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Festival diary

We’re at the 31st Filmfest Hamburg

Over the course of ten days, films ranging from small indie to mainstream cinema will be shown at the festival. We are there to give you an insight into the most exciting works we’ve seen. The article will be updated continuously as long as the festival is running.

Written by


Sep 29, 2023

Poor Things

Yorgos Lanthimos (Ireland, UK, USA, 2023)

Poor Things is Yorgos Lanthimos’ new film, a Frankensteinian approach that explores the nature of humanity and its oppression with boundless absurdity, comedy and imagination.

Photo by Atsushi Nishijima. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures.© 2023 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved.

Lanthimos infuses the film its own reality, where geese with pig heads and ducks with dog heads walk around the house of a genius scientist. This brilliant scientist, Dr. Godwin Baxter, known only as God (Willem Dafoe), is both Frankenstein and the monster, disfigured and patched up, loathed by his students, except for one who admires him and becomes his assistant.

His latest experiment, as he calls it, is a woman who has committed suicide (Emma Stone), whom he implants with the brain of her unborn child, and reviving her. The film fully embraces this sheer irrationality, creating a reality in which all the madness eventually acquires its own form of peculiar naturalness, which we as viewers are willing to fully accept. This is also thanks to the astonishing set design, which remains fantastical, at times stage-like, but always believable and real in its own context.

Poor Things is a revision of the Pygmalion myth from Ovid’s Metamorphoses—the creation of an artificial woman coupled with the male desire to dominate and transform his ideas into her—and from the female perspective Lanthimos invites us to rediscover the view of life we take for granted, with all its adversities, contradictions and wonders.

Evil Does Not Exist

Ryusuke Hamguchi (Japan, 2023)

After his definitive international breakthrough with Drive My Car, Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s latest work is another multi-layered and complex drama.

© Neopa / Fictive.

The film revolves around Takuma who lives with his young daughter in a small village. This idyllic place is invaded by an organisation that wants to turn the landscape into a glamping (glamorous camping) site for tourists, and meets with resistance from the locals.

Essentially, the film starts from a one-sided perspective and shows what is usually portrayed—the small against the ruthless giants of capitalism. Hamaguchi, however, positions different perspectives, letting the audience know more about the different characters and their relationship to each other than the characters themselves. This results in different ways of perceiving what’s happening as ours and the characters’ perceptions diverge more and more as the film progresses. The film allows both sides, the villagers and the delegates of the company, to develop as individual characters with their own past and personal struggles. This allows us to see them as people rather than as representatives of moral institutions. It gives the film more aspects, more angles, and thus more layers that can completely disrupt established expectations.

Without giving anything away, there is a point in the film where questions inevitably arise. Evil Does Not Exist is a paragon of how asking questions has a greater impact than delivering certain messages. Hamaguchi is brilliant at capitalising on small things, making them stand out and adding them up to understand a bigger picture. Like ordinary conversations that gradually increase in intensity and manifest themselves in an absorbing intensity that Hamaguchi masters like no other, as he has already demonstrated in his previous works. He is certainly one of the most exciting directors today. Like his other films, this one is initially rooted in a reality that it preserves, only to irrevocably shift into an artificial, odd and at some point surreal direction detaching itself from reality while still set within the confines of a realistic depiction. Already in his film Asako I&II he did something similar, having his characters act in a manner, that feels sudden and elusive. The enigma ultimately feels like an invitation to question our own perception of the world, bringing a sense of ambiguity and uncertainty to explore the complexities of human experience and the nature of truth itself.

Terrestrial Verses

Ali Asgari, Alireza Khatami (Iran, 2023)

Consisting of short stories, Asghari and Khatami deal with the daily struggles that exist through socio-political dogma. They show how a dictatorial power creates many smaller dictatorships that change the lives of everyone involved.

© Films Boutique

Using one-takes with fixed camera angles that only show the victim, Asghari presents the autocratic situations of everyday life in a way that is so bizarre that it mixes sarcastic comedy with sheer despair.

Although we see everything from the perspective of the authorities, we never get a glimpse of their inner lives. As a result, we relive the singular rage of the people in front of us, trapped in a cage whose bars gradually crumble as the blatant injustice becomes unbearable.

In Our Day

Hong Sang-soo (South Korea, 2023)

Talking and drinking. The search for meaning and the profanity of everyday life. Not forgetting Kim Min-hee. The same ingredients we know from Hong Sang-soo, but what's new here?

© Cinema Guild

In Our Day follows two perspectives, one of two students who spend a day with their poetry idol, who is struggling with alcoholism, and the other story line is about a former actor, her best friend and her cousin, who is just starting out as an actress. Not to mention their fat and adorable cat.

Visually, there are no clues as to whether the two narratives are taking place at the same time, but a connection develops as the two strands make their way to the end. Hong Sang-soo’s works are difficult to approach individually. Like this one, they deal with the same themes in a way that is almost a copy of his other works: sense and nonsense cling to each other in a series of everyday conversations.

As his characters wander and debate the meaning of life and the meaning of art, Hong gradually unveils the magic of the small, unimportant moments that make us forget the mysteries of meaning and the weight of our own existence.

Goodbye Julia

Mohamed Kordofani (Sudan , 2023)

Goodbye Julia is a socio-political drama set against the backdrop of the unrest and division between northern and southern Sudanese.

© Station Films

After a hit and run-accident, Mona tries to flee while being followed by the father of the hit child. Reaching her home in a panic, Mona’s husband shoots the father in what he believes to be self-defence. We then closely follow a shattered Mona as she attempts to settle her debt with the murdered man’s widow Julia, resulting in a friendship built on a foundation of lies.

Mohamed Kordofani’s feature film debut captures the characters’ fears and decisions as a reflection of the political climate, highlighting the power dynamics and social hierarchies in Sudan.

While the film is told from Mona’s perspective, the eponymous widow Julia is the far more nuanced and compelling character. With a past only hinted at, but clearly tainted by war, she carries the burden of anger and injustice to care for her child. She is splendidly played by Siran Riak, who portrays her character with a strength and confidence that embodies her character’s absolute will to fight.

As well as being relevant to the conflicts in Sudan, the film has an universal impact as we clearly see that there’s no such thing as seemingly apolitical—every action taken has political implications. Political influence can be seen in the smallest daily interactions with others as Kordofani shows in his powerful debut.

Heavy Snow

Yun Su-ik (South Korea, 2023)

Heavy Snow is a slice-of-life portrait of two girls, their struggles and complex bond.

One of the girls is Su-an, an outcast at school who dreams of becoming an actress. The other is Seol, a teen idol. The two become friends and a romantic affection blossoms. Bathed in blue and green palettes, the film carries a constant melancholy linked to themes of isolation, loneliness and the search for identity.

Feeling seen plays a central role in the film. Su-an envies her friend's success. When the two of them walk the streets together, they are constantly stopped by fans because of Seol's fame. Su-an admits that she feels inferior to Seol. At the same time, Seol, who has been in the spotlight since childhood, is a star, but her fame and beauty cause a painful invisibility of her true self.

The film stands out above all for its atmospheric images, which create a sense of longing and sadness as well as a form of disconnection from a reality that is becoming increasingly obscure. Like the images, the conflicting circumstances also remain unclear in a certain way. Whether it is friendship or romance, acting or reality, happiness or tragedy—everything remains intertwined for both girls and it is a digging for the truth that is covered further and further by heavy snow.

Alternate takes

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