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Variety Critics' Choice: Czech out Bible of Showbiz crix' annual curation of 10 European-backed pics.



Director: Nicolas Steiner

A mesmerizing plunge into the damaged psyches of five characters floating by on the margins of American society--from a couple scraping by in a Las Vegas drainage tunnel to the young woman determined to be among the first crew to colonize Mars --this remarkable graduation film serves as a perfect companion piece to the wave of post-apocalyptic stories flooding TV and megaplexes. The latest (and best) in an unlikely subgenre of not-quite-documentaries to spring up around the desolate expanse beyond California's Inland Empire, the pic delves into a patch of the American frontier that appears even less inhabitable now than it did in the time of John Ford classics.--Peter Debruge



Directors: Kristina Grozeva & Petar Valchanov

Loosely based on a real-life incident presented here as a last-act plot twist, "The Lesson" is a stripped-to-essentials drama about economic stress and mounting desperation. The naturalistic style of the storytelling is stealthily enthralling, as is the lead performance by Margita Gosheva as a Bulgarian schoolteacher who is inexorably driven to the edge by crushing debt. Early scenes recall Charles Bukowski's warning about "the continuing series of small tragedies that send a man to the madhouse." Later, a sequence that begins with Gosheva's car breaking down, and continues with her frantic rush to make a bank payment, is more suspenseful than most Hollywood thrillers. But Gosheva overshadows everyone else onscreen with her portrayal of a desperate woman.

--Joe Leydon



Director: Syllas Tzoumerkas

This story of a young mother's nervous breakdown in the face of financial ruin displays more than enough rough-andtumble directorial nerve, coupled with bristling socioeconomic critique, to magnetize those accustomed to the headier demands of Greek New Wave cinema. The national seething over Greece's ongoing financial crisis has powered much of the country's recent cinematic output, though filmmakers have tended to address the subject through opaque allegory. Not so in "A Blast," where scarcely any issue (or insult) goes unspoken, and where the narrative pivots drastically on a family's ruinous business debts, its thrashing energy anchored by a fierce star turn from "Dogtooth" lead Aggeliki Papoulia.--Guy Lodge



Director: Zvonimir Juric

Three intertwined stories that unfold over a single night in an isolated Croatian village add up to grim but compelling viewing in this tense, nuanced drama. Aided by a superb, seasoned cast and stellar camerawork from Branko Linta (a prizewinner at the Pula Film Festival), Zvonimir Juric captures the atmosphere of volatility and despair in a place where former deeds are not easily forgotten and the recent past is still a raw wound. In one segment, a gas-station attendant intervenes after seeing a man accused of rape attempting to offer a woman a ride. The way in which this revelation and its aftermath play out is superbly executed, and could serve as a master class in both cinematography and acting. Later, we learn even more about this character, a man who has been defined and isolated by his crime, just as the region in which he lives is still trapped in the thrall of the war.--Alissa Simon



Director: Lucie Borleteau

Anchored by a courageous lead performance, this emotionally complex debut chronicles a sexually liberated sailor's voyage of self-discovery aboard an old freighter, where she fights for respect among the randy crew. A metaphorical mermaid, Alice seems to become a different person at sea, toughening her skin to survive as the lone female assigned to a vast cargo ship. Though women are too seldom allowed to be the proactive agents of desire in other movies, Alice doesn't exist merely to excite male characters. It's a refreshing depiction set in a truly unique setting.--Peter Debruge



Director: Julien Temple

The characteristically playful, pop-culture-savvy approach to the documentary form of onetime punk-scene enfant terrible Julien Temple might seem ill-suited to the subject of mortality, but storied rock-guitarist Wilko Johnson's unexpectedly buoyant response to the news that he has inoperable pancreatic cancer makes for a film about saying goodbye that is itself void of grief, fear or regret. Remaining personal instead of retreading Johnson's career, the film feels delightfully alive, inventive and droll, very much like its unassuming subject, and its perspective on terminal illness is a rare tonic.--Dennis Harvey



Directors: Veronika Franz & Severin Fiala

A fairy tale for "Dogtooth" enthusiasts, this elegantly stylized, thoroughly unnerving thriller takes place in an austere, isolated Austrian home, where twin boys begin to suspect that something is wrong with their mother. But that's only the beginning of this family's dysfunction. Hiding a twist that forces audiences to reconsider everything that came before, the co-directors have cleverly constructed each scene so all can be explained, if only as dreams, and even the waking moments have a nightmarish feel.--Peter Debruge



Director: Alante Kavaite

Cartwheeling stunt airplanes aren't the only things that soar and plummet in this sensuous and sensitive teen romance, where the real roller-coaster ride is that of turbulent adolescent emotions. Filmmaker Alante Kavaite returns to her home turf for this heartfelt snapshot of love and self-discovery, enhanced by two hugely appealing lead performances by newcomers Julija Steponaltyte and Alste Dirzlute. Their eyes first meet at a local aerobatics show, and the attraction moves quickly from mild crush to all-consuming infatuation. At Its best, the film captures the special intensity of those relationships In which everything seems to fade away, save for the other person. Onscreen, the gamine Dirziute and the hypnotic Steponaityte pull us so deeply Into their shared rapture that, Indeed, we lose all sense of which way is up.--Scott Foundas



Director: Laura Bispuri

The rising profile of transgender issues could clear an arthouse path for Laura Bispuri's sensitive debut feature. Set Instead within a fascinating subset of Albanian society where female-to-male gender transition Is a tradition as old as the snow-blasted Alpine hills, Bispuri's film stars an effectively cast Alba Rohrwacher as a rural woman who, after living as a man for 14 years, embarks on an uncertain path to reclaim her original identity. Under the region's code, known as the kanun, a woman may forswear her female identity to live as a man, taking a vow of lifelong chastity. In exchange, she is exempt from the servile role prescribed for women--an oath that essentially amounts to the exchange of one set of sexual liberties for another.--Guy Lodge



Director: Thomas Salvador

Given the surfeit of superhero movies, it comes as a very pleasant surprise to see a low-budget indie taking an unassuming guy with special powers and playing it with a minimum of razzmatazz. In his debut feature, director-performer Thomas Salvador completely upends the genre, crafting a film as self-effacing as its title character, in which a man gains Inhuman strength when he comes in contact with water. Although such movies nearly always carry messages about not fearing what makes us distinctive, big-budget tentpoles tend to bury the characters' humanity under Everests of bombast, losing sight of why such themes matter. Instead, "Vincent" makes this idea its central motif: Here's a guy who's not out to prove anything, yet by virtue of his gifts, he becomes a target of fear.--Jay Weissberg
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Date:Jun 23, 2015
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