Ah, the International Film Festival Rotterdam. It has something magical to it. The tiger logo is projected everywhere, the beautiful theatres in town catch your attention more than ever, and it’s buzzing with foreign languages even more than usual… When the programme was released, I was a bit overwhelmed by the enormous amount of movies, but determined to make myself a itinerary. I decided to buy a Tiger Discount subscription and go to as many movies as I can. In the end I managed to go to five. Here’s where I went.
1. Good Manners
This Brazilian movie was a great start. I guess the genre would be horror, and it was a bit creepy at times, but definitely pleasantly doable. First of all I have to mention that the entire movie was like music to my ears. Portuguese is just so beautiful to listen to!
Good Manners is about Clara, a woman who applies to become a nanny for a wealthy pregnant lady. Ana lives on her own in a beautiful apartment in São Paulo and needs help right away. Clara does not really have experience in taking care of babies, but something about her makes Ana decide to hire her. Although things are a bit awkward at first, Clara and Ana become very close. At some point, Clara notices a pattern in Ana’s nightly behaviour: whenever it’s a full moon, Ana sleepwalks and leaves the house. Clara follows her one night and can hardly believe what she saw.
One night Clara leaves for a quick visit to the grocery store, leaving Ana alone for just a little while. Ana starts getting terrible pains – her baby is restless and violently moves in her belly. When Clara returns, she finds Ana dead in her bed, her stomach ripped open, and a strange hairy creature grunting on the floor. The scene where it rips out of Ana’s body made the audience giggle and I think I was not the only one surprised to find out this was actually a werewolf horror movie. It takes just a little bit of effort to keep an open mind and ignore how unrealistic it was (and how they made the baby werewolf look).
Clara is determined to get rid of the little beast, but when she turns around to leave him somewhere in the bushes, something stops her. Perhaps it was her love and grief for Ana, who knows, but she decides to take care of the baby.
The movie fast forwards to when the werewolf baby is a young boy, Joel, going to school, making friends, trying to fit in. The rest of the movie follows Joel and Clara dealing with each full moon and making sure he does not get out of control. As you can imagine, life for Joel is hard; he is ‘sick’ every month, which keeps him from participating in activities he would love to experience with his friends. At one point, he is sick of having to skip on fun events, and does not come home. He did not realise it would be a full moon that night.
2. Nervous Translation
Okay… Yes… Well… What can I say. It started out as something exciting for me. Being half Filipino myself, I had to go to at least one of the Philippine movies scheduled during IFFR. And so I went to Nervous Translation on a Friday afternoon. I did not realise that there would be a Q&A, but two people were there, all the way from the Philippines, to answer audience questions after the movie. And I thought: that’s so cool. I must stay for that.
But then the movie started and… I don’t know. It was just a really bad experience for me. Nothing really happened. Especially in the beginning everything I was seeing seemed so random. Maybe I’m slow and I missed all the hints, but it took me a long time to understand what I was looking at, and I guess you could say the meaning behind the movie is quite beautiful, but it was just not portrayed in an interesting way.
It was so bad that after an hour I decided that I could not take any more. Five people had already left before me, and I was still debating whether or not it would be OK to leave when those two people came all the way to Rotterdam to show this movie and do a Q&A after. I kept wondering, why did they not give a proper introduction to the movie, so it would be possible for people to place all those seemingly random scenes? I decided to leave and spent the rest of the afternoon shopping and spending too much money on shampoos.
If you want to know what the movie was about, here’s a review that gave it 4/5 stars…
3. The Return
The Return was a very interesting Danish/South-Korean movie. It follows two South-Korean young adults who were adopted and grew up in Denmark. They visit Seoul for the first time and stay in a place where other adoptees go on a similar journey to find their birth parents.
When Karoline starts her search for hers, she meets with a lady who did research for her based on the little information Karoline had on her mother. Not speaking any Korean, Karoline depends not the help from such organisations and locals to guide her through this search. When nothing at all comes out of the meeting, Thomas encourages her to go back there and put some pressure on it. In his experience, you can easily get lied to by these organisations and really have to stand your ground and continue to ask questions if you want your search to go anywhere.
From that moment on, Karoline and Thomas continue their journey together and support each other through various stages of their search. They talk to people in similar situations, and recognise themselves in the emotional stories about identity and belonging.
The film really feels like a mix of a movie and a documentary, which makes it very interesting and real.
This Japanse movie was a joy to watch. It had something incredibly sweet and poetic. Radiance (Hikari in Japanese) is about Misako, a passionate writer who writes descriptions for movies that get a version for the visually impaired.
Misako meets with a panel of visually impaired people regularly to ‘show’ her progress. The movie is played on a big screen, and you hear Misako’s voice-over describing what is seen in the movie. The movie is paused every now and then to let the panel members respond. Misako rewrites her texts based on their feedback, which sometimes can be very critical. Especially Masaya Nakamori, a photographer who is slowly losing his eyesight, can be very hurtful when giving his opinion on how she described the movie.
Misako continues to perfect her writing and does her best to impress the panel members, especially Mr. Nakamori. But no matter how much attention she pays to his specific feedback, he is never satisfied with her work.
Meanwhile, Mr. Nakamori is increasingly struggling with the loss of his eyesight. He used to be a famous photographer and is still fiercely longing to create more, but his talent is becoming more ‘useless’ as his eyesight gets worse. It is heartbreaking to think about his loss.
Misako is worried about Mr. Nakamori, and gets to know him a bit better when she visits him a few times. She is very impressed with his work and is inspired when she finds a specific photograph he took of a landscape. When she asks him to take her to that place, they appreciate each other more and more.
Like I mentioned before, I had to go see a Filipino movie at least once. Neomanila was the second one and this one promised to be a lot better than my earlier experience. For this specific movie I invited my parents to join. It was very interesting to see my mom watch a Filipino movie in a Dutch theatre – that never happens. She knew the lead actress from when she was still a little girl. Cute, right?
Neomanila is a thriller about the situation in Manila with President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. Toto is a teenager struggling as an orphan. His brother is in jail and he wants to help to bail him out. This connection with his criminal brother gets Toto involved in a notorious squad who assassinate people on request of their boss. These victims are all related to drugs one way or another (“Victims, suspects — they’re all the same“).
The leader of this group is Irma, who knew Toto’s mother and feels obliged to basically help Toto survive in Manila. She gives him shelter and food, and takes him along on a few assignments as he wants to earn some money for his brother. Toto is a good guy and has a hard time being a criminal and holding a gun, but his situation forces him to do things he wished he didn’t have to.
After the movie my mom explicitly told me I was not to visit Manila in the next few years. Got it, mom.