By Aldo Padilla
The death of Pakistani photographer and director Madiha Aijaz, only days after the presentation in Rotterdam of her wonderful short film These Silences are all the words, leaves a deep sadness in an edition marked by a high presence of female filmmakers in every section and a great quality of films from the Hindi subcontinent. She leaves as part of her legacy a sensible look on the city of Karachi, in a midst of people that circulate through, but also stop in the little library portrayed in this short film, where Urdu poetry and language are confronted with extinction and precariousness, something which will transform the work into an ode to the culture’s struggle against time.
Facing the tragedy that somehow marked the post festival, it’s possible to seek shelter in a great program which bet on young filmmakers and emergent cinematographies, and also the transversality of cinema with other arts through different installations. In a month full of festivals, when one can be trapped between Sundance, Berlin, and the award season, Rotterdam has found a place where the concept of future (and also present) becomes more latent than any other festival, even if it still drags the weight of a Dutch cinema which hasn’t taken flight in the last years.
It’s almost two years from that memorable competition of 2017, were Dumans and Uchoa’s Arabia, Kogonada’s Columbus and Niles Atallah’s Rey were competing, which followed with a discreet 2018 where Djon Africa and The Widowed Witch had certain relevance in a pale competition. The 2019 competition recovers some force, even if it doesn’t have a film that particularly shined. The Chinese winner of the section, Shengze Zhu’s Present.Perfect. has some breaking elements, but it’s not seen as the great emblem film expected from the festival. The Chilean filmmaker Camila Donoso was one of the big hopes after her two films Naomi Campbell and Casa Roshell, but Nona si me mojan yo los quemo is somewhat limited by an ambiguous pyromaniacal discourse.
The case of the Nordic films marked the lowest point in the competition. Sons of Denmark by Ulaa Salim, comes as a non-intentional parody when talking about the advance of the extreme right in Denmark, and Koko-di Koko-da, by Swedish filmmaker Johannes Nyholm, shows a sort of “terror Groundhog Day” just as an excuse to apply certain absurd cruelty through the imaginary of children tales.
Brazil has been a constant presence in the past few years and this time shows that part of its big potential comes from the state of Minas Gerais, where several of the great Brazilian films of the past years (Baronesa, Arabia, Temporada) came from . Now, Gabriel Martins and Maurilio Martins’ No coração do mundo, consolidate the strong movement in this big area, not only in filmmaking, but also in the amount of actresses that have cemented their careers there. I’m mentioning the case of Grace Passo, since she already showed great potential in Temporada, and now reaffirms it in the Martins’ film. She also has some voice-over duties in Encuanto estamos aqui, by Clarissa Campolina and Luiz Pretti.
One cannot leave aside the fact that Brazil was the big protagonist of the festival, with a big presence in different sections and even with its own section called Soul in the eye, carrying a program which vindicated the Afro-Brazilian cinema, of great force in the last years. From this point, it’s good to remark the good relation of Rotterdam with Latin America. We can still remember the complete retrospective of Argentinian filmmaker José Campusano in 2018, and the Argentinian presence in this year, headed by Mariano Llinás La Flor, and a vast amount of short films.
BIG SCREEN COMPETITION
The competitive section Big Screen had a strong female presence through its filmmakers and lead characters, this shown by the award winner, Anna Eborn’s Transnistra, which portrays the relationship of an adolescent girl with a group of males, a relation whose nature constantly oscillates between friendship and love attraction. Latin America was also present with the experienced Carlos Sorin and his film Joel, that focuses on a couple who adopts a boy and their difficult process of adapting to their surroundings. On a similar vein we had Itay Tal’s God of the Piano, which sees maternity from the toxic obsession of a mother who seeks the success of her kid in the music world. Toxic paternities are also portrayed in Coureur, by Belgium filmmaker Kenneth Mercken from the Limelight section, a film dominated by this toxicity, where a boy seeks through cycling the success his father could never have.
This year Rotterdam program has gone in counterflow with other festival controversies of 2018, since it had no problems in programming a film which was already in Netflix (Lazzaro Felice), moving apart from the already tired debated of Cannes on the new model of distribution, and again collaborating with Festival Scope to exhibit online 22 of its films at the time of their premiere. The program also distanced itself from Venice, where certain cinema from the Oscar season was one of its dominating subjects. This is relevant since Rotterdam 2018 presented itself as a strong window of the season with names such as Gerwig, Del Toro, McDonagh, Gillespie, Baker, among others, while in 2019 one can barely see films like At Eternity’s Gate and the infamous Capernaum.
Facing the ostentation of the films in competition, one has the modesty of the short films presented this year, which were among the most relevant works, not only with great films of last year like Filipe Martins’ House of Glass (winner of Voice Shorts), Gulyabani by the consecrated Gurkan Keltek, but also other premieres such as Johann Lurf’s Cavalcade, with its visual tricks, and the enigmatic Cairo Affaire by Mauro Andrizzi; all of this accompanied by a great Latin American presence with Los Ingrávidos collective.
Due to the eclectic nature of Rotterdam it seems acceptable that, when making lists with “the best” of each edition, one would make certain distinctions. In one hand, the best world premieres, films that had a greater merit of management and risk from the festival, and also a list of short films, since Rotterdam is one of the festivals that bets heavily on this format.
Top 7 World Premieres
- That Cloud Never Left, Yashaswini Raghunandan, India (Bright Future)
- Pirotecnia, Federico Atehortúa, Colombia (Regained)
- Historia de mi nombre, Karin Cuyul, Chile, Brasil (Bright Future)
- Hombres de piel dura, José Celestino Campusano, Argentina (Signatures)/De nuevo, otra vez, Romina Paula, Argentina (Bright Future)
- The Best of Dorien B., Anke Blondé, Bélgica (Big Screen)
- Last Night I Saw You Smiling, Kavich Neang, Camboya, Francia (Bright Future)
- Transnistra, Anna Eborn, Suecia (Big Screen)
Top 7 Non Premieres
- I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians, Radu Jude, Rumania (Voices)
- Entre dos aguas, Isaki Lacuesta, España (Voices)
- Fabiana, Brunna Laboissire, Brasil (Bright Future)
- Teret, Ognjen Glavoniƒá, Serbia (Bright Future)
- Nuestro tiempo, Carlos Reygadas, México (Signatures)
- The Gold-Laden Sheep & the Sacred Mountain, Ridham Janve, India (Bright Future)
- Genèse, Philippe Lesage, Canadá (Voices)
Top 10 Shorts
- These Silences Are All the Words, Madiha Aijaz, Pakistán (Ammodo Tiger Short Competition)
- House of Glass, Filipe Martins, Portugal (Voices Short)
- Gulyabani, Gurcan Keltek, Turquía (Bright Future Short)
- Cairo Affaire, Mauro Andrizzi, Argentina (The Spying Thing)
- Cavalcade, Johann Lurf (Bright Future Short)
- Pirámide erosionada, Colectivo Los Ingrávidos, México (Bright Future Short)
- E-Ticket, Simon Liu Hong Kong, USA, UK (Ammodo Tiger Short Competition)
- The Monster and the Woman, Ikeda Akira, Japón (Voices Short)/ Maria by the Sea, Tawfiq Nizamidin, Corea del Sur (Voices Short)
- Night Horse, Jeroen Van der Stock, Japón, Belgica (Deep Focus)
- Nehemias, Daniel Jacoby, Holanda y Perú (Ammodo Tiger Short Competition)/ La bala de Sandoval, Jean-Jacques Martinod, Ecuador (Ammodo Tiger Short Competition)