Curtains are about to open on the fifteenth Zagreb Film Festival, which is screening a huge and varied selection of brilliant international films. This year, Swedish filmmakers are the focus of the 'My First Film' section, alongside a fantastically curated programme of predominantly European cinema. Here our critics pick five outstanding films you won't want to miss.
The schedule has yet to be released, but check our event page for updates.
It starts wintry and only gets colder, darker and icier in this spooky, artful and obliquely political film from Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev ('Elena', 'The Return'). What begins as a stark study of the breakdown of a marriage in a small Russian city expands into a more languid, mysterious drama about disconnected lives and failed responsibilities, centred around a missing child whose disappearance haunts the film. 'Loveless' doesn't have the same epic scope as Zvyagintsev's last film, 2014's Oscar-nominated 'Leviathan': this is quieter and more ruminative, closer to 'Elena' in scale. But it's graced with unsettling power and ghostly, searching camerawork that's compelling even when the story occasionally lags or drifts. Boris (Alexey Rozin) and Zhenya (Maryana Spivak) share a flat with their 12-year-old son Alyosha (Matvey Novikov), but they're living separate lives and are on the cusp of divorce. He's already hooked up with another woman, Masha (Marina Vasilyeva), who's also seeing wealthy Anton (Andris Keishs). Between these romances and Boris's dull office job, there's little time for Aloysha, who we barely see – though a devastating cut to him crying in a bathroom while his parents scream at each other tells us everything we need to know. In the film's strongest stretch, Zvyagintsev cuts between husband and wife separately in bed with their new partners in the shadowy winter light. The film takes a different turn when Alyosha goes missing: police and search part
Sofia Coppola’s ‘The Beguiled’ is an exquisitely crafted drama of seduction, survival and sexual awakening in Civil-War era Virginia, with especially strong performances from Kirsten Dunst and Nicole Kidman as two teachers trying and failing to set an example of restraint and good behaviour to their young charges. Taking place almost entirely within a remote rural boarding school, this slow-burn charmer tells how a small community of two teachers, Martha (Kidman) and Edwina (Dunst), and their five schoolgirls shelter an injured Yankee soldier, John (Colin Farrell), an Irishman found lying by a tree. As distant guns rumble, John’s presence in the house means that it’s not just the girls’ French lessons that start to lend Coppola’s film a mildly erotic air. The source is a 1966 Southern Gothic novel by Thomas Cullinan – later made into a 1971 film starring Clint Eastwood – but the scale and restraint of this ‘The Beguiled’ makes it feel more like a short story. It’s a film of great economy, as John realises that being a seducer and playing his hosts against each other could be his only route to survival. And the women aren’t unwilling: Martha has a moment while giving him a bed bath; Edwina quickly falls into his arms; and young Alicia (Elle Fanning) isn’t far behind. The others have their own way of getting close to him: one gives him a Bible; another enjoys ‘just talking to him privately’. It’s a scenario that always feels on the edge of cheap exploitation: the handsome so
The title of this supremely fresh, witty and thought-provoking new film by Swedish writer-director Ruben Östlund ('Force Majeure') refers mainly to a new exhibit on display at a museum of contemporary art: a neon-bordered bit of brick flooring of some 16 square metres described by its creator as ‘a sanctuary of trust and caring’ where we all ‘share equal rights and obligations’. But the word might also refer to the city square Christian – the museum’s head curator – is crossing when he becomes the victim of a scam that relieves him of his wallet and phone. To recover them he’s reluctantly persuaded by an assistant to adopt a strategy which has unexpected consequences not only for himself but for colleagues and even complete strangers. Then there’s possibly a third meaning to the title, since the film is about different sorts of metaphorical space. As we follow the intelligent, pleasant, perfectly well-intentioned Christian (Claes Bang in a nicely judged performance) in his increasingly difficult dealings with the press – notably an American journalist played by Elisabeth Moss – the museum’s marketing department, sponsors, artists (one played by Dominic West), his daughters and the aforementioned strangers, the film explores the limits of responsibility, culpability, connectivity, even humanity. (There’s some fascinating stuff to do with primates, although it's best not to ruin that surprise.) It’s one thing for a well-off liberal to wax lyrical about equality, community, a
Fourteen is still old enough to know there has to be something better than this. Firecracker blonde Dahlström rankles at being stuck in small town Åmål, but salvation comes from an unlikely corner when her path crosses with Liljeberg, the class swot, who just happens to be in love with her. A massive hit and multiple award winner in its native Sweden, this first feature adds an entertaining all-girl twist to the high school romance genre, neatly encapsulating the teenage frustration of waiting for your life to begin. While the storyline has few surprises, the central performances create a touching relationship.