Norway – Out Stealing Horses
Dir. Hans Petter Moland
Starring celebrated Swedish thespian Stellan Skarsgård as a man reminiscing on his wartime adolescence, this adaptation of Per Petterson’s novel comes alive through mesmerizing imagery that contrast the lead’s sun-dappled past with his much lonelier present. Moland, who previously directed the English-language crime drama Cold Pursuit, created a deeply evocative examination of youth, manhood, and tragedy, from the perspective of a young boy discovering his father is flawed being, which in turn informs Skarsgård’s portrayal of the same character now as a widow in older age. Elegantly achieved, Out Stealing Horses brims with elements that elevate its somewhat conventional concept to more poetic heights.
Peru – Retablo
Dir. Alvaro Delgado Aparicio
A Quechua-language father-son story dealing with LGBTQ themes stands as one of the most under-the-radar gems on the list. Aparicio’s first feature takes its name from the handcrafted altars housing quotidian scenes made of potato dough figurines that his characters fabricate. Exquisitely photographed, with the Andes as spectacular backdrop, the film contemplates a young man in a traditional community grappling with a discovery that rattles his perception of the man he admires the most, both as a parent and an artist. Retablo was recently nominated for an Independent Spirit Award as Best international Film, which hopefully helped bring more awareness to it.
Poland – Corpus Christi
Dir. Jan Komasa
An explosive rendition by lead actor Bartosz Bielenia tests the limits of redemption and spiritual transformation in a Komasa’s Venice-winning project that most recently played at AFI Fest and secured U.S. distribution via Film Movements. Burdened by his past, Daniel (Bielenia), a former criminal, takes an unorthodox approach to pursue his dream of becoming a priest even if the Catholic establishment deems him unfit for the job. A sharp screenplay fuels the philosophically layered narrative that’s as engaging as it’s provocative. Coming on the heels of last year’s Cold War, Poland’s current bid shows a different facet of the country’s cinema today.
Romania – The Whistlers
Dir. Corneliu Porumboiu
Set in La Gomera, one of Spain’s Canary Islands, Porumboiu’s multi-language heist movie goes on an offbeat journey with Cristi (Vlad Ivanov), a corrupt Romanian police officer on a mission to free a dubious businessman. Weaved in between incredibly well executed tropes and a stylish aesthetic is the plot’s most unique element: the inclusion of El Silbo Gomero, a whistling dialect that Cristi must learn to communicate safely with his associates. What could play to The Whistlers’ advantage is that it differs tonally from the more dour entries and provides an exciting take on a familiar genre with enough specificity for it to be notable.
Russia – Beanpole
Dir. Kantemir Balagov
Unflinching in its rendering of women’s lives and struggles in 1945 Leningrad, this period drama, boasting Kseniya Sereda’s restrained cinematography, centers on two friends who served together during World War II and now work as nurses caring for injured soldiers. Iya (Viktoria Miroshnichenko), whose height sets her apart from the crowd, feels indebted to Masha (Vasilisa Perelygina) after calamity strikes. To endure hardship and hopelessness, the two fighters are each other’s de facto lifelines. Beanpole earned 28-year-old Balagov the Best Director Award at Cannes’ Un Certain Regard section, further proof that he has established himself as a brilliant filmmaker with only two features to his name.