A handful of films from Europe and beyond have shined this year – and many of them are set to screen here in the future.
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12 Sep 2014 - 4:20 PM  UPDATED 15 Sep 2014 - 10:28 AM

After winning previous TIFF audience polls, The King’s Speech, Slumdog Millionaire and 12 Years a Slave went on to win the best picture Oscar, yet this year there has been an unfortunate lack of exceptional films in the programme. This has afforded foreign films the chance to shine more vividly, and there have been some riveting well-made films on offer.

Phoenix

Germany
Australian distributor: Madman

On the first weekend, Christian Petzold’s drama with his usual collaborator Nina Hoss had many admirers. The German star, currently on screen in Australia in A Most Wanted Man (she told me she had no inkling of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s troubles), plays a marred Holocaust survivor who has changed her face so that her husband (Ronald Zehrfeld from their previous Oscar-nominated film, Barbara) does not recognise her. In fact, he wants her to impersonate his former wife in order to get her money. That such an outlandish premise works is a testimony to the skills of Hoss, who is seen in close-up throughout this understated film.

 

A Second Chance

Denmark
Australian distributor: Madman

Nicolaj Coster-Waldau’s detective Andrea seems to have the perfect life, a good job, a beautiful wife (Maria Bonnevie) and a gorgeous baby son. Yet Susanne Bier, as usual, throws her lead character’s life into turmoil after the baby dies in his cot and his father decides to swap his baby for another one who is grossly neglected by his drug addict parents, played by Nicolaj Lie Kaas and Lykke May Andersen. The moral dilemma that ensues is nothing short of gripping and gut-wrenching as Bier’s films so often are.

In her introduction at the world premiere, the Danish director noted that her film, written by Anders Thomas Jensen, is “demanding and morally challenging. Don’t be too frightened by the movie. Good luck.”

Certainly Coster-Waldau is no arrogant Jaime Lannister here. The Game of Thrones star dives headlong into the melodrama. While some critics were not overly impressed, Indiewire notes: “Whether it’s his native Danish tongue that brings it out of him, or he’s managed to completely connect with the ethical dilemmas facing Andreas, Coster-Waldau breathes life into his character through blood, sweat and tears, ensuring that, even if it had nothing else going for it at all, A Second Chance never stumbles into complete mediocrity.”

 

The Connection

France
Australian distributor: Madman

The Artist’s Jean Dujardin and his real-life best friend Gilles Lellouche (Thérèse Desqueyroux) face off in this big budget French extravaganza that will have audiences on the edge of their seats. “There’s never been anything like it in France,” says the sexy, garrulous Oscar-winner, who in our interview wears jeans and a casual shirt, but in the film looks stylish in ‘70s suits and sports hefty sideburns. Set years after William Friedkin's The French Connection (1971), the film follows Dujardin’s real-life Marseilles judge who helped reign in the area’s powerful drug kingpin, played by Lellouche. The film takes a sizable leaf out of the book of Scorsese with whom Dujardin worked on The Wolf of Wall Street, and marks only the second film by Cedric Jimenez, who impresses here.

 

Breakup Buddies

China
Australian distributor: China Lion; Release date: Oct 3

Part of the new wave of commercial Chinese cinema that shows us the rapidly developing China of today, in director Ning Hao’s film we see hipsters smoking Turkish hookahs (dope would be going too far), calling each other “bro” and hanging out in a bar that plays chilled out world music. This road trip across China that starts after a divorced and heartbroken man enjoys a night of heavy drinking with his best buddy stars Xu Zheng and Huang Bo in their first comedy together since Lost in Thailand, which earned a whopping US$197 million at the Chinese box office in 2012.

 

The Dead Lands

New Zealand

Not to forget those powerful fellows across the pond, The Dead Lands, filmed in the Maori language, tells of a Maori chieftain's son, who following the massacre of his tribe, must face the feared and forbidden Dead Lands, where lurks the mysterious Warrior, a ruthless fighter who has ruled the area for years. The film might not be set for a release here (Transmission are releasing in New Zealand) but this is powerhouse filmmaking boasting impressive performances by Lawrence Makoare (Die Another Day, the Orc leader in Lord of the Rings: Return of the King and The Hobbit films) and 16-year-old James Rolleston (Boy, The Dark Horse, which generated huge interest in TIFF after a successful NZ theatrical run).