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WORLD CINEMA | Foreign Flicks Checklist: 10+ New Films to Watch at Fall Fests

WORLD CINEMA | Foreign Flicks Checklist: 10+ New Films to Watch at Fall Fests

Searching for the newest, best and most anticipated in world cinema at this fall’s film festivals is no easy feat. Let’s face it: the year’s most significant foreign-language pictures probably already premiered last summer in Cannes. Many of these films will be showing up again in Venice, Toronto and New York–from “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” “The Last Mistress,” and “Persepolis” to “Secret Sunshine” and “Silent Light“–and it’s often the case that the majority of what’s new on programmers’ plates doesn’t compare. But, of course, with 101 world premieres at Toronto alone, one can hopefully expect another 5 – 10% of positive returns.

We can’t promise the following list of far-flung fall premieres will live up to expectations. But they’ll be the ones that buyers, critics and journalists will be checking off their lists.

Cargo 200,” directed by Alexei Balabanov
Festivals: Telluride, Venice, Toronto
World Sales: Intercinema

Following his iconoclastic “Brother” and “Of Freaks and Men,” Russian maverick Alexei Balabanov’s new film “Cargo 200”–a code name for Russian soldier’s corpses transported from war zones–is, according to one online viewer, “a retro horror-trip” through a Soviet Union “that is stinking, sadistic and sick.” Set in 1984 Soviet Union, the plot is described as a thriller where the daughter of a big-shot government officer is kidnapped by a sadistic police captain who falls in love with her in a very twisted way. Unabashedly violent, Variety‘s Alissa Simon calls the film “a disturbing, gleefully black comedy” that “definitely has something to say about the country.”

The Deuxieme Souffle,” directed by Alain Corneau
Festivals: Toronto
World Sales: Wild Bunch

Toronto Galas should always be approached with more caution than lust, but those prone to mainstream French fare may find their match with Alain Corneau’s adaptation of the Jose Giovanni story that spawned Jean-Pierre Melville‘s 1966 classic gangster film of the same name. Starring foreign box-office-mainstays Daniel Auteuil (as the hardened criminal Gu) and Monica Bellucci (as the woman he loves), the film tells the story of Gu’s final odyssey: having escaped from prison and being hunted by police, he agrees to take part in one more heist to allow him safe passage over the border into Italy. Toronto’s catalogue (prone to exaggeration mind you) promises a “thrilling-white knuckle” adventure, with “energetic set pieces [that] channel the baroque artistry of Hong Kong action cinema” and some of France’s “greatest actors [pushed] to their breathtaking limits.”

A Girl Cut in Two” (La Fille coupee en deux), directed by Claude Chabrol
Festivals: Venice, Toronto, New York
World Sales: Wild Bunch

Part of the resurgence of the old New Wave, Chabrol’s latest satirical look at France’s sexual and class struggles has generated a mostly positive response out of its Venice premiere. French starlet Ludivine Sagnier plays a Lyons TV weather girl who is caught between two men, a distinguished author (Francois Berleand) and a handsome young rake (Benoit Magimel). Screen Daily critic Jonathan Romney reports that the film offers “plentiful style and psychological finesse, if few surprises,” while Variety’s Lisa Nesselson found it to be “a pleasantly disturbing, nominally voyeuristic romp in the territory Chabrol knows best.” Chabrol remains a recurrent, albeit minimal force, on U.S. arthouse screens with recent modest films like “Comedy of Power” and “The Flower of Evil,” and his latest looks like it could be a return to form.

Help Me Eros,” directed by Lee Kang Sheng
Festivals: Venice Competition, Toronto
World Sales: Fortissimo Film Sales

Directed by Lee Kang Sheng, the Taiwanese actor known for his lugubrious starring roles in the films of Tsai Ming-liang, “Help Me Eros” is “a provocative, darkly comic and sexually daring film,” according to press notes, executive produced by his longtime collaborator Tsai. Following on the promise of Lee’s excellent 2004 Rotterdam-winning directorial debut “The Missing,” “Help Me Eros” is set during an economic crisis. Ah Jie (Lee) loses all his money and meets Chyi over a suicide hotline. Repeatedly rejected, he begins to project his fantasies of Chyi on Shin, a new girl working at the betelnut stall.

The Loves of Astree and Celadon” (Les Amours d’Astree et Celadon), directed by Eric Rohmer
Festivals: Venice Competition, Toronto, New York
World Sales: Rezo Films International

Set in an idyllic 17th Century rural France, veteran French New Waver Eric Rohmer’s latest romance chronicles the chaste affair between a shepherd Celadon and the shepherdess Astree. After a fight, Astree tells Celadon she never wishes to see him again. Celadon throws himself into a river out of despair, but he’s secretly been rescued by nymphs and sets out to be near his love again–without breaking Astree mandate, he returns as a woman. Variety’s Ronnie Scheib writes the film’s “fantastic third act more than makes up for such occasional slogging” in the movie’s beginning. Though in his late 80s, Rohmer has shown little sign of slowing down, and while his most recent features (“Triple Agent,” “The Lady and the Duke“) haven’t exactly crossed over, he continues to show a sharp wit and desire for innovation that may pay off in what is reportedly his cinematic swansong.

Jar City,” directe by Baltasar Kormakur
Festivals: Karlovy Vary, Telluride, Toronto
World Sales: Trust Film Sales

After stumbling with the Euro-American pudding “A Little Trip to Heaven,” Icelandic up-and-comer Baltasar Kormakur (“101 Reykjavik,” “The Sea“) bounces back with this acclaimed police thriller set in contemporary Iceland. Based on the Icelandic novel “Tainted Blood,” the film is already a local Icelandic box-office hit and award-winner and won praise after its Karlovy Vary international premiere from Variety’s Eddie Cockrell. “‘Jar City’ reps a supremely confident stride into mass-appeal genre fare [for Kormakur],” he writes. The film concerns an investigation into a murder, which opens up a wider chasm of crimes and corruption, the death of a young girl many years ago, and a mysterious genetic disease; early reviews have also singled out the film’s expressive use of Iceland’s landscapes.

A scene from Ang Lee’s “Lust, Caution.” Image courtesy of the Toronto International Film Festival Group.

Lust, Caution,” directed by Ang Lee
Festivals: Venice, Toronto
U.S Distributor: Focus Features

Win an Oscar; take that prestige capital and go off to make an X-rated Mandarin language historical drama. Thirteen years after “Eat Drink Man Woman,” director Ang Lee returns to his mother tongue for an erotic espionage thriller set during WWII in Shanghai that’s already drawing mixed reviews out of Venice. While Variety’s Derek Elley called it “a long haul for relatively few returns” and the Observer‘s Jason Solomons likened it to a Ming vase (“while it’s a wondrous object to behold, it somehow lacks a sense of passion”), that won’t keep fest-goers from making their own verdict. “In the Mood for Love“‘s Tony Leung stars as Yee, the head of the secretive service of the collaborationist Chinese government, who is seduced by Mrs. Mak (newcomer Tang Wei), a member of an anti-Japanese resistance group.

Mongol,” directed by Sergei Bodrov
Festivals: Toronto
U.S. Distributor: Picturehouse

Veteran Russian director Sergei Bodrov (“Prisoner of Mountains“) unveils the first of installment of his Genghis Kahn trilogy in Toronto. With a $10-12 million budget, the film isn’t the most expensive to come out of Russia’s bourgeoning industry, but it is one of the most high profile. Filmed in multiple languages in Kazakhstan, the story follows the early life of the infamous conqueror, who was cast out as a slave before returning to take power and reestablish his family. Starring Japanese star Tadanobu Asano (“Zatoichi”), the film promises stunning vistas and epic battle sequences, but we’re holding off on declaring it a dramatic victory until we see it.

The Past” (El Pasado), directed by Hector Babenco
Festivals: Toronto
World Sales: ThinkFilm International

Any film with international Mexican star Gael Garcia Bernal is bound to be a hot commodity, and with Oscar-winning Argentine-born Brazilian director Hector Babenco (“Carandiru“) at the helm, the movie’s stock potentially rises even further. Bernal stars as Rimini, a young translator who in the midst of divorcing his wife of 12 years becomes involved with a younger woman, which sparks a vengeful response on the part of his former love. Adapted from Argentine writer Alan Paul‘s novel of the same name, the movie marks a move away from Babenco’s familiar territory of outcasts (“Pixote,” “Kiss of the Spiderwoman“) to more straightforward dramatic terrain of men and women, love and loss.

Useless” (Wu Yong), directed by Jia Zhang-ke
Festivals: Venice, Toronto, New York
World Sales: Memento International

Billed as a documentary, Chinese maverick Jia Zhang-ke’s latest work cuts together three portraits of clothing: from indiscriminate workers toiling away under the fluorescent lights in a Canton garment factory to Chinese designer Ma Ke preparing to unveil her newly established brand “Useless”–which places the clothes in dirt–to a small tailor’s shop in China’s northern mining region. Jia provided the unexpected foreign sensation at last year’s festivals, winning a 2006 Golden Lion for his last-minute entry “Still Life.” Together with last year’s “Dong,” Jia continues to reaffirm his skills as a master of the cinematic craft, whether documentary or fiction or somewhere in between.

La Zona,” directed by Rodrigo Pla
Festivals: Venice, Toronto
World Sales: Wild Bunch

This first feature from award-winning Mexican shorts filmmaker Rodrigo Pla has major Mexican-Spanish backing, “Y Tu Mama Tambien” star Maribel Verdu, and a Variety rave from Jay Weissberg to bolster its launch: “Set within an exclusive gated community surrounded by slums in Mexico City, the pic tackles issues of privilege, responsibility and group mentality in subtler ways than descriptions might convey,” he writes, “finishing it all off with a punch.” With reportedly impressive performances and equally dazzling art direction, “La Zona” could emerge as one of the fall circuit’s most exciting discoveries. Playing in the special Venice Days sidebar and Toronto’s Discovery section, the film may be flying under the radar for now, but one stellar trade review is sometimes all it takes to rise to the surface.

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