Jason Wood reports back from International Film Festival Rotterdam 2017


Updates from International Film Festival Rotterdam 2017 by Jason Wood (Programming and Film Lead for Film Hub NWC, Artistic Director: Film at HOME & Professor of Film at Manchester Metropolitan University):

All The Cities in the North

This anticipated first feature of film artist Dane Komljen concerns two men who live together harmoniously in an abandoned bungalow park. When a third party arrives, they must find a new balance. Essayist fiction and architectural quest for the fragility of human relationships, told via construction projects, landscapes and archive footage. It is difficult to place this first feature by Komjlen in any existing film category. It is a fictional architectural diary employing alienation effects and a very singular and winning approach to film texture.

Elon Doesn’t Believe in Death

With compelling intensity, this debut film follows protagonist Elon as he searches for his missing wife in a huge Brazilian city. Viewers are inescapably pulled into a disquieting, claustrophobic world in which little is what it seems. Featuring a minimalist, haunting soundtrack by Daniel Saveedra and Pablo Lamar this is an impressive and existentialist report on a disintegrating life. Unlikely to travel too far beyond the festival circuit and features graphic sex.

Por La Libertad

As a huge fan of Mexican light master Carlos Reygadas (Post Tenebras Lux, 2012) I was looking forward to this doc in which the director allows himself to be filmed by Laurence Garret as Reygadas undertakes his first commercial assignment. Sadly, the film was removed from the schedule.

Staying Vertical

Filmmaker Léo has to raise the child he had with a shepherdess alone. At the same time, he struggles to find inspiration for his next film. In this surreal rural comedy, Alain Guiraudie (Stranger by the Lake) tackles his favorite subject: how desire pushes our boundaries. Guiraudie returns to themes of sex and death in an impressive work in which homo-erotic tension simmers amongst the sexually ambiguous characters. Though unlikely to have the same impact as the director’s previous work, the film confirms him as a singular, hugely intelligent filmmaker.

Chez Nous

In Northern France, a devoted nurse is offered the candidacy for mayorship by a far-right party. The ensuing political campaign will test her will and personal life. This Is Our Land, the English title of this French film, is also the slogan of the fictitious populist party RNP, based on the Front National and the latest film from Belgian director Lucas Belvaux (Trilogy) offers a timely and sharp study of how populist ideology can quietly but surely contaminate “good” people cloaked under the flag of populism. I found the narrative a little simplistic but when you are dealing with Fascism and the rhetoric of the far right – perhaps subtlety – is superfluous.

The Mole Song – Hong Kong Capriccio

Uproariously funny and deliriously energetic, the latest by Japan’s cult master Miike Takashi is a gross-out action comedy in which undercover agent Reiji finds himself under the neon lights of Hong Kong in his return to the big screen. Adapted from Takahashi Noboru’s hit manga series, this film lacks subtlety but is entertaining and deranged from first shot to last.

The Death of Louis XIV

On 1 September 1715, King Louis XVI of France dies of gangrene in his palace at Versailles. In his darkened bedroom, confidants and doctors come and go during his last days. The Sun King’s mythical status and his agony come together in this memorable interpretation by Truffaut favourite Jean-Pierre Léaud. Catalan filmmaker Albert Serra continues a series of radical films, from Honour of the Knights (2006) to Story of My Death (2013), characterised by an opulent yet urgent feeling for the philosophical recreation of historic subjects. His iconoclastic approach is pictorially beautiful and humorous. For the first time, and with some success, Serra works with professional actors. Echoes of mid period Greenaway abound. New Wave have it for the UK.

Marjorie Prime

What would we remember and what would we forget if we could choose? In a near future, 86-year-old Marjorie has conversations with a hologram that resembles her dead husband. He’s programmed to share Marjorie’s past with her. A fascinating film about identity and memory, love and loss, played by a fine ensemble cast of Loius Smith, John Hamm, Tim Robbins and Geena Davis, the latest from Michael Almerayda (Nadja, Hamlet, Another Girl, Another Planet) is a potently executed synthesis of Her and Solaris. Likely to appeal to older viewers seduced by the likes of Still Alice, 45 Years and A Late Quartet, this is an intelligent, quietly intellectual work and by some margin the best film I saw at IFFR. Obviously adapted from a stage play, it’s a timely and deeply humanist work that left me beguiled.