Free feast of European films

A scene from the award-winning Italian film, The Traitor, which profiles real-life mafia boss turned informer Tommaso Buscetta.


ELEVEN of the dozen diverse movies assembled for this year’s European Film Festival, which will be online for the first time due to the Coronavirus chaos, will be free to stream, only in South Africa, from November 1 to 22.

All films are premiere screenings in South Africa, and only one of them – I Am Greta, a documentary on teen climate change campaigner Greta Thunberg – will carry a viewing fee ( R50) to serve as a fundraiser for a climate action group.

Nathan Grossman’s deeply personal Swedish documentary follows Thunberg from her one-person school strike to her astonishing, wind-powered voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to speak at the UN Climate Action Summit in New York City. 

Emphasising her support for the festival’s continuity despite the challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic, EU Ambassador to South Africa, Dr Riina Kionka, said: “Twelve films in 11 days shows the determination of this European partnership to overcome difficult circumstances.

“Since my arrival in South Africa this is my second European Film Festival.  I can tell you that it is a cultural highlight not to be missed. In addition, I invite you to participate in the various special events lined up during the festival.”  

The 7th edition of the European Film Festival, is about Then and Now, with the selected films inscribing an arc from Old Worlds to New. 

Below are summaries of the films on offer. Look out for the full programme of screenings and special events on

MOGUL MOWGLI (United Kingdom)
Director: Bassam Tariq
Cast: Riz Ahmed, Aiysha Hart, Anjana Vasan, Alyy Khan, Nabhaan Rizwan, Kiran Sonia Sawar

This 86-minute drama, in English and Urdu, centres on a British Pakistani rapper who is on the cusp of his first world tour, when he is struck down by an illness that threatens to derail his big break.  Forced to move back in with his family, he begins to struggle to find his place in the world, torn between an international music career and the traditions of his conservative Pakistani parents. 

Through rap music, Qawwali and the fever dreams of an inherited illness, Zed confronts his relationship to his own culture, faith and family. The film won the FIPRESCI Prize in the Panorama section of the 2020 Berlinale.  

BECOMING MONA (The Netherlands)
Directors: Sabine Lubbe Bakker, Niels van Koevorden
Cast: Tanya Zabarylo, Valentijn Dhaenens, Tom Vermeir, Wine Dierickx

Based on the bestselling eponymous novel by Griet Op De Beeck, this 93-minute drama in Dutch, with English subtitles, is said to be an emotionally charged tragicomic journey of courage, forgiveness and self-discovery.

It tells  a story in three parts of Mona’s struggle to break free from the stifling constraints of a life lived in service of other people’s egos. When her mother dies in a car accident, Mona is only nine years old.  

When her father gets a new girlfriend, Mona does everything she can to make the new family work, despite the bullying she experiences.  Even in adulthood, everyone walks over Mona…until one day she realises that this cannot go on….

Director: Johannes Naber
Cast: Sebastian Blomberg, Dar Salim, Virginia Kull, Thorsten Merten, Michael Wittenborn

In German with English subtitles, this political thriller tells the grotesque, at times even surreal, true story of how the Iraq war was started, based on nothing but fake intelligence and the involvement of the German secret service.

Bioweapons expert Wolf, of the German Federal Intelligence Service BND, is obsessed with the idea that, despite the UN inspections, anthrax is still being produced in Iraq.

Back home in Germany, his superior, Schatz, assigns him as case officer for the Iraqi asylum seeker Rafid Alwan – because Alwan claims to have worked as an engineer for Saddam Hussein’s secret bioweapons programme.

It’s a rare triumph for a secret service not exactly spoilt by success: finally, they have a piece of intelligence that would put them one step ahead of the CIA. What they are missing, though, is proof.  

Everyone is trying to use Curveball’s incredible story for their own purposes. Thus, bit by bit, a construed story becomes reality and a lie becomes the truth. A truth, which sets in motion a chain of events that forever changes the global political landscape.

Director Johannes Naber’s often outrageous delivery occasionally and unashamedly uses artistic licence to register both the validities and absurdities of this satirical thriller, his third feature film. 

HOME FRONT (Belgium)
Director: Lucas Belvaux
Cast: Gérard Depardieu, Catherine Frot, Jean-Pierre Daroussin, Yoann Zimmer, Félix Kysyl, Édouard Sulpice

This is a 100-minute, French-Algerian drama with English subtitles. It is set in Burgundy, France, in 2003, in a village where everyone knows everyone.

Solange’s 60th birthday party is interrupted by her estranged brother, Feu-de-Bois. His menacing presence cuts through the crowd of villagers gathered for the occasion and his outburst will bring back harrowing memories of the colonial war they were called up to fight in Algeria. 

They kept quiet, living in silence. But 40 years later, it takes almost nothing for the past to overwhelm those who have denied it for so long.

Painful memories explode into the present.

Lucas Belvaux is said to deliver a moving, polyphonic story of a toxic past which is still not fully spoken of today, giving back their voice to an entire generation of French men, those who were 20 years old in Algeria, questioning the masculinity of the time, and how one builds oneself as a man.  

IN THE DUSK (Lithuania)
Director: Sharunas Bartas
Cast: Arvydas Dapsys, Marius Povilas Elijas Martinenko, Alina Zaliukaite-Ramanauskiene, Valdas Virgailis, Vita Siauciunaite

The only Lithuanian film in the Official Cannes Selection of 2020, this 128-minute drama has English subtitles.

Lithuania, 1948. War is over, but the country is left in ruins. Life is remorselessly tough on the family farm when 19 year-old Unte returns from the war.

Living in the forest nearby are Partisan movement members resisting Soviet occupation. In these desperate times the debilitating effects of war amplify suspicion and mistrust everywhere. There are no winners in this kind of war. 

At a time when he should be coming of age and discovering life, Untė discovers violence, despair and treachery, blurring the transition between youth and adulthood for a young man who has lots of questions, about family, about history, about justice, about the state of their world. 

Director: Stefan Ruzowitzky
Cast: Jannis Niewöhner, Sabin Tambrea, Emilia Schüle

This two-hour drama is in German with English subtitles. It is set in the dark Middle Ages when young, unruly Goldmund is sent to a monastery by his father to atone for the sins of his mother, who abandoned them.

It is there that he meets Narcissus, a brilliant, scholarly novice, who is introverted and aloof. A unique and deep life-long friendship is born.

Narcissus chooses to remain detached from the world in prayer and meditation. Goldmund, who is passionate, sensual and impulsive, runs away from the monastery to live a picaresque wanderer’s life, his amorous and artistic adventures leading him to discover the extremes of both ecstasy and pain.

Several thrilling years pass, until one day these friends cross paths again…

Based on the bestseller by Nobel Literature Prize winning author Hermann Hesse, and directed by Stefan Ruzowitzky of the Academy Award-winning The Counterfeiters, this interpretation of an epic tale is said to traverse the geography, history and morality of times long past, but whose echoes ring out loudly in the world of today.

Director: Bernabe Rico
Cast: Juana Acosta, Kiti Manver, Carlos Areces, Jose Sacristan

Bernabé Rico’s film adaptation of Juan Carlos Rubio’s acclaimed play already picked up four awards at the recent Malaga Spanish Film Festival with the winning combination of Juana Acosta alongside the legendary Kiti Manver. Manver, who has appeared in more than 100 films and television shows since 1970, also received a lifetime achievement award.

The 94-minute comedy, in Spanish with English subtitles, centres on Sara, a woman who can’t believe her luck when she is offered the chance to buy the house of her dreams. There’s just one “small” snag: Lola, the 80-year-old current owner, will remain living in it until she dies. 

In theory, Sara shouldn’t have to wait long to have the house all to herself. Lola has already had two heart-bypasses, smokes like a chimney and drinks like a fish. Things don’t turn out exactly as expected.

two women, so very different, yet united in their loneliness, will form an unlikely friendship. One that is filled with tenderness, emotion and a lot of laughs.

Director: Alice Winocour
Cast: Eva Green, Zélie Boulant-Lemesle, Matt Dillon, Lars Eidinger, Aleksey Fateev

In French, German and English, with English subtitles, this drama is aboutengineer and astronaut Sarah Loreau, who lives alone with Stella, her seven-year-old daughter, when she is selected for the Proxima space programme, for which she will spend a year in space – the last mission before Mars. 

While following the rigorous training imposed on astronauts, the only woman in the midst of men, she prepares especially for the separation from her daughter. Exactly where do her commitments and priorities lie? Career or family?  There are choices to be made….

Eva Green is in impeccable form in the role of the astronaut, a role for which she earned an award as Best Actress at France’s annual César Awards earlier this year.

SWEAT (Poland)
Director: Magnus von Horn
Cast: Magdalena Koleśnik, Julian Świeżewski, Aleksandra Konieczna, Zbigniew Zamachowski

In Polish with English subtitles, Sweat recounts three days in the life of fitness motivator Sylwia Zając, whose presence on social media has made her a celebrity. Although she has hundreds of thousands of followers, is surrounded by loyal employees and admired by acquaintances, she is looking for true intimacy. 

Sylwia’s own self-centeredness alienates her from meaningful relationships, and beneath the slick workouts, the azure-blue gaze and big smile we discover a fragility that will be tested….

Sweat was part of the Official Cannes Selection of 2020.

THE 8TH (Ireland)
Director: Aideen Kane, Lucy Kennedy, Maeve O’Boyle
Cast: Ailbhe Smyth, Andrea Horan, Maria Steen

A 94-minute English documentary centred on abortion, a highly emotive and divisive topic around the world, no more so than in Ireland. Including voices from both sides of the reproductive rights debate, The 8th primarily focuses on how grassroots activism can engineer change – in this case the campaign to repeal a constitutional ban on abortion. 

The academic, feminist and human rights activist Ailbhe Smyth provides a dynamic thread which contextualises the ups and downs of the campaign process. Politicians, priests, community leaders, campaigners and concerned citizens all have a say as a nationwide referendum approaches.  

There is live drama, there are confrontational exchanges, we see people questioning themselves, we see a society in transformation.  Urgent and informative, this is a compelling narrative about a defining moment in Irish history.

The film opened the 2020 Galway Film Festival and screened to critical acclaim at the recent Hot Docs and the Human Rights Watch Film Festivals.

Director: Marco Bellocchio
Cast: Pierfrancesco Favino, Maria Fernanda Cândido, Nicola Calí, Luigi Lo Cascio, Fabrizio Ferracane, Fausto Russo Alesi

A 153-minute drama in Italian and Portuguese with English subtitles, this film profiles real-life mafia boss turned informer Tommaso Buscetta, whose whistleblowing on his former colleagues led to the largest prosecution of the Sicilian mafia in Italian history.  

The film opens in the early ’80s as Buscetta, looking to escape an escalating internal war among Cosa Nostra factions, flees Palermo for Brazil. When he is eventually arrested and repatriated to Italy, Buscetta discovers that his family has been decimated in a power struggle over the local drug trade.

After striking up a rapport with Judge Giovanni Falcone, Buscetta agrees to testify against his former associates, resulting in the mass arrests of more than 300 Cosa Nostra members and bosses.

The Traitor took six awards at Italy’s 2020 David di Donatello Awards, including those for best film and best director.


NOTE: Bringing the best of European film to South Africa’s home screens, the European Film Festival is a partnership project of the Delegation of the European Union to South Africa and 12 other European embassies and cultural agencies in South Africa: the Embassies of Austria, Belgium, Ireland, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Sweden and Wallonie-Bruxelles International, the French Institute in South Africa, the Goethe-Institut, the Italian Cultural Institute, and the British Council. The festival is organised in cooperation with CineEuropa and co-ordinated by Creative WorkZone. 

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