The International Film Festival Mannheim-Heidelberg (IFFMH) has very much captured the social, cultural and political zeitgeist with this year’s film selections, exploring such themes as female empowerment, HIV/AIDS and the post-Soviet collapse of Ukraine.
“The festival doesn’t work in topics, we are trying to show the best films, but the interesting thing is that the topics come to us through the films,” says IFFMH director Sascha Keilholz. “Obviously we are sensitive to the whole range and diversity that can be had in cinema.”
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Indeed, this year’s films in the On the Rise competition section and supplemental Pushing the Boundaries sidebar, which showcases cutting-edge works by young and established filmmakers, ended up sharing unmistakable themes. Many new female voices are putting their mark in Eastern European film with stories of women rebelling against patriarchy and male structures, for example, Keilholz points out. “That was quite striking for us.”
In Alina Grigore’s Romanian drama “Blue Moon,” which screens in On the Rise, a young woman breaks away from her patriarchal family.
Similarly, in the Bulgarian competition title “Women Do Cry” (pictured), directors Mina Mileva and Vesela Kazakova take on patriarchy and chauvinistic double standards with their story of five sisters struggling and suffering in their relationships with men. “Women Do Cry” also explores the impact of HIV in the present day.
Living with HIV and AIDS is likewise the focus of Rodrigo de Oliveira’s Brazilian film “The First Fallen,” albeit at the onset of the epidemic. Set in 1983, the film follows a young biologist who returns to Brazil from New York infected with a nameless disease. Joining transsexual artist Rose and video filmmaker Humberto, who are also positive, they try to survive the emerging epidemic together. “The First Fallen” world premieres at Mannheim-Heidelberg.
Strong female voices are also evident in French cinema, Keilholz adds. Antoinette Boulat, a former casting director, makes her helming debut with “My Night,” a romantic drama about a young woman yearning to be free on a summer night in Paris. Claire Simon, best known for her documentaries, explores the relationship between French writer Marguerite Duras and her last partner Yann Andréa, who was gay and 38 years her junior.
Programming, says IFFMH head of program Frédéric Jaeger, is about “questioning your own perspective and your own privileges, looking at what is beyond your own scope – that’s something we want to share with the audience and which is reflected in our competition.”
He points to Michelangelo Frammartino’s “The Hole” as an example. The film about cave exploration leans towards the experimental and could almost be a documentary, he explains. “It’s a cinematic feast for the eyes.”
This year’s program also offers cinematic highlights from often under represented countries, such as Abdullah Mohammad Saad’s Bangladeshi drama “Rehana,” which echoes many of the themes seen in other films with its story of an assistant professor who refuses to follow the rules of patriarchal society at a university when she stands up for students forced to submit to the sexual advances of a professor.
From Turkey and having its international premiere at IFFMH, Fikret Reyhan’s “Fractured” follows an indebted young man whose extended family struggles for cohesion as it comes together to help him raise the money he owes. The film, says Jaeger, is “a great highlight of Turkish cinema of the last year.”
Likewise unspooling in competition is Oleg Sentsov’s Ukrainian film “Rhino,” about a young man’s rise through Ukraine’s criminal underworld following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
A major surprise in Pushing the Boundaries is “Earwig,” French helmer Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s surreal horror tale and first English-language film, says Keilholz. “It’s nothing one would expect, even for us as professionals. I’ve watched 600 films this year, but this is one of the ones where I say, ‘Whoa, what was that?’ That’s actually what we mean by Pushing the Boundaries. She is really pushing the boundaries of cinema.”
“Cow,” from British filmmaker Andrea Arnold, who is being honored at this year’s fest, likewise screens in Pushing the Boundaries. “It’s mind-blowing,” says Keilholz. “A documentary about a cow – what can you expect? But after you see the film, you know.”
“Ahed’s Knee,” Nadav Lapid’s scathing critique of Israel’s militarism and settlement politics and the censorship imposed by its authoritarian cultural policy, is also presented in the sidebar, as is Gaspar Noé’s “Vortex,” about the love and relationship between an elderly couple dealing with dementia.
Other Pushing the Boundary highlights include:
Romanian helmer Radu Muntean’s satiric thriller “Întregalde,” about three young volunteer workers who get stranded in Transylvania’s mountainous hinterlands while delivering aid supplies to remote villages;
“Petite Maman,” French director Céline Sciamma’s fairytale-like story of bereavement and mourning;
Erik Matti’s Philippine political thriller “On the Job: The Missing 8,” which examines corruption at all levels of modern-day Philippines;
Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s “Memoria,” starring Tilda Swinton as a British immigrant in Colombia who experiences strange goings-on while visiting her sister in Bogotá.
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