From Monday the 14th of November until Monday the 12th of December this thread is going to be dedicated to discussing this year’s special selection of four outstanding European films.
After Love (2020 UK) is a British film that largely takes place in Calais, the point of France closest to the English coast. Recently widowed Mary discovers that her Pakistani-born husband had been exchanging texts with an unknown woman, so she crosses the channel to investigate her suspicions, entering into the lives of Geneviève and her son Solomon. Secrets abound, with no character truly revealing themself to any other (including the deceased Ahmed). Joanna Scanlon won Best Actress at both the BAFTAs and the British Independent Film Awards, and she truly carries this film that has remained under-seen since its release. While it's tempting to consider this film a reflection of modern and emerging Europe, where immigrants, particularly from Muslim-majority countries, make up an increasing part of the population (Muslims account for 5-10% in countries like France and the UK), at its heart it's a character study in its simplest form: as hinted by the title, it's about what people do to overcome tragedy in their lives.
Bye Bye Morons (2020 France) is a César-winning black comedy about a terminally-ill woman befriending a suicidal tech expert as she tries to track down the child she gave up for adoption as a teenager before it's too late. A chaotic journey around the city where bureaucracy and technology reign supreme, this absurdist film nevertheless manages to stick to the heart and soul of the story and maintain a strong emotional pull no matter how madcap the antics are or how preposterous the situation is that the characters find themselves in. Botched suicides, anonymous love letters, blind drivers, demential doctors, and another entry into the "scenes about people stuck in an elevator" list (perhaps more Top Gun than Resident Evil) are just some of the comical and emotional highlights. Your mileage may vary on this one, but the ending is sure to make it memorable once it's all said and done.
Father (2020 Serbia), not to be confused with Florian Zeller's The Father from the same year, is based on a true story of a man who travelled to Belgrade to try and have his children returned to him after they were taken away by Social Services. After his wife attempts self-immolation in front of her children in protest of her husband still not having received his severance package after losing his factory job a year earlier, the dirt poor Nikola sets out on foot across the country to reclaim his children while his wife recovers in hospital. It's a bleak, one-man-against-the-system drama that one could imagine easily being transposed to the American midwest or northern Japan; viewers may also notice some similarities with Romanian New Wave dramas about government bureaucracy. One man's struggle to provide for his children with decency and integrity should speak to us all.
Luzzu (2021 Malta), named after the small colourful traditional fishing boats of the island nation, follows a young man and his wife struggling to make ends meet to provide for their baby who has health problems. Jesmark is a fisherman, like his ancestors before him, trying to eke out a living amidst the modernization of Malta, EU fishing quotas, and traditional notions of masculinity. His desire to provide for his wife and child, without relying on handouts from her rich family that she left to be with him, lead him to look into the black market of fishing to make extra money. A third film that touches upon the unintended theme of ruinous bureaucracy in this slate, we watch as Jesmark struggles, inwardly and outwardly, in a film that's all about subtle conflict - there's no big burst of violence, or face off, or climactic fight, but every interaction and every scene plays out almost like a silent confrontation between the two people on screen. Sometimes, the conflict is written only in Jesmark's face and body language as he tries to reconcile tradition with progress, independence with security, and duty with self-respect. Malta's not known for it's homegrown film industry, but if this one is any indication, this island fortress in the middle of the Mediterranean has a lot more to offer.