For anyone arriving at New Horizons for the first time, this year's opening night gives a pretty good idea of the range of films the next ten days will encompass.
Eschewing the conventional single gala screening that marks an opening night at most festivals, New Horizons opts for a more egalitarian selection to suit all tastes. So, there's a playful psychosexual thriller from France, a languorous slow burning tale of vengeance from the Philippines, an austere account of conflict from Lithuania and a ghostly American indie.
François Ozon makes two appearances as the festival. There's his sumptuous Frantz, set in the aftermath of the First World War and alternating between moments of colour and crisp black and white as it shifts between past and present. Then there's his more recent Double Lover, an outrageous exploration of one woman's frazzled psyche, which is reminiscent of the filmmaker's more mischievous early work. It stars Marine Vacth (Young & Beautiful) as a woman whose relationship with her former therapist opens up a spider's web of intrigue and deceit, in which she questions her own identity. Ozon's mastery over perspective constantly challenges our own notions of what constitutes reality in the film and if there are overtones of Hitchcock, Chabrol and De Palma throughout, Ozon ensures their never eclipse his own authorial stamp and wickedly provocative sense of humour.
Those seeking a more meditative cinematic experience may wish to immerse themselves in The Woman Who Left. The latest work by long-time friend of the festival Lav Diaz clocks in at a relatively brief - for him - 229 minutes. But time is the very essence of his films, many of which have screened at New Horizons. We don't just observe a Lav Diaz film, we are gradually drawn into it and become intimately familiar with characters, not through the mechanics of plot, but the minutiae of their lives. This tale of a woman wrongly convicted and who sets about righting that wrong, unfolds in the late 1990s when martial law and escalating violence made the Philippines a terrifying place to live. Diaz makes use of the mask people wore out in the streets to play with identity, but the film hints at the existence of a moral order that we neglect at great peril to the salvation of our soul.
Šarūnas Bartas returns with Frost, the directors first film in 7 years. Following the release of his feature debut Three Days (1991), the Lithuanian filmmaker was a regular presence throughout the 1990s and 2000s, culminating in the compelling Eastern Drift (2010). His new film unfolds in the Donbass region of Ukraine and was filmed on the front line of the conflict that has raged since 2014. (At one point, the film's action unfolds just a few hundred metres from the fighting.) Two young Lithuanians, part of a humanitarian aid convoy to Ukraine, embark on their own journey of realisation. With little dialogue, Bartas explores the relationship between his characters and that with the world around them.
A similar understatement marks the work of David Lowery. The acclaimed editor (Primer, Upstream Color) made his breakthrough with his third feature Ain't Them Bodies Saints in 2013. He followed that with one of the best children's films of the last few years, a live-action remake of Pete's Dragon (2016). A Ghost Story reunites him with his Saints stars Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara. A study in grief and longing, Lowery once again displays a skill for sublety and upending familiar genre tropes. Though ostensibly a supernatural tale, Lowery invests the drama with melancholy rather than tension, once again eliciting nuanced performances from his leads as they cope with the impact of a sudden death and the emotional abyss it leaves in its wake.
Ian Haydn Smith is a British writer and editor. Formerly the editor of the International Film Guide, he is the co-author of New British Cinema and author of the forthcoming The Story of Photography. He has attended New Horizons since 2008.