For the 16th year, CINE EUROPA, the largest foreign film festival in the Philippines, formally opened last Wednesday with 18 European countries showing 21 films.
In Metro Manila, the European films will be shown at Shangri-La Plaza Cineplex in Mandaluyong City from Sept. 5 to 15.
These films will then make the rounds in provincial venues: Cinematheque Baguio City from Sept. 17 to 22, Cinematheque Iloilo City from Sept. 23 to 29, Ayala Center in Cebu City from Oct. 4 to 6, Liceo de Cagayan University in Cagayan de Oro City from Oct. 10 to 13, and finally, Cinematheque Davao City from Oct. 15 to 20.
1. "A Royal Affair" (Denmark)
"A Royal Affair" is about exactly what its title tells us. Caroline is an English princess who was married off to the King of Denmark, in fulfillment of her childhood dreams. They meet for the first time when she went to Denmark, but she was distressed to discover that her husband Christian is not of completely sound mind.
After her first child was born, and wallowing in constant loneliness, Caroline begins the titular royal affair with Struensee, the court physician, who was also Christian's best friend and adviser. Caroline and Struensee not only share romantic love, but also a passion for political reform. Struensee uses his very influential position to institute radically progressive policies which eventually revolutionizes Denmark society.
Needless to say, this is the first time I have ever seen anything about Danish history, so I was enraptured -- not really about the affair, but more about the interesting stories of political machinations and social reformation told in this very fine film. The lavish costumes, elaborate set design and moody music were all perfectly attuned to the period depicted. The cinematography was very dramatic and well-polished.
The acting was top-notch from all three angles of the troika. Young Swedish actress Alicia Vikander was very classy and believable as Caroline. She reminded me of Emily Blunt's performance in "Young Victoria" the previous year. Famous Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen plays Dr. Johann Struensee with subtle passion. He does look a lot older than Caroline so the romantic chemistry seemed somehow strained, especially at the beginning. It does grow on you later though, as the more political aspect of their affair gains more screen time. As the cuckolded king Christian VII, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard delivers a finely nuanced performance as he struggled to balance his madness with some semblance of sanity.
I highly recommend this film for all film fans who love historical films. This is a rare look into a renaissance of sorts in Danish political history borne out of personal liaisons among the key characters in the reform movement. The story-telling style of director Nikolaj Arcel is tight and engaging. It will keep you interested up to the end, especially with the inspired performances of all his actors. 8/10.
2. "Barbara" (Germany)
"Barbara" is about a lady doctor who was sent away from Berlin to practice in a small town. She was very aloof and suspicious of everyone in her new hospital, including her friendly colleague, Dr. Andre. She kept to herself most of the time, riding a bike to and from work.
Unknown to her co-workers, she is visited by some seedy characters, one of them a lady with gloves. She also does some mysterious side trips, burying money under rocks, and meeting a boyfriend for some secret romantic liaisons.
Having no background as to what this film was all about, the first of the film felt like a spy thriller, with intense suspense being built up. I was really waiting for something explosive to happen by the second half.
However, this whole film turned out to be a dramatic endeavor set during the 1980s when there was still a wall between East and West Germany. It was about the moral dilemma tearing Barbara up. On one side, she wants to defect and be with her boyfriend in the West. On the other hand, she is already getting used to her quiet countryside practice, especially getting attached to young troubled patients like Stella and Mario.
So at the end, there is still suspense, albeit a quiet kind, which is still well worth staying around for. However the slow pace of the film, all talk with lack of action, may not sit well with impatient audiences. 6/10.
3. Frozen Silence (Spain)
Soldiers find a dead Spanish soldier frozen in the icy battlefield. Private Arturo Andrade astutely notices that the guy did not freeze to death, but was murdered in a ritualistic manner. Arturo was then assigned to lead the investigation, that led him a complicated maze of Nazism, Freemasonry and Russian Roulette.
The time period was very interesting. 1943, during World War II at a time when Spanish soldiers were fielded to serve in Nazi Germany. However, that piece of history turned out to be nothing more than an elaborate backdrop.
The start of this film was so beautifully shot and the development of the story in the first half of the film was so tense and well-done.
However, when we get to the second half, I do not know what happened, but suspense that built up all and the patience you have invested in trying to get to the bottom of this mystery collapse like a failed soufflé and go to waste. From something that started so big and epic, it fizzled and ended up with something very small. 4/10.