The 10 pics championed by Variety critics selected to screen at the Karlovy Vary Intl. Film Festival next month are an eclectic mix of the year’s best-reviewed Euro-backed features. Representing a wide sample of different genres, countries and languages (and yet still managing to include two films with “Blind” in the title), the choices range from French indie “Insecure” (fresh from Cannes) to Fantastic Fest favorite “Grand Piano” (an ultra-tense Spanish thriller starring Elijah Wood), pictured above.
The sidebar is presented in conjunction with European Film Promotion.
A lithe, quicksilver portrait of a woman whose loss of sight only serves to sharpen her creative imagination, this standout debut feature for screenwriter Eskil Vogt retains many of the literate, self-reflexive touches Vogt brought to his collaborations with helmer Joachim Trier while finding its own alternately droll, sexy, heartbreaking rhythms.
About the director: Though Vogt graduated from the directing program at La Femis film school, he is best known for co-writing “Reprise” and “Oslo, August 31st” with longtime friend Trier, whom he met while working as a camera assistant on a Norwegian quiz show. His 2003 short “An Embrace” was nominated for a European Film Award.
Levan Koguashvili’s quietly enchanting film carves out an unpredictable path for its Tbilisi bachelor protagonist that leads not so much toward love as a lovely sense of generosity toward all. With pitch-perfect performances and unfussily naturalistic yet artful staging, the result is a slow-burning delight that leaves a soulful afterglow.
About the director: Koguashvili began his film studies in his hometown of Tbilisi, Georgia, but dropped out a year later when war broke out. He immediately got involved with Georgia’s first independent TV station, working as a journalist, then moved to New York in 2006, where he graduated from NYU’s Tisch grad film program. His first feature, 2010’s “Street Days,” repped Georgia in the foreign-language Oscar race.
Reuniting “The Guard” star Brendan Gleeson with writer-director John Michael McDonagh, this masterful follow-up features Gleeson as a tough-minded Irish priest marked for death by one of his parishioners. The film offers a mordantly funny survey of small-town iniquity that morphs, almost imperceptibly, into a deeply felt lament for a fallen world.
About the director: “Calvary” marks the second film in what Irish helmer McDonagh calls his “Glorified Suicide Trilogy,” which began with 2011’s “The Guard” (that film went on to become Ireland’s most financially successful indie feature). Both films premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, which also hosted his older brother Martin’s debut, “In Bruges.”
Catch Me Daddy
Musicvideo director Daniel Wolfe and his brother Matthew confirm that style and content need not be mutually exclusive with their impressive debut, which tracks the doomed attempts of a British-Asian teen runaway to escape her violently protective family. Tale is performed with affecting naturalism by a cast that mixes trained and non-professional actors.
About the directors: Combining their passions for music and film, Daniel Wolfe and Matthew Wolfe collaborated on their first feature, which played in Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight. Daniel had previously received acclaim helming videos for Plan B and the Shoes, including “Time to Dance,” which depicts Jake Gyllenhaal on a homicidal anti-hipster spree. Matthew recorded keyboards on Stephen Fretwell’s “Magpie.”
In this compelling Slovenian debut, a group of teens blame their demanding new German teacher when one of their classmates commits suicide. As a colossal battle of wills unfolds at the high school, director Rok Bicek balances tension and suspense, making each encounter between class and instructor crackle with the possibility of violence.
About the director: After graduating university, Bicek enrolled in the directing-focused PoEtika program under mentor Janez Lapajne, who went on to co-produce and collaborate on the screenplay of Bicek’s first feature. Inspired by the program’s emphasis on workshopping and rehearsal, he cast non-pros to play the students in his debut.
“ ‘Speed’ on a piano” is what Spanish genre stylist Eugenio Mira’s third feature has irresistibly been dubbed in festival circles — and true enough, this appealingly absurd thriller finds a prodigious pianist (Elijah Wood) quite literally playing for his life, as an unseen gunman threatens to pull the trigger at the first missed note.
About the director: Also a musician (under pseudonym Chucky Namanera), Mira isn’t the first Spanish director to benefit from Wood’s interest in working with talented up-and-coming genre stylists. The pair met at Fantastic Fest in 2010, where Mira was showing his soph feature “Agnosia” — and where they sang karaoke with friends Nacho Vigalondo and RZA.
Conceived with an eye toward color-blindness, French director Marianne Tardieu’s multi-ethnic debut provides a fresh, empathetic glimpse into the personal insecurities of a small-town security guard (Reda Kateb) struggling to improve his station. A bad decision threatens everything, including romance with a neighborhood girl (Adele Exarchopoulos).
About the director: Tardieu has worked her way up the ranks of the French film industry, starting a decade ago as an assistant camera on shorts. Prior to “Insecure,” which debuted in the Acid sidebar of Cannes, she wrote three short films, co-directing “Les gueules noires,” about a punk-rock band’s big comeback.
Visit Vienna as a tourist and you aren’t likely to see kids like Ramasan, the 11-year-old subject of docu director Sudabeh Mortezai’s deeply humanist fiction debut. As an Iranian who split her childhood between Tehran and Vienna, Mortezai can clearly identify with the confused emotional state of her young protagonist.
About the director: Born in Germany, raised by Iranian parents and schooled in both Austria and the United States (where she attended UCLA), Mortezai brings her many cultural influences to bear in “Macondo,” which debuted in competition at the Berlinale. She has also made two documentaries, “Children of the Prophet” and “Im bazar der geschlechter.”
Quod erat demonstrandum
Andrei Gruzsniczki’s sophomore feature, set in the mid-1980s and handsomely shot on black-and-white film, takes a progressively involving look at two academics who have run afoul of Romania’s secret service. While comparisons will be made to “The Lives of Others,” this film takes a very different approach, distinguished by quiet characterization.
About the director: Building on his experience directing short films and Romanian TV, Gruzsniczki made his feature debut in 2009 with “The Other Irene.” He followed that with “Quod erat demonstrandum,” which collected the special jury prize at the Rome Film Festival last fall.
Veering wildly between earthy verite and near-ecstatic surrealism, Noaz Deshe’s staggering, Tanzanian-set tale of a resourceful albino adolescent learning to survive in a community brutally geared against his kind is stylistically reckless in the best possible way — a quasi-horror film that evokes a world physically and spiritually out of balance.
About the director: Deshe was born in Israel, made several experimental docu-fiction shorts (such as “boysgirls” and “Search Agent Zerox”) and has exhibited his painting and video art in galleries across Europe. As a musician, he has composed three film scores and opened for Ryan Gosling’s “haunted mansion folk band,” Dead Man’s Bones. (Gosling exec produced “White Shadow.”)