Cinema is quickly becoming one of my most favourite media. Yes, I read a lot of books, and I watch a lot of TV shows and a lot of YouTube channels, but films have slowly started to increasingly interest me as a story form. A whole idea, style and story are bundled up into 1.5-3 hours, and they’re (usually) presented as a feast for all the senses.
Within the first 24 hours of moving to Luxembourg, I visited one of the cinemas in the city, and watched a film (in English!). It was delightfully calming to be in a dark room, in this strange foreign country, watching a film – I could have been anywhere, and that thought was very soothing. Then, between 26 February and 8 March, the city hosted the Luxembourg City Film Festival, and my boyfriend and I purchased two festival passes (a steal at 20EUR each), and watched a total of 14 (FOURTEEN) films during the entire festival. It was possibly quite the overdose of films, but overall great fun. I was quite surprised by the final awards (although I only saw two of the films that won an award), but I thought I’d give you a quick review of my thoughts regarding the entire festival, as well as each of the films I watched.
Best cinema: I watched films at both the Cinémathèque and Ciné Utopia, but the latter will always be my favourite (even if the former does have quite a bit of its own charm).
Best snacks: I still can’t understand how some cinemas don’t have popcorn (it’s probably that darn Americanisation my mind has absorbed over the years…), but it was glorious to munch on a giant pretzel at the Cinémathèque, and a pomegranate and cranberry soft drink or a white chocolate milk shake and a hot quiche at Ciné Utopia. One of the most upsetting moments of the festival for me was probably when the person at the snacks station at Ciné Utopia looked at me pleadingly when I asked her for a white chocolate milkshake, and then suggesting that I don’t order it, clearly because she didn’t feel like making one. It broke my little heart. Then, later on, my boyfriend managed to get TWO white chocolate milkshakes (from the other person at the snacks station) – so that was a mini-victory right there.
Female protagonists: EVERYWHERE. I loved this. I’m having a real “moment” with female protagonists lately, especially in my books, TV shows, and films, so this recurring feature was very pleasing to me.
Read more about the films I watched below:
Das Zimmermädchen Lynn: (Germany, 2014 / 98 min / German with English subt. / Drama) This was the first film we watched, and a firm favourite. Lynn is a chambermaid, she has OCD, and is such a special character as a film protagonist. The film delved into themes such as identity, mental health, sex work, and voyeurism, and there’s even a kitten and a (sort of?) dream sequence in there. Loved it. Maaaaybe don’t watch it with your parents. (Although these are mostly European films, so of course you wouldn’t be watching them with your parents.) What was really special was that there was a Q&A session with the director of the film afterwards, and it was so insightful to hear about some behind-the-scenes tidbits of information. The main actor (who is Luxembourgish) was also supposed to be present, but she had just given birth(!) to a child, so couldn’t make it.
Blind: (Norway, 2014 / 96 min / Norwegian with French and Dutch subt. / Drama) As you can see, we saw this film through French subtitles, and that made it a little hard to follow sometimes, especially since I’m sure I would have had a problem following the progression of the story(ies) even if it had been in super-clear English. A woman has just lost her sight, and the film impeccably puts forward an artistic interpretation of her blindness and her struggles with it. She writes stories and fantasises about her neighbours, and this goes in (very.very.very.) weird and (sometimes) wonderful directions. There’s quite a large amount of (very) hardcore pornography in this one, which made my little Maltese eyes open a little wider than usual, but the whole film was truly magnificent, and I’d love to watch it again (with English subtitles, this time).
Dear White People: (USA, 2014 / 108 min / English with French and Dutch subt. / Comedy) This was a film I had actually heard about months ago, and had seen its trailer and thought, “Meh”. I enjoyed this film, however, even though it wasn’t as punchy as I might have liked it to be. The angry feminist in me was very passionate about how race relations were portrayed in this film (I was drawing parallels in my head throughout), and while I wasn’t thinking “YES” with every scene, I’m glad I watched it. The film is about a university student who runs a radio show called “Dear White People” and is newly-elected as the head of her residence hall, which is predominantly black. There’s an “unleash your inner Negro”-themed party about to take place, which creates quite a bit of havoc. My favourite characters were Sam (the protagonist – she was so kick-ass,) and the gay black guy who starts writing for a college newspaper.
The Lesson: (Bulgaria, Greece, 2014 / 105 min / Bulgarian with english subt. / Drama) This won the Grand Prize! It was a very good film, so I can understand why it won, even though it wasn’t my favourite. The protagonist is an English teacher (it’s so adorable how she teaches with her heavy accent), and she has a lot of money troubles (the bank is about to seize her house), and also wants to teach her students about how wrong it is to steal. It’s very angst-inducing, and this is done very well. The film had a slightly clumsy feeling to it, in my opinion, which only added to the atmosphere of this woman trying to scrape together any possibility of survival for her family (mostly herself and her child, her partner is clearly an unwitting idiot). Very glad to have seen this, and the actors were present for a Q&A after the film, which we super-sadly had to miss, because the following film was about to start (damn it!).
The Look of Silence: (Denmark, 2014 / 103 min / Indonesian and Japanese with English subt. / Documentary) I must admit, I didn’t enjoy this as much as I thought I would, although Joshua Oppenheimer clearly knows how to make beautiful films. His style of making documentaries, however, is not my favourite. Nevertheless, I would have never known this much about genocide in Indonesia had it not been for him, so I guess his documentaries are doing their job. This documentary shows the superb beauty of Indonesia while speaking to a family of survivors who had lost their son (in a gruesomely horrid way) in the genocide. My favourite parts of the whole documentary were the ones in which the mother is shown – she is such an amazing woman, with such wisdom and hilarity to offer. While I wasn’t too satisfied with the documentary solely focusing on this one family (I would have liked to have seen other stories and perspectives), my boyfriend feels that it gave the documentary more focus, and brought out the stories and the pain in a more acute way. Overall, this film made me uncomfortable to know that unimaginably horrendous people (people? Not people: all men.) are still in power in such a nation-state.
While We’re Young: (USA, 2014 / 94 min / English / Comedy) This was a highly entertaining, “light” film, with your usual Hollywood movie stars, predictable story arc, and a final act which made me want to take a nap. The story involves a middle-aged couple who start hanging out with a twenty-something couple, and hilarity ensues (or is supposed to) (although it sometimes did, quite effectively). I enjoyed it more than I thought I would, and Amanda Seyfried was stunningly brilliant, but Naomi Watts and Ben Stiller were a bit too vanilla. Adam Driver was (as always) very interesting to watch, and the first half of the film was very enjoyable and sometimes quite thought-provoking (and you didn’t need to use much of your brain to watch it), but then the second half was a bit of a snooze-fest for me. It was fine, but: “meh”.
The Joe Show: (USA, 2014 / 101 min / English with French subt. / Documentary) Oh dear. Oh dear. I didn’t enjoy this so much. It was entertaining, mind you, and I was fine with watching it all the way through, but the bottom line is that I am just not too interested in an old white male politician’s career, in which he uses fear and money (which is not his to use for certain purposes) to gain more power, and to exert his questionable policies. Perhaps that was the point of this documentary: to make me dislike sheriff Joe Arpaio. Well, it worked. I was still under a Stockholm-Syndrome-esque trance that made me hope that he’d win the elections as the years went on, but the man is just the personification of unlikeability to me. Also, the way the documentary was presented felt very 1990s – it sometimes felt like a Cheaters episode. Just: no, thank you.
Test: (Russia, 2015 / 96 min / without words / Drama) I wasn’t keen on watching this one. It doesn’t have any spoken words in it, and that sounded to me like some silent film which would drag on for hours without any resolution. HOWEVER. This film was absolutely stunning. The story was thought-provoking (a girl lives with her father in the steppe, and she is courted by two men, until several sad things occur), but the true star of this film (apart from the wonderful, wonderful performance by the protagonist (she was impeccable)) was the director’s handling of landscape shots. This film’s composition blew my mind. I had never, ever seen such strange landscapes or such beauty. The use of widescreen aspect-ratio meant that anyone who would be looking at the screen would find it impossible to look away. The treatment of gender in this film had me pursing my lips a few times, but the entirety of the film was simply a masterpiece. We even participated in a Q&A with the (very) Russian director and one of the actors, and it was very enlightening to hear how the film came about and why certain choices were made. (To tell you the truth, I was very surprised by the fact that this didn’t win the critics’ award.)
A Blast: (Greece, Germany, Netherlands, 2014 / 83 min / Greek with English subt. / Drama) This was a very Greek film. It was an interesting story, and a worthy film, but there were some aspects which didn’t sit well with me, so I wasn’t too keen on it at the end of the day. The film dealt with a woman who was married, had three children, and had been facing several problems in contemporary Greece. She has now decided to run away from everything. The film goes into her reasons for this, and her journey towards this. There was some more hardcore porn in this one, but less than in Blind, and a little confusingly placed, but I won’t spoil the circumstances in which this was presented. The majority of the film’s portrayal of sex was also quite extensive and very interesting (mostly good – better than your regular Hollywood movie/TV show). The family dynamics in this film, however, were what really bothered me. There was a lot of shouting (a bad directing choice, in my opinion), and a lot of physical violence in the family scenes. When we asked the director, producer, and main actor about this after the film (they were present for a Q&A), they became quite defensive and insisted that all families have a lot of physical violence in their daily lives with each other (Well, I don’t agree.) and that the violence in the film was an externalisation of the characters’ inner state.
Rocks in my Pockets: (USA, Latvia, 2014 / 88 min / English with French subt. / Animation) My absolute favourite. This was a very quirky film – completely animated (with some stop-motion) and entirely narrated by the protagonist and creator of the film, on whom it is based. I adored this film – it followed the life of a Latvian woman, her family, and her journey through life with mental health problems. Towards the end I (almost violently) burst into tears; it touched me deeply, at my core. The animation was superb, and the story and narration were highly gripping – it’s the sort of film where you’re going to be laughing loudly and crying heartily. I highly, highly recommend it, and have already bought the DVD for a friend (I kind of wish that I could buy a copy for all my friends and family, and even random acquaintances, but anyway). This was my top film of the Luxembourg City film festival.
Melody: (Belgium, Luxembourg, France, 2014 / 94 min / English and French with English and French subt. / Fiction) This was an excellent film, but I only managed to catch the last 30 or so minutes of it, because President Hollande of France was visiting the capital, and my bus spent an hour crawling at a snail’s pace through traffic, until it got orders to just abandon the route entirely. I then proceeded to get (stupidly) lost in the city centre, until I finally made it to the cinema, decided it was too late to go in, sat down and started playing Sudoku on a newspaper, and then decided to just go in and watch the last bit of the film anyway. But: the part I saw of the film was very beautiful, and my boyfriend (who managed to see the whole thing) reports that it was truly excellent (he said: “I could find no fault in it”). I certainly need to watch it from the very beginning, because I’d love to appreciate the whole thing. The story is about a young woman who agrees to be a surrogate for an older woman, and it’s all about motherhood and responsibility and beautiful seaside spots.
Three Windows and a Hanging: (Kosovo, Germany, 2014 / 94 min / Albanian, Serbian with English subt. / Drama) This is where things get a little dodgy. This film won the critics’ award. I heavily disliked this film. Heavily. It made me feel very uncomfortable (which has prompted my boyfriend to suggest that that might have meant that it fulfilled its objective… perhaps, but I’m not so sure), and I was not pleased at all with how certain things were dealt with and which voices were the most heard voices in the film. It is about a hate campaign in a village in Kosovo in which four women had been raped, and this hate campaign is launched against the village teacher (who was one of the women who had been raped) because she spoke to a journalist about the incident. It spoke about very important topics (that are very close to my heart, such as violence against women), but it just left a very bitter taste in my mouth. The bottom line for me is that for a film that purports to highlight “the culture of silence”, it seemed to be very comfortable to only minimally hear the voices of the women and the victims. This film’s depictions of these horrendous things made me angry. Maybe that was its only point.
Refugiado: (Argentina, Colombia, France, Poland, 2014 / 95 min / Spanish with French subt. / Drama) This was another film which we had to follow through French subtitles, but I had almost no problem whatsoever with understanding this film – the language was very straightforward (I understood almost everything!), and the plot was easy to follow. In this film, a pregnant woman is escaping her abusive partner with her young son. It was a good film, not too exciting though, so I would not recommend it over some other films in this selection.
52 Tuesdays: (Australia, 2013 / 109 min / Original English version with French and Dutch subtitles / Drama) I loved this Australian film. It was the very first film from the entire selection that had caught my eye, and ended up being the very last film that we watched. A teenager’s mother tells her that she is going to transition from female to male, and that the teenager should live with her (biological) father for a year, but they’ll keep on meeting every Tuesday. The teenager is going through some growing-up and change of her own throughout this year, and it was a very touching film about exploring new things and all the struggles that life might throw at you. It was actually filmed on Tuesdays over the course of a year, and you can actually see the cast changing as the months roll on. I simply adored the teenage protagonist, and also had some serious hair envy.
Sad to have missed: There were a few films that we missed, that I really wanted to see! I’ll hopefully get around to doing that somehow, soon. These included: Toto and His Sisters (this won the documentary prize), Taxi (this won the audience award), Big Eyes (Tim Burton!), Dora or the Sexual Neuroses of our Parents (seems like a fantastic film that includes themes regarding mental illness), I am Femen (very intriguing and interesting to me), The Supreme Price (a UN documentary about Nigerian women), and maybe War of Lies (about the Iraqi refugee who had told the lie about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq).