Rotterdam 2023 Awards

Cyrielle Raingou’s Le spectre de Boko Haram (2023)

Rotterdam is a festival that “not so much sits on the fringes of the mainstream, but exists as its own vanguard for the challenging, the thought-provoking, the passionate, and the personal,” writes Little White Lies editor David Jenkins. Hong Sangsoo (The Day a Pig Fell into the Well), Christopher Nolan (Following), and Kelly Reichardt (Old Joy) are among the directors who have received a crucial boost early in their careers when they won the festival’s Tiger Award. This year’s winner is Cyrielle Raingou, whose debut feature, the documentary Le spectre de Boko Haram, focuses on three children growing up in northern Cameroon, a region under near-constant attack by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram.

Eleven-year-old Falta lost her father to a suicide bomber and brothers Mohamed (eleven) and Ibrahim (eight) have already served as boy soldiers for Boko Haram. In Screen, Neil Young notes that “the cheerful pair chat in matter-of-fact style about horrifying atrocities in which they were forced to take part.” Young adds that there is “little remarkable about individual scenes, and indeed the film sometimes seems underpowered and even innocuous—but there is considerable cumulative impact.” This is “a gentle film with a grim undertone beneath its bright surface,” writes Marc van de Klashorst for the International Cinephile Society.

Late into the seventy-five-minute feature, the brothers go missing, and Raingou, who grew up in a small village in Cameroon herself, tells Marta Bałaga in Variety that she’s determined to find them. “We are not done and we will never be done,” she says. “I promised Falta’s mother I will pay for her kids’ studies. I am who I am today because I had that chance. My mission isn’t over.” Raingou has begun work on her first fiction feature, I’m Coming for You, the story of a woman banished from her village when she’s caught trading with Boko Haram terrorists.

Special Jury Awards went to Sri Lankan director Visakesa Chandrasekaram’s Munnel, in which an ex–Tamil Tiger militant returns home—jurors Sabrina Baracetti, Lav Diaz, Alonso Díaz de la Vega, Anisia Uzeyman, and Christine Vachon call the film “a great simple story about a young man caught between revolution and authoritarianism”—and Artemis Shaw and Prashanth Kamalakanthan’s pandemic rom-com, New Strains. Shot on a Hi8 camcorder and starring the directors as a couple waiting out the lockdown, New Strains is “great fun,” finds Stephen Dalton at the Film Verdict. “Despite a slender, disjointed narrative that never really adds up to more than a hill of beans, this emphatically lo-fi duo inject plenty of goofy charm and visual invention into their first joint feature project.”

A jury of five audience members selected the winner of the Big Screen Competition, Endless Borders. Abbas Amini tells the story of an exiled teacher working along the border between Iran and Afghanistan. In his program notes, Adrian Martin suggests that the film is “almost a minimalistic suspense thriller (with Hitchcockian overtones), combined with a heated family melodrama—but it never loses sight of the serious and extremely timely issues that it raises.” At Cineuropa, Vladan Petkovic writes that the film’s “most valuable player must be editor Haideh Safiyari, who was instrumental in making Asghar Farhadi’s complicated narratives intelligible. She not only holds together the numerous strands of the screenplay by Amini and Hossein Farrokhzad, which sometimes threatens to burst at the seams, but also creates an impressive structure subtly supported by cellist Atena Eshtiaghi’s sparse score.”

This year’s FIPRESCI Award, presented by the International Federation of Film Critics, went to Philip Sotnychenko’s La Palisiada. In 1996, just before Ukraine would strike down the death penalty, a detective and a forensic psychiatrist investigate a murder. “Sotnychenko leaves it to the audience to connect the dots between the film’s many episodes and digressions,” writes Carmen Gray at the Film Verdict. “But the thrust of his mosaic is fiercely clear: Russian colonialism didn’t end with the collapse of the USSR. Its brutal legacy never brought culture to Ukrainians as its propaganda professed, but only fear and trauma.”

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