Every October, the best of world cinema visits the Bourse theater on a quiet street of old city and the Philadelphia Film Center beside Rittenhouse Square. The annual Philadelphia Film Festival celebrates cinematic splendor and brings together filmmakers and audience in conviviality. This year, our writer Aden Berger and I sat through multiple screenings at the festival like we have for the past few years, and selected what we believe to be under–the–rader gems from this year's extravagant lineup.
— Weike Li, Film & TV Editor
I did not expect Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s follow–up to his critically–acclaimed Drive My Car to be as strange as Evil Does Not Exist. Hamaguchi is by no means a conventional filmmaker, but his latest film does not fit cleanly into any genre box. Part eco–parable, part slice–of–life, all building up to a dramatic conclusion, Evil Does Not Exist is not quite like anything I’ve seen before. The film is set in a small village in Japan and tells the story of the conflict between the townspeople and a pair of corporate lackeys when a large business decides to build a “glamping” site near the village. Hamaguchi pairs beautiful nature cinematography with a haunting yet beautiful score by Eiko Ishibashi to make one of the most subtle and interesting films of the year. (Aden Berger)
Rohrwacher's previous work, Lazarro felice, was the very film that introduced me to the splendid notion of world cinema beyond Hollywood. La Chimera, premiered in Cannes 2023, has gone beyond my expectations and touches me tenderly yet deeply. The film uses three different formats of photographic film: 35 mm, super16 mm, and 16mm, creating a staggering collage of textures of images according to the specific environment and subjects. Traversing across different temporalities and different realities, La Chimera is a poetic exploration of the troubles of modernity and telological narrative. Relevant questions regarding the values of ancient artifacts, the significance of personal stories, and the reason why we care about art are masterly weaved in the stunning story centering around a group of "thieves of ancient grave goods and archaeological wonders." The "Chimera" in title refers to "something people try to achieve but never manage to find"; and after watching film, I'm certain that we're all in Rohewacher's chimera now. (Weike Li)
Monster is a film that you have to watch twice to truly appreciate. The first time through, you notice the fantastic performances, the year–best score by the late Ryuichi Sakamoto, and the subtle direction by Kore–eda Hirokazu. Near the end of your first watch, and certainly on your second, you realize that this script, penned by Yuji Sakamoto, is as intricate as it is brilliant. Monster takes a Rashomon–style approach, illustrating the same story from multiple points of view: a fifth–grade boy, his seemingly abusive teacher, and his concerned mother. While on its surface, this sounds like a story you’ve seen a hundred times before, Kore–eda and Sakamoto’s brilliant twists make it feel fresh and new. (Aden Berger)
Riddle of Fire is a feature debut you definitely don't want to miss. Put it simply, it's Stranger Things without all its faults and insufficiencies. Taken place in a small Wyoming town that nothing could happen, Riddle of Fire is literally, on one hand, about three kids trying to make a blueberry pie for their ailing mother in order to gain the password for the game console, and on the other, about forest princess, witches, magical deer, spells, and dark forces lurking beyond. The film has reminded me so much of the happiness of a road trip with your dear friends, all the follies and simple–minded joy one may find on the journey. And despite its delicious and fanciful appearance, I will contend that Riddle of Fire is far beyond that: it's a film that will leave you dreaming, missing, and, most likely, crying for days. Embrace yourself for an adventure down memory lane to the very precious cabin of your childhood. (Weike Li)