After another great International Film Festival Rotterdam, it’s time for a round-up! Here are the best things we saw coming out of Rotterdam in February this year. Once again, congratulations to the organisers for putting on a great virtual programme under challenging lockdown conditions – IFFR once again proved to be a blast, with a wonderful selection of films. And the best news is – IFFR is coming back in June this year.
Our favourites from IFFR ’21, February edition.
1. First Cow (Reichardt, US)
Absolute top tier Reichardt: up there with Wendy and Lucy and Certain Women. We loved it! See our full review here.
2. Quo Vadis, Aida? (Žbanić, Bosnia)
A robustly confrontational dramatisation of the UN’s utter failure to defend the Bosnians of Srebrenica, told through the eyes of a local translator trying to balance working for the Blue Helmets with protecting her own family. Brilliant & devastating.
3. Liborio (Sosa, Dominican Republic)
This tale of a real-life Dominican religious leader comes across as if Pedro Costa remade Childhood of a Leader. It also brings to mind Rohrwacher, Herzog, etc. I dug its magical-realist messianic vibe, and subtle sense of enchantment in the air.
4. Witches of the Orient (Faraut, France)
With each sequence of archive footage, edited to music, this film ignites. Factories, 60s science, anime, Nazis, explosions, and roll-catch after roll-catch after roll-catch. The whole second half of the movie is electrifying, with that training scene set to Portishead’s Machine Gun as the glorious highlight. Trailer here.
5. Black Medusa (Chebbi & Ismaël, Tusnia)
An enchanting riff on the medusa myth, with a young loner drifting through Tunis’s cafe scene and picking off the men whose eye she catches. Comes across as A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night meets Promising Young Woman. A simple scene of fruit falling from a tree touches upon the sublime. Trailer here.
6. Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliché (Sng & Bell, UK)
This heartfelt, personal voyage through the life and death of Poly Styrene, told by her daughter, eschews talking heads and turns instead to extensive archive footage and Poly’s own diaries, given voice by Ruth Negga’s spot-on rendition. Fame, music, feminism, mental health, religion, trauma, life and death – it’s all here. Trailer here.
7. The Women’s Revenge (Su, Taiwan) (16 mins)
Su Hui-yu’s short is a glorious video-art riff on the Taiwanese exploitation movies of the 80s. Packed with dry ice, bloodthirsty women and fabulous tableaux, The Women’s Revenge is an X-rated pop video / fashion-shoot stuff; gore-splattered low art masquerading as high, but that’s alright with us. Trailer here.
8. Riders of Justice (Jensen, Denmark)
Oddly reminiscent in parts of Dekalog I, with added assault rifles. A bit silly, sure, but very watchable and you get to see an ex-army Mads Mikkelsen going a bit Death Wish. Trailer here.
9. The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be Quiet (Katz, Argentina)
A series of beautifully absurdist B&W vignettes in the life of a man, taking its digs at social fads, medical hysteria, and capitalism. In the very second shot you see the titular dog, and his eyes are so big and glossy you can see the camera operator in them. Trailer here.
10. Mayday (Cinorre, USA)
A cool indie SuckerPunch, with a female gaze, and a strong pro-siren, pro-Lost Girl stance. We are suckers for Mayday‘s Gilliam-esque fugue fantasy, and unapologetic pro-girl messaging. Recommended for fans of Mia Goth and (especially) french singer Soko, who gives the standout performance. Clip here.
11. Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched (Janisse, USA)
Kier-La Janisse’s folk horror doc clocks in at over 3 hours, and takes in Britain, the US, and the rest of the world too. It front-loads its strongest material, from the British tradition, but even as it loses focus towards the end it still presents a smorgasboard of engrossing references and recommendations. See Janisse interviewed here.
12. Mandibules (Dupieux, France)
Dude, where’s my insect? Two dim-witted bros discover a giant fly in the trunk of a car, and decide to train it to do tricks in order to make some cash. Quentin Dupieux’s new film is like a pared-down french absurdist version of a Farrelly Brothers flick, mining laughs from its aggressive stupidity. Trailer here.
13. The Cemil Show (Sarhan, Turkey)
A security guard becomes obsessed with a Turkish character actor in The Cemil Show. Strong visuals, fun metatextual references and an increasingly wild central performance set this film apart. There are some great pseudo-“in camera” SFX work in the third act, morphing back and forth between reality and fiction. A great supporting turn, too, from Nezrin Cavazade, coming on like a Turkish Amy Winehouse in this, one of the darker dark comedies you’ll see this year. Trailer here.
14. Dead and Beautiful (Verbeek, Taiwan)
The wealthy young members of Asia’s most elite families push each other to try edgy new experiences in search of the ultimate decadent high. But after a wild night with a shamen in the forest, they wake up from their drunken stupor to find they now have fangs. Dead and Beautiful boasts a great look, interesting ideas, and a strong ending that’s bound to get audiences talking. Clip here.
15. Terranova (Estrella & Serrano, Cuba) (50 mins)
“What is the city to you?” THe city emerges, mutates, warps and dissolves in this short dreamy visual poem of Havana. Its inhabitants comes and go, as the city emerges from a collective dream before sinking back into memory. Features some wonderful shots of factories looming over the cityscape, and a standout ambient soundtrack. Directors’ interview here.
What do you think? Anything we missed? Let us know!