The Rotterdam International Film Festival introduced the VPRO Tiger Awards in 1995. Each year, three prizes are awarded to filmmakers for their first or second film. Winners have included Lou Ye (Suzhong River) and Kelly Reichardt (Old Joy). In contention this year are a host of deadly serious films, tackling family relationships, leave-taking of many stripes and that old stand-by sex … often in the raw and ragged manner of contemporary cinema. The contenders also comprise a tour of emerging cinemas from Costa Rica to Georgia.
Agua fría de mar (Cold water of the Sea)
The pitch: A couple looking to sell their property on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast meet a seven-year-old stray.
Their lives are changed forever? Well, the tot certainly throws emotions and class boundaries into sharp relief in Paz Fabrega’s debut feature.
Alamar (To the Sea)
The pitch: A young man goes on a fishing trip with his father in the Caribbean’s Chinchorro reef.
Lots of booze and marlin to be had? It’s certainly an exercise in male bonding. Pedro Gonzalez-Rubio’s documentary approach to his story means the egrets get as much attention as the relationships.
The pitch: No film festival is complete without an a) dysfunctional family drama and b) a raw film in the manner of the Dardennes. Martijn Maria Smits’s film is both.
The title suggests bikinis and barbecues. Nope. This Dutch punch in the face is more joyless joyrides and ugly drunk people fighting in pubs. And heaving buttocks.
No film festival is complete without those either. Yep. Summer is not to be confused with an Eric Rohmer tribute.
Fuwaku No Adagio (Autumn Adagio)
The pitch: A nun faces a sexual identity crisis.
Sounds sexy! That’s a middle-aged nun.
Oh. She plays the organ to cope with the feelings stirred by a trio of men—a churchgoer, messianic gardener and ballet teacher. Musician Rei Shibakusa plays the nun. The film is said to be a more meditative effort following director Inoue Tsuki’s violent, prizewinning short The Woman Who is Beating the Earth.
Guangban (Sun Spots)
The pitch: A lovelorn girl makes a young gangster consider changing his ways.
Ah! Romance through redemption! The program notes suggest there’s a tragic outcome to this Chinese film from Yang Heng, director of the acclaimed Betelnut.
”Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in!” You won’t get your catharsis without it.
The pitch: Two unnamed brothers retrace Suriname’s underground railroad, traveling a route taken by slaves escaping their Dutch masters.
Well, this sounds inspiring. Chicago-based filmmaker Ben Russell’s documentary is composed of ten-minute-long unbroken takes.
Maybe I’ll bring my pillow. Eyes are all that’s needed. Russell’s film is an interrogation with the African nation’s past wounds and its magnificent landscape.
Lifadiande nüer (My Daughter)
The pitch: A young beautician and her teenage daughter endure a love/hate relationship. The curlers hit the fan when mommy gets pregnant again.
I’ll wait for the remake with Queen Latifah. Malaysian filmmaker Charlotte Lay Kuen Lim made her bones directing commercials. Her first feature looks at the shifting alliances that result when there is no generation gap between parent and child.
A great Genesis song. This is actually a docudrama about a mother and her relationship with her stay-at-home son.
Should be touching stuff. Well, she’s a nag and he’s obese.
Oh, those Russians! Yelena and Nikolay Renard have based their film on a true story, although advance word suggests that their moving pictures often attain a tableau-like stasis. So enjoy contemplating the corpulence.
The pitch: The true story of manga artist Shinichi Abe and his usually naked muse, Miyoko.
Where Astro Boy meets La belle noiseuse! The film is set in the 1970s during Abe’s years of struggle. There’s a lot of alcohol and mental illness to go with the polyester.
Rotterdam even manages to make cartooning sad. Director Shinsaku Fukuda provides insight into the artistic process by switching between the modelled tableau and the resulting artwork. Kenji Mizuhashi’s performance as Abe is said to be a tour de force.
The pitch: A paralysis victim takes it out on his father and male nurse.
At least one bedpan should be hurled across the room. Probably. It’s also suggested that the handicapped patient and his caregiver get close.
Daring! Lines may be crossed. Thai director Anocha Suwichakornpong has also helped organize the art project Kissing in Public, which pretty much does what it says on the tin.
The pitch: A neurotic middle manager tries to shake his “nice” image.
This is also screening at Sundance. So you have been paying attention.
Black and white, surreal visions, ice-skating in the mist … I’m not just for comic relief. Some would say not even that. Veiko Ounpuu’s Estonian dream play is also a parable on Eastern Europe and capitalism, it sez here.
The pitch: One thing can keep the aging junkie Checkie out of jail—hook a politician’s son on smack. His decision defines a generation adrift following the fall of the Iron Curtain.
Man, won’t these ex-Soviets get over it? The allegory in Levan Koguashvili’s film might be pretty broad, but Georgian cinema is finally making its mark. There are also songs.
The pitch: Animal Factory, Danish style.
Young kid takes a trip to the big house, eh? The directorial team of Michael Noer and Tobias Lindholm use their character Rune to look at how prison society is structured.
Tattoos, snitching, cigarettes as currency … some things never change. It remains to be seen whether Rune (Johan Philip Asbaek) will be scared straight.
Les signes vitaux (Vital Signs)
The pitch: A woman’s death inspires her granddaughter to learn more about tending to the dying.
*sigh* It sure seems like a heavy-duty Rotterdam, doesn’t it? Director Sophie Deraspe is Canadian, and they order these meditations on mortality rather well. Just think about Away from Her. Deraspe’s account of a young woman jousting with mortality is both restrained and unsentimental.
La vie au Ranch
The pitch: Pam and her friends live together in a house they call the ranch. The bonds that tie together these twenty-somethings’ blissful community are about to be unraveled by the outside world.
Sort of like St. Elmo’s Fire. It’s a cast of unknowns and we can’t see John Parr wailing on the soundtrack to this one, but the French do have some funny tastes. Ranch is the debut of Sophie Letourneur, whose short La tete dans le vide won an audience award at the Angers First Film Festival.
Tags: Agua fría de mar, Alamar, Animal Factory, Anocha Suwichakornpong, Autumn Adagio, Away from Her, Ben Russell, Betelnut, C’est déja l'été, Charlotte Lay Kuen Lim, Cold water of the Sea, Fuwaku No Adagio, Guangban, Inoue Tsuki, It's Summer Again, Johan Philip Asbaek, Kenji Mizuhashi, Kissing in Public, La vie au Ranch, Les signes vitaux, Let Each One Go Where He May, Levan Koguashvili, Lifadiande nüer, Mama, Martijn Maria Smits, Michael Noer, Miyoko, Miyoko Asagaya kibun, Mundane History, My Daughter, Nikolay Renard, Paz Fabrega, Püha Tõnu kiusamine, Pedro Gonzalez-Rubio, Quchis dgeebi, R, Rei Shibakusa, Rotterdam Film Festival, Shinichi Abe, Shinsaku Fukuda, Sophie Deraspe, Sophie Letourneur, Street Days, Sun Spots, The Temptation of St. Tony, The Woman Who is Beating the Earth, To the Sea, Tobias Lindholm, Veiko Ounpuu, Vital Signs, Yang Heng, Yelena Renard