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International Film Festival Rotterdam 2021 - Viewing tips for the 50th edition

You could almost say that brand-new festival director Vanja Kaludjercic has made a virtue of necessity. Because because of corona everything has to be different, the International Film Festival Rotterdam now stretches over a scant six months. And isn't that a great way to draw attention to the anniversary? On 1 February, the 50th edition kicks off with a week of online screenings. Featuring the main core programmes, including the Tiger Competition. In June, a wrap-up, hopefully also on location. In between then all sorts of special events.

I give a few viewing tips in advance for that first week. Should I watch the opening film Riders of Justice also in that list? No need, it seems to me, as there's already plenty of attention for this stray Danish kickoff that pops in quite nicely. Anders Thomas Jensen, who has a solid reputation for absurdist stories, now presents a cross between revenge thriller and a gripping and emotionally quite serious grief drama. Due to a fatal train accident, professional soldier Markus (Mads Mikkelsen) loses his wife. Then he is approached by three men seriously struggling with themselves and life. It was not an accident but an attack, they claim. Whereupon an attempt to retaliate spirals out of control.

The festival calls it a black comedy. It is indeed that at times, but as far as I'm concerned, that still sounds too light-hearted. At times, it is as if Jensen translates the fierce pain of loss almost literally into shocking violence. That is a strong and unexpected effect. Only I have doubts about the conclusion. As if Jensen couldn't find an appropriate twist there.

Now for the tips, in alphabetical order.

Agate mousse

Agate mousse (photo: IFFR)

Selim Mourad, Lebanon. What do you imagine about a film from the Arab region? Probably nothing like this. A poetic, philosophical and ironic dance bursting out of all familiar frames around mortality, life and art. It all starts when the creator lies naked on the examination table, a doctor squeezes his balls and discovers a faulty lump. Agate mousse is a multi-coloured collage where you shouldn't try to tie up all the ends. But definitely one of the most free and challenging films of the Tiger competition. From February 4.

As We Like It

Cheng Hung-i, Muni Wei, Taiwan. In Shakespeare's time, women were not allowed on stage and their roles were played by men. In this now fairytale-like, then energetic and musical adaptation of one of his plays, the makers have reversed that. Women now play men. Fits nicely he the modest thread of stories about confident women that runs through the IFFR programme. I'm curious, as I haven't seen it myself yet, but I'm happy to pass on this tip on behalf of the festival. Big Screen competition. From 3 February.

Carro Rei

Renata Pinheiro, Brazil. As, for that matter, is this curious fantasy about steel, sex and politics. Cronenberg preceded at the time with his famous Crash. Renata Pinheiro is on a similar track. Teenager Uno, who was born in a taxi, believes he can understand cars. Perhaps in the future, those vehicles will even have a consciousness of their own. That does not bode well in the world Pinheiro creates. Big Screen competition. From 3 February.


Jun Li, Hong Kong. In the shadow of Hong Kong's modern high-rises and flyovers, homeless people try to make a meagre living. When they are chased away like dirt, they revolt. Strong socially moving drama that showed me a rarely shown side of this metropolis. Often filmed very close, creating movingly beautiful, human portraits. Shot during the political street protests, which, although not on screen, influenced the tone. Based on a true incident. Big Screen competition. From 5 February.


Feast (photo: IFFR)

Tim Leyendekker, Netherlands. A real Rotterdam Tiger! And certainly not the least in this competition. After the notorious Groningen HIV case, in which men at sex parties were deliberately injected with HIV-contaminated blood. Leyendekker chose a surprisingly original form. Not just a reconstruction or brave documentary, but an approach from multiple angles, each in its own style and form. From sensual body details via a display of attributes (such as dildos, needles, chip bags and wine glasses) and theatre-like situations to experiments on tulip bulbs and re-enacted interviews. This makes for an intriguing yet lucidly composed exploration of human lusts and drives. From 3 February.

First Cow and Big Talk Kelly Reichardt

First Cow (photo: IFFR)

American Kelly Reichardt will receive the Robby Müller Award during the festival, named after the acclaimed cameraman who died in 2018. An award for filmmakers with a distinct visual language. That Reichardt deserves it will not escape anyone who sees her latest film at the festival First Cow sees. In the Oregon wilderness around 1820, pioneers are trying to make a living.

Among them a shy cook who befriends a Chinese immigrant. They start a highly successful trade in a kind of oil balls that awaken nostalgia for England. Only problem is that they start stealing the milk needed to make them. At night, they secretly milk the first cow to arrive. 'The bird has a nest, the spider a web, man friendship' is the motto here. You could call it an anti-Western. So stripped of all glamour and so full of warmth, we haven't seen this before. As if you really find yourself in that era. Every image exudes poignancy, tragedy and hope. Very curious to see what Reichardt has to say during her so-called Big Talk. First Cow from 3 February in programme Limelight; Big Talk on 4 February.


Itonje Søimer Guttormsen, Norway. Norway's first-ever Tiger contender. Rather merciless sketch of intellectual pretensions in the theatre world. Gritt is a woman with grandiose but somewhat unclear plans for critical performance. Unfortunately, she does not fit into the grantmaker's pigeonhole. Challengingly ironic and a touch subversive - see, for example, the sideline with a theatre maker with Down syndrome, which is nothing wrong with that. Strong lead role, increasingly moving. From 2 February.

Landscapes of Resistance

Landscapes of Resistance (photo: IFFR)

Marta Popivoda, Serbia. Radical Choice delivers an impressive documentary. It starts off familiar. Kindly old Sonja reminisces about World War II, when she was the first female partisan to fight the Germans in Serbia and later escaped from Auschwitz. Beautiful, intimate moments, sparsely dosed. This is not talking head cinema. But decidedly unusual next is the choice to forgo archival footage. Popidova accompanies Sonja's narration with images of the places, ruins and landscapes where it might have taken place, sometimes complemented by modest drawings. Thus, this extraordinary and poignant history also becomes a reflection on time. How everything disappears and yet stays with us. Tiger competition. From 2 February.

Good to know Good to know
On the first screening day of a film, the screening will conclude with a Q&A with the makers. See further the programme and tickets page.

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Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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