Welcome to Europe!

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Real life stories and fictional tales from today’s Europe. Rune Denstad Langlo’s compassionate Welcome to Norway! and Michael Graversen’s documentary Dreaming of Denmark tell a story of a Europe which for some is a dream-come-true, while for others it’s an impossible dream or a never-ending process in crisis. The French western Les Cowboys and the hardcore Romeo & Juliet story Black feature the theme of immigration. Death in Sarajevo instead presents the gory history of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the context of a hotel, and the partly Finnish-produced The Liberation of Skopje delves into the history of Macedonia. The series also features stories from Russia and the former Soviet countries. This is Europe, today.

Photo from Welcome to Norway!.

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Fifteen-year-old Mavela (newcomer Martha Canga Antonio) is a new face in Black Bronx, a brutally misogynistic gang composed of young men and a few women of African descent. She was introduced to the gang by her cousin, mid-level gang member Notorious (Théo Kabeya), and this, for the time being, is enough to protect her from the harsher realities for girls in the gang. The accepted code marks female members out as gang property, to be used and discarded at will. One of the girls, Doris (Ashley Ntangu), who has fallen foul of this code warns Mavela, »Be careful. Be very careful. It’s not a game.» But, initially at least, Mavela is still a child who clearly doesn’t fully comprehend the implications of the world she has entered. Which is why, when she meets Marwan (Abou- bakr Bensaihi), the cocky, charismatic younger brother of the leader of a rival Moroccan gang,
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It’s the 100th anniversary of the death of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and everyone at the Hotel Europa – from the strippers in the basement to the EU emissary in the penthouse – is readying themselves for a ruckus. The flags have been unfurled, the Olympic cutlery has been set, but down in the laundry unrest is bubbling. The staff haven’t been paid for two months. Meanwhile, up on the roof, Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip (Muhamed Hadzovic) has infiltrated a live TV broadcast and is making his love of his namesake clear. There’s anarchy in the air and revolutionary foment in the foundations. What chance do hotel manager Omer (Izudin Bajrovic) and his deputy Lamija (Snezana Markovic) have of getting through the day with the status quo intact? Written and directed by Danis Tanovic, the Oscar-winning Bosnian director of No Man’s Land, Death in Sarajevo presents a damning allegory for
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The story of one young refugee from Afghanistan as he seeks asylum in Denmark is explored in Dreaming Of Denmark (…). Filmmaker Michael Graversen met his protagonist in a Danish youth centre for refugees, and followed his journey after his asylum was denied, watching him flee to several other countries, eventually arriving in Italy. “Children are the ones who can express their emotions most freely – you can connect with them quite easily,” says Graversen, recalling how the bond he formed with his subject allowed him to follow a story that otherwise would’ve gone untold. “Films create empathy, that’s really important in the way we perceive immigration and refugees now. It can really provide the human face to the human story,” he adds. Tom Grater, Screen
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Reaching across 15 years and multiple countries, Les Cowboys repurposes the narrative codes of the classic western to explore the complexities of a disrupted world. The story opens in 1994 at a country-and-western fair in rural France, where cowboy-hatted families have gathered to enjoy line dancing and a rodeo. (W)hen Alain (François Damiens), a local businessman, is cajoled into singing the Patti Page classic “Tennessee Waltz,” it’s no surprise when the lyrics turn out to have been a foreshadowing. He’s about to lose his “little darling.” That loss — of his 16-year-old daughter, Kelly (Iliana Zabeth), who disappears during the festivities — is the match that ignites the film’s fuse (…). Alain, believing his daughter kidnapped, rails at the police and the parents of Kelly’s newly discovered Muslim boyfriend, who has also disappeared. Mr. Damiens, in a performance as fierce as it is precise, winds his character into a knot
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A big city. A hot summer night. Several love stories crisscross in 6 different vehicles: two cars, an ambulance, a taxi, a bus and a tractor-trailer. Each vehicle is loaded with the protagonists’ life’s baggage: two teens in a convertible looking for a thrill, a cab driver wounded by betrayal, a trucker in love for the first time with a woman with a sad past, a lover hardened in bygone battles, a nurse who doesn’t know how to forget, a woman abandoned with no reason given and a wife tired of waiting. All of them will be dragged in the same direction without realizing their lives are connected. Production notes
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Jan Ijäs WASTE No. 2 WRECK Finland /// 2016 /// 11 min Wreck was filmed in 2014 and 2015 in the graveyard for refugee boats on the Italian island of Lampedusa. It is a story about how the value of garbage and rubbish can surprisingly change. Ibro Hasanović NOTE ON MULTITUDE Bosnia and Herzegovina /// 2015 /// 8 min Men, women and children kiss goodbye and try to board the busses that will take them into the uncertain migrant future. Floor van der Meulen, Thomas Vroege 9 DAYS – FROM MY WINDOW IN ALEPPO The Netherlands, Syria /// 2015 /// 13 min The renowned Syrian photographer Issa Touma followed the events of the first nine days of the rapidly changing uprising in Aleppo from his window in the old city. Jörn Threlfall OVER United Kingdom /// 2015 /// 14 min During the course of nine wide shots shown in reverse
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This nostalgic Estonian indie flashes back to the 1990s as it focuses on a character caught between youthful indolence and adult responsibility. We first meet Aller (an impressive Hendrik Toompere Jr.) as he and his friends guzzle beers and watch an informal all-girl outdoor volleyball game (…). They’re chased off by the coach, but not before one of the girls, Maria (the very beautiful Klaudia Tiitsmaa) exchanges a long, suggestive look with Aller, after which the guys speed off drunkenly in their car and promptly crash. Dazed and bleeding, Aller stumbles away from the wreck (…) eventually coming to a lake where Juulius (Juhan Ulfsak), a shady low-level gangster with a BMW, is taking a swim. They strike up an acquaintance (…). (W)hile the largely clueless Aller is never fully aware of the nature of Juulius’ business, he’s closely enough associated with him that when things go south, Aller will
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The Liberation of Skopje is a film adaptation of Dusan Jovanovic’s theater play. The story is set in World War II-era Skopje, in Makedonia, when it was occupied by German and Bulgarian troops. The story and the cruelty of war, the poverty, suffering and the occupation of Skopje is seen through an eight-year old boy Zoran’s eyes. Zoran’s father is a member of the partisan forces, while Zoran’s mother Lica gets involved in a love affair with a German officer Hans (played by Mikko Nousiainen). This love triangle fuels the tragic events. The film is directed by a Croatian-born and famous Hollywood star, Rade Serbedzija (for instance Mission Impossible II, Eyes Wide Shut and Before the Rain). Rade Serbedzija is directing the film with his filmmaker son Danilo Serbedzija whose movie 72 Days (Sedamdeset I dva dana) was Croatian Oscar-nominee in 2012. Rade Serbedzija is also seen in one of
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In this (…) agnostic age, picking up the Bible can be just as startling an act of rebellion in many households. So it proves in Kirill Serebrennikov’s splendid The Student, a stormy, swoon-inducingly shot bout of Russian moral wrestling (…). (S)ulkily handsome teenager Venya attends side-by-side classes with patient Orthodox priest and more spikily atheistic biology teacher Elena, each of whom is free to represent their own spiritual views (…) in their lessons. When Venya angrily protests (…) against Elena’s unquestioning teaching of evolutionary theory, the school’s conservative-leaning principal wearily suggests that Elena incorporate creationism into her syllabus. Such unsustainable compromise (…) calls into question the scientific educator’s responsibility (…). As Venya’s spiritual awakening spirals violently out of control, Serebrennikov’s filmmaking soars and swells with grandly tragic volume (…). (T)he sense of all these characters being on an ineluctable collision course (…) is brilliantly entrenched by the film’s restless visual
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Jan Hřebejk’s The Teacher is a sardonic, richly seriocomic morality play that uses a delicate touch to explore why communism never seems to work out in the long run. Set in Czechoslovakia circa 1983 – when the country was just beginning to peek out from behind the Iron Curtain – and loosely inspired by true events, this crowd-pleasing standout (…) leverages its hyper-specific setting to convey a universal story of fear and power. It’s a lot more fun than it sounds. A teacher at an elementary school that looks more like a concrete concentration camp, (Mrs.) Drazděchová starts every new year by asking her young pupils to state their names and share what it is that their parents do for a living. It’s a strange question, but the unmarried, middle-aged authoritarian isn’t exactly afraid that her students might rat her out to their parents – being the highest-ranking Communist in
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Rarely does a debut feature come along with the visual and narrative confidence of Thirst, a beautifully crafted, subtly told story of two very different teens hesitantly coming together in Bulgaria’s rural southwest. Directed with arresting yet subtle flair by Svetla Tsotsorkova, whose affinity for minimal dialogue elides with her careful attention to how people observe each other, the film combines chamber-piece elements with sensitivity to landscape, light and shadow. From the first fixed-camera shot, it’s clear Tsotsorkova knows exactly what she’s doing (…). None of the characters is named (…). The boy (Alexander Benev) lives with his bookish father (Ivaylo Hristov) and hard-working mother (Svetlana Yancheva) at the top of a hill. She washes the bed linens for hotels in town, but water is unreliable at best, so they pay a man (Vassil Mihajlov) and his teen daughter (Monika Naydenova) (…) to locate an underground spring on the property.
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Tomasz Wasilewski’s Berlinale prize-winner centers on four women struggling with love and loneliness in newly post-Communist Poland. (…) All live in a small satellite community of concrete apartment blocks, classic socialist-era architecture. The date is around 1990, during that uneasy transitional period after the fall of the Berlin Wall but before the Soviet Union imploded. Unrequited love, loneliness and alienation link the protagonists. Trapped in a stifling marriage, Agata (Julia Kijowska) burns with illicit lust for a hot young Catholic priest. Iza (Magdalena Cielecka) is an elegantly frosty school principal whose long-term affair with a married doctor falls apart after he is widowed, driving her to increasingly extreme measures in a desperate bid to win him back. Living alone in an apartment full of birds, 60-ish Russian teacher Renata (Dorota Kolak) turns her needy gaze on her much younger neighbor Marzena (Marta Nieradkiewicz) (…). United States of Love is plainly
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The third feature from Norwegian helmer Rune Denstad Langlo (“North”) brings levity to a serious, highly topical subject as it spins a tale about a lovable loser who tries to convert his family’s failing mountaintop hotel into a state-supported refugee reception center. Failed entrepreneur Primus (Anders Baasmo Christiansen) is on the verge of losing the rundown resort (…). His wife (Henriette Steenstrup) is so exhausted and depressed by his go-nowhere schemes that she mostly stays in bed. Teen daughter Oda (Nini Bakke Kristiansen) remains loving but skeptical. The xenophobic, casually racist Primus sees an opportunity to change his fortunes by making one out of the refugees, whom he refers to as “darkies” when he’s not equating Somalis and Saamis in very un-PC jokes. In typical fashion, Primus puts the cart in front of the horse, taking in 50 asylum seekers before the hotel renovations are finished (…). His cluelessness about
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