Friday, November 25, 2016

2016 Lux Film Prize Award Winner

Recently the European Parliament announced the winner of the 2016 Lux Prize and as many expected, Toni Erdmann by Maren Ade was honored with the award.

The 2016 LUX Film Prize has selected the three films in its Official Competition.

The 10th-anniversary edition of the award will have Leyla Bouzid’s As I Open My Eyes (France/Tunisia/Belgium/United Arab Emirates), Claude Barras’ My Life as a Courgette (Switzerland/France) and Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann (Germany/Austria/Romania) as the final contenders.

Chairwoman of the Committee on Culture and Education Silvia Costa and Vice-President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani announced the titles in contention for the award today, at the Venice Days press conference.

The three films were picked from the previously announced Official Selection, ten beautiful and socially engaged films focusing on current global issues, including some slightly more humorous, yet equally challenging titles.

Leyla Bouzid’s feature-film debut takes viewers across the Mediterranean, showing a young generation trapped between the hope and love they feel for their own country, and despair.

Claude Barras’ first feature is a bittersweet, poetic stop-motion animation film — the first ever to appear in the LUX Film Prize Competition — a portrait of the harsh reality of an orphanage with delicate and gawky humour that was tenderly adapted from Gilles Paris’ novel by Céline Sciamma (Girlhood, a 2014 LUX Film Prize finalist).

Finally, in her third feature film, Maren Ade turns her gaze towards the contemporary corporate culture in an eminently political tragicomedy. The film, a real political statement, examines how the corporate ethos can destroy family ties, people’s lives and happiness.

The Giornate Degli Autori -Venice Days, in collaboration with the Venice Film Market, will introduce the new edition by hosting the screening of the films in the Official Competition. Once again this year, the 28 Times Cinema initiative, in collaboration with Europa Cinemas and Cineuropa, will bring 28 young cinephiles to act as the jury for the Venice Days Award and take part in the LUX Film Prize experience, kicking off their role as LUX Ambassadors, in order to present the LUX Film Days in their respective countries.

From October to December, As I Open My Eyes, My Life as a Courgette and Toni Erdmann will become the core of the 2016 LUX Film Days, and will be screened across 28 EU countries. Subtitled into the 24 official EU languages, Europeans will not only be able to discover them, but also to discuss the issues that they raise. Thus, by creating the framework for a European public space, the LUX Film Prize is again a tool that shows the complexity of a European identity, as it interprets and presents the realities of European successes and challenges.

This year’s LUX Film Days will also mark the beginning of cooperation between the European Parliament Information Offices and the Creative Europe MEDIA Desks, to strengthen visibility and broaden the audience. Moreover, to mark the 10th anniversary of the award, important European film professionals will join the Members of the European Parliament at a series of events in Brussels on 10 October. During the LUX Film Days, all 751 Members of the European Parliament will be invited to vote for one of the three films in competition.

On 23 November, 2016 the award winner will be announced at the European Parliament in Strasbourg in the presence of the directors.

The following is basic info plus short smart review, the first two written by Fabien Lemercier and third written by Vittoria Scarpa (could have spoilers) for each film in the Official Selection.

Toni Erdmann by Maren Ade (Premier at 2016 Cannes Film Festival In Competition)

For her first appearance in competition at the Cannes Film Festival, German director Maren Ade, who made quite the splash with her previous opus, Everyone Else , has audaciously confirmed her status as a rising star, thanks to her third feature, Toni Erdmann . Patiently weaving its web around the traditional subject matter of a father desperately hoping to become closer to his daughter at any cost, while the latter is living in a different country, working in the cutthroat world of international consulting, the movie constantly circumvents its carefully constructed hyper-realism through disruptive comic impulses, intrinsically linked to the personality traits of one of the two main characters – a father who will even stretch to pretending to become someone else in order to successfully break through his daughter's armor. This one enormous joke, sometimes bordering on the grotesque, transforms into a sort of power struggle in which humor and love attempt to thaw an icy coldness and overcome distance. It is a feature walking a fine line – occasionally verging on losing its balance – which owes a great deal to the huge talent of its two lead performers: fascinating German actress Sandra Hüller and Austria's Peter Simonischek.

"I've hired a substitute daughter to replace mine. She's a better cook and she cuts my nails." This is the kind of joke that Winfried loves to crack out of the blue in the presence of Ines, the key character in the story – and in the most inappropriate circumstances, to boot (for instance, in the middle of the business dealings being undertaken by his daughter, who is an expat living in Bucharest, where she is a consultant at a big international firm). And the sixty-something has plenty of other banter-filled tricks up his sleeve, all of which is enough to make Ines particularly uneasy when her dad, who is divorced from her mother, and whom she sees very rarely or only via Skype, turns up without warning to pay her a visit in the Romanian capital. Because this young woman has other fish to fry at work (where she is busy preparing a restructuring scenario for a large company) and also wants to focus on her career, where her ambition reigns supreme. However, a few blunders later, Winfried really hits a nerve when he asks Ines whether she is happy or not, which she responds to curtly by sending him packing, off to the airport. But much to her surprise, she sees him reappear some time later, completely out of the blue, in disguise, introducing himself (to anyone who cares to listen) as Toni Erdmann and behaving in just as zany a way as his previous incarnation, Winfried. Interfering with the professional and private life of his exasperated daughter ("You're completely insane!”), Toni Winfried will nevertheless manage to succeed in his assault, to the point where Ines takes up the gauntlet and decides to join in with her father's game. This role-play gets totally out of control, turning into a match between their different takes on life, where each action stirs highly personal emotions that are buried deep down.

Unfolding on a knife-edge, and focusing on a subject that can easily, by its very nature, lend itself to a lot of slip-ups, Maren Aden nonetheless stays the course very effectively, indulging in a thrilling finale that rewards the audience's patience. Its mis-en-scène really takes the time to infuse the silences with meaning in order to render the internal solitude of the two main characters more clearly. Intertwining "larger than life" mockery, a humanistic tenderness and a portrait of the tyranny of high-performing, modern-day big business, Toni Erdmann (sold by The Match Factory) proves to be a cinematic prototype that is genuinely special, a daring oddity that stands as a testament to the ingeniously original hallmark of this director, who is not one to back down from a challenge.


Ma Vie de Courgette (My Life as a Courgette aka My Life as a Zucchini) by Claude Barras

“We are all alike; there’s no one left to love us.” The Les Fontaines orphanage is home to seven ten-year-old children: the endearing protagonists in Swiss filmmaker Claude Barras’ stunning My Life as a Courgette, an animated feature debut, outstanding thanks to both its subject matter and its approach to it, which was unveiled in the Directors’ Fortnight at the 69th Cannes Film Festival.

The quiet Courgette, whose real name is Icarus, has never met his father and sets off for Les Fontaines, his kite under his arm, following his alcoholic mother’s accidental death. In the orphanage, which is sequestered away from the city, he meets and learns about each of his partners in misfortune. Simon’s parents are constantly on drugs, Ahmed’s father is in prison after holding up a service station, Jujube’s mother has reached a very advanced stage of chronic-depressive delirium, while Bea’s mum has been deported to Africa, and Alice still has nightmares about the “disgusting things” her father did. As for the pretty Camille, under whose charm Courgette instantly falls, she was present as her father killed her mother, before taking his own life, and “her eyes show that she saw it all”.

As such, the short lives of these seven children are summed up by their precocious encounter with the world’s cruelty, meaning that it would have been easy for them to be created as part of the darkest vein of cinematic social realism. However, it’s a much different path, both softer and brighter, along which director Barras chose to walk with Céline Sciamma (proving the aptness of her writing following the trio of films about adolescence she worked on as a director: Water Lilies, Tomboy and Girlhood), as they adapted Gilles Paris’ novel Autobiography of a Courgette.

Contrary to the popular paradigm of portraying orphanages as places of aggravated abuse, as in Oliver Twist, Les Fontaines is a haven of peace, conducive to reconstruction, tolerance and friendship. This positive approach to the darkness of the past definitely does not make light of those events, as the wounds, which rocked these children to their core, are still present and bubble up to the surface without taking centre stage, mainly being expressed through silences and glances. As such, the film has avoided falling into the trap of over-dramatization, skilfully dealing with topics with hard-hitting consequences (emotional emptiness, foster families, custodial rights, adoption, etc) and even more tactfully showing the simplicity of its poetic stance, which is fed by tender empathy and benevolent humor.

My Life as a Courgette is a calm representation with strong emotional potential thanks to its astounding mastery of stop-motion animation and the fact it toys marvelously with the contrast between these highly stylized “character-marionettes” and the naturalism of the dialogues and voices. Broken up into sequence shots, the film explores intimate topics far removed from those that have reigned supreme in contemporary animated films, which are based on speed and the spectacular. In the big, round eyes of Courgette and his friends, you can see their awareness of all the bitter violence in the world mingle with the regenerative virtues of friendship as well as the image of a better future, like a mirror for the viewers, who were all children at one stage of their lives.

Produced by Swiss outfit Rita Productions and France’s Blue Spirit Production, Gebeka Films and KNM, My Life as a Courgette is sold internationally by Indie Sales.

À peine j'ouvre les yeux (As I Open My Eyes) by Leila Bouzid (Premiered at 2015 Venice Days)

Farah is a curly-haired 18-year-old who longs to be free. She stays out late at night and drinks beer, she's a rebel, she's daring and explosive. It's the summer of 2010 in Tunisia, a few months before the beginning of the Arab Spring, but As I Open My Eyes by Leyla Bouzid is not about the revolution. The film by the up-and-coming Tunisian director, in competition in Venice Days at the 72nd Venice Film Festival, is the story of the months that immediately preceded it, following the path of a young singer who bravely and a little recklessly challenges government censorship, by bringing her voice and her lyrical allegations to bars and nightclubs frequented by Tunisian young people, and onto the streets.

We appear to really enter those clubs, the atmosphere, gestures and faces that are present within are so real. In the film by Bouzid, Tunisian nightlife is exhilarating: people toast, they sing, dance, then there's a race to the metro and everyone goes home. When Farah (newcomer Baya Medhaffer) returns home, however, she is met by reproaches from her mother Hayet (famous Tunisian singer Ghalia Benali). Farah sings in a local rock band and the police have started to keep an eye on her. The lyrics in her songs deal with the country's problems, lethargy and stolen dreams. Her mother, who was just as much a rebel when young, is well aware of the risks that she runs. But there's no stopping Farah: they take away her microphone and she continues singing, they cancel a concert and she improvises one on the street, her mother grounds her and, after locking her into her room, she goes out all the same. It's easy to imagine Farah, a few months later, protesting in the square against the Ben Ali regime. But the film takes a different course, and we don't know if the young, curly-haired rebel will succeed in pulling out her voice again.

As I Open My Eyes narrates with expressive and political power everyday life at a particular moment in time in the country. “Farah represents the strength of Tunisian young people and of all Arab artists who have to struggle to survive,” states Leyla Bouzid. “The film seeks to go further into about what has been told superficially by the media. Using a personal story, I sought to give an idea of the climate in which the revolution was born.” Would Farah be free to sing today? “There is greater awareness of the importance of freedom of speech today in Tunisia, but they still arrest bloggers and rappers,” explains the director. “You can sing, but you might have problems,” confirms the lead actress. “It's a constant battle, trying to raise the limits ever further. But it can only get better; I'm optimistic." Meanwhile, the film received financing from the Tunisian Ministry for Culture, and that's a good sign.

As I Open My Eyes is a Blue Monday Productions (France), Propaganda Production (Tunisia) and Hélicotronc (Belgium) production. International sales are entrusted to Parisian outfit Doc & Film International.

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