This year’s foreign films at the 2014 Traverse City Film Festival, held July 29th to August 3rd in Traverse City, feature award-winners such as “Black Coal, Thin Ice,” the top winner at this year’s Berlin Film Festival. Add to that a Georgian tragic comedy about love and honor, a delightfully black comedy satirizing class and religion in modern Egypt and a gripping Somalian docu-drama that plays like “Captain Phillips” from the pirates’ point of view and you have a winning lineup of foreign films at the Traverse City Film Festival. Most tickets go on sale July 13th so mark the date!
THE BACHELOR WEEKEND – Sunday 7 pm Vogue, Tuesday 9 pm Movies on a Boat and Friday 9 pm Lars Hockstad
2013 | Ireland | NR | 94 min.
Who doesn’t love a boisterous Irish comedy—especially one with this much heart? The unlikely bachelor at the center of the titular weekend is Fionnan, a guy more interested in talking wedding details than jetting off for organized debauchery. At the insistence of his fiancée Ruth, however, he reluctantly agrees to cut loose for one last prenuptial hurrah with his best mates (one of whom just so happens to carry a torch for Ruth). But when Ruth’s notoriously unpredictable brother, known only as “The Machine,” turns up, what started as a relaxed camping adventure becomes a rowdy journey into the wilderness as they encounter more than their fair share of unexpected detours. In this “The Hangover” for the discerning movie-goer—where nothing says male bonding like a memorable sing-along or a raucous de-trousering—it’s how the wacky comedy plays off an underlying sweetness that makes this a side-splitting pleasure.
BLACK COAL, THIN ICE (BAI RI YAN HUO) – Wednesday 9 pm Miliken
2014 | China, Hong Kong | NR | 106 min.
Heads up, noir fans—this one should be first on your list. Moody with working-class despair, encroaching danger, and pulp romantic fatalism, and set in a wintry industrial city in Northern China, the top prize winner from this year’s Berlin Film Festival is a powerfully controlled detective thriller with no heroes and no villains. Five years after a tragically botched arrest attempt of a suspect implicated in the grisly discovery of dismembered human remains, an alcoholic ex-detective now working security in a coal factory begins the old investigation anew when more body parts are found. A knotty plot rewards mystery buffs’ concentrated efforts, and features a plethora of sublime cinematic moments: a shootout the likes of which you’ve never seen; a dazzling tracking shot that moves the story from 1999 to 2004; and a perfect, absurdist unexpected ending. In Mandarin with subtitles.
BLIND DATES (BRMA PAEMNEBI) – Saturday 9 am Old Town Playhouse
2013 | Georgia | NR | 95 min.
Forty-year-old schoolteacher Sandro still lives with his parents in Tbilisi, in spite of his nagging mother’s insistence that he grow up and find a wife. After joining his friend on an unsuccessful blind double date, fate lends a hand when he meets Manana, the mother of one of Sandro’s students, and sparks soon fly. The only catch: Manana’s temperamental husband is set to be released from prison the next day. Bound and determined not to miss out on his one chance at true romance, Sandro will do whatever it takes to keep in contact with Manana—even if that means aiding her husband in some not-so-legal business. A sweet and compassionately human comedy drama, Georgian New Wave director Levan Koguashivili’s winning film is a tragicomic look at the quest for true love and honor. In Georgian with subtitles.
BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR – Saturday 5 pm Bijou
2013 | France | NC-17 | 179 min.
Adèle (played by an unforgettable 19-year-old Adèle Exarchopoulos) comes of age in one of the most explosive, intense, masterful, and quintessentially French films you’re ever likely to see. The first Cannes Film Festival Palme d’Or winner to deal with LGBT issues, based on Julie Maroh’s graphic novel, and infamous for its sexually explicit encounters between the two actresses, this epic story of love is not a single frame longer than it should be. Beautifully paced from the introduction of the high school protagonist and her electric first encounter with blue haired punk artist Emma, and on through the years, as class, career, flirtations, and time erode their love. The sheer power of the truth acclaimed director Abdellatif Kechiche reveals about the ache of tumultuous relationships will leave you breathless and transformed. In French with subtitles.
CHILD’S POSE (POZITIA COPILULUI) – Friday 12 pm State Theatre and Saturday 9 pm Old Town Playhouse
2013 | Romania | NR | 112 min.
Winner of the top prize at the 2013 Berlin Film Festival, this riveting psychological thriller is the latest in a string of great dramas coming from Romania. In one of the best performances you’ll see at the festival, Luminita Gheorghiu stars as Cornelia, a well-to-do retired architect in Bucharest with a fanatical devotion to her only child, thirty something Barbu. When Barbu runs over and kills a teenage boy in the suburbs, Cornelia will stop at nothing to save her “poor boy” from any jail time—even if it means bribing witnesses, turning in false police reports, and pressuring the victim’s family. Director Calin Peter Netzer offers razor-sharp social satire in this brilliantly-wrought film, a spellbinding drama about class, family, and obsession. In Romanian with subtitles.
CHINESE PUZZLE (CASSE-TÊTE CHINOIS) – Thursday 3 pm Lars Hockstad and Sunday 3 pm City Opera House
2013 | France | R | 117 min.
Acclaimed French director Cédric Klapisch (“My Piece of the Pie,” TCFF ‘11) returns to the festival with the third entry in his “Auberge Espagnole” trilogy, a lively, globetrotting rom-com following the romantic trials and tribulations of perpetually restless writer Xavier (Romain Duris). When his ex-wife of 10 years leaves Paris for greener pastures in New York City and takes their children with her, Xavier has no choice but to chase after her and make a go of it for himself in America—despite having no job and no accommodations beyond his friend’s couch in Brooklyn. Whether you’re new to the series or you’ve been following for years, this lighthearted and playful gem, featuring top French movie stars like Audrey Tautou, is sure to delight. In French with subtitles.
A COFFEE IN BERLIN – Friday 9 am Old Town Playhouse and Saturday 9 pm Miliken
2012 | Germany | NR | 88 min.
The slacker cool of Jim Jarmusch meets shades of vintage Woody Allen in this deadpan black-and-white comedy following a day in the life of twenty something law school dropout Niko, who has been living off his father’s allowance while waiting for life to come to him. Aimless and adrift after being indifferently dumped by his girlfriend, he wanders the streets of Berlin with little in mind other than procuring a perpetually elusive cup of coffee, careening from one absurd encounter to the next, until a chance meeting with a girl from his past forces him to confront his live-for-the-moment attitude. Winner of six German Oscars and a mega hit throughout Europe, director Jan-Ole Gerster’s clever breakout feature is a poetic look at life in the German capital that captures something quintessential about the millennial generation and what it means to be young today. In German with subtitles.
EXCUSE MY FRENCH (LAMOAKHZA) – Thursday 9 am Old Town Playhouse and Saturday 9 am Miliken
2014 | Egypt | NR | 99 min.
When young Hany’s father unexpectedly drops dead at the dinner table, he and his mother discover that their upper class family is massively in debt, and can no longer afford Hany’s expensive private Christian education. Hany is dropped into a chaotic public school where he finds himself well out of his comfort zone among rowdy classmates who mistake him for a fellow Muslim. Desperate to do anything to fit in, Hany goes along with the misunderstanding. “Excuse My French” almost never saw the light of day after its script was held up by censors for four years, but we’re glad it did: it’s a delightfully black comedy satirizing class and religion in modern Egypt, and a snapshot of the lives of ordinary citizens in a nation trapped in the throes of ongoing revolution. In Arabic with subtitles.
FISHING WITHOUT NETS – Wednesday 12 pm State Theatre and Sunday 9 am Bijou
2014 | Kenya, Somalia, USA | NR | 109 min.
On the coast of Somalia, Abdi’s family have long sustained themselves as fishermen. But a recent surge in pollution, droughts, and war have forced the normally upstanding Abdi into a difficult situation. Desperate to make a better life for his family, he reluctantly joins a local pirate crew and sets out to hijack a passing French oil tanker, taking its crew hostage. But how far will he go to earn his cut of the ransom? An award winner at Sundance, this gripping docu-drama plays like “Captain Phillips” from the pirates’ point of view, as portrayed by a cast of Somali refugees (mainly non-professional actors), offering mesmerizing and deeply human portraits of life on a side of the world we rarely see. In English, French, Somali with subtitles.
A FIVE STAR LIFE (VIAGGIO SOLA) – Friday 3 pm Miliken and Saturday 12 pm Lars Hockstad
2013 | Italy | NR | 85 min.
Forty-something Irene’s job description reads like a fantasy come true: Traveling across Europe, visiting the most stunning cities and staying in the most lavish hotels, methodically evaluating her experience with a set of criteria that encompasses everything from the softness of the sheets to the temperature of the soup. But a dream job does not a dream life make, and beneath the seeming glamour of her career lies an emptiness that no amount of room service, plush robes, or luxury toiletries can ever hope to fill. Following a shocking announcement from one of the few people she holds dear, the perpetually unattached Irene begins to reevaluate the choices she’s made. A sleeper hit in Italy where star Margherita Buy’s quietly extraordinary performance won the Italian Oscar, “A Five Star Life” is a warm, wonderful, and beautiful trip definitely worth taking. In Italian with subtitles.
THE GERMAN DOCTOR (WAKOLDA) – Wednesday 7 pm Garden, Thursday 9 pm City Opera House and Friday 12 pm Lars Hockstad
2013 | Argentina, France, Norway, Spain | PG-13 | 93 min.
A fictionalized account of a missing chapter in the life of one of the 20th century’s most notorious war criminals, this gripping drama opens in a German community in Patagonia in 1960. Josef Mengele (the “Angel of Death”) is hiding there following revelations of the cruel and inhumane experiments performed on concentration camp inmates at his behest. We meet Mengele through the eyes of twelve- year-old Lilith, whose family is unknowingly hosting the fugitive in their hotel. During their time together, Mengele takes a sinister interest in naïve Lilith, who proves a willing party to his new experiments to help make her taller. Argentina’s submission for Academy Award Nomination for Best Foreign Language Film, “The German Doctor” is a provocative thriller tinged with mystery and suspense. In German, Spanish, Hebrew with subtitles.
THE GILDED CAGE (LA CAGE DORÉE) – Wednesday 6 pm City Opera House and Sunday 6 pm Lars Hockstad
2013 | France | NR | 90 min.
A box office smash in France, this delightful comedy follows a working-class Portuguese immigrant family in Paris headed by Maria, the concierge at a ritzy apartment complex, and José, the hardworking foreman at a prominent construction company. In their 30-odd years in France, they’ve made a modest but comfortable life in the service of others—so much so that when they inherit a winery back in their native Portugal and have their life-long dream tantalizingly within reach, everyone they’ve worked for starts scrambling to find ways to keep them from leaving. As the son of Portuguese immigrants himself, writer-director Ruben Alves delivers a keenly observed comedy that satirizes stereotypes along cultural and class lines—a warm-hearted look at family and what it means to belong in society. In English, French, Portuguese with subtitles.
I WON’T COME BACK (YA NE VERNUS) – Wednesday 6 pm Bijou and Friday 6 pm City Opera House
2014 | Belarus, Estonia, Finland, Kazakhstan, Russia | NR | 109 min.
Each year we try to bring films that, despite their lack of eye-catching stars or high-concept plot devices, are so exquisitely and simply told that they stay with you long after the credits roll. This is one of those films—a profoundly moving story of two girls on a heartfelt journey of mutual survival across a bleakly beautiful Russian landscape. Anya, a grad student who suddenly finds herself on the run from the police, reluctantly gains a young traveling companion in Kristina, an orphaned girl determined to reunite with the only family she has left. For different reasons, both girls cling to the hope of finding Kristina’s long-lost grandmother, who may or may not be waiting at the end of the journey. It all leads to a climax of such sheer poignancy that it will take your breath away. In Russian with subtitles.
THE HUNT (JAGTEN) – Thursday 3 pm Bijou and Sunday 6 pm Old Town Playhouse
2012 | Denmark | R | 111 min.
Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Oscars, “The Hunt” is essential viewing that will make you laugh, cry, and rage with uncontrollable fury all at once. When a beloved kindergarten teacher is falsely accused of an unspeakable crime, his simple life is shattered. Rumors become insinuations, insinuations become fact, and he is shunned by friends and family. The incredible intensity of the great Mads Mikkelsen (TV’s “Hannibal;” “A Royal Affair,” TCFF ’12), the man at the center of this devastating witch-hunt, makes the chilling tale of mob mentality and hysteria the kind of gripping storytelling you just can’t shake. As riveting as any thriller, director Thomas Vinterberg’s film will draw you in and take you down a road that is anything but expected. In Danish with subtitles.
THE KEEPER OF LOST CAUSES (KVINDEN I BURET) – Wednesday 6 pm Miliken and Thursday 9 pm State Theatre
2013 | Denmark, Germany, Sweden | NR | 97 min.
As fans of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and “The Killing” can attest, there’s no place like Scandinavia to find the latest and greatest in hardboiled crime drama. After a shootout leaves one partner paralyzed and the other dead, former chief detective Carl Mørck finds himself exiled from the homicide department to a desk job in Department Q, where he is tasked with processing and quickly closing cold case files. But the first case to come across his desk proves too tantalizing to write off, so the tenacious Mørck hits the streets with his assistant Assad to investigate the supposed suicide of a prominent female politician whose body vanished without a trace. Their quest for justice leads to a sinister discovery in this gripping and finely crafted Nordic noir, a tense mystery full of twists. In Danish with subtitles.
THE LUNCHBOX (DABBA) – Friday 12 pm. Miliken
2013 | France, Germany, India, US | PG | 105 min.
Mumbai’s Dabbawallahs are a community of 5,000 lunchbox deliverymen. Harvard University analyzed their delivery system and concluded that just one in a million lunch boxes ever gets delivered to the wrong address. This is the story of that one lunchbox, and how it connects a lonely stranger in the dusk of his life with a young, neglected housewife trying to regain her husband’s attention with special lunches. When her husband doesn’t mention the new food she’s sending daily, she puts a note in the lunchbox for him, only to receive a reply from the stranger, whose appreciation for her food is great. Thus begins a correspondence and fantasy world which threatens to take over reality for both parties in this Indian romance that is a bright, easy- to-embrace crowd-pleaser basking in light humor and emotional smarts. In English, Hindi with subtitles.
MANOS SUCIAS – Thursday 3 pm City Opera House and Friday 12 pm Old Town Playhouse
2014 | Colombia, USA | NR | 82 min.
Forget what you know about Colombian drug trafficking movies. Executive produced by Spike Lee and shot entirely on location in the violent epicenter of Colombia’s drug trade, director Josef Kubota Wladyka’s airtight drama grabs you early on and doesn’t let go. We meet estranged brothers Jacobo and Delio, who have little in common: stern Jacobo is an experienced drug runner whose young son was murdered after he mouthed off to a paramilitary gang, while the uninitiated young Delio has an infant son at home and dreams of being a rapper. Reunited by coincidence and tasked with towing millions of dollars worth of cocaine behind a fishing boat to Panama along the dense jungle coastline, the brothers must come together to avoid certain death when the inevitable trouble arises. In Spanish with subtitles.
MANUSCRIPTS DON’T BURN (DAST-NEVESHTEHAA NEMISOOSAND) – Wednesday 3 pm Old Town Playhouse
2013 | Iran | NR | 127 min.
Iranian cinema has experienced a renaissance in recent years—often shooting covertly, the country’s filmmakers are turning their country’s political drama into incredibly powerful cinema. “Manuscripts Don’t Burn” is one of the very best of these films. Writer-director Mohammad Rasoulof (“Iron Island,” TCFF ‘06, “Head Wind,” TCFF ‘08, “The White Meadows,” TCFF ‘11—can you tell we’re fans of his work?) follows both the government operatives assigned to terrorize, torture, and murder dissident writers and intellectuals, as well as the old men who will soon be their targets. The killers have problems of their own—one is a desperate father who needs the contract killing work to pay for his son’s operation. With the fraught mood (if not the adrenaline pace) of a thriller, Rasoulof has created a near perfect document on the horrors of censorship. In Persian with subtitles.
OMAR – Saturday 9 am State Theatre
2013 | Occupied Palestinian Territory | NR | 98 min.
In a divided city in the West Bank of the Occupied Palestine Territories, twenty-something Omar won’t let a separation wall or bullets fired by the Israeli Army keep him from his childhood friends Tarek and Amjad, or his high school love Nadja. Baker by day and resistance fighter by night, Omar and his friends hatch a plan to attack an Israeli soldier; in the aftermath, he is chased down, apprehended and tortured before being released back to his friends. As suspicions mount among his peers about his loyalty, Omar’s already-fractured life is torn further asunder. Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Oscars, this gripping, action-packed drama from Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad (“Paradise Now,” TCFF ‘06) brings hard truths about life under occupation and the price of resistance into stark relief. In Arabic, Hebrew with subtitles.
THE PAST (LE PASSÉ) – Thursday 9 am State Theatre
2013 | France, Iran, Italy | NR | 130 min.
Iranian director Asghar Farhadi’s followup to his Oscar winner “A Separation” once again proves the director’s mastery at crafting emotionally complex and intimate human dramas. Ahman leaves Tehran for Paris following a four-year separation from his estranged wife Marie (Bérénice Bejo of “The Artist”), returning at her behest to finalize their divorce so she can marry her new beau Samir. He finds a family in turmoil: Samir’s current wife is in a coma; Marie is newly pregnant; and Lucie, Marie’s teenage daughter from a previous marriage, resents her mother’s string of fleeting romances. Ahman’s presence in their lives throws their troubles into sharp relief as everyone realizes it’s not so easy to break free from the past. This Cannes Film Festival award winner is a powerful and nuanced masterpiece that will stay with you long after you leave the theater. In Persian, French with subtitles.
SNEAK PREVIEW: STATIONS OF THE CROSS (KREUZWEG) – Wednesday 9 pm State Theatre and Sunday 9 pm Miliken
2014 | Germany, France | NR | 107 min.
As a pious Catholic in modern Germany, fourteen-year-old Maria won’t let anything get in the way of her devotion to her faith—even if it means being picked on at school and missing out on the social life the other kids around her get to enjoy. Told in 14 chapters mirroring the 14 stations of the cross (the stages of Christ’s condemnation to death), this film follows Maria as she takes on the impossibly heavy burden of expectations from heroverbearing mother and extremely strict priest. But her zealous approach to religion and desire to do the right thing leads her down a dangerous path of self-sacrifice. A carefully crafted and darkly comic arthouse masterpiece about the dangers of religious conservatism, this absorbing film from acclaimed director Dietrich Brüggemann took home Best Screenplay at this year’s Berlin Film Festival, and is at the top of the must-see list for this year’s Traverse City Film Festival. In German with subtitles.
PLAYING DEAD (JE FAIS LE MORT) – Friday 7pm Bay Theatre and Saturday 9 pm Lars Hockstad
2013 | France | NR | 104 min.
This witty, Agatha Christie-style whodunit stars Belgian-born François Damiens as a wisecracking, likeable lug of the Vince Vaughn variety. Damiens is divorced and broke, eeking out a living acting in ads for diarrhea medicine, but over 20 years ago, he won the coveted César award for Most Promising Actor. He’s talented—he just annoys everyone by turning each role into an elaborate method acting exercise. Then he lands a job in the French Alps playing the victims in a homicide reenactment (French courts use reenactments to test the plausibility of case facts). While working the new gig, he falls for the attractive, no-nonsense magistrate in charge, and stumbles into helping her solve the crime he’s there to reenact. This smart, frequently funny caper comedy is the complete package: great acting, beautiful scenery, and a playful score. In French with subtitles.
SNOWPIERCER – Wednesday 9 pm Lars Hockstad, Saturday 9 pm Movies on a Boat and Sunday 9 pm State Theatre
2013 | South Korea | R | 125 min.
In the not-so-distant future, failed efforts to halt global warming have left the Earth frozen in a second ice age. Thanks to the vision of a benevolent billionaire, the last surviving members of the human race are confined to a state-of-the-art train that acts as a sort of Noah’s Ark, kept on a perpetually speeding journey around the globe. The train’s first class passengers enjoy all the luxuries of a lavish life; for thelower-class workers trapped in the rear of the train, things aren’t quite so rosy. Tired of being confined to the bottom caste, Curtis (Chris Evans) rallies his ragtag comrades to rebel against the ruling class, which is led by an evil prime minister tasked with maintaining the status quo (Tilda Swinton, in a scene-stealing role). One of the best sci-fi films in years, the first English-language film from Korean director Bong Joon-ho (“The Host,” TCFF ‘07) is a thrilling, action-packed dystopian vision. In English, French, Japanese, Korean with subtitles.
STILL LIFE – Wednesday 9 am Bijou and Friday 9 pm Miliken
2013 | UK, Italy | NR | 92 min.
Quiet, unassuming John May (Eddie Marsan, in a pitch-perfect performance) has held an unusual occupation for the past 20-odd years, tracking down the next of kin to those who have died alone. Meticulous to a fault, John’s care and attention to detail is deemed unnecessary in this age of efficiency and he finds himself next in line for downsizing. But before his inevitable departure, he pursues one final assignment: finding the relatives of his elderly neighbor Billy Stoke. When his journey to piece together Billy’s past takes him outside London, he is shaken by an encounter with a life that too closely mirrors his own solitary existence. But then hope comes when he finds an unexpected companion in Billy’s estranged daughter Kelly (“Downton Abbey” regular Joanne Froggatt). Winner of Best Director at the Venice Film Festival, “Still Life” is a poignant drama that serves as a reminder that the best moments of life are meant to be shared with others.
THE VOLCANO (EYJAFJALLAJÖKULL) – Thursday 9 pm Lars Hockstad and Sunday 12 pm State Theatre
2013 | Belgium, France | NR | 92 min.
From the team that brought you the TCFF ’10 favorite “Heartbreakers” and the TCFF ’12 sensation “The Intouchables” comes a zany and entertaining story of a bitterly divorced couple (Valerie Bonneton and French megastar Dany Boon) who inadvertently cross paths while traveling to Greece for their daughter’s wedding. As if sharing airspace on the same 747 isn’t bad enough, even though she’s in first-class, and he’s in coach, the eruption of a certain famously unpronounceable Icelandic volcano (Eyjafjallajokull, for inquiring minds) grounds their flight plans. So the polar opposites must swallow their pride and work together to make their way, “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles”-style, from Paris to Greece. It’s got irresistible chemistry, lively antics, scenic settings, and a raucously playful road-tripping premise—what more could you ask for in a great romantic comedy? In French with subtitles.