Małgorzata Sadowska, selector for the New Horizons International Film Festival, recommends the following films.
Ryuichi Sakamoto: async Live at the Park Avenue Armory, dir. Stephen Nomura Schible
A breath of fresh air, a film you can watch even with your eyes closed. There's nothing to distract your attention from the music, since the patches of sky that appear on the screen from time to time and the canopies of trees are also conducive to calmness and concentration. Those with jangled nerves after watching Von Trier can just let the soothing music wash over them.
An Elephant Sitting Still, dir. Hu Bo
Hu Bo's camera flows smoothly through the interiors of apartments and institutions; coolly observing modern "China under construction," which is also China in the midst of a breakup wherever relationships are involved: family, social and romantic. Hu Bo's first and the last film (he committed suicide in the autumn of 2017) provides a shocking picture of a world that has turned its back on the weak.
The Flower Shop, dir. Ruben Desiere
The Flower Shop captured my heart with its unpretentious charm, black humor and the tenderness with which it treats its protagonists, several Roma who attempt to rob a bank (well, I have to admit my heart is always with the bank robbers in movies). In Desiere's film, however, there's no action or sensationalism, and a rainy afternoon turns into rainy days and nights. So, we wait, smoking cigarettes and listening to funny and bitter stories about Roma life.
Inland Sea, dir. Kazuhiro Sôda
A beautiful and moving black-and-white portrait of the dying fishing village of Ushimado. Once teeming with life (as seen in films by Shohei Imamura), it is now virtually deserted, populated mainly by the elderly, the final keepers of local traditions. Calling it a "film about passing away" would be to trivialize the experience of those who meet on both sides of the camera. And there is indeed much more to it: sadness, but also the joy of meeting; loneliness, but also an intimacy made possible by the camera; forgetting and perpetuation; the rawness and gentleness of our "inland sea."
Mrs. Fang, dir. Wang Bing
The winner at Locarno, chosen by a jury chaired by Olivier Assayas, a chilling film that forces us to look straight into the face of death. The face belongs to Mrs. Fang, who is suffering from Alzheimer's. We spend the 10 final days of her life at her bedside. The old lady doesn't speak, hardly moves, her breathing is almost imperceptible. She only glances at the cluttered room and her relatives who gather around to eat, discuss a funeral and make plans to go fishing. Wang Bing manages to capture the affinity between old age and infancy, the tragedy of passing away and, at the same time, the peace that comes with the fact that life goes on-and, above all, the extraordinary paradox that in the face of death we are most alive and that we are half-dead as we experience life.
Ága, dir. Milko Lazarov
Hidden beneath the silence and routine are powerful emotions; Ága is a requiem for a dying world. With references to the famous Nanook of the North, it continues the story of its characters. A modern Nanook (Mikhail Aprosimov) has spent his whole life hunting caribou, which can no longer be found on the white plains of the Sakha Republic. In his yurt at night, he tells his wife the old myths, which have nothing in common with a world in which machines are tearing up the earth, animals are being wiped out, and his only daughter "betrayed" him by leaving for the city. The film's finale shows one of the most powerful images you'll see at this year's New Horizons.
My Friend the Polish Girl, dir. Ewa Banaszkiewicz, Mateusz Dymek
A film that you'll probably end up arguing about because it's very provocative, and its protagonist evokes mixed feelings. And that's exactly why I like it: because it irritates, it puts the film medium to the test and it exposes our own voyeuristic desires. A young American director; the protagonist of her documentary, a Polish immigrant in London; and us, the viewers, together we create an erotic threesome in which no glance is innocent.
Sultry, dir. Marina Meliande
Developers, forcing residents out of their homes, unbridled reprivatization: these issues are important not only to the inhabitants of Poland. Do you remember how in the beautiful Brazilian film Aquarius they put termites into the neighboring apartment in order to try to force Sônia Braga's character out of her home? In Meliande's film, bulldozers demolish the homes of the poor in order to build the Olympic village in their place (it's set in Rio right before the Olympic Games), and an architect working for a large company tries to reprivatize the heart of Ana, a young lawyer defending the expropriated. What starts out as a film about an important social issue quickly turns into something between realism and a dreamlike state before becoming a straight-up nightmare. The ubiquitous moral rot devours not only the buildings, but Ana's body also begins to fight off a strange infection. A brilliant film about a corrupt, sick city.
Happy as Lazzaro, dir. Alice Rohrwacher
My favorite film from Cannes (just ahead of Burning, The Image Book, Fugue and Border, all of which can be seen at New Horizons), a film with heart that also looks at the heart. It has a little bit of Chaplin, a bit of Pasolini, a great deal of folk ballad and the power of empathy, which is becoming-in cinema as well-a scarce commodity, drowned out by intellect, calculation, sarcasm. Meanwhile, in Happy as Lazzaro you can be shamelessly moved, without having to feel embarrassed. This is a simple story about our world, about capitalism, class divisions, exclusion and systematic destruction of all that is pure and innocent. A beautiful film.
Monument, dir. Jagoda Szelc
Ever since Tower. A Bright Day, I have believed that Szelc is a whisperer, that she cast spells, exorcises demons, summons ghosts, expels evil. It's no different in the phenomenal Monument, which is not so much a movie as a rite of passage, and the fact that this is also the graduation film for a group of acting students, it seems entirely natural that the entire project should feel like an initiation. There's a group of Hotel Management students on their way to a resort in the forest in order to complete internships, where, right at the beginning, the manager, who has the manners of a Nazi, deprives them of their names and their dignity. The further we get into the story, the darker and stranger everything becomes, and the deeper we enter the depths of the hotel, which starts to look a little like a camp or a backdoor to hell. Szelc crawls under the skin of Poland, takes on the demons inhabiting our minds, leads us through the darkness and heals us with amnesia. That's just the sort of witchdoctor we need!