The Strange Little Cat (Das merkwürdige Kätzchen)
directed by Ramon Zürcher
A pleasantly surprising little film following an ordinary day with an ordinary German family. Rookie director Ramon Zürcher (a student of Bela Tarr) has a real talent for subtly humorous observations, unique camera placement, and complex choreography in confined spaces. Especially the kitchen where most of the film takes place, the main stage where the family must constantly interact with, navigate around, and seek refuge from each other while performing their daily tasks.
Camille Claudel 1915
directed by Bruno Dumont
This is a film of firsts for Bruno Dumont, it's his first time working with a bona fide star in Juliette Binoche (he is known for preferring non-professional actors) and his first historical film (all his others are contemporary). An unique biopic that eschews the norm and focuses only upon a brief moment in the life of sculptor Camille Claudel. It falters in the second half when the focus sidetracks to follow her brother Paul (Jean-Luc Vincent), but needless to say Binoche delivers a tremendously moving performance as a tortured genius committed to a psychiatric hospital against her will by her family.
The Broken Circle Breakdown
directed by Felix Van Groeningen
Belgium's submission to the 2014 Academy Awards. A compelling chronicle of a relationship through all its soaring highs and tragic lows. Driven by a pair of raw and heartfelt performances from the leads, and a brilliant bluegrass soundtrack, the film follows a non-linear path that takes us on a roller coaster ride of emotions. It loses its way towards the end when things take a heavy-handed political turn, but the rest make it well worthwhile.
directed by Johnnie To
A playful, genre-jumping film that goes all over the map from police procedural, to dark thriller, to tender romance, to silly cartoon comedy, sometimes all in the same sequence. Definitely not one of Johnnie To's best, but worth seeing for the entertaining physical performances from Andy Lau and Sammi Cheng who make it look like they are having the time of their lives playing their characters here.
directed by Cody Calahan
An interesting take on the crowded zombie/infected genre that uses social media as the source and means of spreading the deadly virus. Unfortunately it follows a well worn path with stock young-adult characters and all the same old moral dilemmas and obvious melodrama we've seen so many times before. It also fails to provide the audience with the good stuff by always cutting away from or obscuring the action.
A Story of Children and Film
directed by Mark Cousins
Building off the style seen in his epic 15 hour masterclass The Story of Film: An Odyssey, this is a very well researched and uniquely presented documentary about young children in cinema. Though this is less of a film history lesson and more of a personal musing about the similarities and common traits of children everywhere, using examples in film (from the well-known to the obscure) to make the connections. Some of his comparisons and assertions are sketchy at best, but his friendly voice and accessible presentation make it a joy to watch.
So Much Water (Tanta Agua)
directed by Ana Guevara & Leticia Jorge
The first feature length film from Guevara and Jorge, is a simple film that follows a divorced father and his two children on a heavily rain soaked vacation. What seems at first to be a bleak and depressing drama turns into a wonderful family portrait and coming of age tale full of clever observations and ironies. Always subtle and cautiously paced, details are revealed with careful framing of small actions and quick glances.
The Future (Il Futuro)
directed by Alicia Scherson
The one and only film I saw in the festival that was projected on traditional 35mm film. There's something magical about seeing the imperfect flutter and flicker accompanied by the appearance of dust and scratches on the big screen that can sometimes actually improve the viewing experience. That was the case with this film, one containing many references to the past of cinema. A stylishly directed, slightly surreal story of two teenagers who suddenly become orphans in Rome and must learn to look after each other.
Young & Beautiful (Jeune & jolie)
directed by François Ozon
There have been a number of French films about student prostitution in recent years: Student Services (2010), Léa (2011), Elles (2011), to name a few, and this one doesn't say anything particularly new or provide any meaningful insight. However, it is a polished production as you would expect from François Ozon, who displays a strong sense of color and style to match the film's progression through the four seasons. Along with a strong central performance from Marine Vacth, who remains an enigma to the audience while effortlessly playing her double role.
When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism (Când se lasa seara peste Bucuresti sau metabolism)
directed by Corneliu Porumboiu
The minimalist Romanian director's third feature film. True to his style, it's one of long unbroken takes (I counted only 16 cuts) and insightful dialogue, with little regard for a traditional story. The simple scenario follows a director and his lead actress behind the scenes as they have a fling while working on a film. It doesn't take long for it to become clear that Porumboiu is using their mundane conversations to provide a clever self referential commentary track. Several scenes here seem directly inspired by the trademark restaurant table sequences of Hong Sang-soo.
directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour
The Saudi Arabian contender to the 2014 Academy Awards. The story surrounding the first ever film shot in Saudi Arabia, and even more significantly, by a female director with permission from the government, is more significant than the story in the film itself. With a narrative that ultimately plays it safe rather than subversive. However, the result is still a rather charming tale with an adorable performance from young Waad Mohammed, who represents a rebellious and mischievous but good-hearted symbol that everyone can root for. It stands a very good chance for a nomination.
The Great Beauty (La grande bellezza)
directed by Paolo Sorrentino
Italy's submission to the 2014 Oscars. A visually intoxicating experience with what is arguably one of the greatest openings in all of cinema. Sorrentino expands on the ideas of Fellini to present us with a dolly and crane shot filled extravaganza through modern day Rome, with frequent collaborator, the ever charismatic Toni Servillo, as our guide through a city of culture and rich history with no shortage of empty lives celebrating in wild debauchery and decadence. It remains to be seen whether or not The Great Beauty will hold up as a masterpiece, but it makes as strong a case as anything I've seen so far this year.
Karaoke Girl (Sao Karaoke)
directed by Visra Vichit-Vadakan
A directorial debut, hybrid docu-drama portrait of a country girl who works as a 'hostess' in a karaoke bar in Bangkok. A slow, moody and impressively lensed character study that never gets exploitative or lurid, but lacks acting talent to make a convincing drama, and is too visually cinematic to work as a documentary.
directed by Arnaud des Pallières
Based loosely on the novella by Heinrich von Kleist, set in the Middle Ages and starring Mads Mikkelsen as a horse trader who stages a violent revolt for personal justice after he is wronged by the courts and nobility. A raw and gritty depiction of the 16th century which has moments of action and violence but is more of a character study than a heroic epic. Young Mélusine Mayance adds a glowing presence, with the perfect look of an impossible innocent beauty in an ugly world.
directed by Mamoru Hosoda
A bittersweet, often humorous tale about a young single mother raising two lycanthrope children on her own. Has more than enough cuteness for kids but a thoughtful allegorical story meant for adults. Not a groundbreaking work, but it looks great on the big screen, and plays well in a packed house.
directed by Tsai Ming-liang
Winner of the Special Jury Prize at Venice. An atmospheric and unforgettable film about a homeless family existing on the outskirts of modern day Taipei. Strangely beautiful and hypnotic, filled with lengthy shots of the absurd and the mundane, all perfectly staged and lit to astonish the viewer, while also conveying a deep sense of loneliness, misery, and despair.