An animated feature about a severed hand scampering through Paris has won the top award at this year’s Critics’ Week. Directed by Jérémy Clapin, who’s been picking up awards at festivals around the world for the four short films he’s made over the past fifteen years, I Lost My Body was cowritten by Guillaume Laurant, known for his work with Jean-Pierre Jeunet. It’s the first work of animation to take the grand prize at the showcase of first and second features organized by the French Syndicate of Cinema Critics.
Based on Laurant’s 2006 novel Happy Hand, the film intercuts fast-paced action sequences depicting the hand warding off obstacles in its perilous journey back to its host with flashbacks to the troubled life of the young man it once belonged to, an immigrant from North Africa. “At once creepy and melancholic, I Lost My Body employs its unlikely horror scenario (Clapin doesn’t shy away from the gore, especially in the opening scenes) to channel something deeper and darker, going beyond the mere sensational to arrive at the personal,” writes Jordan Mintzer in the Hollywood Reporter.
At Cineuropa, Fabien Lemercier suggests that I Lost My Body could be “a very serious contender for Cannes’s Camera d’Or,” the festival’s award for a first feature premiering in its official selection, the Directors’ Fortnight, or Critics’ Week. Even if it doesn’t, Screen’s Lisa Nesselson notes that it “seems primed to break out beyond hardcore fans of animation much as equally singular My Life as a Courgette and The Red Tortoise did before it.”
This year’s jury, headed up by director Ciro Guerra (Embrace of the Serpent, Birds of Passage), has presented the second annual Rising Star award for an outstanding performance to Ingvar E. Sigurðsson for his turn as a police chief consumed by grief following the loss of his wife in Hlynur Pálmason’s A White, White Day. This is Pálmason’s second feature, following 2017’s Winter Brothers, an award winner in Locarno. “In a work that thrives on its attention to small, quiet gestures,” writes Leonardo Goi in the Notebook, “there is a whole film in the split-second Sigurðsson glances furtively around him before clutching an old shirt found inside a box of his wife’s belongings, and covers his face with it, breathing in.”
Qiu Yang’s She Runs, winner of the discovery prize for best short film, centers on a student trying to quit the aerobic dancing team at her school in a small town in China. And what a fine poster designer Midnight Marauder has created for the film.
Three organizations supporting Critics’ Week present awards each year. The Gan Foundation selects a top distributor, and this year they’re going for The Jokers Films, who’ll be sending Irish director Lorcan Finnegan’s Vivarium out to theaters in France. The comedy, starring Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots, “reimagines the suburbs as a dystopian blend of prison camp and incubation unit, where human couples are lured to act as surrogate parents to changeling children born somewhere deep inside the Twilight Zone,” writes Stephen Dalton in the Hollywood Reporter.
For Variety’s Owen Gleiberman, this “starkly minimalist sci-fi parable of dehumanization . . . leaves the audience every bit as numb as the characters are supposed to be.” But Screen’s Tim Grierson finds that Poots “keeps Vivarium from being just a coy, chilly intellectual exercise. She adds flesh and soul to what might be the film’s most disturbing notion: In some ways, we all become encased in the lives we have stumbled into.”
The SACD, the French writers’ guild, presents its award for best screenplay to writer-director César Díaz for Our Mothers. From 1960 to 1996, the civil war in Guatemala cost an estimated two hundred thousand lives, and anywhere between another forty to fifty thousand people went missing. Set in the present, Our Mothers concentrates on Ernesto, a young forensic archaeologist, and an indigenous woman whose story of torture, rape, and murder in her village in the early 1980s may help Ernesto solve the mystery behind the loss of his father. Screen’s Fionnuala Halligan notes that Díaz “has opted for a non-professional, mostly indigenous cast and he sets them in their natural locale, their expressions giving witness to the pain and suffering which they themselves have endured.”
Without Bad Intention, the tenth short film by Andrias Høgenni, a director from the Faroe Islands, depicts an awkward encounter between two friends at the supermarket and has won a nod from the French broadcaster Canal+.
The fifty-eighth edition of Critics’ Week will wrap tonight with Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains, the first entry in Gu Xiaogang’s projected trilogy, A Thousand Miles Along the Eastern Yangtze. Inspired by the scroll paintings of fourteenth century artist Huang Gongwang and shot over a period of two years in order to capture the changing seasons, Gu gently focuses on three generations of a family in Fuyang. “Exquisitely photographed, the film builds a slow-burning portrait of community in which modernity and tradition coexist, using the focus of several generations of one family as its anchor,” writes Screen’s Wendy Ide. “It’s defiantly undramatic, but, like the languid river water that flows through the town, this leisurely approach delivers unexpected rewards.”
The opener this year was Litigante, from Colombian writer-director Franco Lolli, who tells the story of a single mother in her forties. Silvia is overwhelmed by the demands of her job, child, and ailing mother. In Variety, Guy Lodge notes that she’s “played with utterly credible, bone-deep weariness by the superb Carolina Sanin” in “a film of small, precisely rendered moments rather than major emotional flourishes.”
There were three other features competing alongside this year’s award winners. In Amin Sidi-Boumédiène’s Abou Leila, two friends make their way through the Sahara in search of the titular terrorist. It’s a “hugely impressive” debut, according to Kaleem Aftab at Cineuropa, and “has elements of the oeuvre of David Lynch and recalls Michelangelo Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point.”
Sofia Quiros Ubeda, a writer and director from Argentina and Costa Rica, has won some acclaim for her film Land of Ashes, about a thirteen-year-old young woman coping with grief. According to Leslie Felperin in the Hollywood Reporter, it shows that the filmmaker “clearly has a sharp eye, storytelling skills and a knack with coaxing performances from nonprofessionals.”
Moroccan writer-director Alaa Eddine Aljem’s The Unknown Saint boasts “a neat setup that could easily have graced a Coen Brothers movie or—going back further—a classic Ealing comedy,” writes John Bleasdale for Sight & Sound. A thief on the run buries his loot and disguises the location by making it look like a grave. Returning from prison years later, he discovers that locals have turned the spot into a shrine to an “unknown” saint. It’s a “fresh and entertaining caper,” writes Bleasdale.
Two of this year’s special screenings feature actresses who are also appearing in films premiering in competition at Cannes this year. Hafsia Herzi—who made an award-winning first impression in Abdellatif Kechiche’s The Secret of the Grain (2007) and has since worked with Bertrand Bonello, Alain Guiraudie, and Sylvie Verheyde—can be seen in Kechiche’s competition entry Mektoub, My Love: Intermezzo. She stars in her own directorial debut, You Deserve a Lover, as a woman reluctantly dating again after a hard breakup. “The camera’s ironic eye on her merry-go-round of dissatisfying mini-relationships is sometimes touching, sometimes funny, sometimes a little irritating,” finds Deborah Young in the Hollywood Reporter. “But overall, the takeaway is warmly human.” Writing for Screen, Jonathan Romney admires the “brisk femme-positive approach and the personal urgency that comes with Herzi’s energetic, no-bullshit presence.”
Adèle Haenel, one of two leads in both Céline Sciamma’s main competition entry Portrait of a Lady on Fire and Quentin Dupieux’s Directors’ Fortnight opener Deerskin, plays a film director in Aude Léa Rapin’s Heroes Don’t Die. Haenel’s Alice leads a French film crew on a quest to discover the true identity of a friend who believes he may be the reincarnation of a Russian soldier killed in Bosnia. Presented as a found footage documentary, the film plays “as if The Blair Witch Project crossed paths with the ghosts of Srebrenica and other horrors that racked the Balkans throughout the early 1990s,” writes Jordan Mintzer in the Hollywood Reporter.
In Variety, Guy Lodge finds Heroes Don’t Die “nothing if not novel, passing its elaborate concept through a range of genre possibilities—from droll road movie to post-war trauma study to metaphysical ghost story—without settling on one in the course of eighty-five minutes. Yet this amount of fussing over its final form means the film’s own characters never quite come into focus, making it hard to invest much belief in their willfully absurd meta-movie.”
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