BIFF 2017: Ten Movies You Have To Watch

This is the first in a two-part series where we highlight a handful of movies from BIFF’s 2017 program. In Part 1 we look at narrative features, and Part 2 will look at documentaries. 

The Film Festival season is upon us yet again, and like always, it’s the most wonderful time of the year. We are back to cover the Bergen International Film Festival (BIFF) for the fourth consecutive year, and while it’s still a few weeks away, we wanted to highlight a handful of movies we are excited about and think you should be too. In this first piece we look at narrative features from around the world, be it France, Norway, Italy or Indonesia. As always the lineup is massive, and it’s impossible to narrow it down to only 10 movies without leaving out a tremendous amount. We did not find room for the new movies from directors like Michael Haneke (Happy End) or François Ozon (The Double Lover); nor movies like God’s Own Country, Good Time, A Fantastic Woman, Gemini, Hannah, Jupiter’s Moon and much more. We decided not to write about Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Killing of a Sacred Deer or Ruben Östlund’s The Square because we’ve already done that in our first piece on this year’s Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas – which you can read here – but do expect to see them reviewed later this month. BIFF 2017 runs from the 26th of September to the 4th of October.

I wish I could write about every single movie I’m excited about or interested in, but for everyone’s sake, I think it’s best to leave it at 10. So, without further ado, let’s get to the movies.


Director: Robin Campillo
Cast: Nahuel Pérez Biscayart, Arnaud Valois, Adèle Haenel

Director Robin Campillo won the Jury Grand Prix at this year’s Cannes festival for 120 Beats Per Minute, which is described as a vital, energetic, passionate and defiant (++) account of AIDS activism. It became one of the biggest talking points during the festival, and it seemed to garner exclusively warm praise from critics, for its story and theme as well as its cinematic language.

It is set in 1990s France and follows a group of activists that fight for visibility and immediate recognition of the HIV/AIDS crisis. The movie’s ensemble is made up of some of the most intriguing and exciting young French voices working today, like Nahuel Pérez Biscayart and Adèle Haenel. I expect a beautifully rendered cry for action and love.



Director: Léa Mysius
Cast: Noée Abita, Laure Calamy, Juan Cano

Ava is Léa Mysius’s feature directorial debut, and while I have not seen any of her shorts — or the features she’s written (incl. Arnaud Desplechin’s Ismael’s Ghost) — the promotional pictures alone is enough to make me interested in this.

The movie follows 13-year-old Ava, a girl who has decided to do and see as much as possible before going blind. The movie looks stunning from the few images I’ve seen — the blue of the ocean and sky contrasted against Ava’s muddy body and the yellow/brown beaches and cliffs of the island (above). It is a stage set for revelatory sensory experiences that fit the medium of film so very well, and it seems like an absolute must on the big screen.


Director: Luca Goadagnino
Cast: Armie Hammer, Timothée Chalamet, Michael Stuhlbarg

Luca Guadagnino’s A Bigger Splash (review) was listed by many on their end-of-the-year lists of 2016, and already in January of 2017 — at the Sundance Film Festival — it seemed that Call Me by Your Name was destined to do the same. Since then, the movie has been around the world and the buzz has never faltered.

In Call Me by Your Name, Guadagnino takes us back to the vibrant hues of the cloudless Italy that he captured so beautifully in A Bigger Splash. This time it’s set in the summer of 1983, as the movie follows the relationship that blossoms between an American-Italian (Timothée Chalamet) and an American doctorate (Armie Hammer) that is in the country for the summer. It seems to possess the same qualities that made A Bigger Splash such an achievement, with a story that is both sensual and emphatically told, and should we believe the people who have seen it, it is undoubtedly one to watch.


Director: David Lowery
Cast: Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck 

David Lowery has been directing short movies since the early 2000s, but it was Ain’t Them Bodies Saints that put his name on the map in 2013. Here he directed Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara in a wonderfully subdued and humanistic story of love and family.

In A Ghost Story, Lowery reunites with Mara and Affleck, and the first line in it’s IMDB synopsis should be more than enough; “In this singular exploration of legacy, love, loss, and the enormity of existence…” The white-sheeted ghost on the poster has become an immediate icon, but in reality this exact picture has shown up in Lowery’s work since the very beginning — with variants of the design seen in a few of his shorts — and as we learn from Some Analog Lines (2006), “the first movie I ever made back when I was seven years old was a ghost story.” This has been a long time coming, and I’m excited to see such a passion project come to life.



Director: Alex Ross Perry
Cast: Emily Browning, Mary-Louis Parker, Chlöe Sevigny 

Alex Ross Perry is without a doubt a part of the American indie scene, but he is also someone who seems to defy it. It can be easy to place him alongside indie-darlings like Joe Swanberg (Drinking Buddies, Digging for Fire) and Noah Baumbach (Frances Ha, Mistress America), but I think Ross Perry’s expression lingers much more in the avant-gardist tradition. Not fully out there, but he always seems to challenge the audience’s expectations of the genre he works in, and the language that is associated with it. With Queen of Earth (review), he made an exceptionally chilling thriller that threw my mind into Polanski and Bergman and even some De Palma, and it’s a testament to his skills as an actor’s director that both Elizabeth Moss and Katherine Waterston gave perhaps their most memorable performances in it, respectively.

Golden Exits seems to fall into the more traditional New York-school of indie drama, but I’m sure there will be more to chew on. And even if there isn’t, it’s cast is enough to make it a desirable treat.


Director: Matt Spicer
Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen, Wyatt Russell

Aubrey Plaza as “an unhinged social media stalker” that moves to Los Angeles in an attempt to get close to an Instagram star played by Elizabeth Olsen. Sign me up.

Director Matt Spicer may not have much to his name as of yet, but his short It’s not you it’s me (2012) is a fantastically dark comedy, that hints at a director with a great understanding of how to use his actors and how to cut for impact. It’s also a movie that wholly commits to its absurdist “finger-on-the-pulse-of-relationships” scenario, so I’m eager to see what he does with the toxicity of social media.


Director: Claire Denis
Cast: Juliette Binoche, Gérard Depardieu, Xavier Beauvois

Claire Denis made a comedy?! When it was announced earlier this year that Claire Denis’ science fiction movie with Robert Pattinson and Mia Goth was pushed back it broke my heart, but the same headlines announced a comedy to premiere at Cannes this year. Talk about a roller coaster of emotions.

For those uninitiated in Denis’ idiosyncratic filmography, she is considered one of the strongest voices in contemporary cinema, and with good reason. She is behind some of the most provocative, illustrious and exciting movies in the past few decades, and while I have not seen all of her 12 previous features, the ones I have seen are all contenders for a hypothetical Best of All Time-list. Add to this Juliette Binoche looking for love, and this has the potential to be one of the biggest highlights of the year.


Director: Mouly Surya
Cast: Egy Fedly, Dea Panedra, Yoga Pratama

The Indonesian director Mouly Surya is without a doubt the least recognizable name on this list, and it is a great shame. I saw her 2013 movie What They Don’t Talk About When They Talk About Love at TIFF (Tromsø International Film Festival) in 2014, and it was one of the highlights of the festival; which means a lot when it was up against movies like Denis’ Bastards, Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave, Kelly Reichardt’s Night Moves, Pawel Pawlikowski’s Ida, Dag Johan Haugerud’s I’m the One You Want and much more.

Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts is a rape-revenge movie that BIFF describes as “equal parts Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s magical realism, and Indonesian folk tales.” It sounds intriguing in its own right, but with Surya behind the wheel, I’m sure this eccentric collage of genres and ideas will be masterfully married in a subdued and quiet meditation that will stick with you for years — at least that happened to me with What They Don’t Talk About.


Director: Byung-gil Jung
Cast: Ok-bin Kim, Ha-kyun Shin, Jun Sung

BIFF’s opening line about The Villainess is enough to put water in my mouth: “Opening with a seven-minute POV-sequence in which the heroine punches, kicks, stabs and shoots her way through an army of hapless gangsters.” It’s hard not to think of Chan-wook Park’s infamous hall-way scene from Oldboy, and with early reactions saying The Villainess does for The Raid what Atomic Blond did for John Wick, I’m all set for one of the coolest, most enthralling and visceral theatre experiences of the festival. Also, this GIF:


Director: Iram Haq
Cast: Maria Mozhdah, Adil Hussain, Ekavali Khanna 

With I Am Yours, director Iram Haq was immediately solidified as one of the most interesting filmmakers from Norway today. What Will People Say is her second feature, and it’s loosely based on her own experiences from when her parents sent her to Pakistan against her will.

In the movie, we meet Norwegian-Pakistani Nisha, who lives a double life in Oslo, Norway. She goes to parties with her Norwegian friends but complies with her parents’ norms at home. When her father catches her with a secret boyfriend, he sends her to Pakistan to live with their family. Haq’s sensibilities as a director were wonderfully demonstrated in I Am Yours, and with a movie like What Will People Say there is potential to not only touch upon different cultures and realities but enlighten those who might not know or experience it first-hand. Maria Mozhdah, who plays Nisha, is a Norwegian-Pakistani actor who makes her debut performance here.

Like I said initially, it is next to impossible to limit it down to ten movies, so I recommend everyone to check out BIFF’s full lineup here. Let us know in the comments if there are any movies you are excited about and think we should keep an eye on.

Per Morten Mjolkeraaen

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