These set of 15 films were such a joy to watch. The films from Denmark and Austria are the two films with the most buzz, but the Moroccan film is sensational and extremely moving. Iraq, Mongolia and Lithuania have also submitted some of the strongest films of the year. So let's dive right in.
Leading the group from these fantastic 15 films is The Blue Caftan. It is super thrilling that Morocco has submitted this touching movie about love, and about acceptance. A happily married couple, Halim and Mina run a caftan shop right in the middle of their city. With Mina struggling with her health they decide to hire a young apprentice to help with the store. As Halim begins to train this young man, Mina begins to notice that her husband seems to be attracted to him. This sets up this masterpiece of a film directed by Maryam Touzani. It's a stunning achievement. And a film that is truly devastatingly beautiful in every way possible.
Another incredible female director is Marie Kreutzer. Her latest film Corsage is the International Feature submission for Austria. And it probably has one of the best performance from any actress this year. Vicky Krieps is the Empress Elizabeth and she's about to celebrate her 40th birthday. As a woman always praised for her stunning looks, she's worried about how people will judge her after she is forced to make a public appearance. What happens next is an incredible, witty, funny, difficult, depressing, complicated film about a woman who is slowly destroyed piece by piece by the society around her.
(Iraq - The Exam)
The two films from Iraq and Nepal are about young women and their uphill battle in getting an education to avoid being forced into an arranged marriage in a patriarchal society.
The Exam, submitted by Iraq, is one of the best films of the year. And it's one of the most unique stories too. Set in Kurdistan, the film is focused on two sisters: Shilan and Rojin. Shilan is trapped in a loveless marriage and so she is determined for her younger sister to avoid the same fate. Rojin faces two options: pass the end of the year exams and head to college or get married to a man arranged by their father. As Rojin struggles to study and learn the material needed to pass the exams, her older sister goes to great lengths to try to ensure her sister's future success.
Butterfly on the Windowpane is a revelation for Nepal. The film is about a young girl, Bidya, who dreams of going to the Harnamadhi Secondary School after she completes her studies in primary school. Only the top student gets a scholarship so when Bidhya ends up placing second her dreams come crashing down fast. Her only option now is to find a way to get the money to pay her tuition for next year. But as her father struggles with alcoholism, and her mother has problems keeping them afloat, her bright future begins to fade away.
(Serbia - Darkling)
These next three films can all be considered horror films, but each in their own unique way. They're extremely unnerving, difficult films to watch.
Holy Spider from Denmark is one of the most violent films to watch this year. Set in the Holy City of Mashhad, the film is about a man who is "cleansing" the streets from prostitutes or "morally corrupt" women. After numerous women go missing, newspapers begin calling the serial killer the Holy Spider. These recent murders attracts the attention of a journalist from Tehran, who arrives to the city to investigate what's happening and to gain an insight as to why it's taking so long to find any leads. As she delves more and more into the case, she begins to find out that this is only the beginning.
Darkling is the submission from Serbia and it tackles a dark time in Kosovo. After the war ended in 2004, in the region of Metohija, guerrilla attacks were happening to the people in the area. The film is focused on a family who live right in the border between Kosovo and Albania. Almost everyone in the area has fled to Serbia, but this family refuses to leave. The film is shot mostly in pitch darkness and the home looks like a prison, covered in barbed wire with triple locks on all the doors. Darkling is a film dedicated to everyone who's had to leave everything behind to start new in a foreign land.
You Won't Be Alone is the latest submission for Australia. Shot entirely in North Macedonia, it's a film about a girl, Nevena, who is left isolated inside a cave for her entire adolescent life, as a mother tries to protect her from a witch. But as things go, on her sixteenth birthday, Nevena is taken by the witch and for the first time in her entire life she gets to experience the outside world. The film is much more than just witchcraft, but about isolation and abandonment. And about getting a second chance in life despite losing most of one's childhood. The film is almost like a poem, in how delicate every phrase is told by Nevena on her newfound experiences.
(Mongolia - Harvest Moon)
One of the most moving films of the year is Harvest Moon, the submission from Mongolia. As the least dense country in the entire world, the film takes place in a gorgeous remote rural village. A man, Tulgaa, is returning back to his isolated hometown because his father is passing away. Tulgaa decides to stay a little longer to help with the hay harvest, after being asked by the school director. He ends up meeting a local boy named Tuntuulei and their amazing bond begins. The film is a tribute to anyone who takes a role as a father.
(Thailand - One For the Road)
The films submitted by Lebanon and Thailand delve head on into the past.
Lebanon's latest entry, Memory Box, takes place in Montreal, Canada. And it is about a young girl, Alex, who begins to rummage through her mother's package of journals and photographs. Her mother has never ever shared her past with anyone. As Alex begins to find out more about the Civil War that happened in Lebanon, she also discovers that her mother was a completely different person as a teenager living in Beirut. She was a person who despite her world around her crashing down as she fought for survival, she also fought for normalcy when there was nothing normal about her life.
One For the Road, the film from Thailand, is a road trip movie about two best friends re-uniting when one of them reveals that they have terminal cancer. Aood has leukaemia, and with only a few months left to live, he wants to say goodbye, in person, to all the people that meant the most to him. And by that he means all his ex-girlfriends. As he says bye to one after another, he has one hidden secret left to tell to his friend Boss who's been driving him all over the country. It's a sweet film about re-connecting with loved ones from the past and getting the closure needed to move on with one's life.
(Lithuania - Pilgrims)
Lithuania has submitted the film Pilgrims. And it's a movie that takes its time for the viewer to figure out exactly what's happening and determining who all the characters are in relation to one another. The film is about two friends re-connecting and re-stepping all the events that happened four years ago when a loved one was murdered in a random attack one night. They're looking for answers. They're trying to calm their long-term grief. It's a powerful film when it's all over.
Blockade is the latest submission for Hungary and it's a film dedicated to Jozsef Antall. It focuses on two key moments in his life. In 1956, when Antall was a teacher, he joins the Hungarian Uprising against the Soviet Empire. And in 1990, now as Prime Minister, he declares his intention for his country to leave the Warsaw Pact despite all the blowbacks that might follow. The film then follows the next four days as Russia stops its supply of oil into the country and Antall has no choice but to increase the gas prices significantly. This creates chaos as taxi drivers and truck drivers begin blockading all the major intersections of the city.
Now of these 15 films, there’s a chance that perhaps three of them will make the shortlist. If we had to pick three, and this is solely based on who we think will be nominated, we would single out the following:
Corsage - After its debut at the Cannes Film Festival, the Austrian film became a contender immediately. The star of the film, Vicky Krieps, has also received tons of praise for her performance as the Empress, even getting buzz for perhaps a best actress nomination. The film has been picked up by IFC Films, and it has a release date of December 23rd. It's played at nearly every film festival and it has a lot of momentum heading towards the awards season.
Holy Spider - Another film that has generated a lot of attention is the film from Denmark. And like Corsage it started its campaign early with a debut at the Cannes Film Festival. The film got picked up quickly by Utopia and it's in theatres now. It's a film that is unforgettable and its story and message is super important, especially with what's happening in Iran right now.
The Blue Caftan - Well, it seems like the Cannes Film Festival is the place to debut as this incredible film from Morocco also began its journey at the same time as Corsage and Holy Spider. It currently stands at 90 on Metacritic making it one of the highest acclaimed films of the year. People who have watched it are raving about it. The film also has a distributor with Strand, and it plans to debut in theatres early in 2023. We need more representation from African countries making it to the shortlist and this breakthrough film is the place to start.
We're now past the halfway mark as we tackle the last set of films. We will be watching Argentina, 1985, All Quiet on the Western Front, Bardo and more very soon.