International film festivals are wonderful adventures. From attending advanced screenings of groundbreaking foreign films, to meeting directors and actors, and participating in film workshops and discussions, there is something for everyone to enjoy. As you run (quite literally!) from one cinema to the next, you find yourself surrounded by like-minded movie lovers who share your passion and enthusiasm. The atmosphere is just electric and your heart races with excitement as you anticipate each new film.
This month, we were lucky enough to attend the Mar del Plata Film Festival, Argentina's oldest and largest film festival, and the only one with “A” status in Latin America. During ten busy, somewhat chaotic, but definitely exciting days, we got to see a wide variety of artistic, thought-provoking, and highly entertaining films from all over the world.
Here are our favourite picks.
Saudade fez morada aqui dentro, 'Bittersweet Rain' (Brazil)
Bruno, a 15-year-old teenager who lives with his mother and younger brother in a humble town in Brazil is informed that he is losing his sight irreversibly. Though no one can tell when definite blindness will arrive, one thing is for sure: it will happen soon. As he processes this unsettling news, Bruno has to deal with the typical worries of 15-year-old boy, which include developing romantic feelings for a classmate, attending dances, and helping his younger brother cope with the pressures of a distressing future.
With the uncertainty of adolescence amplified by imminent blindness, Saudade fez morada aqui dentro turns the tragic fate of its main character into the story of a society that is losing sight of the most important things in life.
In the Q&A session after its first screening, Brazilian filmmaker Haroldo Borges admitted that his film proposes a metaphor for the state of affairs in his country which, in his opinion, has been assaulted by "collective blindness" in recent years. After receiving the Golden Astor for the Best Film of the International Competition (the highest award given by the Mar del Plata Film Festival), Borges said:
"This is an extremely joyful and moving moment for me; since we were film students in Bahia we heard good things about Mar del Plata, which for us is a place of resistance, living proof that it is possible to make independent films in a world dominated by big studios".
El rostro de la medusa, 'The Face of the Jellyfish' (Argentina)
From one day to the next, Marina's face changes to the point that her phone face recognition device doesn't recognize her any longer. Much as it would happen in a Kafkaesque nightmare, Marina has to deal with the alienating feeling of going through her daily routines but being seen as someone else.
Through Marina's story, the film plunges into an interesting inquiry about what makes us who we are, an essay about the very core of our identity and whether this identity can be subject to change.
Melisa Liebenthal, who said that she used people from her own life to play key roles, wrote and directed this cleverly constructed film with a great sense of humour and a dreamlike visual style that stayed with us long after the credits rolled.
Le Pupille, 'The Pupils' (Italy)
Le Pupille is a short film directed by Alice Rohrwacher and set during the First World War. The story, which is "clumsily" based on an exchange of letters (as the opening credits announce) takes place in a convent, where a group of adorable girls is getting ready to celebrate Christmas Eve. In this context, a female visitor asks the girls to pray for her lover, who is away on the battlefield. However, the girls are undergoing strictly moral religious education by the nuns who run the institution, and nothing related to love or desires is welcome within the walls of the convent. In fact, according to the nuns, something as seemingly insignificant as a song about young love or a delicious chocolate cake can encourage deviant thoughts and behaviour.
But, in this film, children will be children. By the end of the 37-minute runtime, the girls will disobey the nuns, think and feel the way they want to, and enjoy a Christmas Eve full of laughter, dance, and maybe, just maybe, some scrumptious chocolate cake.
As Bestas, 'The Beasts' (Spain)
Antoine and Olga are a French couple who settled two years ago in a small Galician area, tired of life in Paris, where they used to work as university teachers. Once in their new home, they try to live off their land by working hard every day. The tranquillity typical of rural life, however, is broken by an ever-growing conflict with two neighbouring brothers and natives of the place, who try to persuade the couple to give their consent to the development of a wind turbine project in the village.
As the couple refuses to sign the documents that would allow the construction of the turbine, Olga and Antoine's lives are turned upside down as they are threatened by the brothers, who consider them to be intruders.
Rodrigo Sorogoyen takes his time creating a disturbing and suffocating atmosphere around a green and idyllic rural setting in Galicia, an idyllic natural setting that Antoine and Olga once coveted, but which seems determined to eject them in the most brutal way.
As tensions rose to a breathtaking climax, we were left wondering who the titular 'beasts' were, who was right and who was wrong, and how violence and power can so easily cloud our judgment.
The Menu, USA
The depiction of food in cinema has often been associated with sensuality and sophistication. And, while the initial premise of The Menu seems to take this road (a group of rich people pays a fortune to travel to an island where they will enjoy an exclusive gastronomic experience conceived by a legendary chef), the director starts to deviate in a much more unsettling direction as the minutes go by.
When one of the sub-chefs kills himself as part of the first dish/performance, we can tell that the film will go in a much more satirical, uncomfortable, and ultimately terrifying experience than both the protagonists and we, as viewers, were expecting.
Talking about the protagonists... In The Menu, the point of view is provided by Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy), a mysterious girl who accompanies a young and enthusiastic gourmet named Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) on the trip for reasons yet unknown. As she becomes witness to the horrors that Slowik (Ralph Fiennes) -chef, master of ceremonies, and impious evening manipulator- has in stock for them, we can't help but look in awe as chaos unfolds.
The Menu is a satirical look at contemporary art, snobbery, and power, and one of our favourite films of 2022.
This year's edition of this renowned film festival has been one of the most exclusive and enjoyable yet, with the screening of a variety of films from all around the world. It's a pleasure to enjoy such a varied selection of titles and cinematic experiences, and we are proud to have been there to witness it and these reviews to you ahead of their commercial release.
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