Looking for balance

in International Film Festival Mannheim Heidelberg

by Natalia Serebriakova

The Mannheim-Heidelberg Film Festival is the oldest in Germany. This year, its brilliant competition program On the Rise included 16 films, all dramatic to varying degrees, which, in one way or another, surprised, touched, or made people think.


Animal (Sofia Exarchou)

This Greek film about a group of animators in an expensive hotel tells the story of Kaya, a middle-aged dancer who, since childhood, wanted to be like Madonna. The plot develops in the summer, the season when new animators arrive at the resort. Some are from Germany, some are from Kazakhstan, and one girl, Eva, is from Poland. Between grueling rehearsals and dazzling public performances, Kaya and Eva socialize, drink with colleagues, and relax after work. A friendship develops between the two women based on support and mutual understanding. One day, Kaya injures her leg, and every evening, it becomes more and more difficult for her to go on stage. She runs to a bar next door, where, pretending to be an ordinary tourist, she sings karaoke and meets the Austrian Jonas. This fleeting meeting changes her attitude towards her work. Director Sofia Exarchou worked on the script for a long time, thought through musical numbers, and painstakingly studied Eastern European languages ​​along with her actors, many of whom are professional dancers. The result is a very touching, bright story about the other side of the entertainment industry. Animal is a film about how artists give a piece of themselves to the audience every time they perform.


Bitten (Romain de Saint-Blanquat)

In the mid-60s in France, 17-year-old Francoise studies at a Catholic school for girls. One day, she wakes up in a cold sweat from a terrible nightmare – she dreams that she will die on this very day and burn in a fire, like Joan of Arc. She shares her dream with her friend, and they decide at all costs to run away to a party where there will be boys. Françoise wants to lose her virginity on her last day of life. A random fellow traveler, a man with a scar who served in Algeria, takes the girls to a country house for a party. At the party, everything does not go according to plan; a friend meets an attractive young man and leaves Françoise alone. A girl gets drunk alone and meets a vampire. This film, full of teenage adventures, talks a lot about fate and the signs it presents. The main character is a foolish girl who believes in dreams and predictions. However, in the end, she manages to overcome her fatal fate. The film has a lovely soundtrack of retro British pop songs and impressive costume design.


Dreaming & Dying (Nelson Yeo)

Three middle-aged people meet on the sea coast. These former classmates remember their school days together, full of pranks and adventures. Gradually, reality turns into a dream and fiction. This Singaporean director’s debut is like a cross between Hong Sang-soo’s conversation-filled films and Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s meditative films. The film features a talking fish, a mermaid man, and an unhappy love story with a tragic ending. This non-narrative story unfolds to the sounds of a dreamy soundtrack, filling the audience with melancholy.


An Endless Sunday (Alain Parroni)

Brenda and Alex are a couple of young people expecting a child. Together with his friend and companion Kevin, a graffiti artist, they explore Rome for entertainment. The carefree mood of this trio does not depend on the day of the week: it is always Sunday for them. However, when Alex gets a job and thinks about the future, this holiday of life ends. The film has stunning cinematography that will have audiences squeezing into their seats. An Endless Sunday is a relentless film about the lives of modern millennials left behind by social prospects.




Family Portrait (Lucy Kerr)

Katie’s extended family gathers at a villa in Texas, with her Polish boyfriend also visiting. For Barbara, Katie’s mother, the most important thing at this meeting is the creation of a family portrait. She gathers the family for breakfast, where the older daughters play with their small children, the husband discusses football, and Katie waits for the X hour – the promised photo. Suddenly, following the news that Cousin Katie has died, Barbara disappears. And no one seems to care. After a panic attack, only Katie goes into the forest to look for her mother. Director Lucy Kerr created her film inspired by the books of Edgar Allan Poe and the films of John Carpenter. Kerr is also passionate about Roland Barthes’s philosophy, which is reflected in some of the mise-en-scène and the general atmosphere of the film.


Hopeless (Kim Chang-hoon)

Yeon-gyu is a 17-year-old teenager who lives with his mother, half-sister, and stepfather in Seoul. His cruel stepfather often beats him, the guy (who are we talking about here? Yeon-gyu or the stepfather?) works part-time in a local cafe. Needing a large sum, Yeon-gyu turns to a young mafia boss and begins stealing motorcycles. Bloody and full of scenes of ultra-violence, the film by debutant Kim Chang-hoon is a kind of coming-of-age story, where the hero will commit more than one murder along the way. However, contrary to the film’s title, the ending is not without fragile hope.


In Flames (Zarrar Kahn)

Miriam lives with her mother and younger brother in a small Pakistani town. After her grandfather’s death, her manipulative uncle takes the family under his wing but expects an enormous reward. To escape from the gloomy family situation, Miriam increasingly goes out on dates with student Assad. But a serious accident happens, and this unsettles Miriam for a long time and takes away her desire to live. She becomes more and more close to her mother. Directed by Zarrar Kahn, the film is about how two generations of Pakistani women struggle with patriarchal pressure. The film won the festival’s top prize and was shot in the director’s hometown, who now lives in Canada.


Melk (Stefanie Kolk)

After the death of her child during childbirth, Robin is depressed. Not only does she suffer, but also her husband. The real test for Robin’s body is the large amount of milk in her breasts, which keeps producing despite the death of the child. A woman expresses milk and goes to a support group for mothers whose babies need breast milk. However, this is a whole bureaucratic story that slows down the process of Robin’s release. At the same time, the woman begins to attend silent walks in the forest with a group of random companions. Walking has a therapeutic effect. The film touches on postpartum depression, a significant social problem, and is shot in a minimalist style.


Mimang (Kim Taeyang)

The works of her teacher primarily inspire the film by Hong Sang-soo student Kim Taeyang. Thus, the picture has a three-part structure, during which different pairs of men and women walk together in Seoul. In one case, they were former classmates; in another, they lived together at the university. With its architectural monuments, the urbanized city acts as a silent witness to these walks. The film’s light, calm, measured pace is diluted with casual dialogues – about nothing and everything, just like in life.


The Red Suitcase (Fidel Devkota)

The Red Suitcase is a minimalist road movie set in Bangladesh. The trailer driver carries cargo in the trunk, to which a red suitcase is attached. On his way, the driver meets a ghostly villager with whom he spends the night talking. When he delivers the cargo to its destination, a real tragedy unfolds. The meditative film touches on the history and traditions of a country where European viewers know so little.


Riverbed (Bassem Breche)

Salma is an older woman who lives in Lebanon. She has a regular daily routine during which she takes care of herself, drinks coffee alone, and works from home. But she has a secret – meetings with her influential neighbor. One day, this routine is interrupted by the sudden arrival of an adult daughter, who reports that she is divorced. Now, the two women have to establish communication; the once interrupted thread must be woven again. The film has much in common with the winner of the festival In Flames because it also tells the story of women’s confrontation with the patriarchal way of life in Lebanon.

The Sweet East (Sean Price Williams)

The film’s heroine, a young girl called Lillian, meets her classmate and experiences jealousy towards him. She is on a tour of American cities with her class. One day, there is a shooting incident at the bar, and Lillian seems to fall the rabbit hole, like Alice in Wonderland. She decides to disappear from her past life and travel alone across America. On her way, she meets different people – cheeky punks, Nabokov’s fascist professor, directors, producers, and a big movie star with whom she falls in love. The beauty of this film, written by renowned film critic Nick Pinkerton, is the ease with which Lillian moves through life. This is a girl who any difficulties cannot break; she, like America itself, is always searching for adventure and a better life.


Touched (Claudia Rorarius)

Maria works as a nurse in a hospital. She is overweight but enjoys dancing and singing karaoke. One day, she is introduced to a new patient – Alex. After a fight, Alex’s legs gave out, and he is now confined to a wheelchair. On Maria’s first day of work, Alex attempts suicide. But Maria is full of care and patience, and she also has an unusual approach to work – she liberates the patient with the help of sexual practices. Maria falls in love with Alex, and he becomes attached to his nurse. Without her, he is literally without legs. The film is full of sex scenes and sometimes borders on provocative and exploitative. The director based it on her book.


Upon Entry (Alejandro Rojas, Juan Sebastian Vasquez)

Upon Entry is a film by a couple of Venezuelan directors, which they shot based on stories from friends and acquaintances. The plot centers entirely on the airport as a common-law couple attempts to cross the border into the United States. She is Spanish; he is Venezuelan. After going through numerous and psychologically difficult interrogations at the border control, this couple discovers that they do not know everything about each other. And this is the actual test. The film touches on issues of human freedom in a democratic society and is a critical remark on the politics of America in the Trump era.


Where The Wind Blows (Marco Righi)

The film’s plot takes place in a small village in the Apennines. The main character, Marco, attends church daily, works on his deceased father’s farm, and occasionally dates his girlfriend. One day, he meets a neighboring farmer and decides to devote himself to converting him to religion. But for Marco, this is only the beginning of a mystical path that will take him far. The film immerses viewers in a meditative observation of rural life and fills it with religious reflections.


Without Air (Katalin Moldovai) 

Ana is a popular literature teacher with liberal views in a Hungarian school. One day, for her students to better understand the poetry of Arthur Rimbaud, she advises them to watch a Hollywood film about the poet: Agnieszka Holland’s movie Total Eclipse about Rimbaud’s relationship with Paul Verlaine. The homosexual theme in the movie irritates the father of one of the students. He writes a complaint to the school; the scandal grows like a snowball on the threshold of the school celebrating its anniversary. Catalina Moldova’s film has a tragic ending and touches on important issues of modern education in a liberal society.  


Natalia Serebriakova
Edited by Anne-Christine Loranger