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September - November 2022

Programme texts for 2023 edition of International Film Festival Rotterdam.

I contributed five film texts for IFFR 2023 as their communications team set about developing a new style guide for the festival, including more accessible and detailed film descriptions. The resulting texts were published on the online programme and in the printed catalogue distributed with the national Volkskrant newspaper.

See all full film texts via the links to the right, or read a selection below.

Alien Food (dir. Giorgio Cugno)

Gagaland (dir. Yuhan Teng)

Não Sou Nada – The Nothingness Club (dir. Edgar Pêra)

New Strains (dir. Artemis Shaw, Prashanth Kamalakanthan)

We Had the Day Bonsoir (dir. Narimane Mari)

We Had the Day Bonsoir (dir. Narimane Mari)

A love song for the dead, We Had the Day Bonsoir reaches beyond mourning and eulogy – towards something eternal. With fragments of intimate documentary sound and film, Narimane Mari captures a vivid yet oblique portrait of her late partner, the painter Michel Haas. It's an ode to a specific life through the eyes and ears of his lover, but also to life itself.

Through her eyes, we see someone full of that life right up to his final days: on all fours painting in the dirt, laughing childlike at Chaplin, swearing at the camera. But Mari seems more concerned with listening: to voicemail epiphanies between the two lovers, to an unanswered plea from Haas's doctor, to the lapping of waves. With these lyrical fragments, the film often ponders along with Haas and Mari about the impossibility of endings. How the ‘illusion’ of time passing clashes with the will of human stories, and of art, to endure.

“Every soul is a melody that needs to be renewed”, Mari says, bidding us listen. Because, the film keeps reminding us, what we see intimately of Haas and his work is only a glimpse of what always remains – just off frame, out of earshot, after the final cut.

New Strains (dir. Artemis Shaw, Prashanth Kamalakanthan)

This cheerfully humdrum rom-com presents a very homemade slice of first-lockdown life. But can its squabbling couple make it through a mysterious pandemic? Co-writers and filmmakers Artemis Shaw and Prashanth Kamalakanthan play Kallia and Ram: young lovers vacationing to New York just as the pandemic unfolds. They’ve already descended into petty name-calling when the travel ban prolongs their trip indefinitely, trapping them in Kallia’s uncle’s apartment.

New Strains is as much a relatable account of the first lockdown as it is a sketch of its particular effects on this peculiar couple. Semi-improvised and shot on a Hi8 camcorder that Shaw and Kamalakanthan found during their own real lockdown, its grainy VHS footage nails the frustrations of personal and creative helplessness in quarantine. A production defined by the same constraints it depicts, it similarly makes the best of a bad situation.

All of which makes it a uniquely authentic pandemic film – full of neat, oddly poignant touches that capture the highs and lows of lockdown relationships. Failing to connect meaningfully over FaceTime gym sessions, dreams of finding lost trousers in the park, bathwater spilling under the shower curtain as the second person gets in. All these sharply observed moments construct a portrait of two lives lived too close, in a shrinking domestic world: lives trying and failing to become one.

Não Sou Nada – The Nothingness Club (dir. Edgar Pêra)

A surreal psychological thriller to get lost in, Não Sou Nada (“I Am Nothing”) draws viewers into the demonically kaleidoscopic world of Portuguese modernist poet Fernando Pessoa. It is the most ambitious film to date from Edgar Pêra, whose broad and striking filmography was celebrated in a career-spanning retrospective at IFFR 2019.

Pessoa famously published under many heteronyms: around 75 different names, each with fully fleshed-out backgrounds, styles, appearances and philosophies. Taking this a step further, Não Sou Nada gives flesh to these characters, all working together under Pessoa, enacted by Miguel Borges, at the publishing house The Nothingness Club.

Though mostly similar in appearance, the heteronyms differ hugely in personality – above all, the gleefully unhinged Álvaro de Campos, enacted by Albano Jerónimo. These clashes start to become indistinguishable from dramatic rifts in Pessoa’s psyche: as he is increasingly beset by philosophical turmoil, his heteronyms are murdered, one by one. Meanwhile, Victoria Guerra plays a double role as Pessoa’s Madonna-mistress Ophélia: at once a saintly psychiatric nurse and duplicitous femme fatale.

In this way unmistakably noir, the film nevertheless presents no murder mystery nor nihilistic twists. Instead, its shadow play of sensations and emotions finds the perfect analogue for Pessoa’s poetry: bewildering and beguiling, as it vividly explores paradoxes of the heart and mind.