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Wednesday 26 January

Openingsfilm: Essential Killing, 4, Jerzy Skolimowski, Based on a newspaper article, this almost entirely silent thriller concerns an Afghan captured by US forces and transported to an anonymous European country. He manages to escape but has to survive the harsh winter landscape. I liked this movie for the great landscapes and the original theme. It deserved a better story and ending however.

Thursday 27 January

Invierno de los raros, 3, Rodrigo Guerrero, In the cold and damp winter in the heart of the Argentine outback, far from the bustle of modern life, people routinely do what they did yesterday too. In this beautifully shot, micro-kaleidoscopic debut, the promising Guerrero follows six characters for whom something starts to change one day. The film is ok but did not leave a lasting impression.

Winter vacation, 4, Li Hongqi, This hilarious minimalist film from poet/writer/filmmaker Li Hongqi won the Golden Leopard. Deadly dry humour, inimitable dialogues and long, sad silences depict the world of sharp-witted, layabout school pupils and their parents in a wintry Inner Mongolia.

With his third film, Winter Vacation, the poet, writer and film maker Li Hongqi won a Golden Leopard in Locarno. The film is largely set on the last day of the winter holiday in a dismal small industrial town in North China. To say that little happens is an understatement. A group of school children who are getting bored and hanging around aimlessly do not even have the energy to cause trouble.

Generally fixed and distant camera angles are used by Li to record the slow, repetitive, boring existence of the villagers. Maybe the least enviable is Zhou Zhangxin, a boy who sits in the room with his depressed grandfather, who won’t let him play outside. When a girl asks him what he wants to be later, he says: 'An orphan.'One of the pleasant surprises of the festival!!!

Bad posture, 4, Malcolm Murray, The sleepy town of Albuquerque, encircled by high mountains and dusty deserts, in a suffocating summer: the perfect backdrop for this raw, realistic American indie western.

Two young men go off the straight and narrow when they steal a car. Flo, who has just lost his job, feels more and more guilty about it. Certainly because he has an eye on car's owner, the sexy and provocative Marisa. And he, unlike the husky Trey, is pretty clumsy with women. Should he stay loyal to his friend or choose love? It was a funny movie untill I had to leave due to bad crab or flu (still not sure).

Saturday 29 January

Breakfast, lunch, diner, 3, Singapore, Wang Jing, Anocha Suwichakornpong and

Kaz Cai. This film trilogy by female Asian directors focuses on love. The stories from China (Wang), Thailand (Suwichakornpong) and Singapore (Cai) are varied in tone, but all concentrate on mealtimes. Also, all the female protagonists are called Mei, we keep hearing ‘Who wants to marry me?’ and in the background we hear the news of the murder of Benazir Bhutto, the former Prime Minister of Pakistan.

A young woman and her boyfriend have breakfast. She is visiting him in Nanjing. While they roam around, they discuss their mutual past and the future. The lunch is lighter in tone: two teenagers discuss life and love, bored as only teenagers can be. The dinner is in Singapore. In this melancholy story, a man looks for love and a lonely old woman reflects on her past. Ok, but not exceptional

Grande Hotel, 4, Lotte Stoops, Belgium, In the 1950s, a majestic Grande Hotel was built in Beira in the former Portuguese colony Mozambique, as if it were the Côte d´Azur. It was doomed from the start and has now been stripped of everything of value: this film is a portrait of a skeleton and of some of the 3500 people who live there now. It was once a five-star hotel with 110 spacious rooms, an Olympic swimming pool and a luxury restaurant. It was a Grande Hotel designed as an undulating cake, situated in Beira on the coast of Mozambique and, in all its pomp and circumstance, it represented the haughtiness of colonialism.

Today it is a grey ruin. Over 3500 Mozambiquans have sought refuge between the wide corridors and imposing staircases. Everything of value in the building has been demolished and sold; only the concrete frame remains. Without water or electricity, the inhabitants make the best of the situation. Small enterprises blossom, but there’s also violence and danger.

Lotte Stoops portrayed several of the present inhabitants of the Grande Hotel and in Portugal visited a former guest who still has fond memories of her time in Mozambique. A harrowing yet also fascinating and impressive story of a dream that was doomed to become a nightmare. Great documentary!!

The extraordinary adventures of mr West, 5, Russia, This film marks the birth of the Red Western. Made by Lev Kuleshov, teacher of the Moscow film school and pioneer of Soviet montage, the actors included students Boris Barnet and Vladimir Pudovkin, on the brink of their own careers. With live music by the Metropole Orchestra.

The film’s main comic target was the political divide between Soviet Russia and the United States, caused, Kuleshov suggests, by international misunderstandings. Although many Americans in the 1920s may have feared the intentions of Revolutionary Russia, Kuleshov saw around him a Russian population that embraced America’s cultural exports, especially its movies. It is telling that Kuleshov applied an American model of film making to a Soviet film that he hoped might help bridge the political gap between the United States and the USSR.

Great performance by Metropole orchestra and 13 composers. And even the movie was entertaining (1924!!).

Sunday 30 January

Kids programmae was extraordinary funny. 6 shorts where the kids could react after each screening.

Bleak niight, 4,  Yoon Sung-Hyun, Korea, His film starts as a whodunit. A schoolchild at a boys' school, Ki-Tae, has died. The father, who realises all too well how absent he was in bringing up his son, wonders what happened. He has conversations with Ki-Tae’s friends, but they do not seem eager to say very much. The fragile Hee-June, who to avoid conflict has gone to another school, advises him to look for Dong-Yoon, who has known Ki-Tae from childhood. But Dong-Yoon has disappeared without trace. The film slowly reveals how the friendship broke down - and how mutual relationships were not as expected. In the beginning the film is slow and it is difficult to distinguish between all actors. But after all it was a good movie and worth seeing.

Tuesday 1 February

A Stoker, 5, Alexey Balabanov, Russia, The stoker is a veteran of the Afghan war: a retired major and hero of the USSR who spends his life in an old boiler room, writing a book and shovelling coal into the boiler. Every now and then, an old veteran friend pays him a visit, to burn something other than coal. These things seem to be human bodies, but the stoker doesn't seem to care. His friend tells him they were bad people. His beautiful daughter, who stays in her father’s flat, comes to the boiler room only to ask for money. The only people really interested in the stoker’s work and writings are two little girls who visit and ask curious questions. The boiler is a symbol present in all houses, and fire destroys everything in the end. Having made a film about the 1970s (Cargo 200), Alexei Balabanov this time evokes the atmosphere of St. Petersburg in the early 1990s. He does so in a straightforward yet uncompromising and unsettling way, whereby gangland liquidations seem like the most common thing in the world. But what a style and how beautifully shot. Agaian a masterpiece. Best film of the festival.

Wednesday 2 february

19.30, 13 Assassins, 4, Japan, With 13 Assassins, a remake of Kudo Eiichi's film from 1963, Miike Takashi makes a very successful attempt to match up to the granddad of all samurai films, Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. In 1844 Japan, the murderous urges of Lord Naritsugu, the brother of the feudal commander, start getting out of hand. In his sadistic excesses, he has for instance amputated all of a woman’s limbs and her tongue. The noble samurai Shinzaemon Shimada is hired to remove the Lord. That’s not an easy task because the target is protected by an equally merciless fighter. Shimada persuades 12 brave samurai to take on this suicide mission. Together with the inhabitants of a mountain village, they set one booby-trap after another. When Lord Naritsugu arrives unexpectedly with 300 men, it turns into a David against Goliath struggle: a heroic and bloody battle for life and death lasting no less than 45 minutes. And 300 men died? Forget it, at least 3000 killings in 1 movie is a bit too much. Kill Bill squared!

Thursday 3 February

Love in a puff, 3, Pang Ho Cheung, The best gossip, jokes and stories are passed on during cigarette breaks. Since a law banned smoking in all buildings in Hong Kong in 2007, nicotine addicts gather around public ashtrays that look like rubbish bins. It is round one of these 'Hot Pots' that cosmetics salesgirl Cherie meets her match in the cool Jimmy. After an exciting chat, they exchange telephone numbers. In the week that follows, they talk and text while enjoying dozens of ciggies, feel increasingly attracted to one another. Finally, a romance blossoms. Interviews in front of the camera about smoking habits and relationships and conversations around the Hot Pot are juxtaposed with this love story. Sometimes a bit funny, but not my kind of humour.

Tuesday after Christmas, 4, Romania, Radu Muntean’s fourth film once again focuses in on a microcosm: this time the world of married couple Adriana and Paul - who have an eight-year-old daughter - and Raluca, Paul's mistress. Adriana and Paul are not happy together, but she is unaware of his long-term affair. It is only when the two women meet by chance, that Paul understands that he cannot go on like this. Shortly before the holidays, he tells his wife about the affair. This presents him with a dilemma: he must decide before Christmas whether he wants to stay with Adriana or carry on with Raluca.In long, considered shots Muntean shows, without commentary or passing judgment, how people get into morally perilous situations without making a conscious choice. And what kinds of dilemmas they face when a well-considered choice has to be made. A classical, true-to-life drama about love, lust, guilt and jealousy. Not very much happens in this film, but it is very well shot.

If the seed doesn’t die, 3, Romania, Sinisa Dragin, Romania about 200 years ago. Peasants drag a wooden church across a frozen lake to their village. They’re not allowed to build one, because they are Orthodox Christians. The Balkan region in the post-communist era. A Serbian man is looking for the body of his son, who died in a car crash in Romania. A Romanian man wants to find his daughter, who was forced to work in a brothel in Kosovo. They meet by the illegal border crossing on the River Danube.

What follows is a depressing, black tragicomedy in which there is plenty of drinking and prostitution, corpses are sold for a thousand euros and corruption flourishes. All against the background of the turbulent political history of the Balkans with continually fragmented nation-states and a Babylonian mix of languages.

That the region has always been the site of fierce and often bloody conflicts is made clear by Sinisa Dragin (Tiger Award winner in 2002 with Every Day God Kisses Us on the Mouth) in this incomparable succession of absurd dramatic situations.

A bit overdone, especially at the end, but still a very entertaining Balkan Baroque Blues movie.

Friday 4 February

Paraisos artificiales, 4, Yulene Olaizola, Mexico, Luisa - 25 and addicted to 'chiva' (heroin) - retires to a hotel by the sea near Veracruz on the Gulf of Mexico. During her stay - for more than a week - she meets the old, mysterious, heavy-duty cannabis user Salomon, in whom she thinks she recognises a fellow soul. A bond develops between the two of them.

Artificial Paradises, named after an anthology by the French poet Baudelaire from 1860, is a melodrama imbued with drugs and drink. Not much is explained: dialogues are scarce (although there is a bit of singing). The young Mexican director Yulene Olaizola, who had previously made short films and documentaries, tells her story with very atmospheric images. The photography is beautiful, although the landscape is not the Veracruz from holiday folders.

Totos tus muertos, 4, Carlos Moreno, Colombia, The story is gruesomely simple: a simple farmer finds an enormous pile of corpses early one Sunday morning in his corn field. Shocked and furious, he reports it to the local authorities, but they have good reasons not to want to acknowledge the affair. You see: it’s election day.

Afraid that a national scandal could take place in their backyard, one that could disrupt the elections, the mayor and the police chief try to deny the affair and shrug it off. But a mountain of corpses doesn’t disappear of its own accord, even in Colombia. And news like that is not easy to keep secret.

Moreno uses this brilliant idea for a worrying allegory about the situation in the countryside of Colombia, which is still plagued by a lengthy civil war. But the lesson can also be applied to many other places where poverty, violence, lawlessness and power politics go hand-in-hand. The aptly surreal and satirical tone, audible on the expressive soundtrack and visible in the beautiful visual inventions, does not get in the way of the thrills. On the contrary.

Surprise film, 2, was rabbit hole with Nicole Kidman. This film only showed how good the other films of the IFFR actually are. Pure hollywood cliche!

Saturday 5 february

My Perestroika, 4, UK, Robin Hesman, The two history teachers we hear in the documentary My Perestroika  know all about this. In their late 30s, Borya and Lyuba Meyerson now teach their students a completely different version of history from the one they learned when they were at school.

Together with three classmates from back then, they reminisce about the unusual times in which they grew up. Their sheltered childhood, in which they sang the national anthem in front of the TV, is mentioned in passing, as is the collapse of the Soviet Union while they were teenagers. They are children of a world that has disappeared. Hungry for information, they consumed piles of books, but political confusion makes the soul feel empty. What remains of their fatherland?

Surviving Life, 5, Jan Svankmajer, Chech republic, At the beginning of Surviving Life, director Jan Svankmajer appears on screen. He didn't have enough money for a completely live-action film, he says, so he occasionally added some animation. That's a joke, of course, because the surrealist Svankmajer (1934) is world famous for his idiosyncratic mixture of animation and live action. This is where Terry Gilliam and the Brothers Quay found their inspiration.

Svankmajer’s first film in five years, since the death of his wife and regular co-worker Eva Svankmajerova, takes a slightly biographical approach. The protagonist Eugene lives both in the real world and in his own, lucid world of dreams. Both worlds are characterised by Svankmajer’s unmistakable black humour and surrealistic settings. Eugene falls in love with a woman from his dreams and asks for help from a psychoanalyst, seated under the quarrelling figures of Freud and Jung.