David Cuevas concludes his International Film Festival of Rotterdam 2021 coverage with a selection of hotly anticipated capsule reviews. 

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Editor’s Note: The following article is a newly revised version of our ‘Righteousness at Rotterdam’ article, which was featured in our April/May magazine issue. For those interested in reading the original version, you can purchase the issue at the following link

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With this year’s historic IFFR festival officially at a close, now seems like an appropriate time to highlight some notable selection titles. It is the 50th anniversary after all; a grand time for festivities that deserve all of its credit where credit is due. Combining unique genre fare, a-lister content, and unique independent experimentation, Rotterdam continued to deliver a grade-A program of hidden gems as per usual. So, without further ado, here a couple of capsule reviews from this year’s IFFR 2021 festival  in alphabetical order: 

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Archipel

After his contemplative Québec-Referendum piece Ville Neuve, Québecois director Félix Dufour-Laperrière returns with the sensual, dreamlike, and soothing animated feature Archipel. A film that invokes a feeling of uneasy homesickness, Dufour-Laperrière cleverly integrates different mediums and art forms to tell the lengthy history of the thousands of islands that embody the Saint Lawrence River. It’s a uniquely Canadian film  — produced with a talented crew of animators and the provincial support from the National Film Board of Canada and other government sources. If anything, Archipel is further proof that Canada is continuing their fight for animated independent content, and their legacy of consistent critical acclaim through these low-budget productions. 

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Drifting

Inspired by a true 2012 event of a group of homeless men and women who decided to sue their local government for an unjust and violent clearance, Jun Li’s Drifting is a poignantly powerful piece of social realism. It’s a meditative film that glides through the interconnected lives of numerous homeless people and their recovery from substance abuse. Never bordering on exploitative poverty porn, Li’s mature and determined direction ends on a heart-breaking high note. It’s a film that contains plenty of empathy and heart — a human feature that will devastate audiences once the credits finally role. 

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Fan Girl

Shot in a claustrophobic 4:3 aspect ratio, Antoinette Jadaone’s eerie cautionary tale regarding the downfalls of idolisation often finds itself in various tricky moral and ethical conflicts. The end product of Fan Girl is a gripping and moving coming-of-age character study that consistently delivers on its promise of biting social commentary and even the occasional moment of emotional devastation. 

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Feast

Another film based on a staggering legal case, director Tim Leyendekker attempts to make rational sense of the infamous Groningen HIV case. His debut feature Feast takes an objective approach at humanitarian ethics and different points of views from this scandalous event. Divided into seven unique parts that blend fiction and real-interview footage, Feast is a brilliantly authentic and provoking film that never shies away from asking heavy questions. It’s a film that many will consider scandalous and blasphemous. But for my money, as a work that specifically contemplates reality and toys with concepts of justice and social responsibility, Feast is a staggering achievement in its discussions on politics and consent.  

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Friends and Strangers

Humorously satirising privilege against a backdrop of post-colonialist normality, James Vaughan’s acutely humorous Friends & Strangers is bound to be divisive upon its official release. A film that many will consider as meandering and pointless, Vaughan cleverly incorporates motifs of fate, interconnectivity, and the aforementioned everyday normality to convey a rigorous social commentary on the ignorance of Australia’s colonist past. Occasionally slight in its more dense moments, Friends and Strangers still manages to make due with its clever concept and cast of quirky characters. 

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Gritt

Itonje Søimer Guttormsen work on Gritt is a pompous tragedy divided into five satirical parts. An insightful character study on the spiralling dissatisfaction of aspiring theatre-director Gritt Dahl, Guttormsen cleverly empathises and mocks her subject with thematic interplay on privilege, class, and her own self-destructive mindset within the pretentiousness of contemporary performance art. The film is disorienting, dense, and lengthy but always satisfying with each twisty reveal. Bordering on near cinematic unhinged sociopathy, Gritt is an expertly crafted film about the cycles of failure and the process of coping with these aforementioned acts of disappointment. 

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Homeless

Relatively compelling in its unfiltered look at everyday normalcy, gig work, and the trials and tribulations of a struggling young family, Lim Seung-hyeun’s Homeless is an effective work of social realism. Comparisons between Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite are ultimately inevitable when contrasting both narratives and location-ploys. However, even with the glaring similarities, Homeless still presents a refreshing cinematic depiction with an engaging central perspective at its core. 

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Riders of Justice

As the official opening night feature at this year’s 50th IFFR edition, the fifth feature-film collaboration between director Anders Thomas Jensen and international sweetheart Mads Mikkelsen may just be one of the most bombastic films to ever open the renowned festival. Riders of Justice is a consistently unfiltered feature that weaves commentary on the cycles of grief and accountability with brisk humour and pace. Jensen also manages to find a perfect comedic sweet spot in a dramatic film all about domestic terrorism. It’s a hard feat to accomplish without referencing or even exploiting insensitive material, but a remarkable achievement in & of itself. 

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Time

For a hitman narrative mixed in with a biting critique on the benefits of assisted suicide, Ricky Ko’s Time is a surprisingly conventional comedy. For all of its scenes that feature occasional moments of raw poignancy, the film unfortunately returns back to its buddy-comedy routes in various unexpected moments. The end result is a film that is frequently messy and oftentimes distasteful, as it narrowly misses the mark in creating a work of art that is equal parts heartbreaking and humorous. 

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The Blue Danube

One of my favourite films from this year’s IFFR edition, The Blue Danube is a refreshing deadpan comedy about the rise of fascism and authoritarianism; set during a heated war state. Frequently compelling and consistently hilarious, the end result is a gentle anti-war fable with a heart of gold. Ikeda Akira’s direction may seem cold and emotionally distant on paper — yet regardless of the flat archetypes, there is a consistent beating soul at the core of The Blue Danube. 

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The 50th Anniversary of this year’s International Film Festival Of Rotterdam ran from February 1st-7th & June 2nd-6th

 

 

By David Cuevas

David Cuevas is a writer, reporter, and the official festivals editor (US/Canada) for FilmHounds Magazine. In his spare time, you can find him watching a bunch of movies while contemplating on his own existence.

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