Report by Patrick Compton
The best of European cinema comes to Durban next month in the shape of the fourth European Film Festival at Gateway Nouveau from May 5 to 14.
This year’s festival, co-ordinated by the Goethe-Institut South Africa, features 12 films including the highly praised German comedy, Toni Erdmann, an award-winning performance by the incomparable Isabelle Huppert in Things to Come, Andrea (Fish Tank) Arnold’s latest movie, American Honey, and a documentary on the life of the distinguished writer Stefan Zweig.
Another fascinating prospect is Strike a Pose, a Dutch documentary about “Madonna’s men”, the male dancers who served to consolidate the pop icon’s message and status as an outspoken advocate for LGBT-rights.
Festival director Katarina Hedrén, who returns as the curator for the second time, is delighted with the choices. “With this year’s selection which includes films of different genres, textures and moods, the aim is to entertain, amuse and offer opportunities for reflection, new discoveries and recognition,” she says. “The theme binding the films together is cinematic excellence through acclaimed and award-winning films from 12 European countries.”
The line-up is:
STEFAN ZWEIG: FAREWELL TO EUROPE (Austria)
Director: Maria Schrader
Cast: Tómas Lemarquis, Barbara Sukowa, Josef Hader
Genre: Drama. 106 min: German, English, Portuguese, French Spanish with English Subtitles (2016)
Actress-come-director Maria Schrader’s second feature film recounts the last years of Austrian novelist and playwright Stefan Zweig’s life, which he spent exiled in the Americas, away from the World War 2. The movie was Austria’s entry to the Oscar for Best Foreign Film. The film won Schrader the award for Best Direction at the Bavarian Film Awards (2017) and Josef Hader the award for Best Actor by the German Film Critics Association (2017).
KING OF THE BELGIANS (Belgium)
Directors: Peter Brosens and Jessica Woodworth
Cast: Peter Van den Begin, Lucie Debay, Bruno Georis, Pieter van der Houwen
Genre: Comedy. 94 min: Flemish, French, English, Bulgarian with English subtitles (2016)
On a state visit to Turkey, the dutiful but uninspired King Nicolas III of Belgium learns of a coup back home (the Walloons have declared themselves fed up and independent). Prevented from going back by air, but filled with a renewed sense of purpose, the king embarks on an unorthodox road trip through the Balkans, accompanied by his reluctant aides and led by a resourceful British documentary filmmaker, initially commissioned to improve the dull monarch’s image. This thoughtful and hilarious drama was awarded by the Circle of Dutch Film Journalists at Rotterdam International Film Festival and has screened at Venice and Hamburg Film Festivals.
THE HIGH SUN (Croatia)
Director: Dalibor Matanic
Cast: Tihana Lazovic, Goran Markovic, Nives Ivankovic
Genre: Drama. 123 min: Croatian with English subtitles (2015)
Three love stories, unfolding in two Balkan villages over three consecutive decades – in 1991, 2001 and 2011 – and featuring the same key cast, capture the moods of each time – from the initial sense of doom, via the determination to survive and rebuild, to the dream of leaving the past behind though wounds are still festering.
Skillful writing coupled with stellar direction and performances has seen The High Sun and Matanic win numerous awards, among them, Un Certain Regard Jury Prize at Cannes (2015), The International Confederation of Art Cinemas at Sarajevo Film Festival (2015), Best Artistic Contribution at Cairo International Film Festival (2015) and the Slovenian Art Cinema Network’s award for Best Film (2015).
THINGS TO COME (France)
Director: Mia Hansen-Love
Cast: Isabelle Huppert, André Marcon, Roman Kolinka
Genre: Drama. 102 min: French, German, English, with English subtitles (2016)
Isabelle Huppert is as brilliant as ever in her portrayal of philosophy teacher Nathalie Chazeaux. As Nathalie is trying to carve out a new direction in life during student demonstrations, she is challenged by the questioning of her intellectual relevance, the end of key relationships and becoming a grandmother. Her former star student Fabien then unexpectedly becomes both a compassionate friend and a fervent intellectual sparring partner.
Things to Come has screened at numerous film festivals and won Hansen-Love the Silver Bear for Best Director at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2016. Isabelle Huppert’s performance won her several awards for Best Actress, including from The New York Film Critics Circle and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association.
TONI ERDMANN (Germany)
Director: Maren Ade
Cast: Sandra Hüller, Peter Simonischek, Michael Wittenborn
Genre: Drama. 162 min: German with English subtitles (2016)
In Ade’s outlandish and outstanding third feature, eccentric music teacher, father and practical-joker Winfried Conradi joins his corporate-ladder climbing daughter Ines in Bucharest following his dog’s death. In an effort to rekindle family bonds, he infiltrates the multinational firm she works for, disguised as the life coach Toni Erdmann.
Toni Erdmann was Germany’s submission for the 2017 Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film. It was also nominated for the Golden Globes and the BAFTAs (2017), the FIPRESCI prize at Cannes 2016, the German Film Critics Association Awards for Best Film, Best Screenplay and Best Edit and several International Cinephile Society Awards.
THE QUEEN OF IRELAND (Ireland)
Director: Conor Horgan
Cast: Declan Buckley, Phillip McMahon, Una Mullally
Genre: Documentary. 86 min: English (2015)
Horgan’s heartfelt documentary tells about the life and activism of Irish drag queen Pandora Panti Bliss. Born in Ireland in the late 1960s and instrumental in revolutionizing the Irish LGBT-scene, the charismatic, sharp and outspoken performer Rory O'Neill almost seems destined to play an influential role at the time of the 2015 Irish referendum for marriage equality rights. The film traces Panti’s spectacular career, public controversies as well as more personal aspects of Rory O’Neill’s life.
The Queen of Ireland has screened at film festivals across the world and won awards for Best Film and Best Documentary presented by Dublin Film Critics Circle.
SWEET DREAMS (Italy)
Director: Marco Bellocchio
Cast: Bérénice Bejo, Valerio Mastandrea, Fabrizio Gifuni
Genre: Drama. 134 min: Italian with English subtitles (2016)
The course of celebrated Italian author and journalist Massimo Gramellini’s entire life changes on the day his mother dies. Sheltered by his well-meaning but distant father, the nine-year old is left to deal with the void as best as he can. Partly in denial and partly kept in the dark, Massimo grows up in a rapidly changing Italy. Though his professional star is fast rising, he remains stuck emotionally until the day he is asked to reply to the letter of a newspaper reader in distress.
Based on Gramellini’s autobiography, this cinematic gem opened the Directors Fortnight at Cannes 2016 and won the International Cinephile Society’s Award for best film not released in 2017.
STRIKE A POSE (Netherlands)
Director: Ester Gould, Reijer Zwaan
Cast: Luis Camacho, Oliver S. Crumes III, Salim Gauwloos, Jose Gutierez, Kevin Stea, Carlton Wilborn and Gabriel Trupin
Genre: Documentary. 83 min: English (2016)
When seven young men became Madonna’s backup dancers for her legendary Blond Ambition world tour in 1990, their lives changed. The documentary Truth or Dare – shot as they travelled the world – helped cement Madonna’s status as an icon and one of that time’s most prominent voices for gay rights and AIDS-prevention. The cost for the superstar’s outspokenness was paid by those who returned to normal life once the dream was over. Dutch documentarians, Gould and Zwaan, give voice to these men. Strike a Pose has screened at the Tribeca Film Festival and Hot Docs. It won the Jury Award for Best LGBT-film at the Key West Film Festival (2016) and was the runner-up for the Panorama Audience Award at Berlin International Film Festival (2016).
Director: Agnieszka Holland and Kasia Adamik
Cast: Agnieszka Mandat-Grabka, Wiktor Zborowski, Jakub Gierszal
128 min: Polish with English subtitles (2017)
This scenic and original mother-and-daughter directed thriller tells of part-time school teacher, retired civil engineer and passionate animal-lover, Janina Duszejko, who lives alone in a village where hunting is the preferred pastime of the small community’s big men. When one by one, these prominent pillars of society are found dead, without any trace of a perpetrator, the question on everybody’s mind is, “Who or what did it?”
Three-times Oscar-nominated director Agnieszka Holland (Europa Europa) returns with a fresh film, based on a novel, which she calls “a fairytale about anger” and which competed for the Golden Bear at Berlin International Film Festival (2017).
GAME OF CHECKERS (Portugal)
Director: Patrícia Sequeira
Cast: Ana Nave, Ana Padrão, Fátima Belo, Maria João Luís, Rita Blanco
Genre: Drama. 87 min: Portuguese with English subtitles (2016)
Five close friends gather after the passing of their common friend Martha at a tourist resort that the deceased was about to open. The group spends the entire night after Martha’s wake reminiscing, eating, drinking, smoking, opening up old wounds, and revealing secrets, in addition to alternately forgiving and judging one another. When the morning comes, the question of the women’s future friendship remains open.
Experienced TV-director Patrícia Sequeira’s first feature has won several awards, including Los Angeles Movie Awards for Best Narrative Feature, Best International Film and Best Actress (2016) and Cyprus International Film Festival’s awards for Best Director, Best Leading Actress and Best Script in a First Feature (2016).
ZIP & ZAP AND THE CAPTAIN’S ISLAND (Spain)
Director: Oskar Santos
Cast: Elena Anaya, Carolina Lapausa, Teo Planell, Tom Wilton, Toni Gómez
Genre: Drama (children’s’ adventure) PG +8. 105 min: Spanish with English subtitles (2016)
When the unruly brothers Zip and Zap commit an unusual offence, they are sentenced to a boring family boat trip with their parents. At least that is what it seems like. Stranded at a remote and mysterious island after a storm, they are invited to stay with Miss Pam, whose home is a children’s paradise with no rules. At first pleased, their parents’ sudden disappearance begins to bother Zip and Zap, who set out to find them together with their newfound friends Flecky and Macky.
The visually stunning second feature film about comic book heroes Zip and Zap has screened at BFI London Film Festival (2016) as well as Miami Film Festival and the Audi Dublin International Film Festival in 2017.
AMERICAN HONEY (UK)
Director: Andrea Arnold
Cast: Sasha Lane, Shia LaBeouf, Riley Keough
Genre: Drama. 163 min: English (2016)
Acclaimed British director Andrea Arnold returns with a road-movie set in the US Midwest. The film tells of drifting teenager Star who joins a crew of wayward magazine-selling youth led by the uncompromising Krystal (played by Elvis Presley’s granddaughter Riley Keough). Under the guidance of the older and seductive Jake, the strong-minded Star is expected to master the art of selling magazine subscriptions to a wide variety of people, using whatever is at hand.
Among its achievements are the Jury Prize at Cannes (2016), the FIPRESCI Prize at Stockholm Film Festival (2016) as well as awards for Best Independent Film, Best Director, Best Actress and Outstanding Achievement in Craft for cinematography at the British Independent Film Awards (2016). It was nominated for a BAFTA for Outstanding British Film of the Year.
Gateway programme (note that each film will be shown only once):
May 5: Strike a Pose (17h30); Things to Come (20h30)
May 6: Zip & Zap and the Captain’s Island (17h30); American Honey (20h30)
May 7: King of the Belgians (17h30); Sweet Dreams (20h30)
May 12: Game of Checkers (17h30); The Queen of Ireland (20h30)
May 13: Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe (17h30); The High Sun (20h30)
May 14: Spoor (17h30); Toni Erdmann (20h30)
Booking is open with tickets priced at R64. For more information, visit www.cinemanouveau.co.za or www.sterkinekor.com. For queries, contact Ticketline on 0861 668437. Normal benefits and ticket discounts apply to members of SK Club, Discovery Vitality and Edgars Club loyalty programmes. Note that Cinema Nouveau has moved to Gateway Commercial. – Patrick Compton