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Magical and masterful

Fabio Kühnemuth
Fabio Kühnemuth

Ten films from nine countries around the globe guarantee maximum variety and diversity of (narrative) perspective in this year’s CineMasters competition. Queerness and surreal incursions into everyday life are common themes in these uncommon stories, which are not infrequently presented as genre films. 

Magical and masterful

Bright sunshine, a glorious French beach, and an adolescent’s first whirlwind romance against the lazy summer backdrop of François Ozon’s latest film, SUMMER OF 85, have audiences yearning for a vacation. The queer love affair between 16-year-old Alexis and David, who is slightly older, is given a sensitive and witty treatment peppered with quotations from Ozon’s own cinematic universe as the film alternates playfully between romance, melodrama, and comedy. Complementing this cinematic journey is its fantastic soundtrack, which clearly places the story in the 1980s.

The two other films in this competition which deal with queerness also take a fictional look at the past while saying something about the here and now. SAINT-NARCISSE by cult director Bruce LaBruce, for example, is set in early 1970s Québec, but could not be more topical in the age of selfies and incessant self-promotion. Self-absorbed Dominic constantly takes pictures of himself with his Polaroid camera. He’s in love with the man in the mirror, who suddenly takes on physical form. Is the doppelgänger his twin brother or just a figment of Dominic’s narcissistic imagination? The answer lies at the end of this queer, anarchistic trip.

The intimate biopic TOVE is calmer, but no less powerful. Director Zaida Bergroth tells of the eventful and moving life of Finnish cartoonist Tove Jansson, creator of the world-famous “Moomins”. Despite her international success, the sensitive artist is plagued by doubts about her work. This doesn’t stop her from deliberately defying the conservative societal and artistic conventions of the postwar period, not least by embracing her own bisexuality as a matter of course.

 

Genre films from around the world

International genre films present themselves in top form and in high gear in this year’s CineMasters competition. Here, too, the filmmakers have preferred to place their suspenseful stories in a historical setting. Among them is Kiyoshi Kurosawa, with his atmospheric espionage film WIFE OF A SPY. Set in 1940s Japan against the backdrop of World War II, this film combines elements of thriller and melodrama, spinning a thick and elegant web of intrigue and suspicion. Dominik Moll’s latest film is no less masterfully directed. His virtuosic manipulation of time frames and storylines makes ONLY THE ANIMALS a multi-layered crime story in which the pieces of the puzzle come together only at the last minute to reveal a surprising big picture.

A mystery also confronts the RIDERS OF JUSTICE in Anders Thomas Jensen’s latest film, which bears that title. After the tragic death of his wife, family man Martin — played magnificently by Mads Mikkelsen — feels a deep emptiness inside. But he finds a new sense of purpose when three peculiar outsiders show up at his door and try to convince him that his wife’s death was no accident. In search of meaning as well as vigilante justice, the quirky group plots its revenge. The fact that all this is not only tragic but also very funny is thanks to the cast and to Jensen's unique sense of black humor.

While Markus actively unravels the events of the past, Jayro Bustamante’s horror thriller LA LLORONA from Guatemala shows in an almost nightmarish way how the past (of an individual) can also haunt people and even hold them captive. An aging general and his family are trapped, not only metaphorically, but quite literally. The patriarch was acquitted of war crimes, but now an angry mob is laying siege to his home. The nerves of everyone involved are beginning to fray and mysterious incidents are piling up. Referencing the Latin American legend of La Llorona and a real military dictatorship, director Jayro Bustamante tells a gripping story of revenge: one that’s quite different from RIDERS OF JUSTICE, but no less haunting.

 

Magical moments

Another film in competition from Latin America also deals with the political history of a country under a military dictatorship: in this case, Uruguay. MONEYCHANGER, a tragicomedy by Federico Veiroj, is based on real events. With a good dose of humor, it tells the story of Humberto Brause, a criminal who seeks to make a fortune in 1970s Montevideo by laundering money and trading in foreign currencies.

THE DOG WHO WOULDN’T BE QUIET completes our distinguished selection of Latin American entries. In this stoic and surreal comedy, Argentinian director Ana Katz uses dry humor to tell the story of Sebastián, a disoriented millennial leading a rather aimless life. He lives in Buenos Aires with his dog of the title, who just won't stop barking, and has the usual problems of a thirtysomething — at least until a looming catastrophe suddenly threatens all of humanity. In SUN CHILDREN, the latest film by Iranian master director Majid Majidi, 12-year-old Ali and his clique learn of a mysterious treasure said to be buried under a school. Without further ado, the boys enroll in order to excavate on the grounds.

Several films in this year’s CineMasters competition are united by the fact that, although they start off in a historical or contemporary reality, surreal, grotesque, or even magical moments are gradually mixed in. And this is exactly what gives film its very own magic.

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