My top twenty-one film choices for the Sydney Film Festival. (SFF review)

It’s almost Sydney Film Festival time again and already the films are selling out.

Check out the festival program here, if you are lucky enough to be in this lovely town this time of year.  I am hoping to get along to as much as I can attend.  It’s always a huge fortnight, and given this years line-up, it will be a long stretch again.

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Here is my list of the must sees for the festival. These are not ranked in any particular order – except occasionally alphabetical. I’ve included blurbs from the Sydney Film Festival Website to give you a clue as to what the film is about.  These are the ones I hope to attend besides the lovely Brit Noir special they are running and a spate of music related documentaries that I would love to be able to make it to. Most of all, its a glorious display of world cinema – and that’s real world cinema!  Not just the festival winners or the latest French release, as they brag on their website. This is a rich collection designed to get people into the bars and cafes of Sydney or the famous Festival hub to talk film and socialize around a shared love of cinema.

I hope to see you there.

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1. Grisgris

Set in Chad, Grigris is an energetic and poignant film about a young man who dreams of rising above economic and physical impediments. Despite a paralysed leg, 25 year old Grigris (an excellent Souleymane Démé) dreams of becoming a dancer. Displaying nimbleness on the dancefloor despite his serious disability, Grigris is the toast of the nightclubs. His dreams are dashed when his uncle falls critically ill, and in order to save him Grigris is forced to work with illegal petrol traffickers. This dangerous gambit has grave consequences, and all that Grigris has worked so hard to achieve is brought into danger.

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2. Borgman

Enter with caution into the dark, malevolent, wickedly funny and decidedly strange world of Alex van Warmerdam’s creation.  The film opens with a priest and some villagers arming and readying themselves for a battle with what appears to be a subterranean community. Shotguns and spears at the ready, the vigilantes set out to destroy their enemies, but Borgman manages to narrowly evade them and warn the others, who all slip away from their underground abodes. A dishevelled Borgman next appears at a suburban home, politely asking permission to take a bath. Though this initial interaction does not go well, Borgman has soon ingratiated himself into the household of an arrogant, comfortable couple, their three children and nanny. At first he is gentle and kind, and seems to have a greater connection with the members of the family than they do with each other but soon the sinister Borgman starts wielding his inexplicable influence. The body count rises, Borgman is joined by his very creepy associates, and the scene is set for all hell to break loose.

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3. Only God Forgives

Set almost entirely in a neon-lit Bangkok at night, each frame in this dazzling, muscular film, which was shot by Larry Smith (Bronson, Eyes Wide Shut), is a carefully composed work of art. Gosling, in a restrained and complex performance, plays Julian, an American who runs a Thai boxing club in Bangkok and who is clearly involved in the criminal underworld. When Julian’s brother Billy is murdered, their mother Jenna (Kristin Scott Thomas) – the dangerous head of a powerful criminal organisation – arrives in Bangkok to collect her son’s corpse. She also dispatches Julian to find his brother’s killers, which pits him against the ‘Angel of Vengeance’, a terrifying cop called Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm) who is determined to restore order, and unafraid to use his sword to do so.

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4. The Act of Killing

When maverick documentarians Errol Morris and Werner Herzog saw an early cut of this film, they signed on as executive producers. This says much about the boldness and originality of Joshua Oppenheimer’s project. The director spent three years filming survivors of the 1965-66 Sumatran massacres, where he discovered that the killers involved were openly boastful of their crimes. Then he met Anwar Congo, a small-time gangster who was promoted to death-squad leader when the Indonesian government was overthrown in 1965. Anwar abetted the military regime in their mass slaughter of alleged communists, ethnic Chinese and intellectuals, killing hundreds with his own hands. Today, Anwar is neither evasive nor repentant, but braggingly upfront about every aspect of his murderous activities. In his earlier days, Anwar made a living selling black-market movie tickets. He and his friends modelled themselves on their Hollywood idols, with sharp suits and slick hair. Bizarrely, they agree to take part in the film, because they want to be movie stars – and Oppenheimer obliges, using every genre trick in the book. The killers play themselves, write the scripts and… play the victims. The result is a film so chilling, so surreal, that you’re compelled to watch frame by astonishing frame.

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5. Beyond the Hills

Cristian Mungiu’s Beyond the Hills is a searing look at faith and friendship. Mungiu, a pioneer of the Romanian New Wave who gained international acclaim with the Palme d’Or winner 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, uses the real-life events of a contemporary exorcism as the basis for his devastating new film. Alina returns to Romania and seeks out Voichița, her true love, with the aim of taking her back to Germany. But Voichița has found God, and now lives as a nun in a monastery run by a stern orthodox priest. As Alina becomes increasingly strident in her desire to remove Voichița from the clutches of the church, she is deemed possessed, and what follows is both compelling and shocking.

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6. Burning Bush

Renowned Polish director Agnieszka Holland (Europa Europa, the Oscar®-nominated In Darkness, The Wire) created this beautifully made three-part drama for HBO Europe. Revisiting a pivotal time in Czech history, Burning Bush begins with a shocking act. January, 1969: student Jan Palach sets himself on fire in the middle of Prague to protest Soviet occupation; he dies four days later. Burning Bush explores the aftermath of Palach’s sacrifice, government attempts to discredit him, and the struggle of his family, together with a brave attorney, to defend his legacy. Though focused on this personal tragedy, and using the space afforded to her by the format, Holland brilliantly captures the transformations occurring in Czech society at the time, the spirit of resistance of the people and the gradual resignation in fear of harsher persecution. With a top-notch cast, exquisite cinematography and production design, and its moving portrayal of a struggle against injustice, Burning Bush makes for captivating viewing.

All episodes of Burning Bush screen in one session with a 20-minute interval.

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7. Camille Claudel 1915

Edgy French director Bruno Dumont (Twentynine Palms, Outside Satan, Humanité, Hadewijch) takes on the tragic true story of sculptress Camille Claudel in his daring new film. Claudel, the student and then lover of Auguste Rodin, was unjustly confined by her family in a mental asylum, where she spent the last 29 years of her life. Camille tries desperately to convince her brother, the devout Catholic poet Paul Claudel, to have her released from the asylum. While the doctors support her release, Paul refuses. Juliette Binoche turns in a magnificent performance in this stark and disturbing film; Dumont makes the unusual and controversial decision to surround his star with real people suffering from mental illnesses and their actual nurses. Camille Claudel 1915 is a devastatingly powerful and provocative portrait of a gifted artist forcefully separated from her art.

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8. Child’s Pose

Winner of the Golden Bear at the Berlinale, Child’s Pose is a riveting drama that centres on a mother’s twisted affection for her son, and the repercussions of her actions when his well-being is placed in jeopardy. 60-year-old Cornelia (the phenomenal Luminita Gheorghiu) leads a life of privilege, social power and abundant wealth in contemporary Bucharest, but life is not perfect. More than anything in the world, she longs for her 34-year-old son Barbu (Bogdan Dumitrache) to reciprocate her affections. But the pair barely speak, something the domineering Cornelia blames on Barbu’s live-in girlfriend. When Barbu is involved in a tragic car accident and runs down a child on a highway, Cornelia is thrust back into his life. Seeing her chance to regain control, she commences a frighteningly well-orchestrated campaign to save her son from prison. But Barbu, boiling with anger yet hopelessly emasculated and infantilised, refuses to play along.  Propelled by Gheorghui’s towering, tour-de-force performance and a razor-sharp attention to class and generational resentments, Netzer’s engrossing film lays bare the moral bankruptcy of upper-class Romanian society and its institutions in expert fashion. Disquieting but also compassionate, this examination of guilt and the crippling effects of loss makes for a fascinating, unforgettable cinema experience.

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9. Final Cut Ladies and Gentlemen

A jaw-dropping collage of clips from 450 famous films becomes a whole new movie in the hands of director György Pálfi.

György Pálfi describes his latest work as a “recycled film”. Constructed in the editing room over several years, it is made entirely of clips – hundreds of them – borrowed from well-known films. Together, these images combine to create a whole new film, an archetypal love story that’s also a love letter to cinema.

The leading man is suave like Marcello Mastroianni in La Dolce Vita, with the boyish looks of Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic and confidence of Brad Pitt in Fight Club. The leading lady has Audrey Hepburn’s charm, Sophia Loren’s curves and the brains of Jodie Foster in The Silence of the Lambs. Together they are every couple in the history of cinema, their story as tragic, romantic and entertaining as the romances which have lit up the screen since the dawn of the medium.

György Pálfi is best known for provocative works such as Hukkle (2002) and Taxidermia (2006). Final Cut: Ladies And Gentlemen is a playful remix sure to whet your appetite for cinema old and new. Following its premiere in Cannes, this is a unique opportunity to watch an innovative film which, due to rights issues, may never be released in cinemas.

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10. Frances Ha

Greta Gerwig (Greenberg, To Rome With Love) stars in and co-wrote this bright and breezy modern fable by Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale, Kicking and Screaming). She plays Frances, a dancer who has yet to find a clear direction in her life. Nearly 30 years of age, Frances loses her New York apartment, her career is going nowhere slowly, she lacks a relationship, and is at odds with her best friend Sophie. Nevertheless, she still manages to live her life with joy and lightness, open to love and adventure. With sparkling dialogue, peopled with intelligent, witty characters, and shot in luscious black and white, Frances Ha is reminiscent of Woody Allen’s best work. Gerwig delivers a star turn, with great supporting performances by Mickey Sumner, Adam Driver (Girls), Grace Gummer and Michael Zegen in this funny, warm and ultimately uplifting film.

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11. Lasting

Michał and Karina are a pair of Polish students who meet and fall in love while working summer jobs in Spain. Using beautiful imagery, director Jacek Borcuch (All That I Love) captures the energy and exhilaration of young love and desire, and the feeling of great expectation at the beginning of a great romance. But both Michał and Karina return to Poland bearing secrets, one dark and one full of great promise. How they negotiate these secrets will dictate whether they can last together or not. Using a simple love story at the core, Borcuch has made a sophisticated and complex film that lingers long after it ends.

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12. Muscle Shoals

Aretha Franklin, Mick Jagger, Greg Allman, Jimmy Cliff, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon: the list is music royalty. All of these and more have made the trip to a little ol’ town on the Tennessee River in Alabama – Muscle Shoals. The town’s fabled recording studios were said to have a sound like no other. Perhaps it was ace house band The Swampers, or something in the water.

The legend began when Percy Sledge recorded ‘When a Man Loves a Woman’, and continued with Wilson Pickett’s ‘Mustang Sally’, Aretha Franklin’s ‘I Never Loved a Man’, The Stones’ ‘Brown Sugar’, and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ‘Freebird’. Fans of rock and soul worldwide have been touched by the music recorded here, and they’ll relish getting right down to the nitty gritty with this rockin’ doco that’s loaded with star interviews and original footage of soulful studio sessions.

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13. Oh Boy

German hit Oh Boy is part slacker comedy and part chronicle of Berlin’s transition to hipster cool, filled with reminders of that city’s rich and checkered history. College dropout Niko (Tom Schilling) has been dumped by his girlfriend, and is in trouble with the law. To make matters worse, his father has just discovered that he dropped out of university years ago and cuts him off financially. When his disappointed father asks him what he has been doing for the last two years, Niko answers “I’ve been thinking.” Meanwhile a beauty from his past confronts him with the emotional wounds he inflicted on her. All Niko wants is a cup of “normal coffee,” but even this eludes him. “Do you know the feeling when people around you seem to behave in a strange way?” Niko wonders. “And the longer you think about it, the more it dawns on you that it’s not other people who are strange, but yourself?” As Niko struggles with the growing sense of being an outsider, a series of chance encounters have a profound influence on his future.

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14. Outrage Beyond

The great Japanese director Takeshi Kitano (Hana-bi, Kikujiro, Zatoichi) returns with another thrilling and violent gangster film. In this stand-alone sequel to the critical and commercial hit Outrage, Kitano himself stars as Otomo, a yakuza who faked his own death only to land in prison. Enter an ambitious cop who ignites a power struggle between the two major yakuza families, exploiting the growing chasm between organised crime’s young guns and the old guard. The cop, Kataoka, a yakuza specialist, realises that Otomo could play a vital role in a full-scale crackdown on the two gangs. Pacts are sealed over sake, honour is protected and lost, and the scene is set for all hell to break loose. Filled with intrigue, secret plots, dirty tricks, and lashings of brutal vengeance, Outrage Beyond is a wild ride through the Japanese underworld.

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15. The Past

Straight from its Competition berth at Cannes, Iranian director Asghar Farhadi’s much-anticipated follow-up to A Separation, his Oscar®-, Golden Bear- and 2011 Sydney Film Prize-winning masterpiece, is a heartrending film about an unconventional family dealing with a crisis. After four years spent apart, Ahmad (Ali Mossafa) returns to Paris from Tehran, at his French wife Marie’s request, in order to finalise their divorce. Marie (Bérénice Béjo, The Artist) wishes to marry her new partner, Samir (Tahar Rahim, A Prophet), who barely tolerates the presence of Marie’s ex. During his brief stay, Ahmad discovers that there is great conflict between Marie and her daughter Lucie. Ahmad’s efforts to improve this relationship unveil a secret that has tremendous repercussions for the future of the family.

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16. The Perverts Guide to Ideology

With a title like that, it couldn’t be anyone else but ‘the Elvis of cultural theory’. Slovenian scholar and pundit Slavoj Žižek is front and centre in this oft-hilarious, exhilarating lesson on film history and ideology both overt and hidden. Director Sophie Fiennes, who collaborated with the infamous philosopher on The Pervert’s Guide to the Cinema (SFF 2006), situates Žižek within the movies on which he speaks, literally placing him in look-alike film sets from whence he delivers non-stop analysis. He’s on the bed in Taxi Driver, all at sea in Jaws, or dressed for the occasion in The Sound of Music. That’s just a handful of the movies he mines for their ideological implications. Packed with Žižek one-liners – “Ideology is an empty container open to all possible meanings” – this is a film to get your brain cells spinning like Maria on a mountaintop.

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17. Pieta

Winner of the Golden Lion at Venice, Pieta is the latest work by the great South Korean director Kim Ki-duk, who made the internationally successful films Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring (SFF 2004), Samaritan Girl and 3-Iron (SFF 2005). An excoriating take on the lengths to which people will go in a rampantly capitalist society, Pieta is not for the sensitive. Kang-do is hired by moneylenders to extract debts from those who cannot afford to repay them. With unfeeling brutality, Kang-do tortures and maims to retrieve the money. Having long been alone, he is surprised one day when a woman appears in front of him claiming to be his mother. His ugly initial reaction leads to gradual acceptance, but when the mother is kidnapped, Kang-do’s search reveals horrifying secrets. Dark and strident in its message, Pieta finds Kim at his most potent and effective.

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18. The Rocket

The Rocket is a heartwarming coming-of-age tale set entirely in Laos. Kim Mordaunt, who made the excellent documentary Bomb Harvest (SFF 2007), which was also set in Laos, is clearly invested in the people and culture of the region, and tells this story with great empathy and authenticity. Ahlo is the surviving twin of a difficult birth and is believed by some to be a source of bad luck. When the 10-year-old Ahlo and his family are displaced by the construction of a dam, further tragedy strikes as they relocate. Upon reaching the relocation village, Ahlo befriends young Kia and her eccentric uncle Purple, but is still ostracised by the superstitious community, and even treated with suspicion by his own family. Ahlo decides that his only hope of redemption is the Rocket Festival: a riotous, and dangerous, annual competition where huge bamboo rockets are set off to provoke the rain gods. Despite being too young to enter the competition, Ahlo is determined to succeed.

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19. Soldate Jeannette

A rebellious film about two women who reject the constraints of their lives, Daniel Hoesl’s Soldate Jeannette was made with a small budget and no screenplay, but with a great deal of wild energy. Fanni, who moves in rich circles, has reached the very heights of indulgence. But expensive pleasures no longer provide the level of satisfaction they once did, and a scheme Fanni has been running is on the verge of being uncovered. So she leaves the city and heads to the countryside, where she meets Anna, who lives on a farm and is tired of tending to the pigs. Together these two very different women embrace freedom.

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20. Upstream Color

The long-awaited follow-up to Shane Carruth’s Primer,the film weaves a mysterious and hypnotic tale that enfolds you. Kris (Amy Seimetz) is drugged by a thief and relieved of her possessions, but is also unknowingly drawn into the life cycle of an organism that appears to have overpowered her identity. She meets and becomes involved with Jeff (played by director Carruth), who appears to have gone through a similar experience. Together they try to assemble the loose fragments of their lives, and find a place of safety. Sure to lead to years of speculation, discussion and debate, this is entirely original filmmaking by a true cinematic visionary.

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21. White Elephant

With masterful performances by Ricardo Darin (The Secret in Their Eyes) and Jérémie Renier (The Child), White Elephant is a fast-paced journey through the ‘Villa Virgin’, a shantytown in Buenos Aires. The film is named for a massive, long-abandoned building project occupied by thousands of desperate souls, along with the drug gangs who sell and recruit amongst them. Against this stunning backdrop, the story follows two Catholic priests, Julian and Nicolas, who work tirelessly to help the local people. The two practice a practical form of their faith, maneuvering through the drug cartels and bureaucracy to get things done. As Nicolas enters into a tempestuous affair with an attractive social worker, and tension grows between the cartels, the scene is set for a dramatic climax. Beautifully made by Pablo Trapero (Crane World, SFF 2000; Rolling Family, SFF 2005) the film weaves a stirring story of heroism and human frailty.

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Of course, there are so many more I really want to see.  So… I created a special mention list  also.  These ones are on the B list for essential viewing.

The Amber Amulet

The winner of the Crystal Bear for Best Short at this year’s Berlinale stars Ed Oxenbould (from director Moore’s 2012 Dendy Awards finalist Julian) as a 10-year-old superhero with a love of gems and minerals.

Breathe in

In this incisive and tender story, director Drake Doremus (Sundance Grand Jury Prize-winner Like Crazy) looks at a man torn between aspirations and reality. Music teacher Keith Reynolds (Guy Pearce) reminisces about his days as a rock musician, missing the excitement of those heady times. While his cookie-jar-collector wife Megan (Amy Ryan) and daughter Lauren (Mackenzie Davis) look forward to Lauren’s final year of high school, Keith clings to those evenings he’s called to play as a cellist with a prestigious Manhattan symphony. Then Megan decides the family should host a foreign exchange student. Sophie (Felicity Jones, Like Crazy, Hysteria), a beautiful British high-school senior and gifted musician, settles in, but soon becomes a catalyst in exposing the fragile façade of a perfect suburban family.

Cheap Thrills

The expression ‘singing for your supper’ reaches gruesomely funny new extremes in this nerve-jangling urban thriller by feature-debut director E.L. Katz.  At the centre of the twisted tale is Craig, a broke family man who’s drowning his sorrows in a bar when he bumps into Vince, an old school buddy working as a low-rent debt collector. Enter cashed-up Colin and glamour puss Violet, a couple celebrating their anniversary by throwing money around and buying drinks for strangers. That’s when the nightmarish fun starts. The duo invite their new best friends home and offer large sums of legal tender in return for certain ‘tasks’ performed. Daring you not to shut your eyes as this sadistic parlour game from hell reaches unbearable intensity, this is a night on the town you won’t soon forget. Cheap Thrills won the Midnight Movie audience award at SXSW.

Death Metal Angola

Death metal might sound like an unlikely inspiration for a group of war-shocked orphans, but then this off-the-grid film is full of surprises. After decades of civil war, Huambo in central Angola is gradually returning to peace. Some of the ‘living dead’ that roamed the streets have found a home at the Okutiuka orphanage. Run by Sonia, an extremely resourceful young woman, and her guitarist boyfriend Wilker, the orphanage deals out sustenance and hardcore music in equal measure. Ramping up your sound system to the extreme is seen by the couple as a good way to “clear out the debris from all these years of the sounds of war.” Wilker has big dreams of holding Angola’s first rock fest.

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At its peak, nearly 60 million people used Napster: it was a game-changer, a paradigm shift that turned the music business on its head. When it was launched in 1999, it allowed everyone, everywhere, to share everything they wanted to online, including music. The record companies didn’t know what was coming, but when they finally took notice… The story of the industry’s response, both in and out of court, is utterly riveting – it was never going to be a dry legal drama with Metallica involved. Director Alex Winter filmed interviews with Napster founders Shawn Fanning (pictured), John Fanning and Sean Parker; musicians including DJ Spooky, who did the music for the film; and record-label bosses and legal experts. The unraveling of Napster – described as ‘culture’s Vietnam’ – is an ephochal story from the dawn of the digital age told with pace and verve.

A Few Hours of Spring

Featuring superb performances by Vincent Lindon (Welcome) and Hélène Vincent (Life Is a Long Quiet River), and a beautiful and understated score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, this is a very powerful drama about the difficulties of a mother-and-son relationship. At the age of 48, and just released from prison, Alain has nowhere else to go, and settles into a deeply uncomfortable routine with his mother Yvette, who is very set in her ways. Lacking effective communication, the relationship becomes more and more strained. Alain finds some solace in a relationship with Clémence (Emmanuelle Seigner), but his personal problems obstruct any progress. The discovery that Yvette is seriously ill forces mother and son to consider each other in a new light. Without resorting to sentiment, director Stéphane Brizé (Mademoiselle Chambon) has created an honest and affecting tale with a heartbreaking and life-affirming climax.

Gloria

In Sebastian Lelio’s surprising and funny film, Paulina Garcia delivers the performance of a lifetime, for which she deservedly won the Best Actress prize at Berlin. Garcia plays Gloria, who is 58 years old but still feels young. She lives a lonely life, but remains hopeful in her search for love and spends time in ballrooms for older singles. When she meets the gentle Rodolfo, Gloria embarks on the new relationship with zeal, but Rodolfo’s deep ties to his adult children and ex-wife pose an obstacle. The entire film is told from Gloria’s perspective and we see her face a great number of indignities with a courage and humour that are deeply endearing. Refreshing in the candour with which it depicts middle-age physicality and sexuality, and with a great soundtrack ranging from disco to cult Latin American hits, Gloria is an uplifting comedy-drama with a transcendent climax.

A Hijacking

Tobias Lindholm’s multiple award-winning feature takes a distinctive approach to the story of a cargo ship hijacked by Somali pirates. The drama alternates between the stressed crew on the Rozen and the shipping-company boardroom back home. Søren Malling, best known for his roles in Danish TV series Borgen (which Lindholm also wrote) and The Killing, plays the stern CEO. He sees himself as an ace mediator, and decides to take charge, interfering with the experienced professional (played by a real-life hostage negotiator). Meanwhile, back at sea, the captive crew live in stifling conditions. The mild-mannered chef (Pilou Asbǣk) is one of the few who keeps his head.

The Look Of Love

Steve Coogan’s passion project reunites him with longtime collaborator Michael Winterbottom (The Trip, SFF 2011; 24 Hour Party People) for the true story of the ‘King of Soho’, Paul Raymond, who made a fortune ruling a huge nightclub, real-estate and porn empire in the latter half of the 20th century. In the process of amassing a fortune of billions of pounds, Raymond, who quickly realised that sex sells and sells well, had a string of lovers, a taste for the high life and run-ins with the law. The Look of Love focuses on his relationships with three of the most important women in his life: his wife Jean (Anna Friel), his girlfriend Fiona (Tamsin Egerton) and his beloved daughter Debbie (Imogen Poots). Coogan delivers a remarkably complex performance in this story of titillation, nihilism, heartbreak and tragedy.

Lovelace

In 1972 the pornographic theatrical film Deep Throat became a phenomenon and crossed over into mainstream society. Made for only $25,000, it is said that the film grossed anywhere between $100 million and $600 million. The film’s star, Linda Lovelace, who became notorious for her ability at fellatio, earned just $1250 for her performance but became an instant star and a poster girl for sexual freedom. Lovelace tells the story of the woman behind the phenomenon. In a brave and magnetic performance, Amanda Seyfried depicts Linda’s transition from girl next door to porn star to anti-porn campaigner. Peter Sarsgaard oozes charm and malevolence as her cruel husband Chuck Traynor. There are wonderful supporting performances from an almost unrecognizable Sharon Stone as Linda’s religious mother, and James Franco as Hugh Hefner.

Michael H Profession: Director

Twenty years ago, SFF screened Michael Haneke’s second feature, Benny’s Video. Two years later, 71 Fragments of a Chronology of a Chance hit the festival’s screens. In 2012 it was Amour, fresh from scooping up the Palme d’Or at Cannes. It went on to win the 2013 Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. This formidable Austrian filmmaker is now the subject of a documentary, and it makes for a fascinating study whether you’re a longtime fan of his work or not.

Interviews with the notoriously abrupt Haneke are interspersed with clips from his movies and discussions with actors including Juliette Binoche (Hidden, Code Unknown), Isabelle Huppert (The Piano Teacher, Time of the Wolf, Amour) and Jean-Louis Trintignant (Amour). Not to be missed are scenes of Haneke in action, crafting a key scene from Amour – truly a master at work.

Vic and Flo saw a Bear

Maverick Canadian director Denis Côté (Our Private Lives, Curling, Bestiaire), known for his bold experiments in cinema, has made a more character-and-dialogue driven film, but one that’s just as boundary-pushing. Victoria, an ex-convict in her sixties, and her lover and former cellmate Florence want to start new life in a remote sugar shack. Under the supervision of Guillaume, a young, sympathetic parole officer, they try to get their lives back on track. A bizarre, funny, and creepy melodrama, the film creates an ominous atmosphere as Vic and Flo’s idyll is interrupted by ghosts from their past. With fine performances, bizarre characters, striking visuals, a tender love story at its centre and a shocking climax, Vic + Flo Saw a Bear leaves you shaken and certain that you’ve seen something visionary and unique.

What Maisie Knew

Julianne Moore, Alexander Skarsgård and Steve Coogan (see also The Look of Love) star in a darkly comic but emotionally authentic film about a six-year-old living through a bitter divorce between her rock-icon mother and distracted father. As Maisie is shuttled back and forth, she relies more and more on her parents’ new partners, who are themselves falling in love. Directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel (The Deep End, Suture, SFF 1994) draw powerful performances from a stellar cast, with a knockout turn by young Onata Aprile. Told from Maisie’s perspective, the film delicately portrays a girl who is eager for love and must claim it where she can. Without demonising any of the characters, What Maisie Knew is an insightful look at the impact of divorce, finding tenderness and joy as well as sadness.

What Richard Did

From director Lenny Abrahamson (Garage), this disturbing drama follows Richard Karlsen, a golden-boy athlete and the undisputed alpha male of a privileged set of South Dublin teenagers. We follow them through that pivotal summer between the end of school and the beginning of university. Featuring extraordinary performances from its mainly young cast, this is a quietly devastating study of a boy confronting the gap between who he thought he was and who he proves to be. A new relationship with Lara seems to offer Richard the sort of mature relationship that he’s yearning for. Then one night he does something that shatters the lives of the people closest to him. More than a simple exploration of the incident, rather it’s a detailed examination of its consequences. What Richard Did is a potent critique of a social milieu and its collective accountability.

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