Our favourite MEDIA-supported films of 2018

120 BPM (Beats per minute)

Francesca Walker - Head of MEDIA, Creative Europe Desk UK - England

I was totally absorbed by this drama focusing on the direct-action movement Act Up, which campaigned to bring about changes to legislation, medical research and treatment in order to address the AIDS crisis in the late 1980s. The film is equal parts political and personal with writer/director Robin Campillo drawing from his own experiences as a member of the organisation in France, something I only discovered after I’d seen the film but which definitely added to its sense of realism. From the fashion, slang and archive material used, to the emotional intensity that can only come from being well versed in both love and loss. 

Campillo also penned Laurent Cantet’s 2008 Palme d’Or-winning The Class and the naturalistic and dynamic dialogue of 120 BPM’s activist group meetings are reminiscent of the classroom scenes from that film. The beautifully shot club scenes that interject throughout provide a euphoric contrast to both these and some of the more harrowing scenes, emphasising the loss and suffering that the community endured. A tough watch at times (I was in floods of tears at one specific point), but an important one. 

The Breadwinner

Esther Routledge - Culture Coordinator, Creative Europe Desk UK - England

Irish animation film and television company, Cartoon Saloon's The Breadwinner delivers on aesthetically-pleasing animation, a compelling Bechdel test-passing storyline and a soaring soundtrack. It appealed to me initially as the themes are similar to my Disney favourite: Mulan. In both films, a young girl living in a repressive society seeks to save her family by disguising her femininity and taking advantage of the opportunities and societal benefits afforded to men, because the father figure is incapacitated by age of disability.

The story of The Breadwinner  twists to tell the tale of women and men's experiences under Taliban rule in Kabul, Afghanistan. It also addresses political corruption, domestic violence and poverty, and is interspersed with the folklore story of the Elephant King - signified by a change in animation style which is at once charming and thought-provoking. 

This is a children's film but one that carries a message about life in Afghanistan that anyone can learn from. 

Dogman

Zoe Hardie - Marketing and Communications Manager, Creative Europe Desk UK

My MEDIA-supported production of the year has to be Matteo Garrone's Italian feature Dogman: a fable-like drama, set on the bleak fringes of a town, which takes a dark and twisted turn. The story centres around an endearing dog-groomer whose sensitive, animal-loving nature is comically clear – but there's more to the humble Marcello than first meets the eye. His contradictions make for a fascinating exploration of masculinity, power and cruelty punctuated with just enough poochy hilarity to see you through the tension.

Summer 1993

Nicole Davis - Promotions Coordinator, Creative Europe Desk UK

Carla Simón's directorial debut was one of this year's quieter releases, but it roared with personal resonance. Based on the director's own childhood it documents a young girl's summer spent with relatives in the wake of her mother's death. Searing, subtle and punctuated with sun-drenched scenes in the Catalan countryside, it also features some of cinema's best child performances. Seek it out.

The Islands and the Whales

Kate Deans - Culture Officer, Creative Europe Desk UK - Scotland

A bit of a biased choice being a Northern islander myself, but my pick of this year’s MEDIA supported productions is Mike Day’s The Islands and the Whales. Filmed over several years of visits to the Faroe Islands, the close connections and understanding built with the islanders really shines through. The film explores the islanders’ long-standing tradition of hunting and fishing within their islands, which is being threatened by rising mercury levels in the ecosystem from global pollution. Watch it for a nuanced exploration of local/global; humans/environment; traditional cultures / globalisation, and more. And fall into its insistent sense of place through its sound design and soaring shots which give you an impressive sense of scale and raw power of the cliffs, wind and sea.

What I like most about this film is that it doesn’t push an agenda or perspective – it allows you to hear from the islanders, but then your empathy for their traditions meets in an uncomfortable clash with the wrenching wailings of pilot whales killed in a community-wide hunt. There are no easy answers here, and an unsettling worry that if pollution is reaching such remote ecosystems, what the impact is like in other parts of the world.

Climax

Nicole Christou - Office Assistant, Creative Europe Desk UK

Gaspar Noé’s Climax perfectly demonstrates the transportive nature of film. The pulsating beats of the soundtrack, combined with the raw energy of the dance sequences and the increasingly chaotic camera movements as the dance troupe gradually descends into madness provided me with such a dizzying yet exhilarating experience that I find myself frequently thinking about it.

Dark River

Stephanie Grant - Culture Manager, Creative Europe Desk UK - England

Set in rural Yorkshire, Alice returns to her family farm after 15 years following the death of her dad (played by Sean Bean - he’s dead before it even starts!!). Definitely not a heartwarming story, but there is some beautiful, harsh Yorkshire scenery and the achingly-relatable sibling dynamics, along with some sinister Sean Bean flashback scenes kept me gripped (and mostly tearful!) all the way through.

Happy as Lazzaro

Alberto Valverde - MEDIA Officer, Creative Europe Desk UK - Scotland

Happy as Lazzaro was probably the most political film seen in Cannes last year (with the exception of Jean-Luc Godard's The Image Book). The film presents two types of characters: landowners and peasants. Yesterday's landowners are today's bankers, if it was formerly the landowners who oppressed their employees. The choice to use 16mm and analogue images bring an atemporality to a story that deliberately mixes past and present. 

Happy as Lazzaro is ultimately a moral fable, and a sublime incarnation of innocence and kindness. Director Alice Rohrwacher builds upon her interest in natural instinct and intelligence. Her film is one of the most original I've seen. The film does not hide the marginal condition of Lazzaro and his kind, rather it gives rise to a sharp dissection of the difficulties of class struggle. The rich wield their power with a piercing cynicism, while the poor cannot find the means to lift themselves above ignorance. It's a reality Rohrwacher confronts head on and yet Lazzaro never stops admiring the undeniable beauty of the world. 

On Chesil Beach

Sophie Hayles - Manager, Creative Europe Desk UK - Northern Ireland

This is an adaptation of Ian McEwan's Booker-nominated 'novella' of the same name. McEwan wrote the screenplay and it's a directorial film debut for Dominic Cooke who is more known directing in theatre (he staged Jerusalem and Enron as director of the Royal Court).

It's England in the 60s and the film tells the story of virgin newlyweds Florence and Edward, and their disastrous first attempts at having sex and their subsequent responses and emotions that impact on their relationship, and them as individuals, for the rest of their lives.

I loved being in 60's London and there's a romanticism in the couple's early relationship against that setting that is hard not to be drawn into. There are some beautifully awkwardly funny bits. I found the layered timelines could ve quite disruptive but Saoirse Ronan (as Florence) is brilliant, as ever.