By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist January 6, 2012 at 10:35AM
Forget the multiplex, what's going to be heating up the arthouse this year? 2011 saw some fantastic foreign flicks not only crowding top ten lists ("Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall Past Lives," "A Separation," "Le Havre," etc) but even some like the ode-to-silent-cinema "The Artist" entering serious Oscar chit chat. Nearly every weekend, smaller arthouses showcased exciting alternatives to the general empty-headed nonsense that fills the bigger arenas when it's not October, November, and December. If you had the eyesight for subtitles and were willing to take a chance, there was a remedy for every "Cowboys & Aliens" just around the corner.
We've devised a list of foreign movies to keep on your radar during 2012, things that might not make it over here right away (or, unfortunately, at all) but are absolutely worth a slot in the memory bank for a later date. There's still plenty of room for surprise -- aside from the occasional falter of an anticipated work, there are likely plenty of films by new directors that we couldn't possibly know about. The list also excludes things that we had seen already on the festival circuit last year that will be making it to our shores later in the year ("Once Upon A Time In Anatolia," "The Kid With A Bike," etc) and a couple that ended up on our larger Most Anticipated list (Wong Kar Wai's "The Grandmaster," which we've been talking about for decades already, and "Rust And Bone," Jacques Audiard's follow up to the incredible "A Prophet," starring Marion Cotillard). Still there is lots to look forward to and keep an eye out for.
Remember boys and girls, support your local indie/arthouse theater.
"The Assassin " - dir. Hou Hsiao-Hsien - Taiwan
Synopsis: In 8th century China, a female assassin looks to leave her profession behind, incurring the wrath of her mentor.
What You Need To Know: Marking the third appearance on this list in a row for this project, things have been quite slow for the Taiwanese director's foray into the fantasy realm, which was originally announced years and years ago. Will it finally unspool in 2012? Reports differ as to whether filming has got underway -- there were reports that it lensed in 2010, though others said it only geared up in October 2011. Nevertheless, if it has, Shu Qui and Chang Chen reteam with the director for this adaptation of Pei Xing's 9th century fantasy short story, "Nie Yin Niang." Hsaio-Hsien's trademark wandering eye camera and long, single-shot takes should hopefully turn the genre on its head – as should his promised intention to follow the work of Hayao Miyazaki as opposed to typical martial arts conventions – but it'll be interesting to see him turn to something that, in theory, is more accessible than his usual festival fare. It's been five years since his Binoche-lead remake "Flight of the Red Balloon," but it has certainly felt much longer.
When? Lord knows.
"Big House" - dir. Matteo Garrone - Italy
Synopsis: The exact log line is under wraps, but the film's thought to be a satire focusing on reality television.
What You Need To Know: After a decade of feature work, Matteo Garrone broke through to the international scene in 2008 when "Gomorrah," his rich, brutal look at the Naples mafia, and their wrenching effect on society around them, won the Grand Prix at Cannes. The follow-up has taken a while to crystallize, but it's finally in the can, and should find its way to a screen of some sort in the coming year. Co-written with "Gomorroah" scribes Ugo Chiti and Massimo Gaudioso, and starring Claudia Gerini ("The Passion of the Christ") along with newcomers Aniello Arena and Loredana Simioli, the film seems to be another state-of-the-nation tale, but focusing on a far more insidious force than organized crime – reality television. Details are pretty sparse otherwise, but it's a fascinating subject (one that American filmmakers haven't had much success with, bar "The Truman Show," which pre-dated/predicted the phenomenon), and with filming getting underway last May, we should hear more any day now.
When? Cannes seems likely.
"Captured" - dir. Brillante Mendoza - The Philippines
Synopsis: The story of Thérèse Bourgoin, a French humanitarian worker who is kidnapped in the Philippines by a Muslim extremist group.
What You Need To Know: Aside from having one of the best names ever, Filipino director Brillante Mendoza is one of the major breakouts of recent international cinema, having helmed a workhorse-like nine films since 2005. Uncharacteristically, it's been three whole years since his last two, "Lola" and "Kinatay" – the latter of which saw him controversially awarded Best Director by Isabelle Huppert's jury at Cannes – but he's finally back with "Captured." And Huppert really must have been impressed, because she's starring in the film, something which should help introduce Mendoza to a wider audience, even if we're expecting his film to be just as tough and uncompromising as his earlier works.
When? Widely expected to play Cannes or Venice last year, it'll finally unspool at the Berlin Film Festival next month, and will hopefully pick up distributors there.
Synopsis: The Japan-set tale of the relationship between a student, who works as a prostitute on the side, and her elderly professor/client.
What You Need To Know: Any nervousness as to whether Abbas Kiarostami's brilliance would continue when he started making films outside his native Iran was swiftly quashed when "Certified Copy" premiered at Cannes in 2010 – the film was rapturously received and became a fixture on Top 10 lists in 2011. For his follow-up, a film described as a "continuation" of "Certified Copy," he's keeping up the international flavor by heading to Japan, shooting in Tokyo and Yokohama late last year. How exactly it ties into its predecessor remains to be seen, but it sounds like we're heading for another tender puzzle of a two-hander, with young TV star Rin Takanashi ("Goth"), who replaced the originally cast Aoi Miyazaki, and veteran Tadashi Okuno taking the lead roles. Not much is known beyond that, but any year with a new Kiarostami is bound to be a good one.
When? Backers MK2 are aiming for Cannes, unsurprisingly.
"Ernest & Celestine" - dir. Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar, Benjamin Renner - France
Synopsis: Ernest, a bear who doesn't want to become a notary, is convinced by Celestine – the mouse he's about to eat, who doesn't want to become a dentist – that she can give him anything he wants, beginning a friendship that will bring two worlds together.
What You Need To Know: The charming stop-frame animated "A Town Called Panic" won hearts and minds the world over after it premiered at Cannes in 2009, but the follow-up of directors Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar (this time joined by acclaimed shorts helmer and illustrator Benjamin Renner), looks to be a more prestigious affair. Adapted from a popular series of novels from the late Gabrielle Vincent by award-winning writer Daniel Pennac, produced by Didier Brunner ("The Triplets of Belleville," "The Secret of Kells"), starring the voice of Lambert Wilson, and reportedly featuring music by Emir Kusturica collaborator Goran Bregovic, it's a gorgeous-looking traditional 2D animated film that should help make up for something of a dearth of great animation in 2011. We're intrigued to see how Aubier and Patar take to less anarchic material than 'Panic,' and hopefully, it'll find its way to our shores sooner rather than later.
When? No release date in France or abroad yet, but Cannes might be a possibility.
"Gebo et L'ombre" - dir. Manoel del Oliveira - Portugal
Synopsis: Based on the play by Raul Brandão, a poor father in the 19th century sacrifices himself to protect his fugitive son.
What You Need To Know: Cinema's favorite triple-digit-aged auteur hasn't slowed down a bit, actively releasing features for over four decades to increasing critical acclaim. His old-fashioned technique should feel dated, but the charm and other-worldliness that his pictures exude is incomparable to anything we've ever seen. Rounding out the cast this time are some classic cinema veterans including Claudia Cardinale ("8 ½"), Jeanne Moreau ("Jules and Jim"), along with Michael Lonsdale ("Agora"). While his last effort "The Strange Case of Angelica" hit surreal territory, the little we know about this reveals something less magical. Even so, the director's greatest asset is his incredibly sincere heart and this family tale seems like a good fit regardless.
When? Finished, and at this point, Cannes probably has open slots for every one of his subsequent films.
"Holly Motors" - dir. Leos Carax - France
Synopsis: A near-future tale of a man who travels between parallel lives, including a monster, a murderer, a CEO and a family man.
What You Need To Know: Bar a segment in 2008's "Tokyo!" alongside Michel Gondry and Bong Joon-ho, filmmaker Leos Carax hasn't made a movie since 1999's controversial "Pola X," and even that came eight years after director's third film, the amazing "The Lovers on the Bridge." As such, news that he's returning for his third film in 20 years (even Terrence Malick has been working faster) would be exciting enough, but "Holly Motors" sounds pretty ambitious. Frequent collaborator Denis Lavant will play a man jumping between many different lives and characters and there's a very eclectic supporting cast on board, including veteran Edith Scob ("Eyes Without a Face"), and superstars Eva Mendes and Kylie Minogue, of all people. It could be an absolute mess, but Carax has had long enough to plan, and we're chomping at the bit to see what he comes up with.
When? Shooting got under way only last October, so Cannes might be a stretch, even if his last two films both premiered there.
Synopsis: The tale of the legendary Feast at Hong Gate, in 206 BC, when two warring generals, Liu Bang and Xiang Yu, met for a banquet, only for Xiang to try and assassinate Liu.
What You Need To Know: After impresing with his early work, Chinese filmmaker Lu Chuan proved he was one of the most exciting talents in world cinema with the astonishing Battle of Nanjing drama "City of Life and Death," which finally arrived in the U.S. last year to huge acclaim. For his follow-up, he's going back even further into the nation's past to tell a legendary story, albeit in his words, in a more realistic, grounded manner than Daniel Lee's "White Vengeance," last year's action-oriented version of the same tale. Lu promises a film that will examine the historical context while saying something about modern China, and he's assembled a strong cast, including "The City of Life and Death" star Liu Ye, Daniel Wu ("New Police Story," "The Man With the Iron Fists") and Chang Chen ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"). Given international audiences' taste for Chinese historical epics, this stands a good chance of earning the filmmaker more fans than ever before, while hopefully maintaining the humanism of his last picture.
When? Was initially set for a December release in China, which never seemed to happen. Venice or even San Sebastian, where 'City' won the top prize in 2009, could all host an international bow.
"Laurence Anyways" - dir. Xavier Dolan - Canada
Synopsis: On his 30th birthday, Laurence tells his girlfriend Fred that he wants to become a woman. Can their relationship survive?
What You Need To Know: Precocious 22-year-old French-Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan has grown up around film – he was a child actor, and to this day serves as the Quebecois voice of Ron Weasley, Jacob from "Twilight" and Stan from "South Park," among others – so it's no surprise that he become a director. But that he managed to make his first film, "I Killed My Mother," when he was only 20, and have it premiere in the Director's Fortnight at Cannes, quickly put him on the map. His follow-up, "Heartbeats," was even more successful, once again premiering at Cannes and hitting festivals worldwide. With such acclaim at such a young age, this third effort, "Laurence Anyways," has been on radars for a while now, and the fledgling helmer's showing signs of maturing. He's skipped an acting role this time, with the lead role of Laurence instead falling to Melvil Poupaud ("A Christmas Tale," "Mysteries of Lisbon") who replaced Louis Garrel. Indeed, he's working with non-Canadian talent for the first time as well, with Nathalie Baye also joining favorite Suzanne Clément. Dolan's divisive, but the subject matter here suggests this might be less navel-gazing than previous works, and his cast is certainly promising.
When? No release date, but Cannes seems highly likely; could Dolan even make his debut in competition this time around?
Synopsis: Long term love will be put to the test when elderly woman Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) suffers a paralyzing stroke, which affects both her husband George (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and daughter (Isabelle Huppert).
What You Need To Know: Once known as "These Two" and originally cancelled by the director when he saw a Canadian film with a similar premise (possibly Sarah Polley's "Away From Her"), the Austrian great finally got underway on the retitled "Love" last February. It's an exciting prospect for the veteran director to not only amass this kind of talent (a who's-who of French auteur cinema), but also to tackle a new topic thoroughly different from his mainstays of violence, media, and video/film, even if we're not exactly expecting it to be much more fun than "The White Ribbon."
When? Cannes, almost certainly. The only one of his films in the last 15 years not to premiere there was the "Funny Games" remake, which bowed at the London Film Festival.
"No" - dir. Pablo Larrain - Chile
Synopsis: A black comedy centering on an ad executive's campaign to oust Augusto Pinochet in Chile.
What You Need To Know: For some reason the distribution deities haven't been kind to Pablo Larrain. Both "Tony Manero" and "Post-Mortem" were stark, harrowing and darkly funny movies cut from the same cloth of our favorite 1970s renegade new wavers, yet the former barely blipped in theaters and the latter remains without a passport. However, with Gael Garcia Bernal in tow and a picture described by producer Juan de Dios Larrain as "an epic David and Goliath story (and) a black comedy with attitude," this closing film in the director's Pinochet trilogy should be a rousing one, unlikely to be given the same short shrift as the others. It'll be interesting to see how much of Larrain's aesthetic survives with such an optimistic crowd-pleaser.
When? Filmed in November, so a fall festival bow seems likely.
"Paradise/In The Cellar" - dir. Ulrich Seidl - Austria
Synopsis: The films will spin three stories following women – one as a sex tourist, one converting people to Catholicism, and one at a diet camp – and outline the relationship between Austrians and their cellars, digging into what is peculiar about their bond together.
What You Need To Know: Those unfamiliar with Ulrich Seidl's 2007 gem "Import/Export" are missing out as it's a haunting take on loneliness and the harshness of the working world, shot with an unflinching eye and knack for showcasing both the ugly and the beautiful. Definitely not a feelgood film (but also the furthest thing from a tearjerker), its demanding visuals and parallel stories are undeniably affecting. Starting as one film, this new project has now expanded into three with "Paradise" further developing the parallel storytelling found in "Import/Export," "In The Cellar" harkening back to Seidl's days as a documentarian, while the third remains firmly under wraps. The filmmaker premiered work-in-progress extracts at TIFF last year, so hopefully that means things are getting closer to completion, as "Paradise" started shooting two full years ago.
When? Bearing in mind his in-progress screening, could we end up seeing him back in Toronto in September with the finished films?
"Post Tenebras Lux" - dir. Carlos Reygadas - Mexico
Synopsis: Described as an expressionist painting, this will be a semi-autobiographical tale about the director's feelings, memories, dreams, hopes and fears.
What You Need To Know: If there's any director who should be set free of structural shackles, it has to be Carlos Reygadas. His signature loose narratives always allowed him to really explore the small and the weird, so with even less of a narrative structure form and coming from what seems to be a deep personal well, his latest film, "Post Tenebras Lux," should prove to be a true work of art. Coming off the incredible Cannes Jury prize winner and Martin Scorsese favorite, "Silent Light," there are plenty of reasons to be excited for his one. A holdover from last year's list, the film definitively went before cameras last fall, so we should end up seeing it before 2012 is out.
When? Cannes feels a tad early, although we're sure organizers will want him. Venice might be more likely.
Synopsis: A love story set against the backdrop of the various political changes from before the Iranian revolution to the present day.
What You Need To Know: One of the major players in the influential Iranian New-Wave, the latest from director Bahman Ghobadi, "Rhinos Season" seems to be a step up, thanks to the casting of Monica Bellucci, a move that will likely improve its chances for post-festival distribution. Coincidentally or not, the handful of stills released reveal a much more polished effort as opposed to the gritty, naturalistic realism the filmmaker usually employs. And considering his previous work's critical eye toward Iranian politics and social issues, we can probably count on an honest, unsentimental look at the country's past and present.
When? Wrapped shooting last spring, so... any day now?
"Something In The Air" - dir. Olivier Assayas - France
Synopsis: Set amidst the revolutionary atmosphere of the early 1970s, this follows a high-school student with artistic aspirations caught up in left-wing violence.
What You Need To Know: We've long been fans of Olivier Assayas, but after the one-two punch of Playlist favorites "Summer Hours" and his epic "Carlos," we'd basically walk over broken glass to see his latest. Seemingly both timely, in its reflection of recent unrest around the world, and personal, the the film also boasts a pretty wide scope, with shooting taking place in France, Italy and Britain. Indeed, producer Nathanaël Karmitz said last year, "It's not a French story. It's about the world in the 70s." Given the way Assayas captured the period in "Carlos," it's certainly an enticing proposition, even (or indeed especially) with a cast mostly made up of newcomers – Lola Créton ("Bluebeard," "Goodbye First Love") seems to be the biggest name involved.
When? Giving Assayas' status as a Cannes favorite, and his jury duty last year, the Croisette seems to be be virtually a lock, assuming that the film is ready in time.
"Untitled"/"In Another Country" - dir. Hong Sang-soo - South Korea
Synopsis: Details are still under wraps, but it will follow five characters in in a small seaside town near Seoul.
What You Need To Know: Despite the flattering distinction of being known as the "Korean Eric Rohmer," few are actually familiar with the prolific filmmaker's work thanks to lack of distribution, at least on this side of the ocean. Still, the director's comedic, multi-layered output managed to impress none other than the incredible Isabelle Huppert, making her the first major actress he's worked with outside of his native country – a move that will, like the similarly Huppert-starring latest from Brillante Mendoza (see above), also probably garner him the most attention he's received in years. The absence of a synopsis is a non-issue considering Hong generally likes to throw characters together and see how vulnerable, selfish and ugly humanity can get, and if anything, the addition of an actress so different from his usual collaborators might freshen things up a bit.
When? Hong moves fast, so, not to sound like a broken record, but a slot at Cannes is likely.
"You Haven't Seen Anything Yet" - dir. Alain Resnais - France
Synopsis: A group of actors come together to read the will of a deceased playwright at his estate.
What You Need To Know: The legendary director of "Hiroshima mon Amour" and "Last Year At Marienbad" weirded everyone out in 2009 with the experimental "Wild Grass," proving that he still had plenty of pep left to intrigue/befuddle audiences everywhere. And if the title of his next film, a bold statement of intent, is any indication, Alain Resnais still has plenty left to say. The bare bones plot comes from the 1940s play "Eurydice" by Jean Anouilh, in which an actress in a troupe engages in affairs with multiple characters before dying, resurrecting, and dying again. Sounds like fun. What he'll keep or kill is unclear (though interestingly enough, the cast lists two versions of a few characters), especially considering the unpredictable nature of his work. Roping together the usual suspects André Dussollier, Sabine Azéma, Anne Consigny, Pierre Arditi, Lambert Wilson, Claude Rich, and the consistently good Mathieu Amalric, in a meatier role this time around, the 89-year-old may see his best yet to come.
When? There’s a general late April release set for France and Belgium, though we can’t imagine a Resnais not having some sort of a presence at a festival – perhaps an addition to the Berlin line-up?
Honorable Mentions: Sion Sono's aggravating, but powerful "Himizu" may make its way to theaters at some stage; Catalin Mitulescu's Cannes entry "Loverboy" is another hope, while Strand picked up the rights to André Téchiné 's "Unforgivable." There's also "Hut in the Woods," Hans Weingartner's follow-up to the cult hit "The Edukators"; and Katsuhito Ishii's "Smuggler," which premiered in Toronto last year, and is said to be the director's most commercial film yet. Na Hong-Jin's excellent "The Yellow Sea" will land stateside sometime in 2012 courtesy of Fox International.
As for brand new stuff, there are a few favorites that will get rolling in 2012, but probably won't find festival bows until 2013, first among them Bong Joon-ho, who rolls in March on "Snow Piercer," a post-apocalyptic sci-fi with an international cast, based on a French graphic novel. It's unlikely to be seen before next year, but if it does, it might be the film we're looking forward to the most of any. Bruno Dumont's film with Juliette Binoche shoots in February, but we imagine it'll be held until Cannes 2013, although the director's "Hadewijch" premiered in Toronto, so that shouldn't be ruled out, despite the brief window.
Otherwise, Indonesian director Edwin will premiere "Postcards From the Zoo" in Berlin; Sergei Loznitsa is still working on "In the Fog" (which was on our list last year); "Vincere" director Marco Bellocchio is helming "Sleeping Beauty," based on a famous right-to-die case in Italy; Im Sang-soo follows up "The Housemaid" with the similarly-themed erotic drama "The Taste of Money"; Minoru Kawasaki, director of the bonkers "Executive Koala," is going equally nuts with "Chikyuu Bouei Girls P9"; Jia Zhangke could finally unveil kung-fu epic "In the Qing Dynasty" and Cristian Mungiu is working on something new, possibly called "Temporary." Plus however many treats that we're not aware of yet.
- Christopher Bell, Oliver Lyttelton