Each year, The European Film Festival is one of the movie highlights of the year – and this time is no different running between October 13 and 23. DIANE DE BEER picks a few to highlight and expands on everything available to watch – for free:


Festival co-director Magdalene Reddy explains that they will continue to cater for viewers and followers who have become accustomed to watching films at home, while also providing for those who long to return to the cinema.  

 “This is our transitional approach of coming back to theatres gradually,” she says – and I will hold thumbs that it stays this way especially for those of us not in cities where the screenings happen.

The online screenings are free while a ticket price will be charged for the theatre screenings.  Each film will have a single screening at both Ster-Kinekor’s The Zone in Johannesburg and at The Labia in Cape Town.

 Sixteen award-winning films, eight of them by women directors, will be screened. This year’s theme, Innocence and Beyond, explores innocence not just as a legal concept, but also as a human quality. This includes two stand-out perspectives through the eyes of children in Petite Maman and Playground (see reviews below) with fantastic performances by the young stars.


There is no set age for when loss of innocence can occur and a number of films focus on youth as they navigate the often turbulent process of growing into adults. From the Netherlands, Shariff Korver’s slow-burning psychological thriller Do Not Hesitate depicts unprepared Dutch youths thrown into the crucible of war, while Swiss film Olga, by Elie Grappe, is a tense but sensitively handled tale of exile (see review below). The riveting women-driven film Small Body is an adventure story infused with a wonderful mythological sensibility that earned Laura Samani the best new director prize at Italy’s David d’Donatello awards.


How much does innocence inform a young woman’s quest for love and meaning? This is the question in Joachim Trier’s The Worst Person in the World, a Norwegian/French/Danish/Swedish co-production that earned two Oscar nominations this year.  Stefan Arsenijević’s Serbian/French/Luxembourgian/Bulgarian/Lithuanian co-production As Far As I Can Walk highlights that it’s not just securing a roof over one’s head but also the challenges of emotional and intellectual deprivation that young migrants face today.


 Is innocence solely about what’s right and what’s wrong?  Sometimes it’s about what we don’t do.  Silent Land, by Poland’s Aga Woszczyńska, is a case of what the protagonists didn’t do (see review), and Erik Poppe’s Swedish film The Emigrants is an epic period drama about a poverty-stricken family who emigrate to the United States in the 1800s, told from a woman’s perspective, in a  search for a second chance in life. From the Republic of Georgia, Levan Koguashvili’s comedic Brighton 4th is a portrait of parental sacrifice and the love of a father for his son that also shows the elusiveness of the American Dream.  


 Ali and Ava, written and directed by one of the UK’s most distinctive cinematic voices, Clio Barnard, is about a couple from different cultural backgrounds beginning a relationship while The Good Boss, directed by Fernando León de Aranoa, is a satire about the indignities of working life, with Javier Bardem in the spotlight (see review).

Austrian Sebastian Meise’s Cannes-winner Great Freedom explores tenderness, love, lost time, and the tenacity of the human spirit while Portuguese director Catarina Vasconcelos’s unorthodox film The Metamorphosis of Birds sifts through the memories and dreams of her ancestors. The German film I’m Your Man by Maria Schrader is a spunky sci-fi dramedy that asks what humans want in relationships, and if AI beings should have rights.  

Finally, the world is again witnessing and affected by a terrible war, and innocence is an unfortunate casualty.  Director/screenwriter/editor Maryna Er Gorbach’s Ukrainian-set drama Klondike deals with the travails of parents-to-be living near the Russian border exposing the absurdity of war and how it affects those who aren’t directly involved.

This is a fantastic opportunity to catch up on many of the best movies from Europe of the past year. For details on all the films and how to watch visit



 Director: Elie Grappe Cast: Nastya Budiashkina, Sabrina Rubtsova, Jérôme Martin Genre: Drama, Coming of Age Time: 85 minutes

French, Russian, Ukrainian with English subtitles – 2021

Anything that comes from Ukraine has added appeal because of its harrowing circumstances for almost a decade now, resulting in the most recent horrors inflicted by Putin.

But this is not a story about that, even though there are signs of things to come. What it does capture is how these catastrophic events impact the lives of children. What should have been relatively carefree times in their young lives are clouded by what is happening on the periphery.

Olga is a teenage gymnast living in exile in Switzerland where she dreams of Olympic gold as she battles to fit in with her new team.

Her mom, who is a journalist, is suffering the hardship of what that means with a sudden uprising in Kiev, the forerunner of what that brave country is facing right now.

Olga is heartbroken and scared, feeling she has deserted those she cares most about while fighting for her own freedom.

It is by no means a perfect movie, but it does have added impact because of the lives it captures almost in a bubble as we know now and with hindsight. It also throws a light on these young athletes and the pressures they face as we have recently been made much more aware of with gymnasts like Simone Biles and tennis star Naomi Osaka.



Director: Céline Sciamma Cast: Gabrielle Sanz, Joséphine Sanz, Nina Meurisse, Margot Abascal, Stéphane Varupenne Genre: Drama, Coming-of-age Time: 72 minutes 

French with English subtitles – 2021

Children feature strongly in this haunting, beautifully told story about a child’s perception of loss. Nelly has lost her beloved grandmother and is helping her parents clear out her mother’s childhood home. She explores and discovers both the house and the surrounding woods where her mom, Marion, used to play and built a treehouse Nelly has often heard about.

Then suddenly, out of the blue, her mother leaves and that is when Nelly meets a girl her own age building her own treehouse and named Marion.

It’s a film that explores specifically the world of children, how they are affected by what is happening in the world around them, how adults deal with them and how they cope with feelings that are way beyond their tender years.

The two young actresses are superb and add another dimension to the film, which is tenderly made and sensitively unfolds.

It is not a children’s movie, but it is very much about their lives, they way they digest what is given to them by the adults who run their little lives and how they make sense of things they don’t understand.



Director: Laura Wandel Cast: Maya Vanderbeque, Günter Duret, Lena Girard Voss, Karim Leklou, Laura Verlinden Genre: Drama Time: 72 minutes

French with English subtitles – 2021

Even if you were never bullied in school, all of us have been witness to something like that in our lives. Take Donald Trump for example, his whole existence is thanks to bullying, not an easy thing to watch even from afar.

But the title of this one says it all, and again, it is the way the young people deal with what is given to them that is captured so brilliantly.

We all know and understand the impact of abuse during your younger years, on the rest of your life. When seven-year-old Nora witnesses the bullying her older brother Abel has to endure at school, she rushes to help out. But he persuades her not to tell anyone.

She is still trying to adapt to school herself and this is something that she finds quite unbearable – that and the subtle bullying that is happening amongst her own circle of new acquaintances.

It’s a hugely emotional film with the camera rigged at Nora’s height so that we are really pulled into the centre of her storm.

It’s also the inability of doing the right thing on every level. The sensitive teacher isn’t always around at the right time, and when they are, the problem is much easier to deal with – and yet when away from the adults, is when the pressure comes into play.

It is their lives that become the playground as Nora starts acting out because of the way she has been messed up by all these raging emotions around the problems of protecting her brother.

Astonishing acting from all the children in a story that can impact so many lives everywhere. It’s also a directorial debut for Laura Wandel and shows great promise for the future. Her filmmaking is already faultless.



Director: Agnieszka Woszczyńska Cast: Dobromir Dymecki, Agnieszka Żulewska, Jean Marc Barr, Alma Jodorowsky, Marcello Romolo Genre: Drama Time: 113 minutes

Polish, English, French, Italian with English subtitles – 2021

Everything about this film screams art movie in the best sense of the word. It’s the setting up of the story, the young couple playing the leads, the pace or sometimes lack thereof as well as the unfolding and slightly mysterious tone of film that adds to the quality of the viewing.

I was reminded throughout of European movies seen in the past presenting a similar atmosphere and handling of character and content. There’s no spoon feeding and the substance is serious yet accessible.

Director Agnieszka Woszczyńska says it best: ‘Silent Land is not only about the collapse of a relationship, but also about the collapse of the value system in the modern world, the general indifference to reality, and social lethargy. Ultimately, it is a tale about alienation, not only from each other, but also from the world. It’s about conformity and passivity, where the need for safety and convenience is a strategy for survival.’



Director: Fernando León de Aranoa Cast: Javier Bardem, Manolo Solo, Almudena Amor Genre: Comedy Drama Time: 116 minutes

Spanish with English subtitles – 2021

Javier Bardem is one of those actors always worth watching. Not only does he pick his projects well, but his acting prowess is astonishing.

It’s especially when he is not the hero that all his instincts seem to kick in as he taps into even the darkest soul he has to portray.

As the title of this one suggests, he is anything but The Good Boss and again, few of us as employees would not recognise this manipulating, truly wily, yet awful human being. He is only concerned with his own well-being and whatever serves his personal needs.

That’s why his downfall is so delightful to experience especially in the capable hands of Bardem, who plays the smarmy owner of a family-run factory. If you need further persuasion, the film scooped a record-breaking 20 nominations at the 36th Spanish Goya Film Awards, winning 6 (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Original Screenplay, Best Score and Best Editing). It was also the Spanish entry for Best International Feature Film at the 94th Academy Awards