Archive for the ‘Argentina’ Category

Argentinian writer Daniel Mantovani has just won the Nobel Prize for Literature. He is at the height of his career. He gets invited to countless of conferences and readings, hobnobs with ministers and ambassadors, and lives in a majestic Barcelona villa with a library the size one would expect to see in a Borges’s short story. But something is wrong. He has not been able to write for five years, and the Nobel Prize might have confirmed his greatest fear: turning into the sort of writer whose works coincide with the taste of the establishment he so deeply scorns. But what is it that a writer should try to achieve? What is his purpose, and what is it that moves him to write in the first place?

It is upon these questions that Gastón Duprat and Mariano Cohn build El Ciudadano Ilustre, a moving and thought-provoking tale of homecoming, art and belonging directed with a warm and smart touch that lingers long after the film’s ending credits.

It is, first and foremost, a brilliant character study. When the mayor of Salas, Mantovani’s Argentinian hometown, informs the Nobel laureate he intends to award him the medal for Distinguished Citizen, Mantovani returns to the tiny village he had fled thirty years before and embarks on a Wild Strawberries-like journey that will shatter his aloofness and makes him confront old memories and past loves.

Salas is a tiny rural village, most of whose inhabitants have never read any of Mantovani’s books and yet follow him around the village as if he were a rock star. The mayor himself insists that Mantovani is to be paraded around the city on top of a fire-brigade truck, standing next to the local teenage beauty queen, and the city council puts together a power-point presentation to hail the writer as the nation’s new hero. They are all wonderfully written and superbly funny moments, but they only stagger what remains, at its core, a deeply nostalgic tale.

There is a memorable scene in which Mantovani gives a quick interview for Salas’ local TV channel, and when asked what his job entails he claims a writer is someone who is not satisfied with the way the world is, and wants to add something to it. He, however, has never been able to write about anything other than Salas. Life in Europe did not provide him with the inspiration he was after, and all his tales have been set in the village he ran away from. In the end, the story of his comeback will turn into a novel itself. Duprat and Cohn skilfully structure El Ciudadano Ilustre into five chapters, so that the film looks like the book it ends up inspiring. But when a journalist presses him to reveal whether the book is based on true events, Mantovani bitterly replies asking whether the question matters at all. Does it make any difference whether what one writes is based on reality, or figments of one’s imagination?

All throughout his staying in Salas Mantovani’s fellow citizens ask him the same question, and pressure him to confirm the names of the places and people he got his inspiration from. He keeps reminding everyone that his work is pure fiction, but nobody wants to believe that. To the eyes of Salas’ inhabitants, Mantovani’s writing serves a specific function. If for the Nobel laureate writing adds something to a world that does not live up to one’s expectations, for his fellow citizens it is a way to grant immortality to Salas and its people.

This is what makes El Ciudadano Ilustre a truly remarkable work. Duprat and Cohn’s latest work debunks the act of writing by offering different and at times conflicting takes on its purpose. It is profound and intriguing, intellectually rich and yet written and directed in a way that seamlessly shifts from moments of surreal humour to heart-breaking scenes where Mantovani tries, and fails, to re-establish a degree of connection with the town he escaped. El Ciudadano Ilustre is one of this year’s Venice Film Festival greatest surprises – hopefully the jury will award the Argentinian duo the accolades they deserve.

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The jubilant “¡que viva Chile!” producer Patricio Escala shouted as he and director Gabriele Osorio received the Oscar for best animated short film was probably one of this year’s ceremony’s most memorable moments. The two had more than one reason to celebrate: Historia de un Oso (Bear Story) was Chile’s first ever Oscar. Yet Escala and Osorio’s was not the only Latin American country to leave a trace on last Sunday’s ceremony. Colombia made her first appearance before the Academy with Ciro Guerra’s El Abrazo de la Serpiente as best foreign language film nominee, and Mexico won big with the duo Iñárritu-Lubezki, the first now celebrating his second consecutive best director award, the latter his third as best cinematographer.

In some important ways the Oscars seem to have consolidated the spot Latin America cinema has gained over the past few years. The region’s cinema is blossoming, and the world is enjoying and rewarding its growth. A look at the most recent Academy’s decisions is telling: if Emmanuel Lubezki has become one of the Academy’s most successful habitués (and now holds a record as the only cinematographer to have won three times in a row), Mexico has also fathered the best directors of the past three editions: Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity, 2014) and Alejandro G. Iñárritu (Birdman, 2015 and The Revenant, 2016). But Latin America’s successes extend outside the United States too. In 2015 alone the region left an indelible mark across Europe’s most prestigious festivals. Venezuela’s Lorenzo Vigas’s Desde Allá won the Golden Lion at Venice’s 72nd International Film Festival, where Argentinian Pablo Trapero received the Silver Lion for best director for El Clan. At Cannes’s 68th Film Festival, Colombia’s César Acevedo’s was awarded the Caméra d’Or for his La Tierra y la Sombra, and Mexico’s Michel Franco’s Chronic won best screenplay.

While Latin America exports its gems abroad, Colombia is home to a festival which has historically helped developing the region’s cinematic potential. Held yearly in the Caribbean walled-city of Cartagena de Indias, the International Film Festival of Cartagena (FICCI) is Latin America’s oldest. Founded in 1960, it seeks to promote Ibero-American cinema, hosting the works of directors from Latin America, Portugal and Spain for a five-day movie feast set in Colombia’s coast. An entirely public event (entrance to all movies is free of charge), this year it will be home to some 120,000 viewers and will be screening 154 films, all of them more or less directly touching upon the region’s relationship with its often violent past.

For cinema, in the words of FICCI’s Artistic Director Diana Bustamante, turns into a mechanism that can help deconstruct a people’s history and heal collective traumas. Arguably never in the history of Latin America, and of Colombia in particular (close as it now is to sign a peace treaty and put an end to over 50 years of internal conflict with the leftist FARC guerrilla) has this calling been so urgent. The ten Ibero-American movies that will be screened in this year’s official competition look closely into the region’s past and the suffering caused by the multiple conflicts which have plagued it. From the armed conflict which Colombian Felipe Guerrero talks about in Oscuro Animal to the conflicts of gender and performativity which Gabriel Mascaro and Julio Hernández Cordón deal with in Boi Neon and Te Prometo Anarquía respectively, FICCI 56 aims to show the extent to which cinema can turn a history of violence into an opportunity to reimagine and shape an altogether different future.

From the 2nd until the 7th of March Cartagena’s Film Festival will offer a snapshot of the most recent transformations of Ibero-American cinema. FICCI, for the European as well as Latin American public, will be a unique opportunity to make sense of the renaissance which has brought the region back at the center of world cinema.

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1) CAROL (DIR. TODD HAYNES, USA)

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By far the best film that I’ve seen this year, Haynes serves up another sumptuous melodrama focusing on societal prejudices. Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara play the two lesbian lovers torn apart by 50’s conservatism.

2) THE LOBSTER (DIR. YORGOS LANTHIMOS, GREECE)

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Funnier than most comedies and darker than most dramas, Lanthimos’ weird sci fi was one of 2015’s strangest offerings. Colin Farrell plays a heartbroken single man sent to a eccentric rural match making hotel- if he doesn’t find a true companion there he will be ‘terminated’.

3) BITTER LAKE (DIR. ADAM CURTIS, UK)

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Veteran essayist Curtis turns his focus on the ‘simplification’ of modern politics in order to mask truths, exploring the West’s involvement in the Middle East in particular. Distilling hundreds of hours of fascinating footage and ethereal ambient/pop music, Curtis has created a film that is dreamy, poetic and ultimately unsettling.

4) THE TRIBE (DIR. MIROSLAV SLABOSHPITSKY, UKRAINE)

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An unusual take on the mobster drama, this peculiar Ukrainian film sees a young deaf mute enrol in a boarding school for the deaf and dumb, only find to himself embroiled in ‘The Tribe’, a group of young thugs. The cliches of the gangster film are all here, but the film gains a strange power in its use of silence.

5) TANGERINE (DIR. SEAN BAKER, USA)

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This effervescent LA comedy drama sees Sin-Dee, a trans working girl just out of prison and on the lookout for her cheating pimp boyfriend. Shot just on iPhones and using real locations, Tangerine has a chaotic buzz and naturalism to it that is reminiscent of John Cassavetes’ work.

6) FORCE MAJEURE (DIR. RUBEN ÖSTLUND, SWEDEN)

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An icy oddity that left viewers debating whether it was best to laugh or cry, this had echoes of Ulrich Seidl’s films. Set on a ski holiday in the French Alps, a near fatal avalanche leaves a Swedish family in a world of confusion and reproach.

7) TOKYO TRIBE (DIR. SION SONO, JAPAN)

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Madcap hip hop gangster musical from the deranged mind of Sion Sono. Warring gangster clans vie for power in a neon lit, rain drenched Tokyo, as vicious hip hop beats flow over the soundtrack and gore splashes across the screen.

8) A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT (DIR. ANA LILY AMIRPOUR, USA)

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Like Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive, this US-Iranian effort seductively subverted the vampire film genre. A young woman stalks the Iranian Bad City, looking for male prey. The story is thin but the film is atmospheric and eerie, gleefully turning the male predator cliche on its head.

9) STRAY DOGS (DIR. TSAI MING LIANG, TAIWAN)

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It takes a while to settle in to the pacing and tone of Tsai Ming Liang’s languorous films, but once you are in, you are in. A father desperately tries to provide for his young family on the drizzly streets of Taipei, as they find shelter in an array of abandoned and decrepit buildings. Moments of real poetry amidst the decay.

10) WILD TALES (DIR. DAMIÁN SZIFRÓN, ARGENTINA/SPAIN)

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A Tarantino film for people who don’t like Tarantino, this collection of mini films thrills and chills in equal measure. Loosely based around a theme of retribution, we see an often mundane beginning quickly escalate into something ludicrous and often bloody. It’s testament to director Szifron that the films remain both silly and gripping.

 

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1) TIMBUKTU (DIR. ABDERRAHMANE SISSAKO, FRANCE/MAURITANIA)
TimbuktuA tremendously moving modern tragedy set in contemporary Mali, but filmed in director Sissako’s native Mauritania. Timbuktu tells a story of a community fractured by a group of power-hungry Islamist militants intent on controlling the population by undermining the people’s existing cultural and religious practices. In spite of its bleak outlook, the film also captures the incredible music of the region and possesses a sense of spirited defiance in the face of tyranny.

2) MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (DIR. GEORGE MILLER, AUSTRALIA/USA)
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In the hands of another director Mad Max: Fury Road would likely have been an unnecessary and unwelcome reboot, but in the hands of Mad Max originator George Miller it was a triumph. The film is a relentless post-apocalyptic dash from A to B (then B to A), in which Tom Hardy’s petrol head grunt overcomes his misogyny in the service of fighting totalitarianism. It felt surprisingly prescient.

3) SELMA (DIR. AVA DUVERNAY, USA)
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With Selma Ava DuVernay declared herself a directorial force to be reckoned with in 2015. Telling the story of the civil rights marches led by Martin Luther King in Selma, Alabama in 1965, DuVernay marshals a remarkable ensemble of actors with a superb David Oyelowo as Dr King. The film is most exhilarating thanks to DuVernay’s focus on King’s tactics, making for a timely film that reveals both the tough decision making, as well as the sacrifice behind the cause.

4) A PIGEON SAT ON A BRANCH REFLECTING ON EXISTENCE (DIR. ROY ANDERSSON, SWEDEN)
A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on ExistenceRoy Andersson’s latest work is a film of light amusement, deadpan wit and grandiose horror; as the final film in a trilogy about being human, it is an apt achievement. In Pigeon… Andersson’s view on humanity – as found in his advertising work – is one of stale compartmentalised existence, yet there are also moments of painful history, which intrude at uncomfortable intervals. It’s a telling take on modern Western life and a haunting look at our place in history.

5) A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT (DIR. ANA LILY AMIRPOUR, USA)
A Girl Walks Home Alone At NightUndoubtedly the coolest film of the year was the brilliant directorial debut of Ana Lily Amirpour, who transitioned from a prolific career in shorts. Though an American production, the film is an Iranian vampire flick in spirit with Amirpour’s Farsi script and excellent troupe of Iranian-American actors. The real success of the film is Amirpour’s perfect blending of the vampire genre with film noir and Fellini & Leone-esque cinematic stylistics. It’s a film buff’s dream.

6) WELCOME TO LEITH (DIR. MICHAEL BEACH NICHOLS & CHRISTOPHER K. WALKER, USA)
Welcome To LeithWelcome To Leith is a brilliant example of how documentaries are becoming increasingly suited to the cinema environment. Telling the story of the residents of Leith as they face off against notorious white nationalist Craig Cobb, filmmakers Nichols and Walker use Western genre tropes to tell both sides of the story and build unbearable tension. It’s a disturbing tale of intolerant ideology and vigilante action in modern America.

7) WILD TALES (DIR. DAMIÁN SZIFRÓN, ARGENTINA/SPAIN)
Wild TalesBrilliantly pulling off perhaps the most challenging film format, the anthology film, Damián Szifrón’s Wild Tales tells a number of disaster stories – from vehicular disasters to weddings gone awry – in an almost-continuously exhilarating two hours. Particular highlights include tales of a jaded demolition expert and a case of rural road rage.

8) IT FOLLOWS (DIR. DAVID ROBERT MITCHELL, USA)
It Follows 2The long held horror tradition of punishing the sexually promiscuous comes to its inspired conclusion in It Follows, in which a curse is passed on through the act of sex. Mitchell creates an atmosphere of dread seldom seen since Hideo Nakata’s Ring in 1998 and the direction recalls the artful horror tropes of John Carpenter, making this a rare American horror classic among recent genre entries.

9) PASOLINI (DIR. ABEL FERRARA, FRANCE/BELGIUM/ITALY)
PasoliniAbel Ferrara’s look at the life of Italian cinematic maestro and social critic Pier Paolo Pasolini is something of an oddity. It features a gravely Willem Dafoe and numerous fantastical sequences from an unrealised Pasolini project; yet it is also an atmospheric, passionate, even mysterious tribute from a student to a master. So evocative in style, it’s a film that begs to be revisited and Dafoe is captivating under Ferrara’s direction.

10) FORCE MAJEURE (DIR. RUBEN ÖSTLUND, SWEDEN)
Force MajeureNo film comes close to Force Majeure in the race for the most cringeworthy filmic effort of 2015. This story of a Swedish family on a skiing holiday in the French Alps becomes a hilariously excruciating watch, after the father fails to exhibit the expected alpha male traits in a crisis situation. Director Ruben Östlund amps up the tragicomedy with his use of glorious cinemascope, which makes every awkward line and humiliating detail seem embarrassingly colossal.

HONORABLE MENTION – JOHN WICK (DIR. CHAD STAHELSKI, USA)
JohnWickThe Matrix aside, Keanu Reeves has not exactly been a reliable source of cinematic greatness – but in Chad Stahelski’s John Wick he contributes so perfectly to the film’s understated wit and panache that we should probably think again. Based on a premise of such hilarious simplicity, this is the revenge flick that Nicolas Cage and Liam Neeson have been relentlessly competing to make for about a decade.

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A brilliant portmanteau picture from Argentine director Damián Szifron (exec produced by Almodovar), Wild Tales is consistently thrilling, hilarious and horrifying throughout its numerous unrelated (but thematically linked) sections that make up the complete film. Built out of short stories that would traditionally provoke shock, the film finds a dark humour in numerous outrageous circumstances, to crowd-pleasing and simultaneously disturbing effect.

Wild Tales is at its finest when playing to the most relatable, cathartic circumstances. In one early section two drivers on a remote, mountainous road, square off against one another; one is a suited city-slicker (Diego – played by Leonardo Sbaraglia) in an expensive car, the other a rural tough guy (Mario – played by Walter Donado) in a beaten up old banger. After an exchange of insults, the city dweller experiences a flat tire. Unsurprisingly, he is dealt less than charitable gestures from his partner in road rage.

In perhaps the most frustrating, and simultaneously liberating sequence, a demolition expert called Simón Fischer (Ricardo Darin) finds himself dealing with local government bureaucracy as he attempts to make his way home to his daughter’s birthday party. After a series of run-ins with the law, his specialist training begins to seem useful in ways that do not line up with the imposed social order of which he is an unwilling participant.

The film’s most gloriously outrageous sequence, however, is a more personal affair. Taking place at the wedding of a particularly sickly pair of people, the wedding party is treated to a display from the most excessive, attention seeking kind, when the wife suddenly discovers news of her new husband’s infidelity. The scene is staged extravagantly, with an enormous ballroom, loud music, strobing lights and hundreds of guests and locations throughout the rest of entire venue (including the roof) for the staging of various memorable, sordid moments.

The film’s weaker segments suffer only slightly from excess dialogue – for example, an amusing, but somewhat lengthy legal scenario, in which a wealthy businessman attempts to convince his employee to take the fall for his son’s hit and run accident – and yet on the whole, Wild Tales is a hugely successful tragi-comedy.

As the anthology format goes too, this is also a rare triumph, due to the dramatic promise and satisfying closure of each section. With moments of sheer horror in spite of the laughs Wild Tales is certainly not a film for the faint-of-heart, but for those with the stomach for it, it’s a wild ride indeed.

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For me 2013 has become ‘the year of the film festival.’ In February I attended my first big international film festival, the Berlinale, as part of the Berlinale Talent Campus. Bitten by the festival bug I immediately arranged to cover the BFI London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, which was happening upon my return. Then I heard that Nisi Masa were running a workshop in Cannes, which required a team of young writers to produce a magazine (Nisimazine) on young filmmakers with new features and shorts showing at the festival. I applied and was selected, and so we began planning under the guidance of the very organised (and busy) Fernando Vasquez.

The team was comprised of critics from around Europe, which was then split into two teams; one to cover the first week of Cannes, the other to cover the second. I was part of the second group, working alongside great young critics from France (Melanie and Elisabeth), Germany (Patrick and Sophie), the Netherlands (Kris) and the UK (Piers). Also writing were Fernando himself and Luisa from Columbia.

I woke up at the reasonable hour of 2.30am (BST) on Monday the 20th of May, after a robust four hours sleep and made my way to Gatwick airport where I bumped into Taylan, a friend from film school. We arrived in Nice just after 9am (CET) and promptly met with Kris. Tired, but enthusiastic, we made our way to Cannes via a train that we caught by a matter of seconds. After meeting with Fernando outside Cannes station we went to collect our festival badges (and were introduced to the festival badge caste system), before heading to the apartment to meet with the team as they arrived and discuss our plans for the week ahead.

Our Heroes Died Tonight (Dir. David Perrault, France)

Our Heroes Died Tonight (Dir. David Perrault, France)

That night I caught my first film of the festival, it was British film The Last Days on Mars, which was showing in the Director’s Fortnight (the Director’s Fortnight is one of three ‘festivals’ that exists within the Cannes Film Festival. The other two are the Critics Week and the Official Selection.) It is a low budget sci-fi feature that managed to make its way to Cannes on the strength of an impressive opening scene and a strong ending, topped off with a number of good performances and some great design. However, I could not help the feeling that I was watching a b-movie and, given that this was one of the few British films appearing this year in Cannes, I felt a sense of bewilderment as to why my native film industry was not more daring when represented somewhere so prestigious.

On Tuesday (21st) I went to see my second film of the festival, the French wrestling drama Our Heroes Died Tonight (Critics Week.) It is a tremendously bold piece of work, which probably shouldn’t work, and yet it does. Combining stylistic traits of the Nouvelle Vague and Béla Tarr, a historical backdrop of the Algerian war and 60’s French wrestling, director David Perrault has successfully made a memorable and entertaining work that will surely develop a significant cult status.

Following Our Heroes… I went to the short film corner to see The Opportunist (Critics Week) by American director David Lassiter. Since I was interviewing David later, it was important to find plenty to discuss in the film and I was very fortunate to discover an accomplished short full of nuance and ideas. In the film a young man blags his way into a party and then proceeds to take advantage of the hedonistic pursuits available to him. It is a deeply unsettling short film, but it never steps into extremes, allowing the tension to bubble beneath the surface.

My Sweet Pepperland (Dir. Hiner Saleem, Iraq/France/Germany)

My Sweet Pepperland (Dir. Hiner Saleem, Iraq/France/Germany)

On Wednesday morning (22nd) I caught Até ver a luz (Director’s Fortnight), which was screening in the critics week. I was there to review the film for Nisimazine and was impressed by the naturalism achieved by director Basil da Cunha. The loose script however, which was slackened considerably by heavy improvisation, was a problem as the narrative failed to grip me. Clashing with the screening of Até ver a luz was Only God Forgives, which my colleagues enthusiastically went to see (before enthusiastically berating the film.) Unfortunately (or fortunately?) for me, I failed to catch the film a further two times; this became a running joke. However, that evening I did experience one of the festival’s pleasant surprises: My Sweet Pepperland (Official Selection) by Iraqi-Kurdish director Hiner Saleem. Like a Leone western, set in Iraq following the demise of Saddam Hussein, My Sweet Pepperland is a bold and stylish satire that will make viewers grimace and guffaw equally.

When Thursday (23th) arrived I way particularly excited, as Jodorowsky’s Dune (Director’s Fortnight) was on the cards for 22:00 that night. Prior to that I had plenty of writing to grapple with and a bunch of short films to watch and review. I lined up shorts from China (Butter Lamp), Israel (Babaga) and Argentina (All The Things) respectively. They were something of a challenge to review, given their varied cultural backgrounds, but this made for a particularly fruitful day. I broke up my intensive writing session with a trip to the Turkish pavilion with my colleagues, where we drank Turkish beer, took amusing group photos and chatted with a man who reassured us that Ryan Gosling is a nice guy.

The Dance of Reality (Dir. Alejandro Jodorowsky, Chile)

The Dance of Reality (Dir. Alejandro Jodorowsky, Chile)

When Jodorowsky’s Dune finally arrived my expectations were high. I had been waiting for this film for two years. The film more than delivered, brilliantly exceeding my expectations. Director Frank Pavich has created a film that is a testament to Jodorowsky’s vast imagination and ambition in trying to film Frank Herber’s epic sci-fi. He also captured Jodorowsky’s unique humour, combined with his frantic passion unlike any previous documentation (including The Jodorowsky Constellation and Jonathan Ross Presents for One Week Only: Alejandro Jodorowsky.) After a brief exchange of Jodo-enthusiasm with Pavich, I left the theatre completely ecstatic; yet this was only half of the Jodorowsky/Cannes experience.

On Friday (24th) I did something strange for a film festival: I did not see any films. That isn’t to say I didn’t try. I attempted to gain entry to the Only God Forgives market screening. Alas, the badge caste system was not in my favour and it was fruitless. Nevertheless, it was a good day, because I had a meeting with Lee Marshall (Screen International, Sight & Sound), in which he advised me on the writing I had done over the past few days. Lee’s experience writing for important trade magazines and critical outlets was invaluable and I greatly appreciated his enthusiasm for the unusual titles that I was covering. Later in the day we also met with Dana Linssen, who put me on to the Nisimazine in the first place. Dana is a real idealist among film critics and a great inspiration for young writers, who face the challenging and sometimes cynical world that is film journalism. It is critics like her who continue to make film criticism a truly worthwhile endeavour.

Saturday (25th) was my last day of film watching, and it was the best one. Kris, Melanie and I queued early for Roman Polanski’s Venus In Fur (Official Selection). When I realised that the film would take place within one confined theatre space I was filled with despair. Yet, Polanski managed to win me over, with a film reminiscent of his classic The Tenant. However, it was Jodorowsky’s The Dance of Reality (Director’s Fortnight) that completed my week. Returning to the Director’s Fortnight with Patrick, I saw a film that was everything I expected from a Jodorowsky film and more. The film is an emotional, surrealist, occasionally hilarious critique of the way that ideology contorts the human soul. It features an absolutely extraordinary, operatic performance from Brontis Jodorowksy as Alejandro’s Stalinist father. The film moved me unexpectedly, perfectly concluding an exciting, intensive week of hard work, great people and vibrant cinema.

Of course there were films that I really should have seen, but didn’t. Palme d’Or winner Blue is the Warmest Colour, Camera d’Or winner Ilo Ilo and Mark Cousins’ A Story of Children and Film too. But I will see them when the time comes. Regardless, my first experience in Cannes was truly a great one. I hope to return to the festival in years to come to encounter wonderful, familiar faces and more inspiring cinema. It may be a lot to ask, but I sense that Cannes can deliver.

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