The 5 Best Films I Saw in 2021 (that didn’t end up in our line-up)
The end of the year has always been a very special moment for me. Because of the holidays, of course, as an opportunity to gather with friends and family, but above all as it is “a truce” in our hectic professional lives. I enjoy this moment when I can totally disconnect from emails and phone calls (without feeling guilty) so much, so sit down and enjoy a retrospective.
2021 was very special for many of us. We thought it might be the year of “back to normal”, but we have to admit that we’ll end it with the same level of uncertainty that shadowed our expectations one year ago. Nevertheless, 2021 was again a year of great films and emerging of fantastic new talents, and as always, I enjoyed every single film I’ve been fortunate to discover, on small and big screens.
Luckily, the best ones ended up in our catalogue! And I love them all equally for their different qualities (impossible to make a rating here, every parent of more than one child would understand what I mean). But if I had to add a couple of more films in order to create my “2021 dream line-up”, I’d love to share here my humble top 5 of the docs I would have loved to work with and to recommend you to catch-up in 2022 if you missed them so far.
5. The Scars of Ali Boulala by Max Eriksson
The films that manage to impact me the most are those that leave me with mixed feelings and unclear thoughts. Apart from being an amazing way for me to discover the completely unknown for me world of skating, I spent a long time thinking about how to feel about an absolutely fascinating, but not so likeable character. In this seemingly “funky lifestyle” doc, Max Eriksson raises many important questions – about the thin line between obsession and addiction, of how far one can go in search of perfection. It’s a film about passion, friendship, anti-conformism, self-sabotage, excess and resilience, and anyone who once in their life followed a dream would recognise themselves in the complex life story of Ali Boulala. Even if not being interested in skating at all.
4. Returning to Reims (Fragments) by Jean-Gabriel Périot
We are absolutely crazy about archives, and Jean-Gabriel is a master in the genre. Archives are a fascinating material to work with in documentary, and if we have been facing completely new ways to explore, add value and utilize them in documentary storytelling over the last year, it’s largely thanks to the breach Jean-Gabriel Périot opened a couple of years ago. And Returning to Reims (Fragments) assesses this kind of new genre – archive-based political documentary, which aims to reveal the nowadays social realities told through personal and amateur archives.
An almost philosophical experience.
3. Inconvenient Indian by Michelle Latimer
I wondered a lot if I’d include this film in my list, as it has been too much under the spotlight of the press and the industry for the wrong reason, and didn’t want to add another layer to the polemics.
But if I need to be honest, Inconvenient Indian is totally one of the five best films I’ve seen lately, if not ever. It is an amazing example of how a documentary can successfully be based and pay a tribute to a book, engaging the viewer on a rhythmically amazing cinematic journey. I was one of the few lucky ones to be able actually to see it (during a jury duty), as soon after being announced for the selection at Sundance and Berlinale, the film has been withdrawn from distribution. If one day the film gets back to the circuit, I advise to rush and discover Michelle Latimer’s talent.
2. A Night of Knowing Nothing by Payal Kapadia
Everyone knows by now how much we love films with original artistic approach. Nevertheless, the problem we often see is that many times the films with important artistic stake forget to tell stories that matter. A Night of Knowing Nothing is a brilliant example how a film can combine both and deliver an important message through a filmic experience close to the sensitive one.
We’ve been curious of films about and from India since long time, and what seemed at first sight a letter-based love story told in dreamlike style, happened to be one of the most powerful and shocking films about the violence and the oppression that young generation faces in the country. A smashing female filmmaker debut!
1.Taming the Garden by Salomé Jashi
I don’t know if it’s the overall magical screening atmosphere (in the very special outdoor Lunar Cinema venue at DokuFest in Prizren, with dear friends during my first after-Covid trip this summer), but I can assert that watching Salomé Joshi’s Taming the Garden has been my best cinema experience in 2021.
If you’d expect to see a “big investigative” documentary, blow past this one. And by the way, the pitch can be summarized in only one sentence – a group of people are moving trees from one place to another for 91 minutes. But it is one of those magical films where the seemingly simple story unveils a much larger, dramatic and shocking reality. Only a very skillful, sensitive and subtle storytelling can make your imagination do the work of understanding what the film is really about, by adding gradually, sequence after sequence, layer after layer, to the complexity of the reality it describes.
I’m very curious to hear what other titles you would have suggested to add!
A short disclaimer though – I didn’t see Flee (yet).
— Anna Berthollet