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Indie Sales Boards Taiwan-Set Vampire Pic ‘Dead & Beautiful’

VARIETY October 30, 2019 | Elsa Keslassy

Paris-based Indie Sales has boarded “Dead & Beautiful,” a stylish Taiwan-set vampire film written and directed by David Verbeek, the Dutch filmmaker whose last movie, “Full Contact,” competed at Toronto.

Verbeek’s seventh feature, “Dead & Beautiful” follows a group of young and spoiled teenagers in Taiwan who turn into vampires after a night of partying. Bewildered at first, the group realizes they feel even stronger, more attractive and more invincible than ever before, but it quickly dawns on them that they can no longer trust the friendships they had.

“Dead & Beautiful” was lensed by Jasper Wolf, the cinematographer of the Sundance prize-winning “Monos.” Indie Sales will unveil a promo for the film at the AFM.

Verbeek earned critical acclaim with his third film, “R U There,” which was selected for Un Certain Regard at Cannes in 2010 and earned five Golden Calf nominations at the Netherlands Film Festival. His 2015 film “Full Contact” competed at Toronto in the inaugural Platform Section.

Simon Gabriele, Indie Sales’ head of acquisitions, said the film is a “crossover between genre and arthouse elements” that has proven appealing to international audiences in recent years.

Florencia Gil, who will introduce “Dead & Beautiful” to buyers with Gabriele at the AFM, said the film was captivating and visually stunning, with a political bent in its depiction of Taiwanese’s wealthy youth.

Erik Glijnis, who is producing the film with Leontine Petit at Lemming Film, described “Dead & Beautiful” as a “quirky vampire film about derailed capitalism.”

Vincent Wang and Nobu Tsai Hsin-Hung for House on Fire are co-producing “Dead & Beautiful,” with support from the Netherlands Film Fund, Netherlands Film Fund production incentive, the Kaohsiung city government’s Bureau of Cultural Affairs, Taipei Film Fund equity support, Taiwanese tax credit, and the Creative Europe program of the European Union.

Indie Sales’ AFM roster includes Louise Archambault’s “And the Birds Rained Down,” which premiered at Toronto, competed at San Sebastian and has been a box office success in Canada. Indie Sales will also be showing promo reels of Rémi Chayé’s “Calamity – A Childhood of Martha Cannary” and Flore Vasseur’s activist documentary “Bigger Than Us” which is executive produced by Marion Cotillard.

Film Review: ‘Our Lady of the Nile’

VARIETY September, 5 2019 | Mark Keizer

A straightforward adaptation of Scholastique Mukasonga’s 2012 novel that effectively details the ethnic tensions that would lead to the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Rwanda-born writer Scholastique Mukasonga’s 2012 novel “Notre-Dame du Nil” is not specifically about the 1994 Rwandan genocide but rather how class division, colonialism and economic disparity created a toxic stew of resentment and prejudice that made the genocide possible. By using a Rwandan all-girls Catholic boarding school as her microcosm, she lays out how the seeds of ethnic hatred were planted, nurtured and encouraged to blossom. Still, any adaptation of Mukasonga’s book holds the promise of being that long-awaited great film about the country’s ethnic strife and how it exploded into a historic bloodbath that saw members of Rwanda’s Hutu majority slaughter 800,000 of their countrymen, mostly members of the Tutsi minority, in only three months.

If “Our Lady of the Nile” is ultimately not the definitive telling of the genocide, it is something equally valuable: the tragedy’s illuminative prequel, a straightforward origin story faithfully adapted from an essential text. For potential North American distributors, it’s a roll of the dice for this film that premiered at the 2019 Toronto Film Festival. Foreign moviegoers who mostly know this far-away horror from 2004’s Oscar-nominated “Hotel Rwanda” should nevertheless appreciate the striking sense of authenticity of this never-too-late refresher on the genocide’s underpinnings. Those with unfair expectations of Hollywood-sized histrionics and fist-shaking displays of indignity will come away deservedly disappointed.

Mukasonga, who lost 27 family members, including her mother, in the genocide, attended a Rwandan lycée much like the one depicted in her novel. In his film adaptation, Afghan-born director and co-screenwriter Atiq Rahimi (“The Patience Stone”) drops us right in the middle of a busy 1973 at Notre-Dame du Nil, and leaves us to get a handle on things. The girls, in their matching white blouses and butterscotch-colored pants, are mostly from rich Hutu families. The school enforces a 10% cap on Tutsi student admissions, although some Tutsis are allowed to attend the school in excess of the quota, much to the annoyance of some Hutu girls. The school is considered a top-flight institution of “good Christians” where the girls are groomed to become the “country’s female elite.” Their quotidian tasks include planting vegetables, straightening out the archives and cleaning the statue of the Virgin Mary that rests on a hill overlooking the river.

Rahimi and Ramata Sy’s screenplay adaptation is an honorable and mostly successful attempt to cover as much social, cultural and historical ground as possible. The cruel treatment of unmarried pregnant girls, the continued reliance on witch doctors and the contradictory teachings of science and religion are covered to varying degrees of length and effectiveness to suggest Rwanda’s uneasy mix of pagan and modern cultures. This might leave less-informed viewers in a bit of a lurch, as with the character of Fontenaille (Pascal Greggory). A creepy European holdover who lives on a local plantation, Fontenaille is dedicated to ensuring the Tutsis regain their dignity in the belief they are aristocratic descendants of the black pharaohs. While the non-sexual motivations of this oddly drawn character are never quite believable, Fontenaille insists his only interest in Tutsi student Veronica (Clariella Bizimana) is sketching her.

Any story about demonizing The Other can’t help but remind us of the anti-immigrant sentiment currently roaring through Europe and the United States. Rahimi, however, doesn’t outwardly encourage the drawing of contemporary parallels and while that might deny the movie a ripped-from-the-headlines appeal, the root causes of the Rwandan genocide are so ill-served in film that he’s justified in allowing them to stand on their own. The main ethnic agitator here is Gloriosa (Albina Sydney Kirenga), a Hutu student who chafes at the Tutsi-looking nose on the Virgin Mary statue they’re always asked to clean. So with reluctant partner Modesta (Belinda Rubango Simbi), she climbs the shrine in the middle of the night to give it a “Rwandan nose, a majority nose.”

When they succeed only at ripping the nose off the statue before falling into the mud, Gloriosa invents a story of bravely fending off an attack by a Tutsi gang, which triggers the military to step in to protect the students. With her supposedly courageous exploits making the newspapers, Gloriosa’s bubbling Tutsi animosity explodes into a desire for a full-on ethnic purging of the school.

Rahimi coaxes fine performances from his actresses, many of whom are non-pros, while editor Hervé de Luze (Polanski’s “The Pianist” and Rahimi’s “The Patience Stone”) wisely resists the urge to cut the final act of bloodletting like an action thriller. Top marks go to cinematographer Thierry Arbogast, whose visuals are so lush you want to reach out and touch the leaves on the trees. When the story pauses to allow a group of girls to billow their white dresses and dance beneath the steel-gray sky, it’s not only a breathtaking moment; it makes you mourn for a beautiful, verdant land that’s destined to be the site of one modern history’s most barbaric mass slaughters.

'Our Lady of the Nile' ('Notre-Dame du Nil'): Film Review | TIFF 2019

THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER September, 14 2019 | Deborah Young

Afghan director Atiq Rahimi views the brewing war between the Hutus and Tutsis in the conflict between elite Rwanda schoolgirls, based on Scholastique Mukasonga’s novel.

In Scholastique Mukasonga’s semi-autobiographical novel Our Lady of the Nile, the author describes a Catholic boarding school she attended high on a hill in Rwanda. The girls came from the country’s elite and were educated to be the future ruling class, until the long-simmering conflict between the majority Hutu and minority Tutsi broke out into genocide, and 27 members of her family were killed.

In this terrifying film adaptation, director Atiq Rahimi shifts his lens from his native Afghanistan, the setting of Earth and Ashes and The Patience Stone, to the misty jungles of Rwanda in 1973, 20 years before the Hutu-led government began the mass slaughter of the Tutsi and Twa ethnic groups. The film doesn’t propose reasons for the genocide but rather re-creates the atmosphere of mindless hatred leading up to it.

At the gated Notre-Dame du Nil boarding school perched above the city, run by Catholic nuns and priests, the high school students feel protected from the world as they are prepped to take their place as the wives of top-ranking officials. Most of them are Hutus, but a small quota is reserved for Tutsi students. Veronica (Clariella Bizimana) and her friend Virginia (Amanda Santa Mugabekazi) are both Tutsi. Veronica’s physical traits — tall, long neck, thin nose, high cheekbones — catch the eye of an aging French colonialist, Monsieur Fontenaille (Pascal Greggory), who spontaneously begins sketching her face. The nuns aren’t happy, but Veronica is secretly delighted with the portrait he gives to her.

Though Fontenaille’s motives aren’t explicitly sexual, he is certainly a worrisome oddball. When Veronica and Virginia venture onto his coffee plantation, he shows them a makeshift pyramid of bricks, under which he claims lies an Egyptian temple. He venerates the Tutsi as descending from the black pharaohs and has a fine collection of ancient Egyptian artifacts. In a fantasy sequence, the ancient warriors in one of his paintings come alive to protect their Queen. Veronica, drugged and dressed in a toga, seems to buy into this myth, which is confirmed by an old hermit witch to whom Virginia applies for help. While the witch doctor is depicted as a positive source of African wisdom, energy and healing, Fontenaille’s black magic is dismissed as a dangerous colonial import.

Back at school, more concrete horrors are afoot. Summer vacation is over and graduation is around the corner. Contaminated by the rising ethnic tensions in the country, the giggling girls in pressed school uniforms shed their innocence. The lovely Frida, who has excited jealousy because she is the girlfriend of the ambassador from Zaire, is happy to learn she’s pregnant. The priest and nuns are not. They abort the baby on school premises, with deadly consequences.

Then there’s the rising tide of anti-Tutsi sentiment, stirred up by Gloriosa (Albina Kirenga), the daughter of a high-ranking government minister. Her hatred is particularly directed towards the aristo-looking Veronica.

Every day, the girls are taken on a walk up the hill by the nuns to visit Our Lady of the Nile, a statue in which the Virgin Mary has a black face. Hell-raiser Gloriosa decides the Madonna’s Western features aren’t Hutu enough and involves her timorous follower Modesta (Belinda Rubango) in a raid to broaden her nose. Their laughable expedition becomes the sinister catalyst for unleashing ethnic hatred when the girls fall in the mud and, rather than be reprimanded, lie that they were nearly raped at the hands of Tutsi attackers.

Rahimi envisions the final scenes of bloody violence as a chaotic series of senseless events perpetrated by a truckload of riled-up men waving sticks and knives. They are let into the school grounds by accomplices, while the pious schoolmasters cower cravenly behind locked doors, stopping their ears not to hear the screams of their horrendous vendetta.  

It’s a story that leaves a deep impression, and Rahimi films it compassionately, without grandstanding. However, the screenplay, which he wrote with Ramata Sy, does not always distinguish the characters clearly and it takes some time for the young non-pro actresses to bring their parts into focus.

There is top talent on the technical side in this France-Belgium-Rwanda co-production. DP Thierry Arbogast’s (Nikita, Lucy) portrait of Africa in the 1970s reads like a savage jungle momentarily tamed by the soft lights and white clothes of the Catholic school students. Editor Herve de Luze (who also worked on Rahimi’s The Patience Stone) gives each incident its due and elegantly connects the disparate narrative threads and moods running through the film. Some sophisticated music choices are gracefully inserted.

‘Our Lady Of The Nile’: Toronto Review

SCREENDAILY September, 6 2019 | Lisa Nesselson

A group of Rwandan schoolgirls come of age in a Belgian-run Catholic boarding school

The irrational but terrifyingly real dangers of inter-ethnic racism are viscerally depicted Our Lady of the Nile: Rwanda 1973 (Notre Dame du Nil), an adaptation of Scholastique Mukasonga’s award-winning 2012 novel, whose chapter headings — Innocence, Sacred, Sacrilege and Sacrifice — signal the increasingly bold demonisation of minority Tutsi by the Hutu population of Rwanda, fueling deadly rampages 20 years before the full-blown genocide that made headlines in 1994. 

Frightening, sometimes confusing but strangely captivating, this is an unusual history lesson shot with verve and laced with violence. Hard going but worthwhile, Afghanistan-born award-winning novelist Atiq Rahimi’s (The Patience Stone) third feature – and his first based on outside material — may secure festival exposure after its Toronto premiere where it opens the Contemporary World Cinema section.

The title institution is a boarding school for girls dedicated to training Rwanda’s female elite while also stuffing their heads with Catholic teachings transmitted chiefly by discipline-obsessed Europeans. Featuring a marvellous ensemble cast of young women, this is a cautionary tale about not heeding cautionary tales. Antagonisms can only fester and grow worse. 

To an African girl in 1973, even one from a distinguished family where Dad is a minister or an ambassador, the teachings of the Catholic Church don’t seem any more or less sensible than the potions concocted by a hill-dwelling elderly witch, or the theory that Egyptian Black Pharaohs once ruled Rwanda as concluded by louche white coffee grower, Fontenaille (an artfully leering Pascal Greggory), who almost single handedly represents the strange and decadent residue of colonialism. Then there’s the news from abroad that white people eat weird stuff like caviar and foie gras at every meal. It’s not hard to poke holes in most belief systems, as long as you’re not mired deep inside them.

The girls’ names themselves are a primer in imposing religion on African colonies: Gloriosa, Immaculée, Modesta. Tutsi are routinely called “cockroaches” by the majority Hutus. The very fact that the girls’ supposedly flagrant physical differences are hard to tell apart is further proof of the stupidity of racial divisions. The institution tolerates Tutsi students, but has a strict quota. Certain students are overly fixated on what shape a Rwandan nose should be.  While scrubbing the statue of the Virgin installed in 1953 on the hillside near the school complete with babbling brook, the dark tint of the so-called Black Virgin’s face and hands starts to come off revealing white underneath. The girls observe, matter-of-factly, that the statue would be more beautiful if she were white.

Offering a respectful nod to Jean Vigo’s classic of young men rebelling against instruction, Zero de Conduite, via a slow-motion pillow fight in a dormitory but this time all-female and joyful, these relatively pampered young ladies know not what awaits. After a peaceful overview of natural settings, the film begins with gutted ruins of buildings with nasty slogans written on the walls in what could be blood. Only later do we understand that these collapsing structures were once an envied academy where maintaining appearances reigned supreme. After all, the Queen of Belgium once visited the school, high up in the mountains and therefore closer to Heaven. But can Hell be far away?

Dialogue is mostly in French with some Kinyarwanda, and a surprisingly jazzy score provides an interesting counterpoint to the increasingly unsettling atmosphere.   

Indie Sales boards Brazilian period drama ‘All The Dead Ones’

SCREENDAILY September, 6 2019 | Melanie Goodfellow

Paris-based Indie Sales has acquired world sales rights to upcoming period drama All The Dead Ones, set against the backdrop of Sao Paolo in the late 19th century, shortly after the abolition of slavery, and co-directed by Marco Dutra and Caetano Gotardo.

The film revolves around three women from a formerly wealthy coffee plantation-owning family that has gone into financial decline amid the rapidly changing backdrop of Brazil at the turn of the century.

The death of their long-time maid, a former black slave from their farm, heightens their sense of disconnect from contemporary life. At the same time, the film follows the women’s former slaves who are struggling to place in society.

Dutra whose credits include 2011 Un Certain Regard entry Hard Labor and Good Manners (pictured), which won the Locarno jury prize in 2017, has re-teamed with collaborators on both those films.

Gotardo, who edited Hard Labor and Good Manners, takes editor and director credits.

Dutra’s long-time producers Sara Silveira and Maria Ionescu at Sao Paolo-based production house Dezenove Som e Imagens are also on board as producers alongside Clément Duboin’s Paris-based Good Fortune Films.

The film, which is in post-production, is scheduled for delivery in early 2020. Paris-based Jour2Fête has pre-bought French rights and Vitrine Filmes will handle distribution in Brazil.

“If you look at Cannes 2019, you can see that Brazilian cinema is going through a very exciting and political time and All The Dead Ones is no exception,” says Indie Sales head of acquisitions Simon Gabriele. “With a light touch of fantasy, the film makes past and present live together to question the social construction of modern Brazil.” 

Other titles on the Indie Sales TIFF line-up include Atiq Rahimi’s drama Our Lady Of The Nile, which opened Contemporary World Cinema,  and Louise Archambault’s And The Birds Rained Down, which also plays in the same section.

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