Recommendations, please?

by Joanna van der Veen

If you go to a lot of film festivals, you get to see an awful lot of films from an awful lot of places. Many of those films are excellent, and stick with you long after watching. You rave about them to anyone who’s foolish enough to ask if you’ve seen anything good. But then those films don’t get a wide release, and the people you’ve recommended them to give up on finding them. Frustrating but far from unusual and so, every now and then, I like to remind myself about these cinematic gems…

1. War Witch (2012), dir. Kim Nguyen

War Witch, originally called Rebelle, is set in an undefined location in sub-Saharan Africa and its story is told through Komona (Rachel Mwanza), a 12-year-old girl kidnapped and forced to become a child soldier. We learn about 2 years of her life as she recounts it to her unborn child, the product of rape. We experience her haunting visions, which give her the ability to sense the proximity of enemies. With her, we experience fleeting love and happiness, and unimaginable terror.

War Witch mixes magical realism with scenes that are both visceral and harrowing. It is beautifully shot, gut-wrenchingly sad and utterly unforgettable.

2. Shun Li and the Poet (2011), dir. Andrea Segre

Shun Li and the Poet, originally called Io Sono Li, is a touching story of friendship and belonging set in the picturesque surroundings of the Venetian lagoon. Shun Li is a Chinese immigrant in Italy, working in a bar whilst getting her papers in order so that her young son can come and join her. She strikes up an unlikely rapport with one of the bar’s regulars, Slavic fisherman Bepi (also known as ‘the Poet’). Their relationship displeases both the local Chinese community and the Venetians, but has an impact on both their lives that neither of them could have imagined.

Segre’s light touch means that the film is enchanting and heart-warming, making viewers reflect upon theirr identity and sense of place.

3. Wadjda (2012), dir. Haifaa Al Mansour

In Saudi Arabia, a young girl called Wadjda (Waad Mohammed) fights the status quo to get the one thing she really wants: a green bicycle. In her society, girls are not supposed to ride bicycles – they are seen as dangerous to a girl’s ‘virtue’. Wadjda wins the audience over with her entrepreneurial spirit, fun-loving attitude and stubborn charm, and the result is an extremely entertaining film that nonetheless has an important message.

Wadjda is even more impressive when you take into account the fact that it was the first feature film shot entirely in Saudi Arabiaand the first feature-length film made by a female Saudi director.

4. Queen of Montreuil (2012), dir. Sólveig Anspach

A surreal comedy-drama set in France, featuring a depressed sea lion in a bathtub, a middle aged woman gleefully operating a crane and stranded Icelandic citizens. Queen of Montreuil’s plot is broadly about recently widowed Agathe (Florence Loiret Caille) moving home and trying to get her life back on track, but it’s actually just an uplifting and madcap look at getting over life’s hurdles.

5. Paziraie Sadeh (Modest Reception, 2012), dir. Mani Haghighi

A man and a woman travel through a war-torn mountainous region in their car. Its boot is full of money, which they give out to various characters that they meet on their journey. They ask the characters to carry out unusual requests in exchange. Where has the money come from and what are they hoping to achieve? Where has the money come from? What is the relationship between the two protagonists? An absurdist farce and social satire from Iranian director Mani Haghighi that sticks in the mind even when you’ve forgotten most of the details.


Joanna van der Veen / Writer (London, UK – 1990) Joanna splits her time between freelance translation, writing and working for a local urban regeneration project. She loves films that err a little bit on the strange side, and previously worked for a multi-language radio station dedicated to independent cinema, attending a whirlwind of film festivals from London to Mar del Plata.

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