Noveember 12, 2014
Last week, the QCinema Film Festival was held in the Trinoma. QCinema is the official film festival of Quezon City, the City of Stars. Aside from local indie films, this festival also featured several acclaimed foreign language films. I went to catch these three films because they were already announced as their country's official entries to the race for Best Foreign Language Film in the next Oscars. Furthermore, they are actually touted to be those most likely named as nominees and even the possible winner.
(dir: Andrey Zvyagintsev, Russia)
Kolya is a regular man who lived in a small seaside Russian town with his younger second wife Lilya and a teenage son from his first marriage Roma. He was being evicted out of his home by the mayor. He enlisted the legal assistance of a junior army buddy Dmitry, who has since become a hotshot lawyer in Moscow. However, as Kolya becomes the unfortunate victim more and more, both in the political and domestic fronts, Dmitry's arrival may actually have brought Kolya more harm than good.
The events in the story could in fact have happened anywhere else in the world. The political corruption aspect of this film (about how the powerful had the poor under their thumbs) has been tackled many times in many films. The family problems tackled in the film (poverty, rebellion, betrayal) are also really nothing new. The whole film felt like a Filipino film, even complete with a religion sermon at the end. All the characters in this film are flawed and not easy to like or relate to.
Maybe I was expecting too much because of the hype, or maybe the story is just too familiar for me, but this did not exactly feel too impressed by this film. It was only OK, not that special. Honestly, the film felt like two separate films with an awkward transition in the middle. A major character in the first half even totally disappeared in the second half unmentioned. As with many European films, the pace of the storytelling was very slow, with very little happening in many scenes. There was a climactic twist of sorts, but it was not as big or surprising as I was expecting. I was disappointed, but hey, I read that this is the film most favored to win the Oscar. 6/10.
(dir: Paweł Pawlikowski, Poland)
Set in the 1960s in Poland, Anna was a young novitiate nun. Before she takes her final vows, she was required to reconnect with her only living relative, a worldly jaded judge, Wanda. Wanda takes Anna out to discover the truth about a dark family tragedy that happened during World War II.
The film is short and quiet. The story is deceptively simple. The actresses were both very good in their roles. The title role is the young nun played by Agata Trzebuchowska. She mainly plays it shy and innocent the whole film with hardly any dialog. But the more challenging role of the judge was played by Agata Kulesza, and she delivers a very passionate performance. The controversial endings for both women will be topics for discussion after watching the film.
The main conceit of this film though is its spectacularly sharp and stark black-and-white cinematography. Every frame it seems is worthy of being a picture postcard in its eloquence and beauty, even with its bleakness and shadows. There are shots where the main subject is off-center, yet they still looked so very good. 7/10.
3. TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT
(dir: Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Belgium)
Set in modern day in the town of Liege, Sandra had a prolonged leave from work due to severe depression. Management realized they could do the job without her. When she recovered from this illness, Sandra learned she will be fired from her job depending on a vote by her co-workers. Sandra only has two days to convince at least nine co-workers to vote of her to stay over the 1000 Euro bonus management is offering them.
This is a very real-looking contemporary film about a very mundane topic. You can imagine Sandra going around house to house in order to personally talk to 16 people, so things do get repetitive. Some will side with her and some will rebuff her appeal because they need the bonus. Certain people will have some additional drama over the others. It all boiled down to that critical final vote at the end to see if Sandra stays or gets fired.
The main shining point about this film is the very realistic performance of Marion Cotillard as Sandra. Plain, frail and totally deglamorized, she looked like any regular woman desperate to keep her job. Her character's depression would invade her being during this very stressful and trying times, and Ms. Cotillard nails those delicate moments with devastating honesty. 7/10.