Throughout the summer and the rest of 2016, movie audiences have expressed a general dissatisfaction with the quality of the mainstream films. The critics disagreed with the viewers on the same topic multiple times as well. Looking at the statistics, the box office numbers have also not been the greatest.
I have also heard a lot of people say that the best movies they have seen this year have all been indie releases. So, I have decided to tell you about the best independent movies that I have seen this year thus far. On top of being non-studio films, these pictures have also been produced outside of the English-speaking world, however, they should be fairly familiar to the Western audiences. Lastly, these films have not necessarily been made or released this year – it’s just that I got a chance to see them in 2016.
I don’t know if this post will spark a broader series of foreign reviews but I would really like if it did because I want to widen my horizons and want to help bring more foreign films to the forefront. I will review 2 pictures in this post and the other two tomorrow.
The first film that I’d like to mention is the Hungarian WW2/Auschwitz concentration camp drama Son of Saul. It was directed by László Nemes and stars Géza Röhrig as Saul. The film won a bunch of awards at various festivals last season and also received the Academy Award in the category of the Best Foreign film.
Son of Saul’s story was not easy to watch, even though I have seen quite a few films about concentration camps. Nevertheless, this picture showed the horror of the situation so vividly that you could almost feel like you were in the camp. A lot of that came from the extraordinary cinematography by Mátyás Erdély – the handheld long continuous close-up shots of Saul’s face made the viewer feel claustrophobic and scared. Because of the limited frame, the audiences couldn’t actually see much of the camp or the gas chambers. However, one didn’t actually need to see the broader mise-en-scene to imagine what was happening outside of the frame. The decision to have such a narrow point-of-view also reminded me something that Art Spiegelman stated about the visualization of the genocide (he is the author of the critically acclaimed graphic novel Maus which also deals with the events that happened at Auschwitz). Like the Son of Saul filmmakers, Spiegelman also chose not to show the inside of the gas chambers in his comic because no-one came out alive of these chambers, so no-one knows how they actually looked and it might be disrespectful to the people who lost their lives in there to fictionalize these rooms in one way or the other.
The lead of the film – Géza Röhrig – was spectacular. His face took up the bigger part of the frame throughout the whole film, so his emotions and face-acting were extremely important and he absolutely nailed his performance. Son of Saul didn’t really focus on the plot but explored the heartbreaking journey of a single character. In addition, the lack of music added a lot of realism to an already realistic movie, while the ambiguous ending was equal parts satisfying and horrifying.
Trailer: Son of Saul trailer
The second auteur feature that I want to talk about is the Turkish coming of age drama Mustang by the director Deniz Gamze Ergüven. It was nominated for a variety of awards during the festival season and also received the Best Foreign Film Oscar nomination but lost to the previously discussed picture.
Mustang revolves around 5 sisters, played by Güneş Şensoy, Doğa Doğuşlu, Elit İşcan, Tuğba Sunguroğlu and İlayda Akdoğan, who have reached puberty, thus, according to the traditions of Islam, they have to get married. The sisters’ parents are dead, they grew up with their uncle and grandmother. Their life so far has been quite independent: they went to school, socialized with boys and led quite a Western-style life. However, from the very beginning of the film the viewers and the sisters realize that everything has changed.
All films, which revolve around Islam and women’s place in this particular religion, spark dual feelings inside of me. On one hand, I’m angered that females around the world still have to suffer the oppression. The concept of arranged marriage simply infuriates me. However, as an anthropologist-in-training, I’ve to attempt to look at a different culture through the lenses of that culture. Nevertheless, I know enough about Islam (definitely not from the Western media) to tell you that the female subordination by males is not in the Quran. The theoretical religious concepts highly differ from the religious beliefs that are practiced in the Islamic world – they have been radicalized to the extreme.
Mustang is an independent but narrative film, so it can definitely appeal to the mainstream movie goers more than some other art cinema pictures. The 5 leading ladies are all amazing and the 5 sisters, though related, are all very unique and different. The picture also shows a variety of diverse consequences of arranged marriages: these outcomes range from happy and relieving to extremely sad and tragic.
Trailer: Mustang trailer