11 March, 2009

Strong European Focus At Miami Film Festival

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

The World Competition section of the Miami International Film Festival, one of the three important competitions of the event, showcases the latest works from up-and-coming film auteurs from around the world. This year, the program has a strong European focus, with many of the films making their U.S. premieres at the event.

France has the biggest presence, with two films representing the best of new Gallic cinema. I WANT TO SEE (Je Veux Voir) is a French/Lebanese co-production by Lebanese directors Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige. The film mixes documentary and fiction in a fusion that breaks new ground and creates an intensive story. French superstar Catherine Deneuve plays herself, as she is driven by actor/artist Rabih Mroue to explore first hand the destruction in Lebanon following Israel’s war with Hezbollah in 2006. In KHAMSA, by director Karim Dridi, the focus is on a young French-Arab boy whose innocence rapidly fades away when he joins in a series of petty robberies.

French producers have served as co-producers for three other films that are making their premieres at the festival. In BULLET IN THE HEAD, by Spanish director Jaime Rosales, tensions run high in the Basque region torn apart by separatist politics. In Romanian director Adrian Sitaru’s HOOKED, a young couple’s idyllic day in the country turns nightmarish after a series of odd and unexpected events. Famed Ethiopian director Haile Gerima points to cross-cultural tensions in the story of a medical student who returns to his small village after a medical residency in Germany.

Winner of the Best First Feature prize at the Locarno Film Festival, MARCH by Austrian director Handl Klaus takes an intimate look at the unexplained suicides of three young men from a small Austrian town. Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan, who won the Best Director prize at the Cannes Film Festival and was named by the International Film Guide as one of the Top Five Directors of the Year, has created an intense family drama about lies, deception and forgiveness in the film THE THREE MONKEYS. Tensions between an awkward teenage girl and her blonde bombshell sisters form the basis of Dutch director Mijke de Jong’s heartbreaking drama KATIA’S SISTER.

The mood is not quite as dark in several other films competing in the World Competition section. Irish director Lance Daly’s KISSES is a bittersweet drama about two preteens who head to Dublin to escape the bleak surburban reality of their lives. In INVOLUNTARY by Swedish director Ruben Ostlund, a roster of characters must confront their inhibitions about sex, violence and peer acceptance. Making it big is the credo of the Italian dramedy THE PAST IS A FOREIGN LAND by Daniele Vicari, the story of two young men who used their card shark skills to collect the fabled pot of gold.

Film’s ability to give us a great understanding of historical events is the subject of two enigmatic films. In LANDSCAPE NUMBER 2 by Slovenian director Vinko Moderndorter, gothic horror opens up a cache of secrets about an unresolved crime from that society’s recent past. Russian director Alexey German Jr., who won Best Director honors at the Venice Film Festival, tells the compelling story of a medical officer who is charged with monitoring cosmonauts in the country’s ambitious plans in the 1960s to be the first to put a man on the moon.

The non-European films in the program run the gamut of genres and cinematic styles. In American indie director Antonio Campos’ AFTERSCHOOL, an elite boarding school is rocked when two of its students commit suicide and a young man assigned to create a video project commemorating them creates a harrowing portrait of the banality of evil. In the Chilean/Bolivian/American co-production PERFIDY by Rodrigo Bellot, a young man embarks ona mysterious journey that takes him to a deserted motel in snowy upstate New York. SOI COWBOY, a Thai film that made its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, explores the unlikely relationship between an overweight Danish man and the pregnant Thai teenager that he protects and ultimately abuses.

The stories are varied, the styles eclectic and the tones range from intensely somber to life-affirming, but this year’s crop of films in the MIFF World Cinema competition give adventurous viewers a chance to check the pulse of a still vibrant international cinema.


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