6. Sunset – Laszlo Nemes
A beautiful film set in pre-WW 1 in Budapest, Hungary by Oscar-winning Hungarian Director, Laslo Nemes. (for his debut film “Son of Saul”.)
The female protagonist, Irisz Later (Juli Jakab), emerges from an orphanage to seek a job in one of the most famous and elegant stores in pre-World War 1 Hungary. This is no regular “job interview”. A larger than life burning mystery is at the core of the story from the beginning, as the audience discovers the iconic high-end hat shop belonged to the protagonist’s parents. The parents died in a bizarre fire. When Irisz finds out from people’s elusive suggestions and rumors, that she had a brother who killed an aristocrat, the protagonist is dead set to discover who exactly the brother is and what happened to him.
As in Nemes’s previous film, “Son of Saul” or in Roman Polanski’s “Chinatown”, when the protagonist has to elucidate a very complex scheme of corruption and deception, the camera sticks to the protagonist and follows her everywhere. To sustain and amplify the burning suspense, we hear mysterious whispers from characters in the background or even characters who emerge for a second from the off-screen space and pass through the background for mere seconds. The photography is stunning, evocative and has a spectacular interplay of very well-lit areas and darker corners.
But what does all that fascinating mise en scene represent? Is it a lucid denunciation of pre-WW 1 cruelty, corruption, and decadence in the Austrian-Hungarian Empire that led to post-WW 1 social convulsions in Hungary? Is it just a complex neo-noir mystery of incredible magnitude and endless layers that won’t reveal itself easily to an outsider? Is it just a beautifully choreographed paranoid trip?
To decide you have to see the film. And believe me, it won’t be an easy decision.
7. Skin – Guy Nattiv
Granted, at first, the story can sound like some terminal cliché article taken from “Readers’ Digest” or some crazed tabloid.
“Skin” is indeed a true story. And it is a story of soul restoration and redemption. The protagonist, Bryon Widner is raised by surrogate parents, who happen to be the hardcore leaders of a white supremacist group from rural America. The emotional immersion in his girlfriend’s family – with three girls- precipitates in Byron some sort of existential epiphany.
Israeli Director Guy Nattiv directed a successful short based on a very similar tragic story/ cautionary tale, which turned out to be an Oscar-winning short in 2019. Instead of some conventional real-life footage of white supremacist gatherings, visceral and rather horrifying raw energy scenes are preferred by Nattiv.
Newfound emotional comfort and meaning in life are found with his girlfriend and her 3 daughters, the Neo-Nazi ”family” comes after the protagonist. Once the protagonist gains awareness of the despicable nature of his views, the white supremacist group leaders, Fred (Bill Camp) and Sharren (Vera Farmiga) begin to threaten and blackmail him into rejoining the group.
8. The Wolf’s Call – Antonin Baudry
A submarine thriller-drama is an extremely atypical type of film in the current French cinema.
An “oreille d’or” – “a golden ear” is a crucial commodity on nuclear submarines. In deep immersions, submarines rely on human discernment and finesse for interpretation of sonar obtained data.
Cahnteraide, the young recruit played by Francois Civil, has seemingly an infallible ear for the almost undetectable sounds and is able to indicate with almost 100% accuracy. their source. Upon committing the only error of his career, the protagonist places in grave danger the life of the whole crew. Upon returning to land, he becomes obsessed with identifying the unprecedented sound that led to a misjudgment with potentially grave consequences.
The cast is spectacular: Mathieu Kassowitz, Omar Sy, Reda Kateb. The romantic subplot – the relation between the protagonist and girlfriend, who, of course, is not supposed to know much about her boyfriend secretive activities for the French Navy, certainly seems forced.
As the budget is an extremely rare 20mil euros for European productions, probably the intention was to solidify the empathy and character development of the protagonist and ensure some degree of box office success through international distribution.
This might sound like a Pablo Coelho type of cheap fairy tale or feel-good story but it is completely real: the film was directed by a former French diplomat – ex-adviser on cultural affairs for the French Embassy in the US, turned successful comic book author and eventual first-time film director of a 20mil euros film budget.
A feat requiring some top-notch diplomatic connections and unprecedented pitching flair!
9. Long Day’s Journey Into Night – Gan Bi
A magnificent film. A sensual experience. A masterpiece.
Luo Hongwu returns to his native city of Kaily, in southeast China to look for a woman that fascinated him many years ago. The protagonist’s journey is not just a “coming home” story but also a superb and haunting descending in the protagonist’s past and soul.
One of the many fascinating aspects of this indisputable masterpiece is that several easily recognizable influences coalesce into a mesmerizing and organic whole. Certainly, on a stylistic level. Tarkovsky’s glass of water on the table vibrating due to the passing of some remote train in “Stalker”, Wong Khar Wai’s sensual and elegant long traveling’s conveying an introspective mood, the loudly assumed Eugene O’Neil’s famous title “Long Day’s Journey Into Night”.
The virtuoso 53 minutes long shot in the second part is one of the elements for which the film is recorded. To reduce such a hypnotic masterpiece, to even an amazingly choreographed 53min scene , would painfully mutilate a work of art, whose aesthetics and techniques already have become an instant classic and will be studied through the 21 century in film schools.
10. Arctic – Joe Penna
Mads Mikkelsen’s physical and still very nuanced performance as a guy stranded in the brutal Arctic environment is superb. The film is an adventure-drama with a simple story. Despite the rather black and white survival story, catchy visuals and Mikkelsen’s gravitas not only carry the film forward but offered a surprising Cannes official selection for Joe Penna’s debut feature.
Overgaard, the protagonist is already trapped in a merciless environment at the beginning of the film. After his SOS signs are being spotted, the pilot ready to land and save him has trouble landing due to high winds.
After a very rough landing, Odergaard, confronts itself himself with a life and death dilemma: a passive wait for help in the relatively safe inside of the plain but with the health of the female pilot deteriorating fast or the mission impossible of carrying a large through the desolate and glacial wilderness trying to make for the nearest base. (which is actually pretty far).
An entertaining condensation of man against nature motifs and codes with one of the best working actors in the world delivering a very exciting performance.