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European Cinema Shines At FLIFF

European cinema has always had a strong presence at the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival. This year is no exception as FLIFF showcases a strong collection of films from a mix of emerging and established European film talents.

Most of the European films are situated in the World Cinema section, which is not exclusively but overwhelmingly dominated by European titles. AN ENGLISHMAN IN NEW YORK, UK director Richard Laxton’s biopic on gay icon and wit Quentin Crisp, focuses on the raconteur’s final 20 years in the Big Apple. John Hurt reprises his celebrated turn in a role he was clearly born to play. He originally appeared in the 1975 telefilm THE NAKED CIVIL SERVANT, based on the memoir of the gay pioneer.

Also from England comes BEYOND THE POLE, an adventure mockumentary of two friends who attempt the first organic expedition to the North Pole. Director David Williams, a founding partner of Shooting Pictures, brings an interesting spin to the wacky tale, focusing on the ecological point of the trip and the camaraderie between the two jokey adventurers.

Italian cinema is represented by COLPO D’OCCHIO (AT A GLANCE), a Hitchcockian thriller directed by Sergio Rubini. In a love triangle between a beautiful young woman and her two loves (one a prominent art critic, the other a struggling artist waiting for his big break), Rubini has created a potent story of fiery romance, competition and the dark heart of suspense that brings the audience to the edge of its seat with the film’s unexpected twists and turns. The film has been a box office hit in its native Italy.

Also from Italy is the comedic road movie ITALIANS, written and directed by Giovanni Veronesi. The director of the popular comedy MANUAL OF LOVE returns with a film that is divided into tangy vignettes, each revealing a different side of the Italian culture, obsessions and neurotic attachments. Sex, food, romance and the eternal war between men and women are at the heart of this delightful film that was nominated for several David Di Donatello awards (the Italian Oscar) this past year.

From Turkey comes the vibrant drama THE MARKET: A TALE OF TRADE, written and directed by American filmmaker Ben Hopkins. Set in Turkey, the film focuses on a market trader (played by Turkish superstar Tayanc Ayaydin) who is given the chance of a lifetime to invest in an exciting business deal. Not having the necessary cash, he turns to the outlawed black market and risks both his livelihood and life in that morally complex underworld. The film won several Golden Oranges (the Turkish Oscar) for Best Film, Best Screenplay and Best Actor.

Also representing the revitalized Turkish cinema is PANDORA’S BOX, a family drama by Yesim Ustaoglu. The film tells the tale of an elderly mother who disappears in her small village on the Black Sea coast and the coming together of her three 40-something children who set aside their problems to come together. Like the film’s title, a sea of tension is released as the children are forced to work together and accept each other’s limitations. The film won awards for Best Director and Best Actress at the 2008 San Sebastian Film Festival.

In a film that combines eros and haute cuisine, the Spanish comedy MEDITERRANEAN FOOD is a sumptuous tale of yet another love triangle. At the center of the love match is Sofia, who was raised amidst the stovetops and tables of her parents’ restaurant. Into her life come two men: one a respectable professional, the other an artistic chef with a flair for offbeat cuisine. Together, the threesome come to a professional and love arrangement that will revolutionize her culinary and personal universe. The film, written and directed by Joaquin Oristrell, was a sleeper hit at last year’s Berlin Film Festival.

One of the more anticipated films of the season also hails from Spain. The newest work from Pedro Almodovar is always a treat for his many international fans. In his latest masterworks, he again teams with Penelope Cruz in BROKEN EMBRACES, a film that combines film noir aesthetic with a nice dash of mystery, romance and sexual tension. Again bringing a heightened melodrama to the proceedings, Almodovar tells the tale of a blind screenwriter and his amour fou relationship with the mistress of a ruthless business mogul. In a screenplay that is at turns witty and winsome, Almodovar creates another intriguing portrait of the power, responsibility and ultimate dissolution of passion.

French cinema, always a favorite at FLIFF, is represented this year by two very different films. QUEEN TO PLAY, written and directed by Caroline Bottaro, stars Sandrine Bonnaire as a maid who learns about life through mastering the game of chess. Her teacher and employer, an expatriate American played by Kevin Kline, opens up a whole world for her beyond cooking meals and washing clothes. The film had its US Premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival and is making its Southeast Premiere in Fort Lauderdale.

Another Sandrine, this one named Sandrine Kiberlain, is the erstwhile star of ROMAINE 30 BELOW. She stars as Romaine, whose boyfriend decides to take her on a wilderness vacation in northern Canada at Christmas time. The fateful adventures that await her in snowy Quebec are rife with hilarity and unexpected twists. Kiberlain, a talented comedienne in the mold of classic Hollywood screwball actresses, is a delight as she becomes more and more outrageous, while winning hearts of all she encounters (of course).

European cinema shines in Fort Lauderdale this week......

Sandy Mandelberger, Festival Dailies Editor
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