A female-only boarding school is the setting of The Blackcoat’s Daughter. Covered, positively blanketed in snow, it’s isolated, the nights an unrelenting pitch black. Inside are two girls, Kat (Kiernan Shipka) and Rose (Lucy Boynton), both left behind during a February break, waiting for their parents. They wander through empty hallways, but the subtle noises—screeching creaks and low groans—betray the assumption that they’re alone here.
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The 12 months since last year’s memorable Gdynia Film Festival have been hugely successful ones for Polish cinema, especially on the international stage. The awarding of the 2014 Best Foreign Language Film BAFTA and Oscars to Pawel Pawlikowski’s Ida (the latter a win predicted here last year), plus documentary Oscar nominations for Aneta Kopaz’s Joanna and Tomasz Śliwiński’s Our Curse, must count as the most significant events.
In addition, the recent scooping of the Best Direction prize by Andrzej Zuławski for his long-awaited Witold Gombrowicz adaptation, Kosmos at Locarno and the awarding of the Silver Bear to Małgorzata Szumowska for Body/Ciało at Berlin also testify to a renewed interest in Polish cinematography abroad. So, too, does the extended Kinoteka Festival held in London over April and May.
Now we really are all done. Finito, le fin, kaput. The awards ceremony for the 72nd Venice International Film Festival brought another year to a close with the usual collection of leftfield decisions. I swear festival juries, particularly in Venice, go out of their way to be controversial. But hey, at least it’s never dull.
Before we started, the Golden Lion seemed destined to be a fight between Alexander Sokurov’s Francofonia, Amos Gitai’s Rabin, the Last Day, Marco Bellocchio’s Blood of My Blood and Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson’s Anomalisa. In the end, only Anomalisa walked away with anything, picking up the Grand Jury Prize, essentially second place. The others headed home empty-handed as Alfonso Cuarón and his jury sent the Golden Lion to From Afar (Desde Allá), the first Venezuelan film to win the prize, and the first Venezuelan film to even compete for it.
If you haven’t felt a lack of Charlie Kaufman in your life these past seven years, you need to re-evaluate your priorities. Luckily, the wait is over. The master of internalised anguish and bitingly funny insecurity is back with his first animated feature. Co-directing with Duke Johnson, who oversaw the wonderful stop-motion sequences in Community, and with a number of team members from the show on board, Anomalisa is a desperately sad, intricately clever journey through one middle-aged man’s mental crisis, all shot in gorgeous stop-motion.
Normal business resumed on the fifth day as the sun returned, delighting tourists and horrifying poor journalists forced to queue under it at midday. As for the films, it was a day of solid fare, nothing tipping over into excellent, and nothing falling off a cliff, unless you count the little slice of Lubitsch I rewarded myself with (excellent just to be clear).