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Nov 08, 2020

Winners of the 2020 GIFF International Feature Competition

Best Feature

TENCH (“MUIDHOND”) tackles the unimaginable -- eliciting empathy for someone capable of one of the most repellent of human acts -- with remarkable cinematic boldness. Director Patrice Toye’s stark vision brings a fierce but tender eye to this finely-tuned, unnerving portrait of an ultimate outsider and his torments. She manages to render visceral truths about forbidden desires without resorting to simple pathologies or easy moralism. Framed by an indelible performance by a superbly talented Tijmen Govaerts and introducing a breathtaking newcomer, Julia Brown, it is an emotionally complex work created with high artistic precision and piercing honesty. Its metaphorical power holds us to the last breathless moment. Bound to challenge, if not divide audiences, this uncompromising film embodies and expands cinema’s capacity to help us understand the outer limits of the human condition.

Best Director

The jury awards INTO THE WORLD (“VOIR LE JOUR”), written and directed by Marion Laine and starring the extraordinary Sandrine Bonnaire, for posing insightful, intimate questions at the heart of this film, which takes place in a maternity hospital facing chronically poor working conditions. The film evokes a political subtext, prescient of current circumstances, where hospital workers are considered true heroes of our times. The director draws an intriguing balance between intensely charged group dynamics and the main character's own existential crisis. Laine’s innovative artistic approach, attentive casting and unique directorial choices reward us with a surprising, ultimately inspiring movie.

Best Screenplay

The jury awards BROTHERS IN BROTHEL (“HARU WO URUHITO”), directed by Jiro Sato and adapted from his own stage play, for its audacious storytelling and creative explorations. The film vividly interweaves relationships among sex workers and siblings of a tightly bonded underclass rooted in systemic, almost inescapable patriarchy. Raw, explosive scenes of exploitation alternate with acutely observed human behaviours. The movie unfolds to displace deeply gendered points of view into sensuous interrelation, shifting perspectives to defy preconceived notions of those characters in unexpected ways. The result is outrageous, astonishing, and finally transcendent.

GIFF Competition Section 2020

What makes a good book and what makes a good movie are totally different things.
–Seth Grahame-Smith
Indeed, movies are films; they’re not books, they’re not the theatre. Yet, since the very first adaptation – Alice in Wonderland (1903), a live-action British film which was restored in 2010 – we have been delighted with thousands of films adapted from literary works. This year’s GIFF selection of eight films based on literary sources could not have been more diverse in style and eclectic in their approaches. There are period films, intimate dramas, social commentaries, romance or even biographies from countries and regions as diverse as Western Europe, the Balkan countries, Japan and the US.
Many writers are unhappy with film adaptations of their work, as it is difficult to capture the spirit and the essence of literary works, while making changes that make the films more visually striking. GIFF has made it worthwhile in providing such an interesting selection. They all depict their own worlds, are all convincingly shot in their own way, whilst sharing great values including the following: the need and search for the meaning of true love, good intentions being put to the test of emotional challenges, the loss of identity and entanglements in a story worthy of Kafka, overall resistance against unfolding love, recollections of tragic love, suffering of young patients dealing with different fates and personalities, safeguarding the close fabric of family or even one’s belief in the power of solidarity.
In Into The World, French film star Sandrine Bonnaire’s performance pays homage to the nursing staff and their lack of resources, in the confines of a maternity hospital environment. There is great solidarity within the hospital, without which the team to which Bonnaire belongs, would not stand and ultimately persevere.
Belgium’s Patrice Toye addresses a subject matter that is more unpleasant than anything you can imagine: indeed, as a tender taboo, “pedophiles are seen as the embodiment of evil” says Patrice Toye. However, there is not a more passionate person than her who argues for the need to make films about characters like Jonathan. She continues: “we need to keep seeing the nuance; it is the duty as a filmmaker to talk about socially important issues and to show them from another point of view.” Tench has been feted on the international film circuit, and Toye surely proves her “tour de force” in depicting the main character in full nuance.
Fishing and Fisherman’s Conversations is the first piece of Croatian literature written in verse in which travel is not described allegorically, but as a real journey. The film attempts to replicate this epic poem on the screen, as a narrative biographical patchwork where the poet finally comes to terms with his youthful tragic love. The film’s approach is classic, as is its original book.
Red Bracelets is the German version of a Spanish/Catalan mega-success series. Six teenagers cannot lead a normal life like their friends: instead, they are stuck in the hospital for a long time. Yet, they all share the common wish to spend their youth as normally as possible. They form the Red Bracelets, and despite their different fates and personalities, they eventually become best friends. Definitely a feel-good movie, despite all odds. With Elsa’s Land, a great beauty of the Soviet cinema, the late Irina Pechernikova (1945-2020), returns to the screen for a final memorable performance. Elsa’s Land is the film adaptation of the play of Ural playwright Yaroslava Pulinovich. It is a story of two lovers who are 70 years old, with Pechernikova’s title character matched with Venyamin Smekhov’s Leonid. Both actors were stars of the Soviet cinema in the 60s and 70s, and deliver a fine moment of romance and nostalgia in the Altai village were their story unfolds.
Finally, in Brothers in Brothel, in his second feature film, the Japanese filmmaker Jiro Sato draws a rather unique family portrait, taking place in a brothel on an isolated island in Japan. It narrates the ill-fated story of a family being trapped in the patriarchal entropy and prostitution. The allegory of being isolated whilst exploited, albeit in a brutal fairy tale manner, is mounted on the screen in truly unforgettable ways.

Professor Herman Van Eyken
Brisbane, Australia