The 12th Edition of Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) brought together the best films from around the globe for their ‘Cinema Of The World’ segment. It showcased 134 films from 60 countries, including 55 world and international premieres, 46 MENA premieres, 11 Middle East premieres and 17 GCC premieres, the 12th edition cemented its status as one of Conde Nast World Traveller’s Top 10 Film Festivals with overwhelmingly positive feedback from all attendees.
I was lucky enough to battle a tough schedule and attend to watch these films from 9th – 16th December, 2015. Here’s my list of all the films that are an absolute treat for everyone curious about the world and cultures out there, travellers, adventurers and wanderers alike:
1. SHERPA: A striking and enthralling counterbalance to recent mountaineering drama epic EVEREST, Australian director Jennifer Peedom’s stunning documentary focuses on Nepal’s Sherpas, the hard workers who transport all of the equipment up and down the mountains for Western climbers. Peedom, an experienced high-altitude filmmaker, climbs Mount Everest to train her camera on these overlooked workers, with particular emphasis on Phurba Tashi Sherpa’s 22nd ascent to the summit in 2014. Debate about the dangers involved take a dark turn when 16 Sherpas die at Khumbi Icefall and the film looks at the aftermath and implications of the incident. A beautifully powerful film, SHERPA is moving and visually enthralling in equal measure
2. EL ABRAZO DE LA SERPIENTE (EMBRACE OF THE SERPENT)
A beautifully strange journey into darkness, Ciro Guerra’s embrace of the serpent is a rewardingly oblique tale…an epic black-and-white journey that veers between two time periods and embraces the strange and the wonderful. It juxtaposes two men – Theo (Jan Bijvoet) and Evan (Brionne Davis) – and their journeys across the Amazon, 40 years apart. The film opens in a standard fashion, but this is something of a feint, with the story heading off into weird and dark directions as the men venture deeper into the Amazon and into dreamlike territory. It’s a hypnotic, bold and mesmerisingly unique film.
3. IXCANUL (VOLCANO)
A striking debut film from writer/director Jayro Bustamente, who makes great use of his actors, all non-professionals he found through theatre workshops and community meetings. He uses Guatemala’s active Pacaya volcano as the backdrop and the metaphor for the counterbalance between modern attitudes and ancient traditions. This is a beautifully shot story centering on the pre-marital pregnancy of young peasant girl Maria (Mercedes Coroy). The elegant widescreen cinematography from Luis Armando Arteaga helps give the film a real sense of majesty, as Maria and her mother juggle a world caught between spirits and the lure of the United States, a place dubbed by one character as simply “on the other side of the volcano”.
An engaging culinary drama that opened Cannes’ Un Certain Regard section this year, Naomi Kawase’s adaptation of Durian Sukegawa’s novel, AN is a delicate and at times fruitful drama. It is full of zen-like moments that point to the underlying theme that life (like food) is to be relished, worked on and enjoyed. ‘An’ refers to the sweet red bean paste that forms the filler between pancakes in the recipe for ‘dorayaki’, a popular street food in Japan. Veteran actress Kirin Kiki plays 76-year-old Tokue, who offers sage-like advice and warmth to those around her and helps drive the drama, as the story looks at Japan’s treatment of those with contagious diseases.
A tender and rather sensitive comedy-drama that offers the talented Michael Caton (who starred in the wonderful comedy THE CASTLE (1997)) in a striking and moving central role as Rex, a country taxi driver with stomach cancer that has left him with just three months to live. The story is set in the 1990s when euthanasia was legal for a brief time in Australia’s Northern Territory. When Rex hears about a Darwin doctor (Jacki Weaver) who practices assisted suicide, he heads off on a 3,000-kilometer journey to get her help, bumping into a variety of characters along the way. Based on Reg Cribb’s play, it is a charming and thoughtful film with real heart.
9. DOMÁCÍ PÉČE (HOME CARE)
An engaging slice of bittersweet Czech village life, Slavek Horak’s debut as writer/director is given real charm and zest by the lead performance by Alena Mihulová. She plays home care nurse Vlasta, who is at the warm-hearted core of this film, as she travels around South Moravia giving out advice and compassion (and medicine when needed) to her oddball patients. At home she has to deal with her work-shy husband Lada (Boleslav Polivka), who is hardly handy when it comes to domestic matters. But after an encounter with a local motorcyclist called ‘Speedy’, Vlasta heads off on her own journey of self-discovery and ends up having an impact on those around her. Engaging, life affirming and all built around Mihulová’s delightful lead performance.