Explore the world of original plots and unique storytelling with Sylvy, a film major and chronic indie fan. She will steer you toward the best that independent cinema has to offer at home and abroad, past and present.
Now go get the popcorn ready…
Director: Tomas Alfredson
Release Year: 2008
What I’m about to say may shock and anger plenty of Twilight fans: the best vampire/human love story of 2008 was definitely not Catherine Hardwicke’s adaptation of Stephanie Meyer’s best-selling book. Though it was infinitely less popular than the November blockbuster, the Swedish Let the Right One In (so titled because of a Morrissey song) did get plenty of hype in the indie film world, sweeping several film festivals and critic awards, and with good reason: It’s a masterpiece.
In 1981, Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) is a lonely 12-year-old, bullied by his peers and bounced between his divorced parents, dreaming of revenge. When a new girl called Eli (Lina Leandersson) moves into his apartment complex, strange things start to happen in town. Despite Eli’s warnings to Oskar and how hard it is for her to gain control of her appetite, the pair of outsiders become friends and eventually find in each other what they lacked in themselves.
What makes the film work so well is its contrasts: Oskar’s weakness with Eli’s innate aggressive nature, the blood of Eli’s serial-killer caretaker’s victims with the fresh white snow of Sweden in the winter, the tenderness and innocence of childhood love and friendship with the dark, gory crimes that are committed. With gorgeous cinematography, sparse dialogue, and tone-perfect performances from two very talented child actors, Let the Right One In is equal parts endearing and horrifying, a must-watch.
Director: Mark Palansky
Release Year: 2006
Penelope is, in a word, magical. The UK/USA co-production revolves around Penelope Wilhern (Christina Ricci), heiress and daughter of socialites. Born with a curse that gives her a grotesque physical appearance, her parents faked her death and raised her hidden within the confines of their estate, preparing her for the one thing that will lift the spell she’s under: finding true love with one of her own kind.
From the moment she turns 18, suitors are lined up for her, all willing to benefit from her dowry until she shows them her face. One suitor is so traumatized after their meeting that he reports her to the police as a monster, which gets him branded as crazy. Eager to regain his reputation, he teams up with Lemon (Peter Dinklage), a tabloid reporter who has spent his entire career trying to discover the Wilhern’s secret, to bribe an out-of-luck gambler (Johnny, played by James McAvoy) into gaining Penelope’s trust and photographing her for money.
All is going well until Johnny actually does start to fall for Penelope and refuses to hurt her. When he’s discovered by Penelope’s family, she feels betrayed and decides to run away from home to live life on her own. Keeping her secret in the real world proves impossible; however, it turns out Penelope isn’t shunned once it’s public: She becomes a paparazzi darling and learns a lesson or two from there.
An original modern-day fairytale tinged with pop-culture references, the feel-good story gets plenty of humor from Penelope’s best friend Annie (Reese Witherspoon, who also made her producer debut with the film) and makes for an entertaining two hours.
Director: Roy Anderson
Release Year: 2007
Watching the five-country co-production Du Levande is a little daunting — you’ll start off thinking it’s abstract, suddenly sense a pattern, and just as quickly lose your certainty that you knew what it was about after all, somewhat like the lives of its many characters, and ultimately, like ours.
Charming because it’s so strange, the film doesn’t have a “plot” in the formal sense of the word, just lots of people from different vignettes (50 total) intersecting paths, and part of the fun is spotting them.
From angry hairdressers making victims of their racist clients and dinner parties gone hilariously wrong to rock star weddings, Andersson’s collection of tiny stories is full of black humor, sadness and themes relevant outside of its Nordic settings; it’s something you definitely want to see with someone else to discuss, both during and after.
Keep an eye out especially for the dreamlike honeymoon on the train tracks (one of my all-time favorite movie scenes) and prepare to be inspired.
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By Sylvana Fernandez