Wednesday, 3 May 2017

South Africa’s Upcoming European Film Festival

European Film Festival 2017




“It was the fate of Europe to be always a battleground. Differences in race, in religion, in political genius and social ideals, seemed always … to be invitations to contest by battle.” Those were Calvin Coolidge’s words, uttered in an address in 1924. It’d be trivial to point out how correct he was then in his view of history, as well as how aptly his description of Europe has played out since. We shall overlook for now the present state of Coolidge’s own fair continent, which itself appears convulsed in fiery conflicts on very much the same grounds as he set out, and which provides our cinemas with an enormous bulk of their general fare; this month, from the 5th to the 14th, the focus at the movies in four major centres in South Africa (Brooklyn in Pretoria, Rosebank in Johannesburg, the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town, and Gateway in Durban) is on the specifically European tensions of our times – social, political, ethnic, religious, and, of most interest to this blog, aesthetic.

The European Film Festival has become an annual feature at the Ster Kinekor Cinemas Nouveau, coordinated by the Goethe-Institut South Africa, and organised in partnership with various European cultural and diplomatic organisations. It began in 2014 and this is its fourth iteration. There isn’t much of an opportunity to see European features in theatrical release in South Africa, so this one should be grabbed by all curious and enthusiastic local moviegoers. I attended last year, only to see a single film, but shall definitely be making concerted efforts to see far more this year. The festival director (and, I presume, sole curator) is Katarina Hedrén, who has brought over a selection of recent European works, evidently in an effort to span as wide a range of topics, moods, and nationalities as she could. I haven’t seen any of the films playing at the festival, nor even heard of some of them before checking the lineup, but it looks to me like a good sampling for us to gauge the current condition of mainstream European cinema.

Twelve films are playing in the festival over the eleven days (each fil plays twice in Pretoria, Johannesburg, and Cape Town, and once in Durban), each from a different country. Some, like Ester Gould and Reijer Zwaan’s musical documentary Strike a Pose, were made with resources from two or more countries (that one is from Belgium and the Netherlands), but they’re categorised for the festival under one country each (the Netherlands in this case). Strike a Pose profiles the dancers who performed with Madonna on her 1990 Blond Ambition World Tour in the 25 years since the tour ended. Some went on to other careers in entertainment, and some battled with serious personal problems in that time; one dancer, Gabriel Trupin, died of AIDS-related complications in 1995 and is represented in the film by his mother, Sue Trupin. Strike a Pose premiered at last year’s Berlin International Film Festival, where it was awarded the second-place Panorama audience award for a documentary. It was also awarded as the best LGBT film at the Key West Film Festival and the best queer film of the year at the Merlinka Festival.

Instead of Strike a Pose, Belgium is represented at the festival by Peter Brosens and Jessica Woodworth’s mockumentary comedy King of the Belgians about the fictional King Nicholas III of Belgium, who finds his kingdom falling into political crisis while he is out of the country. A geomagnetic storm prevents him from flying home and he undertakes a desperate and taxing land journey back home. Austria’s film in the festival is the biopic Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe by Maria Schrader, which was also Austria’s entry in the Foreign Language Film category at this year’s Oscars. Stefan Zweig has been newly restored to worldwide popular consciousness by Wes Anderson’s recent masterwork, The Grand Budapest Hotel, which was inspired by several of Zweig’s works. He left Europe at the dark onset of fascism and totalitarianism, such as depicted in Anderson’s film. I gather the film is set in South America, once Zweig and his wife have already left Europe and are living out their days in exile.

Perhaps the best known film playing at the festival is Andrea Arnold’s British road movie American Honey, named after the Lady Antebellum song and starring Sasha Lane, Shia LeBeouf, and Riley Keough as a young crew travelling across the American Midwest and selling magazine subscriptions door to door. It won the Jury Prize at last year’s Cannes Film Festival as well as four awards at the British Independent Film Awards, including for best film. The Portuguese film showing is Patrícia Sequeira’s debut feature Game of Checkers, in which five women gather in the wake of the passing of their close friend and spend a whole night eating, drinking, talking, and performing. The reportedly moving drama won multiple awards at the Los Angeles and Cyprus International Film Festivals.

The High Sun, by Dalibor Matanić, represents Croatia at the festival, as it did at last year’s Oscars in the Foreign Language Film submissions. It was also the first Croatian film to play at the Cannes Film Festival (which it did in 2015, in the Un Certain Regard section) since the country’s independence in 1991, where it was awarded the Jury Prize. It involves three love stories set in three consecutive decades, each featuring the same core cast. Nearly as intriguing is the 2015 Irish documentary The Queen of Ireland by Conor Horgan, focusing on Rory O’Neill (better known as his drag persona, Panti) in the time leading up to the famous referendum on same-sex marriage in that country. Already far ahead in the narrow races of most popular and most famous Irish documentaries, it looks to me like just the sort of thing that would tickle and charm audiences here. There is the Polish film Spoor, which premiered just this year at the Berlin International Film Festival where it won the Alfred Bauer Prize, which is awarded annually to the film that “opens new perspectives on cinematic art”. This crime drama by veteran Polish director Agnieszka Holland follows the mystery of a series of murders in a scenic village in the Polish countryside.

Perennially popular the world over are the films that make it into the Italian film industry’s export stock, and this year’s item in the festival from that stock is Marco Bellocchio’s Sweet Dreams, adapted from a novel by Massimo Gramellini. It premiered at Cannes last year, and follows the autobiographical arc of the author Gramellini’s life, rich in professional success but thin in emotional gratification. Another of the more famous films playing is Mia Hansen-Løve’s French intellectual drama Things to Come, starring Isabelle Huppert, who garnered much acclaim and renown in the last few months for her Oscar-nominated performance in another of last year’s French films, Elle. Things to Come premiered at last year’s Berlin International film Festival, where Hansen-Løve won the Silver Bear for best director; Huppert was nominated for and won many international awards for best actress, including a number in the United Kingdom and the United States. She stars as a philosophy professor working her way out of a number of personal struggles, including questions of intellectual relevance in the context of student protests, and lost relationships.

Perhaps the most critically acclaimed out of the films showing is Maren Ade’s comedy Toni Erdmann, from Germany, which was voted as the best film of 2016 in the large, annual international poll in the Sight & Sound magazine. It premiered at Cannes last year, and won five awards at the European Film Awards, including best film; it was also considered the main competition to Asghar Farhadi’s The Salesman in this year’s Oscar contest for best foreign language film. In it, a father endeavours to re-forge bonds with his daughter by travelling to disguising himself as a life coach and insinuating himself into her place of work. And, lastly, there is the film aimed in particular at children: the Spanish adventure comic book adaptation Zip & Zap and the Captain’s Island, directed by Oskar Santos. The plot is that of children (the two brothers of the title) who lose track of their parents on a family trip and find themselves in a beguiling place of play, with no rules and paradisiacal charm.

I’ve included a schedule of show times at each of the centres below. Bear in mind that these are subject to change, and it’d be best to check the Ster Kinekor website to be sure. Bookings can be made on the Ster Kinekor website, and tickets can be bought at the theatres’ doors as well. Q&A sessions are also scheduled in Pretoria and Johannesburg (these are indicated below). Tweets regarding the festival can be sent or read using the hashtag #EuroFilmFestSA.

Pretoria

Brooklyn Nouveau
(Brooklyn Mall, Bronkhorst Street, Nieuw Muckleneuk)

Friday, 5 May
17:30
Strike a Pose
20:30
Things to Come

Saturday, 6 May
14:30
The High Sun
17:30
King of the Belgians
Q&A
20:30
American Honey

Sunday, 7 May
14:30
Zip & Zap and the Captain’s Island
17:30
Toni Erdmann
20:30
Spoor

Monday, 8 May
17:30
Sweet dreams
20:30
Game of Checkers

Tuesday, 9 May
17:30
Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe
20:30
The High Sun

Wednesday, 10 May
17:30
The Queen of Ireland
20:30
Strike a Pose

Thursday, 11 May
17:30
Game of Checkers
20:30
Spoor

Friday, 12 May
17:30
American Honey
20:30
Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe

Saturday, 13 May
14:30
Zip & Zap and the Captain’s Island
17:30
King of the Belgians
20:30
The Queen of Ireland

Sunday, 14 May
14:30
Sweet Dreams
17:30
Things to Come
20:30
Toni Erdmann

Johannesburg

Rosebank Nouveau
(Rosebank Mall, 50 Bath Avenue, Rosebank)

Friday, 5 May
17:30
King of the Belgians
Q&A
20:30
Things to Come

Saturday, 6 May
14:30
Zip & Zap and the Captain’s Island
17:30
Strike a Pose
20:30
American Honey

Sunday, 7 May
14:30
The High Sun
17:30
Toni Erdmann
20:30
Spoor

Monday, 8 May
17:30
Sweet Dreams
20:30
Game of Checkers

Tuesday, 9 May
17:30
Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe
20:30
The High Sun

Wednesday, 10 May
17:30
The Queen of Ireland
20:30
Strike a Pose

Thursday, 11 May
17:30
Game of Checkers
20:30
Spoor

Friday, 12 May
17:30
American Honey
20:30
Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe

Saturday, 13 May
14:30
Sweet Dreams
17:30
King of the Belgians
20:30
Toni Erdmann

Sunday, 14 May
14:30
Zip & Zap and the Captain’s Island
17:30
Things to Come
20:30
The Queen of Ireland
Q&A

Cape Town

V&A Waterfront Nouveau
(Victoria Wharf Shopping Centre, Breakwater Boulevard, V&A Waterfront)

Friday, 5 May
17:30
King of the Belgians
20:30
Things to Come

Saturday, 6 May
14:30
Zip & Zap and the Captain’s Island
17:30
Strike a Pose
20:30
American Honey

Sunday, 7 May
14:30
The High Sun
17:30
Toni Erdmann
20:30
Spoor

Monday, 8 May
17:30
Sweet Dreams
20:30
Game of Checkers

Tuesday, 9 May
17:30
Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe
20:30
The High Sun

Wednesday, 10 May
17:30
The Queen of Ireland
20:30
Strike a Pose

Thursday, 11 May
17:30
Game of Checkers
20:30
Spoor

Friday, 12 May
17:30
American Honey
20:30
Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe

Saturday, 13 May
14:30
Sweet Dreams
17:30
King of the Belgians
20:30
Toni Erdmann

Sunday, 14 May
14:30
Zip & Zap and the Captain’s Island
17:30
The Queen of Ireland
20:30
Things to Come

Durban

Gateway Nouveau
(Gateway Theatre of Shopping, 1 Palm Boulevard, Umhlanga Ridge)

Friday, 5 May
17:30
Strike a Pose
20:30
Things to Come

Saturday, 6 May
17:30
Zip & Zap and the Captain’s Island
20:30
American Honey

Sunday, 7 May
17:30
King of the Belgians
20:30
Sweet Dreams

Friday, 12 May
17:30
Game of Checkers
20:30
The Queen of Ireland

Saturday, 13 May
17:30
Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe
20:30
The High Sun

Sunday, 14 May
17:30
Spoor
20:30
Toni Erdmann


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