Norwegian writer-director Bent Hamer’s 1001 Grams is a low-key but likeable romantic comedy, built around an endearing central premise. The protagonist Marie (Ane Dahl Torp) works for her father Ernst (Stein Winge) at the Norwegian Institute of Weights and Measures, performing calibrations on equipment ranging from petrol pumps to weighing scales. When he suddenly dies of a heart attack, Marie is required to attend an annual conference at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures in Paris, where she must safely take the national prototype – the Norwegian kilo – to be verified against the global standard.
Set on the Japanese tropical island Amami, Still the Water is a Zen-infused coming of age drama, exploring the personal revelations that come with life, death and love. Directed by the Caméra d’Or winner Naomi Kawase and selected to compete for last year’s Palme, it is a serene, contemplative film that comes alive in moments of harmony and rupture. Shot using primarily handheld cameras, Kawase casts a documentarian’s gaze over what develops into a quietly forceful narrative, allowing the exquisite setting to provide much of the visual flair.
Echoes of Rudyard Kipling adventure yarns and Hollywood’s more pessimistic classic Westerns permeate Theeb, the directorial debut of Jordan-based filmmaker Naji Abu Nowar, whose film was also shot in that region and features non-professional actors from one of Jordan’s last nomadic Bedouin tribes to settle down.
From What is Before, the latest epic from Filipino slow-cinema auteur Lav Diaz, examines a major fault line in his country’s history. Chronicling the terminal decline of a remote coastal barrio, which has become unknowingly embroiled in the ensuing apocalypse sweeping across the Philippines, it culminates in Ferdinand Marcos’s 1972 declaration of martial law and the beginning of his brutal kleptocracy. A voiceover in the film’s closing lines describes the preceding five-and-a-half hours as “the memory of a cataclysm”, marking a significant break with even the most recent past. From What is Before might not have the sheer force of Diaz’s last outing, the Crime and Punishment-inspired Norte: The End of History, but it is a more accomplished film overall, utilising every inch of its formidable length to construct a haunting elegy for times past.
The final part in Roy Andersson’s “trilogy about a being a human being”, A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence is a droll but despairing inquiry into the human condition. Its thirty-nine distinct vignettes, each infused with recurring characters and repeated jokes, consolidate into a rumination on the absurdity of life and potential consequences of human dispassion. The eponymous pigeon, the least impressive exhibit in a dreary museum, appears in the opening scene, studied by a man whose wife is waiting resignedly in the corner. Like all the characters in the film, they are in stasis, trapped by their inexplicable attachments, habits and routines, mere artifacts in the wunderkammer that is life.
Batin Ghobadi’s debut feature is an elusive crime drama that unfolds in the mountainous borderland of Iraqi Kurdistan. The younger brother of Bahman Ghobadi, best known for A Time for Drunken Horses, the writer-director was born in the region, albeit on the Iranian side of the border, and its troubled history resonates obliquely throughout the film. It is suggested that the region is engaged in a period of modernisation, through major construction projects and crackdowns on corruption, but its landscape remains rugged and primal, its men desolate and wracked with guilt.
Dogs rise up against their human masters in Kornél Mundruczó’s White God, a film that is part-political allegory and part-bloody genre piece. The opening sequence shows a girl riding her bicycle through the sunny but deserted streets of Budapest, looking anxiously around her as she passes abandoned cars and empty buildings. Suddenly, from around the corner, hundreds of dogs appear, running with purpose, chasing and overtaking her. At this point, it feels like an apocalyptic dream, but, when White God returns to the scene later on, it has been contextualised in a narrative of oppression and justified revolt.
The Little Death is an Australian comedy concerning five hetero couples (or potential couple in one case), whose relationships become defined by their fetishes. Though the lives of some of these characters intertwine through the setup of them living in the same neighbourhood, the film is more anthology feature than network narrative in that the stories basically act as shorts that we jump in and out of for 95 minutes – and one of them runs uninterrupted for the final 20. Writer-director Josh Lawson even introduces each plot thread with a title card akin to what you might find in a more traditional anthology feature. This isn’t so much The ABCs of Sex, but the title of recent Argentinean anthology Wild Tales wouldn’t be out of place if re-applied to The Little Death.
Set in the once pristine West Yorkshire Moors, Catch Me Daddy is a nightmarish thriller about cultural tension, depravation and violence in modern day Britain. It takes as its starting point the Ted Hughes poem ‘Heptonstall Old Church’, in which creation myth gives way to apocalyptic vision. The great bird which brings life to the region dies and afterwards: ‘Its giant bones / Blackened and became a mystery / The crystal in men’s heads / Blackened and fell to pieces / The valleys went out / The moorland broke loose.’ Recited coarsely in a young man’s voice, over bleak, contemporary landscapes, the poem is a discomforting prelude for what is to come.