Zagreb Film Festival

Ten must-see movies at Zagreb Film Festival

The seventeenth Zagreb Film Festival is just around the corner - here are the movies you shouldn't miss

Written by
Justin McDonnell
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Curtains are about to open on the seventeenth Zagreb Film Festival, which is screening a huge and varied selection of brilliant international films. The festival comprises five main programmes: feature films, international shorts, 'Checkers' which champions domestic film-makers, 'Plus' where the award is judged by a young panel of high-schoolers and 'Together again' which spotlights directors whose debut films have previously screened at the festival. There's also several fantastically curated side programmes of international cinema to watch. Here our critics pick ten outstanding films you won't want to miss.

RECOMMENDED: More great film festivals in Croatia.

Anchor and Hope
  • Film
  • Drama

In their mid-30s, Eva (Oona Chaplin) and Kat's (Natalia Tena) humble, yet carefree, lifestyle in their London canal boat gets turned upside down when Eva presents Kat with an ultimatum: she wants a child. Kat resists, knowing that it will end the bohemian lifestyle she's always envisaged with Eva. When Kat's best friend, Roger (David Verdaguer), drops in from Barcelona to party with the ladies, the three of them toy around with the idea of creating a baby together. Forced into a corner, Kat sees no other way out but to say yes. The group's true feelings are laid bare, leading Eva and Kat to break up while Roger prepares to go back to Barcelona.

I Am Not a Witch
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Film
  • Drama

A startling movie, ‘I Am Not a Witch’ is many things. It’s a magic realist fable set in present-day Zambia that has plenty to say about gender and superstition. It’s also a satire, a tragedy and a comedy. And, impressively, debut writer-director Rungano Nyoni makes this heady mix work. Newcomer Maggie Mulubwa stars as eight-year-old orphan Shula, who is randomly accused of witchcraft and forced to join a travelling witch show. She’s mistreated yet revered: her ‘powers’ are called upon to pick felons out of line-ups. There’s a Kafkaesque flavour as Nyoni explores these contradictions and pokes fun at absurd bureaucrats. Chief comic figure – and villain – is Mr Banda (Henry BJ Phiri), a public official who exploits Shula for profit. We meet him lying in his bath, being soaped down by his female companion and talking on the phone to a police officer about a ‘new witch in town’. This is an ugly patriarch lazily using women for his own ends – and there are Mr Bandas still out there: the Zambian-born, Welsh-raised Nyoni stayed in real-life ‘witch camps’ as part of her research. Some scenes outstay their welcome, and the film is no easy piece of exotica: Western tourists are implicitly culpable in this story. But that just makes it all the more compelling.

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Wildlife
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Film
  • Drama

As an actor, Paul Dano is always up for the odd, the disconcerting, the complicated. Reassuringly, his first film as writer-director follows suit. ‘Wildlife’ is a finely detailed, darkly humorous, powder keg of a character study. With co-writer Zoe Kazan, Dano has adapted the story from Richard Ford’s novel. The book was published in 1990 but is set in 1960, where, in Montana, a picture-perfect young family begins to crack. Jerry (Jake Gyllenhaal), constantly moving his family as he goes from job to job, flees to fight fires in the mountains out of some misplaced masculinity, instead of dealing with the ones at home. While he’s gone, his wife Jeanette (Carey Mulligan) snaps, leaving her young teenage son, Joe (Ed Oxenbould), through whose eyes much of this unfolds, to process the painful fallout. Mulligan’s characters have often been buttoned-up types, but the shackles are off here. For better or worse (let’s go with both), Jeanette reclaims her younger, elemental self, regardless of what the neighbours – and even Joe – might think. She’s a woman out of time, and Ford’s story, written in 1990, still feels resonant. If ‘Wildlife’ can feel like a play at times, its stifling confines and claustrophobic mood are deliberate. It definitely doesn’t look like one – Diego Garcia’s lush, nostalgic cinematography exudes romance, albeit of the doomed kind – and Dano avoids melodrama, drenching it in atmosphere. It’s uncomfortable in all the right ways. You sweat it out with them all. 

Leave No Trace
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Film

Two people – a man and his teen daughter – adopting a simpler life in the backwoods of America may sound like the beginnings of a Bon Iver concept album, but in the hands of co-writer/director Debra Granik (‘Winter’s Bone’), it forms the crux of a smart, heartfelt examination of outsiderdom in a society that doesn’t just prize conformity, but demands it. For a small story, it tackles some pretty big themes, gauging America’s reactionary social climate through the eyes of father Will (Ben Foster) and his daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie), living outdoors in the misty Oregon rainforest. Like a Ray Mears family outing spun wildly out of control, the pair forage for food, nursing fuel supplies and essentials scrapped together with money Will makes selling painkilling meds to fellow veterans. As the title implies, the duo are ever-wary of betraying their presence to the authorities. It’s a hardscrabble rural existence that’ll be semi-familiar to anyone who’s seen Granik’s Ozarks-set drama ‘Winter’s Bone’, although here there’s an element of choice and, initially, an air of quiet satisfaction at sticking it to The Man. Of course, it doesn’t last: they’re soon sucked back into the system and processed by social workers whose uncomprehending kindnesses only rub salt in the wounds.  Unlike Sean Penn’s ‘Into the Wild’, which also explores the quiet radicalism of disappearing off the grid, there’s no big emotional swells here. ‘Leave No Trace’ is a more hushed, contemplative movie. Gra

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Sunset
  • 2 out of 5 stars
  • Film
  • Drama

With his blistering debut, ‘Son of Saul’, László Nemes used shallow focus and point-of-view camerawork to plunge into the hellscape of Auschwitz. For his follow-up, a strange and elliptical mystery set during the dying embers of the Austro-Hungarian empire in 1913, the same techniques don't work nearly as well. Those technical choices made ‘Saul’ a disorientating, disturbing and mesmerising experience, but here they’re distancing rather than immersive. The bustle and vibrancy of Budapest remains frustratingly out of focus throughout. After 140 minutes, your eyeballs will know the feeling.The conduit through ‘Sunset’s teetering world is Irisz Leiter (Juli Jakab), a young Hungarian woman orphaned as a baby when her parents died in a fire. Her prospects are not great but she has a dogged spirit that carries her from Trieste to the grand Budapest hat store her parents set up to petition its urbane new proprietor for work as a milliner. Soon, she has both a job and a grim room in a broken-down part of the city – as well as news of a brother she didn’t know she had. From there, she begins a tenacious hunt that soon leads her into a chaotic swirl of terrorism, conspiracy and insurrection. These should be the raw ingredients for an incendiary spy thriller or a compelling journey into a tinderbox that’s ready to blow. And there is plenty of craft in the way Nemes charts a world slipping from transition into chaos. But as the plot machinations unfold (Irisz’s brother turns out to be a

Transit
  • Film

Based on a novel by German novelist Anna Seghers during her experiences as an exile during the Second World War, Transit (2018) is, therefore, one of the beautiful artistic expressions born out of dangerous times. Among the many things we can look forward to in this film are the characters of the present meeting the past, taking Georg's character, who has put on a dead writer's identity, to the fore.

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The Caiman
  • Film
  • Drama

Nanni Moretti released this attack on Silvio Berlusconi in the run-up to Italy’s elections, when the businessman-politician failed to win a third term. It’s surprising, though, considering the film’s positioning as a political instrument, how little ‘The Caiman’ actually deals directly with Berlusconi and how little effort Moretti makes in constructing a case against him. The film’s real interest is fictional delight Bruno Bonomo (Silvio Orlando), a flailing producer of appalling B-movies such as ‘Mocassini Assassini’ who reluctantly agrees to back a cinematic attack on the politician when young writer-director Teresa (Jasmine Trinca) thrusts her script into his hands. It’s only when he begins the soul-destroying process of finding financiers and actors that he warms a little to Teresa’s cause. His mild awakening is superceded by a personal crisis: not only is his career in tatters, but he and his wife (Margherita Buy) are separating. As he struggles to balance family and work, we see some imagined scenes from his Berlusconi film, each reflecting a different stage in its production and each showing Berlusconi played by a different actor, including Moretti himself. Moretti’s portrait of a loser lingering in the doldrums of Italian cinema is wittily scripted and lightly played. He posits Bruno (an everyman, if he weren’t a filmmaker) as a reflection of a sick society. In that sense, ‘The Caiman’ is subtly political rather than a coruscating, detailed ad hominem attack

The Heiresses
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Film

If you’re not familiar with Paraguayan cinema, that’s hardly surprising: the South American country produced a handful of films during the entire twentieth century. But it only takes a single filmmaker – a Bergman, von Trier or Haneke – to put a country on the map. On the evidence of ‘The Heiresses’, director Marcelo Martinessi might be the one to do it. Bonus points for making the most Bechdel test-friendly film of the year. Middle-aged couple Chela (Ava Brun) and Chiquita (Margarita Irún) have enjoyed being part of Paraguay’s wealthy elite, but straitened times mean big changes are on the way. Mounting debts lead to a spell in prison for Chiquita, treasured possessions are being sold off, and Chela resorts to running a taxi service for well-to-do women. Humiliation would appear to be all that their future holds, but venturing from her rusting gilded cage leads Chela to enjoy new freedoms, including sensual bisexual Angy (Ava Ivanova), and a future ripe with possibility. Working from his own exquisitely observed script, and interpreted by phenomenal actors with barely any screen experience, Martinessi creates a beguiling, female-centric story that has an almost Almodóvar-esque understanding of women. It’s directed with a documentarian’s sense of realism, cleverly anchored to Chela as the film’s viewpoint. It’s an assured feature debut and it isn’t too much of a stretch to see Chela’s late flowering as analogous to Paraguay’s bright future on the screen. 

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I Am Love
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Film
  • Drama

A work of masterly daring and skill, the Italian film ‘I Am Love’ plays out in the late 1990s within a super-rich family called the Recchis. Their power base is a Milanese villa introduced to us by young director Luca Guadagnino as a gilded cage – a marble-and-stone palace too large and ornate to support intimate family life. In the film’s early scenes Guadagnino laps up this mansion, exploring it with a swirling, fluid camera that turns its world into a character itself. The fictional Recchis recall the Agnellis,  another troubled industrialist family which feathered its nest on the back of fascism, but they trade in textiles, not cars, and Guadagnino gives us a brief shot of their mechanised looms at work to stress how business is woven into the fabric of this family’s soul.We meet the Recchis on the cusp of change – and change is the film’s main interest, along with the dangerous strength necessary for any woman to counter the forces of tradition and expectation in such a family. We begin by watching the elderly family head (Gabriele Ferzetti) at dinner as he nominates his successors in a scene of ‘King Lear’-like power and unnaturalness. But soon he is dead and our focus and heroine becomes Emma Recchi ( Tilda Swinton ), the dutiful Russian wife of Tancredi (Pippo Delbono), the family’s new head, and mother to two grown-up sons and a daughter attempting her own flight from this patriarchal world. Emma’s burgeoning friendship with her son’s business partner

Goodbye, Dragon Inn
  • Film

Like Kill Bill, this begins with the Shaw Bros' famous logo and is, in large measure, an homage to the HK action maestro King Hu. But Tsai's cinephilia takes a very different form from Quentin Tarantino's. Set almost entirely in a cavernous old Taipei cinema, where Hu's Dragon Inn is a closing night attraction, it's a movie of long, static shots revealing a near empty auditorium. The only dialogue in the first 40 minutes comes from the onscreen movie. We watch the cashier preparing a dish for the projectionist, then hobbling up to the booth, but she doesn't find him. And then there's the Japanese youth who sneaks in and finds plenty going on in the gents'. Deadpan absurdist comedy segues into conceptualist reverie - onscreen and offscreen space mirror and echo each other so that even the walkouts feel like part of the spectacle.

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