Which of these are you going to watch?
Going strong for its 16th year, the European Union Film Festival (EUFF) will be bringing an outstanding number of 22 films of various pedigrees from 18 countries, ranging from the world famous to those that have made a mark in their respective countries. While the EUFF has made a careful selection of bringing the award-winners to represent the best they have to offer in the past couple of years, but even the most casual viewer would still be able to find something that is more accessible to their mainstream sensibilities.
Beginning from 29 October onwards in the Klang Valley at selected GSC cinemas until 8 November, the EUFF will also be traveling to Penang on 12 November, Kuching on 26 November and finally making its stop in Kota Kinabalu on 10 December.
So to help you plan ahead for a week long of viewing enjoyment, here is our list of the 22 movies that will be shown at EUFF 2015, where we will also highlight which are the must-sees, whether you are a fan of European films or not.
The Wall / Die Wand (2012, Austria)
After being left alone while visiting a friend's hunting lodge in the Austrian Alps, a woman finds herself cut off from civilization when she cannot leave the mountains due to an invisible wall. Desperately seeking for a way out, she begins to accept her reality and begins to live within the confines of the wall and the surrounding wilderness with her only companion, her dog Lynx, for the next three years.
Adapted from the 1963 novel by Marlen Haushofer by writer-director Julian Pölsler, "The Wall" had first premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2012, where it won the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury for Panorama, and going on to earn nominations from film festivals in Bombay to Vienna. Although it has an almost sci-fi premise but you won't be finding any conclusive answers here, as this is a careful character study of finding one's true self in the wilderness. Martina Gedeck, who carries the solo role well enough to garner here nominations in Germany and Austria, will be that force of nature to reckon with, while we will you stay mesmerised by the majesty of the Austrian Alps.
Brasserie Romantique / Brasserie Romantiek (2012, Belgium)
On Valentine's Day during a special evening at the brasserie run by Pascaline, her guests for the night bring with them odd problems of love. Rose, a bored housewife is about to tell her husband that she has been having an affair. Mia is planning to commit suicide after dinner, but is being flirted with by the waiter Lesley, and Walter the civil servant is filled with insecurity as he faces the woman of his dreams. They are not the only ones having love problems on the night, as Pascaline herself is half expecting her lover from 20 years ago, to come in and take her away to the country where they once pledged to go together.
Love comes in many flavors. It can always start off as sweet in the beginning, but it becomes seasoned with different tastes over different stages, becoming bland with common salt when the spark is no longer there, the bad taste left after a breakup, or the bitter regret of dreams made together that will never be fulfilled. Written by the award-winning screenwriter of 2008's "Moscow, Belgium" Jean-Claude Van Rijckeghem, this is the second feature outing for Belgian director Joël Vanhoebrouck that has charmed audiences in the Festroia International Film Festival de Setúbal 2013, winning its Audience Award.
Paper Souls / Les Ames de Papier (2013, Belgium)
Paul is a novelist who has put his career on hold after the death of his wife. His new job is to write funeral orations, while spending his spare time to help his old neighbor Victor to get over the death of his brother in the camps. One day, a widow named Emma comes to Paul's door, asking him to write about her presumed dead husband, to get her son speaking again. As their collaboration blossom into a romance, Paul finds a stranger knocking on his door.
Directed by Vincent Lannoo from the screenplay of François Uzan, this Belgian drama about finding a new lease of life in the struggle to overcome deaths of a loved one had won the Jury Award at the Stony Brook Film Festival.
Revival (2013, Czech Republic)
After disbanding for 40 years, the members of Smoke, once known as the 'Czech Beatles', are planning to make a comeback. Although each of them had their reasons to reform the band, ranging from helplessness to illness, they find that their lives and ambitions are changing as they return to the life on stage.
Writer-director Alice Nellis' "Revival" may have only small successes as the Audience Award at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in 2013 and nominated for the Best Eastern European Film Award at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival the following year, but this story of old souls rocking on stage became a hit in its native Czech Republic, with a runaway 11 nominations at the 2014 Czech Lions.
A Hijacking / Kapringen (2012, Denmark)
The MV Rozen is heading towards harbour when it is hijacked by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean. As the crew are rounded up and separated, an intense psychological game of negotiations begin between the pirates and the CEO of the shipping company, while the hostages are put through a traumatic experience that will mentally destroy them.
Released a year earlier before the much acclaimed and similarly themed "Captain Phillips", this second outing of Tobias Lindholm as a director is fortunately not based on any real events but is an intense simulation of a real-life hijacking that is happening in the Indian Ocean. The crew who play as sailors in the movie have personally experienced such hijackings before, and they help to inform Lindholm's improvised screenplay. Without the bravado heroics of "Captain Phillips", the stakes are clearly more delicate and deadly, and audiences would be gripped throughout its 99 minute runtime by the intensity felt by, not just the crew on board the ships, but also in the boardroom when negotiators are playing a dangerous game with lives at stake.
"A Hijacking" has gone on to win many awards in the festival circuits, among them the Golden Alexander Prize at the Thessaloniki Film Festival 2012, the Crystal Arrow and Best Actor at the Les Arcs European Film Festival 2012 and the Audience Award for Best Nordic Film at the Göteborg Film Festival 2013.
The Men of Talvivaara Mine / Talvivaaran Miehet (2015, Finland)
As the Talvivaara Mine is caught between the rock of bankruptcy and the hard place of numerous environmental crisis, the men under its employ are trying to find meaning in working for such a precarious company that contaminates their financial and conscience life.
Long-time documentarian Markku Heikkinen takes an inside look into the thoughts of four men who worked for the highly controversial Nickel-mining company that has been at the center of financial and environmental issues in Finland, in this slightly over an hour long documentary. When we realised that "The Men of Talvivarra Mine" are a small part in the gigantic machinery of the corporate structure, we come to feel the toll it has been taking on their lives, both personally and professionally, only hoping to find the ray of hope in a living nightmare that is uncertain to end.
Maestro (2014, France)
Henri is an aspiring actor who dreams of acting in "The Fast and The Furious". Mistaking that he is on his way to stardom after passing an audition, Henri finds himself on a humble set for a small film being made legendary independent filmmaker Cédric Rovère. Director Léa Fazer's "Maestro" may sound like a case of comedic misunderstanding between the expectations of the blockbuster moviemaking business and the artistic struggles of creating a vision by independent filmmakers, but this little tribute to filmmaking, has the undertones of an adult coming of age with life lessons that can only be learned from the process of filmmaking. Making this a favourite at the 2014 Chicago International Film Festival in 2014 where it was also a nominee for the Audience Choice Award.
Phoenix (2014, Germany)
Set during the aftermath of Germany's surrender at the end of World War II, Jewish singer Nelly Lenz survives but is disfigured by the Nazi internment camps. When constructive surgery fails to bring back her old appearance, she is not recognised by her husband, who wants to use her new appearance to win Nelly's inheritance. This year's EUFF brings the next piece of post-war Germany drama from director Christian Petzold (after "Barbara" in 2013). Starred by Nina Hoss, who won the Golden Space Needle Award at the Seattle International Film Festival and nominated for Best Actress at the German Film Awards, Petzold also won the FIPRESCI Prize at the San Sebastián International Film Festival.
A Godsend / Ein Geschenk der Götter (2014, Germany)
Anna, an actress working at the provincial community theater, is suddenly fired and out of a job. While looking for work at a local job center, her case worker recognises her and proposed using her talents to start a 'training class' for seven other unemployed people in the center.
A crowd favourite at the Munich Film Festival in 2014 where it was awarded the Audience Award for Best Film, Katharina Marie Schubert is "A Godsend" to lead this ensemble cast of misfits and lone wolves, as they become confident enough to put up a stage play of the Greek tragedy "Antigone". Schubert was nominated for the Best Leading Actress at the German Film Awards in 2015 (in contention with Nina Hoss for "Phoenix" in the same year), and came away as the Best Actress at the Bavarian Film Award.
Little England / Mikra Agglia (2013, Greece)
On the Greek island of Andros, nicknamed "Little England" for its powerful maritime trade that rivaled the British shipping empire, lived the Saltagero sister, Orsa and Moscha. When a secret between the two sisters tears them apart, a family saga of passion, family and loss is spun that will happen alongside the major transformation on the island from the 1930s to the 1950s.
"Little England" is an ambitious adaptation of the novel of the same name by Ioanna Karystiani, and directed by her husband director Pantelis Voulgaris as a loving tribute to men who brave the seas while the women anxiously wait for their return on the shores. It became an epic hit in its native Greece, sweeping 6 wins (including Best Film) out of its 11 nominations at the Hellenic Film Academy Awards and becoming the film with the second most wins in the award's history. Overseas, "Little England" was showered with critical praise as the Best Film (in addition to Best Director and Best Actress) in the Shanghai International Film Festival, and would go on to represent Greece for the Foreign Oscar at the 2015 Academy Awards.
The Conquest / Honfoglalás (1996, Hungary)
In 896 AD when Chief Arpad and his seven tribes arrive at the Carpathian basin of the steppes, he makes contact with the native tribes there who openly welcome the supposed descendant of Attila the Hun. Made in celebration of the 1100th anniversary of the historical event that would mark the creation of Hungary, "The Conquest" is an epic reenactment that is filmed on actual locations where the historical event took place, played by thousands of natives and locals in authentic costume to recreate Arpad's conquest of the territories that would be Hungary. Italian star Franco Nero (better known as the actor who played the original Django) stars as the legendary founding father of the Hungarians.
The Chair of Happiness / La Sedia della Felicità (2013, Italy)
Broke and on the verge of losing their respective businesses. Bruna the beautician and Dino the tattoo artist are in search for the ultimate jackpot that will solve all their money troubles. When a dying client confides in Bruna that she has hidden a treasure inside of one of her eight antique chairs in her villa, the unlikely couple set out to search for the chair as their last hope. After finding out that all eight chairs have been sold to different buyers at an auction, Bruna and Dino will have to track each and every one of them down to find that one chair that will be their salvation.
An Italian romantic comedy, starring Valerio Mastandrea and Isabella Ragonese, "The Chair of Happiness" is sadly also the last cinematic treasure left by its director Carlo Mazzacurati who died in 2014. Although Mazzacurati was posthumously awarded the Silver Ribbon of the Year by the Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalist, "The Chair of Happiness" went on to score five nominations at Italy's David di Donatello Awards in 2014 for Best Supporting Actor and Actress, Best Director and Best Film, so there is comedic gold to be found here.
Dead Man Talking (2012, Luxembourg)
When William Lamers is about to be executed, he is asked if he has any last words. Exploiting a loophole which does not limit how long a person can say for his last words, Lamers begins telling an unbelievable but moving story of himself, delaying his eventual execution at the stroke of midnight on each night. When the local governor hears of this unique scenario, he offers a deal to Lamers, allowing him to live as long as he never finishes his story while having it broadcast, to increase the governor's popularity for an upcoming election.
Written, directed and starring Patrick Ridremont, "Dead Man Talking" was a massive hit not only in its native Belgium but also within the French speaking region. Receiving a stunning 8 nominations, including Best Director, Best Script and Best Film at the Belgian Magritte Award in 2013 (although only wining for Best Production Design), is already as much top honours one could ask for someone who is making their screenwriting and directing debut. But to have it further being nominated for Best French Speaking Foreign Film in the French's Lumiere Awards and César Awards has sealed Ridremont's reputation as a rising acting, directing and writing talent to be reckoned with in the future of the French speaking cinema.
Kon-Tiki (2012, Norway)
Based on the historic Kon-Tiki expedition helmed by Norwegian researcher Thor Heyerdahl, a crew of Norwegian researchers and marine experts attempt to trace and prove the water routes taken by Polynesian ancestors to settle the islands of the Pacific, using a traditional watercraft.
"Kon-Tiki" was Norway's most successful cinematic outing in recent years (and also its most expensive in 2012) to hit the nation's cinema and beyond. Directed by co-directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, "Kon-Tiki" departed from its Norwegian shores with the Audience Award at the Norwegian International Film Festival, and set sail over international waters to become the first Norwegian entry that would contest for the Best Foreign film in both the Academy Awards and Golden Globe. Although "Kon-Tiki" did not return with the golden trophies for either, it had made the name of directors Rønning and Sandberg as the experts of seafaring adventures, giving them the calling card to the Hollywood fold to make the upcoming "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales".
Ida (2013, Poland)
Before she takes her vows to become a nun, Anna is allowed one final visit to her last surviving relative, her aunt Wanda. Upon meeting her, her aunt reveals to her that Anna's real name was Ida and a born Jew, while her parents were lost to the Holocaust. Together Wanda and Ida go on a journey to find their final resting place, while Ida has to confront with her new identity, and Wanda has to confront her own past when communism ruled over the country.
The crown jewel of this year's EUFF is most definitely this award-winning black and white masterpiece. This is director Pawel Pawlikowski's first Polish feature despite being of Polish heritage and has been taking names and collecting awards all over film festivals around Europe and America, both major and smaller affairs. Among its crowning achievements is its Best Film win in its native Polish Film Awards and Polish Film Festival, then swiping the Audience Award and Best Film (among others) at the European Film Awards, and most famous of all is being the winner of the Best Foreign Film at the 2015 Oscars.
Sweet Little Lies / Minte-ma Frumos (2012, Sweden)
When hacker Toni and pastry apprentice Oana decided to meet face-to-face for the first time after becoming virtual friends on the internet, Toni is feeling insecure because he does not even resemble his profile picture, while Oana is afraid that her chubby figure would drive away her man. While Toni enlist the help of a part-time gigolo Dani, Oana begs for her sexy roommate Dana to take her place on their first date. When the two finally meet, would the four of them be able to uncover the sweet lies they have been telling each other?
Aferim! (2015, Romania)
In early 19th century Wallachia, constable Constandin and his son Ionita are tasked to capture a fugitive gypsy slave by a nobleman who accuses the slave of having an affair with his wife. As father and son travel across the Romanian landscape, their road adventures takes them on an exciting adventure and meeting with eccentric characters.
Radu Jude's exploration of the unspoken Romanian past of gypsy slavery, which premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival this year, has also won the Silver Bear, and has made small waves at the IndieLisboa International Independent Film Festival and Sofia International Film Festival. It will be representing Romania for the Foreign Oscar in next year's Acadmey Awards.
A Gun in Each Hand / Una pistola en cada mano (2012, Spain)
Eight men, who are in their forties, find themselves in everyday situations that is challenging their manhood. From depression, the loss of one's wealth, wives having affairs, to trying to win back the love of an ex-wife, director Cesc Gay's 2013 Best Screenplay (co-written with Tomàs Aragay) at the Gaudi Awards paints a comical yet emasculating reality of the challenges faced by the modern men today. While the men are the subject matter in "A Gun in Each Hand", it has also won considerable awards portrayed by the fairer sex, with Candela Peña winning the Best Supporting Actress in the Gaudi Awards, the Goya Awards, and the Spanish Actors Union, among her numerous nominations.
Purgatory / Purgatorio (2014, Spain)
Finding herself alone in their new apartment, Marta hears a violent knock on her door. Her new and desperate neighbour asks her to babysit their 10 year old son, Daniel, for a few hours, while the mother is off to see her husband who has been involved in an accident. As hours pass, Marta begins to notice unusual behaviours in Daniel that is increasingly becoming disturbing, while he insists that there is another child in the apartment, one which Marta cannot see.
For those who are looking for a little genre in this year's EUFF in line with the month of Halloween, "Purgatory" would fit it nicely. If you are looking for something different from the usual places to go for horror (local or otherwise), this Spanish horror may be the feature debut for director Pau Teixidor and screenwriter Luis Moreno, but its star Oona Chaplin may be a familiar face you have seen a few times, including "Game of Thrones".
The 100-Year-Old Man who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared / Hundraåringen Som Klev ut Genom Fönstret Och Försvann (2013, Sweden)
After living a fruitful (and rather explosive) life, Allan Karlsson finds himself waiting for death in a nursing home. Unhappy with where his life is going, the centenarian decides to go for one last adventure by escaping from the home through a window, where he soon becomes embroiled with a stash of drug money, gangsters on his tail, a few murders and an incompetent police force that are far outmatched by the skills and friends he acquired in his younger days.
Based on the internationally best-selling novel of Jonas Jonasson, "The 100-Year-Old Man who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared" reads almost like an elderly "Forrest Gump" that has won the hearts wherever it was screened, winning the Audience Award from the Chicago, Durban, and Florida Film Festivals, while its lead Robert Gustafsson was awarded the Audience Award for Best Actor at the Guldbagge Award. Life doesn't have to end in a whimper, when you can go out with a bang!
Someone Like Me / Eine Wen Iig, dr Dallenbach Kari (2012, Switzerland)
Born with a cleft palate, Kari Dallenbach has grown up protected from the harsh realities of those who would make fun of his condition. When love at first sight strikes an adult Kari, who works as a barber, the moment he laid eyes on Annemarie, he wins her heart with his humour, charm and sensitivity despite his appearance. Happiness was finally within the grasp of Kari, but Annemarie's middle class parents already have other plans for her.
"Someone Like Me" was the Swiss darling of 2012, winning the ultimate prize of Best Film at the Swiss Film Prize, along with Best Music. It was only short of completing its flawless victory when Carla Juri also took the Best Actress, but Nils Althuas only went as far as a nomination, along with Felix von Muralt's best cinematography.
Only When I Dance (2009, UK)
"Only When I Dance" follows two ballet hopefuls who are on their way to a competition in Brazil that could be their one-way ticket out of the live of poverty in the Brazilian favelas. However, the road to their futures is not an easy one as it is filled with prejudices, doubts and pressures that could change their lives.
Nominated at the Rose d'Or Light Entertainment Festival and the Warsaw International Film Festival, Beadie Finzi's documentary "Only When I Dance" takes a glimpse at the cutthroat world of ballet, but it is also a dance to express one's freedom from one's reality as dire as they are; spreading a message of hope that makes this one of the few documentaries worth watching (for free) at this year's festival.
Cinema Online, 26 October 2015