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15 FILMS TO SEE AT THE HELSINKI INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL – 2021 EDITION

Another abnormal year

For the second year running, The Helsinki International Film Festival Love and Anarchy has to cope with arbitrary limitations and uncertainty in the face of cancellation. And, for the second year running, I’ll be there to cover it the best I can. You can check out my previous coverage for the 2019 and 2020 festivals in their respective articles.

Love and Anarchy is a Finnish institution. It’s a festival that has molded the cultural landscape, and introduced countless of film fans to new and exciting projects and thoughts from around the globe. Every year with them is a celebration, one that now has suffered at the hands of both the COVID19 pandemic and the resulting government ineptitude as a result.

This year, Love and Anarchy has curated over one hundred feature films for everyone to enjoy. Below you’ll find my selection of the 15 films you shouldn’t miss this time around. Each film comes with links to their respective page in the catalog, where you can purchase tickets as they go on sale on September 9th.

Now, this is not a comprhensive listing by any means. That would be nearly impossible. But they’re films I personally look forward to seeing – or have seen already.

I hope, whatever you end up watching, that it moves and troubles you. That it makes you think and feel and that you’ll walk out of the cinema with the world a different shade than it was when you went in.


ABSOLUTE DENIAL

I’m a sucker for passion projects, and this one-man animation – an engineer develops a working AI with dreadful results – is right in that ballpark. With gorgeous black-and-white animation and a provocative topic revolving around the next frontier of intelligence, ABSOLUTE DENIAL promises to be a wild and interesting ride that should please fans of sci-fi thrillers.


AFTER LOVE

After her husband suddenly passes away, a widower discovers her husband had a secret life across the canal, and sets out to find out why.

I’m a big fan of minimalist drama, and there’s something inherently captivating about watching people go through immense emotions while keeping it all in. Joanna Scanlan is a remarkable actor, who has done everything from sci-fi fantasy to broad comedy, and it looks like she’s in terrific form here.


ANNETTE

Directed by divisive filmmaker Leos Carax, with music by the mischiveous brothers behind the cult band Sparks, ANNETTE promises to be everything but conventional. Starring Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard in a musical drama that also features a marionette baby with an adult voice, meta-fiction, and a song performed while giving cunningulus, I can’t pinpoint what ANNETTE is supposed to be. Certainly nothing boring, I hope.


APPLES

A bizarre global epidemic wipes out the memories and identities of random men. Some time later, one of them starts to rebuild his life from a clean slate. Mixing absurdism with profound questions about how much of the world around is shaped by our identities, APPLES looks like a terrific headtrip of a film.


BALLAD OF THE WHITE COW

After her husband is wrongfully imprisoned and executed, a widower must fight a patriarchial and stubborn system for justice.

I’m a sucker for David & Goliath -types of stories, and there’s nothing greater to fight than a rigid system built on oppression and bureaucracy. The cast and direction look superb, and I’m sold on the strength of the trailer alone.


COMPARTMENT NUMBER 6

I traveled a lot when I was younger and single, and I miss it intensely. Not the single part, but the unknown of being alone in a strange town so far from home that no help could reach me.

Capturing the sensation of the open road, the sweaty conditions of cheap travel, and the thrill of strangers coming and going from your life, Juho Kuosmanen has crafted an exquisite fictional memory that feels true in every way. I can’t wait to see this again and again over the years.


CANNON ARM AND THE ARCADE QUEST

The older I get, the more fascinated and jealous I am of people who know exactly what they like. Especially when it’s something they’re willing to pursue to the point of insanity, and then a little further.

After such great videogame documentaries like KING OF KONG and INDIE GAME: THE MOVIE, I can’t wait to see a deep dive into the kind of obsession that is almost purely wholesome in its single-mindedness.


CAPTAINS OF ZA’ATARI

Two friends at a refugee camp find solace in football as a means of breaking free from their unfair place in life.

That’s enough to sell it for me. While I’m worried that stories like this are susceptible to fall into the category of “and then everything was OK” fantasy, director and journalist Ali El Arabi promises to infuse his fiction debut with intense realism that doesn’t skirt away from bitter truths.


THE GREEN KNIGHT

I’m a huge fan of director David Lowery, and THE GREEN KNIGHT is one of the few films I’ve already seen in advance. A full review is underway, but it’s not too early to say this is a spellbinding, brilliant epic. It deftly strips mythology into the bare essentials and uses cinema to discuss the fallibility of oral histories and their effect on how we perceive the world. Dev Patel, one of the finest actors around, carries the picture beautifully. Don’t miss this one.


THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE

Michael Showalter is a fascinating filmmaker that’s hard to pin down. A glance at his IMDB credits only beffudle, and it’s almost impossible to figure out where he’ll go next. After writing and starring in the fantastic deconstruction of teen comedy cliches WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER, Showalter directed the Academy Award-winning THE BIG SICK, which was sweetly saccharine compared to the acerbicness of his prior works.

Now, it looks like he’s returned to that same impish delight with THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE, a blistering takedown of TV evangelists. While these personalities are less known in Finland, they’re basically locusts across the pond, and their effect on American culture can’t be understated.

Starring Jessica Chastain and Andrew Garfield, this is one of my most anticipated films of the festival.


IKUISEEN RAUHAAN

Charting the life and unjust execution of Finnish war resister Arndt Pekurinen, this brave documentary dares to point the light at Finnish militarism and the ugly years after our civil war, where the winning side oppressively shaped the country into their own image. This is necessary, vital viewing.


JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH

One of my favorite films of the year, JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH is the perfect companion piece to MLK/FBI. Charting the assassination of Fred Hampton, this is an infuriating and deeply powerful examination of how the American system has treated minorities demanding equal rights.

Brilliantly led by a powerhouse acting duo in Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield, and directed with grace and eloquence by Shaka King, this is vital viewing for everyone, everywhere.


JUNK HEAD

Another passion project, again directed and completely built by one person. Telling the story of a far-off future built with junk, Takahide Hori has crafted an immaculate sci-fi epic that is more daring and visually inventive than dozens of others with hundreds of times the budget. This must be seen on the big screen!


MLK/FBI

Uncovering the mass conspiracy to discredit and harass Martin Luther King by the CIA, Sam Pollard‘s documentary focuses on the systemic oppression inherent to America that continues to this day. For those who already know about the true history behind this, it’s an important refresher. For those that don’t, it’s the most important documentary you’ll see all year.


PIG

Nicolas Cage is an important, interesting, and fearless actor. He might not always be in the best films, but he’s never uninteresting even in the bad ones. In PIG, he’s garnered some of the best reviews of his career, and it’s not a surprise why. This is a slow-burning, sensitive, and touching exploration of grief, led by his immaculate performace as a man who has lost it all – but refuses to succumb to his sorrow.

Go in with an open mind, and be prepared to be surprised.

Pig

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