It’s hard to decide on a single best film from this lineup, but it wouldn’t be too difficult to make a case for Romania’s Exchange (Schimb Valutar, 2008, Nicolae Margineanu). The film follows a factory worker who sells off all of his belongings to finance a move to Australia, only to get conned out of his money. In typical Romanian style, the film can be pretty bleak, but it also manages to be intensely human. Set during the aftermath of the Romanian revolution, the film explores people in a state of change, looking for brighter and better things but finding suffering along the way.
Letter to America
Bulgaria’s Letter to America (Pismo do Amerika, 2001, Iglika Triffonova) is sweet and occasionally quite moving. The film follows a young writer who travels to a remote Bulgarian village to record a song for his best friend. His best friend is in America and in a coma, and he hopes that the song, which is said to revive the dead, will help bring him back into the world. Letter to America explores the struggle between the old and new Bulgaria, revealing a rich culture cut off from the rest of the world, and a generation of young people disconnected from their roots.
Spain’s Intact (Intacto, 2001, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo) is the kind of film that people either really love or really hate. In either case, its propensity for eliciting strong opinions makes it worth a look. The film takes place in a mysterious desert Casino where the “god of chance” (Max Von Sydow) facilitates a series of games for four, tenuously connected characters. The film crafts extravagant set pieces that explore the philosophical ramifications of the very concept of luck. It’s heady, sometimes ridiculous stuff. Some people will have their mind blown. Some will just scratch their heads and wonder what all the fuss is about. Both reactions are surprisingly valid.
Two of the films have made it to our cinemas before. Sweden’s Mammoth (2009, Lukas Moodyson) was in Cinemanila, and the UK’s Never Let Me Go (2010, Mark Romanek) was an Ayala exclusive. Both films are worth seeing if you haven’t seen them yet. Mammoth can be a little trite, but it’s oddly effective. Never Let Me Go, based on Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel, is one of the ambitious adaptations ever put to film.
People looking for family fare need look no further than Austria’s Little Robbers (Die Kleinen Räuber, 2009, Armands Zvirbulis) and Greece’s Little Greek Godfather (Proti Fora Nonos, 2007, Olga Malea). Little Robbers follows a couple of kids as they attempt to rob a bank that just took away their parents’ apartment. Little Greek Godfather is a about young boy from a prominent political family who travels to Crete to act as a godfather for an aspiring politician’s son. Occasionally adorable, these films fill the quota of kids learning lessons and doing things that kids shouldn’t really do.
Spain’s Mataharis (2007, Icíar Bollaín) and Belgium’s Long Weekend (Verlengd Weekend), touch on the subject of social inequity in somewhat interesting, lighthearted ways. Mataharis follows three female detectives working cases that end up affecting their personal lives. One of them is tasked with infiltrating a factory and finding dirt on a manager trying to form a union. Long Weekend is about a couple of factory workers who hold their boss hostage in his own mansion after being laid off. These films work within very familiar mainstream structures, but are driven by a sense of social justice. It’s an interesting mix that might leave people a little surprised.
An Ordinary Execution
France’s An Ordinary Execution (Une Execution Ordinaire, 2010, Marc Dugain) and Germany’s Young Goethe In Love (Goethe!, 2010, Philipp Stölzl) both show new sides to historical figures. An Ordinary Execution is about a young urologist in Moscow who’s suddenly tasked with treating Stalin. Young Goethe in Love is pretty much what the title says, following Goethe in his years as a law student, in love with an alluring young woman named Lotte. Both films play with the perception of these historical figures, with the German film taking a decidedly more whimsical tack.
Finland’s Princess (Prinsessa, 2010, Arto Halonen) is about a mental patient who believes that she’s royalty. She’s being treated by a doctor who's a little too eager to try out all sorts of new medical techniques in the treatment of schizophrenia. Though the premise might sound like a recipe for treacle, Princess can be a surprisingly complex depiction of mental illness and treatment in the forties. There are no easy heroes or villains; just people trying to do their best with the limited information that they have. The cast is made up of some of Finland’s greatest actors, their talent bringing that complexity to life.
The Silent Army
Three other films in the lineup tackle real life atrocities. The Netherlands’ The Silent Army (Wit Licht, 2008, Jean van de Velde) follows a white restaurant owner in Africa who sets out to find a friend’s missing son, only to find a camp training child soldiers. Italy’s The Lark Farm (La Masseria delle allodole, 2007, Paolo and Vittorio Taviani) dramatize the events of the Armenian massacre. Switzerland’s How About Love (2010, Stefan Haupt) is about a doctor who travels to the Thai-Burmese border and gets caught up in the affairs of a refugee camp. All of these films are well intentioned, shedding light on some of the great injustices that took place in the world. But the films place drama ahead of the truth, and often come off as a bit superficial.
Slovakia’s Mosquitoes’ Tango (Tango S Komármi, 2009, Miloslav Luther) is about a man who returns to Slovakia seeking a divorce in order to remarry. His fiancée, afraid that he might stray, hires an actor to keep an eye on him. The film is a funny look at a couple of people coming face to face with the people they’ve become, and the people that they used to be. It makes an interesting pairing with The Czech Republic’s Grapes (Bobule, 2008, Tomas Borina), a more introspective picture that follows a con man who inherits a vineyard. At first, he just sees it as a convenient hideout and potential cash cow, but he learns the craft of winemaking and discovers a connection to his heritage that he never had before.
Lastly, people looking for thrills might want to check out Denmark’s The Escape (Flugten, 2010, Katherine Winfield). It tells the story of a journalist kidnapped by terrorists who eventually escapes thanks to the help of one of her captors. Their paths cross again, leading to a tense and difficult confrontation. The Escape is a pretty conventional thriller, and it falls into many of the traps of the genre. But if the goal is to get the blood pumping, then the movie certainly succeeds.