This week, International Film Festival Rotterdam will finally return to cinema theatres. In the last two years, an IFFR screening meant: a friend with a beamer, a bottle of red wine and a bag of crisps; but however much we tried, it just didn't carry the festival feeling.
IFFR holds a special place in our hearts, as it does for many Rotterdammers. It is a bright moment in winter darkness, a cheering-up effort for seasonal depression. Multiple SUSAN BIJL teammates volunteered at the festival or are frequent filmgoers. Our shopping bags and pouches with the tiger logo, designed by 75B, are among our favourite collaborations of the past.
We are ready for some good old film festival entertainment, so dig up your 2017/2018 IFFR limited edition shopping bag and free up your calendars.
These are the films that stood out to us in the 2023 program:
Miki Satoshi, Japan
Kato is an aspiring screenwriter treading water. He spends his days pitching stories to offbeat agents and executives who are anything but impressed. Not that he has run out of ideas, they just don't seem to go anywhere. Unlike his relationship with his girlfriend Zigzag – that one is going down the drain. Little does Kato – or anyone – know that life is about to take some seriously weird turns.
While out to buy the special brand of food for his girlfriend's dog Cerberus, Kato discovers an abandoned convenience store that transforms his trajectory. A stumble into a refrigerator catapults him into a realm of fantastical inspiration boosted by an eccentric couple he meets along the way. Might this be the key to getting his mojo back?
Miki Satoshi (Adrift in Tokyo, What to Do with the Dead Kaiju?) returns with a surreal and quirky indie film that manages to be both charming and deeply philosophical. Convenience Story takes you on an eccentric Dantean ride brimming with psychological tension and the zest of karma. From the purgatory of writer's block, to a hell of an adventure, Kato's journey is a satisfying and thoughtful tale.
Karoline Lyngbye, Denmark
Stine and Teit, your average urban middle-class artists and intellectuals, leave Copenhagen for the wilds of neighbouring Sweden's forest. Soon, they find out that something is strange there – most disturbingly – when their son Nemo suddenly thinks his mother isn't really his mother anymore. It becomes clear once Stine and Teit discover that they have neighbours who look exactly like them – mirror images made flesh and blood.
The subject of reflections and doubles is introduced in the film's first shot: a view of a lake landscape turned 90° so that the water's surface runs vertically through the image's centre. Only once the shot gets tilted is it revealed which side mirrors which. Later, a mother and child are reflected in a glass door.
However, this is not your doppelganger thriller of the gothic variety. Note the title: in physics, superposition means (per Merriam-Webster) "the combination of two distinct physical phenomena of the same type (such as spin or wavelength) so that they coexist as part of the same event". This is more a metaphysical meditation towards the realisation that none of us is ever alone, but also never unique
Five short films that investigate gender roles, relationships and probing in the search for connection.
- Fringe, Jasmine Ellis, Germany
- I Want to Fo Higher, Amanda van Hesteren, Netherlands
- Maxi-Pad, Julia de Roo, Netherlands
- Need, Jonnah Bron, Netherlands
- Solo, Vincent Boy Kars, Netherlands
Charlotte Wells, United States
Preteen Sophie and her thirty-year-old father Calum go on vacation at a seaside resort in Turkey. They go scuba diving, play pool, soak up the sun and laze around. In intimate closeups, we see Calum and Sophie applying cream on each other's bodies, practising self-defence techniques or filming one another with a camcorder. Days go by, and soon Sophie has to return home to her mother in Scotland.
Charlotte Wells' autobiographical first feature Aftersun is a tender, deeply felt portrait of this fleeting period, framed through Sophie's fragmented recollections as an adult. The genuine warmth between father and daughter is punctuated by small frictions that erupt like drops of ink in water, lending their relationship a trace of melancholy.
Set in a non-place of international tourism devoid of local presence and unmoored from history, Wells' extremely tactile film concretises inchoate memories in specific details of gestures, textures and moods. The sentient, roving camera fixates on the spaces between father and daughter. A zone shot through with affection and anxiety, such that we only get a partial view of Calum, a distant but tangible presence, as incarnated by Paul Mescal (known for Normal People and The Lost Daughter, 2021). With its unhurried dramatic progression and attention to sensuous surfaces, Aftersun captures the atmosphere of languid summer afternoons spent away from home in the company of a loved one.
Morii Yusuke, Japan
Amiko isn't like other children. Her endless energy and curious eccentricities make her an outcast at school and get her in trouble at home. When a painful family loss disrupts her seemingly idyllic seaside life, her sense of isolation intensifies, yet it doesn't stop Amiko from inviting people into her world.
Morii Yusuke's directorial debut is a confident and compassionate story about a child's imagination. The film balances sorrow with joy and harsh lessons with naive delight – much like growing up. Crucially, Amiko never forgets who is at the centre of the story. The wry humour and detailed compositions of small-town Japan, as well as the film's hopeful tenor, are reminiscent of Ogigami Naoko or Kore-eda Hirokazu's works. The gentle and languorous atmosphere is enriched by a score from upcoming folk star Ichiko Aoba.
Kana Osawa delivers an exquisite, force-of-nature performance as young Amiko. Effortlessly natural, her commanding presence and vitality carry great weight whilst ensuring the film never falls into despair. Amiko's unbeaten spirit in the face of tired adults and uncooperative classmates lets us go through the pain, as well as experience flashes of mischievous whimsy, alongside a spiriting musical sequence that will ensure you'll never listen to a conga drum the same way.