The New Horizons festival has gradually become the most visited event of such type in Poland, one of the most popular in this part of Europe (with over 100,000 spectators each year), hundreds of movies and an important meeting place for international filmmakers.
Every year several films have the chance to compete in the New Horizons International Competition which searches for cinematic visionaries and uncompromising artists who have the courage to follow their own path in defiance of popular trends and to talk about significant issues using their own unique language. The Competition includes innovative feature films, creative documentaries, and experimental and animated films.
Below is a list (with trailers) of this year’s entries. Be sure to find time to visit at least one of them to experience the art of cinematic genius. You will find a link at the end of this article to reserve your tickets. A standard ticket price is 22 PLN.
An Elephant Sitting Still
Hu Bo, Da xiang xi di er zuo, China 2018 / 230’
Twenty-nine-year-old Bo Hu took his own life in October 2017, four months before the world premiere of his debut film at the Berlinale. In the style of film noir, the Chinese director’s work is driven by a fury and captured with a flourish, tracing a panorama of interpersonal and class relations characterized by widespread moral corruption. In a story played out over a single day, a suicide and an incident at a school (one student pushes another student who had been mocking him down the stairs) leads to a series of tragic events. The unfolding spiral of violence pulls in one protagonist after another in this masterfully constructed, multithreaded story: they include a man who feels guilty about a friend’s suicide, a girl fighting with her mother, a frightened boy and an old man whose son wants to move out of their cramped house. Everyone fantasizes about escaping from the city, and this desire is embodied by a mythical elephant from the city of Manzhouli: indifferent like a sort of Buddha, it watches the cruelty that people inflict upon one another completely unmoved. Hu Bo provides an extremely pessimistic diagnosis about his country and creates one of the most moving images of lost youth that cinema has ever seen.
Berlin IFF 2018 – FIPRESCI Award; Best First Feature Award – Special Mention; Hong Kong IFF 2018 – Audience Choice Award
Nelson Carlo de Los Santos Arias, Dominican Republic, Argentina, Germany 2017 / 106’
A devoutly religious man, Alberto (Vicente Santos) works as a gardener at a palatial estate in the capital of the Dominican Republic. When he learns that his father has died under unexplained circumstances, he takes time off to travel to his hometown on the coast, where it turns out that his father was murdered. The village is being torn apart by organized crime, and Aberto’s relatives, who took over the family following the death of the patriarch, have plans for him. They insist not only that he take part in pagan funeral rites but also that he avenge his father’s death, although both these things contradict his Evangelical beliefs. Cocote (a word meaning the neck of an animal that is to be decapitated) is not only a tale of vengeance, but above all an eccentric portrait of the Dominican cultural landscape, created using various techniques and formats. The film premiered at last year’s festival in Locarno, where it won the experimental section, Signs of Life.
Agnieszka Smoczyńska, Fuga, Poland, Czech Republic, Sweden 2018 / 100’
A surprising change of direction by the director of the hit filmThe Lure; her new project is much darker, more mysterious and emotionally intense. Kinga disappears without an explanation, leaving behind her husband, son and other relatives. More than two years later, however, she reappears as Alicja, a woman with no memory who has fallen on hard times. After appearing on television, she’s recognized by her family. Thus begins a fascinating and insightful study of female identity, in which Gabriela Muskała (who also wrote the screenplay) portrays Alicja/Kinga’s anxiety, resentment and internal conflict brilliantly. She is forced to find a place for herself as a wife, mother, daughter and friend among people who are just as surprised as she is by the sudden appearance of someone whose loss they had already come to terms with. Not only does Alicja not recognize her friends and relatives, but they also don’t see in her the former Kinga. Fugue is a bold film with a fresh take on the same level as Zgliński‘s Animals or Szelc’sTower: A Bright Day.
Isabella Eklöf, Denmark, Netherlands, Sweden 2018 / 92’
It’s going to be an unforgettable holiday: the Turkish Riveria, drinks with umbrellas and a house with a pool, not to mention great people who like to party. But the face of the young, incredibly attractive Sascha betrays the vigilance and tension hidden beneath her adorable-but seemingly forced-smile. She is a companion for her boss, Michael, who is as likely to give her a lavish gift as he is to beat her up. Violence in this sun-scorched and simultaneously stone-cold film appears in the form of a series of vicious outbreaks, after which everything returns to normal-at least until Sascha meets two guys, one of whom, a lonely sailor named Thomas, reminds her of the existence of a life in which the female body is not a possession or a commodity to be bought and sold or an object of any sort for that matter. Isabella Eklöf’s provocative debut is incredibly insightful but not sentimental. Holiday (a hit at the last Sundance Festival) shows how a web of male manipulation, humiliation and benefits, cleverly spread out around the protagonist, produces a kind of siren. Sascha’s sweet, melodic voice seduces both sailors and viewers; while we see her as a victim, she fills us with dread at the same time. What sort of darkness lurks inside a person who would sell her soul for a luxury holiday?
Les garçons sauvages
Bertrand Mandico,The Wild Boys, France 2017 / 110’
An immoral story that ends up being a surreal sort of cinematic encounter where Lord of the Flies meets Walerian Borowczyk. The story is set on Réunion, an island at the furthest reaches of colonial France, at the beginning of the 20th century. Five insolent teens from good homes commit a vicious rape. Their punishment is banishment to another island, where they are taken by a stern captain. Under his supervision, the cynical boys have to learn how to behave-they scrub the deck and do military-style drills-while their shoes are washed overboard by a furious storm. The place where their final transformation is to take place is reminiscent of an eroticized Goto, the island of love, and that’s the general mood, as the teens are given over to hedonism, sexual fulfillment and general freedom. Bertrand Mandico’s intellectually stimulating, artistically exciting and provocatively sensual debut is reminiscent of the style of erotic cinema of the 1970s, which marries feminism and contemporary gender issues concerned with cultural complications of the sexes. The highly original Wild Boys reminds us that there will be all kinds of Polands, even those beyond the oceans, depending on the way we educate youth, and that fantasy is there to help you play all the way!
Valérie Massadian, France, Portugal 2017 / 128’
Milla and Leo, a couple of teenage outcasts in love, have nothing to lose. They don’t have a roof over their heads or any plans in life. They love each other and live life one day at a time. This ephemeral love story, which turns into a story about motherhood, is extraordinarily sensual and intimate. The relationship between the two lovers, and later between the mother and her child, takes place not in words but through a mutual exchange of energy. Massadian (Nana, New Horizons 2012) is a talented director, has a good eye for body language and an ear for the unspoken. Milla captures teenage energy suspended between silliness and pathos, where gestures are everything, and if something has to be expressed in words, it’s done through song lyrics and poems. Milla’s early motherhood is shown not as a trauma but as a gift that allows her to move from teenage limbo into adulthood. Her child opens her up to experiencing a reality that is sometimes difficult and painful but also beautiful. A probing film about love and loneliness with the spirit of Chantal Akerman hovering over scenes from everyday life.
DocLisboa 2017 – Best Film; Entrevous 2017 – Best Film; Locarno IFF 2017 – Special Jury Prize, Audience Award; Lanzarote FF 2017 – Best Film
A young American director is planning to make a documentary about migrants in post-Brexit London. Alicja, an unemployed actress from Poland who is barely making ends meet while working at a multiplex, shows up at a casting. Mysterious but with a tendency for exhibitionism; shy but sometimes provocative, the director is so taken in by Alicja’s dramatic story that she decides to make a film about her. The camera gets closer to the women all the while putting distance between them, a reflection of the difference in their material status, social position and the privileges connected with their place of birth. Banaszkiewicz and Dymek’s provocative, deceptive and animated film, similar to a vlog in its aesthetics, invites viewers into something of an erotic game in which they form, together with the director and the protagonist, a love triangle that can easily lead to abuse, violence and betrayal. To what extent can and should a director interfere in other people’s lives? When should a voyeur in the audience look away? Does cinema still have boundaries that shouldn’t be transgressed? Is mystification the only way to defend the protagonist from abuse? The unsettling My Friend the Polish Girl poses fundamental questions about the relationship between the filmmaker, the film subject and the viewer, as well as the responsibility that comes with picking up a camera.
An elegy for a decaying relationship written on two naked bodies and a home that is becoming deserted. In her feature debut, Argentinean director Mónica Lairana limits the dialogue to a minimum in order to tell the story of the years that a middle-aged couple spent together through images of their final shared moments. She examines a man and woman who, faced with parting, try to hang onto whatever they can from the years they spent together: the remains of dying lust, the tenderness and trust they still share, as well as memories that have been accumulated over the years in every object, including the eponymous bed, found in a home they know as well as they know each other. Lairana’s exceptionally focused, sincere and sometimes painful film, which divided audiences at this year’s Berlinale, is another strong feminine voice from Argentina. Using simple means, the director manages to capture something universal and fundamental: that strange state when you’re no longer together but it’s also clear that you’ll never be completely apart.
The Dead and the Others
João Salaviza, Renée Nader Messora, Brazil, Portugal 2018 / 119’
An award winner in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes, this film essay by directors João Salaviza and Renée Nader Messora takes us on a journey into the north Brazilian jungle to the home of the Krahô Indians. The result of many months spent there is the poetic The Dead and the Others, a film that flows easily between fiction and documentary, telling the story of a rejected calling and the temptations and disappointments brought about by Western civilization. The film’s main character is 15-year-old Ihjãc, who hears the voice of his dead father summoning him to a waterfall to demand that a ceremony be held that will allow his spirit to leave this world. After this, the boy, who is already a father himself, grows weak and has extraordinary dreams. This is another sign that his calling is to become a shaman. The young Krahô tries to escape his destiny by running away to the city settled by white men. Torn between two worlds, two cultures and two value systems, the boy is something of a spirit drifting between two dreams.
Cannes IFF 2018 – Un Certain Regard Jury Prize
Ognjen Glavonić, Serbia, France, Croatia, Iran, Qatar 2018 / 98’
Vlada (Leon Luev, known from Jasmila Žbanić’s Esma’s Secret – Grbavica) makes his living as a truck driver. With NATO ‘sbombing of Serbia is ongoing, Vlada is surprised to receive another order: he has to transport a mysterious cargo from Kosovo to Belgrade-and not ask too many questions. He has no idea what’s really in the back of his truck, and he’d probably prefer not to know.With references to actual events, Ognjen Glavonić-in his first full-length feature, which was screened recently at Cannes-tells us the story of a world mangled by war-gray, tired and seen through a dusty windshield. Somewhat reminiscent of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s The Wages of Fear, this unpolished film pulsates with tension just beneath the surface. The people that Vlada meets continue to try, in spite of everything, to live a normal life, but there are certain things they can’t escape. You can only hide them, and then give your hands a good scrubbing.
Malene Choi Jensen, Denmark 2018 / 87’
You don’t even look Asian-this is how Karoline’s adoptive mother has comforted her on many an occasion. But this would do nothing to ease her feeling of otherness whenever she-born in Korea but raised in Denmark-would study her face in the mirror. Now, many years later, she’s still tormented by who she is. A trip to Korea is meant to provide answers. The title return, however, sounds more like a cruel joke, given that Karoline isn’t familiar with the country where she was born-in fact, it’s completely foreign to her. In Seoul, she has a chance encounter with Thomas, and soon it turns out that they have a lot in common. They are both victims, and in the first year of their lives, they were given up for foreign adoption. In her moving feature debut, Malene Choi Jensen blurs the boundary between fiction and reality while making allusions to her own personal experiences. In doing so, she avoids even a hint of falsehood or sentimentality. She skillfully shows cultural contrasts, using the journey of two contemporary nomads who are trying to patch together their identity from seemingly mismatched pieces. An unassuming film that really packs a punch.
Göteborg IFF 2018 – Special Mention
We the Animals
Jeremiah Zagar, USA 2018 / 94’
Recognized by American critics as a revelation on the level of the Oscar-winningMoonlight, Jeremiah Zagar’s visually refined and moving feature debut tells the story of a shattered childhood in a poor part of America. The parents of three adolescent boys are too busy with their own problems to pay much attention to their children. The unexpected freedom, symbiotic closeness that replaces parental love and bursts of happy days that interrupt the ever-longer periods of sadness and fear that come with the lack of care-Zagar shows family relations as a tightly bound knot of ambivalent feelings. In this wild-much like its protagonists-film, the camera rushes through rooms, peeks in neighbors’ windows and wanders around the neighborhood, focusing on Jonah, a boy who puts his emotions on the page through expressive drawings. Eventually, he gives up on his family and tries to break free from its toxic cocoon. An award winner at the last Sundance Festival, the film is based on a novel by Justin Torres.
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