Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Luxembourg City Film Festival - Five to Watch

Cine Jambalaya is back, and so is the Luxembourg Film Festival. Over next 10+ days I will be covering the small country’s largest celebration of all things cinema with as many articles and reviews I can manage. The 7th edition, which kicks off on March 10th with Mick Jackson’s Denial, marks another step forward for the growing festival. A record number of 59 films will screen during the festivities in the various sections and a high calibre of guest will attend: Ray Liotta is scheduled to hold a masterclass and the novelist Douglas Kennedy is going to introduce a special screening of Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity (1994).

The selection meanwhile quite a bit to offer. The fiction and documentary competitions look strong, while the local film industry is presenting a more interesting than usual crop of productions and co-productions, including Laura Schroeder’s Barrage starring Isabelle Huppert. Established names in the art-cinema world such as Terrence Malick, James Gray, Aki Kaurismäki, Ben Wheatley or Kim Jee-Woon mix with interesting new and old names. The only slight disappointment (other than the unfortunate poster featuring and old man in a bathrobe flashing nature) is the lack of cultural and geographic diversity. The programme doesn’t include a single movie from Africa or South America, with a large majority coming from Western Europe and North America. Maybe quality films from those regions were not available for selection, but it does feel like a missed opportunity to create a truly global festival.

Let’s focus on the pictures which are present though and there is a lot to discover. Singling out only five of my most anticipated films wasn’t an easy task, which speaks volumes for the quality of the selection. I try to present titles across the different sections that should cover a broad range of cinematic tastes.

The Other Side of Hope (Aki Kaurismäki, Official Competition)

Any new film by the great Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki is cause for excitement. The Other Side of Hope arrives after a six-year hiatus and on the back of winning the Silver Bear for Best Director in Berlin. The filmmaker brings his unique sense of humour and melancholic retro style to a wryly sentimental tale about a Syrian refugee who arrives in Helsinki.

Raw/Grave (Julia Ducournau, Official Competition)

I always look for the genre films in competition and this one looks tasty. Nothing for people with a weak stomach (or vegetarians), this is a coming-of-age story set in a veterinarian college featuring gore, flesh and cannibalism in abundance. Julia Ducournau’s debut feature, praised for its unflinching confidence, was rewarded with the FIPRESCI-Prize at the Cannes Critics’ Week.

Forever Pure (Maya Zinshtein, Documentary Competition)

When the Israeli football team Beitar Jerusalem completes a transfer for two Chechen Muslims, chaos ensues. Notorious for their right-wing and extreme nationalist politics, the fan base immediately brands the new signings as traitors and bombards them with boos and racist chants. The Russian billionaire who owns the club and signed the players is targeted with similar abuse. This ugly story about racism and mob rule is documented with amazing access to all the involved parties.

Homo Sapiens (Nikolaus Geyrhalter, Out of Competition)

The absence of the titular humans is the theme of this experimental documentary without dialogue. The Austrian filmmaker Nikolaus Geyrhalter reflects upon what happens after we leave by touring a series of deserted locations such as Fukushima or abandoned malls and railway stations. The succession of images gives us a haunting taste of a post-apocalyptic world. The quiet film works best on the big screen where distractions are minimal.

Song to Song (Terrence Malick, Closing Film)

The international premiere of the latest Malick, mere days after the world premiere at SXSW, is probably the biggest coup by the programming team. Song to Song, set in Austin’s buzzing music scene, features all the actors (Rooney Mara, Ryan Gosling, Michael Fassbender, Natalie Portman, Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Val Kilmer) and most musicians (Iggy Pop, Flea, Patti Smith, Arcade Fire, Fleet Foxes). Malick’s work is at best a metaphysical experience of cinematic consciousness, at worst a visual feast of beauty and thought-provoking ideas. Sections of the audience may have struggled with the (apparent) lack of structure and narrative in his recent films To the Wonder, Knight of Cups and to a lesser extent The Tree of Life, but the disciples of this cinematic eagerly await his latest output.

Head to the festival's website for the full programme and schedule.

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