The Cambridge Film Festival is now nearly four decades old, making it the third longest-running film festival in the country!
This year’s diverse programme includes over 150 titles from 30 countries from all continents. They range thrillers and dramas to comedies and documentaries created by the very best of both established (such as Ken Loach, Francois Ozon and Werner Herzog) and emerging filmmakers (such as Mati Diop and Aaron Schimberg).
Now in its 39th year, the Cambridge Film Festival celebrates cinema in all its forms while also tackling some of the critical issues facing our world today, including climate change, human rights, women’s rights, prison conditions and mental health.
Because it’s always to decide where to begin in such a large film event, we have decided to lend you a little helping hand. Below are our top 10 dirty picks from the Festival, chosen exclusively for you. Don’t forget to click on the film title in order to accede to exclusive dirty reviews (where available). These are listed in alphabetical order.
Ada (Mama Sané) and Souleiman (Ibrahima Traoré) are young and in love with each other. They walk along the beach and gaze into each other’s eyes. They hold hands and kiss. The next day Souleiman sets off on a primitive pirogue towards Spain, like many other refugees have done. Ada is left to contend with an arranged marriage to wealthy and arrogant Omar, whom she despises. After the ostentatious wedding ceremony, however, strange things begin to happen, such as the nuptial bed that suddenly catches on fire. The police suspect that Souleiman never left and is involved in the arson, and Ada is his accomplice.
This may sound like your traditional love story, but it isn’t. In reality, Atlantics is a an eerie ghost story imbued with religious, social and political commentary. Djinns (supernatural creatures in Islamic mythology) haunt the locals. The dead return in order to seek justice for their loves ones. Perhaps Soulemain died at sea and his ghost is playing tricks with the living?
Atlantics won the Grand Prix at the latest Cannes Film Festival.
Francois Ozon is best remembered for his psychological dramas, psychosexual thrillers and twisted comedies. He has now moved into an almost entirely new territory: Catholic faith and paedophilia. The outcome is nothing short of magnificent. The director paints a profoundly humanistic portrayal of the sexual abuse victims of real-life priest Father Bernard Preynat (Bernard Verley), thereby denouncing the silence and the complacence of the Catholic hierarchy.
By the Grace of God, which won the Silver Bear at the latest Berlinale, follows the steps of 40-year-old father-of-five and respectable professional Alexandre (Melvil Poupard). He decides to confront Father Preynat, who abused him 30 years earlier, upon finding out in 2014 that the priest still working closely with children. The problem is that the crime took place in 1991 and it has now prescribed (exceeding the 20-year threshold for legal action), and so Alexandre searches for more recent victims of Father Preynat, in a Goliath versus David battle against the extremely powerful and millenary Catholic Church.
Ozon’s latest film is also pictured at the top of this article.
Aaron Schimberg’s film about a European auteur directing their first English language movie was never going to be an average movie. In this American film, the bucolic blond Mabel (Jess Weixler)is a beguiling beauty who struggles working with a co-star who is anything but the epitome of conventional beauty. Although she plays the blind lead who falls disgracefully in love with a facially disfigured man (Rosenthal, played by British actor Adam Pearson, who has an actual facial disfigurement), her real-life interactions showcase a Draconian demeanour out of character with the charitable character she inhabits onscreen. It’s one of the many canny references swimming in Chained For Life, a work steeped in residual reference.
This distinctive film strives for originality. Schimberg is unashamed at displaying his innate knowledge of cinema, commencing with the silhouetted opening titles. Opening with one of Pauline Kael’s sparkier quotes, the movie is overtly proud of its understanding of the world of cinema, peering behind, before and between the goings on of a film.
Iranian cinema can be as well defined by what it doesn’t show as by what it does. Women’s hair is never seen, characters never drink and sex is never depicted. Filmmakers, like Jafar Panahi (still technically under house arrest), must find novel ways to skirt restrictions to say what they want about life and society. What’s truly incredible is that despite these restrictions, Iran can lay claim to one of the richest cinematic cultures in the world.
Style follows form, the government’s rigid censorship paradoxically leading to some remarkably powerful works. Could the metafictional stylings of Abbas Kiarostami or the tightly wound social dramas of Asghar Farhadi have come out of a more liberated society? Perhaps I have been thinking about it all wrong. As the documentary Filmfarsi shows — surveying popular Iranian cinema up until the Islamic revolution of 1979 — Iranian cinema has always been characterised by wild invention, improvising with what you have and melding genres together.
This a sensory experience. One that you feel with your skin. Feel the heat, feel the fog, feel the humidity. Director Oliver Laxe and his crew received fire training in order to join the Galician forest brigade as they battle the very large fires that routinely castigate the Northeastern nation of Spain. A very audacious feat. You will be caught right in the middle of hell, surrounded by collapsing trees and gigantic flames. Laxe didn’t even know whether his film equipment would survive. Fortunately for us, it did. Despite this, plus the fact that the actors use their real names, Fire Will Come (which won the Jury Prize for the Un Certain Regard strand of Cannes) is not a documentary.
This is as close as you will ever get to a tropical Douglas Sirk. Karim Ainouz’s eighth feature film and the second one to premiere in Cannes (after Madame Sata in 2001) has all the ingredients of a melodrama. The 145-minute movie – based on the eponymous novel by Martha Batalha – is punctuated with tragic relationships, epic misfortunes, fortuitous separations and untimely deaths. All skilfully wrapped together by an entirely instrumental and magnificent music score.
The titular character (Carol Duarte) and her sister Guida Gusmao (Julia Stockler) live with their traditional parents. Their Portuguese father Antonio is rude and formidable, while their Brazilian mother Ana is quiet and passive. The action takes place in the charming and quaint Rio the Janeiro of the 1950s.
A mother sends her children to her widowed father for fear of losing them to the New York foster system. A frosty man by nature, he agrees to care for them in the Mexican rustic desert, while his daughter fights for her right to live as an American citizen. It’s not the most original of stories, but it offers moments of raw, impactful soulfulness, proving that blood is indeed thicker than water.
This slow-burn drama is deftly punctuated by Pedro Damian’s steely lead, a no-nonsense grandpa none-too-impressed by his child’s request to unsettle his blissful boat rides by minding her three children. His gruff demeanour is a country away from the metropolitan lifestyle they have become accustomed to.
The story takes place in 1770 in rural Brittany. An Italian aristocrat (Valeria Golino) has found a wedding partner for her beautiful young daughter Heloise (Adele Haenel), who just returned from a convent to live with her mother is her enormous estate house. Her husband-to-be lives in Milan, and Heloise has never met him. Her mother commissions Marianne (Noemie Merlant) to paint her daughter in secret because Heloise would never consent to it (presumably because the picture will be sent to her prospective husband). Marianne pretends to be Heloise’s mere companion, working alongside the housemaid Sophie (Luana Bajrami). Heloise’s sister has recently committed suicide, likely due to the prospect of a similar marital arrangement. This means that the burden on Marianne is enormous. Could Heloise too attempt to take her own life?
This is a film almost entirely made by women. The writer director is female, and so is the cinematographer (Claire Mathion). Virtually all the characters are female, too. Men are only seen in the end of this 119-minute movie,
Though it advertises itself an attempt to document the long-range effects cinema brought to Italy, this film is much more interested and successfully in representing the social history it so readily represents. From the profuse luxuriance explored on the screen, it was the penpushers, the workers and the everyday women who made this possible. In its own way, it’s a tribute to Italy, Italian cinema and the indomitable nature of the Italian woman.
The film’s ambitious time-lapse method, converging from the present to the past, is presented in an assemblage of photo clips, showing the women both in their prime and in the fortunes of their Autumnal years. As is the nature of time, these subjects won’t likely be here to detail their story of a sensational decade when the next sensational decade begins.
Last but not least on out least is Ken Loach’s latest heart-wrenching drama. Ricky (Kris Hitchen) is a building worker with an impeccable CV, living with his family somewhere in suburban Newcastle. He persuades his wife Abbie (Debbie Honeywood) to sell off her car in order to raise £1,000 so that he can buy a van and move into the delivery industry. A franchise owner promises Ricky that he’ll be independent and “own his own business”, and earn up to £1,200 a week.
The reality couldn’t be more different. Ricky ends up working up to 14 hours a day six days a week. He literally has no time to pee, and instead urinates in a bottle inside him own vehicle (I would hazard a guess that Amazon’s infamous practices inspired scriptwriter Paul Laverty). His draconian delivery targets and inflexible ETAs (estimated time of arrival) turn him into a delivery robot. A small handheld delivery device containing delivery instructions virtually controls his life. Ricky has been conned. His “independence” is but an illusion. He might own his car, his company and his insurance, yet he’s entirely at the mercy of his franchiser.