Son of Saul (Laszlo Nemes, Hungary, 2015)
In Auschwitz, a Kapo (a prisoner with privileges) wants to give a proper (but forbidden) religious burial as a means for redemption. In the process he’s putting his life and the lives of others in danger of being shot on the spot.
This is simply one of the greatest debut films by any director. One of the great tour de force of Laszlo Nemes film lies with his choice to use an aspect ratio of 1.37:1 (most typical with old TV sets) and to follow its main character very closely while he is surrounded by a daily Hell. This allows Nemes, using real time long shots, to show just a hint of the constant violence surrounding Saul. At one point, not seeing the whole thing, while feeling it is there, becomes even more unbearable.
As the main character, Géza Rorhig’s acting is extremely convincing. The same can be said of the whole cast. You do believe they are all surrounded by death and fighting any way they can to prolong their existence a little more. The overall feeling is one of urgency and claustrophobia creating a necessary discomfort. This is an amazing piece of filmmaking.
Academy Award Nominee for Best Foreign Language Film 2016.
Aferim (Radu Jude, Romania, 2015)
In 19th Century Romania, two lawmen are on the trail of an escaped Gypsy-slave. With its sharply written dialogues and gorgeous black and white photography, Aferim has reminiscence of great classic eastern cinema of the 60’s.
Revenant (Alejandro Gonzales Innaritu, US, 2015)
The camerawork by Emmanuel Lubezki and constant dark violent climax is highly effective in this tale of 19th century American frontiersman’s revenge on the people who left him for dead. This would-be-western leaves you with the feeling you’re undergoing the kind of hell some of these adventurers lived in.
Tale of Tales (Matteo Garrone, Italy, 2015)
For once, an uncommon fairy tale. Facing expectations is the reason why this enchanting film seemed to fail at the box office and in competition in Cannes… Adapting three strange tales by Italian poet Giambattista Basile, Garrone crosses sometimes a line of unexpected violence where people usually search for childlike fables of morality, safe for their children. On the other end, he’s not as dark and freely provocative as some could expect. Being in the middle of both worlds is exactly what makes this film appealing. With Tale of Tales the line between good and evil is thin. There is also a way with Garrone to edit his films where he keeps from bounding together the various short stories (as he did in GOMMORAH) that may also be a problem for a general audience, but that’s his signature. Though the acting is uneven (due to strange international casting), the general look and feel is an achievement.
Taxi (Jafar Panahi, Iran, 2015)
For various political reasons, it’s forbidden for Panahi to make films nowadays and he could go back straight to jail for doing so. Then he decided to become a taxi driver… the car being filled with GoPro Cams allowing him to interact with people and pursuing his work of showing his contemporaries. A jewel of simplicity and commitment.
LeTout Nouveau Testament (Jaco Van Dormael, Belgium, 2015)
To avenge humiliation by her father, God’s daughter releases the dying dates of all humans for everyone to see. This film goes from being silly to profoundly beautiful effortlessly while being accessible. The stuff which makes it a magical picture.
Youth (Paolo Sorrentino, italy, 2015)
A semi-retired composer must face a big decision, regarding an offer difficult to refuse, in this beautiful film. In a world that praises shaky-hand-held camera over carefully shot films, it’s good to still get directors like Sorrentino who know how to create images and that is what makes this film work. Plus Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel age so well, they are simply delicious.