2015 has been a really fruitful year for European Cinema. The following list, as a short overview of the best European films released in 2015, presents movies from 15 different countries from Turkey, Greece, Croatia, Romania, Hungary through Poland, Germany, Spain, Italy, Great Britain, Ireland and France to Norway and Iceland.
1. The Lobster (Greece) – Yorgos Lanthimos
Yorgos Lanthimos is one of the greatest creators in new European cinema. What he creates is not only an absorbing story but a disturbing and bizarre reality. As the English-language debut of the Greek director, The Lobster is a story about love, solitude and cruelty. It is a great gloomy romance and social satire with a dash of dark humor.
In the opening sequence of the film we can see a donkey being shot by a woman. The setting is the near future where single people are marginalized and sent to the special Hotel. The main character David (Colin Farrell) is a guy who has been recently divorced. He is moving to the Hotel with his dog, which is actually his brother who has been transformed into dog for not being able to complete a 45-day programme of the Hotel.
To avoid turning into an animal, any Hotel resident has to find a matching partner among other residents. One of the main tasks in the Hotel is hunting for the Loners – rebels staying single in the woods. One day David decides to escape from the Hotel and join the Loners. There, he meets a girl and falls in love…
2. Youth (Italy) – Paolo Sorrentino
Youth ( Italian title: La giovinezza) is the second English – language film from critically acclaimed Italian director Paolo Sorrentino. It is the winner of the European Cinema Award for the Best Picture and was a nominee for for Golden Globe.
The story takes place in a holiday resort in Suisse Alps, where a retired British orchestra conductor Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine) spends his summer vacation for 25 consecutive years. The old man is accompanied by his lifelong friend, filmmaker Mick Boyle (Harvey Kitel) who is finalising his self-acclaimed greatest piece of his career and daughter Lena (Rachel Weisz) who is suddenly left by her husband – Boyle’s son.
This simple story about senility and youth is packed with references to pop – culture and celebrities – there is a pop – star Paloma Faith performing herself, an overweight Diego Maradona, Miss Universe and Queen Elisabeth II. The most noteworthy aspect of the Youth, like always in Sorentino’s case, is the visual effect of the movie – the breathtaking locations, beautiful interiors and sublime color grading.
It’s a visually stunning melancholy and a truly elegant fun that definitely can delight every cinema fan.
3. Son of Saul (Hungary) – Laszlo Nemes
Son of Saul ( Hungarian title: Saul fia) is an outstanding, remarkable debut feature by 38-year-old Hungarian director Laszlo Nemes. It’s an emotionally intense story about the unfathomable pain of the survivors of the horrific Holocaust.
The film is set in Auschwitz – Birkenau concentration camp in 1944. Eponymous Saul (Géza Röhrig) is a Hungarian Jew, one of many prisoners there.
He is a member of Sanderkommandos – men forced into carrying bodies from gas chambers to pyres to be burned and getting rid of the ashes. In exchange for his duty he receives slightly better food and a delay in his own execution.
This time among the dead, he finds the body of his murdered son. Saul is putting his life in risk to find the rabbi to give a proper, hidden burial to his beloved child. The story of Holocaust here becomes more personal and intimate than ever before, focusing on parenthood, pain and honor in this exceptionally difficult time.
Nemes’s drama was premiered at the 68th Cannes Festival where it won the Grand Prix. It was also the first Hungarian movie to win the Golden Globe award for The Best Foreign Language Film.
4. Victoria (Germany) – Sebastian Schipper
One city. One night. One set. Victoria is a great victory of German cinema. The viewer is taken here on a unique “sight-seeing” tour inside the picture palace. This two-and-a-half-hour movie is a specific voyage through Berlin.
The movie has been shot in a single, effective take placed all over Berlin. The technical aspects of the film are really impressive and breathtaking. But the biggest advantage of this film is lead performances from Laia Costa and Frederick Lau starring as Victoria and Sonne.
The film begins in techno club, where we can see Victoria dancing in neon lights. After leaving the place she meets a group of Berliners, offering her to join their night – out. One of them – Sonne strikes up an innocent flirtation. Than unexpectedly the movie turns into a disturbing crime drama with bank robbery and tragic finale.
5. Mustang (Turkey) – Denis Gamze Erguven
New Turkish cinema definitely belongs to Nuri Bilge Celyan, director of awarded Distant (2002), Three Monkeys (2008), Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011) and Winter Sleep (2014). Those more demanding cinema lovers may also know a few productions of Semih Kaplanoglu or Zeki Demirkubuz. But the truth is that turkish cinema industry has much more to offer at the moment. A great example is Mustang – the directorial debut of female author Denis Gamze Erguven.
This movie is not only a piece of good cinema but also or primarily a mirror of patriarchal society. It tells the story of five, orphaned sisters raised by their grandmother, aunt and uncle in Turkish seaside village.
In the opening sequence we can see some girls playing innocently with some boys at the beach. Quickly we find out that such ordinary activity is unacceptable in the society they belong to.
From then on, they are kept from leaving the house. Any clothing other than neuter, knee- high, dark dresses are prohibited when other people are around. They cannot use computer or phone anymore. The only thing girls need to focus on is to be suitable for arranged marriage.
The arrangements are made very quickly and sisters starts marrying off, one by one. The situation leads to multiple tragic events…
In 2015 Mustang won the European Film Award for European Discovery of the Year.
6. Love (France) – Gaspar Noe
Love is a drama written and directed by controversial French – Argentinian film maker Gaspar Noe – the author of well-known pictures such as Irreversible (2002) and Enter The Void (2009).
The film tells a story of Murphy – a young American photographer living in Paris and his affectionate romance with a girl called Electra. One day they decide to seek excitement by inviting their next door neighbour to bed. None of them is aware that it’s going to change their lives forever.
The film is built on restrospections of Murphy’s vivid erotic memories of his love story with Electra ,filled with long, slow scenes of real, non-staged sexual contacts accompanied by atmospheric rock soundtrack providing a provocative and strong imagery.
Vivid colours of the production design and soft intimate lighting with interesting closeup cinematography and 3-D make the viewer feel like experiencing the ecstasy along with the movie characters. As never seen in cinema before, Gaspar Noe produces an art-pornography image, spiced up with emotional mixture of love, hate, failed expectations, betrayal, guilt and regret, which evoke an empathy among all modern humans.
7. Rams (Iceland) – Grimur Hakonarson
The comedy drama Rams (orginal title: Hrútar) is a third feature movie of Icelandic film director and screen writer Grímur Hákonarson. The narrative of the movie seems to be slightly prosaic. It tells a story of two brothers living together in the Nothern, cold wilderness with raw and rural landscape.
Gummi (Sigurdur Sigurjónsson) and Kiddi (Theodor Júlíusson) are both sheep farmers. Despite being brothers they never talk to each other. The only comunication they make is by letters delivered from time to time by Kiddi’s sheepdog. At this year’s region most important event – the ram competition – a ram owned by Kiddi is announced the top prize winner overtaking the one owned by his brother by half a point. The incident is about to deepen aversion between the brothers but then all the farmers run into trouble when their sheeps are getting fatally sick…
Rams is a movie full of Icelandic spirit, dark humour, and deep – winter melancholy. The film premiered at Cannes won a Un Certain Regard Prize, was also shown at Vancouver, Toronto and Telluride festivals. It was also Iceland’s entry into the Oscars.