The Worst Person in the World (2021)
Written by Eskil Vogt and Joachim Trier
Directed by Joachim Trier
Every generation of people sees themselves as terribly unique from their predecessors. However, there’s something about the Millennial generation where things really did switch from the preconceived notions of what life should be. They were told to work towards the same ends as their parents and grandparents without acknowledging that since the 1970s, neoliberalism had radically restructured almost every facet of society so that these goals were markedly harder to accomplish. The term “failure to launch” seems apt for Millennials, unable to become the adults they want/are expected to be yet certainly too old to be children any longer. The future has become this vast gray unknowable space, so how can you plan for a life in such a landscape?
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Quo Vadis, Aida? (2021)
Written & Directed by Jasmila Žbanić
In July 1995, Bosnian forces took the city of Srebrenica. This was part of the Bosnian War, a three-year civil war that followed the dissolution of Yugoslavia. Ethnic and nationalist groups fell into conflict; proto-fascist forces targeted Muslim populations. The Bosnian War is a complicated subject to talk about, just purely from how complex the internals of these regions are. It was never a clear war with one side versus another, but lots of smaller players as well. Quo Vadis, Aida? tells a very personal story about one of many brutal events that saw the mass culling of people while the United Nations/NATO seemed powerless to do anything. Through this story, we’re forced to contemplate what it would be like to then live beside the very people responsible for such swaths of deaths.
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The Wild Pear Tree (2018)
Written by Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Ebru Ceylan, & Akın Aksu
Directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan
The word “epic” is often associated with films & stories that span the globe and put the character up against a cosmic conflict. However, I argue that writer-director Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s The Wild Pear Tree is an epic, but one about humanity and specifically finding meaning in one’s life. The film is just over three hours long, and it does feel lengthy while watching it. But what happens on screen is not some dour contemplative proceeding, but a genuinely funny while emotionally charged experience. The cinematography is glorious, the director knowing how to frame mundane details with profundity.
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Woman at War (2018)
Written by Benedikt Erlingsson and Ólafur Egilsson
Directed by Benedikt Erlingsson
One of the biggest challenges of modernity is figuring out how to live a life while still fighting against an increasingly insidious and destructive system that is breaking down our environment. It’s becoming impossible to deny that the planet is under extreme duress and that environmental collapse is imminent in the next few decades if drastic changes aren’t implemented soon. How do we function in our jobs, with our families, and as part of communities while this grim specter of species doom hangs over our heads? Halla is a woman who has taken the defense of the environment to an extreme but now faces a choice that challenges who she has become.
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Birds of Passage (2018)
Written by Maria Camila Arias & Jacques Toulemonde Vidal, Cristina Gallego, and Ciro Guerra
Directed by Cristina Gallego & Ciro Guerra
Colombia is a Central American country that has sadly come to be associated with the cocaine industry of the 1980s. Lost in the greed and violence that came out of the black market drug trade were diverse and vibrant cultures. Birds of Passage follows a family of Wayuu, an indigenous people, who get caught up in the first sprouts of that brutal blight that came to Colombia because of wealthier countries’ desire for drugs. While this story takes place on the dusty plains and humid jungles, the core of the tale is something that is timeless and has been popping up in literature for centuries. Birds of Passage is in many ways Shakespearean, a tragedy fueled by greed with no foresight.
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Oslo, August 31st (2011)
Written & Directed by Joachim Trier
Anders is recovering from years of drug addiction. He’s two weeks out from finishing treatment and then having to leave the rehab center. To help him make this transition, he’s granted a trip out for the night which ends with him hooking up with an old flame. On the way back to the center he unsuccessfully tries to drown himself. In the light of the new day, he prepares to head into Oslo for a job interview. Before succumbing to drugs, Anders was a writer for newspapers and magazines but doesn’t feel a strong desire to return to that. He stops by the house of some old friends before the interview, ends up calling a lost love’s phone only to get voicemail, and is ghosted by his sister when she sends her girlfriend to talk with him at a cafe. Despite the strides he’s made, Anders feels the past traps him.
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Written by Yorgos Lanthimos & Efthymis Filippou
Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos
The Alps are a secret society of four weirdos who provide a strange service for people. If someone has lost a loved one a member of the Alps will learn everything they can about the deceased and recreate them for a fee, acting out moments from their life. One member, The Nurse has been spending time playing the role of a lighting shop owner’s wife and has crossed a line of intimacy while still playing her part. At her day job, she meets a young girl who was injured in a car accident. Eventually, the young girl dies and The Nurse volunteers to play her for her parents, while not informing the rest of the Alps of what she is doing. The Nurse becomes absorbed in this life, experiencing a kind of family she did not have and even becoming intimate with the dead girl’s boyfriend.
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A Separation (2011)
Written & Directed by Asghar Farhadi
Simin and Nader’s marriage has reached a turning point. Simin wants to leave Iran while her husband wants to stay because of his ailing father, suffering from Alzheimer’s. Simin is adamant that their daughter Termeh be given opportunities that cannot be provided for her in Iran. As an act of protest, Simin separates herself and lives with her family waiting for Nader to at least allow Termeh to leave with her. Nader is forced to hire a housekeeper and nurse for his father during the days and settles on Razieh, a deeply religious young woman with a daughter. Razieh becomes distressed when she must change Nader’s father after he soils himself but keeps coming into work because her husband is in significant amounts of debt. One day a series of events transpire that lead Nader to believe Razieh stole money from his bedroom and left his father tied to a bed. An argument ensues with tragic consequences that will resonant within the lives of all people involved.
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Written by Eskil Vogt & Joachim Trier
Directed by Joachim Trier
Thelma grew up in a fiercely sheltered and religious home. Now she’s eighteen and attending university, out on her own for the first time. Most of her days are spent trekking from class to class and then in her apartment alone, eating dinner. This changes when she meets Anja, a fellow student that has concerns for Thelma after witnessing one of her seizures. The women begin an intense friendship which suddenly takes a turn for the serious after some wishful thinking on the part of Thelma. Questions arise about what is causing Thelma’s headaches and seizures and what happened in her childhood home years prior. The revelation of these things will shake the foundation of this woman’s life forever.
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The Untamed (2016)
Written & Directed by Amat Escalante
In a cabin in the woods, far from the city, live an old scientist and his wife. Inside their barn, they house something fantastic and terrific. But if that’s where you think the film will spend most of its time, then you are wrong. After a teasing opening sequence, shot with beautiful horror, we follow Veronica, a young woman enthralled with the thing in the barn. Veronica is injured after an encounter and meets nurse Fabian. She introduces Fabian to this same object of pleasure and revulsion. Fabian’s sister, Alejandra is married and dealing with the increasing drudgery of domestic life and the distance of her husband Angel. Angel is secretly having an affair with Fabian behind his wife’s back, but the latter breaks it off after feeling his devotion grow to the thing. It becomes very apparent that this story will only end tragically.
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