Fresh From Rotterdam Film Festival: Final Round Up

Updated: Feb 15

by Billie Walker (@billierwalker)

As IFFR closes up shop, Billie reveals a few highs - and lows - from a week of new independent cinema
Still: Quo vadis, Aida? (Jasmila Zbanic: 2021)

Although the carbon footprint of the film industry must have decreased by the pandemic’s necessity of the remote film festivals, they hold no comparison to the real deal. It didn’t help that during the week attending IFFR, my bathroom leaked into the kitchen meaning that along with the usual buffering, each film I streamed was accompanied by banging or dripping.


Like all activities this deep into lockdown, they do more to remind you of what was, than to distract you from the current situation. Setting up my silly little projector (with a fan that sounds like it has long covid) and watching my silly little films, made me long for the days of queuing for four and half hours under the Cannes midday sun to see Robert Pattinson and William Defoe go mad in isolation.


This may be more a sign of my growing cabin fever than a film trend but my biggest takeaway of IFFR was: “why is everyone shooting scenes featuring goats?”. I would like to see more goats in the future of film please, I know Agnes Varda would have approved.


Bipolar directed by Queena Li (4 stars)

A woman undergoing an extreme existential crisis road trips through Tibet with a lobster which doesn’t disappoint in enthralling you. Bipolar succeeds in being equally sincere and bizarre with this spiritual journey that leaves you lighter. It handles the conflict with China’s occupation over Tibet with respect, her misunderstanding of culture and language further adding to the feeling of isolation while showing a love for the region.


Dead and Beautiful directed by David Verbeek (3 stars)

I was so ready to love this movie where a group of rich kids discover they are vampires. I wanted camp, goth vamps with the budget to get extremely into their new lifestyle, but what I got was an uncertain hazing-gone-wrong movie. Dead and Beautiful was very uncertain of itself, the plot twist reveals were unnecessary and clunkily delivered and the moments of camp and seriousness were poorly balanced. Both opportunities to show an Asian vampire (a rare sight in the genre) and to critique the rich were sorely missed.

Related: A round up of our previous virtual run around BFI London Film Festival

Quo vadis, Aida? directed by Jasmila Zbanic (5 stars)

This film was the most agonising and informative one I had the privilege of viewing. It respectfully detailed the events leading up to the massacre of 7,000 men carried out by the Serbian general Ratko Mladić in 1995. The piece reminded me of the 2018 Michaela Coel drama Black Earth Rising, as both deftly show the futility of the UN as it continues to hold its place as an ineffective symbol rather than a force that is in any way helpful to the people it promises to protect.


Still: Aristocrats (Sode Yukiko: 2021)

Mayday directed by Karen Cinorre (4 stars)

This film hits somewhere between an all-female Arthur Ransome novel and Lovely Bones. While appearing like a cottagecore island fantasy, it hits on some dark notes highlighting the strain of the patriarchy that leads women to suicide while offering fairy-tale references throughout to soften the blow. However, the feminist story that this claims to be is not the sort I want to claim as my own. While Mia Goth leads the island with a more aggressive approach to protect their sanctuary, our main character, Grace Van Patten, wants to return to the patriarchy to envision a future society of pockets and paychecks. Cinnorre is joining the ranks of Greta Gerwig and other small ‘f’ feminist directors that choose heroic individualism over the well-being of the collective.


Black Medusa directed by ismaël &Youseff Chebbi (3 stars)

Described as an adaptation of the Medusa myth for the post Me Too era, this was another film I was curious about. The film plays as a rape revenge narrative which I feel should be felt to whose who have had experience of the likes of men she brutally kills. The choice of a mute heroine takes away from the purpose of reclaiming herself and I don’t know one woman who wants to get revenge on the men who have hurt her by drugging and sodomising them with a broom handle.


Aristocrats directed by Sode Yukiko (3 stars)

While this film hits on necessary critiques looking at both class and societal pressures on women in Japanese society, it felt more of a melo than drama. It began with some comedic moments but quickly became dry and disappointing and perhaps if it had held onto the humour that it began with, it may have left a more lasting impression.



Archipel directed Felix Dufour Laperrière (4 stars)

Being the only animated piece among all feature films, it is hard to compare it to anything else, but it did offer a refreshing break. Less a story and more a poetic journey, the narration takes us through Quebec islands both real and imaginary. By treating the fabricated with as much aplomb as the named ones the film opens the floor for discussion of boundaries, land and country and therefore mocking the absurd way the world turns fabricated borders into oppressive reality.


Aurora directed by Paz Fabrega (2 stars)

This drama tells of a teacher and her student who falls pregnant. THe option of termination is never discussed because, as I discovered after a bit of googling, that is not an option in Costa Rica. Almost all abortions are illegal with the only exception being if the mother’s health is in danger. However, apart from being drab in colour, the films character and tone felt extremely pro-life. Every other shot was littered with plants and many scenes featured endearing moments of children demonstrating the precious nature of new life. At least it didn’t hide its agenda in kooky characters and indie music like one noughties teen pregnancy film that springs to mind. I want to live in a world where the termination narratives outweigh the martyring-young-women-who-sacrifice-their-life-for-unborn-foetus narratives.


All the trailers and synopses of the films mentioned can be found at IFFR's website and Youtube channel

Billie Walker is a London-based writer who enjoys Campari-based drinks as bitter as she is. There will always be a horror film on her laptop and feta in the fridge. She devours books as frequently as salty cheeses. See more of her work here