Before we begin focusing all our attention on the 15 films that were shortlisted, let's take a look at the 15 best films that didn't advance to the next round. With International Feature constantly getting stronger and stronger, and the quality of the submissions getting better and better, the amount of remarkable films not getting shortlisted is getting harder to accept. We want to take the opportunity to highlight these films as each and every one of them were probably incredibly close to making it to the final 15.
Here they are:
15. MEDITERRANEAN FEVER (PALESTINE)
The film is about Waleel who is married and has two kids. He’s a writer, but he’s never ever published a book. He’s been going to therapy for the past two years. And the reason is because he suffers from deep depression. Most normal things are difficult when you have this illness. The therapist asks Waleel if he’s been able to exercise. He responds back by saying, “the problem is I need to get out of bed before I can go for a walk.” All of this changes though when a new neighbour, Jalal, moves in right next door.
Maha Haj has created a special film that deals head on with depression. The key to the film’s success is her ability to create this magical bond between the two main characters. The chemistry they share together is something truly special. The film balances perfectly between comedic moments to balance out the dark subject matter. And the screenplay is awards worthy.
Mediterranean fever is a genetic virus that causes recurrent episodes of fever that are typically accompanied by pain in the abdomen, chest or joints. This virus can unfortunately be passed from generation to generation. We see glimpses of Waleel’s father suffering from depression. And we see glimpses of Waleel’s son beginning to suffer from this disease as well. People who have never dealt with depression think it’s just being sad or being in a bad mood. But depression is falling into a state of greyness and numbness. Waleel expresses to Jalal that it’s like waking up and feeling that there’s no point to anything. Depression is living in a body that fights to survive, with a mind that tries to die. And we just hope that Waleel, and everyone else suffering from this illness, will find the help to one day regain their life back.
14. SAFE PLACE (CROATIA)
Safe Place is a tough film to watch. It starts out with a man, Bruno, desperately trying to smash down a door in an apartment building. His brother has attempted suicide. And he is trying to save his life. He’s able to get the door open to see his brother, Damir, covered in blood, dripping down his arm. The ambulance arrives and Damir is taken to the hospital. The film takes place over a course of 24 hours as the family tries to adapt to this horrific situation.
It’s heartbreaking to find out that this film is autobiographical to the director Juraj Lerotic. Individuals affected by suicide feel like they are waging a war invisible to everyone else. All they want to do is keep their loved ones safe. Is that safe place at the hospital? Or is it at home? Or is the psychiatric ward the best place to stay? The paranoia and indecisiveness of future actions are always on the top of their minds. As Bruno says “It’s as if somebody’s beating you up on the playground, and I just look away and leave.” It’s impossible to know what’s truly on someone’s mind or why they have decided to take such a drastic action. Only Damir will ever know. And the loved ones are left standing trying to pick up the pieces of their broken hearts.
13. PLAN 75 (JAPAN)
The film Plan 75 begins with a young man committing a horrific killing in a care home. He states that the elderly surely don’t wish to be a blight on the younger generation. The premise of this film is similar to an incident in 2016, where a man who used to work at a care home for the disabled ended up murdering 19 people. The man claimed that he found the disabled, and elderly, to be a burden on society. In this alternative Japan, the government has thus approved a program called Plan 75 where anyone over the age of 75 can euthanize themselves to better the country. The people who volunteer for this program will receive $1,000,000 Yen (roughly $7,000 USD) as a gift, along with several plans like a free of charge burial if you’re cremated as a group.
Chie Hayakawa has masterfully directed a film focusing on this idea. Chieko Baisho is a revelation in this film, as a 78 year old woman who needs to decide whether to continue her life, while struggling to make ends meet, or to sign up to the program. Her presence is extraordinary every time she’s on the screen. The pain and despair in her eyes. The wanting to continue to live but the feeling that life has become too much. The choice of dying with dignity, or not.
Humans have no choice about whether to be born but should we be able to choose when to die? Should people be able to decide when to leave this world on their own terms? After all, we’re all alone in life. But the tricky part is that society will never allow it to be a true free choice. Employees are trained to ensure that participants won’t quit along the way. They are trained to give the “clients” the courage to make their final journey in peace without any lasting regrets. Nobody wants to die for the fun of it. And as the Plan 75 slogan states: “We’re there for you until the end.” If only that was the case.
12. KLONDIKE (UKRAINE)
Following Donbass, Atlantis, and Bad Roads (all submissions for Ukraine the past couple of years), the latest film from the Donetsk region is Klondike. It takes place in July 2014, in the Hrabove area during the time that the Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 was shot down by Pro-Russian separatist forces. All 283 passengers and 15 crew were killed. But this film isn’t solely focused on the plane crash, or even the war between Ukrainians and Pro-Russian separatists in Donbass. Its main focus is on Irka and her husband Tolik as they fight to live their lives as normally as possible.
Director Maryna Er Gorbach's camerawork is just astounding. The frames in the film where the house is shown and the entire landscape can be seen in the distance is just so visually striking. The cinematography of their stunning surroundings is just beautiful to watch, despite the chaos happening around them. It’s an amazingly crafted movie, and so well done.
The Klondike is a region in Canada in the Yukon Territory. It’s most famous for the Gold Rush that happened between 1896 and 1899. More than a 100,000 people made the journey to the area in the hopes of becoming rich. Few did, most didn’t. Is Donbass like Klondike? A stunning part of the world, where there’s beauty in every corner, like gold? But instead of people heading to the area to become rich, they’re fleeing the area to save their lives. Only a few refuse to leave. May one day these strong, brave people find gold in their lifetimes, like the few people who became super wealthy in the Klondike.
11. A PIECE OF SKY (SWITZERLAND)
The film is about Anna and Marco. Two people who fall in love up high in the mountains of Switzerland. They have a young daughter named Julia and they just got married. Their life is about to start in the slow paced town way up in the sky. Unfortunately life doesn’t always work out the way we envision it. Marco begins to have debilitating headaches and blurred vision in one eye. After a terrible motorcycle accident, Marco is examined by a doctor and a huge tumour right above the right eye is discovered. It’s the part of the brain responsible for impulse control, and not only affects his personality, but eventually all movement in the left side of his body. One truly horrifying incident will then forever change their lives.
Michael Koch has deliberately created a slow paced, absolutely breathtakingly beautiful film. Every frame is like moving photographs. Every shot lingers just a little longer than expected. We see the beauty in the simple things, like rocks, and the trees, and the snow. Life isn’t always all action but it can be slow, especially in a rural small village. Julia asks her mother: “What’s heaven like?” And I think heaven is taking our experiences with us up to the clouds in our hearts. And like the rocks that have been laying in the ground for centuries, a man can sometimes be tumbling down the mountain like a landslide, unable to control his future. Our loved ones will always be with us, in a piece of the sky looking down on us, like the small town where they live up in the clouds.
10. THE EXAM (IRAQ)
Set in Kurdistan, the film is about two sisters, Rojin and Shilan. Rojin is about to take her exams to try to get into university and Shilan is willing to do anything to make sure she succeeds in them. Getting to university is the only option. Shilan is trapped in a loveless marriage with a man who is exceedingly controlling. And the same fate is guaranteed for Rojin if she fails to gain admission into the university. Her father has already set her up with a man she strongly dislikes.The problem is that Rojin is having difficulties studying and she isn’t the brightest student. So what’s their option? Shilan seems to have found the answer.
The Exam is a suspenseful drama that shows the domestic terrors that occur in oppressive patriarchal societies. These two sisters want to have the choice to decide what they want to do in regards to their education, their marriages and their day to day lives. This hard-hitting, distressing film shows the vulnerabilities that women face in Iraq and other societies that don’t allow them to make decisions about anything.
Can you just imagine the pressure if your entire future depends on a set of exams? How far are you willing to go? And if you do make it to university, then what? There just isn’t a happy ending for anyone.Shilan tells Rojin to “not let anyone make you do something that you don’t want to do.” And the tragic circumstances to make that statement true is all too often occurring for women across the world. It’s the most important exam question: life or death.
9. GIRL PICTURE (FINLAND)
Set in Helsinki, this film follows two best friends, Mimmi and Ronkko, for three Fridays in a row as they navigate through their teenage lives. The film begins with Mimmi and Ronkko spending most of their time going to school and working at a smoothie booth. One Friday, Mimmi meets Emma, one of the top figure skaters in the country, while working and after an interaction between one another, they’re invited to a house party. Mimmi and Ronkko are both at the point in their lives where they’re looking to explore relationships and the pressures that comes with it. As Ronkko tries to experience and feel something with a man, Mimmi and Emma’s relationship begins to grow into something much more special.
What makes Girl Picture incredible is that it manages to capture the personalities, perspectives and motivations of these three women perfectly. Their stories are all incredibly different and each character is so well done that you’re instantly drawn into them and you want to get to know them better. Their decisions, emotions and the aftermath are all extremely relatable. We just want them to succeed and to be happy.
Director Alli Haapasalo has done a fantastic job at creating a film that flows into something really special. Every shot has a purpose. The writing, the performances and the cinematography are all incredibly well done, as is the soundtrack. It all feels so warm and intimate like you’re experiencing life with them. While this film is definitely a coming of age story about three incredible women, it’s overall strength is the fact that it’s a real story about learning to be at peace with oneself and trying to become a better version of oneself too. We all make mistakes, we all learn from our mistakes, and we all need to grow from our mistakes. And this film is a reminder that life is complicated, life isn’t always straight forward, but life can also be a beautiful thing. It’s a joy to experience and witness sexuality, queerness and female friendship free of judgement and restraint.
8. HARVEST MOON (MONGOLIA)
The film begins with Tulgaa who lives in Ulaanbaatar as a head chef for a five star restaurant. One day he receives a phone call from someone in his childhood village telling him that his father, Ambaa, is extremely sick. Reluctant to go back to his childhood home, he eventually decides to take the long journey back to his hometown. After a bus and motorcycle ride, Tulgaa is reunited with his father. They enjoy their last few moments together reminiscing about the past. As Tulgaa has been away for so long, Ambaa tells his son that he “didn’t realize that nothing could keep you from leaving.” And soon after he passes away.
As Ambaa was responsible for the hay harvest for the school, the school director hopes that Tulgaa can take over for the season. Tulgaa agrees to honour his remaining commitments to his community. Soon after beginning his work he meets a local boy named Tuntuulei, who laughs at the “city boy” trying to work the fields. But despite getting off on the wrong foot, the two find a common ground and their delicate bond will forever alter their lives.
Director Amarsaikhan Baljinnyam has created an impressive, beautiful and touching film exploring fatherhood. And the bonds that are created due to absent fathers. It’s a simple, but achingly tender film about new relationships being formed in the most unexpected places. And lives forever changed as a result. The film is a tribute to anyone who takes a role as a father. As Tulgaa and Tuntuulei work the fields during the day and spend nights hovering around the fireplace eating and talking, the most beautiful moments are spent watching their bond grow as the clear moon shines over the harvest. It’s a different way of life. It’s an extraordinary way of life. And this incredible special film will melt one’s heart when it’s all over.
7. MARS ONE (BRAZIL)
The film is set in Belo Horizonte, in a lower income neighbourhood, as Bolsonaro has just become president of the country. Mars One is entirely focused on a loving family: a married couple Tercia and Wellington, and their two children Eunice and Deivinho. All four family members dream of a better life. Tercia wants nothing more than for her family to be ok and healthy. For Eunice, she’s ready to tell her family that she’s a lesbian and that she wants to live with her girlfriend to begin her new life. For Wellington, his goal is for his son to become a professional soccer player. But for Deivinho, he dreams of becoming an astrophysicist and to go on the Mars One mission. Mars One is a project to establish a permanent human settlement in mars by 2030.
Gabriel Martins has created a strikingly beautiful film following one family as each person is working to survive and to become the best versions of themselves. The key to the film's success is the way the director has created such a strong bond between each of the family members, while showcasing them all as being human. We experience their day to day lives. There are moments of joy and celebrations. There are moments of marital arguments over money. There are moments of intense disagreements between the parents and their children.
With the current situation in Brazil, we know that things will get harder on the family, and for so many Brazilians. But the film leaves room to be optimistic that they’ll all be ok in the end. They have each other no matter what. It’s a beautiful thing to watch. Everyone has something that motivates them. And this film is a reminder to follow one’s dream. If something is that important to you, even if all the odds are against you, you should still pursue it. Our dreams can only come true if we have the courage to do it. Take things step by step. Day by day. And as the saying goes, “don’t dream your life, live your dream.” We are all after all still alive and anything is achievable while we’re still breathing.
6. A CUP OF COFFEE AND NEW SHOES ON (ALBANIA)
Set in Tirana, Agim and Gezim live together in an apartment. As they’re both deaf-mute they rely on each other for everything, but they also count on Gezim’s girlfriend Ana for help when communicating with others. They own a carpentry workshop and frequently play card games and drink socially with a small group of friends. Life is routine for them and that’s the way they like it. Agim however, begins to notice signs that there’s something wrong with his eyesight. Agim discloses with the doctor that he’s been having issues with his sight for the past year. After a series of examinations, the doctor discloses that his eyes are irreparably damaged and that gradually he will go blind. And since they’re monozygotic twins, Gezim will also suffer the same fate.
Director Gentian Koci has created one of the most touching, heartbreaking, unique films of the year. Filmed with no music, no sound, and with no special effects, Gentian has allowed this story, which is inspired by true events, to take over with such raw and pure emotions. This film wouldn’t have succeeded without the incredible lead actors who spent six months learning the Albanian sign language to properly portray this story authentically.
This film hit me really hard. It made me really think that life, and all the beauty surrounding us, needs to be appreciated daily. It’s the little things that make life worthwhile, like a cheery smile, a kind gesture or for the brothers, a little human touch. And likewise, even in the most unexpected places or in the worst-case scenarios there can still be moments of pure joy and happiness.
5. ALCARRAS (SPAIN)
The film follows a family of peach farmers in Lleida, a small city in Catalonia. 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.
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.
4. UTAMA (BOLIVIA)
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.
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.
3. NARCOSIS (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.
2. BEAUTIFUL BEINGS (ICELAND)
The film is focused on a group of boys, Addi, Konni and Siggi who bring a new member into their gang. It 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. 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.
1. WORLD WAR III (IRAN)
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.