Female directors proved their mettle amid the winter chill of the 41st International Film Festival Rotterdam, with debut features by women taking out all three Tiger Awards — coveted prizes to highlight emerging talents, especially from the developing world. Dominga Sotomayar from Chile for her beautifully lensed, understated relationship drama Thursday Till Sunday (De jueves a domingo) and China's Huang Ji for her visually poetic, challenging study of gender oppression Egg and Stone (Jidan Le Shitou) were two of the winners. The third was Serbia's Maja Milos for Clip (Klip), which also came away with the KNF Award of the Dutch film critics, and was the most controversial film of the section, dividing audiences with its disturbingly explicit and viscerally raw portrayal of a mobile generation of Serbian teens obsessed with sexual imagery.
The selection of 15 Tiger films was diverse indeed, from the traditional genre fare of Oskar Thor Axelsson's Icelandic crime thriller Black's Game (Svartur a leik), which Nicolas Winding Refn put his name to as executive producer, to the more formally daring yet derivative L of Babis Makridis, which echoed the by-now familiar style of his Greek compatriot Giorgos Lanthimos' Dogtooth (Kynodontas) and shared a co-writer. This year even featured the section's first 3D entry, A Fish (Mulgogi) from South Korea's Park Hong-Min, which didn't quite escape the traps of gimmickry.
Most impressive was FIPRESCI winner Neighbouring Sounds (O som ao redor), the feature debut of Brazil's Kleber Mendonca Filho. A startlingly unique and ambitious experiment with sound and space, it managed to capture the quietly creeping aura of paranoia and menace of a security-obsessed middle-class milieu into which private guards have been brought to keep watch over residents, and definitely signalled a new director to watch.
Outside the Tiger competition, in addition to the new work and festival-circuit favourites of the Bright Future and Spectrum sections, were some intelligently programmed side-panels. A Peter von Bagh retrospective offered a chance to see previously quite inaccessible, and only recently subtitled, work by the Finnish director, best-known for his vision of the capital Helsinki, ikuisesti (Helsinki, Forever), which is beautifully woven from archival footage.
Also of particular note was The Mouth of Garbage, a side-panel of rare, low-budget films made in Sao Paulo's seamy Boca de Lixo district during the military dictatorship, which resisted the political oppression of the time in fascinating ways. It included Joao Silverio Trevisan's Orgy (or: The Man Who Gave Birth) (Orgia (ou: O homem que deu cria)) and a double-bill of Jairo Ferreira's The Vampire of the Cinemateque (O vampiro da cinemateca) and The Insig Nificant (O insigne ficante). (Carmen Gray)
International Film Festival Rotterdam: www.iffr.com