Rotterdam prizes through a dark lense

Trio of bleak dramas from Iran, Slovakia and Austria win Tiger awards

BRUSSELS — A bleak trio of films won kudos at this year’s Rotterdam Film Festival, with themes ranging from paranoia in Iran to neo-fascist violence in Slovakia. The only laffer among the Tiger awards, unveiled Friday night, charts one woman’s nihilistic rejection of consumer society.

Half of the 16 first and second films in competition were making world bows in Rotterdam, but only one of these debutants attracted the eye of the jury. Mira Fornay’s sophomore feature “My Dog Killer” recounts a day in the life of a young Slovakian skinhead as he tries to deal with the pressures of his fractured family.

The jury commended the film for rising to the challenge of showing a violent life from the inside. M-Appeal in Berlin picked up sales rights before the fest.

The other two winners came to Rotterdam by way of Sundance. “Fat Shaker” by Iranian helmer Mohammad Shirvani follows a violent, obese father and his angelic deaf son through a series of paranoid encounters; “Soldier Jane,” by first-timer Daniel Hoesl, describes an Austrian woman’s quest to systematically shed the trappings of her wealth.

Each director takes home around $20,500 in prize money.

This year’s jury comprises Iranian actress Fatemeh Motamedarya, filmmakers Sergei Loznitsa and Kees Hin, and Jose Luis Cienfuegos, artistic director of the Seville European Film Festival. Chinese artist and filmmaker Ai Weiwei, who was unable to attend the festival, judged competing films from his Beijing home.

A separate jury focusing on Asian cinema at the fest singled out “What They Don’t Talk About When They Talk About Love.” Directed by Mouly Surya of Indonesia, the film explores the desires of students in a Jakarta school for the blind.

A new audience jury working with 10 fest titles lacking Benelux distribution gave the nod to Italian pic “Pretty Butterflies” by Salvatore Mereu; dubbed the Big Screen award, it guarantees the film a local theatrical run.

The main public prize will be announced Feb. 2. Leading contenders as the fest drew to a close were “Wadjda” from Saudi Arabian director Haifaa Al Mansour and absurdist Dutch comedy “Matterhorn” by Diederik Ebbinge.

International critics chose “The Fifth Gospel of Kaspar Hauser” by Alberto Gracia of Spain from the 19 world premieres in the fest’s Bright Future section 2013.

Projects singled out for prizes at CineMart, the fest’s venerable co-production market, were “The Giant” by Johannes Nyholm, “The Lobster” by Yorgos Lanthimos and “Zama” by Lucrecia Martel.