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CINEUROPA

Cineuropa's Best Films of 2021

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- The results are in for the poll of Cineuropa’s journalists. Which are the best European films of the year?

Cineuropa's Best Films of 2021

After the world was shaken to its core in 2020, all of us, professionals, cinephiles and occasional readers, were looking forward to what the future might bring. While we still don't know what's in store for us, and with things looking bright one day and equally grim the next, one thing is for sure: 2021 has been an incredible year for cinema, with many titles being pushed back from last year to this one, and many others being finished and released during the last few months. We have been able to enjoy film festivals again, and we have celebrated the reopening of the theatres with the releases of some eagerly awaited films. We want to hope that things are back on track, and wills are stronger than ever.

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The results are in for the poll of Cineuropa’s journalists. Which European (co-)produced films world-premiered this year are the best, according to our team?

Here is our Top 2021:

25 L'arminuta [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Giuseppe Bonito
film profile
]
, Giuseppe Bonito (Italy/Switzerland)

"In his third film, Bonito elegantly directs this "coming of age," garnishing it with evocative sequences (such as the slow motion in the scene of the flying seats at the village carousel or the run to the sea) and keeping a constant watch on Sofia Fiore's timelessly graceful face. Tears and emotion are assured for audiences over 25." (Camillo De Marco)

(Read full review)
(Read interview with Giuseppe Bonito)

24 Mr Bachmann and his Class [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
, Maria Speth (Germany)

"Move over, Dangerous Minds, and your fierce Michelle Pfeiffer, as Dieter Bachmann has now entered the classroom. This over 200-minute-long documentary, which would make Lav Diaz proud, is a nice surprise – a lovely human story about a sixth-grade teacher. He wears a cool beanie and an AC/DC T-shirt, and plays guitar to boot, but his ultimate coolness lies not in his fashion sense, but in the way he approaches his job." (Ola Salwa)

(Read full review)

23 Who’s Stopping Us [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Jonás Trueba
film profile
]
, Jonás Trueba (Spain)

"Trueba’s latest offering, a prodigious work with a runtime of over three hours centred on a group of teenagers who commit heart and soul to every scene, is so audacious, so gutsy that it’s verging on a kamikaze venture. The result is a simply stunning film that makes being in a cinema among strangers a new and more powerful experience, as we share the intense emotions evoked by watching a group of such likeable humans bare their most intimate selves in the name of cinematic art." (Cristóbal Soage)

(Read full review)
(Read interview with Jonás Trueba)

22 Pleasure [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Ninja Thyberg
film profile
]
, Ninja Thyberg (Sweden/Netherlands/France)

"Displaying formal mastery at all levels, Thyberg's unflinching film dissecting an incredibly harsh initiatory journey into the porn scene of the late 1970s, from both an entomological and a female point of view, is a socio-melodramatic, ultra-realist work which is brutal, to say the least, but which offers an infinitely modern peak behind the scenes of an industry where dreams of glory come at a heavy cost." (Fabien Lemercier)

(Read full review)
(Read interview with Ninja Thyberg)

21 Parallel Mothers [+see also:
film review
trailer
making of
film profile
]
, Pedro Almodóvar (Spain)

"The film might still end up somewhere in between “the weird Almodóvars” and “the vintage Almodóvars”, but if there is one thing that the director seems to be preaching here, it’s to be over and done with secrets already, be it the ones festering under the roof of an elegant Madrid home or in a mass grave that everyone in the village knew about yet never opened. With that closing scene alone, he is getting ready for the reckoning." (Marta Bałaga)

(Read full review)

19 Petrov’s Flu [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
, Kirill Serebrennikov (Russia/Switzerland/France/Germany)

"'Your poem is too long – in the 1970s, they prided themselves on doing short ones!' Words to this effect are exclaimed by a fatigued member of a Russian poetry club as she interrupts a particularly meandering reading. The ensuing ruckus, involving a prim librarian dishing out some mean, gravity-defying, almost Asian-choreographed action kicks, is quite a sight, and a bloody one at that. It’s surreal moments like these that perk up Serebrennikov's film, which, with its two-and-a-half-hour playing time, toys fearlessly with both the meandering and the fatiguing parts." (Jan Lumholdt)

(Read full review)

= The Innocents [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Eskil Vogt
film profile
]
, Eskil Vogt (Norway/Sweden/Denmark/Finland/France/UK)

"There is an element of William Golding's Lord of the Flies in seeing the terrible consequences of what happens when children gain power, over which they have autonomy. The Innocents also questions the nature of good and evil, pondering whether it is inherited, the work of the devil or something learned. Vogt's ambiguous narrative makes all of these conclusions possible." (Kaleem Aftab)

(Read full review)
(Read interview with Eskil Vogt)

17 Vortex [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
, Gaspar Noé (France/Belgium/Monaco)

"A round of applause for Noé, if you will. As the history of cinema lopes by, even the finest directors at work seem to be beset by a particular anxiety of influence. Noé has his influences but every time he comes out, there’s a concerted drive to reinvent what cinema can do formally, and how the elasticity of the medium enhances our sense of various subjects. He’s gone from sex to crime to dance and, here, to death. Specifically, the lonely, sorrowful deaths befalling the ageing population of the “developed world”: and here, he examines love’s overlap and struggle with life’s great full stop." (David Katz)

(Read full review)

= The Green Knight [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
, David Lowery (USA/Canada/Ireland)

"Lowery follows A Ghost Story with a stunning take on the Arthurian legend. Gloriously weird, sad and sexy, his might be the most surprising quest of the year, featuring beheaded ghosts, woodland chapels and the best talking fox since Lars von Trier's Antichrist. Absolutely bewitching." (Marta Bałaga)

16 The Tsugua Diaries [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: João Nunes Monteiro
interview: Maureen Fazendeiro and Migu…
film profile
]
, Miguel Gomes & Maureen Fazendeiro (Portugal)

"Around spring of last year, when the true severity of the COVID-19 pandemic became apparent, thoughts turned to the fate of the arts and the creative industries: would we have them again? The more pertinent question, however, was how they might be transformed, just like nearly every aspect of global life. Gomes and Fazendeiro have created one of the better responses to this challenging existential riddle, further developing the former’s skill at blending fiction and documentary." (David Katz)

(Read full review)
(Read interview with Miguel Gomes & Maureen Fazendeiro)

14 Playground [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Laura Wandel
film profile
]
, Laura Wandel (Belgium)

"An ultra-realist approach, which borders on documentarian, perfectly conveys the many, fine nuances in this film exploring a very simple yet somewhat shocking subject. It’s an initiatory journey as seen from the inside, depicted head-on by a film which is totally out of the ordinary, but it’s also a difficult and emotionally charged task for tiny tots thrust out into the world, alone." (Fabien Lemercier)

(Read full review)
(Read interview with Laura Wandel)

= Flee [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Jonas Poher Rasmussen
film profile
]
, Jonas Poher Rasmussen (Denmark/France/Norway/Sweden)

"One of the most mesmerising animated features in many a year, Flee uniquely documents an Afghan refugee’s harrowing attempts to find asylum abroad, his journey anything but a linear progression. Poher Rasmussen finds remarkable means to unearth the memories of his protagonist, Amin, congealing them into something akin to a classic suspense tale, yet one still rooted in documentary credibility." (David Katz)

(Read full review)
(Read interview with Jonas Poher Rasmussen)

12 The Lost Daughter [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
, Maggie Gyllenhaal (USA/UK/Greece/Israel)

"There is no questioning Gyllenhaal’s tenacity, as instead of flying low with her directorial debut, she went for the best actors and the hottest writer. Her film is one of those strangely unnerving stories unravelling not in the darkness, but under the sizzling sun, and certainly not another sweet take on the “rewards” that come with having a child. Here, the reality is just brutal." (Marta Bałaga)

(Read full review)

= Compartment No. 6 [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Juho Kuosmanen
film profile
]
, Juho Kuosmanen (Finland/Russia/Estonia/Germany)

"Kuosmanen doesn’t so much make “period films” as films that seem to actually come out of their respective periods. He is also a very tender filmmaker, seemingly trying to stop himself from hugging these odd characters at any given moment and consistently delivering what some like to call “small stories with a big heart”. What a wonderful trip this is." (Marta Bałaga)

(Read full review)
(Read interview with Juho Kuosmanen)

11 France [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Bruno Dumont
film profile
]
, Bruno Dumont (France)

"Although the filmmaker seems to be making a scathing satire of the world of television journalism as embodied by his main character France de Meurs, his film is in fact more about the brutal irruption of reality into the life of a people and a nation. It depicts the realisation of an upcoming annihilation, of a monstrous presence from which we’d been diverting our eyes for a long time." (Fabien Lemercier)

(Read full review)
(Read interview with Bruno Dumont)

10 Memoria [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
, Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Colombia/Thailand/UK/Mexico/France/Germany/China/Taiwan/USA/Switzerland)

"As for the current shape of our sensory champion, it can safely be said to be as fine as ever, at times surpassing itself. In Swinton he’s found a perfect “antenna” and in Colombia some of the most fructiferous plant life seen on 35 mm celluloid. The ride, should one decide to join in, is pure, unadulterated and one-of-a-kind Apichatpong. No less. Or precisely that." (Jan Lumholdt)

(Read full review)

9 What Do We See When We Look at the Sky? [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Alexandre Koberidze
film profile
]
, Alexandre Koberidze (Germany/Georgia)

"It is ambiguous as to whether Koberidze has answered the question of his own film's title, but one thing the film does definitely tell us is that we have never seen anything quite like it. The directorial approach borrows elements from silent movies, 1970s cinema in the broadest sense, observational documentary, and who knows what else. But almost incredibly, Koberidze wraps it all into a warm, coherent and, ultimately, romantic film that keeps you surprised and happy throughout its 150 minutes of running time." (Vladan Petkovic)

(Read full review)
(See interview with Alexandre Koberidze)

8 The Souvenir Part II [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
, Joanna Hogg (UK)

"There is something very young about this film, a delightful, considerate effort, and not just because of all those wonderfully pretentious students running around. Once Julie decides to make a film about what she went through, she needs to answer questions about herself. But as she finds her way through to addressing that, and then some, making cinema that invokes fantasy and moves away from the kitchen sink, it’s almost as if Hogg was giving herself a small pat on the back, too. And justly so." (Marta Bałaga)

(Read full review)

7 Happening [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Anamaria Vartolomei
film profile
]
, Audrey Diwan (France)

"The debate around abortion is as vibrant, important and contentious as ever. One only has to look at the protests led by women in Polish cities in early 2021 following the near-total ban on abortion. It's arguable that there should be more films about it. Diwan concentrates on what happened, rather than creating a morality around it, letting the audience bring their own feeling into the room without hiding just how painful and dangerous Anne's abortion attempts are." (Kaleem Aftab)

(Read full review)

6 The Hand of God [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Paolo Sorrentino
film profile
]
, Paolo Sorrentino (Italy)

"Gradually, The Hand of God ventures down its own, darker paths, and as tragedy strikes the Schisa family, we’re reminded, if not before that, that perhaps we’ve been watching a true Sorrentino film all along. While the phrase “Sorrentino-esque” may not yet be in wide usage, it would not be entirely undeserved one day. At least the baroness upstairs would clemently agree." (Jan Lumholdt)

(Read full review)
(Read interview with Paolo Sorrentino)

5 Annette [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
, Leos Carax (France/Germany/Belgium/Switzerland/Mexico/Japan)

"From the moment that Sparks show up, joined by the whole cast singing “So May We Start” and waltzing onto the streets, Annette is a memorable kind of experiment, even if not all of it makes actual sense. But there is something delightful about this film, going back and forth between laughable, genuinely touching and just mad. So very, very mad." (Marta Bałaga)

(Read full review)

4 Petite Maman [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
, Céline Sciamma (France)

"Sciamma, while rightfully lauded for her portrayals of women, just seems to “get” kids. Or maybe she remembers it all, that lady magician – remembers what it feels like, how children see things and how they hurt. It's almost hard to explain how something so tiny, so simple and so unassuming can also be so touching, but again, she just knows how to speak that language, and she is probably still able to see those black panthers in her bedroom, too." (Marta Bałaga)

(Read full review)

3 Titane [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Julia Ducournau, Vincent Li…
film profile
]
, Julia Ducournau (France)

"There is no stopping Ducournau, whose new effort, is just, well, pure mayhem. The Fast & Furious franchise might have long abandoned any pretence of reality, but this is the kind of car loving that Vin Diesel would probably not approve of. Or maybe he would just be jealous. There is just no questioning her talent, smoothly delivering the weird and the shocking like it’s take-out. And, somewhere along the way, she proves that “Macarena” will just never die, however hard people try. Hey Macarena!" (Marta Bałaga)

(Read full review)
(Read interview with Julia Ducournau and Vincent Lindon)

2 The Worst Person In The World [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Joachim Trier
film profile
]
, Joachim Trier (Norway/France/Sweden/Denmark)

"It’s nice to see Trier back in Oslo with a film that ventures where few dare to these days – right into romantic-comedy territory. It has charming meet-cutes and a cheery moving-in sequence, scored with a jazzy tune like it’s – shall we whisper it really quietly – a Woody Allen movie. But Norwegians do things differently, it seems, so a whole discussion about some missing bumholes also makes the cut, the most animated one since that infamous alternative edition of Cats." (Marta Bałaga)

(Read full review)
(Read interview with Joachim Trier)

1 Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Radu Jude
film profile
]
, Radu Jude (Romania/Luxembourg/Czech Republic/Croatia/Switzerland/UK)

"One of those that are utterly divisive, Jude’s more than aptly (including the loony part) titled film revisits some of the director’s main themes, packing them into a feature that switches with great gusto from porn to philosophical collage and a chorus of idiots. This is definitely a must-see, as there are few features more stimulating or more able to emulate the craziness the entire world has been facing during the pandemic. The main thing the audience should truly embrace about it is the dare it confronts us with: to ponder honestly our own choices and decide whether, knowingly or unconsciously, we prefer to pay attention only to what we consider appealing in our lives. Appealing to others, that is." (Ştefan Dobroiu)

(Read full review)
(Read interview with Radu Jude)

Want to see our journalists' individual tops? Click here!

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