With the pandemic restrictions still wreaking havoc on the Finnish culture scene, ESPOO CINÉ marches bravely on into its festival week. Here are the five films (and one special selection) you really shouldn’t miss from this year’s lineup.
BANKSY MOST WANTED
It’s hard to follow up on Banksy’s previous self-portrait/mockumentary EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP. Released almost twenty years ago, the much-debated doc is still a giant question mark, and over the years, it’s become more fun to guess the artist’s identity than receive coherent answers. Yet directors Aurélia Rouvier and Seamus Healy press on, and the result promises to be a tantalizing glimpse into the mind of the renowned yet unknown activist who continues to confound and amuse in equal measure.
Veteran director Andrei Konchalovsky continues to reign supreme even at 82. After a career directing Hollywood blockbusters like RUNAWAY TRAIN and TANGO & CASH, Konchalovsky turns inward in a majestic recreation of the 1962 workers massacre within the Soviet Union. Gorgeously shot in black and white, DEAR COMRADES! offers an intimate look at the madness within a broken system and one person’s desperate struggle to save those they love caught in the violence.
GLORY TO THE QUEEN
In a different kind of sports documentary, directors Tatia Skhirtladze and Anna Khazaradze bring together the former Soviet Union Olympic team of world-class chess players, now aging in a country slowly forgetting about them. In an intimate portrait, they reminisce about their shared experiences and revel in fascinatingly contradictory recollections of a past colored by politics on a global scale.
Daniel Brühl is one of the most talented actors of their generation, so I’ll allow him some leeway into self-satisfied metafiction in his directorial debut. Playing himself in a sendup part as a hugely successful Hollywood star, Brühl enters a confrontation with Bruno, an overlooked sadsack, who has waited decades for a chance at revenge. A funny German comedy is as rare a sight as a unicorn, so here’s hoping this one knocks it out of the park.
THE WITCHES OF THE ORIENT
I’m not a big fan of sports films or documentaries. So it’s weird that two of my recommendations for this year both deal heavily with the subject matter. But director Julien Faraut previously made the wonderful JOHN MCENROE: IN THE REALM OF PERFECTION, which transcended typical sports cliches, and it looks like he’s accomplished the same here.
Tracking the history of Japan’s undefeated women’s volleyball team of the 1960s, which was initially assembled from a group of factory workers. Faraut charts their meteoric rise and intense training with a keen and empathetic eye. It’s a glimpse behind the curtain at manufactured destiny, and I can’t wait to see it.
Special favorite: AMELIE
One of the best films ever made, Jean-Pierre Jeunet‘s brilliant dose of magical realism vibrantly returns to the big screen for a 20th-anniversary screening. Following the life of the reclusive but intensely empathetic Amelie, Jeunet’s heartwarming odyssey through a fantastical Montmarte remains as spellbinding as ever. Audrey Tautou breaks hearts in the lead, and a superb cast of French veterans, many Jeunet regulars, elevates the material to divine heights. This is a brilliant, brilliant film that deserves to be seen all over again, especially on the big screen.