Headlining this year’s edition is Alejandro González Iñárritu’s “Biutiful” starring Academy Award winner Javier Bardem.
Disparate conflicts old and new are at the center of this week’s Panorama for the European Film, reflecting the rapidly changing face of Europe.
Returning for the second straight year following last year’s highly successful edition, the third Euro film panorama — organized by the Youssef Chahine’s Misr International Films — kicks off Nov. 3 with a stellar line-up comprised of some of the most acclaimed European films of the year.
Headlining this year’s edition is Alejandro González Iñárritu’s “Biutiful” starring Javier Bardem, winner of this year’s best actor award at the Cannes Film Fest.
A bleak tale of a small-time mob agent seeking redemption in Barcelona, Iñárritu’s fourth feature — and his first without frequent collaborator Guillermo Arriaga — exposes the hidden underbelly of the oft-glamorized city, a place populated with exploited illegal immigrants, prostitutes and drug addicts.
Illegal immigration takes center stage in Philippe Lioret’s surprise French hit “Welcome,” starring Vincent Lindon and Audrey Dana. Newcomer Firat Ayverdi is Bilal, a 17-year-old Kurdish boy who attempts to travel to England from France by swimming the English Channel in order to reach his girlfriend who’s about to be forced into an arranged marriage.
Replete with shocking, if not explicit, details about the perils faced by illegal immigrants, Lioret draws on Bilal’s relationship with his swimming instructor (Lindon) to soften the intensity of his harrowing subject matter.
A drastically different facet of French life is explored in Catherine Corsini’s “Partir,” starring British actress Kristin Scott Thomas (“The English Patient”). Scott Thomas plays a middle-aged suburban housewife who embarks on a turbulent affair with a construction worker. The subsequent disquieting consequences, and the motives of her character, shed a light on the common bourgeois lifestyle rarely tackled in British and American films.
Another face of bourgeois life is presented in Holland-based Polish director Urszula Antoniak’s debut feature “Nothing Personal” starring Lotte Verbeek — who won the best actress award at the Locarno International Film Festival — and Irish star Stephen Rea (“The Crying Game”).
Verbeek is the unnamed heroine of the movie who ends her marriage, divests herself of her mundane life and moves to Ireland to lead a solitary life devoid of any emotional attachment and responsibilities. Her path eventually crosses with Martin’s (Rea), a lonely widower. The bond they progressively form changes them both.
Yet another different face of Europe and England in particular is unveiled in Andrea Arnold’s highly acclaimed sophomore feature “Fish Tank,” winner of the 2010 BAFTA award for Outstanding British Film and Cannes Film Fest’s Jury Prize in 2009.
Newcomer Katie Jarvis gives a bravura performance as the rebellious, angry yet fragile 15-year-old Mia who begins to develop a crush on her mother’s new handsome boyfriend (Michael Fassbender of “Inglourious Basterds”).
Arnold, who took the international film fest scene by storm with her 2006 debut feature “Red Road,” captures the harsh reality of the economically deprived Essex with unflinching honesty. Her refutation of sentimentality, the documentary-like style of her direction and the swift flashes of poetry she sprinkles throughout her story make her the legitimate heir to great filmmaker Ken Loach.
Three films take on a number of unexamined episodes of European history. The first, and most anticipated, is Xavier Beauvois’s “Of Gods and Men,” winner of this year’s Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Fest.
Based on real events, the film chronicles the kidnap and murder of seven Cistercian monks on the hands of Muslim fundamentalist in Algeria in 1996. Adopting a restrained, yet commanding, approach to the highly contentious subject, Beauvois takes a cue from Roberto Rossellini’s 1950 classic “Flowers of St. Francis” to conjure his meditative examination of the nature of religious faith, fundamentalism and colonialism.
Veteran Italian filmmaker Marco Bellocchio (“Fists in the Pocket”) reopens one of the darkest chapters of Italian history in “Vincere,” the tragic story of Mussolini’s secret lover and first wife, Ida Dalser.
Punctuating his stylized, operatic drama with documentary footage, “Vincere” — the first film to take on the Mussolini legacy since Carlo Lizzani’s “The Last Days of Mussolini” in 1974 — analyzes how an entire nation fell under the spell of a ruthless dictator who betrayed the same people that supported his ascent to power.
The most daring, most disconcerting entry of the bunch is Michael Haneke’s 2009 Palm d’Or winner “The White Ribbon.” Set in the eve of World War I, Haneke’s first period piece revolves around a series of malicious crimes in a small German village that may, or may have not, been perpetrated by a group of children.
Christian Berger’s haunting black and white cinematography gives the film a gothic feel. Always a moralist, Haneke shatters the misleadingly calm veneer of the village to reveal a rotten patriarchal culture of oppression and callousness where the seeds of fascism can be traced.
The panorama focuses this year on German cinema. Along with “The White Ribbon,” the highlight of the German selection is Feo Aladag’s independent drama “When We Leave,” winner of Tribeca Film Festival’s 2010 Best Narrative Feature award and Best Actress for German/Turkish star Sibell Kekilli.
Kekilli — who rose to fame with Fatih Akin’s “Head-On” (2004) — plays a German-born wife who flees her abusive husband in Istanbul, and subsequently breaks away from her conservative family in Germany, to begin a new life in Berlin.
“When We Leave” is, by far, the most honest account of modern immigrant life in Germany to date, touching upon thorny issues such as honor killings, domestic abuse and cultural clashes.
Speaking of Akin, the panorama is dedicating a sidebar to the German/Turkish filmmaker, screening his last four films: “Head-On,” the documentary “Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul,” “The Edge of Heaven” and his latest film, “Soul Kitchen.”
“Kitchen,” an ensemble comedy, represents a break from the heavy dramas of “Head-On” and “Heaven.” Akin shifts his attention to a different immigrant community; this time it’s the Greeks. The film centers on a young owner of an ailing restaurant (Adam Bousdoukos) attempting to save his business with the help of a talented, but tyrant chef (Birol Ünel from “Head-On”). Germany’s biggest star, Moritz Bleibtreu, also stars.
The manic energy of the film is contagious, the comedy is uninhibited, the soundtrack is groovy and the atmosphere is blithe, warm and sanguine.
The fest also offers an excellent selection of documentaries: Kamal Aljafari’s “Port of Memory,” Frederick Wiseman’s “La danse: Le ballet de l’Opéra de Paris” and Nicolas Philibert’s “Nénette.”
The highlight of the documentary section is Agnès Varda’s “Les plages d’Agnès” (The Beaches of Agnès), this writer’s favorite documentary of 2009.
The latest enchanting, whimsical autobiographical film by the 80-year-old grandmother of the French New Wave — and widowed wife of late great French filmmaker Jacques Demy — looks back at her loves, her films and her favorite beaches. The ever so inventive Varda employs a mixture of home videos, archival film material, photographs and recreated scenes from her life to construct a spellbinding portrait overflowing with colors, memories, yearnings and losses.
For cinephiles, “Beaches” acts as a time capsule to a time and place of experimentation, rebelliousness and dreams; a Proustian series of snapshot into a magnificently rich life.
The panorama also hosts the Egyptian premiere of Michel Khleifi’s Dubai Film Fest’s Best Film winner “Zindeeq” starring veteran Palestinian actor Mohammed Bakri (“Laila’s Birthday”).
Khleifi’s first narrative film in 14 years takes place over the course of a single day and centers on a Palestinian filmmaker referred to as ‘M’ living in exile who returns home to try to find a direct link between the 1948 Nakba and the reality of present-day Palestine.
Abundant with symbolism and Biblical allusions, “Zindeeq” takes a daring approach in dealing with the Palestinian cause, abstaining from dealing with the Israeli enemy and focusing on the inner dilemmas facing Palestinians.
In addition to seminars, discussions and a master-class with Khleifi, the panorama is opening a grand exhibit for Raymond Cauchetie, the legendary photographer of the Nouvelle Vague. The exhibit will showcase some rare on-set pictures from the films of Godard, Truffaut, Chabrol and other luminary members of the French New Wave.
For more information about the Panorama of the European Film, visit www.misreurofilms.net. All films are screened in Galaxy cinema and CityStars.
Xavier Beauvois’s “Of Gods and Men” chronicles the kidnap and murder of seven Cistercian monks on the hands of Muslim fundamentalist in Algeria in 1996.
Abundant with symbolism and Biblical allusions, Michel Khleifi’s “Zindeeq” takes a daring approach in dealing with the Palestinian cause.