Céline Sciamma’s Girlhood explores the presence of ‘attempting to fit in’ amongst her youthful contemporaries. Marieme, the main character, meets a group of three girls who introduce her to their gang. It is within the group where Marieme becomes liberated by a fresh sense of identity and belonging, as she further strives to understand herself and the world around her.
Sciamma succeeded in showing a true reflection of today’s society and the constant desire to be a part of a movement, offering a vivid representation of gangs and the culture ingrained within them. It's a fatuous comparison, but it's a lot like a very, very, very intense version of Mean Girls - but don't let that put you off.
Poland’s submission to the 87th Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film once again follows a plot surrounding communistic era in Eastern Europe. This time, however, it might have a chance to go one further, and finally win the award. Pawel Pawlikowski takes his audience on the melodramatic journey of a novice nun Anna and her aunt Wanda to find her parents’ resting place. That’s a very generic description, but the beauty of this film lies within the magnificence of the central performances.
Ida is a black and white film, so that automatically gives it a sense of importance and legitimacy, right? That quirk worked for The Artist, which swept the board out of nowhere in 2011. Both actresses show how it is possible to fill a mere 80 minutes of screentime with meaningful performances in a thoughtful, intelligent and moving way.
Silence is almost a supporting actor in Ida and if it had a chance to be nominated for an award, it probably would. Silence cloaks and swamps the film, giving Ida a haunting, bleak aesthetic. Plus, if you hate subtitles, you're sorted.
Winter Sleep (Turkey)
Winter Sleep is the story of a former actor who owns a mountaintop hotel, and - as the film progresses - the increasing hatred of the local people towards him. The supremacy of this drama film lies within the dichotomy between abhorrence and decency, between morality and reputation.
For anyone who likes to over-analyse any visual production, it could be seen as an alternative way of exploring contemporary fame and the importance of so-called popularity in order to survive. The script, written by Nuri Bilge & Ebru Ceylan, uncovers finely structured conversations filled with intellectual examples of how the society operates in collapsing social and cultural standards.
In the middle of all the controversies surrounding Russia - what with the conflict with Ukraine, and every other country supporting the former Soviet Republic - it is refreshing to have something less negative and more creative come out of the land of Tsars. The film itself, directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev, doesn’t necessarily show a new angle to issues in Russia, but rather accurately takes on the fundamental issue damaging everyday Russians; exploitation.
It shows a story of an ordinary family who are constantly interfered with by a corrupt mayor (played by Roman Madyanov). Although it focuses only on one small microcosmic aspect of Russian culture, it demonstrates a much bigger issue without becoming 'anti-Russian'. That being said, however, Zvyagintsev manages to draw a bigger picture of the “most important social issues of contemporary Russia” in Leviathan, producing a hidden gem of a film that is both enjoyable, and culturally pertinent.
Class Enemy (Slovenia)
Class Enemy looks at the cultural gap between students and teachers in Slovenian schools, through an incredibly dark and challenging plotline. Class Enemy uses the example of a high school student committing suicide, follwing cold-hearted criticism from his German teacher. This provokes rebellion amongst the students, who in turn castigate the teacher, labelling him a Nazi, and revolting with the same vociferous energy behind the teacher's original abuse.
Class Enemy - much like Ida - also uses silence and incidental music to devastating effect, driving the tension in this film to a frenzied fever pitch. Rok Bicek looks at the issue of teaching practices in Eastern Europe being retrograde and stuck in 20th century. Through the use of melodrama and the aforementioned tension, Bicek produces an unflinchingly troubling portrayal of violence, tragedy and isolation; a powerful piece of cinema.