With this category, it's always incredibly difficult to predict who will get shortlisted. Last year we correctly predicted 12/15 films but all 15 films that were shortlisted were in our top 20 list. Films that debuted at Cannes, or are playing the North American film festival season tend to have the advantage when it comes to making it to the final 15. But there are always films that are flying under the radar.
We've now watched 70 of the submissions so we've had the opportunity to watch these films before most of the public. The Academy members are now watching these films as well. So these are the top ten films that we feel might be shortlisted and take critics by surprise. These are some of the best films, and definitely contenders.
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.
The most important thing is to see the sun rise again. But for the victims of scammers, the most important thing is to regain their sense of the world.
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.
Una Gunjak's tearjerker of a film is a confident and important reminder about the fragility of every single individual.
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. 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 since he was 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 mother. 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.
Eric went missing the second he experienced an unspeakable tragedy. But, in time, and with resilience, he's slowly been found again.
The film is about Marie, who has been living in France for years and has created a successful life there, including finding love. She has come home to Israel to marry her French-Jewish fiancé, Dan. She hasn’t seen her Moroccan-Israeli family for over 10 years. The wedding is beautiful, extravagant, and everyone appears to be happy, but something just isn’t right. The wedding is followed by Seven Blessings. These blessings are celebratory meals, honouring the bride for every night of the week. Different family members host the happily married couple preparing lavish dinners. Marie’s brother hosts the first night. The next day Marie’s mother, then her sister, then her other sister, and so on, until seven dinners have been blessed. As the days go by, there are moments of joy, but they are also overshadowed by a tense, usually angry conversations about the past. The reason being, is that Marie was given away as a two-year old to her aunt, ripping her apart from the home she knew and away from her siblings. This formidable ensemble of actors in the film showcase the psychological trauma that was caused due to this decision. It’s heartbreaking to see Marie listen to stories of her sibling’s childhood. The missed memories she lost.
For all the children who were given away, may they find peace, may they forgive, and may they write a new chapter in their lives of healing and happiness with their re-found families.
Playing herself as the lead role, Vera Gemma is struggling to find her own identity as the daughter of a famous actor. She grew up in a household where the idea of being beautiful is the most important thing in life. The film follows her life, going to high end parties, red carpet events, movie auditions, dressed perfectly and being driven around by a driver. Being the offspring of a famous actor has made her life seemingly comfortable and has opened the door for many opportunities, but at the same time it’s closed just as many. She thinks her dad destroyed her relationship with men, as her latest director boyfriend, just like all her previous relationships, is just using her for connections and money. This all changes though, when one day her driver accidentally hits an eight year old boy Manuel, which causes him to break his arm. She feels a sense of responsibility for the injury and she begins to form a bond with the son’s father and his grandmother. Vera is a story about a beautiful woman who so desperately wants to find a decent relationship with a man, any man. It’s about the exploration of being a child of nepotism and trying to find one’s own identity. It’s about the cruel beauty standards that our society inflicts upon ourselves and the pressure to keep up with one’s appearances. Vera knows that the most important thing is to be happy within oneself, no matter where you are in life, and not with material possessions. But it's a daily struggle to be happy.
Vera, like all of us, are trapped in a world dealing with loneliness, rejection, ageing, dishonesty, betrayal and feeling like a lost soul at the mercy of an unpredictable and often cruel world.
Lebanon is currently in its worst economic crisis ever due to corruption and a broken political system. The poverty in the country has increased from 42% to 82% in only two years. Hundreds of thousands of people have been living in impoverished neighbourhoods, mainly in Sabra and Shatila, including more than 30,000 people crammed in less than one square kilometre. Beirut’s poorest people live in these areas, alongside the displaced Palestinian people, the nomadic community, and families who escaped the war in Syria. This documentary follows four families from 2018 to 2022. There are countless individuals who become trapped in the cycle of homelessness, like the individuals depicted in the film. And breaking the cycle becomes impossible when young people are unable to gain an education, thus making it that much more difficult to get a job that pays a liveable wage in the future. To add to that, non Lebanese citizens are faced with numerous restrictions, such as being unable to work in certain professions and being unable to own property. The documentary witnesses it all.
This powerful documentary gives a voice to the invisible families who are living in the shadows of Beirut in Sabra and Shatila. They, for once, have been seen and heard.
After a fellow wrestling teammate starts a damaging rumour about Iman, he is forced to flee Iran immediately along with his wife, Maryam, and his two daughters. They end up in a small, cold Swedish town near the Finnish border. After two agonizing years of waiting on their asylum application, the family of four are constantly being shuffled from one refugee housing apartment to the next, while Iman works as a pizza delivery man to make ends meet. When Maryam finds out that she’s pregnant with their third child, they hope that this will help them get residency in this new country. And to further help their application, a translator friend suggests that Iman should start competing again in wrestling for Sweden, after being part of the Iranian national team at the Rio Olympics. Maryam strongly opposes this decision, as wrestling is the reason why they had to flee Tehran, but nothing will stop him from re-joining the sport. Much of Opponent plays out like a wrestling match, with the married couple grappling for an advantage, with often blocking and locking each other’s movements. Likewise, the push and pull within Iman and his family are shown as they slowly become accustomed to unfamiliar freedoms, like drinking at parties, smoking a joint, and getting lost on the dance floor. Life is different in Sweden and the jostling for acceptance of this new life, this new country, this new reality is always on the forefront of their minds.
“My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you.” When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard nor welcomed, but when we are silent we are still afraid, so it is better to speak. Iman’s biggest opponent is his silence.
The film takes place in 2019 in Amman, when Nawal one day discovers that her husband Adnan has died during his sleep without any warning. His death leaves Nawal and their daughter, Nora, alone and forced to fend for themselves in a society that revolves around men. As a widow with no sons, the grieving widow has very little say when it comes to her future. The domestic legal reality for Nawal is that the property ownership now rests in the hands of her brother-in-law, Rifqi. He gets to decide how the property will be divided, which includes the house and their car. Despite paying for most of the downpayment and half the mortgage payments, Nawal discovers that Rifqi now owns half the apartment. And since he desperately needs cash, he wants to sell it, which essentially will leave Nawal and Nora homeless. It’s a crazy system where the family of the deceased has a right to a share of the inheritance just because Nawal doesn’t have a son. Desperate and alone, Nawal claims to the judge that she’s pregnant with a boy hoping that it’ll keep a roof over her head for a little while longer.
When a woman loses her husband, she actually loses her lover, her partner and everything in her life. Here’s hoping that one day we get to hear the phrase “inshallah, a girl.”
The film is about two young lovers, namely Banel and Adama, who live in a tiny village in Northern Senegal. They spend their days together telling stories to one another, laying in the grass while taking care of their village’s cattle, spending their evenings together planning for their future. They dream of living together in an abandoned house which is buried by a recent sandstorm. They’re in a dream like mentality, utterly infatuated with one another. Inseparable. They’ve been in love with one another since their early teens, but Banel was forced to marry Adama’s older brother Yero, who was the tribal chief. When Yero died after a horrific accident, Adama was welcomed by the tribal elders to now marry Banel. They’ve now been married for a year. But the community is furious at them for two reasons: Adama refuses to accept the position of tribal chief and Banel doesn’t want to get pregnant, to raise a male heir. While this is all happening, a drought strikes the village, and weeks and months go by without any rain. Are the newlyweds to blame for the calamity that has struck the village?
This destruction is shown with devastating beauty and is a reminder of the effects of climate change in countries like Senegal.
This is the story of Ram and Mia. The film takes place in a small village in Nepal. Due to a traumatic past event, Ram is struggling with alcoholism and is unemployed owing debts to everyone in town. Luckily, one day, a government service position as a postman opens up, left vacant due to the former employee pursuing a job in the Gulf. His job is to go to the remote villages around the country delivering mail to the rightful owners. Most of the mail is coming from men who are stuck and enduring torturous circumstances in the Middle East. En route to one of the villages, Ram meets Mia, a married woman whose husband left for Qatar a week after their wedding and has now gone missing for the last two years. Today, migrants account for an average of 70% of the employed population in the Gulf, and over 95% in Qatar. Is trading a hut for a sandcastle worth it for a potential better pay? Can we blame these men for leaving when it is a necessity rather than a choice? Halkara is a film focusing on those who remained, on those families stuck in an endless loop hoping for a letter to know that their husband, son, or brother are still alive. Will the letter reveal that they are well and that they’ll be coming home soon? Or will it reveal that their lifeless body is being sent back home in a coffin?
Do I write I am alright and coming home soon? Or shall I write I am just surviving the inferno? For the postman, his job is to deliver the letters and hope that what’s inside isn’t the worst case scenario.