SCREENDAILY November, 11 | Melanie Goodfellow
Samuel Goldwyn Films has acquired North American rights to Adventures Of A Mathematician, inspired by the life of the late legendary Polish-American scientist Stanislaw Ulam whose work contributed to the development of the hydrogen bomb as well as computers.
The acquisition is among a slew of pre-sales unveiled by Paris-based Indie Sales as it continues to tie up deals on the title during the AFM.
The film has also sold to France (Rezo), the Middle East and North Africa (Gulf Film), China (Huanxi Media Group), Russia, CIS and the Baltics (Rocket Releasing), Taiwan (AV Jet) and airlines (Encore Inflight). Munich-based Filmwelt has taken German, Austrian and Swiss rights.
The English-language drama is the second feature of German director Thor Klein, whose previous credits include teen mystery thriller Lost Place. Polish-French actor Philippe Tlokinski plays Ulam with support from Esther Garrel, Joel Basman and Sam Keeley.
Adapted from Ulam’s eponymous autobiography, the film delves into the moral dilemma faced by European scientists at the dawn of the nuclear age.
Born into a wealthy Jewish Polish family in 1909, Ulam fled Poland on the eve of its invasion in 1939 by Nazi Germany for the US. There, he played a central role in developing the country’s nuclear weapons alongside other legendary figures in the fields of science and mathematics such as Edward Teller and Jack Calkin.
The film is produced by Dragonfly Films, Zischlermann Fllmproduktion in Germany, Mirror Productions (Vita and Virginia) in UK and ShipsBoy in Poland. Co-producer is Erfftal Film.
The film world premiered at the Palm Springs International Film Festival in January and is being showcased in the UK’s Amplify event, a national streaming festival run jointly by the Bath, Brighton, Cambridge and Cornwall film festivals which are taking place online due to the pandemic.
SCREENDAILY November, 9 | Sarah Ward
Unique and spirited French animation charts the origins of Calamity Jane
Dir/scr. Rémi Chayé. France / Denmark. 2020. 82 mins.
Martha Jane Cannary’s formative years may not have been quite as spirited as animator Rémi Chayé imagines. The frontierswoman’s adolescent experiences might not have hewed so neatly to an empowering narrative, either, and by all reports she was not called Calamity Jane until her twenties. But this family-friendly French-language film about her antics as a 12 year-old in a pioneer wagon train is a vibrant and dynamic delight nonetheless. After winning the top prize at Annecy this year, Calamity should find fans internationally for its resplendent hand-drawn imagery, action-packed story and can-do attitude.
A suitably rollicking but also smartly engaging film
Lest viewers fail to make the connection from its title, Chayé’s first feature since 2015’s Long Way North begins with sprawling plains and twangy tunes — a place for the future Calamity Jane to roam, and a bouncy soundtrack to accompany her adventures. The film’s visuals are rendered in an almost surreal palette of greens, blues, yellows and oranges, as well as pinks, purples and even turquoise, and it is instantly noticeable just how cannily it matches its impressionistic landscape to its subject’s untameable nature.
The film is set in 1863 when, with her father Robert (voiced by Damien Witecka) and younger siblings, Martha Jane (Salomé Boulven) is travelling west. Stern wagon train leader Abraham (Jochen Hägele) approves of neither the Cannary family’s modest social standing nor Martha Jane’s refusal to do what she is told, but he made a promise to Mrs Cannary before she died. When Robert is injured during the dangerous trek and Martha Jane takes the reins (at times, literally), the community makes its displeasure known.
More comfortable wearing her dad’s pants, teaching herself to lasso and fighting with Abraham’s smarmy son Ethan (Santiago Barban), Martha Jane is already the wagon train’s resident outcast when she meets Confederate soldier Samson (Alexis Tomassian). After he disappears with the camp’s prized possessions, she is blamed. To clear her name, she pursues him . As Martha Jane teams up with light-fingered teen Jonas (Léonard Louf), finds work with gold-mining magnate Madame Moustache (Alexandra Lamy) and makes an enemy of Samson’s Colonel (Jérôme Keen), Chayé keeps the pace brisk, the mood equally determined, upbeat and thoughtful, and his heroine lively and tenacious.
This year has delivered another animated feature about a rebellious girl flouting societal norms and revelling in gorgeous outdoor splendour, via Cartoon Saloon’s Wolfwalkers. The pair will likely end up on different streaming platforms (Wolfwalkers is destined for Apple TV+; Calamity opened in French cinemas in mid-October, before they were ordered to close again), but they would make an enchanting double feature. As was already apparent in Long Way North, Chayé learned much from his stint working on Cartoon Saloon’s The Secret of Kells, although his visual style here is alluring in its own distinctive way.
Older rather than younger audiences will spy the formula to Calamity’s story, which is Chayé’s first screenwriting credit (with Sandra Tosello and Fabrice de Costil), but there is a crucial forthrightness at the movie’s core. Each narrative development underlines the restrictive expectations placed upon 19th-century women and showcases its boisterous heroine’s defiance by simply being herself. While the broad strokes may not always be subtle, Martha Jane always proves the sum of her experiences in a suitably rollicking but also smartly engaging film.
CINEUROPA September, 9 | Marta Bałaga
VENICE 2020: There is no time to catch one’s breath in Jasmila Žbanić’s powerful film, closing in on a teacher-turned-translator for the UN in Srebrenica trying to find her way
Although having nothing to do, one assumes, with Henryk Sienkiewicz’s historical novel about the persecution of the early Christians in Rome, Jasmila Žbanić’s Quo Vadis, Aïda?, playing in Competition at the 77th Venice Film Festival, is a proper heart attack of a film. Fast-paced and unforgiving, it closes in on Aïda (Jasna Đuričić, fantastic), a teacher-turned-translator for the UN in Srebrenica trying to find her way after it suddenly turns into hell once the Serbian army takes over. Also in focus are her husband and two sons, still hidden somewhere among those desperately begging for shelter in the camp.
The film has something of a Dunkirk -like, out-of-breath approach to war as Aïda is literally running for her family’s life. As the person who constantly accompanies those who are supposed to be in charge, she knows a lot – too much to just accept their promises, and too much not to have a problem with repeating these empty words to all the tired, confused faces. She is told, in two languages of course, that “the Dutch closed the gate,” even though Srebrenica was declared a UN safe zone.
As time is running out and the whole place keeps shrinking somehow, Žbanić’s film (edited by Cold War’s wizard Jarosław Kamiński) plays out like a proper thriller. Frankly, the only thing missing is a 24-themed countdown clock. But – this probably doesn’t need a spoiler alert, given Srebrenica’s gory infamy – don’t expect any saviours nor last-minute twists of fate in this tale, as even a man so confident that help will come eventually shuts himself in a room, asking to be left alone.
This heaviness matches the subject matter, but the film is also immersive and incredibly engaging. Time slows down just for one flashback, to a happier time at the East Bosnia Best Hairstyle competition, no less. Yet soon enough, the plot returns to evading people’s questions and to the refrain of “what is he saying?!” repeated again and again, not that anyone really cares. It’s a small wonder that while there is not a minute to waste, certainly not for grandiose monologues, Žbanić (who, after all, won a Golden Bear for Grbavica) still shows every aspect of war: the lack of communication, the utter helplessness of just about everyone involved despite their declarations, and the realisation that there is no way out suddenly hitting you like a cold sweat. The fact that she doesn’t talk about some remote past, but about an event from 1995 – one she has already described as “a huge trauma for all Bosnians” – makes it even more terrifying, especially when filtered through all these voices calling for “patriotism” these days. It’s very telling that in Quo Vadis, Aïda?, the people coming with the guns are the ones you know – Aïda’s old students from school, someone’s friend from university. It’s absurd and it’s scary, and it can happen again.
Written and directed by Jasmila Žbanić, Quo vadis, Aïda? was produced by Damir Ibrahimovich and the director for Deblokada Produkcija, co-produced by Coop99, Digital Cube, Extreme Emotions, Indie Prod, N279 Entertainment, Razor Film Produktion, Tordenfilm AS, Österreichischer Rundfunk (ORF), and TRT (TR). International sales by Indie Sales.
THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER September, 3 | Deborah Young
Bosnian filmmaker Jasmila Zbanic, whose debut feature 'Grbavica' won Berlin’s Golden Bear, views the 1995 genocide in Srebrenica through the eyes of a courageous UN interpreter.
Shot without big stars or a convoluted plot, without heroes but with plenty of cowards, Jasmila Zbanic’s Quo Vadis, Aida? plunges the viewer into the raw horror of ethnic cleansing during the war in Bosnia Herzegovina. Seen through the eyes of a UN interpreter, events unfold on July 11, 1995, in the small town of Srebrenica, which entered into history when units of the Bosnian Serb army commanded by Ratko Mladic murdered more than 7,000 civilians, primarily men and boys, and raped the town’s women.
Zbanic’s expert telling is simple and to the point, relying on the audience’s empathy with the anguished interpreter to reach the heart of darkness in this tragic story. It may be the definitive account of Srebrenica on film, and it opened Venice competition (it is also playing in Toronto) on a somber high note.
The subject is horrifying but the screen is hard to look away from, as the situation becomes a powder keg of tension. Though there have been serious documentaries made over the years, photographic exhibits and other memorials, Zbanic’s fictionalized screenplay sucks the viewer into the nightmare of Srebrenica, where Mladic’s murderous soldiers triumphantly swagger through a deserted town and the residents flee to what they think is the safety of a United Nations compound. The film is a grave indictment of the way UN forces reneged on their promise to bomb the Serbs if they attacked the population. Stymied by bureaucracy and political unwillingness to irritate Serbia, they inertly allow thousands to be loaded onto buses and taken to their deaths.
There is absolutely no feeling of the Euro pudding in this international co-production, which includes Bosnia and Herzegovina, Austria, Romania, the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, France, Norway and Turkey. On the contrary, the Sarajevo-born Zbanic takes a very personal approach, echoing the heart and guts of her first feature Grbavica: The Land of My Dreams, which won the Golden Bear in Berlin in 2006. But whereas Grbavica confronted the post-war legacy of Bosnian women raped by Serbs during the war, the current film goes directly for the pain and fear of the moment itself.
The story is told from the viewpoint of Aida (Jasna Djuricic), a local woman whose husband was once the town’s schoolmaster and whose two grown sons are dangerously exposed to the invading army. Working as an interpreter for the Dutch UN peacekeeping battalion, who in that moment is deployed in the region, she is a tough-minded professional privy to high-level intelligence. That morning, as Mladic’s forces roll into town behind huge armored tanks, Aida translates at a tense meeting between ranking UN colonel Thom Karremans (Johann Heldenbergh) and the city mayor, who is visibly upset. The UN promises air strikes on the Serbs if they break a new ultimatum, but no one is convinced they’ll carry through. Aida’s worst fears are confirmed when the colonel calls headquarters for urgent instructions and is told everyone up to the Secretary General is on vacation.
As the Serbs enter the town, its 30,000 residents head for a vast UN hangar surrounded by fencing. The Dutch contingent allows in only 5,000 before shutting the gate; everybody else is forced to camp outside. An overhead crowd shot shows a vast sea of people that seems truly endless. As the situation rapidly degenerates, Aida puts her duties on hold to look for her husband Nihad (Izudin Bajrovic) and sons on the other side of the fence. The only way she can get them inside is to volunteer Nihad for a “citizen’s meeting” with Mladic himself (played with frightening sobriety by Boris Isakovic).
It’s a toss-up whether the citizens involved will ever return from this encounter, where even Karremans finds himself under the thumb of the Serbian commander. When Serbs armed to the teeth confront the young Dutch guards at the UN camp, it’s no contest. They march inside the crowded hangar, intimidating everyone. When Mladic arrives they start loading people onto buses which, the people are told, will take them to a nearby town and safety. The men and women are separated. The rest takes place off-screen.
Aida, however, has overheard enough to know she has to smuggle her sons out of the camp somehow. Serbian actress Jasna Djuricic (White White World) is mesmerizing in the main role: Fighting like a lioness for her cubs, she badgers, bullies and implores the people she works for to give them UN documents. The tension and excitement mount as one escape path after another is closed off to them. And we know what fate awaits them if they don’t get out.
Though the film’s title at first seems arbitrary, the Latin quo vadis? (Where are you going?) echoes the Biblical scene when the apostle Peter, fleeing from crucifixion in Rome, meets the risen Christ on the road and asks him this question. Jesus replies that he’s going to Rome to be crucified again, and Peter gathers his courage and returns to Rome and to crucifixion. It is a poignant gloss on the film’s heartbreaking closing scene, which, against all odds, suggests a note of optimism for the future.
INDIE WIRE September, 15 | Jude Dry
‘Quo Vadis, Aida?’ Review: A Gripping and Tragic Feminist Drama About Bosnian Genocide
TIFF: Jasmila Žbanic's finely crafted epic exposes unspeakable Bosnian War horrors through the eyes of a mother and UN translator.
Films set among genocide can border on “trauma porn,” while a few like “Life Is Beautiful” and “The Pianist” reach divine heights by setting deeply human stories amongst unimaginable horrors. “Quo Vadis, Aida?”, the latest film from celebrated Bosnian filmmaker Jasmila Žbanic, is one such transcendent entry into the genre. The fact that the tragedy at its center is rarely remembered outside of its region makes it all the more powerful as a vital work of art.
The film dramatizes the horrific events of the Srebrenica massacre, otherwise known as the Srebrenica genocide, during which Serbian troops sent 8,372 Bosniak men and boys to their deaths in July 1995. Named for its fearless protagonist, “Quo Vadis, Aida?” exposes the events through the eyes of a mother named Aida (Jasna Ðuričić), a schoolteacher who works with the United Nations as a translator. After three and a half years under siege, the town of Srebrenica, close to the northeastern Serbian border, was declared a UN “safety zone” in 1993 and put under the protection of a Dutch battalion working for the UN.
The film opens with Aida translating a negotiation between the town mayor and a Dutch colonel. She’s a neutral observer, but the exchange escalates quickly and leaves town officials feeling uneasy. A man and his two adult sons evacuate their modest apartment, hurrying through mundane tasks like borrowing sneakers and emptying the cash box. Despite the UN’s promises, bombs begin to descend and the entire town evacuates to the Dutch-controlled UN base. However, the base can only hold so many and nearly 20,000 people are stranded outside, straining toward the wire fence separating them from their promised shelter.
Competent and steadfast, Aida bounces between the doctor and other high-ranking officers, dutifully translating their panicked orders and mixed signals. In between tasks, she scurries away to find her husband and sons, the three men from the earlier domestic scene. They didn’t make it onto the base, so Aida convinces the officers to let them in: When the Republika Srpska general Mladic (Boris Isaković) demands a civilian committee to act as negotiators, she shrewdly volunteers her husband, earning him and their sons passage.
Huddled together on the base, where people have nowhere to relieve themselves, her son lights up a cigarette. “What did I say about smoking?”, Aida chides, as her husband tells her to let up. “My birthday is in two days,” her younger son remarks, and the family exchange bittersweet smiles. Such moments of respite are brief, although Aida does allow herself a small toke of a joint shared by a young nurse. As she closes her eyes and dozes off briefly, she is transported to happier times — a colorful party with familiar faces laughing and dancing. Holding hands in a circle, each figure gazes directly into the camera as they round the dance floor.
Žbanic builds tension slowly, never dropping the pressure but allowing the characters (and audience) room to breathe amongst the chaos. Up until the film’s harrowing final moments, the director only alludes to the most horrific details, keeping these just offscreen. A distant silhouette of a man shitting in the crowd; a potentially lethal armed search that ends with loaves of bread flying overhead; an attractive young woman dragged off to an unseen fate. It’s a merciful choice, and an effective one: The audience remains in Aida’s cautiously optimistic shoes, convinced she will find a way to save her family despite all evidence to the contrary. It’s an elegant way to tell a war story that preserves the characters’ humanity, but make the inevitable tragic ending all the more devastating.
Like her debut film “Grbavica,” which received the Berinale’s Golden Bear in 2006, Žbanic continues to center women’s perspectives in her work. War films are too often the realm of male directors, with their relentless violence and explosive action scenes. And yet, as Bosniaks know too well, too often it is women who must bear the brunt of war traumas and are left to pick up the pieces.
In “Quo Vaids, Aida?”, Žbanic lays bare the deeply human toll of violence and war. It’s not all IEDs and secret missions, which can glorify a trauma most filmmakers never endured. The simpler horrors are far more haunting: the former classmate sitting across from you with a gun, or the torturer wishing you good day years later. Beyond bullet holes and body counts, unimaginable atrocities give way to everyday indignities, thousands of tiny cuts overlaid on the unbearable weight of memory.