6. Broker (Hirokazu Kore-eda)
A new film from Japanese maestro Hirokazu Kore-eda is always cause for celebration — doubly so if its spearheaded by the great Song Kang-ho, who took home Best Actor honors at Cannes for his stellar performance. In ‘Broker’, he plays a child trafficker who claims unwanted orphan babies to then sell them on the black market for profit. Before you get your back up, rest assured; there’s always more than meets the eye when it comes to Kore-eda’s ragtag groups of misfits. In many ways, his first Korean production plays like a sort of greatest hit album; juggling themes of child abandonment, regret and makeshift families with the same delicacy, wit and tenderness he’s accustomed us to.
For those well versed in his work, all of this might smack of déjà vu. Fortunately, Kore-eda is talented enough to avoid redundancy even when charting familiar territory as his 2018 Palme d’Or winner. And make no mistake: ‘Broker’ might tread closer to crowd-pleasing syrupy than his usual bittersweet family dramas, but the film is so well-crafted and miraculously empathetic that it’s easy to brush off any small gripes once the credits roll.
‘Broker’ opens on December 26 from NEON.
7. Both Sides of the Blade (Claire Denis)
There was never any doubt that a new Claire Denis joint would take my breath away, but ‘Both Sides of the Blade’ is the kind of film that shatters your heart into a million pieces and forces you to put all the pieces back together. The veteran French director said during a press conference that the idea of love being linked to youth was pitiful, and that it was about time someone broke down taboos. It’s certainly easier to do so when you enjoy such a mutual understanding with your actors the way she does with Juliette Binoche, who had quite a busy trip to San Sebastián herself presenting this romantic thriller, Christophe Honoré ‘Le Lycéen’ and accepting the Donostia Award.
‘Both Sides’ marks their third — and easily finest — collaboration to date, thrusting us into a middle-aged couple that swiftly implodes from within, spiraling into a thorny love crucible. Opposite to Binoche is Vincent Lyndon, who follows up his unforgettable turn in Julia Ducournau’s ‘Titane’ with another poignant performance as a heartsore cuckold. Watching these two heavyweight actors feed off each other and engage in a whirlwind of jealousy and betrayal before drifting further and further apart has been one of the hardest pills to swallow in this festival.
‘Both Sides of the Blade’ is screening at select theaters and is available to rent on VOD.
8. As Bestas (Rodrigo Sorogoyen)
Debuting out of competition in the Cannes Première section before picking up the prize for Best European film at San Sebastián, Rodrigo Sorogoyen’s rural thriller delivered the biggest gut-punch of the week in an unsung triumph that evokes gnarly nail-biters like ‘Blood Simple’, ‘Prisoners’ and ‘Hell or High Water’.
‘As Bestas’ follows Antoine and Elga, a retired French couple who move to a seemingly peaceful little mountain village in the lushy North-western region of Spain to restore abandoned houses and practice agriculture. Simmering tensions begin to boil over once we learn about the disagreements with their unwelcoming neighbors regarding a lucrative wind turbine project. From that point on, things escalate and reach a point of no return, with Antoine forced to valiantly stand his ground while enduring the brutal hostility and resentment of the locals. The film weaves in an uncompromising critique of industrialism, economic progress and narrow-minded chauvinism, all wrapped-up in a gritty thriller that will certainly find welcoming audiences in the aftermath of this year’s festival.
‘As Bestas’ will continue its festival circuit in Tokyo (TIFF) and Chicago (CIFF) with select theatrical dates TBA.
9. Walk Up (Hong Sang-soo)
In terms of sheer consistency, few can compete with Korean master Hong Sang-soo. But most impressive to the breakneck pace in which he churns out films every year — this will be his fifth (!) since the pandemic started — is the fact that each one takes a delightful new perspective on his signature themes.
On many fronts, ‘Walk Up’ has all the hallmarks of a classic Hong film. Clocking in at 97 breezy minutes, the story itself offers less of a unified narrative and more of a bundle of quotidian, dialogue-heavy vignettes that seamlessly bleed into each other. We follow a womanizing well-known director and her estranged daughter as they pay a visit to an interior designer. Only when the film reaches its narrative impasse does it truly soars — observing the seemingly banal, every awkward human interaction, chronic dysfunction and languid repetition with candid insightfulness and shrewd humor.
Watching the main protagonist stumble through life and jump from fling to fling, one can’t help but imagine Hong having a quiet chuckle underneath it all. Though he’s always asserted that no character of his is 100% him, ‘Walk Up’ is the most self-interrogating movie he’s made yet — if also his funniest one too.
After having its premiere in Toronto and San Sebastián, Cinema Guild will open ‘Walk Up’ in theaters in 2023.
10. Crimes of the Future (David Cronenberg)
It can feel a bit old hat to praise the work of a renowned master such as David Cronenberg, but to take the 79-year-old for granted would be to lose sight of the fact that he’s been one of the most prolific filmmakers in the past half century, and we’re grateful to have him still knocking it out of the park. The body horror shockmeister was on everyone’s lips in San Sebastián as the latest recipient of the honorary Donostia award. “I used to think if you got an award for your whole career, they were basically saying enough, stop making films,” he said. “But I now realize it’s really to say: keep making them.”
If his latest exploration of the human flesh is anything to go by, it’s safe to say the old man still has it. ‘Crimes of the Future’ looks ahead to a near-future where biological mutation and the loss of painful sensations has enabled two performance artists (Viggo Mortensen and Lea Seydoux) who turn organ transformation into bold acts of self-expression. It’s classic Cronenberg fare, but it also feels refreshingly new and cautiously optimistic; almost hopeful in the inevitability of human transformation. It’s certainly not for the faint-hearted — yet again, would it really be a Cronenberg movie if it didn’t make us squirm and look away in disgust?
‘Crimes of the Future’ released in theaters on June 3 and is available to rent on VOD.