You can change yourself into gold

Munich's filmfest is the first best opportunity to catch all the exclusive film premieres right after Cannes. Booking my tickets in advance, I managed to attend some of this year's highlights.

Only God Forgives
by Nicolas Winding Refn | Denmark/France | 2013
* * * * *
As a fan of Drive I was quite excited for this new production by Danish director Refn, featuring once again pretty boy Ryan Gosling. Aesthetically it is a feast for the eyes, stylish and violent. The story, on the other hand, fails to involve the viewer. The characters' actions are often unclear or unjustified and the plot difficult to comprehend. However, watching this film was, in the director's own words, "like taking good acid". Too bad I don't appreciate the use of drugs.

Love Steaks
by Jakob Lass | Germany | 2013
* * * * *
"A luxury hotel. Steaks are sizzling, muffin tops being massaged. Clemens (rare) enters the wellness area as a rookie. Lara (well-done) needs to assert herself in the kitchen pack. The elevator brings the two of them together. Hanging in dependence. They encounter each other, until they clash." This film was quite successful with the audience (but only moderately successful with me) by being simultaneously humorous and human. The acting was excellent, and it's certainly an admirable accomplishment for a debut film and a great addition to the new German cinema.

De Ontmaagding van Eva van End (The Deflowering of Eva Van End)
by Michiel ten Horn | Netherlands | 2013
* * * * *
The Van Ends are a perfectly normal dysfunctional family whose world is turned upside down by the visit of the impossibly perfect German exchange student Veit. This debut film is a bittersweet comedy by a director whose main occupation is (or was) illustration and animation. You can tell it by the meticulously stylized settings, the quirky arrangements and its toy box palette. A very charming story where not only Eva is "deflowered" but all the characters reinvent themselves, ending in almost fatal results.

Montana Sacra (The Holy Mountain)
by Alejandro Jodorowsky | Mexico | 1973
* * * * *
I must confess I wasn't familiar with this director's work and was caught a bit off guard. Bizarre, surreal, grotesque, sacrilegious and abundant in symbolisms, this film's imagery is certainly not easy to digest nor is it suitable for a mainstream audience. The ending, however, is a fantastic twist and you finally get a grasp of the movie's message. If you think David Lynch made some absurd and crazy stuff, watch some Jodorowsky.

This Must Be The Place
by Paolo Sorrentino | France/Ireland/Italy | 2011
* * * * *
Besides Jodorowsky, there was also a retrospective dedicated to Italian director Paolo Sorrentino (Le conseguenze dell'amore, Il Divo). Sean Penn, in one of his most captivating roles, plays an old decadent rockstar called Cheyenne (probably inspired by Robert Smith's looks and Ozzy Osbourne's lifestyle) living off his royalties in Ireland. A tragicomedy with an interesting premise that sadly regresses to a less interesting development when the character embarks on a road trip to take revenge on his deceased father's tormentor, an ex-Nazi war criminal.

Le passé (The Past)
by Asghar Farhadi | France/Italy | 2013
* * * * *
A well directed and well acted realistic drama piece from awarded Iranian director Asghar Farhadi (About Elly, A Separation). The story develops bit by bit, gradually revealing an even deeper and intricate conflict in the relationship between the characters. Definitely one of the festival's best highlights.

Not Fade Away
by David Chase | USA | 2012
* * * * *
American suburbia in the 60s: a bunch of dudes want to become popular as a band but never do. Along with the obvious music references, like Buddy Holly, The Beatles The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, etc., I didn't really feel much empathy for any of the charachters. But with James Gandolfini's recent death, this film kind of became the festival's unintentional hommage to the Sopranos actor.

Soshite chichi ni naru (Like Father, Like Son)
by Hirokazu Koreeda | Japan | 2013
* * * * *
"Ryota has earned everything he has by his hard work, and believes nothing can stop him from pursuing his perfect life as a winner. Then one day, he and his wife, Midori, get an unexpected phone call from the hospital. Their 6-year-old son, Keita, is not 'their' son – the hospital gave them the wrong baby. Ryota is forced to make a life-changing decision, to choose between 'nature' and 'nurture'. Seeing Midori's devotion to Keita even after learning his origin, and communicating with the rough yet caring family that has raised his natural son for the last six years, Ryota also starts to question himself: has he really been a 'father' all these years…" Winner of the Jury Prize in Cannes, this film was also my personal favourite from this years' bunch. It raises some interesting and complex issues about parenthood and the nature versus nurture debate. Despite having a very simple and slow paced narrative, its emotional power will eventually overwhelm you. And never have I seen 6 year old kids acting so well on screen. A relentlessly sweet and well made film you should not miss.

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