By Roger Costa
Masters of modern Neo-realism, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne wraps up the decade with this tense, superbly acted and disturbing drama depicting the turbulent emotions of a teen boy inclined to radicalism. Influenced by his contradicting perspectives on being a Muslim, the young boy commits a reckless crime, while struggling with acceptance and rehabilitation. Filled with the naturalistic beauty of the brothers’ spiritual and psychological examinations on Belgian working-class families, it brings a revelatory performance by newcomer Idir Ben Addi, as the camera follows him through his practices and plans. An intimate, compassionate and claustrophobic coming-of-age portrait that stirs up controversy and inevitable judgement while observing the path taken by a boy seeking identity and inclusion. Winner of the Best Director Award in Cannes, it’s a master work of suspense, with indispensable moral lessons on humanitarian values.
FIRE WILL COME
Astonishingly shot with grey, smokey images reflecting the melancholy and hopelessness of its central characters, Oliver Laxe’s lyrical tragedy is a haunting and absorbing experience. Structured as a poetical observation on the co-dependent relationship between elderly mother and recently-released-from-jail son, it studies the strength of community, compassion and the respect among men, nature and animals, while exploring the fascinating, remote, mountainous area of Galicia. Using non-professional actors, Laxe extracts powerful and convincingly emotional performances by Amador Arias and Benedicta Sanchez, a lovely, strong characterization of resilience. A meditation on societal readjustment, it feels like a painting in movement.
THE WILD GOOSE LAKE
Visually arresting, complex and completely hypnotizing, Diao Yinan’s mobster-on-bikes tale is a dazzling and exuberant take on comradeship, rivalry and revenge. A mysterious woman is sent to capture a gangster on the run, after he accidentally kills a cop. They are part of a bloody, extremely violent theft-game to find out which family steals the most motorcycles in an underground operation. Seductive and engrossing, it’s a feast for the eyes, delivering this year’s most efficient and inventive cinematography.
The most celebrated Brazilian film of the decade, Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles’ ultra violent, hallucinating and politically-charged western is a mind-bending exploration on the current issues affecting the country. Smart and irreverent, the film brings together a bunch of eccentric figures, residents of the town of the title, ready for a brutal battle involving a water crisis and the mayor pursuing re-election. Among the metaphorical circus for this “soon-to-come” war, there are foreign and internal terrorists, social workers and doctors, a corrupt mayor, hookers, and other representations of Brazilian society dealing with political divisions. Superbly shot and edited, it’s an intense and gruesome portrait of a humble, yet fortified city ready to battle enemy forces.
A GIRL MISSING
After his wonderful hits “Hospitalite” and “Harmonium”, Japanese award-winning filmmaker Kôji Fukada returns to the family-crisis field with this sensitive, perceptive, yet bizarre modern take on the power of defamatory words. A lonely, middle-age nurse gets caught up in a net of obsession, perversion and deceit, when a member of the family she works for suddenly disappears, connecting her to high levels of suspicion. Centered on her reactions and delivering unexpected twists, the film is a gripping, shocking dramatic thriller, a satisfying and unique observation on two dysfunctional families, with an unforgettable, controversial performance by Mariko Tsutsui.
A confused Israeli soldier escapes his origins to rebuild his personality in Paris, in this marvelous, poetical and absurdist take on existentialism conceived by Nadav Lapid. A comically-charged and provocative look at the social disruptions caused by political borders, it follows the soldier’s journey as he ventures the city in search of identity and redemption. His joined by a pair of intellectuals and writers who help him pave his way to become a legal citizen. The result is a sharp and vigorous study of a complex character facing relocation in a collapsing society.
After his exquisite “Nocturama”, Bertrand Bonello returns with another raw, inclusive and accurate take on Millennials’ perspectives and behavior. Blending mysticism, social commentary, environmental issues, horror and teen drama, Bonello scores another goal with this efficient, Gothic-infused coming-of-age story. Mysteriously seductive, it depicts the strong and ambiguous bond of a group of girls forming a special club where they reveal their most dark secrets in order to prove loyalty. Their newest member is a Haitian refugee still in process of adaptation. The story connects past and present, the zombified culture in Haiti, its devastating earthquake, victims and survivors, the current refugee situation in Europe, all seen through the girls’ experiences. A powerful statement on prejudice and the quest for freedom and acceptance, Bonello extracts wickedly fascinating performances from the young cast, while guiding the audience through a haunting experience.
TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH
Contemporary Japanese master Kiyoshi Kurosawa journeys through Uzbekistan, as an eccentric TV-show crew struggles to shoot an episode on the country’s culture and history. Meditative and funny at the same time, it centers on the cultural clash of the show’s host, a naive young woman longing for her firefighter boyfriend, as she courageously experiences the extremes of the place. A representation for intolerance and oppression against women, the film brilliantly introduces a clan of decisive figures traversing the crew’s path, especially the defenseless host, to picture an era of social misunderstandings. Kurosawa composes a crowd-pleasing, wild and unpredictable comedy of manners.
I WAS HOME, BUT…
German director Angela Schanelec’s latest is an emotionally-charged family drama about a mother’s personal crisis after a series of miscommunications with her children. One of them disappears for a week, and as he returns home, a wave of stirring, disturbed, anxious and sorrowful reactions take over the adults. Extremely sensitive, profound and observational, it’s a subtle and enigmatic commentary on loss and family disconnections.
Prolific Romanian filmmaker Corneliu Porumboiu returns with his most cynical and slapstick film-to-date. He gathers a clan of morally-broken detectives and mobsters, in a furious operation to set free a millionaire gangster. Centered on the negotiations done by agent Cristi (Vlad Ivanov) as he mingles in both sides, it introduces the Canary Island of La Gomera’s tribal language made of whistling, as he’s instructed to communicate with it. Through reckless characters and unpredictable situations, as well as his usual sharpness, Porumboiu crafts a deliriously funny satire on corruption and capitalism.
The great Gong Li gives a ravishing performance as a famous actress working as a spy in Japanese-occupied Shanghai. Sumptuously shot in a thick, expansive and enthralled B&W, director Lou Ye gathers important historic facts, cultural tendencies, perspectives and effects of war, as barriers to be defied through art and liberation. Impressively structured as a romantic action thriller, it’s a triumphant and original look at love in times of war.