Magazine article Variety

Variety Critics' Choice Hits 20th Mark

Magazine article Variety

Variety Critics' Choice Hits 20th Mark

Article excerpt

The 20th edition of any cultural enterprise inevitably leads to reflection on the roots and original goals, as well as where the path has led and how successfully the mission has been accomplished. In 1997, when Variety was asked by the Karlovy Vary film fest to program a section of new films that our critics had seen and admired, it was a landmark moment for our paper, which had been reviewing international cinema since the dawn of the art form. But we had never programmed a film festival, let alone one as distinguished and important as Karlovy Vary. We started with an emphasis on American indies, shifted over the years to a focus on new European filmmakers and now cast our net wide and curate our list from the entire world of fresh filmmaking voices and in many cases, fresh film industries struggling for sustenance and the spotlight our section proudly provides.

4th Place

* Director: Jung Ji-woo, South Korea

Fans of "Whiplash" will recognize the physical and psychological bruising a young swimmer receives from his coach and mother in order to win a medal in "4th Place," South Korean helmer Jung Ji-woo's poetic and engrossing drama condemning the underlying sadism and psychosis of a competitive educational culture, which destroys children's talents by denying them their right to do something just for fun. - Maggie Lee

Aaaaaaaah!

* Director: Steve Oram, U.K.

Although most characters in the film are dressed roughly how we expect humans to dress, everybody behaves like human/simian hybrids. A la French cult classic "Themroc," not one word of any recognizable language is spoken through the modest 79-minute runtime and there are no subtitles. The fact that viewers can nevertheless comprehend probably 95% of what is said from a mixture of context, body language and facial expression proves the uncomfortable point that Oram is making about our proximity to the rest of the primates. - Catherine Bray

As I Open My Eyes

* Director: Leyla Bouzid, France

On the eve of Tunisia's Jasmine Revolution, a young woman struggles against family and society to pursue a singing career in Leyla Bouzid's impressive, generally nuanced debut, "As I Open My Eyes." Sharply yet subtly capturing the atmosphere of fear fostered by the dictatorship of President Ben Ali, this skillfully made drama is especially attuned to the myriad forms of surveillance, from the prurient to the political. Showcasing a stand-out lead perf by firsttimer Baya Medhaffer, with intriguing compositions by Iraqi musician Khyam Allami, "Eyes" will open eyes to several new talents. - Jay Weissberg

Death by Death

* Director: Xavier Seron, Belgium

A hirsute sad sack's inability to escape a monumentally needy mother - or his own paranoid fixations on mortality - are the stuff of idiosyncratic comedy in "Death by Death." Not so far-flung from the fate-controlled, aggressively quirky cinematic universe of fellow Belgian Jaco Van Dormael, Xavier Seron's debut narrative feature nonetheless eventually arrives at its own distinctive aesthetic and tonal character. - Dennis Harvey

The Demons

* Director: Philippe Lesage, Canada

Fevered imagination and nightmarish reality brush shoulders to disconcerting effect in "The Demons," Québécois filmmaker Philippe Lesage's extraordinary examination of childhood fears festering in broad suburban daylight. Putting his documentary training to disciplined use as he teases out the largely internalized insecurities - sexual, social and practical - of his 10-year-old protagonist, Lesage initially balances good-humored humanism with a formal sangfroid suggestive of a summer-brightened Haneke. …

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