Now reaching its 47th edition, the International Film Festival Rotterdam has a reputation for being one of the more experimental cinematic showcases in the calendar. Certainly that’s true, but there’s nothing elitist or unwelcoming about the festival. “Meet the humans of Planet IFFR” runs the blurb on the programme, and with the festival’s logo – a black-on-white image of a tiger – greeting you wherever you go through the city, this feels like an inclusive event that the locals truly embrace.
It’s also a festival stacked full of fascinating names from world cinema. Amongst the guests this year, Taxi Driver screenwriter Paul Schrader arrived for a master-class career discussion and to present his new film, First Reformed, starring Ethan Hawke as a priest in crisis. Another major coup was the presentation of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread – in the presence of the director – with Jonny Greenwood’s Oscar-nominated score being performed live by the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra.
Other notable guests included the 83 year-old surrealist Czech animator Jan Švankmajer, who arrived to present the world premiere of Insect, which he claims will be his last film. A typically irreverent twist on a 1922 play, Pictures from the Insects’ Life by Karel and Josef ?apek, this crowdfunded piece owes much also to Kafka’s Metamorphosis – and there’s something splendid about the fact that Švankmajer can still find a renowned platform like Rotterdam to premiere his work.
Indeed, it feels like Rotterdam is the place for well-known faces to bring some of their edgier fare. Australian actress Mia Wasikowska starred in Piercing, a compact English-language take on Japanese author Ryû Murakami’s cult novel. Wasikowska may be best known for Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland, but she’s never been afraid to explore darker qualities (in films like Stoker and Maps To The Stars). This deliciously deviant tale takes her one stage further.
Given a retro feel by director Nicolas Pesce, it’s the story of the introverted Reed (Christopher Abbott) who has a barely controllable urge to kill his own baby. Instead, to channel his rage, he plots to kill a prostitute (Mia Wasikowska) in a hotel room – a scheme that unfolds in unexpected ways. A hallucinogenic psychodrama, with lashings of body horror, it’s the sort of film you’d expect David Cronenberg to admire, right down to the animated insect that crawls out of the toilet in one icky moment.
Also touching on science fiction was Serge Bozon’s Madame Hyde, a unique twist on Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde in which Isabelle Huppert plays a meek science teacher – named Mrs. Géquil – unable to control her class. But after she gets struck by a bolt of lightning, this transformative moment sees her morph into a red-hot figure capable of serious pyrotechnics. The effect is darkly comic, but a neat antidote to the plethora of superhero movies filling the screens these days.
The International Film Festival of Rotterdam runs until 4 February. For more information click HERE.
1. Serge Bozon’s Madame Hyde.