• Director Julia Ducournau’s ‘Titane’. (Distributor)Source: Distributor
Here’s our guide to the major players that bowed to great fanfare at fests around the world, including Venice, Cannes and Toronto (TIFF).
Stephen A. Russell

1 Nov 2021 - 5:19 PM  UPDATED 5 Nov 2021 - 9:09 AM

This was the year when most of the world’s major film festivals got to do their thing once again on the big screen, after more than enough digital pivots to last a lifetime. Joyously, that means the grand return of the Sydney Film Festival (SFF) is chock full of awards-ready fare from across the globe.


A fast-rising star of French cinema, Julia Ducournau wowed the world with her teen cannibal debut Raw. But hold her bière, because this astounding follow-up is even more full-on, and it saw her become only the second woman in history to take home the top prize at Cannes, the Palme d’Or. Agathe Rousselle plays a young car crash survivor who grows up to become an exotic dancer with an automobile fixation and a no-nonsense approach to offing gross men.

One of the hottest tickets at this year’s SFF, it also won the People’s Choice Midnight Madness Award at TIFF.

The Eyes of Tammy Faye

Twice Oscar-nominated star Jessica Chastain secured the Tribute Actor Award at this year’s TIFF for her turn as the famous televangelist. Her empire, built alongside husband Jim (Andrew Garfield) almost touched the sky before financial scandal brought it tumbling down to earth in biblical fashion. It’s directed by The Big Sick helmer, Michael Showalter, which should give you an idea of what to expect.

The Power of the Dog

Australia has a long history of claiming Kiwis as our own. One of the best filmmakers out there, Jane Campion (The Piano) took home the Silver Lion for Best Director at Venice for her adaptation of Thomas Savage’s emotionally gripping novel. Benedict Cumberbatch – who won Best Actor at TIFF – stars as an emotionally abusive cattle rancher who sparks psychological war with his gentler brother (Jesse Plemons) after he marries (Kirsten Dunst).

Parallel Mothers

Penélope Cruz plus Pedro Almodóvar almost always equals ‘onto a winner’ (nobody mention I’m So Excited!). The former took home Best Actress at Venice for her turn as a photographer navigating an unexpected pregnancy, who forms an emotionally charged alliance with a terrified teenager (Milena Smit) on the maternity ward. Almodóvar is a dab hand at examining Spain’s complicated history through the prism of matriarchal power. This will be one of SFF’s most mesmerising.


This year’s traumatic collapse of Kabul tragically was not the first fracturing of this great city. Danish director Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s heartrending fusion of archival footage and animated documentary unpicks the trauma of an old friend whose family was forced to flee as refugees to Moscow in the ’80s, a place that turned out to be far from a sanctuary. The film’s anonymous subject traces the impact this discombobulation had on his teenage years and how that stunted his coming out. A revelation, it secured the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance.


The ubiquitous Tilda Swinton pops up in the latest film from award-winning Thai artist and auteur Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Cemetery of Splendour). She plays a botanist visiting her sister in Colombia, who fixates on strange explosive noises only she can hear. Things only get trippier from there in this haunting, trance-like movie that digs into what it means to be truly alive. It won the Jury Prize at Cannes and was up for the Palme d’Or.

Drive My Car/Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy

Prolific Japanese director Ryûsuke Hamaguchi has not one but two award-winning movies in this year’s SFF line-up. Both mine the consequences of fateful decisions. Drive My Car traces the path of a director, haunted by his past, who is chauffeured around Hiroshima. It scooped a hat trick at Cannes, including Best Screenplay. Triptych Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy took home the Silver Berlin Bear jury prize, and explores the intriguing journeys of three women.

Quo Vadis, Aida?

Sarajevo-born director Jasmila Žbanić drew on her war-torn country’s darkest days for this powerful drama that was up for Best International Feature at the Oscars earlier this year. Set in Bosnia in 1995, with the Serbian army bearing down on a peacekeeping base, star Jasna Ðuricic depicts a woman’s desperate struggle to protect her family as it becomes increasingly clear that the UN cannot or will not do much to help.

The Hand of God

Celebrated Italian filmmaker Paolo Sorrentino (Oscar-winner The Great Beauty) delivers his most personal insight yet with this drama spun from his childhood recollections of growing up in Naples in the ’80s. More restrained than usual, it’s nevertheless lit by the glow of his hero-worshipping football player Diego Maradona. Venice showered love on it, including the Grand Jury Prize Silver Lion for Sorrentino and Best Young Actor for newcomer Filippo Scotti.

Great Freedom

Austrian director Sebastian Meise was awarded the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize and nominated for the Queer Palm at Cannes for this non-linear love story of sorts set in a post-war German prison. Horrifically, Hans (Franz Rogowski) is transferred directly from a concentration camp under Paragraph 175, the law criminalising homosexuality. In and out over many years, his initial revulsion at murderer Viktor (Georg Friedrich) evolves intriguingly as the decades pass.

Hit the Road

Panah Panahi, son of beloved Iranian filmmaker Jafar, got off to a cracking start with his debut feature. It took home Best Film at this year’s London Film Festival. Influenced as much by Abbas Kiarostami as it is his dad, it depicts a somewhat chaotic family road trip, complete with a sickly dog and an unclear destination. With layer upon layer of meaning slowly revealed, the car ride turns out to be a lot more than it at first seems. It announces Panahi junior as a fascinating filmmaker in his own right.

Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn

Trust Berlin to go outré with top prize the Golden Bear, awarding this wild ride from satirically savage Romanian director Radu Jude. Be warned, the opening scene is an extended kinky porn vid. If that’s a touch too provocative for your tastes, it’s worth sticking around for the morality play that unfolds when the video leaks. It turns out the star is a teacher at a prestigious school, and the parents are none too pleased about its sudden infamy. Absurdly comic, it’s also a swooping look at the country’s fraught history.

The Sydney Film Festival runs to November 21. 

Follow the author @SARussellwords

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