This week we're taking a look at our favourite movies of the year. This has been one of the strongest set of films that we've watched. And this journey to watch every single submission has been so rewarding and moving.
We've narrowed it down to twenty movies and the following ten just missed our best of the best:
20. Opponent (Sweden) 19. The Taste of Things (France) 18. In the Shadow of Beirut (Ireland) 17. Vera (Austria) 16. Shayda (Australia) 15. Totem (Mexico) 14. Four Daughters (Tunisia) 13. Seven Blessings (Israel) 12. Godland (Iceland) 11. Perfect Days (Japan)
10. THE MONK AND THE GUN (BHUTAN)
The film begins in 2006. The King of Bhutan has decided to abdicate and introduce elections for the very first time in the country’s history. Democracy is now a part of the country and the citizens are unsure what to think of it, let alone understand how the process works. As the country prepares to abandon its traditional monarchy, democracy activists travel to the most remote villages to teach its largely uneducated citizens on how to vote. The Monk and the Gun is a brilliantly made political comedy intertwining two key elements on Bhutan’s history: political modernity and economic modernity. This clash between tradition and progression is at the forefront of this film, providing insightful moments on Bhutanese culture, but also how the legitimacy of political systems is lived, practiced and can be transformed in everyday life. While the introduction of elections may be seen as an empowering step in Bhutan, it also can’t be imposed on a nation if the people don’t want it yet. This democracy is being forced on people that don’t understand why they can’t keep doing things the way that’s always worked for them. Instead, the citizens of the country has taught the rest of the world how to live in a peaceful, safe, loving country without the need for guns nor the need to change their way of life, not yet anyway.
9. THE MISSING (PHILIPPINES)
The film is about Eric, a quiet young man who works as a computer animator and who has a crush on a co-worker Carlo. One day he receives a phone call from his mother Rosalinda. Eric has not said a word since he was a child. He now communicates by writing on a whiteboard that’s always hanging around his neck. He also has been suffering from nightmares as a child. A giant green alien keeps re-appearing in his dreams, but also while he’s at work or hanging out with Carlo and Rosalinda. His safety is hiding under his bed for hours, and sometimes even for some days. He hasn’t spoken to anyone about what’s been happening with him, and he feels alone despite Carlo and his mother’s best attempts to find out what’s wrong. This film approaches those suffering from debilitating trauma with such care and compassion. There are certain moments in the film that are incredibly difficult to sit through, and even more so watching it a second time, but the film’s belief in gentleness and openness to those living through unfathomable mental and emotional distress is what makes The Missing so special. There are depictions of Eric’s entire world collapsing, but the reconstruction of his life is just so brilliant and gut-wrenching all at the same time.
8. EXCURSION (BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA)
Director Una Gunjak latest film is about a young girl named Iman, who’s in the eighth grade. Seeking acceptance from her classmates, during a game of “truth or dare,” Iman lies to her peers that she’s had sex with an older boy named Damir. Iman is a young woman trying desperately to find her identity. In her world, and in the world of teenagers, the way they see themselves is going to be shaped in part by how others see them. While her other classmates seem to have a more solid understanding of who they are as people, Iman is at a loss. She fabricates a story in the hopes of winning their respect. She thinks that announcing to everyone that she’s had sex will make her cool, that it’ll make her seem more important. But one of the more concerning experiences during adolescence is the tendency for rumours to spread, quickly. A lie, which may feel small at first, can spread rapidly amongst ones peers. And once a rumour starts spreading, the widespread effect that it can cause is insurmountable. These effects can fester and derail a young person’s entire life to the point where they lose whatever self worth and whatever self confidence they had to begin with.
7. SLOW (LITHUANIA)
The film revolves around Dovydas, a sign language interpreter, who comes to assist a contemporary dancer Elena. She is instructing a class of deaf students and she’s in need of help with communicating with her young dancers. After their first session working together, Dovydas and Elena have an instant connection, an instant feeling of familiarity and comfort. Everything feels right. And there’s a feeling of innocence almost like discovering love for the first time. Dovydas and Elena soon after begin to form a romantic bond with one another. There’s a gravitational pull that brings them together. They spend their days at her dance studio, as she prepares her routines with her students. They spend their time at local bars, getting to know one another better. They attend Dovydas’ brother’s wedding and they meet Elena’s mom. But as their relationship begins to get more intense, Dovydas reveals that he is asexual, and that he’s not attracted to anyone sexually. He never has been and he never will. And he can’t change it. Is love enough to sustain this relationship? Can we love someone without sex? The film is a love story about learning and growing as a person. It’s a love story about rediscovering what it means to truly know someone and to take things slow. It’s a love story that’s special and will not be forgotten.
6. FALLEN LEAVES (FINLAND)
The film is about Ansa and Holappa, two lost souls in Helsinki who live simple lives and who are struggling to make ends meet. Ansa currently works at a supermarket but she’s fired when she steals expired food. Holappa struggles to stay sober long enough to get through an entire shift at work. Like Ansa, he is also fired. As both of them try to rebound to find new jobs, they meet by chance at a karaoke bar. It’s love at first sight. The film dances around the love of these two lonely people, who are both struggling to stay afloat in an expensive city like Helsinki. Ansa and Holappa search for warmth, within each other, and the light in the darkness. Life doesn’t have to be so bleak just as long as one can escape it and find comfort in the things that one enjoys the most. It is a comedy that is sweet without ever tipping into sentimentality. It is a romance between two lonely people who, for a time, appear to have no hope of finding happiness. It is, occasionally, a musical. It is, at time, a sobering reminder of the war in Ukraine, as heard throughout the radios in Helsinki. And, most importantly, it’s a film about alcoholism and the dangers of it.
5. BLAGA'S LESSONS (BULGARIA)
Starring the incredible Eli Skorcheva, the film is about a 70 year old retired literature professor from Shumen named Blaga. One day, Blaga receives a frantic phone call from a police officer stating that she’s in danger of getting robbed by a group of highly skilled scammers. The officer insists that if she cooperates, they will be able to arrest the culprit red-handed. Blaga must take all her money, put it in a bag, and throw it over the balcony. She does as she’s told. Little does she know that she’s been scammed. She’s lost all her cash and now she has nothing. Blaga must now figure out who to do next, and she’s desperate and alone. Anchored by an astounding performance and driven by a sense of bleak honesty, Blaga’s Lessons is a fascinating psychological drama about a woman who’s been violated, about a woman who’s entire life has changed because of one incident, about a woman who’s lost everything but not her willingness to fight back. Blaga goes to extreme measures to ensure her own survival, in a country where day to day life is hard. It’s a powerful exploration of desperation and the impact that it has on one’s well-being, both physically and mentally.
4. THE TEACHERS' LOUNGE (GERMANY)
Director Ilker Catak’s latest film is a physiological warfare set in a classroom led by teacher, Carla Nowak. The film is set in a school where the've been having problems with theft and the other teachers and staff have reached their limit. They think it’s one of the students in Ms. Nowak’s class. This powerful film touches the themes of authority, power, justice, judgement and truth. What starts out as a story about theft turns into something bigger. The Teachers’ Lounge isn’t a film to find out who committed the crime. It isn’t a film to find out who’s innocent or guilty. It’s about the actions of people and the spiralling effects that it has on everyone it reaches. In this situation, if what happened in the teachers’ lounge actually stayed in the teachers’ lounge, things could've been resolved. But as things go, rumours have a way of branching out so that eventually it reaches everyone, in this case the students, the teachers, the staff and the parents. Everyone has their own opinions. Everyone has their own versions of the truth. And more importantly, everyone is convinced that they are right. This begins a cycle of lots of talk while nothing is being said. Questions remain unanswered and everyone involved is angry about the unsatisfactory resolution to the problem. Despite having the best intentions, some situations are practically impossible to resolve.
3. THE CAPTAIN (ITALY)
The film is about two young teenagers and cousins, Seydou and Moussa. They live in Dakar, Senegal. They’ve been secretly working odd jobs for the past six months saving money to leave their city and families behind to move to Europe. They dream of becoming hip hop stars where they can earn even more money to support their families and to give everyone a better life. Despite locals warning them not to do the impossible journey, the young men escape one morning and jump on the bus to head to Mali. Their illegal migration has begun. After securing fake passports, their first goal is to head west to Agadez, Niger. And from there to head across the Sahara Desert up north to Tripoli, Libya until they reach the small town called Zuara. The final leg of the journey is the boat ride to Italy. Their destination. Their dream. But nothing goes as planned. Checkpoint guards ask for money. Drivers leave them stranded in the desert. The Libyan mafia ambush and torture them until every single cent they own is given to them. Bitterly regretting their decision, wanting to go back home, but knowing that they can no longer turn back, Seydou and Moussa fight for survival where dead bodies lay all around them.
2. THE ZONE OF INTEREST (UNITED KINGDOM)
The film takes place around 1943 and it’s about a German family: Rudolf, a long-serving commandant, his wife Hedwig and their five children. They live in a large country house, impeccably maintained by a handful of Jewish women, with a beautiful garden and right by a lake, where they frequently spend their time to relax. This could be any loving, ordinary German family. But they’re not. Right next door is the Auschwitz concentration and extermination camp. The signs of horror are subtle yet always constant. The black smoke in the distant is always present. There’s ash in the lake. Gun shots are frequently heard, followed by screams. At night, the redness of the gas chambers glow. This is the place where more than one million Jews were murdered, tortured and forced into the most inhumane forced labour. But it’s never shown. Instead, Rudolf and Hedwig, and their children enjoy lavish parties. They spend time gardening their plants. They have business meetings and lunch gatherings with their friends. This is their dream home and they’re happy here. The film is a meditation on evil. It gives us a different perception on what evil can look like. And the scary part about it is that it looks very familiar.
1. 20 DAYS IN MARIUPOL (UKRAINE)
This film begins in February 24th, 2022. Vladimir Putin announces that a “special military operation” in “self-defence” was starting due to threats that Ukraine might attack Russia. Mstyslav Chernov, and two of his colleagues, photographer Evgeniy Maloletka and producer Vasilisa Stepanenko decide to head to Mariupol, knowing full well that this key port, just 30 miles from the enemy border would be Russia’s first target. They were right, within hours, bombs begin to fall and this documentary showcases the next twenty days in the city. There aren’t enough trigger warnings to prepare someone for what’s to come in this unflinching, never compromising documentary. From its opening frame, the film doesn’t shy away from the most harrowing scenes, including graphic depictions of violence, bloody deaths, and the aftermath of destruction. 20 Days in Mariupol gives one a sense of life during wartime that isn’t an abstraction. It conveys the true cost of armed conflict and the human lives that it swallows along the way. Lives are shattered as family members are killed, homes destroyed, neighbourhoods blown away, and hope gone.