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What starts out as a straight forward interview becomes an intense interrogation in this scathing, political thriller. Set in the 90’s, the film also looks at France’s turbulent relationship with Algiers.
As the film begins, An Algerian teacher (Hassan Ghancy) applies for French Citizenship. He answers a series of basic questions of France’s Culture to an officer (Najib Oudghiri). But as the interview progresses, questions start to lean toward a terrorist attack by two Algerians. The officer suspects those two were at the same mosque meeting the teacher was at. The interrogation grows more hostile as the officer tries to get the teacher to name names.
The premise probably has the simplest delivery of the films in this category. Most of the film is just these two character in a single room, talking. And yet it’s the most gripping short in this category. Starting with a simple Q & A, writer/director Selim Azzazi builds a slow burn of suspense coming out of each information revealed.
The teacher also reveals himself to be a complex protagonist. Though born in the Algiers, he considers himself first and foremost a French man. He argues that since Algiers was part of the French Empire when he was born, he is therefore a Frenchman. But his fate lies in the hands of a man who could deport him with just the click of his pen. And no one will let him leave without two names. You don’t know much about him, but thanks to Ghancy’s performance, you care for him and don’t believe he had anything to do with this.
This film takes a simple premise and keeps you in suspense. When it’s over, you’ll have a lot to talk about with your friends.
The most romantic short in this category, this adorable little gem from Switzerland follows the developing relationship of two people who never meet.
Every day, the TGV passes a little house of Elise (Jane Birkin), whose always there to wave her Swiss Flag. This seems to be the only high point of her day. Once a successful business, Elise’s bakery now struggles with competition from the All Deal retail store. Not helping is this ballet blaring techno tunes right next door. Her son Pierre (Mathieu Bisson) has grown up and moved out. Her only companion is Balthazar the budgie. So, the only excitement of her day is the coming of the TGV. Then one day, a letter comes flying onto out of the train and onto her lawn. So, begins a loving correspondence between Elise and the mysterious train conductor named Bruno. Elise would send letters and her treats to Bruno, who throws his letters out the window, along with some cheese. But their romantic correspondence comes under threat when the train takes a different route.
La Femme Et Le TGV reminds me a lot of 84 Charing Cross Road, a biopic about two bookdealers (Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins) who formed a bond through business correspondence. Both films are romances centered around two people who never meet. You’d think this would be the kiss of death for romance films, and yet both films seem to make it work. Romance live and die by the chemistry between the two leads. How can you have chemistry when the two leads never have a scene together? With great writing, that’s how. Elise and Bruno bring out their most romantic sides in their letters, often turning to each other to vent their personal problems. Though it begs the question; are they falling for each other’s true selves or just idealized versions of each other?
What also makes it work is Birkin’s performance. She creates such a quirky character in Elise that she brings joy in every minute she’s on screen. When she waves her swiss flag, she brings out her character’s genuine happiness. Plus, she faces the task of selling the questionable decision of falling for a person she hasn’t met. Her romance feels so genuine that you can’t help but root for her to get together with Bruno. She also as good in her low points, especially when Pierre gives his mom a degrading birthday present.
The film is also very funny. Elsie cherishes Bruno’s gifts of cheese. There’s just one problem; she hates cheese. So, we are treated to the hilarious image of a fridge full of cheese.
La Femme et Le Tiv will leave audiences swooning over this romance.
All the way from Denmark comes a love story about two people fallen on hard times.
Kwame (Prince Yaw Appliah) immigrated from Ghana in hopes of providing more for his wife and kids. Instead, He finds himself on living on the street, making a living by collecting bottles. Meanwhile, Social worker Inger (Malene Beltoft) cares for her deadbeat, drunken mother Solveig (Vibeke Hastrup), who makes her life a living hell. These two lost souls come into each other lives when Kwame’s beaten by some racist thugs and Inger comes to his aid. After nursing him to health, they sleep with each other. They seem like a great couple, if it weren’t for a few problems. First, Solveig is gets very racist when she’s drunk, which leads to an awkward first meeting. Second, there’s both living in states of extreme poverty. Oh, and there’s the matter of Kwame’s wife and kids in Ghana.
The film seems to draw inspiration from Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s romantic masterpiece Ali: Fear Eats the Soul. Both films focus on the relationship between a lonely woman and an immigrant and the prejudices inflicted upon them. While not as frequent as in the later film, Silent Nights still has Kwame dealing with racial hostility, as previous beatings indicate. In an interesting spin, the hostility doesn’t only come from Caucasians. In fact, the thugs are of Danish born Arabs. I assume writer/director Aske Bang’s trying to prove whites aren’t the only ones’ hostile towards refugees.
The film is clearly a commentary on the Syrian refugee crisis. What is surprising is how complicated the film portrays Kwame. The man came to Denmark thinking it would give him a better chance to provide for his family, only to find himself under a tunnel in the freezing cold, at least when the shelter’s not full. Fearing shame, Kwame can’t bring himself to return home without anything to show for it. On one hand, we can sympathize with his circumstances. But then Bang tests our sympathies by having him commit criminal activities. Kwame’s need for funds becomes urgent when his daughter contracts malaria. In his desperation, he commits a horrible act that’s not only criminal, but also nearly destroys his relationship with Inger. Sure, you understand why he did it, but it’s still a horrible thing to do. And then there’s the fact he’s cheating on his wife and doesn’t even have the decency to tell Inger, which may prove unforgivable for some audience members. We probably wouldn’t feel any sympathy if it weren’t for Appliah, who brings a lot of heart into his performance.
The film has a lot of ups and downs. The films’ highpoint is the opening scene, which intertwines Kwame’s and Inger’s troubled lives with a church choir’s beautiful rendition of “Silent Night.” The low point is the ending. The message it sends is just…confusing. Whether the high points outweigh the low points is up to the audience.
Not to be confused with Illumination’s recent animated film, Sing is a Hungarian import.
Moving to a new school is never easy for a kid. Despite the butterflies in her stomach, Zsofi (Dorka Gasparfalvi) fits right into her new environment, even joining her new best friend Liza (Dorka Hais) in the schools’ award winning choir class. After the first rehearsal, Zsofi comes to see why choir director Ms. Erika (Zsofia Szamosi) is her favorite teacher. But then Ms. Erika pulls her aside and insists Zsofi lip synch for the rest of rehearsals, which drains the poor girl of her enthusiasm. Soon, the girls come to realize how unfair adults can be.
While a lesser actress would have hammed it up as Ms. Erika, Szamosi delivers a more nuanced realism to the character. When we first meet this teacher, she seems like a nice, encouraging teacher. When she does put down Psofi’s singing, she twists her insults under a polite guise; “You can sing in your head.” Szamosi maintains her polite manner as Ms. Erika tries to rationalize her questionable treatment of some students. It takes a hard push for her to show her true colours, but even then, she tries to mind her manners. Through Ms. Erika, the girls can see how adults make excuses for bad behavior, always believing themselves to be in the right.
Matching her performance as the girls. Whenever they are together, Gasparfalvi and Hais make the interactions between Zsofi and Liza feel like real life conversations between two girls. Gasparfalvi is so joyful in the early scenes that when Zsofi’s spirit is broken, it’s upsetting. These little actresses further the depth of their character’s relationships when Zsofi won’t tell the concerned Liza why she’s upset. When they gather the choir team to get back at Ms. Erika, their hilarious revenge is glorious.
These elements come together thanks to Director/Co-writer Kristof Deak. But one scene proves he has excellent storytelling skills. During one choir rehearsal, Liza starts to grow suspicious. She looks to student after student, and comes to realize Zsofi isn’t the only one who’s lip synching. The irony is the choir’s song is about singing in defiance. The fact he pulls this off without any spoken dialogue takes a master storyteller.
We conclude with the Palme D’or winning at the Cannes Film Festival.
Today seemed like any other day for security guard Luna (Lali Ayguade) until she got a call from her boss. Apparently, a client’s tail lights were knocked out and the boss wants her to check the video. After typing in the timecode, the video reveals fellow guard Diego (Nicolas Ricchini) was dancing across the parking lot and accidently kicked out the light. Instead of ratting him out, Luna decides to try her hand at it. On her shift, she awkwardly dances in front of the security cameras and leaves a note of the times for Diego to watch it. Diego plays along, leaving notes for her to watch his dancing. This exchange starts a funny bond between these two.
This is the third short film in this category centred around a blooming romance. The question is does this even count as a romance or just two friend enjoying a common activity? Either way, this short film is very funny, especially in the way it ends.
Who Will Win?
The odds are in favour of Ennemis Interieurs. This film is probably the best written and best acted film on the list, bringing a complex discussion of immigration and terrorism under a deceptively simple guise of a political thriller.