Movies to watch at BIFF 2016

It is film festival season again, and we are ready to cover Bergen International Film Festival in Norway for the third consecutive year. BIFF 2016 marks the festival’s seventeenth anniversary, and as always their program is varied and huge; heavy festival favorites, more obscure foreign films, documentaries about music, nature and politics; and – introduced this year – virtual reality experiences.

In this feature we will highlight some movies we’re particularly excited about seeing when the festival kicks of next week (the 20th – 28th of september) and while we’d like to write about every movie that interests us, we’ve limited it down to ten – for your sake as much as our own. You can check out the full program here, and hopefully discover some for yourself as well. Let’s begin, in alphabetical order, with…

Director: Andrea Arnold
Starring: Sasha Lane, Shia LaBeouf, Riley Keough…

Andrea Arnold’s American Honey won the Jury Prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, and had the press buzzing with excitement. For those uninitiated to Arnold’s filmography it may seem odd that a three hour movie starring mostly unknown and debutant actors has garnered so much praise, but it is not without its reasons. Andrea Arnold’s sensibilities as a director is clear – a true auteur – as every movie she’s directed, down to her earliest short films, have one main theme in common, young women making their own way in the world.

From Fish Tank to her adaptation of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, Arnold’s characters feel truly realised, and in American Honey, we follow debutant actor Sasha Lane as she hits the road with a travelling magazine sales crew. The word from Cannes is that it boasts a surging soundtrack that compliments the movie wholly and will remain with you for a long time post-credits. And an American road trip movie about female self-discovery and expression seems as exciting as it is important.

Director: Kelly Reichardt
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Michelle Williams, Laura Dern…

Kelly Reichardt’s been around for a while, and, not unlike Andrea Arnold, her movies always feature brilliantly written and realised female characters. Her cinematic language is nuanced and diverse, but always subdued and humane. Two drastically different movies, Wendy and Lucy and Meek’s Cutoff, both feel like meditative contemplations on coming to terms with one’s own situation, and through her keen sensibilities as a visual storyteller, these ideas and themes are always infused with deep tenderness. Reichardt also uses the world her characters inhabit to their fullest extent – it feels authentic and real, like the environment imprints itself on the characters, and vise versa – and there’s a tremendous visual richness to delve into in every movie.

Certain Women is based on the book, Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It by Maile Meloy. A collection of short stories, all connected by themes of love, family and friendship, mostly set in the American West, it seems tailor made for Reichardt. Add to all this a cast of some of the most consistently interesting and profound voices working today, Michelle Williams, Kristen Stewart and Laura Dern, and you have yourself a treat.

Director: Alejandro Jodorowsky
Starring: Adan Jodorowsky, Brontis Jodorowsky, Leandro Taub…

It is difficult to find the appropriate adjectives that describe Alejandro Jodorowsky; eccentric, esoteric, extraordinary, peculiar… He is in any case, wholly idiosyncratic and preposterously wonderful. I think his Wikipedia entry describes his vocation aptly enough, “a Chilean-French film and theatre director, screenwriter, playwright, actor, author, poet, producer, composer, musician, comics writer, and spiritual guru.” 

An avant-gardist filmmaker in the truest sense of the definition, Jodorowsky made a small handful of absolutely whimsical, poetic, meditative, transcendental, and philosophical movies in the seventies and eighties, before he as much as vanished from the world of cinema up until 2013, when he strolled back on stage with extravagant flare and audacity with The Dance of Reality – the first film in a planned autobiographical trilogy. In it Jodorowsky’s oldest son plays his father, he himself plays a metaphysical apparition of his older self that his younger self (played by newcomer Jeremías Herskovits) meets. It’s is a beautifully painted piece of poetry, and a testament to the ephemeral moments and memories that constitute our life and individuality. Endless Poetry follows directly where The Dance of Reality left of.

Director: Chan-wook Park
Starring: Min-hee Kim, Kim Tae-ri, Jung-woo Ha…

Chan-wook Park is a sculptor. His movies, in all their violence, brutality and decadence, ooze beauty. Compositions that tell as detailed a story as a well-written novel, lighting that carries with it an abundance of weight and meaning, colors that tell us all we need to know about a character or the narrative we consume at every moment. All of this, and he still manages to be restrained and patient, no superfluous frames, no masturbatory aesthetics or shallow installations – it is all Chan-wook Park and his singular vision. It seems unnecessary to pray for this to continue, I’ll just assume that it does.

I’ll leave it at that, because through all these years of watching and talking about Chan-wook Park, I’ve never managed to wash away the hyperbolic language you see above – he deserves it though.

Director: Olivier Assayas
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Lars Eidinger, Sigrid Bouaziz…

Olivier Assayas + Kristen Stewart = pure magic. This was the case with their 2014 collaboration Clouds of Sils Maria in any case, and I see no reason why this should be any different. Stewart, who is the only person to appear twice on this list, is in my opinion, one the most intriguing and consistently good young actors emanating from Hollywood today, and it is wonderful to see her embrace directors like Assayas and Reichardt.

Personal Shopper is supposedly – I say this because I don’t know, nor want to know too much beforehand – a ghost story set in Paris, where Stewart plays a… personal shopper for an affluent client in the fashion world. Categorised as horror, thriller and drama, in the hands of Assayas, this will more than likely be an unconventional ghost story, and film in general.

Director: Ulrich Seidl

Ulrich Seidl, Ulrich Seidl, Ulrich Seidl… where to begin with Ulrich Seidl. Perhaps by highlighting the intrinsic awkwardness in both his feature films and his documentaries. From Paradise: Love, where we follow a middle-aged Austrian woman who seeks personal connections in all the wrong places at the beaches of Kenya, to In the Basement, where we’re invited – as a fly on the wall – into the hidden lairs of some of Austria’s most… erratic characters.

With Safari Seidl seems set to examine a practice most of us condemn as vile and morally inexcusable, and with his distinct neutral observatory approach to documentary production, it invites comparisons to Hemingway’s A Death in the Afternoon – a detailed account of bull-fighting; its history, it celebrities, its “magnificence” (in Hemingway’s words) and its reflections of modern society. It is sure to be as controversial as it is educational and fascinating, because to get an honest look at the opposite side of the coin, without judgement or condemnation, is truly rare.

Director: Mia Hansen-Løve
Starring: Isabelle Huppert, André Marcon, Roman Kolinka…

Mia Hansen-Løve makes movies about our most personal and deepest connections, with the people we love as well as the people we cannot love. A main theme is familial discrepancies and lost love, and all her movies are deeply entwined within her own personal experiences; the inextricable highs and lows of first love in Goodbye First Love; the blossoming French house music scene in the early 90s, of which her brother played a small part, in Eden. Her films are emotional outpourings, with a distinct and clear voice that is never afraid to speak.

Things to Come, however, is rooted in Hansen-Løve’s mother’s experience, when she goes through a separation. It seems Hansen-Løve is on a quest to explore her own familial bonds and experiences through a cinematic lens, and although both Eden and Things to Come are about family members, they are – I suppose – equally about her. Also, as a (very important) side note, Mia Hansen-Løve’s ability to choose songs her characters can dance to is, honestly, insane.

Director: Maren Ade
Starring: Peter Simonischek, Sandra Hüller, Michael Wittenborg…

Word on the street back in May – during the Cannes Film Festival – was that Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann was the obvious choice for the Palme d’Or, but alas that went to I, Daniel Blake. Since then we’ve seen a lot of talk, praise and overall excitement for Toni Erdmann, be it at festivals or general distribution buzz, and as the only movie on this list that I’ve actually seen, I can without a doubt say that it is an absolute marvel – a hilarious three-hour ride that seems to last only half of that.

The description used in the official program for Bergen International Film Festival states it matter of factly – if not somewhat hyperbolic – that it’s “The best German comedy you’ve ever seen. Period.” While it may be drastic to sign one’s name to such an audacious proclamation, I don’t think it is drastic in the slightest to say there’s a hint of truth to be found in that short sentence. I laughed, I teared up, I laughed again, and then I laughed even more until I sobbed uncontrollably, shamelessly clambering to my chair in an attempt to stay in it. It is that funny.

Director: Amat Escalante
Starring: Kenny Johnston… 

Undoubtedly the most under-the-radar on this list, The Untamed suddenly burst onto the Twitter-sphere this month has festival reports started rolling in. It secured a Best Director win for Amat Escalante at the Venice Film Festival and has been hailed as a “Lynchian drug trip”, “a polymorphously perverse modern day cross between HP Lovecraft and Tarkovsky,” – which just boggles the mind to even imagine – and parallels have been drawn to Possession, among many others.

I say words like that should be enough to stirr one’s curiosity, and while it may set the stage for a cosmological disappointment, it has the potential to deliver on all of it.

Director: Terrence Malick
Narrated by: Cate Blanchet

Terrence Malick has been a #hottopic in recent years on the social medias and film message boards and review sites. It seems, based on whether you love him or hate him, people will love or hate you. This seems especially true when it comes to his more recent and personal work; The Three of Life, To the Wonder and Knight of Cups. Malick is known as the guy we don’t know. He doesn’t do interviews, he doesn’t attend film festivals, and he lets his actors promote the movies. Up until The Three of Life, it could take up to ten years between each movie he directed, but since then (2011), he has managed to put out two movies, with Voyage of Time being the third (and there are two versions of the film), and two more projects seemingly right around the corner. Has he faltered over the years, or simply become more productive? Has he become more open, or is there a faux personality in his latest work? Say what you will, but with Voyage of Time, Malick says it all – “An exploration into our planetary past and a search for humanity’s place in the future.”

A bonus selection of movies we are excited about: 

24 Weeks
Agnus Dei
All These Sleepless Nights
Author: The JT Leroy Story
Blair Witch
Café Society
Complete Unknown
Damiana Kryygi
Do not Resist
Fire at See
Fukushima, Mon Amour
Gimme Danger
Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki
House of Others
I, Olga Hepnarová
Neon Bull
Pawn Street
The Witch
Per Morten Mjolkeraaen

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