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Film Festival 2014: My “Winners”

This year’s film festival Mannheim-Heidelberg was a celebration of otherness, (im)possible new beginnings, and pursuit of true human connections.

Film festival Heidelberg 2014

Film festival Heidelberg 2014


Ten festival days with 31 films made me see the world from many different perspectives and took me to journeys and places I hadn’t experienced before. Each and every film was worth watching for one reason or another, but there were some that left a lasting impression on me through their touching, intensely human presence. These are the films that moved me the most:

In the Crosswind

The images, the lack of motion, the voice – all of them so powerful that one almost feel captured in this time experiencing the horrendous events in the protagonist’s life. It’s so unusually intense despite the lack of motion and dialog that it leaves you speechless and thoughtful. How much atrocity can a human being bear? Where is the line between illusion and hope, and how much of that one needs to survive? These and many more questions will accompany you through the film and long after.

Image courtesy: International Film Festival Mannheim-Heidelberg 2014; http://www.iffmh.de

Image courtesy: International Film Festival Mannheim-Heidelberg 2014; http://www.iffmh.de


Hotel

An amusing, sad, disturbing journey to being someone else for a short while which triggers a spiral of unexpected feelings and actions. Not the funny moments make this film so touching, but the way it brings to light vulnerability, and lets us experience the essence of being human from different perspectives without any trace of judgement. Who hasn’t thought of the possibility to escape the burden of past mistakes, unpleasant circumstances or violent expectations? One of the most moving films this year showing the simplicity and beauty of being human.

Hotel

Farewell

Not an easy film to watch, but one leaving a lasting impression. It’s not only about saying good-bye to a life the protagonist used to live or accepting the fact that the journey called life might be over very soon. It’s a full immersion of the way the 92-year old protagonist feels. The intensity of the experience is such that you almost sense what he thinks and wish that there could be an opportunity for him to re-gain his physical strength, his youth. Moving, thought-provoking, intense.

In addition to these three films, there is a number of others which I consider important to point out. While they were in very different settings and about various themes, they all had something in common: love as potential game-changer. The ingenuous and touching way of approaching the topic from different perspectives, the great acting, and human touch made these films very special. Special in uncovering new aspects of human connections. These are: “Patrick’s Day”, “The Sunfish”, “A Few Cubic Meters of Love”, “Nightfall in India”, “Der Goalie bin ig”.

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Film Festival Day 3: Naivety and Betrayal

Another eventful festival day went by with an unusual western in the Hungarian Puszta (“Mirage”), a taxi road trip in Paris (“Tricolarum”), and two other moving films which I feel the need to highlight: “Der Goalie bin ig” and “In the Crosswind”.

Film Festival Heidelberg 2014

Films about “losers” are available aplenty and often depict a story using a slightly moralizing or pitiful undertone. Not so “Der Goalie bin ig”. I don’t even think this is a film about the loser Goalie. To me it was rather a story about losers… or more precisely put about people who have lost any sense of honesty, truth, and the ability to engage in ingenuous human connections. In a world of dishonesty friendship loses its meaning; lies and betrayal become the norm. A sad story or a celebration of ingenuousness? You’ll have the chance to decide for yourself if you watch it. You’ll also discover many more layers interweaved in this good Swiss story.

“In the Crosswind” was a very unusual, and intense film. Somehow it doesn’t even feel right to write about it. The words seem to diminish its strength of expression and extraordinary way of involving the audience in a terrifying journey. Nevertheless, I simply have to point it out here and now with the disclaimer that anything written about it can’t do justice to the cinematic experience. An experience of images, lack of motion combined with a female voice telling a story. All of this lets you immerse in the world of Erna and witness a human story of the horrifying cleansing of the Baltic countries in the 1940s. A story about love, hope, loss, betrayal, courage, survival, home… A must-see story.

Image courtesy: International Film Festival Mannheim-Heidelberg 2014; http://www.iffmh.de

Image courtesy: International Film Festival Mannheim-Heidelberg 2014; http://www.iffmh.de

Film Festival Day 1: The Wish To Be Someone Else

The journeys on the first festival day were diverse and surprising. The wish to be(come) someone else was striking in all six films I saw today. A wish that is so familiar for who hasn’t wished to change, to become a different person, even if only for a day?

Film_festival_Heidelberg_2014

Olya and Sasha (“Name Me”), two 17-year old Russian girls, took the audience on a mission to find Olya’s father with the expectation for a change. What they found was unexpected, harsh, and poignant… Revealing the feeling of abandonment, as well as different aspects of today’s Russian society and mentality. While the latter is worth a longer, and possibly heated discussion, the good acting and the multi-layered narrative made the film worth watching.

“Amour Fou” let us peek into Heinrich von Kleist‘s thoughts, as well as in 19th-century Germany. Hard to believe what it was like two centuries ago, but it was very easy to believe Christian Friedel as Kleist.

“Nightfall in India” is not a road movie for me. It’s so much more than that. So much more than just a story about courage, love, truth… It’s a precious piece of cinema that accompanies you long after you saw it. A lesson of what it means to be human.

If I were to choose two champions of change for the festival day, these would be “The Sunfish” and “Hotel”.

I have to admit that I was skeptical about “The Sunfish”. Deep-sea fishing, a fisherman, small village… it sounded like too ordinary a story. Boy, was I wrong! The sense of humor, authenticity, simpleness make the film a real journey through adversity, hope, the willingness for a new beginning. After all, we all need to believe it’s possible.

Hotel

Have you ever thought how soothing the anonymity of a hotel can be? It’s a place where no one knows us, and thus no one expects us to be the way we have always been. It’s the perfect place to escape from a vicious circle of social expectations, and burdens. And that’s how, Erika, together with a number of people from her group therapy, see it in “Hotel” when they decide to be someone else, for a day or two. This turns to be amusing, sad, disturbing, and triggers a spiral of unexpected feelings and actions. Not the funny moments make this film so touching, but the way it brings to light vulnerability, and lets us experience the essence of being human from different perspectives without any trace of judgement. One of the most moving films this year.

Festival Opening 2014: Gray Cats and Love in Cubic Meters

A chock-full festival hall and an atmosphere of joyous anticipation. The beginning of the festival is always special – the opening speech as a real gate-opener to a 10-day film feast, the introduction of the opening film, the directors and actors excited to present their work…

Opening ceremony film festival Heidelberg 2014

All of this followed by grey cats (“All Cats Are Gray”) and love measured in cubic meters (“A Few Cubic Meters of Love”). But wait a minute…
The cats are actually not cats at all. Gray are parts of the past, some memories (or the lack thereof), and a young girl looking for truth.
The love measured in a few cubic meters turns out to be so grand that it overwhelms with its purity and impossibility… to the extent that in the end you feel like screaming with the trapped couple in a desperate attempt to help them and there is nothing else you wish for in this very moment, but to be touched by at least one small portion of a cubic meter of this kind of love.

A few cubic meters of love

My film adventures continue and will take me to many different places in the next days. And you might want to consider seeing these two film stories. They are well worth your time, energy, and thoughts.

Two days and counting… Celebrating Films!

I visited a dear friend earlier this year for a surprise celebration of her birthday. We hadn’t seen each other for ages and had a wonderful evening organized by her husband. Well aware of my fondness for the international film festival Mannheim-Heidelberg, she found the best way to convey the essence of it to her husband: “The film festival to Irina is what my birthday is to me”. Just like my friend, I look forward to this special event, meet preparations, talk about it often (and a lot!), enjoy, and share it.

IFFMH 2014 program

My friends have heard me speak about the festival many months in advance, seen me check every day if the festival program is available (and complain if it still isn’t), been there when I plan my schedule so diligently that I get to see the maximum number of films possible, experienced my joy when I buy the tickets on the first day of the advance sale, and my excitement during the festival. It feels like celebration indeed! Celebrating storytelling, newcomer filmmakers, and an audience eager to be mesmerized in cinema debuts… And this year even the motto of the festival – Celebrating films – supports how I feel about it every year.

Last year it was a forum of very well told film stories – stories that moved me, made me think, discuss, wonder, question (you can find some of my impressions here and here and here). I am sure it will be no different this year. The human and authentic aspect of the selected films is what makes them simple and extraordinary at the same time. So simple and extraordinary that it often feels like they were created for one person only. When the light goes off and a film begins in the festival hall, I sit with a small notebook and a pencil on my lap that help me capture some impressions, the other film-goers seem to disappear and the magic of cinema starts…

I’ll share my impressions from long hours of film watching which are in store for me in the next two weeks and invite you to join me in a journey to unknown, exciting cinema destinations. Two days and counting…!

Film Festival 2013: Last Day and My “Winners”

International Film Festival Mannheim-Heidelberg 2013

10 days, 35 films, a fascinating atmosphere, many inspiring talks and encounters, new perspectives, discoveries and captivating images. This was the 2013 international film festival Mannheim-Heidelberg to me. But most of all it was the stage for incredibly touching and thought-provoking stories.

Film Talk, International Fil, Festival Mannheim-Heidelberg 2013

Film Talk, International Fil, Festival Mannheim-Heidelberg 2013


This year’s films did justice to the festival motto, “Everyone a story” taking all of us in the audience to a magically real journey through the enchating art of good film storytelling. I truly enjoyed experiencing each and every film – the different angle they all presented the world from and the thought-provoking perpectives and questions they invited us to ponder on.
However, there were films that resonated with me and moved me more than others. Perhaps because their narratives were more relevant to my own story or the way they were told was so fascinating that it made me think and see the world with different eyes. But whatever the reason was, I am happy and thankful that I had the chance to experience them and I can highly recommend them. Here they are, my ‘winners’:

Tangerines

“Tangerines” turned out to be much more than I expected. It started and ended with the question “Who are you?” with a violent journey of searching inbetween. The director Zaza Urushadze from Georgia presented it as “a film about war in which war is not shown”. Well, war is shown in its cruelty and pointlessness, but it’s not only a war film. It’s a universal story about the essence of being human – about understanding, empathy, forgiving, change beyond ethnicity, religion, culture. In my eyes, it was one of the most touching film stories I have experienced lately and definitely belongs to the must-see films from this festival. Watch it when you have the chance to, I guarantee it will move you with its human and subtle, yet clear and touching storytelling.

Tangerines

Brasserie Romantiek

I guarantee this story will go under your skin in no time and make you smile and thoughtful… perhaps even at the same time. But there is something bigger beyond the emotions it evokes. It’s the potential to bring about change for the better – in thinking, attitude, midset… in us.

Bending the Rules

A group of young dreamers is working hard on achieving a milestone – a theater performance abroad. Admittedly, it’s much more than just a performance and throughout the film turn into a life-changing experience for many of them. All that in incredibly long and wonderfully shot scenes, almost no interruptions and cuts… it almost feels like sitting in a theater… a theater of dreamers. Will they choose to remain true to a friend or to achieve their goal? One of the most amazing films this year.

Bending the Rules

Home

What excites me most about the festival is the variety of touching film stories – stories that have the power to make us (re-)think and (re-)consider. Stories like “Home” where four very different people let us discover a world of honesty, memories, searching… and finding. We all have been confronted with some, perhaps even many, aspects of their journey and it’s eye-opening and moving to be a part of it. It feels so familiar and all four of them are so wonderfully ‘human’ and unique that by the end of the film you almost feel like sharing a cup of coffee or tea with them. The cup of coffee or tea that was accompanying and connecting them throughout the film. And while you imagine how you drink a coffee with them you start thinking about your own search for honesty, happiness, for the place you belong to and probably without noticing it you even start seeing it differently…

Before Snowfall

The ‘invisible’ and tragical journey across cultures through and beyond violent expectations – an intricate web of what is at the core of us, human beings. We all need to be reminded of it.

Image courtesy International Film Festival Mannheim Heidelberg

Image courtesy International Film Festival Mannheim Heidelberg


And now I am off to enjoy the last festival evening for this year. And to look forward to next year’s edition. What would life be without good storytelling and the magical world of cinema!

Film Festival 2013 Day 7: “What’s Wrong with You?” *

A day-trip of heart-breaking hopelessness (The Retrieval), surprising black humor (Pelmeni), almost scandalous (hi)story (Sex, Drugs and Taxation) and an important chronicle (Drapchi – The Nightingale of Tibet) left me wondering what’s wrong with us, people, what’s wrong with humankind.

Drapchi - The Nightingale of Tibet Poster

While all these films are worth watching for one reason or another and will surely provoke different reactions, “Drapchi-The Nightingale of Tibet” seems to me of universal importance. In a personalized, visually and emotionally captivating manner, it conveys a message (or rather a set of messages) we all need to hear and be aware of. I, personally, wished Yiga’s voice, with its compelling beauty and strenght, would have been even more present throughout the narrative – her voice was to me the strongest means of telling the story. As much the film is personalized and specific, it unfolds a story much bigger than its main character, much significant than any of us. A film well deserving its place as a special screening at the International Film Festival Mannheim-Heidelberg and as a special screening for everyone of us.

* from the film The Retrieval

Film Festival 2013 Day 6: Who are you?

We all have come across the fundamental question of who we actually are. Sometimes asked by others, sometimes raised by ourselves.
Yesterday I experienced two good film stories which among other very important themes deal with the subject of identity and self-awareness: “Class Enemy” and “Tangerines”.

“Class Enemy” seems like a well-known story of classroom rebellion, but it’s not. Far away from bias and clichés, it portrays accurately many different points of view in today’s education system and values without giving pre-defined answers. Awkward and challenging at times, it raises important questions around the roles of students and teachers, and other educational aspects. A thought-provoking film worth watching.

Class Enemy Film

“Tangerines” turned out to be much more than I expected. It started and ended with the question “Who are you?” with a violent journey of searching inbetween. The director Zaza Urushadze from Georgia presented it as “a film about war in which war is not shown”. Well, war is shown in its cruelty and pointlessness, but it’s not only a war film. It’s a universal story about the essence of being human – about understanding, empathy, forgiving, change beyond ethnicity, religion, culture. In my eyes, it was one of the most touching film stories I have experienced lately and definitely belongs to the must-see films from this festival. Watch it when you have the chance to, I guarantee it will move you with its human and subtle, yet clear and touching storytelling.

Tangerines

Film Festival 2013 Day 4: Fortune favors the bold… or does it?

Another exciting film festival day went by. For me, it started off with an almost overwhelming depiction of Alexander the Great‘s life (Alexander), went on to a cozy restaurant in Belgium (Brasserie Romantiek), stopped by a puzzled ordinary man who won the lottery (Millions), spend 90 minutes in a nearly abandoned little town (Blackbird) and ended with two striking characters (Max and Bobo).

Alexander the Great firmly believed that fortune favors the bold… If it does, to which extent? And what does boldness really mean and imply? Is it to persist at any cost and follow your dreams no matter how self-destructive they become? Is it to finally take the plunge in a new phase of life leaving all disappointments, but also loved ones, behind?

My personal favorites (and clear recommendations) are Brasserie Romantiek and Max and Bobo. I guarantee they will go under your skin in no time and make you laugh and cry… perhaps even at the same time. But there is something bigger beyond the emotions they evoke. It’s their potential to bring about change for the better – in thinking, attitude, midset… in us.

Photo courtesy International Film Festival Mannheim Heidelberg

Photo courtesy International Film Festival Mannheim Heidelberg

Picture courtesy International Film Festival Mannheim Heidelberg

Picture courtesy International Film Festival Mannheim Heidelberg

Film Festival 2013 Day 3: Invisible Journeys

The invisibles… The feelings that make us act in a certain way. Can anyone explain them?

How do we make choices? What are they based upon – values, culture, social conventions, expectations, encounters or something as irrational as empathy or even love? You won’t find answers in these two films, but they will take you on a journey to what eyes don’t see, capture your attention to the point where you start thinking and feeling for and with the travelers. At the end of the day, you will probably see the invisible across cultures and beyond violent expectations – an intricate web of what is at the core of us, human beings. We all need to be reminded of it.

The Invisible Collection

Image courtesy International Film Festival Mannheim Heidelberg

Image courtesy International Film Festival Mannheim Heidelberg


Before Snowfall

Image courtesy International Film Festival Mannheim Heidelberg

Image courtesy International Film Festival Mannheim Heidelberg


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