegel and is now nominated for European Actor for his role as Andreas Baader in The Baader Meinhof Complex (2008)by Uli Edel.

Stephen Daldry, Director, UK
Ever since the nomination of Billy Elliot for the 2000 European Film Awards, Stephen Daldry has worked closely with the European Film Academy. His film The Reader is nominated for the 2009 European Film Awards in three categories (European Film, Actress, and Actor).

Maria de Medeiros, Actress/Director, Portugal
The Portuguese actress director is a true, multilingual European artist. Together with her Catalan colleague Juanjó Puigcorbé, she hosted the European Film Awards 2004 in Barcelona.

Mads Mikkelsen, Actor, Denmark
Be it as a nominee (in 2006 for After The Wedding by Susanne Bier, 2008 for Flame And Citron by Ole Christian Madsen) or as a presenter (2007 in Berlin, 2008 in Copenhagen), the Danish star (known from The Green Butchers (2003) by Anders Thomas Jensen, and the James Bond film Casino Royale (2006)) very much enjoys the company of his European fellows every time he attends the European Film Awards.

Cristian Mungiu, Director, Romania
Follwoing several short films and the feature Occident (2002), Cristian Mungiu was the great Romanian discovery of international audiences when his film 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days won the Palme d'Or in Cannes two years ago and the award for European Film 2007 at the European Film Awards.

Kim Rossi Stuart, Actor, Italy
Having started his acting career at the age of five, among Kim Rossi Stuart's latest performances have been in Gianni Amelio's The Keys to the House (2004) and Michele Placido's Crime Novel (2005). In 2006 he wrote, directed and acted in Along The Ridge.

Belén Rueda, Actress, Spain
The Spanish actress received her first Goya for her role as Julia in The Sea Inside (2004) by Alejandro Amenábar and has been a friend of the European Film Academy since her nomination for The Orphanage by Juan Antonio Bayona last year. With Spain, she represents a country where the Academy experiences great enthusiasm and interest in the European Film Awards.

Johanna ter Steege, Actress, the Netherlands
After her dream debut in The Vanishing, for which she was rewarded with the Best Supporting Actress award in the very first EFA in 1988, Johanna ter Steege has prospered in films by internationally renowned directors such as Robert Altman and István Szabó - the Dutch actress has been a very faithful ally of the European Film Academy since its beginnings.

Maciej Stuhr, Actor, Poland
The popular Polish actor and comedian Maciej Stuhr has had roles in films by renowned directors such as Andrzej Wajda, Krzysztof Kieslowski, Agnieszka Holland and Krzysztof Warlikowski to name but a few. Together with French actress Sophie Marceau, he hosted the 2006 European Film Awards Ceremony in Warsaw.

Danis Tanovic, Director/Screenwriter, Bosnia & Herzegovina
His film No Man's Land won the screenwriter award at EFA 2001, as well as 42 other awards worldwide, and brought the absurd reality of war to the conscience of people across the globe. He went on to make L'Enfer (2005), based on the script by Krzysztof Kies'lowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz, and, most recently, Triage (2009), starring Colin Farrell, Paz Vega and Christopher Lee.

EFA Ambassadors Moritz Bleibtreu, Stephen Daldry, Johanna ter Steege and Maciej Stuhr will be among the guests at this year's European Film Awards Ceremony on 12 December in Bochum.

08 November, 2009

European Film Awards 2009 Nominations

At the Seville European Film Festival (6-15 November), the European Film Academy and EFA Productions announced the nominations for the 22nd European Film Awards. At the same time, the new EFA website went online.

The more-than 2,000 EFA members will now vote for the winners, which will be honoured during the awards ceremony on 12 December in Bochum, Germany. And the nominations are:


Fish Tank, UK. Written and directed by Andrea Arnold produced by Kees Kasander & Nick Laws.

Låt den Rätte Komma In (Let the Right One in), Sweden. Directed by Tomas Alfredson, written by John Ajvide Lindqvist produced by John Nordling and Carl Molinder.

Un prophète (A Prophet), France. Directed by Jacques Audiard
written by Jacques Audiard and Thomas Bidegain, based on an original idea by Abdel Raouf Dafri after an original screenplay by Abdel Raouf Dafri and Nicolas Peufaillit.
Produced by Chic Films, Page 114 and Why Not Productions.

The Reader (Der Vorleser), Germany, UK. Directed by Stephen Daldry, written by David Hare, produced by Anthony Minghella, Sydney Pollack, Donna Gigliotti and Redmond Morris.

Slumdog Millionaire, UK. Directed by Danny Boyle, written by Simon Beaufoy produced by Christian Colson.

Das Weisse Band (The White Ribbon), Germany, Austria, France, Italy. Written and directed by Michael Haneke, produced by Stefan Arndt, Veit Heiduschka, Margaret Menegoz and Andrea Occhipinti.


Pedro Almodóvar for Los Abrazos Rotos (Broken Embraces)
Andrea Arnold for Fish Tank
Jacques Audiard for Un prophète (A Prophet)
Danny Boyle for Slumdog Millionaire
Michael Haneke for Das Weisse Band (The White Ribbon)
Lars von Trier for Antichrist


Moritz Bleibtreu in Der Baader Meinhof Komplex (The Baader Meinhof
Steve Evets in Looking for Eric
David Kross in The Reader (Der Vorleser)
Dev Patel in Slumdog Millionaire
Tahar Rahim in Un prophète (A Prophet)
Filippo Timi in Vincere


Penélope Cruz in Los Abrazos Rotos (Broken Embraces)
Charlotte Gainsbourg in Antichrist
Katie Jarvis in Fish Tank
Yolande Moreau in Sèraphine
Noomi Rapace in Män som Hatar Kvinnor (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)
Kate Winslet in The Reader (Der Vorleser)


Jacques Audiard and Thomas Bidegain for Un prophète (A Prophet)
Simon Beaufoy for Slumdog Millionaire
Gianni di Gregorio for Pranzo di Ferragosto (Mid-August Lunch)
Michael Haneke for Das Weisse Band (The White Ribbon)


Christian Berger for Das Weisse Band (The White Ribbon)
Anthony Dod Mantle for Antichrist and Slumdog Millionaire
Maxim Drozdov and Alisher Khamidkhodzhaev for Bumazhny Soldat (Paper Soldier)
Stéphane Fontaine for Un prophète (A Prophet)


Francesca Calvelli for editing, Vincere
Catherine Leterrier for costume design, Coco Avant Chanel (Coco
Before Chanel
Waldemar Pokromski for make-up and hair, Der Baader Meinhof Komplex (The Baader Meinhof Complex)
Brigitte Taillandier, Francis Wargnier, Jean-Paul Hurier and Marc Doisne for sound design, Un prophète (A Prophet)


Alexandre Desplat for Coco Avant Chanel (Coco Before Chanel)
Jakob Groth for Män som Hatar Kvinnor (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)
Alberto Iglesias for Los Abrazos Rotos (Broken Embraces)
Johan Söderqvist for Låt den Rätte Komma In (Let the Right One in)

For information concerning all the EFA 2009 nominations, click here.

And, of course, your faithful reviwers will be providing their predictions as to the winners, ahead of the big night on 12 December. Keep it here!

05 November, 2009

European Film Awards 2009 Host: German Comedian Anke Engelke

When the 1,400 guests at the 22nd European Film Awards Ceremony take their seats at Bochum's legendary Jahrhunderthalle (Century Hall), a former gas power station of the steel mills, they will be welcomed by German comedy star Anke Engelke, the host of the evening. She is already renowned in the international film world as the regular host of the opening of the Berlin International Film Festival, and joining her on stage with her will be Bauhouse, pioneers of audiovisual arts, with an audio video performance that will mix video, film and music.

The evening's distinguished film guests will also include British director Ken Loach, recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award, and French actress Isabelle Huppert, who will receive the European Film Academy Achievement In World Cinema 2009 Award.

The script for the event has been developed by Nick Roddick, Markus Zimmer and Karsten Dusse. The set has been designed by Jürgen Schmidt-André. The European Film Awards Ceremony is produced by EFA Productions in co-operation with the German public broadcaster ZDF and the European culture channel ARTE. Producer is Marion Döring, Director of the EFA, executive producer is Jürgen Biesinger. The production is directed by Andreas Morell to be broadcast in a total of 44 territories.

The 22nd European Film Awards are presented by the European Film Academy and EFA Productions with the support of the European Capital of Culture RUHR.2010 'Essen for the Ruhr', the Minister President and the Minister for Federal and European Affairs and the Media of North Rhine-Westphalia, and the Filmstiftung NRW.

European Film Academy.

31 October, 2009

Svetat e golyam i spasenie debne otvsyakade (The World Is Big and Salvation Lurks around the Corner) (2008)

Memory game

What if you lost everything, in an instant, that tethered you to your own existence? That's exactly what happens to Alex (Carlo Ljubek), when he is involved in a motorway car crash that leaves his parents dead and our protagonist without any memory of who he is, was, or where he's going.

But, in The World Is Big and Salvation Lurks around the Corner (2008) by Stephan Komandarev (Alphabet of Hope (2004)), the road back to self-worth and self-knowledge has already been mapped out by his charismatic grandfather, Bai Dan (Miki Manojlovic) who takes the young man, kicking and screaming at first, away from the medical team, who rate his chances of recovery as minimal, on a journey into the past and the game of backgammon, which will be central to Alex's salvation. The pair once again begin playing the game together, and Alex's re-initiation into its secrets becomes a series of life lessons, about resisting despair and resignation, about the need to be master of one's own fate. The young man begins asking questions about his past....

As co-written with the director by Yurii Dachev (who also worked with Komandarev on Alphabet of Hope (2004)), The World Is Big... manages the rare trick of making a simple (but heartfelt) tale of life in Bulgaria during and after the reign of totalitarian socialism. While the regime's oppressors are portrayed in a somewhat one-dimensional fashion that renders them at times preposterously inhuman, the film's overall charm lies in the credible transition in Alex and Bai's relationship, which progresses from fear and mistrust on Alex's part into a painful but ultimately joyful acceptance of who he is.

Alex's present-day trials and tribulations are contrasted with the enormous risks taken by his own father and mother Vasko (Hristo Mutafchiev) and Yana (Ana Papadopulu) who choose to flee Socialist Bulgaria in the early 1980s and emigrate to Germany, there to hopefully find a better life for themselves and their son, as the parallel story reveals their reasons for fleeing Bulgaria and their ordeals in crossing the frontier illegally and making a temporary home in an Italian refugee camp.

One senses that Komandarev still needs a little more maturity as a director, with the film as a whole more than ocassionally descending into awkward contrivances, but this nevertheless lifts the spirit and provides a refreshing change from the gloom normally associated with Balkans cinema.

Awards: Click here for details.

105 mins. In Bulgarian, German, Italian and Slovenian.

28 October, 2009

Das weiße Band - Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte (The White Ribbon) (2009)

Suffer the children

Official Selection, European Film Awards 2009

Directors before Michael Haneke have asked the same fundamental question that permeates his elegiac, trenchant study of darkness and light, Das weiße Band (2009) –namely, with specific reference to Germany, from whence did the affiliation with fascism rise, and how did a people turn a blind eye to the atrocities in their midst during the 20th century?

Haneke (who also wrote this Cannes-lauded tale) has already proved himself a director more than adept at dealing with darkness – both his Funny Games (1997 and 2007) and his end-of-the-world-as-banality Le temps du loup (The Time of the Wolf) (2003) show an artist unafraid to take viewers into landscapes, both literal and interior, that are far removed from safe ‘normality’.

And so it is with his latest – set on the eve of World War I, a series of strange, disturbing and seemingly inexplicable events begin to afflict a small village, Eichwald, in northern Germany, in which half the population works for the Baron (Ulrich Tukur) and are strongly influenced by the strict Protestant pastor (Burghart Klaussner). As the occurrences unfold, beginning with the local doctor (Rainer Block) being seriously injured when his horse stumbles over what is subsequently discovered to be a deliberately set trip wire between two trees, village teacher Lehrer (Christian Friedel, whose welcoming older voice, as portrayed by Ernst Jacobi, recounts the tale) becomes increasingly determined to find a solution to the mystery. However, it is a quest, much as was the case in Haneke’s earlier work Caché (2005), that is doomed to failure.

Suspicions simmer and accusations fly as stranger, darker crimes follow, but Lehrer (whose bashful, budding romance with his former student Eva (Leonie Benesch) is perhaps the only chink of light in a tale drenched in darkness) begins to believe that the village’s oppressed children may know a great deal more than they’re letting on. Proof, however, will be hard to come by…

Haneke paints a meticulous portrait of a still largely 19th-century agricultural community that is far removed from the mechanization and mass-murder of the 20th century that is set to engulf them but which, despite the severe moral strictures under which all still live, is nevertheless a village in which almost no family is a stranger to the evils of maliciousness, child abuse, adultery and premature death. The exception to the rule appears to be the childless Lehrer himself – the absence of children from his own life, save those under his guard at school, is shown to be the reason for his greater clarity of perception, but this does him nor anyone else little good in the end.

Christian Berger’s immaculate monochrome cinematography helps the film’s near-perfect depiction of a time and place enormously, and the acting across the board is much as you would expect of a recipient of Cannes’ highest honour. And does it deserve it? Well, the same question is asked every year, so this reviewer will politely refrain from opining on that point, save to say that Das weiße Band is clearly one of the year’s best, offering insights into the worst of humanity that will long remain with the viewer.

Of course, alongside the film’s general analysis of humanity there are implicit suggestions of tendencies in the German character and culture that point towards reasons for the developments in the country’s subsequent three decades, which may court some controversy for its director, but that the film is set in Germany is in fact neither here nor there – this could be anywhere, anytime. We have seen the monster, and it is us.

Awards: Click here for details.

144 mins. Black and white. In German and Italian.

22 October, 2009

EFA Animated Feature Film 2009

EFA is proud to announce the three nominations for the new award category, European Film Academy Animated Feature Film 2009.

The jury, consisting of EFA Board Members Per Holst (producer, Denmark) and Antonio Saura (producer, Spain) as well as representatives of CARTOON, the European Association of Animated Film, Agnès Bizzaro (program consultant/ editor, France/Germany), Enzo d'Alo (director, Italy) and Joanna Quinn (director, UK), have nominated the following films:

MIA AND THE MIGOO (Mia et le Migou)
by Jacques-Rémy Girerd

NIKO & THE WAY TO THE STARS (Niko - Lentäjän poika)
by Kari Juusonen & Michael Hegner

THE SECRET OF KELLS (Brendan et le Secret de Kells)
by Tomm Moore

Mia and the Migoo (France 2008) tells the story of a young girl's journey in search of her father who is working at the building site of a luxury hotel in the middle of a hidden forest. Deep in the woods, she encounters the mysterious creature Migoo.

Niko & The Way to the Stars (Finland/Germany/Denmark/Ireland 2008) is an adventure about young reindeer Niko, who is still learning how to fly. He sets out for a quest to find his father, a famous member of the legendary Santa Flying Forces.

In the 9th century, in the remote parts of Ireland, lies the fortified Kells Abbey, which is threatened by the Vikings. In The Secret of Kells (France 2009), 12-year-old Brendan explores the art of illuminating the darkness and discovers how to protect against the barbarians' raids.

The nominated films will be submitted to EFA Members to elect the winner - the award will be presented at the European Film Awards Ceremony on 12 December, in Bochum, Germany.

19 October, 2009

European Film Awards: The Prix Eurimages

The winners of the third edition of the Prix Eurimages, an award acknowledging the decisive role of co-productions in the European film industry, were announced on 17 October at a lunch held in the framework of the 'New Cinema Network' in Rome attended by a large number of professionals from the cinema industry.

This year's prize will go to two outstanding producers who have combined their efforts to develop and promote European cinema, Diana Elbaum and Jani Thiltges - two major names in international film production who head, respectively, two established production companies, namely Entre Chien et Loup in Belgium and Samsa Film in Luxembourg. Diana Elbaum and Jani Thiltges also joined forces with Patrick Quinet, Sébastien Delloye and Claude Waringo to create Liaison Cinématographique, a production company based in Paris.

Together, under these different structures, they have co-produced films notably by Sam Garbarski, Lucas Belvaux, Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, Pierre Paul Renders, Lisa Azuelos, Marina de Van as well as by Nathalie Borgers, Jacques Doillon, Nabil Ben Yadir, Frédéric Fonteyne, Jeanne Labrune, Flora Gomes, Amos Kollek, Wang Bing, Ben Sombogaart, Teona Mitevska, Faouzi Bensaïdi, Antonio-Pedro Vasconcelos, Peter Brosens and Jessica Woodworth.

Since founding Entre Chien et Loup in 1989, Diana Elbaum has produced a wide range of award-winning films - fiction and documentaries - which have received critical acclaim worldwide.

Joined by Sébastien Delloye in 1999, they have together produced some 30 films. In 2008, Diana Elbaum co-founded the company Dream Touch Pictures, the new distribution structure in Belgium.

Diana Elbaum has been a group leader at EAVE since 2006. Graduate of New York University, she now lives in Brussels.

A graduate of the INSAS in Brussels, Jani Thiltges co-founded the company Samsa Film in Luxembourg in 1986. In association with the producer Claude Waringo, he has gained a solid reputation as a producer of commercial arthouse films and has built up a catalogue of some 40 feature films. Jani Thiltges is President of the EAVE programme. In 2004, he was decorated by the Grand-Duke of Luxembourg for his activities in the cinematographic field.

The European Co-Production Award - Prix Eurimages will be presented during the European Film Awards Ceremony in Bochum (Germany) on Saturday 12 December 2009.

12 October, 2009

EFA Documentary 2009: The Sound of Insects

The European Film Academy proudly announces that the award European Film Academy Documentary 2009 - Prix ARTE goes to the film The Sound of Insects - Record of a Mummy by Peter Liechti of Switzerland.

In co-operation with the European culture channel ARTE, the European Film Academy annually honours an outstanding achievement in documentary filmmaking. The recipient of the award is chosen by an independent jury, whose members this year were documentary filmmaker Nino Kirtadzé from France/Georgia, Austrian producer and ORF editor Franz Grabner and Russian documentary filmmaker Viktor Kossakovsky. Upon the invitation of the city of Vilnius, the jury members screened all ten nominated films
and decided on the winner on site.

The jury decided to give the award to The Sound of Insects "for its skillful exploration of minimalistic means to create an extraordinary visual story between life and death".

In association with the European culture channel ARTE, the winner will be presented with the award at the 22nd European Film Awards Ceremony on Saturday, 12 December, in Bochum, Germany.

10 October, 2009

EFA 2009: Documentary Nominations

The European Film Academy proudly announces the nominations in the category European Film Academy Documentary 2009: Prix Arte. A total of ten documentary films are nominated - upon invitation by the city of Vilnius, this year's documentary jury will now convene in the Lithuanian capital to screen the nominated films and decide on the winner.

Appointed by the European Film Academy and ARTE, the members of the documentary jury are:

Nino Kirtadzé: Documentary filmmaker, France/Georgia

Franz Grabner: Producer/editor ORF, Austria

Viktor Kossakovsky: Documentary filmmaker, Russia

In association with the European culture channel ARTE, the winner will be honoured at the 22nd European Film Awards Ceremony on Saturday, 12 December, in Bochum, Germany.

The nominated documentaries are:

The Beaches of Agnes (Les Plages d'Agnès)
Agnès Varda, France

Below Sea Level
Gianfranco Rosi, Italy/USA

Burma VJ
Anders Østergaard, Denmark

Cooking History (Ako Sa Varia Dejiny)

Peter Kerekes, Slovakia/Austria/Czech Republic

The Damned of the Sea (Les Damnés de la Mer)
Jawad Rhalib, Belgium


Yoav Shamir, Denmark/Austria/Israel/USA

The Heart of Jenin (Das Herz von Jenin)
Leon Geller and Marcus Vetter, Germany


Lilian Franck and Robert Cibis, Germany/Austria

The Sound of Insects - Record of a Mummy (Das Summen der Insekten -- Bericht einer Mumie)
Peter Liechti, Switzerland

The Woman With The 5 Elephants (Die Frau mit den 5 Elefanten)

Vadim Jendreyko, Switzerland/Germany

06 October, 2009

EFA Honours Isabelle Huppert

Whether it is as a Jewish refugee in Diane Kurys' Coup de foudre (1983), as late 17th-century Madame de Maintenon in Saint-Cyr(2000) by Patricia Mazuy, or as Magistrate Jeanne Charmant in Claude Chabrol's L'ivresse du pouvoir (2006), Isabelle Huppert has given some of cinema's most unforgettable moments a face. Her frequent collaboration with Chabrol has brought to the screen characters such as Violette Noziere(1978), Marie in Une affaire de femmes (1988), Madame Bovary (1991) and Jeanne in La cérémonie (1995).

She has worked in France and abroad with directors such as Andrzej Wajda, the Taviani brothers, Jean-Luc Godard, and Michael Cimino as well as Maurice Pialat, Michel Deville, Mauro Bolognini, Marco Ferreri, Benoît Jacquot and Bertrand Tavernier. Isabelle Huppert has won virtually every award there is, among them a European Film Award for La pianiste (2001) by Michael Haneke and for 8 femmes (2002) by François Ozon, as well as a BAFTA and a David di Donatello for La Dentellière (1977) by Claude Goretta, a César and a Golden Bear, three awards in Venice and twice the Award for Best Actress in Cannes.

In recognition of a unique contribution to the world of film the European Film Academy takes great pleasure in presenting Isabelle Huppert with the European Achievement In World Cinema 2009 award. Isabelle Huppert will be a guest of honour at the 22nd European Film Awards Ceremony on 12 December 2009, Bochum.

05 October, 2009

EFA 2009: New Award

The European Film Academy and CARTOON, the European Association of Animation Film, take great pleasure in announcing the creation of a new award category for the European Film Awards:


The award honours outstanding achievements in European animation film. A committee of experts will now select three nominations. The nominated films will then be submitted to the EFA Members to elect the winner who will be presented at the European Film Awards Ceremony on 12 December in Germany's Ruhr Metropolis.

The European Film Awards 2009 are presented by the European Film Academy e.V. and EFA Productions gGmbH with the support of the Minister President and the Minister for Federal and European Affairs and the Media of North Rhine-Westphalia, Filmstiftung NRW, RUHR.2010, the German State Minister for Culture and the Media, the MEDIA Programme of the EU, FFA German Federal Film Board, and TNT Express.

29 September, 2009

Pranzo di ferragosto (Mid-August Lunch) (2008)

Summer’s wine

Official Selection List, European Film Awards 2009

A sort of Big Night (1996) for homebodies longing for a memorable midday meal, Pranzo di ferragosto won best film at the 2008 Venice Film Festival and other festival awards. If I told you the film features four lovely Italian ladies, you are going to start thinking (1) Monica Bellucci; (2)… If I told you that the actresses – who all appear to be first-timers in film – are at least over 80 years old, your interest might waver. But don’t succumb to ageism, for this film is, among many other things, an ode to youth, or at least remaining young at heart.

Gianni Di Gregorio’s film has another inspired casting choice: the director as the lead actor, playing Gianni, a fifty-something soft-alcoholic bachelor who takes good care of his mother, played by Valeria De Francisis, who either has a steel-reinforced blond permanent, or goes to bed in her platinum wig. Guffaws would be out of place in this comedy, but there is plenty of material for wry chuckles.

Take the storyline of this 76 minute film – Gianni and Mamma live in a pleasant old apartment block in downtown Rome, but have fallen behind – way behind – in their condo fees; they have had their keys to the elevator taken from them. “Who needs an elevator, anyway?” rationalizes Gianni to the understanding building manager, who has a plan to help the dutiful son and his mother. It involves ‘Mamma sitting’ for his octogenarian mother for the weekend of Assumption. And that’s just the beginning of Gianni’s special weekend.

Note for readers unfamiliar with European observance (especially in the nominally Catholic countries) of Assumption Day, which always falls on 15 August: in a month already known for its city-emptying tradition of mass exodus to the beach, those left behind on 15 August have to fend for themselves. Especially true when you have to prepare an impromptu feast for four (yes, the octogenarian count has risen) hungry ladies.

Di Gregario has, in a light-hearted but not silly or condescending way, combined in this short gem two bases of Italian society: the filial devotion of sons for their mothers (we are not told what the daughters-in-law think), and the unending quest to eat well – even when sharpers make the most of their mid-August monopoly on the wine supply.

See Pranzo di ferragosto for a midsummer Italian treat whenever it comes to your cinema or DVD distributor. We saw it, appropriately enough, in provincial France on Assumption Day weekend.

Awards: Click here for details.

Gerald Loftus
75 mins. In Italian.

Un Prophète (2009)

‘Criminality, Uninterrupted’

Official Selection List, European Film Awards 2009

Prison dramas, unless they are quality films, are often simply that - prison dramas. Genre films that are quickly produced, formulaic, and easily forgotten. Not so with Jacques Audiard's Un Prophète, winner of the Cannes Grand Jury prize. For Un Prophète is, as they tend to say in France, un grand film.

No big-name actors or flashy pyrotechnics, though the special effects for the apparition of a departed cell mate - ostensibly from Hell - with little tufts of flames singing his track suit, are rather nifty. No, the special effects are all in the acting - Tahar Rahim and Niels Arestrup (yes, French actors are no longer just 'Alain' or 'Jean-Paul') in the principal roles of Malik and César - and in Audiard's directing.

Prisons in France are all the news these days. If it's not condemnation for overcrowding or suicide rates at ten times the non-prison population, it's spectacular breakouts with the help of hired or hijacked helicopters.

Malik and César have no need for such high-profile techniques. César, as the grey-bearded godfather of the prison's Corsicans, can order an execution as easily as he can ensure privileged treatment for his troops. Malik, a quick-learning petty criminal whose primary talent is survival, comes to serve the Corsicans, even learning their language (the film is primarily in French, but with frequent, and credible, use of Arabic and Corsu). It's hard to say exactly at what point the Corsicans come to serve Malik, but that is clearly the trajectory.

In prison films in the United States (I can see Brad Pitt trying to snap up the remake rights after his capture of the excellent French-Georgian thriller 13 Tzameti (2005)), the Corsicans would become the Crips, facing off the Bloods. In Audiard's film, the other major power brokers are 'les frères' - the brothers, referring to the bearded Muslim prisoners. They are not necessarily Islamists, but they are disciplined. Malik, himself of maghrebi origin but of no apparent religious conviction, somehow bonds with the brothers, but is also chummy with a gypsy (gitan) drug dealer who controls a deadly ring on the outside. Why have enemies when allies can come in handy, inside or out?

The Outside. If there's anything in Un Prophète that shows how prison is just 'Criminality, Uninterrupted', it is the almost sheer impunity with which prisoners continue to ply their trade. There are cell phones, of course, and special prison delivery services with packages swung between barred windows. But Malik's specialty is making the utmost out of his occasional 24-hour paroles. César thinks that he owns Malik's hours on the outside. Malik has other ideas.

I've already said more than I usually do about the content of a highly recommended film. Jacques Audiard, the latest in his family to gain cinematic glory, has made a keeper.

Awards: Click here for details.

Gerald Loftus

150 mins. In French, Arabic and Corsican.

24 September, 2009

Looking for Eric (2009)

Stand up, if you hate Man Utd…

Official Selection List, European Film Awards 2009

Cards-on-the-table time – your reviewer loathes with a passion (some might say with every fibre of his being, at times) a certain football club variously known as Scum, Glory Hunters Central, Manure and the Evil Empire. Oh, and they also go by the name of Manchester United, for the truly (and mercifully) unenlightened.

I won’t go into detail as to the reasons for this particular life choice, suffice to say that I picked the team I hated long before falling for the team I love (it’s West Ham United, for those who care), but director Ken Loach and myself are going to have words the next time we meet.

True, he seemed a very personable chap when our paths crossed on his last visit to Brussels (promoting his previous film, the sobering take on UK immigrant labour, It’s A Free World…(2007)), but, on the strength of his latest, Looking For Eric (2009), it would appear likely that our Ken is a United fan. Oh, dear.

What is perhaps even more irritating is that fact that his light-hearted film is mostly very enjoyable (but with a dark streak running through it – this is Loach after all) and, perhaps worst of all, does a very good job of making ‘Red Devils’ fans appear likeable. Almost.

Paul Laverty (who worked with Loach on his previous film) constructs a tale that appeals to heart and head alike – Steve Evets plays down-on-his-luck Manchester postman Eric Bishop, a life-long United fan who idolizes the one-time King of Old Trafford, Eric Cantona. He’s in the pits – burdened with two teenage stepsons from his previous marriage with whom he no longer has a relationship, and still doting on his lost love Lily (Stephanie Bishop) of 30 years ago, with whom he had a daughter, Sam (Lucy-Jo Hudson) then left in the lurch, Eric is looking out on a world without hope. Or so he thinks. A plaintive plea to a poster of his hero receives an answer, amazingly enough – a visit, in person no less, from ‘Ooh-Ahh’ himself. But Eric is not here to offer soft soap – he’s taking our man in hand, and there will be fireworks.

Loach rarely makes a film with characters that are difficult to warm to, and this is no exception – while the basic premise is obviously rooted in fantasy, straightforward, gutsy performances from Evets, and particularly from Gerard Kearns and Stefan Gumbs as his stepsons Ryan and Jess, keep it grounded in working-class, football-loving realities, while the story’s darker side (Ryan’s growing allegiance to a gun-wielding local ‘psycho’ businessman, and the danger this poses to all concerned) is treated with respect and unflinching realism. A fairy story this ‘aint, but that’s not to say there isn’t room for magic.

And Cantona himself? A marvel, as you might expect – he’s already won his spurs as an actor, and he’s clearly having a great deal of fun playing himself here: ‘I am not a man. I am Cantona.’ In addition, there’s a rare chance to see just how good he was – nothing short of magic on the field. There, I’ll unclench my teeth now.

Say no more, I suppose, but you know what this means? Yes, that’s right, another squillion new ‘fans’ signing up at Old Trafford. Still, it might also mean that a few people who actually come from Manchester will start supporting the club. What do you think?

Awards: Click here for details.

116 mins. In English and a bit of French(!)

Antichrist (2009)

The nature of evil, the evil of nature

Official Selection List, European Film Awards 2009

It’s rare, for me, to find a film that very nearly defies my capacity to describe it – and that’s not meant to be a self-aggrandising statement on my skills as a film reviewer, even if it sounds like it.

I have loved film since I was very small, and feel very lucky to have the opportunity to write about it for a living, which is why I hope you will believe me when I say that, should you take the risk (and believe me, that’s what it is) of seeing Lars von Trier’s Antichrist (2009) for yourself, as opposed to merely reading hyperbolic reviews such as this one, you will leave safe in the knowledge that you will NEVER see its like again.

The bravery displayed by the director, but more, a thousand times more, by his stars Willem Dafoe (’He’) and Charlotte Gainsbourg (’She’) is breathtaking – Björk, the star of von Trier’s Palme D’Or winner Dancer in the Dark (2000), is apocryphally said to have eaten a dress in frustration and rage, such were the hoops that her director made her jump through.

One can only guess how Dafoe and Gainsbourg (and, for that matter Von Trier) made it off this shoot alive…

Attempts at definition, as previously stated, are near-redundant, but God hates a coward, right? At a base level, the story (which is divided into five chapters, Grief, Pain (Chaos Reigns), Despair (Gynocide), The Three Beggars and Epilogue) concerns grief – for this reviewer, who lost someone very dear to him recently, the film’s opening chapter provides a near-flawless examination of the pain for which there is no salve but time, and it is this that provides the foundation for the rest of the film, the characters’ motivations, and the horror that overtake two people who are very much in love, in spite of themselves and their circumstances.

He and She are busy making (very graphic) love at the film’s outset, while their little boy, Nic, is sleeping, or so they think.

Tragedy unfolds in beautifully filmed, monochrome slow motion – Nic wakes up, climbs on top of a table, opens the window, and falls to his death in the snow from six storeys up.

Dafoe’s character, a respected psychotherapist, does all he can to bring his wife through her grief, but realises that she is struggling with fears and anxieties beyond the simple agony of loss.

A trip into the woods (which ‘She’ states as being her greatest fear) is taken…and hell follows.

Von Trier plays his customary games with narrative, and the undermining of narrative, and it is for this reason that some will find this very hard going.

But that would be the point. It’s also all about trust and the evil that’s inherent in nature (and, therefore, mankind), but some experiences, you have to undergo yourself.

And trust me, this is one of them…

Awards: Click here for details.

109 mins.

Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

Top dog

Official Selection List, European Film Awards 2009

Remarkable, isn’t it? I mean, talk about a critical sleeper – Danny Boyle’s genuinely harrowing, touching and life-affirming story about rites of passage, undying love and a 20 million rupee jackpot scooped Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay at this year’s OscarsSlumdog Millionaire (based on the novel Q&A by Vikas Swarup) also won Best Film, Best Director, Best Screenplay (for Simon Beaufoy) and Best Score (A.R. Rahman) at the Golden Globes on 11 January, as well as Best Film and Best Director at the 2009 BAFTA awards.

So, what’s the big fuss? Well, the story concerns young man Jamal Malik (Dev Patel), who’s on the brink of becoming the first 20 million rupee winner of the Hindi version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? But there are those dead set against him, led by host Prem Kumar (Anil Kapoor), who are convinced that he is a cheat, and have him arrested before he has a chance to answer the big question. How, they wonder, can a poor, uneducated kid from the slums get further in a show that has already defeated professors, doctors and lawyers?

As viewers, we learn how over the course of the film – and, as the answers are the answer, it would be unfair to go into detail here. Suffice to say that director Danny Boyle (whose previous film was the really rather rubbish Sunshine (2007), and on which this is a great improvement) and his Indian co-director Loveleen Tandan ingeniously unfold the revelation in a way that is cerebrally, viscerally and visually dazzling. Really – you can believe the hype.

Awards: Click here for details.

120 mins. In English, Hindi and Urdu.

The Reader (2008)

Between the lies

Official Selection List, European Film Awards 2009

Objectively assessing a film that’s drawn from Bernhard Schlink’s book about how reading changes lives, for good and ill? An interesting situation.

Given the theme of The Reader, and the frequency with which cinema been cited as a medium that is so different from print as to make comparisons invidious (but, as everyone knows, it’s the points on which they cross that make both art forms what they are), director Stephen Daldry’s well-used filmic mode of flashback to assess the emotional distance between a Germany barely a decade past the Second World War, and a society living in an almost universal sense of disillusionment and in many cases ignorance, is a fascinating device.

What the film in fact shows is not just the Holocaust, and its myriad of well-documented victims, but rather how they are memorialized by the passing of time.

Fifteen-year-old Michael Berg (a younger Ralph Fiennes, very well played by the determinedly boyish David Kross) collapses, sickly and pain-stricken, from a trolley into the pouring rain of a cold afternoon. Here, he (and we) first encounter Hanna Schmitz (Kate Winslet), a 35-year-old tram attendant, played with dignified solemnity by the Oscar and BAFTA-winning star.

Hanna takes Berg in and nurses him back to health – the pair become lovers, with Berg becoming a man via Hanna’s sexual maturity and Hanna coming to know true love, as well as becoming obsessed with Michael reading to her – anything from Ulysses to Lady Chatterley's Lover to Tintin (she had good taste for Belgian literature, obviously). The affair is not just about sex, but the act of reading too – it ends abruptly when Hanna vanishes from Michael’s life. Flash forward eight years – Michael, now a law student, finds Hanna again, but now on trial for war crimes. Michael’s lost feelings of love are twisted as he asks if he can still love the woman who is now cast as a Nazi monster. But, as we are to discover, secrets held on both sides are to prove pivotal, and destructive…

Daldry’s film has been vilified for its rather sympathetic view of an unrepentant Nazi war criminal who, even in old age, shows no remorse. However, where it actually succeeds, is to give a human face to ‘evil’ – the main thrust of The Reader is not so much what Hannah did in her past, or why she did it, but how a generation of people could sit back and watch it happen, how they could allow such atrocities to take place. A point for all nationalities to consider, for all time.

Awards: Click here for details.

124mins. In English, German and Greek.

23 September, 2009

The Time That Remains (2009)

Arab-Israelis, Israeli-Arabs

Official Selection List, European Film Awards 2009

Had Palestinian writer Raja Shehadeh (Palestinian Walks) written the screenplay of The Time That Remains (2009), the dwindling time might refer to the chance to hike the hills of Palestine before the Israelis completely cover them in concrete. Or maybe the time remaining before Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman succeeds in expelling Arab Israelis from the land of their birth.

But the title of Israeli-Arab director/screenwriter Elia Suleiman’s highly personal view of being an Arab in Israel may apply to family relations as much as Palestinian-Israeli relations, as in ‘appreciate your parents while they are still around’, the theme so touchingly sketched in the recent Japanese film Aruitemo aruitemo (Still Walking) (2008). In Suleiman’s Nazareth of 1948 to the present, we see the Arab-Israeli conflict as experienced by and recounted to a boy growing up in a Palestinian family that has stayed on – in what has become part of Israel.

When I first saw the film’s poster, I imagined that the little boy was getting a scolding from his father (it’s actually the school headmaster; little Elia, it seems, is developing a reputation as a political dissident). No, Suleiman’s father Fuad (actor Saleh Bakri dominates the first third of the film as the young resistance fighter) is portrayed as a strong, silent type, who is left for dead after his capture in the 1948 fighting, and who spends the rest of his life under a cloud of Israeli suspicion that he hasn’t abandoned his Palestinian nationalism.

We never see Suleiman-père old and frail. He’s the reliable go-to man for family and neighbors in a Nazareth left adrift, cut off from their cousins across the Green Line. At the local school, children sing patriotic songs (but for which country?) in Hebrew and Arabic.

Though political themes are ever present (what honest film on the subject could avoid politics?), The Time That Remains is at times black comedic, and more than one reviewer (including Suleiman himself) has seen shades of Buster Keaton and Jacques Tati in the absurdity of Israeli-Jewish and Israeli-Arab relations.

The cinema in France where we saw the film distributed a very helpful flyer with a reprint from the Nouvel Observateur interview with Elia Suleiman, where he explains to Pascal Mérigeau that his novel view of the last sixty-plus years is his alone – and is not a documentary. We read that “at 17 years old, I was accused of being a Communist sympathizer, and had 24 hours to make up my mind”, which is how the young Suleiman ended up in London, which led to New York, which led to Paris… This episode is alluded to in the film, when we see a teenaged Elia getting caught up in the first ‘Land Day’ demonstrations to protest Israeli expropriation of its Arab citizens’ land.

For objective students of the Arab-Israel conflict, The Time That Remains should stand up well to scrutiny. For connoisseurs of the absurd, the film will show a collection of war and post-war situations that could be fodder for Ari Folman should Waltz With Bashir (2008) ever get a prequel.

In keeping with Suleiman’s ambivalence over matters of nationality, statelessness, and patriotism, The Time That Remains was presented at Cannes 2009 as neither an Israeli nor a Palestinian film, but a product of France, Belgium, Italy, and the United Kingdom. Suleiman, the ‘present absentee’ Israeli/Palestinian/Expatriate and on-camera narrator of his own film, looks on silently at his life and gives us a rare look at the conflicted world of Arab-Israelis.

Awards: Click here for details.

Gerald Loftus
109 mins. In Hebrew, Arabic and English.

European Film Awards 2009

It's looking like a mixture of Cannes 2009 and Oscars 2008 will dominate, with Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist (2009), Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon (2009) and Pedro Almodóvar’s Broken Embraces (2009) joining Stephen Daldry’s The Reader (2008), Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire (2008) and forty-one other films in the running for the 2009 European Film Awards. Twenty-five countries are represented between the films, and, in the weeks ahead, the 2,000 members of the European Film Academy will vote for the nominations in the different award categories, with the nods to be announced on 7 November at the Sevilla European Film Festival in Spain. The awards ceremony will take place at Germany’s Ruhr Metropolis on 12 December.

So, without further ado, the finalists for the European Film Awards are:

33 Scenes From Life
Poland/Germany, Mapigoeka Szumowska

Los Abrazos Rotos (Broken Embraces)
Spain, Pedro Almodóvar

Alle Anderen (Everyone Else)
Germany, Maren Ade

Denmark, Lars Von Trier

Apafoeld (Father’s Acre)
Hungary, Viktor Oszkar Nagy

The Baader Meinhof Complex
Germany, Uli Edel

Aiaaeuecoa Eeanaei (Paper Soldier)
Russia, Alexey German Jr.

Spain, Javier Fesser

Coco Avant Chanel (Coco Before Chanel)
France, Anne Fontaine

Eastern Plays
Bulgaria, Fredrik Zander, Stefan Piriyov & Kamen Kalev

Fish Tank
UK, Andrea Arnold

Frygtelig Lykkelig (Terribly Happy)
Denmark, Henrik Ruben Genz

Hakol Mathil Bayam (It All Begins At Sea)
Israel, Eitan Green

Germany, Christian Petzold

Kalat Hayam (Jaffa)
France/Israel/Germany, Keren Yedaya

Kaesky (Tears Of April)
Finland, Aku Louhimies

Ireland, Lance Daly

Der Knochenmann (The Bone Man)
Austria, Wolfgang Murnberger

Låt den rätte komma in (Let The Right One In)
Sweden, Tomas Alfredson

Lille Soldat (Little Soldier)
Denmark, Annette K. Olesen

Belgium, Erik Van Looy

Looking For Eric
UK/France, Ken Loach

Maen Som Hatar Kvinnor (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo)
Sweden, Niels Arden Oplev

Maria Larssons Eviga Oegonblick (Everlasting Moments)

Denmark / Sweden, Jan Troell

Max Manus
Norway, Espen Sandberg & Joachim Ronning

Niciji Sin (No One’s Son)
Croatia, Arsen Anton Ostojic

Nord (North)
Norway, Rune Denstad Langlo

Oorlogswinter (Winter In Wartime)
The Netherlands, Martin Koolhoven

Pandoranin Kutusu (Pandora’s Box)
Turkey / France / Germany / Belgium, Yes,Im Ustaog’lu

Politist, Adjectiv (Police, Adjective)
Romania, Corneliu Porumboiu

Pranzo Di Ferragosto (Mid-August Lunch)
Italy, Gianni Di Gregorio

Un Prophete (A Prophet)
France, Jacques Audiard

Questione Di Cuore (A Matter Of Heart)
Italy, Francesca Archibugi

The Reader
Germany, Stephen Daldry

Retorno A Hansala (Return To Hansala)
Spain, Chus Gutierrez

France, Martin Provost

Slumdog Millionaire
UK, Danny Boyle

Greece, Panos H. Koutras

Tatarak (Sweet Rush)
Poland, Andrzej Wajda

The Time That Remains
France, Elia Suleiman

Czech Republic, Vaclav Marhoul

Turneja (The Tour)
Serbia / Bosnia & Herzegovina / Croatia / Slovenia, Goran Markovic

Uzak I’hti’mal (Wrong Rosary)
Turkey, Mahmut Fazil Cos,Kun

Italy, Marco Bellocchio

Das Weisse Band (The White Ribbon)
Germany/Austria/France/Italy, Michael Haneke

So, see you on 12 December!

17 September, 2009

Festen (The Celebration) (1998)

Party time?

A real surprise this one - a family get-together that goes horribly wrong but at the same time provides redemption, Thomas Vinterberg's film (he went uncredited as director, as per Lars Von Trier's 'Dogma' rules), with an electrifying screenplay by Winterburg and Mogens Rukov, has more than a few nods to Harold Pinter's The Homecoming, with its sense of impending doom and menace that grips early and holds until very near the end.

However, unlike Pinter's play, the narrative is not circuitous or vague - it is the 60th birthday of Danish hotelier patriarch (Faderen-Father) Helge (Henning Moritzen). From far and wide, his friends gather to pay tribute, while his sons Michael (Thomas Bo Larsen) (a doting, angry young man) and Christian (Ulrich Thomsen) (a seemingly placid, quiet individual) arrive and begin the preparations for the party. The brothers are very close - but Christian has plans in store for the celebration (Festen) that will change the lives of everyone around the table. A few details that he wants to share concerning his 'relationship' with the old man, and the fun begins when he clinks his glass to make a 'tribute' speech...

Singularly disturbing, moving, in places hysterically funny despite its dark heart and ultimately uplifting, Festen is very much a one-off. Perhaps surprising that, to the best of this reviewer's knowledge, an American remake has not yet been mooted but one supposes, unfortunately, that there is still time.

The brothers' performances take centre stage, but, in fact it is Moritzen as the father who knows far more than he lets on, and Birthe Neumann as his wife, Else, who has been complicit in the evils of the past, that make the most enduring impression - and the whole is a simply unforgettable account of a party you'll be 'glad' you were invited to, for all the wrong reasons.

Awards: Click here for details.

105 mins. In Danish, German and English.

13 September, 2009

Revanche (2008)

Sinned against or sinning?

EFA Official Selection, 2008

It's definitely a film of two halves, is Revanche (2008) by writer-director Götz Spielmann (Antares (2004)).

The opening section sees likeable neer-do-well ex-con Alex (Johanes Krisch) struggling to hold it together with his beautiful prostitute girlfriend Tamara (Irina Potapenko) - although the owner Aleksander (Reljic-Bohigas) of the 'Cinderella' brothel in Vienna where Tamara works is offering her a flat and more upmarket clients, Alex believes that he can pull off one last bank job and flee South with his love, sorting all their financial problems out at a stroke.

But tragedy strikes - policeman Robert (Andreas Lust) unwittingly disturbs Alex and Tamara's heist, with terrible consequences. Tamara is left dead, and Alex heads for the house of his Grandfather Hausner (Johannes Thanheiser), where he works to help the old man and take his mind off his own personal hell. But, as chance would have it, the next-door neighbours are the policeman (who did not see Alex's face during the robbery) and his wife Susanne (Ursula Strauss), who is herself getting over a recent miscarriage and desperately wants a baby.

Only Alex knows who's who - is revenge his only option?

The film works on many levels, and is primarily a credible study of the interaction between post-modern Central European human trafficking and pre-industrial Austrian 'Bauern' culture. Alex and his recently widowed grandfather's relationship, which forms a central tenet of the story, makes perfect sense - Hausner believes Alex to be good-for-nothing at first, but changes his mind gradually when he sees just how hard his grandosn is prepared to work, knowing nothing of what is actually driving him.

In German, the word 'revanche' has a double meaning, signifying both the obvious 'revenge' but also a second chance, and the implications of both are well developed throughout the story, as characters juggle their need to get even with their desire to secure their own futures. In short, if it is fate that controls the characters' destinies, it is also strength of will that ultimately decides who survives.

Slow but sure - a worthy watch.

Awards: Click here for details.


121 mins. In German and Russian.

07 September, 2009

Blóðbönd (Thicker Than Water) (2006)

Blood bonds

Official Selection, European Film Awards 2006

An interesting if somewhat brooding feature-length directorial debut from Icelandic director Árni Ásgeirsson - a graduate of the Polish National Film School (which also produced one Roman Polanski), he is also jointly responsible for the screenplay, with Denijal Hasanovic and Jón Atli Jónasson.

The story is set in Reykjavik, where we find successful optometrist Pétur (Hilmir Jonsson) and his wife Asta (Margrét Vilhjálmsótter) about to have their second child. But things are set to change forever, when their 10-year-old son Örn (Aaron Brink) suffers a fainting spell during a game of football. A routine blood test is conducted, which reveals, in fact, that Pétur is not Örn's biological father. He subsequently walks out on his family, checks into a hotel room and takes to heavy drinking, at the same time beginning an affair with his secretary Anna (Laufey Elíasdóttir), who is almost 20 years his junior.

A strong cast and story with (a little) comic relief to offset the doom and gloom, with excellent cinematography from Tuomo Hutri. A director to watch.

Awards: Click here for details.

90 mins. In Icelandic.

04 September, 2009

Princesas (2005)

Tough tricks

Official Selection, European Film Awards 2006

Writer-director:Fernando León de Aranoa (Los lunes al sol (2002), Caminantes (2001)) here turns his gaze towards a world far removed from that of Pretty Woman (1990) - the grubby, frequently sickening lives inhabited by sex workers, where hope is a truly precious commodity, a different currency from the prices that women haggle for their own bodies.

Set on the mean streets of Madrid, the 'princesses' of the title are Caye (Candela Peña) and Zulema (Micaela Nevárez in a striking first role), two prostitutes drawn together in friendship, love even, as they battle against the worst that modern life can throw at them - the chemistry etched between the two young women - Spanish and Dominican - marks this as very much more than another tale of 'tarts with hearts'.

One begins to feel, very quickly, for their situation, their loves, desires and hopes. Both are desperate to quit the life - Caye believes she has found the man for her life, Manuel (Luis Callejo) while Zulema simply wants to get back to her child in the Dominican Republic.

Despite its obviously hard-edged nature, León de Aranoa treats the subject matter with real delicacy and sensitivity, even if the music, by Manu Chao and Gato Pérez, is ocassionally a little excessive, and would have benefited from more of the subtlety on display elsewhere. In addition, Ramiro Civita's hand-held photography (while sometimes deliberately chaotic) is superb, particularly in the close-ups, which bring out the very essence of the characters' torments.

A dark look at the realities of 'street life'.

Awards: Click here for details.

113 mins. In Spanish.

01 September, 2009

Salvador (Puig Antich) (2006)

A life (and death) less ordinary

Official Selection, European Film Awards 2006

Spanish director Manuel Huerga (Diario de un astronauta (2008)) is brave enough to provide a frank and unflinching account of one of his country's darkest periods, namely the 1970s dictatorship of Francisco Franco and the life and times of anarchist and bank-robber Salvador Puig Antich (Daniel Brühl), whose execution in 1974 (based on distinctly dubious evidence provided by the Spanish police after one of their number dies (accidentally?) in a shoot-out involving Antich) ushered in a period of extended civil unrest that brought Spain to democracy.

For myself, I knew nothing of the young firebrand's story - in fact, the truth behind the narrative is barely known outside Spain. As written by Lluís Arcarazo, from Francesc Escribano's novel, Brühl as Salvador is cast as both likeable and irrresponsible in roughly equal measure but, as with the similarly oppressed members of his gang, he is a man passionate for change and that the shackles of oppression be removed.

The film opens, dynamically, with the police ambushing Salvador and beating him up - fearing for his life, Antich fires at random, and the detective who takes the bullet dies in hospital. The anarchist's wounds are not so serious - after recovering in hospital, he is transferred to prison, where he awaits trial and punishment, accompanied by a prison guard, Jesús (Leonardo Sbaraglia), with whom he slowly but surely bonds and his faithful lawyer Oriol Arau (Tristán Ulloa) to whom he recounts his life story. A life that looks set to end only too soon...

Brühl, the star of German gems such as Goodbye Lenin! (2003) and The Edukators (2004) (both of which were EFA nominees and winners) is excellent as Antich, and the film as a whole is a more than competent examination of how wrong things can go under totalitarianism, as well as, in its final reel (which, truly, will stay with you forever) a harrowing indictment of capital punishment. Salvador Puig Antich was only 24 when he died, the last man to be executed in Spain.

Awards: Click here for details.

134 mins. In Catalan, Spanish and French.

26 August, 2009

Il Caimano (The Caiman) 2006

Berlusconi, gently skewered

Nanni Moretti (The Last Customer (2003), La stanza del figlio (2001)), a cult director in Italy, brings a unique perspective to this take on 'Il Caimano', the second-longest serving prime minister in the country's history (1994 to 1995, 2001 to 2006, 2008 onwards).

What is fascinating is how Berlusconi's story goes hand in hand with the film's other central character, cult director Bruno Bonomo (Silvio Orlando), who is struggling, after an extended absence from the silver screen, to turn the vision of young writer Teresa (Jasmine Trinca) into celluloid reality. Thus, in much the same way as Spike Jonze's excellent Adaptation (2002), we are watching both the creative process and parts of the finished product at the same time.

Orlando's performance at once captures the manic intensity of a dedicated artist who is approaching the end of his emotional tether - he is estranged from his wife and former star Paola (an excellent Margherita Buy), and the banks are getting more than a little tetchy concerning his debts. No matter - the show must go on, and the engaging, affectionate and very amusing narrative (adapted by Moretti, Francesco Piccolo, Federica Pontremoli and Heidrun Schleef from Schleef's novel) takes us into the heart of the matter.

In addition, the actual scenes featuring Berlusconi (commanding performances from three diferent actors) serve very well to suggest a far more penatrating film than the personal, perhaps even autobiographical tale of a director's trials that appears to be the story's core.

One is left with the impression that Italian politics is perhaps more chaotic than even the most peculiar film about it could ever be - but Moretti's is a sure hand at the wheel.

Awards: Click here for details.

112 mins. In Italian.

20 August, 2009

Garpastum (2005)

Another country

Featured in the 2006 European Film Awards' Official Selection.

Truly, a film in which not much happens, but a great deal occurs - the director of Posledniy poezd (The Last Train) (2003), Aleksei German Jr takes us into the heart of rural life in 1914 St. Petersburg, where teen brothers Andrey (Yevgeny Pronin) and Nikolai (Danila Kozlovsky) are passionate about football - Garpatsum is its Latin name - they play on the streets, normally, but the pair hatch a scheme to buy a playing field and build a proper stadium. They start playing with workmen, seminarians and anyone else they encounter for money, but World War I and the October Revolution are set to intervene...

In the beautiful bichrome opening scenes, the murder of Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo (which triggered the First World War) is referred to by manual labourers in the harbour, before an almost unnoticeable transition to muted colour photography and the world of Nikolai and Andrey, who live with their aunt and uncle in St Petersburg.

German Jr (son of the Russian director of the same name) worked on the screenplay with Alexander Vaynshteyn and Oleg Antonov, and together they have created a world that is intimately connected to late 19th century and early 20th century literature, especially German examples such as Hesse’s Narcissus and Goldmund).

As in those novels, Garpastum’s real purpose is not to tell a story or even portray a character, but to paint a vivid picture of young men’s relation to themselves and each other. What happens in the world beyond these bonds is only interpreted through their relationships, and as such Garpastum is not so much a historical epic as a intimate epos of two brothers set in a beautiful and not-often depicted time and place: St Petersburg during and after WWI.

Awards: Click here for details.

118 mins. In Russian, English and Serbo-Croatian.

15 August, 2009

Spoorloos (The Vanishing) (1988)

Into the darkness

We're going all the way back to the very first European Film Awards (EFA) with this one - in 1988, George Sluizer's film of Tim Krabbé's novel The Golden Egg took the cinema world by storm - rarely, if ever, has a film captured existential horror like Spoorloos (The Vanishing) (1988).

As I indicated in my earlier post concerning Michael Haneke's Funny Games (1997, 2007), Sluizer made the unfortunate choice of remaking his film Stateside in 1993 - apart from an intriguing performance from Jeff Bridges, there's little to recommend the later version.

But the first film is something else again - we join Rex (Gene Bervoets) and Saskia (Johanna ter Steege), a young couple in love, who are on vacation. Following a row over nothing, they make up, stop at a busy service station, and Saskia disappears. Three years and, despite his extensive efforts to find out what happened to his lost love, Rex is nowhere nearer finding an answer - until, that is, he begins receiving letters from a man, Raymond Lemorne (Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu), claiming to know exactly where Saskia is. Fearing for his sanity, Rex starts to play Lemorne's games...the horror, the horror.

Central to the conceit of the film and original novel is the intriguing premise of just how far anyone would be prepared to go to find out the truth - and the terrible price that must sometimes be paid for doing so. Bervoet's performance details very well the frustration, despair and obsession of wanting to know the answer, but it is Donnadieu's utterly impassive, amoral Lemorne that truly chills the blood. Ter Steege won the first EFA Best Supporting Actress Award for her turn as the charming, whimsical Saskia - a delightful characterization that makes the revalation, when it comes, of what happened to her all the more harrowing.

And the ending? Don't even think about it - it's one to stay awake to, and I am saying no more...

Awards: Click here for details.

107 mins. In Dutch, French and English.

08 August, 2009

Funny Games (2007, 1997)

Playing the games

More than ten years ago, German director Michael Haneke gave the world Funny Games (1997), a gruelling and relentless journey into nightmare that, along with greats such as Peeping Tom (1960) and Rear Window (1954) asks direct questions of the viewer concerning the voyeurism that is at the heart of cinema as an art form.

Like George Sluizer before him, who went to the US in 1993 to remake his marvellous Spoorloos (1988) as The Vanishing, Haneke here presents an American take on his own original, with an all-new cast and in English. However, Haneke’s second effort differs from Sluizer’s in that it is (i) identical to his first film shot-for-shot and (ii) it’s infinitely better made.

So, does the director’s decision render watching the new film pointless if you’ve seen the original, or vice versa? Perhaps those who ask such a question should first check out Gus van Sant’s 1998 remake of Psycho (1960) – the notable director (Good Will Hunting (1997) Elephant (2003)) also went for a near frame-for-frame homage – to find out for themselves if the approach does anything for them.

Whatever your take on the debate, this is still a rightful tenant of the genuine badlands of the human psyche – a horror film that does not mess about. Ann (Naomi Watts) and George (Tim Roth) arrive at their vacation home ready to enjoy some golf and sailing with their son Georgie (Devon Gearhart). As Anne is unpacking groceries, she is confronted by two young men, Peter (Brady Corbet) and Paul (Michael Pitt) dressed in golf clothes, wearing white gloves. At first happy to help with their request for eggs, Ann quickly realises that things are very far from normal when the two boys’ attitude turns antagonistic, then far, far worse. ‘Funny’ games are definitely not on the menu…

Unnerving calmness combined with wanton cruelty is the key characteristic of the assailants performances, with solid, terror-struck turns from Watts and Roth. The film’s real achievement, however, is the undermining of an audience’s customary complicity – in Haneke’s film, we are forced to identify not so much with the victims but rather with their all-powerful assailants. Peter and Paul are performing for us, a point underlined by the characters’ frequent questions direct to camera: they’re appeasing our blood-lust, our desire to witness the worst that can happen to other people. After all, why else would we want to see such a film? Ask yourself the same question before you watch – love it or hate it, this will not leave you unmoved.

Awards for Funny Games (1997): Click here for details.
Awards for Funny Games (2007): Click here for details.

Funny Games (1997): 108 mins. In French, German and Italian.
Funny Games (2007): 111 mins.