Emma Dante’s ‘Misericordia’ Takes Top Prize at the Black Nights Film Festival

Italian writer-director Emma Dante’s “Misericordia” has won the top prize at the Black Nights Film Festival in Tallinn, Estonia. Adapted from her own play, her third feature tells the story of a young man (Simone Zambelli) with learning difficulties, cared for by a group of sex workers on an island, protecting him from the cruelty of his abusive father. It’s a raw portrait of a marginalized group of people, mixing natural beauty of the locations with the grime of everyday existence.

Zambelli also took the award for best actor, for his role as the man-child at the center of the drama. The best actress prize was shared by Lubna Azabal, who plays a teacher in Jawad Rhalib’s “Amal,” and Kim Higelin, who stars in the controversial French drama “Consent,” directed by Vanessa Filho, as a teenager having an affair with a manipulative and exploitative 50-year-old writer.

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The best director award went to Manuel Martin Cuenca for “Andrea’s Love,” who also – along with co-writer Lola Mayo – picked up the best screenplay award. Cuenca’s seventh feature is a character portrait of the eponymous teenager who is determined to find love even as she is busy looking after her siblings and attending school.

Andrea’s Love
“Andrea’s Love”

New Zealander Loren Taylor’s darkly comic “The Moon Is Upside Down” was awarded as the best first feature, with Eeva Magi’s “Mo Mama” and Ilango Ram’s “Tentigo” sharing the special jury prize.

Estonia’s Oscar contender “Smoke Sauna Sisterhood” maintained its prize-winning momentum into awards season, picking up the top prize in the Baltic Film sidebar. “Winning this award is like coming home,” the delighted producer Marianne Ostrat told Variety. In her acceptance speech, an exuberant director Anna Hints sang a cleansing song to the jury and audience.

“Five and a Half Love Stories in an Apartment in Vilnius Lithuania” won the Rebels With a Cause section. The film is Lithuanian director Tomas Vengris’ follow up to his debut feature “Motherland,” winner of the Baltic Film Competition in 2019. The portmanteau film is a witty exploration of contemporary love stories via an AirBnB rental.

The best director award went to Argentinian Agustin Toscano for “I Trust You,” a hybrid of documentary, fiction and musical about two ex-nuns who fall in love, leave the convent and adopt a child only to be charged with a murder, their family broken up and the pair of them imprisoned.

The FIPRESCI award went to Aylin Tezel’s “Falling into Place,” a bitter-sweet romantic comedy set on the Isle of Skye in Scotland, and in which the writer-director also stars as one half of a one night stand which has longer lasting emotional resonance.

Lifetime Achievement awards were bestowed on Estonian composer and musician Rein Rannap and British film director Mike Newell whose career goes from the challenging drama of “Dance With a Stranger,” the superlative gangster film “Donnie Brasco” to crowd pleasing hits such as “Four Weddings and a Funeral” and “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.”

Canadian thriller “The G” missed out on awards but a powerful performance by Dale Dickey (“Winter’s Bone”) and its gender flipping tale of violent revenge makes for an original and entertaining thriller. Montenegrin director Nemanja Becanovic’s “Supermarket” is a tight satire, imbuing its story of a stowaway in a supermarket with a Kubrickian chill.

“Patient#1,” an absurdist comedy by Georgian director Rezo Gigineishvili, has a decrepit Soviet leader in the last days of his decline, cared for by a nurse played with historical irony by Ukrainian actor Olga Makeeva. Less manic than “The Death of Stalin,” it’s more like the “Last Days of Brezhnev.”

Two off the wall comedies were also standouts: Rozália Szeleczki’s Hungarian rom-com “Cat Call,” in which a 30-year-old architect (Franciska Töröcsik) falls in love with a talking cat, and Montenegrin “Forever Hold Your Peace,” which uses a liberal dose of drink and dynamite to shake up the tired conventions of the wedding comedy.

During her closing remarks, artistic director Tiina Lokk talked of the political pressure to withdraw certain films but noted that she had seen Serbians drinking vodka with Bosnians and Israelis chatting with Iranians. Talking to Variety, she said: “We are breaking the audience records, despite the difficult economic times. The event is so big and consists of so many elements, but Industry, Just Films and Pöff Shorts are all jumping higher and further than they ever have.” Following the festival, she intends to take three days off before the planning starts for 2024. New ideas include a Golden Classics section and a section devoted to documentaries as well as an exploratory idea of an outdoor cinema with a sauna nearby for those who can’t bear the subzero temperatures.

Cat Call
“Cat Call”

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