Three to see at LFF 2016 if you like... films from Eastern Europe and Russia

Peter Hames recommends three hot tickets at the 2016 BFI London Film Festival: a film by an established director, a great debut, and a wild card.

Peter Hames
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The new film from an established director …

Scarred Hearts

Scarred Hearts (2016)

Scarred Hearts (2016)

What’s it about?

Radu Jude’s new film tells of Emanuel, a young Romanian Jewish student undergoing treatment for bone tuberculosis in a clinic on the Black Sea coast in the 1930s. Shot mainly within the hospital, it focuses on his internal thoughts, and records his romantic entanglements against a background of growing anti-Semitism.

Who made it?

Following on from his award-winning black comedy Everyone in the Family, Jude’s historical ‘western’ Aferim! was one of the hits of last year’s BFI London Film Festival. Marking another shift in pace and genre, Scarred Hearts is his most significant achievement to date – a further milestone in Romanian cinema.

What’s special about it?

Emanuel spends the whole film confined to his bed. But his dialogues and thoughts are full of philosophical reflection and a striking use of poetic and meditative quotation. Jude’s extensive use of long takes is combined with complex staging and an intelligent use of popular music – an engrossing experience and a unique exercise in style.

The breakthrough …

Zoology

Zoology (2016)

Zoology (2016)

What’s it about?

A middle-aged woman, Natasha, who shares her life with her mother and a cat, works as a procurement officer in a zoo. One day, she discovers that she has grown a tail. After undergoing medical tests, and starting a romantic engagement with a young radiologist, she soon discovers life experiences that she has previously been denied.

Who made it?

Ivan I. Tverdovsky is an accomplished documentary director and made his feature film debut with the award-winning Corrections Class (2014), about a young girl’s school experience in a class for disabled pupils. Her fight against prejudice and a society that refuses to accept those who are different mirrors similar themes in his latest film.

What’s special about it?

An absurd story that owes much to the traditions of Russian literature, Zoology is filmed in a documentary style that gives it an unusual resonance, involving it simultaneously in a contemporary reality no less absurd. Natalia Pavlenkova gives an impressive and moving performance in the role of Natasha.

The wild card …

The Noonday Witch

The Noonday Witch (2016)

The Noonday Witch (2016)

What’s it about?

Eliška and her small daughter move to her husband’s old house in a remote and idyllic village to ‘find peace and quiet’ in the country. But what has happened to the little girl’s father? What is the mystery of the witch-like wife of the local judge? The film’s psychological horror mixes everyday relations with the folk legend of the noonday witch.

Who made it?

Czech director Jiří Sádek makes a sharp and expressive feature debut with a screenplay inspired by the poem in K.J. Erben’s folk-tale collection A Bouquet. The principal role of Eliška is sympathetically played by leading Czech star Aňa Geislerová, who recently appeared in Sean Elllis’s Anthropoid.

What’s special about it?

The film is set against an idyllic summer landscape during a heat wave – a landscape that hides unknown dangers. While there are a number of conventional horror elements and shock edits, and an ‘appearance’ by the witch herself, the film cleverly elicits its horrors from the interaction of everyday characters.

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