With cinephiles spending far too much of the past two years cooped up at home, many are now back on the hunt for the best and biggest films hitting the big screen. Cue the arrival of Australia's freshest film festival, Europa! Europa. With its program launched today, revealing a collection of the continent's coolest offerings, it's perfectly timed to charm and captivate cinema-goers.
Speaking to the festival's Artistic Director Thomas Caldwell, SWITCH discovered audiences would be in for something unique. "I must admit I if I wasn't involved in this festival, I'd be one of those people saying, 'Really? Another festival?' But there are two leading ideas behind it. One was that despite all the great cinema we get through festivals, there's still a lot of European countries that just aren't represented in Australian cinemas. And we like the idea of presenting something very specifically European and looking at the best of all the various countries. We wanted to highlight one or more films from as many countries as possible that showed them at their very best. We thought if we went at the start of the year, we would be able to capitalise on all the really good stuff that premieres at Toronto and Venice (Film Festivals), which normally Australians would have to wait like months and months and months to see."
Europa! Europa is set to kick off with the opening night film 'The Souvenir Part II', the follow-up to Joanna Hogg's 2019 opinion-dividing drama. "We really deliberated about whether we should show a sequel as an opening night film," says Thomas, "but I think it's worth stressing at the souvenir Part two really stands on its own. I don't think you need to film. And importantly, I don't think you have to have liked the first film. They're both very autobiographical films. The second film opens with her still processing the fact that she had this fairly toxic relationship. But we get to see more of her experiences at film school, trying to make her first film, and dealing with some of the egos of the people that she is at school with.But it's really fun. I mean, the first film is sort of intense, meditative, and very melancholic. The second film is really fun; I was laughing out loud while watching it. So I think it's going to be a really enjoyable film for people to experience, and a perfect opening night film because it's about making cinema in Europe."
It isn't just fun to be had at the festival - the line-up is a mix of horror, documentary, comedy, drama, action and satire. With over 43 films in the program from across 32 European countries, there were some clear personal highlights to Thomas. "What really blew my mind is 'The Innocents'," he recalls. "This is a film that premiered at Cannes. It's a Norwegian film, although it's also a co-production with a bunch of other countries. It's written and directed by Eskil Vogt, whose various other credits include co-writing 'The Worst Person In The World' which, of course, is getting a lot of acclaim. So 'The Innoccents' is a really intense, terrifying horror film. It's set at a summer resort, about a bunch of kids who converge there who all discover they have telekinesis powers. But they're kids who can't always control things like jealousy, anger and resentment, and so start to use these powers to turn on adults and each other in ways that are often quite transgressive. It pushes some of those buttons about what's acceptable in horror, but it's such a sophisticated genre film. It's basically a genre film with arthouse trappings, but it's a long time since I've watched something with my fingers over my eyes, really frightened about what I was going to see or where it was going to go. It's a really exhilarating film."
For something more appealing to those squeamish by nature, Thomas highly recommends 'Brother's Keeper'. "It's set over the course of one day, set in this remote boarding school in the mountains. It's a day of a blizzard. The school is closed in, and a young boy is extremely sick and has to go to the sick bay. one thing goes wrong after the other. The phones are down, they can't get the heaters at work, they haven't got the right medication, they can't send someone to town. And so we're about halfway through. It starts to take on an almost comic and absurd tone, including recurring jokes about the fact that the entrance of the sick bay is covered in water to everyone slips over and when they come in. It's just an intense film about every frustration you can imagine happening in a really beautifully directed piece."
Despite all the great cinema we get through festivals, there's still a lot of European countries that just aren't represented in Australian cinemas.
A number of the festival's offering are submissions for Best International Feature Film at this year's Academy Awards. "If you don't see it at Europa, you'll be very unlikely to see it on the big screen," warns Thomas. "Foreign language films, as a rule, aren't that well-covered on the streaming services. Films like 'After the Winter', which is the Oscar submission for Montenegro, a lovely hangout film. A bunch of twentysomethings over several years trying to grapple with the fact they're becoming adults and have responsibilities. It's a really cruisy film with some stunning scenery from Eastern Europe that was a really good discovery. Then the Bulgarian submission for Best International Feature Film I wouldn't have heard of if I wasn't doing this process - this really fun social satire about racism in regional Bulgaria shot in stunning black and white. It's about a woman who reluctantly takes in a refugee, and they end up forming quite a close bond, but they both have to contend with the locals being small-minded and ridiculously racist. But it's ultimately quite a fun film because they get their own back against the locals. Another really pleasant discovery was 'Shelter', which is the Irish submission, and it's in Gaelic. I mean, how often do you get to see a film from Ireland that's in Gaelic? It's an intense and intense character piece that explores toxic masculinity. It's about a social outsider very reluctantly being forced into the world again, ultimately with an uplifting ending. But it's a small film that would have fallen through the cracks."
Thomas believes Europa! Europa is a chance for cinema-lovers to step outside the mainstream and discover something new. "in in the 90s, it felt like small cinemas were flooded with foreign language content," he recalls. "I don't feel we get the same volume, and the only films that make it to the cinemas now are major films. So. So while it is great seeing some foreign language cinema getting highlighted, it's still a sort of small amount and they are the very, very big films. I mean, it's great that so many people saw 'Parasite', but you sort of wonder how many other South Korean films did they watch outside of that?"
Explore some undiscovered gems at Europa! Europa, running from the 4th to the 27th of February 2022 in Melbourne and Sydney. For details on tickets and to peruse the full program, visit europafilmfestival.com.au.