This week we're taking a look at our favourite movies of the year. This has probably been one of the best set of 92 films we've ever seen. The level of quality from each and every submission has been extraordinary. 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. Klondike (Ukraine) 19. A Piece of Sky (Switzerland) 18. The Exam (Iraq) 17. Girl Picture (Finland) 16. Harvest Moon (Mongolia) 15. Mars One (Brazil) 14. Corsage (Austria) 13. A Cup of Coffee and New Shoes On (Albania) 12. Return To Seoul (Cambodia) 11. Holy Spider (Denmark)
10. ALCARRAS (SPAIN)
The latest submission for Spain is Alcarras, directed by Carla Simon. It follows a family of peach farmers in Lleida, a small city in Catalonia. Their home is a dream for anyone wanting to live far away from the city. There’s nothing but trees, and hills, and greenery. Their land goes on for miles and miles and miles. Day in and day out, the kids play in the fields, while Quimet, the father, and their other family members harvest peaches. It’s the only way of life they’ve known. They love what they do. And they’re super happy with the life they’ve created for themselves. This is their world.
The three generational household is a super close, tight-knit, loving family but their world is about to come crashing down.
Quimet has received word from the landowner, the Pinyol family, that they have to leave by the end of the summer. Quimet owns the house, but the land was given to them by word-of-mouth during the war, as Quimet’s grandfather saved the lives of the Pinyol family. But without a contract, the “rightful” owner wants to setup solar panels rather than a peach farm. And there’s no use owning a house when they can’t farm the land.
The fate of the family now rests on their decision to fight for the land, to leave the land, or to re-start and adapt their lives.
Director and writer Carla Simon has created a slow-paced, beautiful and yet devastatingly hard to watch film. The entire cast are non-professionals yet they’re able to convey a perfect family dynamic that makes us fall in love with them. The cast consists of three generations and they’re what makes the film succeed. Watching the complete deconstruction of a family unit is heartbreaking, as their world falls apart. The abrupt ending of the film is perfection, as is the final image. It is excellent, haunting, anti-climatic. And it leaves the viewer wondering what will happen to them in the future, as the fate of Alcarras farmers are all being jeopardized.
9. UTAMA (BOLIVIA)
Utama is the latest submission from Bolivia and it’s the best film they’ve ever submitted. Alejandro Loayza Grisi has created an impressive film about the Quechua Bolivians. The film is about Virginio and Sisa who live in a tiny hut in a remote part of the Andean Highlands. Their view is nothing but openness with the mountains in the distance. Virginio on a daily basis takes his group of llamas out to graze and to eat food. Sisa, meanwhile, fetches the water from a nearby well and maintains the home. This is their life.
But something is wrecking the life that they have established far away from civilization. It hasn’t rained in a long time and everything is drying up. What little water they have left, they have to ration. And a few days later the nearby well dries up and their only other source of water is a river many miles away.
As the intense heat begins to take effect on them, and on the llamas, their grandson Clever shows up. He brings necessities with him. But he has come this time with a purpose. He wants his grandparents to move to the city with him.
Director Grisi has created one of the most masterful, controlled movies I’ve seen this year. The scenery is breathtakingly beautiful. The shots of the sunrise and the sunsets in this barren land is remarkable. We are engulfed in the landscapes. He has also created a film about a lifestyle and a group of people that most of us know nothing about, and this alone is praiseworthy and a gift for us. We immediately fall in love with Virginia and Sisa.
Virginio tells his grandson a story about the condor. He tells him that when the condor doesn’t feel useful anymore he will fly to the top of the mountain, drop his wings and fall down the cliff to his death. As the global warning takes effect on this earth the mountains and lakes that provide water and so many essential things to so many people are dying as well. Utama means our home. And our home is this earth. When something dies, a new cycle begins. We are the new cycle, and it’s time for us to make a change before it’s too late.
8. THE BLUE CAFTAN (MOROCCO)
Maryam Touzani’s second feature, The Blue Caftan, is the official submission for Morocco for International Feature. The film starts out with Halim and Mina running a caftan shop. The shop was started by Halim’s father, but the married couple has kept it running for decades. Creating caftans by hand is a dying industry as clients are shifting towards machine made Moroccan outfits. But despite that, Halim continues to create masterpieces for his clients, tediously working on them for hours.
To add to the pressure of running their store, Mina has also been struggling with her health for the past few years. Despite seeing numerous doctors and taking exam after exam, she’s incurable. And she’s done with going to the hospital. Since she doesn’t have the energy and the strength to go to work everyday, the couple decide to hire a new employee: Youssef.
Upon hiring him, Mina begins to notice that her husband is attracted to their new apprentice. Will this forever change their lives?
Like Halim’s beautiful caftans hanging around their shop, Maryam Touzani has herself created a work of art. Her own masterpiece. Words can’t begin to describe how effectively and beautifully the film captures love, even if it isn’t conventional. Every shot is so up close and personal. The tenderness of their hands touching as they work, the closeups of the sewing, the glances between the couples. So much can be said in the silence and in the eyes. And not enough can be said about the performances from all three leads. Saleh Bakri and Lubna Azabal are astonishingly perfect. The Blue Caftan is a love story. It’s about two people who got married at a young age and lived life together as a couple. Although Halim suppressed who he was as a person, he never ever failed as a husband. Despite having his flaws and indiscretions, his respect and true dedication towards his wife is something that is rarely seen on screen and in real life. He’s a man who could never ever be his true self but he’s also a man who never ever regretted his decisions in life. He’s a man who spent his entire life working on caftans. A man who dedicated his entire life to his bride. And while his greatest work achievement is a blue caftan, his greatest achievement in life will always be his one true love.
7. NARCOSIS (NETHERLANDS)
Narcosis is the latest entry for International Feature for the Netherlands. Director Martijn de Jong’s feature film debut is a delicate, touching story about love, loss and acceptance. The film is focused on a family of four: a happily married couple, Merel and John, and their two kids, Ronja and Boris. They live in a beautiful house that they bought and renovated from top to bottom. It’s a dream home, with a beautiful backyard, high ceilings, windows in every room. Their life is picture perfect.
John is a deep sea diver and his latest work assignment is to go to Boesmansgat in South Africa. It’s one of the most challenging dives in the world. And one of the deepest as it’s practically the closest you can get to the centre of the earth. John tells Boris that down there it’s just pitch dark blackness. The next evening, he says goodbye to his family.
And then the film resumes one year later.
Martijn de Jong has created one of the most poignant and stirring films of the year. From the first shot of an upside down world. To the beautiful score being played just at the right moments. To all the attention to details. To fully developing and showcasing each and every character as complex individuals. To the perfect amount of flashbacks. To the brilliant Thekla Reuten and the rest of the cast. It’s impeccably done. In underwater diving, narcosis is a reversible change in consciousness that occurs while a person is diving at deep depths. Bereavement is an irreversible change that occurs while a person is suffering from intense loss. The reality is that you will grieve forever after losing a loved one. The pain will always be there. But you’ll learn to live with it. You will heal, in time, and re-build yourself around the loss that you have suffered. You will feel whole again but you’ll never be the same. The memories, the laughter, the great times will always be there. The sadness will come and go as the years go on. But just remember to breathe in and breathe out when it becomes unbearable. Life. Loss. Denial. Anger. Grief. Depression. Acceptance. Moving on. But never ever forgetting the life once lived with your one true love.
6. BEAUTIFUL BEINGS (ICELAND)
Iceland has been producing some of the best films recently and Beautiful Beings, the latest International Feature submission for the country, is no exception. The film is focused on a group of boys, Addi, Konni and Siggi who bring a new member into their gang.
The film begins with a 14 year old Baldur who is different from most boys. He comes from a rundown home, where his father drowned while being on drugs, his stepfather beats him and is currently in jail, and his mother is absent most of the time. On top of that, Baldur is beaten and bullied repeatedly by his classmates.
When Baldur gets assaulted so severely one day after school, he ends up in the news. The violence amongst the youth in Iceland is increasing, and this attracts the attention of a group of boys: Addi, Konni and Siggi. The three boys all come from detached households as well, where each one of them is dealing with absent, abusive fathers in their lives. Slowly and steadily the trio bring Baldur into their group.
As their violent lives escalate towards a breaking point, the bonds between these four young men will be tested to the fullest. Director Guomundur Arnar Guomundsson has created a sad, raw portrayal of tough masculinity set in a tough environment. It’s a brutal, tender, honest, emotional film about male affection and male bonds in a cruel neighbourhood where all of these boys are carrying the burden of their unfortunate upbringings. Beautiful Beings is loaded with violence but the most striking moments of the film are the small moments of complete delicacy and beauty between male friendships. Especially in a world that is cruel and dark.
The four talented actors who play Baldur, Addi, Konni and Siggi make this film truly special. They’re all beautiful beings set in a world that isn’t always so beautiful. The film is one of the gentlest and at the same time one of the most violent films to be screened this year. It is utterly and completely heartbreaking, yet strangely optimistic. And our hopes for these four men is that they’re all able to break free and find peace.
5. THE QUIET GIRL (IRELAND)
The Quiet Girl, directed by Colm Bairead, is a subtle, gentle film about a young girl, named Cait, who is struggling at home and at school. Her parents neglect her. Her siblings ignore her. Her classmates mock her. There's a coldness in the house, and in the rural area where she lives. She doesn't belong. And as her mother is pregnant with another child and is close to childbirth, Cait is sent away from her family to spend the summer with her Uncle and Aunt in the countryside.
There's a sense of relief being away from her environment.
The film, from there, is a slow buildup, as Cait and her relatives slowly get to know one another. The film focuses on the simple things in life: preparing dinner, fetching water from the well, taking a bath, running to the mailbox, doing her chores, going to bed. The contrast is great. Her old home is dark, dirty, filled with an uneasiness of drunkenness and neglect. Her new home is sunny, clean, filled with love, nurturing, caring.
But then summer ends.
Led by a powerful performance by Catherine Clinch, in her debut role, the film is impeccable, stripped back film making, in a quiet gut-wrenching story. It's powerful when it lands. And there's a gentle serenity to it all. All a child wants is to belong to a loving and caring family. To feel safe. To feel protected.
The quiet girl may not say much, but her last word spoken in the film is the most powerful one of all.
4. WORLD WAR III (IRAN)
Winner of the Venice Horizons Award and the entry for Iran for International Feature, director Houman Seyyedi’s latest film, World War III, is a masterclass in every way possible. It starts out with a man, Shakib, who is a humble worker taking any odd job that he can find, like being a bricklayer or a porter. His wife and children died in an earthquake so he slowly builds a connection with a deaf girl, Ladan, who works at a brothel.
In a turn of luck, Shakib ends up getting a job at a movie set that’s being filmed near his town. He prepares breakfast for the crew and he protects the production sets at night. When the lead actor unexpectedly gets a heart attack, the director and producers scramble to find a new lead. Despite having no acting experience, Shakib is hired to play Hitler in a recreation of World War II. When Ladan tells Shakib that she’s afraid of her bosses and wants to live with him, his world turns upside down. Does he give up his opportunity to play a role in a movie or does he try to help Ladan to re-start her life?
Mohsen Tanabandeh is spectacular as Shakib. The transition in his mannerisms and behaviour from the start to the end is jaw-dropping. With a near perfect screenplay, Seyyedi has delicately created a film that starts slowly, almost comedy-like, and builds itself to a powerful last hour. The unimaginable escalation is almost apocalyptic, which flows into a shocking finale. “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man.” While you can step in the same river twice, it’s no longer exactly the same as when you first stepped in it, and you’re not exactly the same, either. History does not repeat itself exactly, but many of the same patterns tend to happen again and again. The atrocities that happened in World War II weren’t exactly the same as World War I, though similar. It’s a scary thought that if a man is pushed to the brink, World War III is inevitable.
3. ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT (GERMANY)
All Quiet on the Western Front is the latest International Feature submission for Germany. And it’s a stunner. It’s a bleak, relentless, brutal depiction of World War I. It follows four best friends who enlist into the German army full of patriotism having no idea what’s ahead of them. The film is an ode to the horrors of war.
In the spring of 1917, in Northern Germany, Paul, Ludwig, Franz and Albert have just signed papers to head to war. They’re all around 17-18 years of age and they’re super excited to represent their country. They have dreams of winning the war and marching into Paris victorious. They’re told that the war will be over soon and that most of them will survive and return home as war heroes. They have no idea that 40,000 soldiers are dying every few weeks.
As they head to Northern France, 25km from the western front, their march into a full on nightmare is about to begin.
Not a lot of films are made from the German perspective, and even less are made that make you feel completely sympathetic to the young German men. But these men aren’t monsters. There is no right or wrong side. They’re soldiers following orders from deranged leaders. The film perfectly captures the agony of survival, the fear of death and the humanizing of soldiers who do not fully comprehend what they’re doing. They all just want to go back home.
Felix Kammerer and the rest of the cast are magnificent. They’re friends. They’re soldiers. They’re fighting for their lives. Director Edward Berger has created a stunning technical achievement starting from its cinematography to its production design and that haunting score.
The film is terrifyingly realistic, emotionally exhausting, and incredibly difficult to watch. Every scene slowly builds more fear for these men and for us. It's an unnerving, engaging experience that never lets up and never lets you forget why we should never start a war. The only time that we can breathe throughout the entire film are the few tiny moments when it truly is quiet on the western front.
2. JOYLAND (PAKISTAN)
Joyland is the International Feature submission for Pakistan. This is a tough film for me to review. There are just so many emotions and thoughts going inside my head.
Haider and Mumtaz are a married couple living with their brother, Saleem and his wife Nucchi, their four kids and their father. It’s a family of nine under one roof. Mumtaz is working in her dream job as a bridal make up artist while Haider stays at home taking care of all his nieces. Neither Haider or Saleem have had a boy yet and there’s pressure from their father to have one.
Haider tells Mumtaz that he has an opportunity to work in an erotic dance theatre. The prospects of getting more money is lucrative to both but when they tell their family, Mumtaz is now forced to stay home to help with the household chores.
As Haider begins to work as a back up dancer for Biba, who’s a trans woman, he is fixated with her immediately. This awakens something inside him. This will have an impact on everyone around him and will forever change their lives.
Director Saim Sadiq has created a masterpiece. His depiction of all its flawed characters is masterful and he’s been able to truly reflect the human experience. Joyland accurately portrays the repressive Muslim society including the LGBT community, women and elderly.
Joyland is an amusement park right in the center of Lahore. And it’s a spot where people are happy away from their worries and fears. And pain. We as humans worry so much about what everyone else is thinking about us. And whether or not they’re judging us for who we are as people. We need to be true to who we are and accept ourselves. We need to explore one self individually rather than be dictated by social norms. And love ourselves. And be free. We need to do what makes us whole and what makes us happy. Joyland needs to be a part of our daily lives and not just an escapism whenever we go to an amusement park. We are all normal people living our own lives and trying our best. “Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.” It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept and celebrate those differences.
1. CLOSE (BELGIUM)
Lukas Dhont’s latest film Close is the newest submission for Belgium for International Feature. And it’s stunner. The film is about two kids Leo and Remi who are inseparable. It starts out during their summer holiday right before the new year of school begins. Leo and Remi spend every second together, playing games in the fields, riding their bikes together, practicing their musical instruments, and sleeping over at each others houses. Remi has problems sleeping at night and Leo would calm him down with bedtime stories and reminding him to breathe. They are best friends.
When the school year begins Remi and Leo are thrust into a new environment where other school kids start questioning their friendship. Because they’re always together, a group of girls decide to ask them if they’re a couple because they’re always close, a little too close. Leo objects to this insistently.
But Leo is affected by this and begins to distance himself from Remi. Leo tries to make friends with new kids, he begins to play hockey, and he doesn’t want to sleepover at Remi’s house anymore. Remi though continues to want to hang out with Leo all the time but their friendship will never be the same again.
Dhont has created an emotional roller coaster of feelings. His two leads, Eden Dambrine and Gustav De Waele, are the stars of the show and it wouldn’t succeed without them. Every frame is shot with perfection. Every dialogue has a purpose. The music and the scenery, it all works. Dhont has created a portrait of grief. His film is a realistic, concise and often overwhelming glimpse into how our actions effect everyone around us.
Films like this are super important for anyone who’s struggling within themselves. With self acceptance. Being a kid in school is super difficult. Being a kid who’s struggling with their identity can be even harder. Most students who are “different” will be harassed in school either with bullying or verbal assaults. And the graveyard of the school playground is where it happens the most. As a child it can feel like this pain will never go away. That it’ll never get better. But it does. It really does. And we need to keep our loved ones as close to us as possible and remind them that this will all pass. And that the future will be bright. The most special people are the ones that are different.