Rotterdam 2010: Dave Calhoun's report

The down-to-earth Rotterdam Film Festival uncovers new work from around the world, reports Dave Calhoun

January is a month for discoveries. The Sundance and Rotterdam film festivals happen around the same time, with the bravest of film folk hopping across the Atlantic, from Utah to Holland, looking for new films and filmmakers to propel them – and us – through the the year. While Sundance celebrates American film, Rotterdam takes a global view. While Sundance thrives on sideshows – parties, gossip, stars – Rotterdam has only one main vice: films.

Which means that dipping into Rotterdam’s cinemas for a few days of its ten-day programme is a lottery, with few names and little buzz to lure you in. It’s a gamble – but a refreshing one. The French film ‘La Vie au Ranch’ is a typical Rotterdam film: a debut, written and directed by an unknown, Sophie Letourneur, and about life for a gang of student girls in Paris. They chat, they drink, they chat, they flirt, they chat. This is an unkempt film, but it’s also a likeable and believable one, full of spirit.

Michael Noer and Tobias Lindholm, the directors of Danish prison film ‘R’ must have panicked when they saw ‘A Prophet’. In their version of the rites-of-passage prison tale, a young Dane enters jail and tries to keep his head down. He fails. But he finds a way to survive by involving himself in the prison’s criminalities, pitching a set of homegrown Danish heavies against their immigrant counterparts. The details are familiar, yet ‘R’ reaches a far bleaker conclusion than ‘A Prophet’.

Chris Petit, the British film essayist, is a Rotterdam regular. His latest documentary scrapbook, ‘Content’, is a freeform musing on time, technology and the modern world – the last seen through the windscreen of his car, a view familiar from ‘London Orbital’ (2002) and ‘Radio-On’ (1980). The film has a lazy air, with yet more sub-Ballard musings on the Westway as a symbol of our failed modernist dreams and clichés about ‘flat-pack lives’, Ikea and ‘living out of the box’. There are some lucid moments and arresting images, but Petit is too concerned with smoke-and-mirrors profundity to get to the point.

‘Red White & Blue’ was shot in Texas by British filmmaker Simon Rumley (‘The Living and the Dead’) and features strong turns from Noah Taylor and newcomer Amanda Fuller as two loners, Nate and Erica, who meet in Austin: he’s gaunt and quiet, while she’s promiscuous and guarded. It’s a film of two chapters that differ wildly in tone: the first is observational and gently revealing, the second is frenetic and violent. It’s a chilling film, part character study, part thriller, although Rumley is a bit too fond of blood.

We might be seeing more docs like ‘Do It Again’, the result of an under-fire Boston Globe hack, Geoff Edgers, branching out to explore his obsession with The Kinks. His mission – to reform the band – is a silly hook on which to hang a film, although his encounters with Kinks fans, including Sting, are more engaging than his attempts to interest us in his own family life.

One of Rotterdam’s strongest films was ‘Agua Fría de Mar’ (‘Cold Water of the Sea’), a debut from Paz Fábrega, a Costa Rican writer-director and London Film School graduate. This warm work draws parallels between a poor young girl and a female tourist, whose lives cross on the gorgeous coastline. It’s a thoughtful film, mysterious and unafraid of silence.

Read Geoff Andrew's report from Rotterdam.



Top Stories

Paul Thomas Anderson interview

Paul Thomas Anderson interview

The director talks Scientology and working with Joaquin Phoenix.

Read the interview

Hilarious horror films

Hilarious horror films

Ten funny horror movies which went spectacularly off the rails.

Read 'Hilarious horror films'

What's your film guilty pleasure?

What's your film guilty pleasure?

Mean Girls? Dirty Dancing? Tell us your favourite film guilty pleasure.

Read 'Film guilty pleasures'

50 years of James Bond

50 years of James Bond

From Connery to Craig, we revisit all 22 Bond films.

Read '50 years of James Bond'

Autumn horror films

Autumn horror films

We round-up the five best horror movies of Autumn 2012.

Read about this Autumn's best horror movies

On the set of Skyfall

On the set of Skyfall

Time Out visits Istanbul to see the latest Bond movie being made.

Read 'On the set of Skyfall'

When teen stars turn serious

When teen stars turn serious

Ten young actors come of age on the silver screen.

Read 'When teen stars turn serious'

Bond: then and now

Bond: then and now

Does Skyfall refresh or rehash the James Bond franchise?

October film highlights

October film highlights

Daniel Craig’s 007 comeback, a genius indie romcom and all the mysteries behind ‘The Shining’ unravelled.

Sam Mendes interview

Sam Mendes interview

Dave Calhoun speaks to the director of 'Skyfall' about the latest film in the Bond franchise.

Sally Potter interview

Sally Potter interview

The British director explains why 'Ginger and Rosa' is her most mainstream film yet.

Daniel Craig interview

Daniel Craig interview

'I’m almost as in demand as Brad Pitt’

Tim Burton interview

Tim Burton interview

The director talks about his new film, 'Frankenweenie', which he describes as 'the ultimate memory piece'.