Cannes. Berlin. Venice. Toronto. New York. Busan. These are the stages where world film comes to life, where strange films with strange names become common knowledge. These are the films that slowly trickle into our market (or, more likely, on demand) through the course of the year, filling out the edges of our viewing habits. But they do not represent all of the films out there, not by a long shot.
I tried the foreign-film guessing game last year, combing through big festival titles that didn’t catch on, dozens of countries’ release charts, personal favorite directors and actors and lesser-known festivals, and Headshot and The Grandmasters aside, my crystal ball held up relatively well. Let’s try it again, shall we?
The Girl (U.K.): Sienna Miller and Toby Jones play Tippi Hedren and Alfred Hitchcock, respectively, in this docudrama from BBC Two that follows the unraveling creepiness that was Hitch’s sexual obsession with the “Hitchcock Blonde” Hedren during the filming of The Birds and Marnie. (Not to be confused with Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, which stars Helen Mirren and Anthony Hopkins as the pre-Hedron Hitchcocks, scheduled for release in 2013.)
I Wish (Japan): For me, Hirokazu Koreeda is the best active Japanese filmmaker. Not favorite, mind you, but the best. His eye, his thoughtfulness in regards to both character and environment, as well as an immense storytelling prowess, put him ahead of all comers, with the possible exception of Shunji Iwai, who has moved into more of a mogul role lately. For his seventh film, Koreeda intertwines the deep family themes of his previous outings such as Nobody Knows and Still Walking to tell the story of two young brothers separated by their parents’ divorce who hope to reunite via, well, a miracle that is supposed to occur as two trains pass.
Now Is Good (U.K.): Dakota Fanning is all grown up now and stars in this adaptation of Jenny Downham’s Before I Die, about a teenage girl in England diagnosed with terminal leukemia who creates the kind of bucket list that would have had Jack Nicholson snorting his Kopi Luwak through his nose. In order to feel like she has lived, she needs to have sex, do drugs, say “yes” to everyone for a day and fall in love. Downham’s novel was both lauded and criticized for the depth to which she depicted the debauchery, and there is a tricky level of bitterness to Tessa’s character that may not play well on film. They’re tough obstacles for writer-director Ol Parker (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) to deal with, and if he doesn’t meet them head first, this film will go nowhere fast.
Bleak Night (South Korea): We all know bullying is a problem. We’ve known it since childhood, when all of us were likely either bullied or the bully, or both. Bleak Night is just that: a story of the bully, the bullied and the guy stuck in the middle. Framed around the suicide of one of the boys, the story unfolds as his father, who was mostly absent while he was alive, tries to discover his son’s story by interviewing the other boys.
Scarlet Road (Australia):This Australian documentary tells the story of Rachel Wotton, a Sydney-based sex worker and advocate who caters to an overlooked segment of the population: the disabled. The film aims to make us think differently about what sex is. It’s something that even the synopsis accomplishes.
A Boy and His Samurai (Japan): According to the Film Society of Lincoln Center: “The tale of a boy, a samurai, time travel, pastries, chef vs. yakuza battles, absent fathers and single mothers.” Writer-director Yoshihiro Nakamura’s last film, Fish Story, about how music ends up saving the world from an asteroid, was fantastic, and I expect nothing less from this one, especially since it won the audience award at the 2011 New York Asian Film Festival.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi (Japan/USA): Sushi is the world’s most beautiful, luxurious food and 85-year-old Jiro Ono is the best in the world at making it. As this documentary shows, that’s a lot to live up to for his eldest son, Yoshikazu, who will one day take over Sukiyabashi Jiro, the world-famous restaurant that boasts almost as many Michelin Stars (three out of three) as it does seats (10), and takes over a year to snag a reservation.
Wu Xia (Dragon) (China): Despite being purchased by the Weinstein Co. following its Cannes premiere last year, nothing has really happened with this film besides a series of ever-worsening title changes. Essentially A History of Violence set in the Qing Dynasty, it stars Donnie Yen, Takeshi Kaneshiro and Tang Wei.
The We and the I (France):After the unfortunate 3-D mess that was The Green Hornet, French director Michel Gondry looks to regain the fighting form he was in when he made Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Science of Sleep. Very little is known about his latest project except that it appears to be a sci-fi film about a group of school kids who accidentally find themselves in the future and discover a machine that keeps people young. Also, it may or may not star Ellen Page and may or may not have been shot entirely on a school bus.
The Story of Film (U.K.): You won’t find this in theaters, but hopefully, this extensively researched, 15-hour documentary series from Northern Ireland film historian and BAFTA-nominated documentarian Mark Cousins will eventually make its way here somehow. The series traces the history of film – a surprisingly zeitgeisty topic these days, thanks to Hugo – from its inception to its current problems and all of the goodness (and badness) in between. The Telegraph called this the “cinema event of the year,” so someone make the goods already!
(Visit For Reels blog at orlandoweekly.com for a companion to this piece.)