BFI 60th London Film Festival Part 2: It’s high time we looked further afield, into Europe and beyond, to see what they’re up to in their movies. Some of them may not have the massive budgets and starry casts of their American and British equivalents (with notable exceptions), but their ambition, artistic merit and craft sometimes put our own output in the shade. So set aside your popcorn and cola, and instead sip an espresso, dip your frites in mayonnaise, dunk your churros in your chocolate, chomp on some sushi, and do your wurst. It’s hygge time we enjoyed some subtitled films from across the world…
At least in our post-Referendum splendid isolation, we are still allowed to watch European cinematic treats. And there are simply loads this year. The best is from Europe’s heartland, Germany, and is a 162-minute long comedy called Toni Erdmann.
In fact, it’s not only the best from Europe, but I believe it may well be the best in the whole wide world this year. Directed and written by Maren Ade, the film works on many levels but is, above all, hilarious. You could view it as a realistic portrayal of the ever-expanding New Europe, with winners and losers, where business operates across all frontiers, and you must be able to switch back and forth in languages at the drop of a hat, work hard and play hard. And you might see it as a drama about the differences between generations over quality of life, family values, and what each perceives as important. That’s if you can stop yourself snorting with laughter.
The premise of Toni Erdmann is that when uptight, driven businesswoman Ines (Sandra Huller) returns to work in Bucharest, her eccentric father Winfried (stage star Peter Simonischek) finds himself at a loose end, and decides to follow her there. Being a practical joker rather fond of disguises, he isn’t quite himself when he turns up at Ines’ workplace and at social events with her peers and bosses. Instead, he adopts a persona he calls ‘Toni Erdmann’ and morphs into a bewigged, false-teeth-wearing grotesque, guaranteed to embarrass and charm in equal measure. Ines is horrified, and but every time she thinks he’s disappeared, he pops up again. He can see that many of her business colleagues are arseholes who take Ines for granted, and her expression constantly hovers between shock and amusement as he blunders into every corner of her life, at one stage even emerging from her wardrobe.
There’s also poignancy when they witness rural poverty and management bullying up close in Romania, then turn up uninvited at an Easter gathering which climaxes with her singing a heartfelt version of The Greatest Love of All, while he accompanies her on piano. I won’t spoil the penultimate set piece scene, but let’s just say that you might justifiably be nervous of appearing overdressed at one of Ines’ office-bonding parties. Whatever Maren Ade decides to direct next will definitely be worth seeing (I’m aiming to track down her previous film, Everyone Else), and in the meantime on no account miss Toni Erdmann. Fingers crossed it wins all the Foreign Language Film Awards.
Equally bold and surprising, and also from Germany, comes Wild, director Nicolette Krebitz‘s shocking story of a mild-mannered IT worker, Ania (Lilith Standenberg). A bit of a loner, she spends her free time either visiting her sick granddad in hospital or going to the shooting range, until one day, walking across the park on the way to work, she spots a wolf. For Ania, it’s immediate obsessive love; she’s determined to capture and tame the wolf, buying a huge steak for it, studying wolf behaviour online, and stripping down her apartment for its arrival. Having hatched an elaborate plan, she eventually traps, drugs and drags the animal into a borrowed van, then gets it home. Her colleagues and boss wonder about her deteriorating appearance. But can she satisfy her longing for the wolf; will she become equally feral; and is this a Grimm fairytale in reverse?
All Of A Sudden,Turkish director Asli Ozge‘s first German language film, starts with the mysterious death of a stranger in Karsten’s apartment after his party. Who was she and who is to blame? The cloud of suspicion hangs heavily over Karsten; his girlfriend and mother don’t trust him, and his boss sidelines him. Everyone wonders why he simply didn’t call an ambulance? The atmosphere builds as Karsten feels oppressed by the claustrophobia of his small hometown. But does the unlikeable Karsten deserve our sympathy, even if he is vindicated? Can the end justify the means? These and more moral questions swirl around the muddy final stages of Ozge’s intriguing drama.
In Ivan Tverdovsky‘s Zoology, middle-aged Natasha (played by the fabulous Natalia Pavlenkova) is a sad, lonely zoo worker who is bullied at work by her ghastly, unsympathetic colleagues, then goes home to her overbearing mother. In fact, she has more in common with the animals. Much more, as it turns out, when she goes for a check-up and an X-ray and it’s clear that she has a tail – which acts as a turn-on for sympathetic X-ray operative Petya (Dmitriy Groshev). Erotically charged, bestial and startling, this Russian drama also has the best ending you’ll ever see.
You can’t go wrong with Belgium’s Dardennes brothers, who’ve been turning out low budget, high quality, thought-provoking movies that linger with audiences long after the credits. What makes The Unknown Girl (right) different, is that there’s a central mystery at its heart – finding the identity of a dead girl – and the only person playing detective is a local doctor, Jenny, beautifully played by Adele Haenel. So domestic scenes of Jenny at her practice and visiting patients interweave with thriller elements and a real sense of danger from threatening thugs.
If you want zany comedy, with physical gags, romance and music, then look no further than Lost In Paris from real-life couple Fiona Gordon and Dominique Abel, who also play the main, mismatched pair. Fiona is a fish-out-of-water Canadian librarian summoned to Paris by her ageing aunt, who soon ends up in the water, when she falls off a bridge into the Seine. A series of more than unfortunate events, lots of slapstick action, mix-ups and larger-than-life characters propel her into the arms of charismatic vagrant Dom. Though not before a glorious dance sequence to the Gotan Project track, Chunga’s Revenge. Quirky with a capital Q, it’s worth sticking with it just to see the splendid Emanuelle Riva, of Amour fame, play Aunt Martha.
The growing trend of couples trying to make a clean break, yet trapped because they cannot afford to each have a home, is perfectly dramatised in After Love, Belgian director, Joachim Lafosse. Each plays their young daughters against the other, and disdain seeps from every pore when Marie (Berenice Bejo) throws a dinner party, and the estranged Boris (Cedric Kahn) turns up ready to pick a fight. The mundanity of family life, interspersed with bitterness over money and responsibility, flared tempers, broken promises, stressful mealtimes and occasional golden moments, make this feel all too credible. And it’s guaranteed to divide male and female viewers.
Go to page 2 for more great films from the BFI 60th London Film Festival.