Saturday, 3 November 2018

TIFF: All aboard

The 59th Thessaloniki International Film Festival kicked off on Thursday night, and I travelled to Greece on Friday. My first film was Laszlo Nemes' gorgeous Sunset (above), and now I'm running full pelt through the movies. As a member of the Fipresci jury, I will be involved in giving out two prizes: one to a competition film and one to a first-time Greek filmmaker. So we have 27 films to watch and evaluate before we name our winners on closing night, Sunday 11th November.

I've reviewed a few of the films before I got here - from other festivals mainly - and those are linked to the festival's page on the website. And here are the first few things I've seen here...

Sunset [Napszállta]
dir-scr Laszlo Nemes; with Juli Jakab, Vlad Ivanov 18/Hun 2h22 ****
With this pre-war drama, Hungarian filmmaker Laszlo Nemes expands on his singular filmmaking style, tightly following a hapless character through momentous events. It may be set as Europe is about to embark on a half-century long cataclysm, but events are seen through the eyes of a strong young women who doesn't quite grasp what she's watching. It's a mesmerising, achingly well-made film that pulses with desperation. And it's hauntingly timely.

Manta Ray
dir-scr Phuttiphong Aroonpheng; with Wanlop Rungkamjad, Aphisit Hama 18/Tha ****
Thai filmmaker Phuttiphong Aroonpheng puts an artfully personal spin on the Rohingya crisis, telling a story that has waves of meaning for refugees anywhere. It's a loosely plotted film, with very little dialog and no desire to tell the audience what to think. So it will be a challenge for unadventurous moviegoers who like everything spelled out for them. But those willing to dive into the film's currents will find that it has a lot to say.

We [Wij]
dir-scr Rene Eller; with Tijmen Govaerts, Maxime Jacobs 18/Ned ***.
Almost deliberately transgressive, this Dutch-Belgian drama explores the extremes a group of teens are willing to go to simply to express their independence. Many of the plot's twists and turns are seriously outrageous, and yet the way the film is constructed adds a distance to everything, simply because the script contrives to keep the biggest shockers until the end. Even so, the confrontational style is powerful.

Night Out
dir-scr Stratos Tzitzis; with Mara Scherzinger, Spyros Markopoulos 18/Ger ***
There's a certain ramshackle charm to this multi-strand odyssey that keeps us smiling even though it's all rather corny. The actors are all a little too stiffly beautiful to believe, and they never properly dive into the script's excesses. Basically, there are three groups of people on a night out in Berlin: two lively girls are shadowed by a nice Syrian guy (Markopoulos); a woman (Scherzinger) ends up clubbing with an eclectic group of art aficionados when she tries to pitch a business opportunity; and a pregnant woman is trying to figure out who her baby daddy is. All of them converge on the Kit Kat Club for an extended, farcical sex party. Yes, it's pretty full-on, but everything is played with a wink that keeps it from embracing the craziness. Or making any salient points.

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