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2024 Critics’ Week Awards

Federico Luis’s Simon of the Mountain (2024)

On Sunday, around a hundred Argentinian film workers gathered in Cannes to demonstrate against their president’s “chainsaw” approach to across-the-board budget cuts. In March, just a few months after he was elected, Javier Milei shut off all state funding to the National Institute of Cinema and Audiovisual Arts (INCAA), Argentina’s national film body. Classes at ENERC, the country’s leading film school, may or may not resume in the fall. The Mar del Plata International Film Festival will have to turn to private sponsors, and Ventana Sur, Latin America’s leading market, is seriously considering a move to Uruguay.

And then on Wednesday, an Argentinian film won the Grand Prize at Critics’ Week. Accepting the award for his first feature, Simon of the Mountain, director Federico Luis said that he was “thinking not only about what it means to us, but also about what it means to the people in Argentina who, over the course of the next four years, will struggle, trying to make local films.”

Lorenzo Ferro (El ángel) plays Simon, a twenty-two-year-old from a troubled home who finds friends, and for the first time, a sense of belonging among the young residents of a home for the mentally challenged. Critics’ Week artistic director Ava Cahen tells Marta Bałaga in Variety that Simon of the Mountain is “a coming-of-age film. It’s a theme dealt with in an original way, both in form and content. It’s also a film that speaks of disability with a rare acuity. Never polite, always human.”

Presenting the award, producer Sylvie Pialat—who presided over the jury that included director Iris Kaltenbäck, actress Eliane Umuhire, cinematographer Virginie Surdej, and critic Ben Croll—called Simon “a generous film. It respects each character and it respects the viewer, allowing for infinite interpretations—each of them equally valid. It’s such an overwhelming, cinematic event. We want to offer this award not just to the director, but also to the cast, to the brilliant lead actor, and the most beautiful kissing scene in the history of cinema.”

The French Touch Prize of the Jury went to Constance Tsang’s debut feature, Blue Sun Palace. Set in Flushing, Queens, where Tsang grew up, the film centers on Didi (Haipeng Xu) and Amy (Ke-Xi Wu), roommates and coworkers at a massage parlor who will each, in turn, become involved with an older man who has a wife and child back in Taiwan. Cheung is played by Lee Kang-sheng, the performer we’ve watched throughout his adult life in the films of Tsai Ming-liang. The Hollywood Reporter’s Sheri Linden calls Blue Sun Palace “a sharp and tender story about dislocation,” adding: “Absence is the current that drives the narrative: absence from family, from homeland, from purpose.”

“Tsang skillfully circumvents bathos, a choice that’s reflected in her script as much as in Norm Li’s unobtrusive camerawork,” writes Leonardo Goi, introducing his interview with the director for Filmmaker. Tsang “homes in on smaller actions and everyday rituals—a shared meal, a karaoke night—never telegraphing this or that feeling but relying on long, uninterrupted takes to allow her drifters room to grieve and heal. For all the loneliness it so often radiates, Tsang’s film never wallows in despair. As time dilates, histories collide and distances evaporate; the last face we see in Blue Sun Palace is shrouded in darkness, but the film itself is never less than luminous.”

The jury presented the Louis Roederer Foundation Rising Star Award to Ricardo Teodoro, who plays a forty-two-year-old who takes in and pimps out a much younger man (João Pedro Mariano) in Marcelo Caetano’s Baby. “The fascinatingly fluid relationship between them—part sexual, part father-son, and part sex worker/manager—is the film’s emotional core,” writes Jonathan Holland in Screen.

Two Critics’ Week partners, the Gan Foundation and the SACD, a society of artists and creators, gave their awards to Leonardo Van Dijl’s first feature, Julie Keeps Quiet, which Little White Lies editor David Jenkins calls “a #MeToo film that’s entirely focused on the experience of the victims, spending little-to-no time worrying about whether the perpetrator has been ‘cancelled.’” For Jonathan Romney at Screen, Julie Keeps Quiet is “distinguished by a rigorously discreet style, well-handled ensemble casting, and a lead from young debut actor and real-life tennis talent Tessa van den Broeck that is all the more effective for its lack of demonstrativeness.”

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