Part 1: Ukraine
Ty mene lubysh? (Do You Love Me?) (Tonia Noyabrova)
The second film of Ukrainian director Tonia Noyabrova turned out to be a semi-autobiographic story of growing up seventeen years old Kira against the backdrop of the collapse of the USSR and the divorce of her parents. Noyabrova does not hide that she took a lot in the script from her own life. Her own father in the 90s was a famous showbusiness man in Ukraine, therefore, the heroine of her film lives in a bohemian family, in abundance, receives imported gifts for holidays from family friends, tries the first steak from a can and foreign chewing gums in life. Kira is studying at the university at the Faculty of Acting and demonstrates her acting talents at home in front of the mirror to the sounds of Bananarama. Once, after classes, an unfamiliar girl approaches her and says that she works with her father. In this very moment Tonia Noyabrova removes the sound, Kira’s cosmos breaks, but behind this silence it becomes clear – her father has an affair. At home to the sounds of a family scandal, she swallows pills and drinks alcohol. The medic who saves her turns out to be not only a good specialist, but also a guy who one can fall in love with, and to whom one can escape from a disgusting house to such an interesting and exotic communal apartment.
Tonia Noyabrova recreates the atmosphere and life of the 90s in detail, being careful not only to objects of underwear, but even to the cleaning products. And this is not the first example of the recreation of life in the 90s in Ukrainian cinema over the past year. We have already seen something similar in the film by Iryna Tsilyk Rock.Paper.Grenade, as well as in the film La Palisiada by Philip Sotnychenko, which was premiered at the Rotterdam Film Festival this year. The fact that Ukrainian directors massively began to make films about the 90s is a trend, but quite predictable. The childhood of many current young Ukrainian directors took place precisely during this period. Noyabrova supplements this palette of films with a sincere and sensitive statement of how difficult it is to grow up.
Iron Butterflies (Roman Liubyi)
Roman Liubyi is a documentary director from the cinematographic group Babylon 13, the previous film of whom was War Note, a montage story collected from dozens of videos of Ukrainian soldiers fighting in the so-called DPR and LPR. The new film, the premiere of which took place in Sundance this year, is again dedicated to military topics. However, in the focus this time is not Ukrainian military, but Russian war crimes.
The film is dedicated to the case of the Malaysian Airlines aircraft MH17 in July 2014, which was shot down by the Russian BUK anti-aircraft missile system. The picture begins with the personnel of Russian television propaganda and then combines people from a meeting in the court of the Hague in the case of the crash of the aircraft with a theatrical production. Actors portray passengers flying aboard and dead, as well as residents of the village, next to which the desaster happened. Roman Liubyi at many levels deeply explores the topic, trying to melt dry statistics about international losses in an emotional story with ballet elements. Maryna L. Gorbach talked about how the collapse of the aircraft was reflected in a specific family in her feature film Klondike, while Liubyi documents this crime in the form of a kind of manifesto. Why is the film called Iron Butterflies? The traces of shrapnel that remained on the surface of the aircraft look like butterflies.
It’s a Date! (Nadia Parfan)
In the program of shorts, Nadia Parfan was awarded special mention for a film, which is simultaneously an hommage to the work of Claude Lelouch`s C’était un rendez-vous, as well as a loving recognition of her native city Kyiv. The film, which lasts only five minutes, will spend, or rather, it will carry you at the speed of the wind along the tracks and the streets of the morning Kyiv and will deliver to the final destination. The film was shot in one long take, and this is not the first time that Ukrainian filmmakers are experimenting with this format. A few years ago, at the Odessa Film Festival was the premiere of the film Philip Sotnychenko’s Technical Break, which was also shot in one long take. Parfan’s film with many expressive means also speaks of the war in Ukraine, which is not shown on the screen, but is invisibly present.
My ne zgasnemo (We Will Not Fade Away) (Alisa Kovalenko)
Donbas, 2019. Five teenagers are finishing school and are on the threshold of adulthood. They seriously think about their future. Lera wants to be a photographer, Lisa is an artist, Andrey is fond of motorcycles and wants to design his own motorcycle and be like Elon Musk, Ilya wants to be an actor, and Ruslan wants to record rap. They walk through the minefields at the same time that Russian troops are preparing for a new invasion. One day they learn that a famous TV presenter and sportsman is recruiting teenagers from the occupied territories for a trip to the Himalayas. Will their dream come true? After all, these young people want to escape not only from the war, but, like teenagers all over the world, from the boredom and narrow-mindedness of a provincial city. In Nepal, grandiose landscapes, virgin nature and the beauty of new lands await them. Lisa even cries from everything she sees. But soon they will return back and will drive past mangled tanks and military equipment to their homes. The film has a postscript, which tells their further fate after a full-scale Russian invasion. Communication with Ilya and Ruslan was lost.
Perhaps Alisa Kovalenko is not such a great director who just got a good material in her hands, but the fates of these five teenagers speak for themselves and are a powerful cinematic experience. Sometimes Kovalenko includes an English-language soundtrack, adding drama to this already painful narrative. It seems that her own life is intertwined with the lives of her heroes, because immediately after the start of the war in 2022, she went to the front as a volunteer.
Part 2: All the World
Mummola (Family Time) (Tia Kouvo)
A very special Finnish «Christmas» film that can now be included in an alternative list of Christmas films, such as Piotr Domalevsky's Silent Night. This is a full-length debut, which grew out of the short film of the same name by the director, who has an education of a social psychologist. The film shows that she is primarily interested in small communicative groups and the impossibility of communication as an existential fact. Why are our family holidays so boring? Why does grandfather run away from everyone to drink a bottle? Why didn't the husband hug his wife when he came home, and when he did, she still thought he did not see her?
Tia Kouvo tries to answer all these questions by shooting a story in two acts. She does not use close-ups as a matter of principle, because she believes that the viewer should see the whole picture of the festive table, when all the characters are equal, and there are no main or secondary ones. This is a very delicate work with dialogues, when they make up almost a cacophony of contents, when they chat about nothing and everything at the table. Kouvo wrote all these funny and ironic conversations herself.
Talk to Me (Danny & Michael Philippou)
A group of teenagers, led by a black brisk girl, are engaged in seances of spiritualism. One day they open the door to the other world, and the dead begin to speak to them. For one of the boys, this session ends very badly, he ends up in the hospital. This does not stop the rest in their search: whom to believe - dead or alive?
Two Australian brothers, previously famous for their viral YouTube videos, created a youth horror and black comedy at the same time. When you watch Talk to Me, it's more funny and unpleasant at the same time than just scary. Filmmakers are trying to reimagine horror from a black feminist perspective, as Jordan Peele recently did in his hit film Nope. This is a promising debut with a powerful surprise ending.
Here (Bas Devos)
The winner in the Encounters section, this short (only 80 minutes) film by Belgian Bas Devos can be called «a film about soup and moss». Devos, who had already been a participant in the Berlinale twice, finally achieved mastery in his field. In the center of the plot is the Romanian worker Stefan, who is about to go home from Brussels. He spends his weekends clearing out his fridge, making soup out of leftover vegetables, and then meeting his friends and family for soup. In a small restaurant, he meets a girl who is writing a doctorate on moss. The meeting turns into a long romantic walk in the forest, after which both have a pleasant feeling of understanding.
Devos' cinematography is like crossing a Hong Sang-soo film with an Apichatpong Weerasethakul film. A calm, kind, intelligent film that can lead the viewer through a story in which nothing seems to be happening, but at the same time life is happening.
The Beast in the Jungle (Patric Chiha)
In a Parisian club, two young people meet - Jack and May. Jack is Tom Mercier from Synonymes (Golden Bear 2019). A woman, played by Beatrice Dalle, works at the face control in the club, she is the one who tells their story. Jack has a secret - he believes that fate has prepared for him some big deal of his whole life. Despite the fact that May is engaged to Pierre, Jack offers May a strange friendship - every Saturday to meet in this club and wait for this event of his life with him. May agrees and from 1979 to 2001 they constantly meet at the club. Jack never realizes that what is about to happen to him is love until he loses May.
The film is shot in the spirit of Eugene Green and modern French philosophical film. The meetings of the main characters take place against the backdrop of club life and a dancing audience. The circular movements of the camera emphasize the years and entire decades that pass by in vain. Lots of symbolism and meaningful conversations are there. Patric Chiha transposes the couple from Henry James’s short story The Beast in the Jungle to the club. It is a very beautiful film, one of those that are so lacking now.
Motståndaren (Opponent) (Milad Alami)
The story of how an Iranian refugee family settles in Sweden. The head of the family, Iman, is a former prominent Iranian wrestler who was forced to flee the country due to the fact that he was slandered by a colleague in Iran out of envy. He said that Iman participated in state protests, although he did not (a colleague wanted to go to international competitions instead of him). Iman beat a colleague and the police are looking for him. In Sweden, he gets a job in a delivery service, he has two daughters, and his wife is pregnant again. In order to improve his situation in Sweden, Iman decides to resume wrestling and compete for the Swedish national team. Here he meets the young wrestler Thomas, and a friendship develops between the men, which leads to something more. If in Iran Iman had to fight for his honor, in Sweden he has to fight with his own feelings.
It is a typical Panorama film with a homosexual overtone, but at the same time on a socio-political theme. The whole homosexual line is shown through allusions and situations hidden from the camera, but the film is very painful. There is a shocking scene when one of the refugees commits self-immolation.
La grand chariot (The Plough) (Philippe Garrel)
Philippe Garrel, as befits a French patriarch, made a film about his own family with his own children as actors and actresses. It is a metaphor for a puppet show in which Philippe sees his own destiny as a director who manipulates not only the actors, but also his own children. Louis Garrel agreed to play such a game, it seems, out of respect for his father. He is simply present in the frame, and like each of us in our own family, he is frankly bored, and to occupy his hands with something, he peels tangerines. Louis has long had directorial ambitions of his own, but plays along for his father in his sad and hilarious ode to the demise of a craft (cinema, of course).
It is not necessary to watch just to get acquainted with the new film of the former artist (but Garrel got a prize for it as a best director), but because even Garrel has Ukraine present in the film - in the form of the FEMEN movement on a newspaper page.
Disco Boy (Giacomo Abbruzzese)
Franz Rogowski plays a Belarusian who joins the French Legion to gain citizenship. Once in Nigeria, he kills the leader of the local resistance, whose soul moves to Rogowski. Then in France he attended a night club where the sister of killed by him Nigerian danced.
The film is very beautiful visually, an Rogowski is simply a god in it. But there is one question why he starred with Italian debutant Giacomo Abbruzzese, for whom Belarus is somewhere in the post-Soviet East and who is trying to be Nicolas Winding Refn. The director simply used him because the entire film rests on his charisma.