In this plague year, there are few public events and the ones organised have few seats. But I have managed to see nine festival movies this season, eight at the Stockholm International and one at Asiatiska Filmfestivalen. All except two are from this year and haven’t seen theatrical release yet.
I cycled into town for almost all of the screenings to avoid public transport. Didn’t avail myself of the streaming options. I might have if there had been the normal number of films at SIFF this year.
Four films get my special recommendation:
Gaza Mon Amour. 60ish bachelor fisherman loves the widow in the ladies fashion store. While working up the courage to approach her, he catches an Archaic statue of Apollo in his net one morning. Quietly funny about shy greying love.
Love Affair(s). You know how in the cliché French movie everybody is super attractive and they alternate between telling each other about their love lives and cheating on their partners left and right? This is that movie, and quite well executed too.
The Last Shift. Old white man instructs young black man who is taking over his dead-end fast food job. Disillusioned buddy movie about race and poverty in small town Michigan.
Pinocchio (2019). Lavish and respectful adaptation of the children’s classic with ace Italian actors and tastefully employed digital effects.
Two were OK:
The Truffle Hunters. Impressionist documentary about elderly truffle hunters in the Piedmont of Northern Italy. Beautifully staged and shot in Baroque chiaroscuro, but it does kind of go on and on about truffles.
Nine Days. Souls are auditioned for the chance of being born. The guy who leads the auditions and does the selection is unhappy, then performs Whitman.
And I disliked three feelbad movies so badly that I left or wanted to leave after half an hour:
House of Hummingbird (2018). Young Korean teen girl goes through nearly unremitting woes at a glacial pace.
Surge. Repressed young airport security guard quietly going insane. Stressful and awkward.
Black Bear. Much awkwardness. Drunk people arguing about feminism.
Being contracted to do translation work during November and December I’m free to set my own work schedule, and so I have set a new record for myself in the number of films I saw at the Stockholm Film Festival this year: twelve feature films and one shorts package. All are from 2019 and had their Swedish premières at the festival. None was bad or boring, and three get my special recommendation:
Bull. Black rodeo, Oxycontin, rural Southern poverty, teenage anger, absent parents, a tentative replacement dad.
Give Me Liberty. Young Russian American man drives for a disabled people’s bus service but keeps getting sidetracked by various other needy people. Noisy confusing warm-hearted multicultural story.
Perdrix / The Bare Necessity. Absurdist rom com with militant nudists, bored policemen, maghrebois WW2 reenactors in the Vosges and a family that is just itching to get disrupted.
And nine features plus the shorts programme were all well worth watching:
Alice et Le Maire / Alice and the Mayor. Bright young Lit PhD becomes staffer and adviser to troubled Social Democrat mayor of Lyon.
The Art of Self-Defence. After getting violently mugged, a wimpy guy joins a cult-like karate dojo. Movie has severe tonal issues: not a very funny parody, not a scary horror story, not realistic enough by far to grip you. Lead actor good though.
Bait. Old-school but not old Cornish fisherman watches the touristification of his village with disgust. Interesting lo-fi b/w cinematography and secondarily applied studio sound.
Colour Out Of Space. A competent big-budget movie version of the story H.P. Lovecraft considered his best. A meteorite hits a farm, plants and animals mutate, everybody goes nuts, the area is eventually reduced to prismatic ashes.
Esto no es Berlín / This Is Not Berlin. Teenage boys discover drugs, bisexuality and avant-garde art in 1986 Mexico City. Another nostalgic look back at somebody’s coming of age.
La femme de mon frère / A Brother’s Love (2019). Neurotic political philosopher finishes her PhD and ends up jobless and sleeping on her brother’s couch in Quebec. He gets involved with the doctor who gives her an abortion and she starts falling apart.
La Gomera / Whistlers. Romanian-Spanish police thriller about missing drug money. Incomprehensible motivations, gratuitous pornography, gratuitous lessons in the Canary Islanders’ whistling language on location, an oldish charmless male lead.
Le Miracle du Saint Inconnu / The Unknown Saint. Moroccan robber comes out of jail only to find that a shrine has been built on the rural spot where he buried the loot. Beautiful imagery, quietly funny, pretty slow.
Tu mérites un amour/ You Deserve A Lover. Young attractive Parisian has complicated love life. No plot. Lots of close-ups of kissing.
Monsters of Film is an annual genre film festival in Stockholm that started in 2012. I went in 2015, and then managed to come back this year when I’ve found myself with a lot of time on my hands. I saw five feature films and a shorts compilation in less than a week. Unexpectedly, one of the movies went straight into the select list of my all-time favourites!
In Fabric (2018). About a cursed dress, a depraved fashion store and their victims. Grade: Fucking Amazing! It’s scary, funny, sensual, sexy, surreal and yet relatable. I’m going to seek out more of Peter Strickland’s films!
Three of the feature films and the shorts block were also very good:
Code 8 (2019). Mutant superheroes are 2nd class citizens in a city with blanket surveillance and militarized policing. Grade: Great! This is the BIG scifi movie of 2019/20!
Extra Ordinary (2019). Driving school instructor and also exorcist in a small Irish town clashes with aging pop star and also black magician in this horror comedy. Grade: Good!
Achoura (2018). Morocco’s first big-budget horror film. Four childhood friends reconvene to fight dimly remembered supernatural horror. Good acting, cinematography, found sets, fx; confusing and overpopulated first act, not clear who the main characters are. Grade: Good!
And finally one that is better than expected given the era and genre in which it was made:
Night of the Demon (1957). American psychologist comes to England for a conference and to help investigate a Satanic cult. His scientific skepticism soon frays. This film is based on a so-so M.R. James story and is referenced in the Rocky Horror Picture Show’s opening song. Grade: OK, would have enjoyed it more without the ridiculously bombastic score.
I discovered film festivals in 2014, but I didn’t go to one last year because I like my evenings at home and I was working full time at the National Archives then. This year I’ve been able to go to the Stockholm International Film Festival thanks to the telecommuting nature of my current job. But I do spend two days a week in Linköping, and the upcoming final weekend of the festival will coincide with a boardgaming retreat, so I only managed to see 7½ films this year.
My festival M.O. is to first decide when I can see some films, and then watch whatever is on at that time and seems reasonably interesting. Hardly ever do I watch more than two movies on one day, or it becomes a chore. This way I caught three really good ones:
Cold War / Zimna Wojna. Stormy intermittent love affair between two Polish musicians at home and in exile 1949-64. Pretty monochrome photography.
Prospect. Low-budget scifi about bio-mineral prospecting on a lawless jungle planet. Strong female teen lead. Way better than most big budget scifi. Would be even better if 15 mins of slack were cut. Take your lower teen kids to this one!
The Man Who Feels No Pain / Mard Ko Dard Nahin Hota. Indian action comedy about a boy who grows up sheltered because of an innate inability to sense pain – and is educated by his grandfather by means of 80s martial arts movies. Smart and funny!
And some OK ones:
Ex-shaman / Ex-pajé. Slow, largely wordless, beautifully shot semi-documentary about a former village shaman in the Amazon who is now a Pentecostal church warden.
Girls of the Sun / Les filles du soleil. Traumatised French journalist follows a unit of Kurdish former sex slaves into urban skirmishes against the Daesh. Violent and beautiful. Golshifteh Farahani, oh man…
EXT. Night. A young film director, a vivacious prostitute and an old cab driver spend a confused night on the town together in Cairo. Engaging characters, vapid dialogue, not much by way of plot.
I watched ten films at the 2014 festival, fourteen last year (at two festivals back to back), and this year I managed ten again. I had bought tickets for fourteen, but stuff got in the way: a huge blizzard that knocked out public transport, subtitles disappearing, and a call to marital duty.
The people who book movies for this festival really know what they’re doing. Half of the ones I saw get my special recommendation:
Small Town Curtains / Småstad. Five middle-aged siblings play five middle-aged siblings dealing with the death of their father. In Vadstena. In a broad Östergötland dialect. With liberal use of the family’s old home movies. I smiled and cried and loved this movie. This is the film about Sweden that I want foreigners to see!
A Decent Woman / Los decentes. Love-starved and inhibited woman gets a job as a housemaid in a sterile, lifeless, affluent gated community. Discovers that across the fence is a free-love commune where people laze about nude in the sun all day giving each other intimate massages in a paradisiacal setting. She promptly joins and begins commuting between the two worlds. Delightfully strange film.
Fiore. Young love between inmates of an Italian juvenile detention centre.
Fritz Lang. Demonic movie director becomes obsessed with serial killer and faces his own inner darkness.
American Anarchist. Documentary about the infamous bomb manual The Anarchist Cookbook, largely consisting of extended interviews at 65 with the man who wrote it aged 19.
Four were well worth watching:
Malaria. Meandering tale of teenage runaways in Teheran who make friends with a bumbling feckless musician. So focused on smartphones that it looks like a commercial at times. Fine snippets of life in contemporary urban Iran, but fairly plotless. Nobody has believable motivation.
SHOT! The Psycho-Spiritual Mantra of Rock. Rock celebrity-strewn portrait of prolific photographer Mick Rock and his oeuvre. Interesting to folks like me who like 70s UK/US music. Probably irrelevant to others, who can better enjoy the pictures in a gallery or book.
Baden Baden. Eventless study of a young woman’s relationships with the people around her over a few weeks as she renovates the bathroom of her dear hospitalised grandmother.
All These Sleepless Nights. Entire film is a string of clips from indoor and outdoor nights on the town among young Warsawites. All the dialogue is drunk and/or stoned. Strangely interesting despite these handicaps.
And only in one case would I suggest that you give it a miss:
The Wedding Ring. Naïvist movie about a lovesick young noblewoman in Niger. Many beautiful shots but slow, plotless and amateurishly acted.
The movie that I left after 20 mins when the subtitles cut out looked really promising: Kills On Wheels, about Hungarian contract killers in wheel chairs.
The Royal Technical College’s orchestra and several combined student choirs from Sweden and Finland performed Giuseppe Verdi’s 1874 Requiem, an intricate and operatic farewell to fellow composer Gioachino Rossini and poet Alessandro Manzoni.
Gig with King Khan and the Shrines. Imagine a tall, psychedelic, semi-nude, portly, Canadian Wilson Pickett of Indian extraction belting out soul rock with a band consisting of extremely enthusiastic Germans. First time I’ve seen a horn section playing to a microphone stuck down the front of the lead singer’s hot pants.
Played Elfenland and Plato 3000.
Watched the 1955 Brando-Simmons-Sinatra-Blaine movie version of the 1950 musical Guys and Dolls. Impressed by Brando, didn’t know he could sing. Ugly sets and boring dialogue though. The reason that we watched it was that Jrette is playing Nicely-Nicely Johnson in an upcoming school production. Made me want to read some Damon Runyon.
Gig organised by Undergången with three unsigned Swedish psych acts. Space Whale are four very young and very strong musicians with excellent songs. They really blew me away! Besvärjelsen are a heavier and more metal-oriented quintet that I would really like to hear studio work from. And the Magic Jove trio are basically Cream. Extremely proficient musicians!
Hallwyl House: Swedish logging magnate’s daughter marries Swiss count and has some of 1890s Stockholm’s best architects and artists build them a town palace, no expenses spared, which she proceeds to fill with Early Modern art and craft objects. All of this remains in place and is now a museum, large parts of which is free of charge, and which is located a short walk from the Central Station.
The Force Awakens is fully on a level with the original three films, as far as I remember them. These are four good scifi action movies. The new one is actually better in being much more inclusive of women and non-Europid people. It’s quite a loving re-visit to the original material.
My main complaints with the new one are that
The tempo is too uniform and too high
No time seems to pass between scenes, with the main characters never even having a change of clothes
People need no training to operate star ships and military weaponry
The story is a clear and intentional repeat of A New Hope
It reintroduces the exact threat that the three original movies dealt with, obviating the entire struggle there. Cf. Sauron showing up and making trouble long after Morgoth got tossed into the Timeless Void.
It’s been a busy movie-going month for me with the Monsters of Film festival, where I saw six films, and now the Stockholm International Film Festival where I’ve seen eight. Last year I saw ten films at the latter festival, and I enjoyed most of them, but overall I liked this year’s crop even better. All but two get my special recommendation:
As I Open My Eyes. A late-teen girl discovers love and experiences political repression while singing in a band in pre-revolution Tunis — five years ago.
Dope. By happenstance three geeky straightlaced ghetto kids find themselves in possession of a large amount of drugs, and have to find a way to get rid of them. Without either getting killed by a drug gang or ending up in jail.
Makeup Room. Humorous and unromantic look at a day in the make-up room on a Japanese porn film set. Written and directed by a veteran of the business, with porn actors delivering fine performances in most of these speaking roles.
North. Visually stunning uncritical documentary about the Kurdish guerilla. Grade: Pass With Distinction. (Note however that the Turkish Ministry of Culture does not agree. They banned the film from the Istanbul Film Festival, giving it huge free publicity.)
Price of Love. An Ethiopian Taxi Driver in a visually captivating Addis Ababa and with a less crazy & violent Travis Bickle.
Unexpected. White high school teacher realises she’s pregnant around the same time as one of her black senior students. Friendship ensues with much discussion of career and motherhood. Fun and none too preachy.
This one was fully OK too, but a bit clichéd to my jaded Western eyes:
Masaan (“Crematorium”). Two young people love and lose and live on in a gorgeously shot Benares waterfront quarter next to the cremation pyres.
The only film I found kind of slow and pointless was one of the festival’s most high-profile entrants, screened as the opening flick for the whole event and recipient of festival awards for best directorial début and best male lead actor, plus a special award funded by a telecomms company. YMMV.
Mediterranea. Two Burkineans go to Italy, endure slow plotless hardship, pick lots of oranges.
A funny detail to me is how many of these films show women’s breasts in fairly unpornographic situations. My reading of these scenes is that the boobs are being reclaimed and defused here, not exploited. Kind of a win-win for me, since I both support women’s right to their own bodies and enjoy seeing breasts.
Encouraged by my first film festival last year, I’ve signed up for two this year. This past week it’s been the genre festival Monsters of Film, which leans towards horror but has a lot of other stuff too (but very few monster flicks, actually). I saw 5½ films in five days. Two get my special recommendation:
Turbo Kid. Fun over-the-top 80s superhero-comics nostalgia in a post-apocalyptic wasteland with BMX-riding road warriors.
Remake, Remix, Rip-off. Documentary about popular low budget Turkish movie-making in the 50s to the 90s. Voluminous interviews intercut with clips of period films, no voiceover.
Three others were also well worth watching:
Sensoria. A woman is in bad mental shape after a miscarriage and a divorce. She moves into a haunted apartment and quietly goes nuts.
Cherry Tree. English kitchen-sink school story about teen pregnancy gets hijacked by luridly baroque Satanist cult, calling to mind the X-files episode where the Parent-Teacher Association is a witch coven.
Spring. Bereaved young Californian goes to Italy and gets involved with a pretty girl who turns out to have serious problems of an X-files nature. Drawn-out biotechnobabble ensues, leaving nothing unexplained.
I walked out of the shorts anthology México Bárbaro halfway through when the raping and child necrophilia started. Bleagh. There are a lot of things in horror that will gross you out and depress you without scaring or intriguing you. Some of the other shorts in the anthology were OK though.