As a movie critic, one sees dozens of films in a year. Some remain etched in memory. Some fade away. Some can be torturous watch. Here are five movies that I loved. A brief note about each.
1. Shoplifters: It was Kore-eda's most pleasing and endearing work, which clinched the Palm d'Or at Cannes in May 2018. And interestingly, this was the choice of both critics and the jury. Japan's Kore-eda has, through his career, talked about family and the relationships within (Nobody Knows, After the Storm). Shoplifters zooms in on a group of people who pretend to be a family. In a country which takes enormous pride in honesty (I have seen people leaving their bicycles unlocked, have seen men and women pick up newspapers from an unattended roadside shop and dropping the correct change in the box kept there), this family, which lives on an elderly woman's pension, adds to its income by shoplifting. Shoplifters is a marvelous work about how relationships are created and sustained in this fragile world of economic deprivation, hunger and uncertainty.
2. Cold War: This film from Poland is a hauntingly beautiful love story from Pawel Pawlikowski – who won the Best Director award at Cannes. Shot in black and white – which still holds a certain charm – the work is based on the helmer's parents, and is a story set against the trying Cold War days - moving across Berlin, Paris, Yugoslavia and Poland. A bittersweet romance – a “sad ballet of two lovers” as one reviewer put it – Cold War tells us the tale of pianist Wiktor (Tomaz Kot) and singer-dancer Zula (Joanna Kulig) as their passion flits across time from the late 1940s to the early 1960s, breaking the formidable barrier of the Iron Curtain.
3. Roma: Tipped as a strong 2019 Foreign-Language Oscar contender from Italy, Roma is Alfonso Cuaron’s magnificent black-and-white magnum opus, which weaves a magical family tale with simplicity and sensitivity. The film from Netflix, which premiered at Venice, is set in a prosperous household in Mexico City’s Roma neighbourhood in the early 1970s. But its soul and spirit is the maid, Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), who takes care of the family — and their pet dog — with clockwork precision. Based on Cuaron’s own maid when he was growing up, Cleo is seen cleaning the driveway as the movie opens, and we later see her doing the laundry, taking the four children to school and helping out in the kitchen. For the most part, Cleo hardly speaks, and appears stoic and solemn, but she shares a beautiful bond with her mistress, Sofia (Marina de Tavira).
4. Green Book: Green Book from Peter Farrelly – that had its Middle Eastern premiere at Cairo, is a canvas of the agony and angst which African-Americans faced in the early part of the 1960s – a crucial time in the American history when race relations were going through a storm. The movie is a deeply moving snapshot of a highly prejudiced society, but the story is narrated with delightful humour. African-American pianist Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) embarks on a concert tour in the Deep South in 1962. Armed with a Green Book — a guide for black travellers with information on safe hotels and other public places — the prosperous Shirley hires tough-talking Italian-American bouncer Tony Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen) as his driver-cum-muscleman, and the pair sets out on an eventful journey into the heartland of racial biases.
5. Yomeddine: This film comes from Egypt's AB Shawky, who is a gutsy helmer – tackling in his debut work a subject such as leprosy and with an actual victim of the disease in the lead role. The film, which was screened at El Gouna, is a touching road-trip drama starring Rady Gamal, a real-life leprosy survivor. The director met Gamal at a leper colony north of Cairo when he made a short documentary, The Colony, in 2009. He could not have found a better actor. Gamal is not ashamed of his disease or disability and uses his wrinkled face with marvellous ease to express his joys and pains. When his mentally unstable wife, Ireny (Shoq Emara), dies, Gamal decides to find his estranged family. He gets onto his donkey cart and, along with his young friend Obama (Ahmed Abdelhafiz), embarks on the journey of a lifetime. Since ancient times, lepers have been treated as outcasts (as we saw in its most brutal form in William Wyler’s 1959 classic Ben-Hur), and not much has changed for Beshay. He is looked down upon and kept at arm’s length by people unduly fearful of contracting the disease.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is an author, commentator and movie critic who covers many film festivals in a year)