02 Feb PROGRAMMER PICKS
With over 1100 film submissions to review, programming a film festival is no small task. Wonder which films VFF Head Programmer Kinga Binkowska is most excited about this year?
Check out these programmer picks.
Games People Play
If you have also spent a lot of the pandemic on your own, you might enjoy this film as much as I did. There is partying, there is touching, there is drama, and everyone is less than six feet apart. We just love all the Nordic films at the VFF!
Director Jenni Toivoniemi makes her feature film debut with a bittersweet comedy about a group of thirty-something friends regressing to their teenage selves during a reunion weekend.
An old group of friends gathers at an idyllic seaside villa to celebrate a surprise birthday party for Mitzi – just like they used to do as teenagers. The weekend starts ominously when Mitzi, who is the dramatic focal point of the group, does not respond well to the surprise. Old rituals and new revelations rise to the surface making the group of friends reassess their past, their present and drink more Kossu (Finnish liquor).
Games People Play, featuring a brilliant cast ensemble including Laura Birn (also in this year’s Helen, Netflix’s The Innocents) and Christian Hillborg (Fleabag), is a delicious mix of delight and darkness resulting in a perfect heartwarming satire. If you are into strong characters and full-of-heart raw humour, you will love this film. Kippis!
I Never Cry
I would not be allowed back in my motherland (Poland) if I didn’t include at least one Polish film in my top picks, and this is the one! It’s dynamic, funny, and so heartfelt. So get your pierogi on (eye roll) and enjoy.
In I Never Cry, a dark and feisty comedy, we meet Ola, a turbulent Polish teenager (a brilliant debut of Zofia Stafiej). Ola claims that she never cries, even if her life is far from a bed of roses. She lives in a small Polish city with her estranged mother, helping take care of her beloved, disabled brother. She hasn’t seen her father in ages. All she wants from him is a car, so she can have her freedom and take her brother on adventures. When unexpected news about her father’s passing arrives from Ireland, where he worked, she embarks on a long solo journey to bring his body back to Poland – although her main incentive is to retrieve the money he’d promised her towards a car.
Dealing with foreign bureaucracy in her own streetwise way, Ola will get to know her father.
My Wonderful Wanda
Ignore the saccharine title; this is not a cheap drama! It was one of my favourite films from the 2020 festival circuit. I won’t spoil it for you, but just push that play button already!
In a gripping comedy of errors, the award-winning Swiss director Bettina Oberli cleverly tackles issues of privilege, family dynamics and desires.
Wanda, a Polish single mother of two boys, becomes entangled with a wealthy Swiss family when she is employed to care for its recovering-from-a-stroke patriarch, Josef. Being utterly pragmatic, and trying to earn extra money for her family in Poland, the young woman expands her caregiving services by also satisfying Josef’s sexual needs. Things get complicated when Wanda unexpectedly becomes pregnant with his child.
Beautifully directed, My Wonderful Wanda is intelligent, funny and cleverly structured, to cite a few of its merits. It proves, in a cliché-free way, that money doesn’t buy happiness and dealing with family is never simple.
The Big Hit
The European Film Academy named this the best comedy of 2020, so it’s a guaranteed fun watch. It’s about waiting, spending time confined in small spaces, and finding a new hobby; I think many of us find that relatable right now…
Fresh from the mecca of the world’s finest cinema (Cannes Film Festival 2020), we bring you a heartfelt and delightful comedy inspired by true events.
The Big Hit follows Étienne, who is a past-his-prime but endearing theatre actor giving more drama lessons than actually spending time acting on a theatre stage. He is hired to be in charge of a project that’s very much new territory for him – a theatre workshop in a prison. Étienne ambitiously brings together an unlikely yet lovable troupe of convicts to stage Samuel Beckett’s famous play Waiting for Godot. After an unanticipated initial success, the colourful troupe is allowed to go on a tour outside the prison, with a final performance on one of the most prestigious stages in France, Paris’s Théâtre de l’Odéon. And that’s when things get complicated…
The Metamorphosis of Birds
I probably watch 800+ films a year and am rarely surprised by something; but this film shook me, big time! It wonderfully redefines the line between narrative and fiction. It’s a slower one, but if you appreciate sublime aesthetics and poetic narrative this one’s for you.
The Metamorphosis of Birds is a bewitching feature debut from emerging Portuguese director Catarina Vasconcelos, who explores her family stories in a poetic documentary essay.
Beautifully documented on 16 mm film, Catarina Vasconcelos journeys into the memories and dreams of her ancestors, starting with her naval officer grandfather, Henrique, gone for long, homesick periods from his children and his beloved wife, Triz. The couple wrote letters back and forth, but Henrique ordered the correspondence to be burned upon his death.
A jigsaw puzzle of metaphors, memories and bit of magical realism, The Metamorphosis of Birds is a beguiling meditation on generational love and the mourning after. It evokes the natural world with its changing seasons, ever-flowing tides and cycles of plant and animal life – that counterbalance and nurture those of human life.
The Reason I Jump
Based on the worldwide bestselling book by a 13-year-old Japanese boy, this documentary is a groundbreaking insight into what it feels like to be autistic. It’s a beautiful reminder that the spoken world is just one of many signifiers that make up lived experience.
An illuminating journey into the world of non-verbal autism, The Reason I Jump is a documentary based on the worldwide bestselling book by a 13-year-old Japanese boy, Naoki Higashida. Translated into over 27 languages, the book was heralded as a groundbreaking insight into what it feels like to be autistic.
Director Jerry Rothwell uses translation as his jumping point, rooting the narrative to acclaimed novelist David Mitchell, who translated the original book into English in 2013. Mitchell, whose son is autistic, describes Higashida’s book as ”an envoy from another world … a kind of poetry.” Fusing Higashida’s revelatory insights with intimate portraits of five remarkable young people, the film unravels poetically, offering cinematic form to the dazzling sensory world of the individuals we meet.
The film offers audiences a multi-sensory experience, reminding us that the spoken word is one of just thousands of signifiers in the vast constellation of realities that make up lived experience.