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Thursday, 6/13/2019

Mirror, Mirror...

The Films of the 37th FILMFEST MÜNCHEN

Reality and the dreamworld are combined in THE INVISIBLE LIFE OF EURÍDICE GUSMÃO

Now in its 37th year, FILMFEST MÜNCHEN will soon be showing 180 current films in ten days. These national and international productions make use of topical subjects, innovative narrative forms, and breathtaking imagery. They revolve around reality and how it's depicted, distorted, reflected, or avoided altogether — and yet these films of 2019 aren't able to escape it.

 

Mirroring reality

The filmmakers never fail to find new and original ways of pointing out the failings and transformations of politics. Cannes award-winner PARASITE by Bong Joon Ho, whose works are being shown in a retrospective at FILMFEST MÜNCHEN, addresses social inequality under the guise of a thrilling genre film. Ladj Ly's LES MISÉRABLES deals with the increasing frustration felt by marginalized segments of the population whose efforts to emancipate themselves start to take on violent characteristics. Migration and the racism that often goes hand in hand with it are pivotal themes in a lot of the films. In PERRO BOMBA, for example, a 21-year-old Haitian immigrant lives in Chile. His everyday life is tenuous, his immigrant status is critical, and he often encounters disdain among the locals. When his childhood friend also arrives in Chile, his precarious life threatens to fall apart. FIREFLIES is another such story: in this case, that of a homosexual Iranian man who arrives in Mexico as a stowaway on a cargo ship.

 

PERRO BOMBA, LES MISÉRABLES and FIREFLIES

 

Our current global political situation also reflects the past, however. Markus Schleinzer's ANGELO also addresses discrimination and alienation, but in the context of colonialism. Mike Leigh's latest film focuses on the term "democracy", which seems to be losing importance globally as governments move to the right. PETERLOO is the story of a massacre in Manchester in 1819 at which a peaceful demonstration was brutally crushed by the army.

The perspective of African-American filmmakers is highlighted in a special section called "A Peculiar Vantage: A Selection of Black Cinema". These films, curated by artist Arthur Jafa, allow insight into historical discrimination as well as into the current state in which many African-Americans live. This is complemented by an external viewpoint: the new documentary WHAT YOU GONNA DO WHEN THE WORLD'S ON FIRE? by Italian director Roberto Minervini.

Generally speaking, lots of directors make use of powerful imagery in documentaries to illustrate global events. Here are just three examples from among this year's films. In Alison Klayman's THE BRINK, the director accompanies Steve Bannon on a speaking tour across Europe. Nanni Moretti's SANTIAGO, ITALIA, portrays the events of the Chilean coup of 1973, as a result of which people sought refuge in the Italian embassy in Santiago. Eyad Aljarod's THE GREATEST SACRIFICE deals with the effects of the Arab Spring.

 

SANTIAGO, ITALIA, THE GREATEST SACRIFICE and THE BRINK

 

A hall of mirrors

The boundary between reality and fiction can also become blurred, as in the works of Danish filmmaker Mads Brügger, to whom we are devoting a retrospective this year. His performance-oriented documentaries reveal the failings of society, most recently in COLD CASE HAMMARSKJÖLD.

Meanwhile, a second reality is being created in social media. It allows the users of such platforms to create a different reflection of themselves. No fewer than four films deal with this topic: from the matter-of-factness of the place of social media in everyday life in Bo Burnham's EIGHTH GRADE and Emily Cohn's CRSHD to the professionalized self-portrayal in Leiza Mandelup's JAWLINE to the obsessive loss of one's grip on reality in Philip Koch's family drama PLAY. Virtual worlds not only are the subject of this film in the New German TV Movies section; they can also be experienced at the VR exhibition "Virtual Worlds", a new section of the festival which is being realized in cooperation with the Bayerisches Filmzentrum.

If one can no longer face reality in the mirror, only one thing will help: escaping to fantastical worlds. This is the strategy used in Mark Webber's THE PLACE OF NO WORDS, which creates a parallel universe full of magical creatures in order to help a family overcome a stroke of fate, and in Katharina Mihm's MÄR – A GERMAN TALE, a dystopian fairy tale in the New German Cinema section which leads to a world full of wolves. Fantasy is of course the defining element in the films of the Kinderfilmfest, in which young everyday heroes and heroines, as well as a few with superpowers, discover the world around them and save it, too, though the films also address very real issues that children have.

 

THE PLACE OF NO WORDS and MÄR – A GERMAN TALE

 

Behind the looking-glass

Lots of filmmakers make use of ostensibly traditional elements of genre to lay out their visions. A proven strategy for dealing with serious themes is the use of comedy. For example, the opening film THE ART OF SELF-DEFENSE by Riley Stearns is about toxic and fragile ideas of masculinity, while the concluding film LATE NIGHT by Nisha Ganatra is about emancipated women in traditionally male domains. TEL AVIV ON FIRE by Sameh Zoabi and THE ANNOUNCEMENT by Mahmut Fazıl Coşkun use humorous devices to deal with politically charged conflicts. Aside from comedy, there are other genre strategies that numerous films fall back on. Cannes favorite AN EASY GIRL by Rebecca Zlotowski, for example, skillfully deals with social inequality under the guise of a coming-of-age story. The broad range of films in our program also includes various horror and disaster scenarios. The science-fiction western BACURAU by Juliano Dornelles and Kleber Mendonça Filho takes a creative look at the future. Current areas of conflict in the deeply divided country of Brazil are taken and packed into an exaggerated, surreal world that in the end doesn't seem to be too different from our own. LA FLOR, a mammoth project by Mariano Llinás and the Argentinian artists' collective El Pampero Cine, combines elements of several genres in an episodic film that's some 14 hours long.

Anyone wanting to look behind the curtain of the world of music has several opportunities to do so. Local pride comes to the forefront in GLORY DAYS OF ROCK ’N’ ROLL – THE STORY OF THE SPIDER MURPHY GANG, while perhaps the best-known German-language rappers, Die Fantastischen Vier, are the subject of VIER. Further documentaries are devoted to one of the most influential legends of jazz — MILES DAVIS: BIRTH OF THE COOL — and to the INXS front man who died young — MYSTIFY: MICHAEL HUTCHENCE. The feature film PRÉLUDE shows the darker side of the music business and the pressure put on young musicians to succeed, while CRESCENDO #MAKEMUSICNOTWAR explores the power of music to bring people together. In no fewer than three films, people come together to sing: THE MASTER BUTCHER, FISHERMAN'S FRIENDS, and OUT OF TUNE are all about choruses — sometimes in a historical context, sometimes in a comedic one, but always with a twinkle in one's eye.

 

FISHERMAN'S FRIENDS, THE MASTER BUTCHER and OUT OF TUNE

 

Reflections

Over the course of ten days, you can watch these and many more films, discover new worlds, and get up close and personal with our special guests. As every year, many of the screenings will be followed by a Q & A, giving you the opportunity to ask the directors about their movies. Filmmakers Live! discussions allow longer conversations with our guests of honor. So grab your camera and get over to FILMFEST MÜNCHEN 2019. We're looking forward to 10 unforgettable days!