As Sundance heads toward its closing weekend and the Berlinale lines up its juries, Rotterdam opens tonight with Please Baby Please, filmmaker Amanda Kramer’s answer to the question, “How can I make my version of a fucked up, queer, upside down West Side Story?” Andrea Riseborough and Harry Melling star as a couple whose confrontations with a 1950s-era gang of greasers and a free-spirited upstairs neighbor played by Demi Moore spark an exploration of gender fluidity.
The world premiere of Please Baby Please launches a special focus on Kramer, a musician who ran her own underground dance label before turning to film. Along with four short films, the program will present four features, including another premiere, Give Me Pity!, starring Bette Midler’s daughter, Sophie von Haselberg, as a performer whose variety show descends (ascends?) into madness. Tonight’s program opens with Stranger Than Rotterdam with Sara Driver, a nine-minute short in which brothers Lewie and Noah Kloster use puppets to animate Driver’s story about festival founder Hubert Bals’s crucial championing of Jim Jarmusch’s Stranger Than Paradise (1984).
Among the promising titles in this year’s Tiger competition is Eami, the first feature from Paz Encina since Paraguayan Hammock won the FIPRESCI prize in Cannes in 2006. For her new film, Encina has immersed herself in the history and mythology of the indigenous Ayoreo-Totobiegosode people of the Gran Chaco region who are being driven from their homes as the area is deforested at a rate faster than any other on the planet. In another competition entry, The Dream and the Radio, filmmakers Renaud Després-Larose and Ana Tapia Rousiouk play a couple inspired by the Situationists to plot a revolution. The film heads next month to Berlin Critics’ Week, the independent program running parallel to the Berlinale.
Like Sundance, Rotterdam was forced practically at the last minute by the Omicron wave to go virtual. “It caught us all by surprise,” festival director Vanja Kaludjercic, who was appointed in 2020, tells Marta Bałaga in Variety. “We were already at the finish line. I will go down in history as the festival director who didn’t manage to have a festival for two years, at least not on site.” The Dutch government, though, has just announced that it will allow theaters to reopen just in time for the final day of the festival. At the very least, this will allow Kaludjercic and her team to present the world premiere of Mijke de Jong’s Along the Way, the story of twin Afghan sisters attempting to reach Europe, to masked up audiences in Rotterdam, Groningen, and Amsterdam on February 6.
Theaters in Germany remain open, and the Berlinale is still on track to open on February 10 as an in-person event. The festival has just premiered a trailer for Hong Sangsoo’s competition entry The Novelist’s Film and announced its juries. Joining president M. Night Shyamalan on the International Jury will be directors Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Karim Aïnouz, Tsitsi Dangarembga, and Anne Zohra Berrached; actor Connie Nielsen; and producer Saïd Ben Saïd. MUBI’s Chiara Marañón and filmmakers Ben Rivers and Silvan Zürcher will select the winners of this year’s Encounters competition.
The Sundance juries will have their say on Friday, and on Monday, we’ll take a look at the award winners and at how critics have been responding to them. Filmmaker offers the deepest dive into this year’s edition, but if you’re pressed for time, the New York Times’s A. O. Scott has smartly divided his overview into three sections. In the first, he selects a round of “classic Sundance” movies that come from “a place where diffident young people bittersweetly come of age, where lonely souls forge tentative connections against a harsh American landscape, where quirkiness, awkward sex, and cheeky genre play are as common as family dysfunction and melancholy soundtrack music.” The second section covers nonfiction, one of the festival’s strengths, and the third touches on the current vogue for addressing racism via horror.
Other batches of capsule reviews to be recommended come from Sean Burns,Ty Burr, the Los Angeles Times’s Justin Chang, and Alison Willmore. To listen to bright and informed people talking about the movies they’ve seen so far, turn to Nicolas Rapold, who has been discussing a few standouts with Museum of the Moving Image film curator Eric Hynes, and to the Film Comment Podcast, where editors Devika Girish and Clinton Krute talk their way through some highs and lows with critics Cassie Da Costa and Abby Sun.
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