Our reviews of 60th Thessaloniki International Film Festival


A voluntary year (2019) by Ulrich Kölher/Henner Winckler – Round Midnight

Author: Francesco Cirica

Urs wants his daughter to take a Voluntary year in Costa Rica, but she doesn’t think the same. Kölher and Winckler mix slice of life with a little surrealistic touch to address from an unexpected point of view a story about coming of age and how hard is to choose one’s future. Perfectly written character and great direction though stumble in front of a plot that never really takes off and comes to its end too abruptly to really leave something to its audience

Balkan Hotspot Rating: 3 out of 5

Family Portraits (2019) by Maria Mavropoulou – Virtual Reality

Author: Francesco Cirica

A house filled with electronic devices, all of them calling for the viewer’s attention. The film uses the immersive experience of virtual reality to overwhelm its viewers with a plethora of stimuli. There’s constantly a phone ringing or the jingle of an incoming message, of a request for a Skype call to symbolise the extent of the virtual world in our daily life. But the experience doesn’t go much further ending up being not much more than a shallow claim against the pervasive presence of technology which is nor interesting nor new.

Balkan Hotspot Rating: 1 out of 5

Female Trouble (1974) by John Waters – Carte Blanche to John Waters

Author: Felicia Vigliotti

A young Dawn Davenport leaves her parents’ house after not having received the perfect shoes as a Christmas present. From that point forward, her troubles begin: she gets pregnant, works as a waitress and stripper and gets married. Dawn is a bad mother, a thief and a murderer. The meeting with a couple obsessed with the “beauty of crime” will take her to the electric chair. Female trouble tells how bloody the climb to success can be. Unconventional, extravagant and grotesque. When you keep watching it you know yourself and all your limits. Thanks to this film you can explore your consciousness and revalue what is right or wrong. Brilliant.

Balkan Hotspot Rating: 5 out of 5

Gorilla Bathes at Noon (1993) by Dušan Makavejev – Balkan Survey

Author: Elena Mullor and Amanda Miteniece

After the Cold War ends, a Red Army’s soldier is deserted in Berlin. He is trying to survive in no man’s land between the two Berlins. While he does what he can to survive, we are discovering his past through his discourse. The director Dušan Makavejev had made the decision to cut between the scenes of 1993 democratic berlin and the second world war. Moreover, jumping from scene to scene often made the audience feel confused as it was hard to follow the plotline. “Random” scenes that include:      visits to a zoo and observing quite closely his Siberian “brothers” the tigers; paying a visit to a woman, while delivering a package, who is very suddenly shot outside and then has to take care of a baby, who almost winds up in the hands of a black-market mobster. The collection of these seemingly vaguely connected scenes visualise the deserted soldier’s life in a land that he cannot call his own. Throughout the movie, he does not let go of the only two things that he owns – his bicycle and the soviet parade suit. The conclusion of this “rollercoaster ride” of a movie is that the search for himself continues. In our opinion, the character of the soldier represents the overall idea of the deserted soldier, as so many of them got left behind. This is the type of movie that you understand afterwards, thus giving the opportunity to reflect.

Balkan Hotspot Rating: 3 out of 5

Madre (2019) by Rodrigo Sorogoyen – Special Screenings

Author: Pablo Rubio Martín

Based on a short film by the same director, “Mother” follows in Elena’s footsteps, ten years after the disappearance of her son on a beach on the French coast. After this devastating event, she begins to come out of that well, when she meets a young Frenchman, on a journey to a bitter recovery from her trauma. The award-winning Spanish director Rodrigo Sorogoyen films in a calm and restless way. A film in which the feelings of the protagonist are beautifully intertwined (but without losing the genre of Thriller, who knows how to handle the director so well). Desire, the pain of loss, reconciliation and resentment are portrayed through long sequences, in which the camera moves like a choreography, through beautiful landscapes of the French coast. But if there is something that makes this film even bigger. It is undoubtedly its protagonist, Elena, who is brilliantly brought to life by actress Marta Nieto (for this role she won the prize for best actress at the Venice Film Festival). Bucolic and bitter in equal parts, “Mother” is a film that does not leave indifferent.

Balkan Hotspot Rating: 4 out of 5

Papicha (2019) by Mounia Meddour – Open Horizons

Author: Astrid Vallet

Algeria, the 1990s. Through a moving and powerful history, Papicha plunges us into the country which was torn apart by a dangerous political climate. The story of young woman student fighting for her rights, freedom and dreams despite the terror inspired by the rise of religious extremism.

The intensity of this film is impressive. From joy to anger, from anguish to sadness, this energetic film evokes real emotions. The obstinacy of the young girl not to resign herself to living as she is ordered to do, is definitely inspiring.

Balkan Hotspot Rating: 4,5 out of 5

The Nest (2019) by Roberto De Feo – Open Horizons

Author: Francesco Cirica

Stranded in his family’s mansion for all his life, guarded by a mother that claims to do so in order to protect him from the threats of the outside world, the young Samuel starts to question his reality when a young new maid enters the family. Shifting between horror and thriller, the first feature film by Roberto De Feo is so dense with characters and events that would have turned into a great tv series. Filled with a powerful atmosphere, the movie suffers on the other hand from a plot that is often too dense to be fully delivered in its runtime, still offering a deep insight of what means to step from childhood to the world of adults.

Balkan Hotspot Rating: 3,5 out of 5

The Right Choice (2019) by Avril Furness – Virtual Reality

Author: Francesco Cirica

A Syrian family is trapped between the crossfire. What to do, run or hide? The film puts the viewer in the shoes of people trapped in war zones, with an interesting final twist. But the message appears so clear and the experience so short that it turns out to be emotionless, preventing the movie to become something more than a spot for the Red Cross (who commissioned it).

Balkan Hotspot Rating: 2,5 out of 5

Vitalina Varela (2019) by Pedro Costa – Special Screenings

Author: Inês Ribeiro

A Cape Verdean woman arrives to Lisbon three days after the funeral of her husband Joaquim. The grief, sorrow, but also angst and ire are perfectly perceptible through the widow’s gaze and her monologues in crioulo.

This is a film that easily resembles to a series of photography or paintings due to its static scenes, beautiful framing and offbeat lighting, but also because of the lack of narrative and dialogues, which can disenchant those who are not familiar with the director’s work.

The constant presence of shadows and the overwhelming darkness embodies the sense of despair and bitterness of the characters that are brought to us. It can be a real challenge to outline the bounds in each scene, and usually the scant light that exists comes from the characters themselves, especially their gaze. This is a film about women’s suffering, but also an ode to their strength. An acknowledgment of the hardship of immigrants and those who are marginalized, the resistance against the darkness.

Balkan Hotspot Rating: 4 out of 5

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