Rotterdam 2018

The forty-seventh edition of the International Film Festival Rotterdam opens today and runs through February 4. Over a month ago now, we started tracking the lineup, which the IFFR unveiled bit by bit every few days, culminating with the publication of the full program just last week. So that entry now serves as an overview of a sprawling array of screenings, talks, performances, and delightful oddities such as Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s SLEEPCINEMAHOTEL, “where sleep and film, ghosts and imagination, the past and the present collide.”

Screen’s Tom Grater offers an extensive preview of this year’s edition, for which he’s spoken to IFFR director Bero Beyer, “who is optimistic about his third year at the helm of Europe’s 2018 festival curtain-raiser.” Beyer promises “at least one masterclass or talk per day” by the likes of Apichatpong, Sean Baker, Charlotte Rampling, Paul Schrader, and Lucrecia Martel.

Martin Kudlac talks with Beyer as well—twice. In his interview for Cineuropa, Beyer discusses, among other things, IFFR Unleashed, a new streaming service available throughout the year. “Yes, there will be films online; yes, you can become a member; and we will be adding films on a monthly basis to extend the catalogue. What is nice about this is not just that many of those films are hard to find elsewhere, but mostly that we try to give the same context and feel that the festival provides. So we are speaking about master classes, discussions, performances and other elements that give it a peripheral context and meaning. You will find them online as well.”

Kudlac’s talk with Beyer opens his preview of IFFR 2018 for the Notebook, wherein you’ll also find notes on some of the more notable world premieres rolling out over the next twelve days.

As reviews of those premieres and more roll in, we’ll naturally be making note of them here. In the meantime, you’ll find dozens and dozens of trailers on the IFFR’s YouTube channel. On this opening day, let me draw your attention to the one for Donal Foreman’s The Image You Missed (that’s a still at the top of this page), an essay executive produced by Nicole Brenez and Philippe Grandrieux in which, as he explains at his site, the “Irish filmmaker grapples with the legacy of his estranged father, the late American documentarian Arthur MacCaig, through MacCaig's decades-spanning archive of the conflict in Northern Ireland.” Update, 2/7: In the Hollywood Reporter,Neil Young finds Image to be an “engaging and quietly rewarding affair. . . . Working as his own editor, Foreman interpolates numerous excerpts from his father's globetrotting oeuvre (ten cinematographers are credited), all of which was uncompromisingly dedicated to chronicling and celebrating class struggles. These brief clips buzz with MacCaig's angry fervor and pay tribute to his skills at capturing the atmosphere of the places and times in front of his lenses: his still-photography is also, on this evidence, exceptional.”

Update, 1/25: At ScreenAnarchy, Ard Vijn notes that “the Rotterdämmerung program section is back, and with it a selection of genre films. One of them is Jung Byung-gil The Villainess, a revenge thriller which may be short on story and logic but more than makes up for it with some of the most exhilarating action scenes seen last year! Check Pierce Conran's review here.

Also, Hwang Dong-hyuk's The Fortress “is a lavishly decorated historical costume drama taking place in 17th-century Korea. There's a civil war, and the losing side is trapped within a seemingly invincible fortress. The winner and loser are known already, but both sides need to figure out what the best way is to end the war, and how much can still be lost. Pierce Conran called it a sublime political allegory in his review, if somewhat impenetrable.”

Updates, 1/26: “How is it possible that no one thought to warn Jesper Ganslandt that putting blond Swedes in the role of fleeing refugees, in order to make today’s humanitarian crisis more accessible to Westerners, was a really, really bad concept?” asks Jay Weissberg in Variety. “Good intentions make lousy paving stones, and in the case of Jimmie, the road leads to a seriously misguided place.” Update, 1/3:Jimmie feels like a half-finished film,” finds Roberto Oggiano at Cineuropa. “The noble intentions of the director, who tries to play on the consciences of Northern European bourgeois audiences, only end up posing further questions.”

At ScreenAnarchy, Martin Kudlac talks with Ian Lagarde about All You Can Eat Buddha, “a surreal fable anchored in an all-inclusive tropical resort.”

And for Cineuropa, Kudlac interviews Ruben Desiere, whose first narrative feature is The Flower Shop.

Updates, 1/27: “What’s left to invent in the overcrowded world of zombies?” asks Fabien Lemercier at Cineuropa. Dominique Rocher “finds clever solutions” with his debut feature, The Night Eats the World. “But how? By choosing minimalism, isolation and psychological survival behind closed doors, and by focusing on a character who becomes a kind of Robinson Crusoe in the heart of Paris, in a beautiful Haussmann building, while the streets below teem with zombies.”

In Fulvio Risuleo's debut feature, Look Up, set in Rome, Giacomo Ferrara plays “a boy with an Elvis-style quiff, a little matter-of-fact, who one morning goes up to the roof of the bakery where he works to smoke a cigarette and finds himself experiencing a very surreal day, dragged into a whirlwind of bizarre and surprising encounters.” Also at Cineuropa, Vittoria Scarpa finds that “if there is a common thread in this weird ninety-minute adventure, it's to be found precisely in its creative freedom, in the dreamy gaze of its author and in the invitation to use our imagination, to look up, over the rooftops of our cities, and beyond.”

Kudlac is back at ScreenAnarchy, talking with Ilian Metev about 3/4 and with Lisa Brühlmann about Blue My Mind.

Updates, 1/28: Guto Parente’s The Cannibal Club focuses on a rich married couple living on the Brazilian coast. “Octavio works and nitpicks,” writes Ard Vijn at ScreenAnarchy, “Gilda lounges at the pool all day. They’re bored with their excesses, they squabble, they get too drunk at endless parties. And . . . they get a naughty thrill out of murdering and eating their servants one-by-one, constantly replacing them with more poor fodder.”

The English is a little rough, but for desistfilm, Aldo Padilla writes about Lee Kwangkuk’s A Tiger in Winter and Leandro Listorti’s La película infinita.

Updates, 1/30: The first reviews of Jan Svankmajer’s Insect are coming in, and we’ve got a separate entry collecting them.

“Cultures clash with a reverberant clang in Azougue Nazaré, a promisingly energetic and distinctive first feature from Brazilian writer-director Tiago Melo,” writes Neil Young for the Hollywood Reporter. “Dramatizing the conflict between boisterous tribal-ritual spectacles and evangelical Christianity in the north-western state of Pernambuco, it’s a vibrant glimpse into the fascinating subculture of Maracatu—the elaborately-costumed performance-based carnival tradition with roots in Brazil’s slavery era.”

“Indonesian filmmaker Joko Anwar (Modus Anomali,A Copy of My Mind) continues his excursions into fantasy with Satan’s Slaves, an impressive remake of the 1982 occult thriller about a troubled family being terrorized by demons and zombies,” writes Richard Kuipers for Variety. “Set in 1981 and executed in a style recalling both European and U.S. indie supernatural chillers of the late ’70s and early ’80s, the new film is a creepy mood piece that falters only by telegraphing some of its jump scares.” Update, 2/4: It’s “a remake of a very successful Indonesian horror classic from 1982 by Sisworo Gautama Putra,” notes Ard Vijn at ScreenAnarchy. “In turn, Joko Anwar’s film has become wildly popular itself in Indonesia, and is currently on a victory tour through Asia.”

Wendy Ide’s been reviewing furiously for Screen:

  • On Alexey Fedorchenko’s Anna’s War: “A remarkable central performance from a six-year-old child carries pretty much the entirety of this nail-biting tale of wartime survival. Marta Kozlova is quietly devastating—quite literally, as she speaks not a single line of dialogue—in the role of a girl who regains consciousness in the mass grave in which she and her Jewish family had been interred. She manages to escape . . . and hides in the chimney of a school building which has been requisitioned by the Nazis. The child’s eye view brings a fantastical and sometimes bizarre quality to this lean, urgent story of resourcefulness born of desperation.” Update, 1/3: In the Hollywood Reporter,Jordan Mintzer finds that the film “never quite reaches the scope needed to make for a truly harrowing viewing experience. Still, this latest feature from Russian writer-director Aleksey Fedorchenko (Silent Souls) is marked by plenty of memorable images and a solid mastery of craft, even if the two are often at the service of a limited script.” Update, 2/7: “Every filmmaker seems to think they can make their Holocaust movie different from the rest,” writes Jay Weissberg for Variety, “yet almost all fall into the usual traps of emotional manipulation and sentimentalization, tripped up by the difficulties posed by the sheer banality of evil. Sadly, the whimsically idiosyncratic director Aleksey Fedorchenko and his distinctive storytelling techniques succumb to many of the genre’s pitfalls with this tedious tale.”
  • On The Reports on Sarah and Saleem: “A casual affair between a Palestinian man and an Israeli woman risks more than their respective marriages when they are caught together at the wrong place at the wrong time.” Director Muayad Alayan and writer Rami Musa Alayan’s second feature, “taut despite a slightly over-long running time, argues that a purely personal encounter is nigh on impossible when the backdrop is so explosively charged with political tensions.” Update, 1/3: For Jordan Mintzer in the Hollywood Reporter, “this well-acted sophomore feature somewhat overstretches its welcome in the second half, but still makes for a compelling drama in which the personal crosses paths with the political.” Update, 2/6: Writing for Variety,Jay Weissberg finds that “this frequently taut psychosocial drama with political thriller elements deftly conveys the tensions, both physical and mental, between West and East Jerusalem, showing how societal forces prevent any form of normalized relations between Israelis and Palestinians.”
  • On Amateurs: “A council initiative to create a promotional video for the small Swedish industrial town of Lafors prompts two teenage girls to create their own rival project. But while the council’s puff piece tries to airbrush out any hint of poverty and remove any non-white people from the frame, the phone footage opus created by Aida (Zahraa Aldoujaili) and Dana (Yara Aliadotter) captures the true spirit of the community, for better and for worse. Gabriela Pichler’s sophomore feature (following 2012’s Eat Sleep Die) is a feisty delight, combining fizzing energy with finely crafted characters and a light-footed approach.” Update, 2/6: Writing for the Hollywood Reporter,Neil Young finds that “Pichler and her fellow screenwriter Jonas Hassen Khemiri never quite find a way to balance their story's comical and more downbeat flavors, while the efforts of three credited editors (including Pichler) only end up making the results feel even more disjointed.”
  • On Djon Africa: “Documentary duo João Miller Guerra and Filipa Reis draw heavily on their background in factual filmmaking for their heady fiction feature debut, which takes as its jumping off point the real life situation of Miguel Moreira,” who “travels back to Cape Verde in an attempt to track down the father he has never met.” Update, 2/7: “Miller Guerra and Reis take their stylistic cues from their happy-go-lucky main character,” writes Neil Young for the Hollywood Reporter. “Deploying hand-held camerawork, they unobtrusively conjure and largely manage to maintain a pleasant mood of seductive sensuality.”
  • On Nina: “A stale marriage and disappointment over her failure to have children are now just things that Nina (Julia Kijowska) takes for granted. But then she meets Magda (Eliza Rycembel), a free-spirited young lesbian who Nina and her husband hope will agree to being a surrogate mother to their child. Nina finds herself attracted to Magda . . . While first-time director Olga Chajdas handles the erotic content with confidence, the storytelling is a little uneven and a slightly soapy approach undermines the film’s attempts at emotional honesty.” Update, 1/3: For Roberto Oggiano at Cineuropa, Nina takes on “a political dimension that owes a lot to the cinema of Godard and his Contempt, which is mentioned in the film several times.” Update, 2/6: For Jay Weissberg, writing for Variety, “the film’s bold perspective gets subsumed under a deluge of unanswered questions and flawed logic.”

Alfonso Rivera for Cineuropa on Fabrizio Ferraro’s Les Unwanted de Europa: “Shadows are essential to the narrative in this beautiful and eloquent black and white film, helping us to understand the dark disorientation of the characters on either side of the Franco-Spanish border, hoping to find salvation on the horizon. On the Spanish side, republicans flee Franco. On the French side, citizens flee the Nazis.”

“The first feature by Danish filmmaker of Korean descent Malene Choi, The Return is a docudrama hybrid,” writes Vladan Petkovic at Cineuropa, “As an ostensibly autobiographical work, it is a sensitive film that tackles the themes of identity and culture gaps through protagonists of Korean descent who grew up in the West and are now coming to Seoul in search of their origins.”

Thunska Pansittivorakul and Harit Srikhao’s documentary Homogeneous, Empty Time is about the period after “the King dies and the military junta seems to take the control of a country with a massive population that moves between oriental capitalism, the radical Buddhist tradition and the mix of religions that inhabit the country,” writes Aldo Padilla for desistfilm.

Updates, 1/31: “A tender tribute to louche losers and last-chance saloons everywhere, Pedro Diogenes and Guto Parente's My Own Private Hell (Inferninho) unfolds almost entirely within the confines of the seedy, gay-friendly Brazilian bar which provides its Portuguese-language title,” writes Neil Young for the Hollywood Reporter. “Cramped in terms of setting and budget alike, it's a miniature with a big heart.”

For Cineuropa, Vitor Pinto reviews Susana Nobre’s Ordinary Time, which focuses on real-life couple Marta and Pedro and their real-life baby, Clara. It’s “its own hybrid nature: real sets, real sound and non-professional actors saying scripted lines. . . . Time may go by slowly as you watch it, but once you allow yourself to dive into it, the invitation to decelerate becomes irresistible, and the film grows into a pleasant, contemplative experience.”

Also at Cineuropa, Alfonso Rivera talks with Alberto Gracia, director of The Wandering Star, and then reviews the film, noting that, though “its narrative thread has a more recognizable structure” than Gracia’s The Fifth Gospel of Kaspar Hauser (2103), “a whole host of bizarre, symbolic and even enigmatic elements run wild throughout its running time of just over one hour.”

Updates, 1/3: The awards have been presented, and if you want to see what the juries have to say about their selections, click here. Below, the complete list with links to each of the film’s pages at the IFFR site:

  • Hivos Tiger Award: The Widowed Witch, directed by Cai Chengjie
  • Special Jury Award: Screenplay for The Reports on Sarah and Saleem, written by Rami Alayan (directed by Muayad Alayan); see the reviews above
  • Bright Future Award: Azougue Nazaré, Tiago Melo
  • Bright Future Special Mention: The Return, Malene Choi Jensen
  • VPRO Big Screen Award: Nina, Olga Chajdas
  • IFFR Audience Award: The Guilty, Gustav Möller; reviews
  • Hubert Bals Fund Audience Award: The Reports on Sarah and Saleem, Muayad Alayan
  • Voices Short Audience Award: Joy in People, Oscar Hudson
  • FIPRESCI Award: Balekempa, Ere Gowda
  • KNF Award: Zama, Lucrecia Martel; reviews
  • NETPAC Award: Nervous Translation, Shireen Seno
  • IFFR Youth Jury Award: The Guilty, Gustav Möller
  • Found Footage Award: Newsreel 63 – The Train of Shadows, Nika Autor

CineMart has announced its awards as well:

  • Eurimages Co-Production Development Award: Mitra, Kaweh Modiri
  • Filmmore Post-Production Award: Electrocute, Gastón Solnicki
  • ARTE International Prize: A White, White Day, Hlynur Pálmason
  • Wouter Barendrecht Award: Disco Afrika, Luck Razanajaona

“Brimming with imagination, at face value Bertrand Mandico’s debut feature-length film Les Garçons Sauvages might look like it is all style and no substance,” writes Marc van de Klashorst for the International Film Society. “But its wild ride, and even wilder imagery, belies a fairly straightforward tale of transformation and stasis that has something to say about the immutability of the human psyche.” And Martin Kudlac interviews Mandico for ScreenAnarchy.

On that same page at the ICS, Marc van de Klashorst also reviews:

  • David Verbeek’s An Impossibly Small Object, “a puzzling film, as it is not exactly clear why the two stories are connected, and especially not why one of the stories has to center around the filmmaker in a fictional setting”
  • Antonio Méndez Esparza’s Life and Nothing More, which “offers only a slice-of-life look at black communities and the devastating effect mass incarceration of the men has on them”
  • Alberto Monteras’s Respeto, which uses “the hip hop subculture of Manila to create a canvas for critique on the current political situation under authoritarian president Rodrigo Duterte”
  • Chloé Zhao’s The Rider (see the entry at Critics Round Up)
  • Ruben Gutiérrez’s Drown Among the Dead, “a fragmented narrative that deals, on the abstract plane, with the Sisyphean nature of life”
  • Lisa Brühlmann’s Blue My Mind, which “starts as a solid but unspectacular entry into the ‘coming of age’ genre, but nosedives into low-quality body horror”; more from Tom Kiesecoms at ScreenAnarchy, calling it “a confident, full-bodied portrayal of adolescence and its fearful insecurities”

Aldo Padilla at desistfilm on Marina Meliande’s Mormaço: “There’s an idea of transversality that goes through the film, since the lead character, an upper-class female lawyer who lives in a building soon to be converted in a luxury hotel, and the group of people she helps, are in constant threat due to the eviction of their homes. This transversality looks for a kind of empathy between classes in a moment in which corruption and misrule reign in Brazil. Although the film is not very subtle about how the lead characters confront the evictions, something of value can be found in the fantastic allegories that are posed as the only way of escape in front of imminent destruction.”

For Film Comment,Jordan Cronk talks with Apichatpong Weerasethakul about SLEEPCINEMAHOTEL (14’45”).

Updates, 2/4: For Sight & Sound,Matt Turner writes about his experience in SLEEPCINEMAHOTEL:

I think about the hotel room seen in one of Apichatpong’s short films, Emerald (2008), a serene, silent space, haunted by floating particles (or are they feathers?) and friendly spectres; or the room in M Hotel (2011), a paradisal zone where two men take pictures of each other, playfully posing with pillows, safe and alone together.
I think also about his more recent projects such as Fireworks (Archives) (2014), where the projection occupies more than the screen, sending ghostly flickers dancing around the gallery space, illuminating dark corners and casting shadows over those in the room; or Fever Room (2016-), a project pushing further beyond the container of the frame, part performance, part projection, part three-dimensional light show. Is this room I’m in—where the viewers are part of the performance in a way, shadow-silhouettes cutting sleep-shapes in front of projected backdrops—an extension of these ideas? Is it an attempt to redefine what theatrical space might look like, or just a nice place to kip? Both, I suppose.

“Love is not necessarily all you need in The Heart, a modern-day Swedish romance about a couple who has a hard time staying together despite their mutual affection,” writes Jordan Mintzer in the Hollywood Reporter. “Written and directed by and starring Fanni Metelius (Force Majeure), who plays an art student trying to make it with her musician beau (newcomer Ahmed Berhan), this well-acted two-hander doesn’t feel like anything new under the sun, although it has a nice level of emotional honesty and never shies away from the touchier sides of relationships.”

Update, 2/7: Dispatching back to the Notebook, Daniel Kasman writes that he “greatly appreciated two particular sections”:

“A History of Shadows,” programmed by Gustavo Beck and Gerwin Tamsma, served as a kind of ideal festival-inside-the-festival, creating a theme, admittedly broad—movies that question the past, our position in it and understanding of it—that allowed them to present not only premieres (Giovanni Donfrancesco’s excellent Il risoluto) and strong highlights from 2017’s festival circuit (Robert Schwentke’s wicked The Captain), but, crucially, an eclectic array of revival screenings (Jaime Chávarri’s caustic 1976 El desencanto). But the most enlightening program of films at Rotterdam for this critic was without a doubt “House on Fire,” a small but potent selection of films from Tamil Nadu. Curated by Olaf Möller . . . , this section posited a new wave of films from this south Indian state which now bests Bollywood in terms of features produced—a daunting context nearly impossible to reconcile with the necessarily limited number of films that could be shown at the festival. Nevertheless, the selection shown was indeed uniformly youthful, energetic, and fun, frequently angry, delightfully playful, and always deeply politically convicted commercial cinema.

Update, 2/8: Writing for Art Agenda, Matt Turner focuses on “the experimental films of Zhou Tao” and the program “Pan-African Cinema Today.”

Update, 2/15: This was Chloé-Galibert-Laîné’s first IFFR experience and, writing for desistfilm, she focuses on films wherein “different modes of images would rub against each other within one single narrative: surveillance footage and YouTube videos (Dragonfly Eyes by Xu Bing), footage of real violence and staged fictional scenes (Tesnota by Kantemir Balagov and Permanent Green Light by Dennis Cooper and Zac Farley), national and family archives (The Image You Missed by Donal Foreman), and many other combinations. These attempts are fascinating, because they somehow reenact our everyday experience of viewing images on social media: pictures and videos are delivered to us in a single thread in which photos of friends, bloody reports from distant countries and lurid advertisements are juxtaposed without contributing to any consistent narrative. But in these movies, the juxtaposition isn’t random, it is carefully designed. These films are consciously well-arranged clusters of images in the entropic chaos of contemporary media. And yes, for someone who has spent a lot of energy over the past months trying to make sense of algorithm- generated fluxes, engaging with audiovisual objects that result from the conscience of identified, presumably trustworthy human beings constitutes an extraordinary relief.”

Update, 2/18: Penny Lane’s The Pain of Others is a “found-footage, experimental doc, which despite being compiled of YouTube videos and newsreels, feels dense enough to require a dissertation on delusion, suffering and this digital age,” writes Kiva Reardon for Filmmaker.

Updates, 2/22: “While my sampling of this year’s program—about thirty-five features and a handful of short and medium-length films in seven days—was pleasing and occasionally even invigorating, the artistic identity of the festival still clearly remains in transition,” writes Jordan Cronk for Film Comment:

But then Rotterdam has long combated many of its potential handicaps—including its somewhat unfortunate calendar position, ending just days before the Berlinale, the year’s first major showcase of high-profile international cinema—by focusing on young, often experimentally minded filmmakers, while putting generous effort into their retrospective programming and project development division, the Hubert Bals Fund. While we’re still likely a few years away from Rotterdam regaining a foothold among the elite European film festivals—becoming again the kind of gathering that helped introduce directors such as Lav Diaz, Takashi Miike, and Carlos Reygadas to international audiences—the 2018 edition was another step in the right direction.

“One thing Rotterdam is never lacking in,” writes Travis Jeppesen for Artforum, “is ambition; as the first event of every calendar year for cinéastes the world over, it is a vital tone-setter not only for assessing the zeitgeist, but for determining what is to come next: the present continuous. Many overlapping themes were proffered, but ultimately, filmmaking with a social conscience ruled the day.”

Update, 3/18: “IFFR benefits from and suffers for its size, in mostly predictable ways,” writes Darren Hughes for Filmmaker. “For attendees, the thrill of discovery can be a sustaining pleasure, but, inevitably, the hit-to-miss ratio is a drag. To be clear, the uneven quality of films at Rotterdam is baked into its business model, which privileges premieres and undiscovered filmmakers and requires a lot of seats be filled over twelve days. Given IFFR’s place on the festival calendar, sandwiched between Sundance and Berlin, the model makes a certain sense.”

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