The 43rd Moscow International Film Festival was held on 22-29 April 2021 as a physical edition. The NETPAC Jury, which consisted of Andrey Vasilenko (Chairperson) and Nina Kochelyaeva, were able to screen and evaluate the selected films in theatres.
Fourteen films were selected as finalists for the NETPAC Award this year, of which 13 were feature and one was a documentary:
1) Café by the Highway (Huangye Kafei Guan), Director: Xiaofan Shi, China, 2021, 108 mins. Three years before the story begins, a girl named Yuanfang Han had left her home because her father had slapped her in the face. She had found a job as a barista in Shanghai. Three years later, heartbroken, she returns to her hometown Baima and becomes a highway toll station collector. But the monotonous life in her hometown contrasts with her desire for adventure. Yuanfang begins to miss the good old days when she made coffee in the city. One day, she and her colleague Da Li find an abandoned space capsule by the highway. They make coffee in the wild space capsule, dreaming of life in a big city far away.
2) The Women (On’na-Tachi), Director: Nobuteru Uchida, Japan, 2021, 97 mins. Misaki lives in a rural town situated among lush, green mountains beneath a clear blue sky. Despite graduating from a university in Tokyo, she is unable to find the job she hoped for owing to the lack of employment opportunities her generation faces. Just about everything has gone badly for her and now she is on the verge of turning 40. However, she has dreams of marrying her aging, handicapped mother Mitsuko’s care worker, Naoki, who visits their home. Her clandestine meetings with Naoki are sanctuaries for Misaki from Mitsuko’s harsh day-to-day verbal abuse. The other is the bee farm run by her childhood friend, Kaori. The honey that Kaori diligently makes is sweet, mild, and soothing. But then Misaki is cruelly betrayed by Naoki. And Kaori abruptly dies. These events drive Misaki’s heart to the brink of bursting.
3) Joyful Mystery (Santoshathinte Onnam Rahasyam), Director: Don Palathara, India, 2020, 85 mins. The movie revolves around a woman named Maria and her boyfriend Jitin. Jitin is a small-time actor, with no steady income and their parents do not have any knowledge of their relationship. The story takes place on their way to a clinic as Maria believes she may be pregnant after having an unprotected sex with Jitin. She thinks that he is irresponsible, and the baby would add a burden to their relationship. She is also not yet ready to have a baby and is planning to pursue higher studies.
4) The Son (Pesar), Director: Noushin Meraji, Iran, 2021, 85 mins. Forty-year-old Farid lives with his mother. He is very vulnerable and escapes loneliness, but in the meantime he tries to prove himself independent and supportive of his mother. However, her sudden death makes him frustrated. To escape from this unfamiliar situation, he clings to anyone he encounters outside home to make his loneliness bearable, but he does not know how to communicate and the situation gets worse every time.
5) Anima (Mo Er Dao Ga), Director: Cao Jinling, China, 2020, 120 mins. After young Tutu kills a bear to save his little brother’s life, he is considered an outcast as bears are sacred to the Lonki tribe. Years later, Tutu and Linzi struggle to get by and work as lumberjacks near the forest they grew up in. When they both fall for the same woman, it drives the brothers apart. While Linzi connects more and more with nature and the forest, Tutu chooses another path.
6) Girls Always Happy (Rou Qing Shi), Director: Yang Mingming, China, 2018, 117 mins. Yang Mingming’s first feature film is a humorous, psychological portrait of a fragile mother-daughter relationship. Wu, a screenwriter and her mother have many things in common even though they never like to admit it. They are both seemingly accustomed to unhappiness and disappointment in their personal as well as professional fronts. Their sarcasm magnifies their personal disasters but on the other hand, time and again, it also gives rise to hope. Detailed images speak of an intimacy born of despair and at the same time provide their ironic refraction.
7) Almost a Comedy (Ban Ge Xi Ju), Director: Shen Zhou Lu Liu, China, 2019, 111 mins Three young people have different ideas: one wants to say goodbye to single life, one wants to have a dissipated night before marriage, and one wants to set a firm footing in Beijing. Their frantic lives look almost like a comedy.
8) My Prince Edward, Director: Norris Wong, China, 2019, 92 mins Golden Plaza in Prince Edward district is a shopping mall in Hong Kong, known for bridal shops and cheap wedding supplies. Fong works in one such bridal shop. She has been with Edward, the owner of a wedding photography shop, for years. Fong must sort out the sham marriage that she was paid to take part in years ago before she can get married for real.
9) Last «Dear Bulgaria» (Poslednyaya «Milaya Bolgariya»), Director: Aleksei Fedorchenko, Russia, 2021, 98 mins. 1943. Alma - Ata. The hero of the film – a young fruit grower, revives a medicinal variety of apples and investigates a strange crime. The script is based on the book Before Sunrise by Mikhail Zoshchenko.
10) Three (Tri), Director: Ruslan Pak, Uzbekistan, South Korea, Kazakhstan, 2020, 112 mins. Kazakhstan, USSR. Sher Sadykhov, who lives with his older sister, starts his internship at a special task force. Sher’s internship begins with the emergence of a serial killer who only kills women. New victims appear and the investigation seems to end in a blind alley. Meanwhile, Sher finds out that his sister is the new target of the serial killer.
11) Sun Children (Khorshid), Director: Majid Majidi, Iran, 2020, 99 mins. This is the story of 12-year-old Ali and his three friends. Together, they work hard to survive and support their families, doing small jobs in a garage and committing petty crimes to make fast money. In a turn of events that seems miraculous, Ali is entrusted to find a hidden treasure underground. He recruits his gang, but first, to gain access to the tunnel, the children must enroll at the Sun School, a charitable institution that tries to educate street kids and child labourers, close to where the treasure is located.
12) Taste (Vi), Director: Le Bao, Taiwan, Germany, Thailand, France, Singapore, Vietnam, 2021, 97 mins. The slums of Ho Chi Minh City are bleak, unwelcoming spaces that don’t let in much sunlight. A Nigerian man goes about his day, apparently familiar with his environment. He and the young son he had left behind at home seem to be used to the meagre interaction that video calls allow. When his contract with a football team is terminated, he moves in with four middle-aged Vietnamese women. Together they revert to a primal state: cleaning, cooking, eating, sleeping together and having sex.
13) The Basement (Jihasil), Director: Yang Hyun Choi, Republic of Korea, 2020, 94 mins Pan - Gyo, the Korean Silicon Valley, was attacked by a nuclear bomb. A member of the family who owns a venture business decides to hide in a basement in their house for two weeks in accordance with the directions given by the Korean Government. The family struggles to survive underground day by day.
14) Mosul My Home, Director: Adalet R. Garmiany, Iraq, 2020, 60 mins., Documentary For many of us, when we first hear the name Mosul City, we immediately think of the brutal reign of the so-called ‘Islamic State’, of humanitarian crisis, devastation and slow recovery. However, this film tells the story of Mosul beyond these stereotypes, examining the aftermath of war, the environment of the city and its communal places, as well as its once thriving energy and its multi-ethnic inhabitants.
The NETPAC competition programme presented films in a variety of genres and stylistic techniques, the first works of directors as well as works of already recognized masters, and six films shot by women directors. Most of the fictional films were devoted to social collisions, including reflections on lockdown situations, not necessarily provoked by the coronavirus (The Basement, Joyful Mystery, The Son, Taste). There were also films that touched on history (Last “Dear Bulgaria” and Three, and partly Anima and Café by the Highway). Last “Dear Bulgaria” by Alexey Fedorchenko is a homage to Russian cinema and to one of its founders, Sergei Eisenstein. All selected films were of very high quality and told stories that would have touched the heart of every viewer.
But, despite the wide selection of feature films, the jury unanimously gave preference to the documentary Mosul My Home directed by Adalet Garmiany. This artistically outstanding work is a journey into the peaceful, abundant and warm-hearted past of Mosul, now in ruins. Artistic techniques invented by the authors create additional energy for the film. Following the hero's feet, plunging into the shadow of his image on the wall, contemplating the once prosperous, but now almost destroyed spiritual, historical and cultural shrines, the viewer, on the one hand, touches upon the former greatness of Mosul, and on the other, realizes the monstrous consequences of the war. This documentary journey is filled with love and compassion for its city, and is an eloquent manifestation of the power of art, memory and humanity.
-- Nina Kochelyaeva (Russia), NETPAC Jury Member
-- Edited by Latika Padgaonkar