Highlights of Rotterdam Film Festival

Japanese S&M, cannibals and the new Frances Ha: our picks from the cutting-edge festival

R100 Matsumoto Hitoshi

The Rotterdam Film Festival closed on Sunday. It's built its rep on pushing risk and new talent rather than pandering to red-carpet celebs, and while it's line-up's had stronger years there was more than enough out-there goodness on the packed roster to make me want to weep that I couldn't catch it all. Like Alexei German's Hard to Be a God – an epic-length, existential sci-fi as only the Russians know how. Now finished after his death, it's a narrative-defying behemoth of mud, filth, cruelty and vomit – so I was told. Dipping in and out of festival hub De Doelen, these others were the faves in my haul.

R100 (2013)

Matsumoto Hitoshi's BONKERS latest had its European premiere. A Japanese kink-fest of surreal comedy, it's about a furniture salesman whose wife is in a coma. To alleviate his depression he signs up at an exclusive S&M club for a year of unexpected visits from dominatrixes. The brigade of PVC-clad, martial arts-savvy vamps (and its CEO, played by blonde behemoth Lindsay Howard – the world's tallest female wrestler) wreak mayhem on his everyday life – but premature contract termination is not an option.  

Something Must Break (2014)  

Winner of one of the fest's main Tiger Awards for emerging talent was Swedish director Ester Martin Bergsmark for this raw take on young love between cross-dresser Sebastian and the mercurial guy he meets at one wasted Stockholm party and steals beer for. Unsure how to define their strong attraction, they soon run into problems.

The Hope Factory (2014)

Also in the Tiger new talent section was Natalia Meschaninova's low-budget, raw-edged and engrossing debut about teenager Sveta (Daria Savelieva), who's intent on moving to Moscow. She feels stuck in Norilsk – a grim, industrial city in Russia's far north where there's little else to fill the time than vodka-swigging and go-nowhere hook-ups. But money's scant, and her parents have other ideas about her future.

We met Natalia for coffee, who said getting the film together in Russia's current climate without compromising her vision was a hard-won battle: "It's a very sad situation for independent film there at the moment – censorship is almost stronger now than in the Soviet period. Characters can't smoke or swear, and have to act very nicely or you won't get funding, or may not be able to show it locally." 

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The Hope Factory (2014)

Obvious Child (2014)

Is it the new Frances Ha? A potty-mouthed stand-up comedian (Jenny Slate) who doesn't hesitate to use her intimate life problems as on-stage material finds that getting accidentally knocked-up from a one-night stand the latest fix she's in. Gillian Robespierre does a fine job injecting fresh energy into that ol' indie territory of the quirky dilemma-ridden girl we can commiserate with in this year's Sundance hit – which dares a frank pro-choice subtext.

Jenny Slate in Obvious Child
Obvious Child (2014)

Cannibal (2013)

A well-respected, urbane Granada tailor and secret cannibal (Antonio de la Torre) has his calculating detachment put to the test when a beautiful Romanian immigrant (Olimpia Melinte) moves in next door, searching for her twin sister who has gone missing from the apartment. Manuel Martin Cuenca's stylishly shot and black humour-tinged noir is based on a book by Humberto Arenal.

Falling Star (2014)

The deadpan, absurdist humour and opulent old-world settings of Luis Minarro's debut make you feel you could be in an Albert Serra film (no coincidence, seeing he's enlisted the Catalan renegade's cinematographer). While this Tiger new talent section treat didn't quite escape the shadow of Serra's recent masterpiece Story of My Death, which blended the tales of transgressive icons Casanova and Dracula, its portrait of the brief Spanish rule of a Turin prince amid licentious excess, naked tomfoolery and bizarre watermelon fetishism kept the audience mood mischief-bright.

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