Only a month after crowds and critics of all nations stopped slipping outside of Rotterdam theaters, 14 festival veterans play Brooklyn, as BAM presents the complete in-competition lineup for Rotterdam’s Tiger Awards—”first or second feature films” from around the world, some financed in part by the fest’s own Hubert Bals Fund.
Rotterdam, wrapping up its 39th edition, has a safe reputation as the most international of the big European fests (with an especial eye for East Asia and, this year, Africa), as well as the most open to hard-sell works—transgressive subjects, narrative minimalism, and ascetic aesthetics (the static long take is alive and well here).
That first tendency is best represented by Estonian Veiko Õunpuu’s sophomore feature, Temptation of St. Tony, a Tallinn yuppie’s midlife crisis as hallucinatory odyssey of faith in a world gone to exhausted decadence and cannibalism, done with a kicky, surreal sense of humor. The black-and-silver photography is like fine-edged engraving; Õunpuu is one of the few directors featured who seems to take making a film as an “Astonish me” challenge, arthouse in a throwback way. (This isn’t always good—his cabaret-gothy Hell is like the fake art film from a beer commercial.) Still, Temptation‘s ecstatic visions do astonish as often as not. Also eager to make an impression is Miyoko, a spastic biopic of cult manga diarist Shinichi Abe—an oversexed alcoholic schizophrenic, he’s a tortured-artist jackpot. Yoshifumi Tsubota’s debut is noteworthy for its reproduction of bohemian Asagaya, Tokyo, in the ’70s. Killer clothes.
But which film will bloggers pelt with “quietly observeds” and “delicately realizeds”? The field doesn’t lack entrants. Paz Fabrega’s Cold Water of the Sea develops parallel narratives involving the spoiled seven-year-old daughter of a working-class family (interesting) and an ennui-plagued young bourgeoisie (less) during New Year’s season on Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast. Elsewhere, Charlotte Lay Kuen Lim’s My Daughter offers new, compelling proof that the Malaysian New Wave doesn’t matter. Also set in a co-dependent familial pressure-cooker is Nikolai and Yelena Renard’s Mama, which strings together wordless vignettes from a day in the domestic life of a caregiving Russian mother and her obese ogre of an adult son, pointing the camera at both for over an hour while managing to suggest nothing you wouldn’t surmise from seeing them passing on the street. (Rotterdam’s website boasts that it was “Made for 8,000 dollars.” No word as to if this will affect the admission price.)
Attempting to break into the festival circuit, one might mind the example of others who’ve won a Palme d’Or or two, say . . . Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne? Martijn Maria Smits visits les Dardennes’ backyard for a Seraing-set gallery of working-class Belgian mugs in nil-personality C’est déjà l’été, while Danish entry R literally piggybacks on the Dardennes trademark p.o.v. style, beginning with a camera perched behind peroxide-mopped, ripe-for-a-beating “Rune” (Johan Asbaek) as he is signed into a prison’s Tattooed Psychopaths ward. Co-directors Michael Noer and Tobias Lindholm got an ideal set with the recently closed Horsens prison. Filling their cast with ex-con vikings, R gets its grip by ignoring sociology for physical realities; it’s claustrophobic and rank with testosterone and gym sweat, a smothering lesson in prison-yard pecking order. Also living the low life is Georgian Levan Koguashvili’s Street Days, which would be as unremarkable as its title but for the fine central performance by Guga Kotetishveli as “Checki,” the most fatigued hustler you ever saw.