2021 Favorites

2021 was… not my favorite year on record, but one of the highlights of it for me was all the films I saw at the Berlinale and Nowe Horyzonty film festivals, at my favorite cinemas in Berlin (fsk, Rollberg), Wrocław (NH, DCF), and Warsaw (Kinoteka, Luna), as well as online and on DVD (thank you, Videodrom!) at home. I watched 96 in all over the course of the year, and what follow are my top five new and top five not-so-new picks from the year…

5. Nebenan (“Next Door”) – German actor and director Daniel Brühl nicely satirizes himself in this film about gentrification in contemporary Berlin. Underneath all the dry humor, this is a meditation on present-day inequality and the competing narratives of German unification that are sometimes connected to it.

4. La nuit des rois (“Night of the Kings”) – Multi-layered drama with a life-and-death storytelling contest set in Côte d’Ivoire’s MACA prison in Abidjan. The prison drama (together with the great acting by Koné Bakary and Steve Tientcheu) somewhat overshadows the stories from outside the prison, which are otherwise memorable for their imagery and fantasy.

3. Juste un mouvement (“Just a Movement”) – Part documentary, part drama, part poetry, part re-enactment of La Chinoise, all of this film is a brilliant exploration of colonialism and revolution across time and place. Focused on the complicated story of Senegalese Maoist Omar Blondin Diop (who appeared in Godard’s 1967 film), this was a historian’s delight and the best film I saw at this year’s Berlinale.

2. Teściowie (“The In-Laws”) – Comedy is not my genre, but the outstanding acting here really pulled me in. This story of parents who go through with a wedding reception after someone is left at the altar simultaneously dramatizes and ridicules many of the overlapping urban/rural, rich/poor, liberal/conservative and other tensions in contemporary Poland.

1. 偶然と想像 (“Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy”) – Beautiful film telling the stories of three female protagonists: a jilted lover’s anger, a seduction gone awry, and the memory of lost love. All three stories are compelling in their own right, but the final segment (“Once again”) is one of the best queer love stories I’ve seen – in no small part due to the connection made between the story’s two great actresses.

And here are my favorite not-so-new films that I watched in 2021 (most of them borrowed on DVD from Videodrom, bought on DVD in Poland, or streamed via MUBI).

5. Róża (Rose), dir. Wojciech Smarzowski (2011);

4. Tangerine, dir. Sean Baker (2015);

3. Comizi d’amore (Love Meetings), dir. Pier Paolo Pasolini (1965);

2. Chungking Express, dir. Wong Kar-wai (1994);

1. Queen and Slim, dir. Melina Matsoukas (2019)