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Palm Springs International Film Festival preview


Still from Croatian Oscar entry Donkey.

The 21st Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival will be held January 5-18 2010 and is set to feature 189 films from 70 countries. Every year the festival highlights the best of world cinema and includes a number of official Oscar submissions for Best Foreign Language Film. The festival will also have a section entitled Modern Masters which will focus on internationally acclaimed filmmakers such as Japanese director Hirokzau Kore-eda along with premieres of 76 films from the U.S. and around the world. Located roughly two hours outside of Los Angeles, Palm Springs is a modest drive but the festival makes the trek indispensable for world cinema lovers. Check out the full list of international film premieres and world cinema in the Modern Masters category below. 

Modern Masters:

Air Doll (Japan) - The internationally acclaimed director of Nobody Knows and After Life returns with a romantic fantasy that explores the complexities of love, loneliness and loss through the story of a life-size inflatable doll who comes to life and begins exploring what it means to be human. Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda.

Baarìa (Italy) - A family fresco set in Sicily during the last century, Baarìa is a tribute by Giuseppe Tornatore to his land and its people. With its richness and perfection of style, this film is the Cinema Paradiso of his maturity. Director: Giuseppe Tornatore.

Backyard (Mexico) - This chilling thriller, from the director of The Crime of Father Amaro, dramatizes the tragic true story of border town Juárez, Mexico, where since the mid-90s thousands of women have gone missing or turned up as sun-burnt corpses in the desert. Can new police captain Blanca Bravo stop the savagery? Director: Carlos Carrera.

Dawson, Island 10 (Chile/Brazil/Venezuela) - After the 1973 coup that deposed Allende and brought Pinochet to power in Chile, the former members of his cabinet are imprisoned on Dawson Island, the world's southern-most concentration camp. Veteran filmmaker Miguel Littin follows the ordeal of these men who are determined to survive and provide history with their testimony. Director: Miguel Littin.

The Girl on the Train (France) - When her flash-in-the-pan relationship goes sour, heartbroken young Jeanne spins a lie that quickly spirals out of control. Émilie Dequenne and Catherine Deneuve anchor the excellent ensemble cast in revered director Téchiné's (My Favorite Season) sexy, sophisticated drama about deception and its repercussions. Director: Andre Téchiné.

London River (UK/Algeria/France) - A tough but tender drama of two strangers discovering a common destiny. As they seek their missing children in the wake of the 2005 London terror attack, a piece of evidence unites them in a way neither could ever imagine and helps surmount racial and cultural misunderstanding. Director: Rachid Bouchareb.

Looking for Eric (UK/France/Italy/Belgium/Spain) - Lauded director Ken Loach's (The Wind That Shakes the Barley) whimsical dramedy centers on miserable postman Eric Bishop, whose only joy is the Manchester United football team. When the team's former star Eric Cantona magically materializes in his bedroom to offer advice, Bishop realizes he must begin putting his life back together. Director: Ken Loach.

Shameless (Czech Republic) - Prague TV weatherman gets a bad case of the seven-year itch in this slyly entertaining marital infidelity comedy that treats relationship issues in a candid, adult way that should resonate with anyone who has ever had lust in their heart. Director: Jan Hrebejk.

Vincere (Italy) - Before Mussolini was Il Duce, he was a struggling political outsider. Beautiful Ida Dalser was his early financier, lover and mother to his son, but decades later she was shunned and imprisoned by the dictator. Their closely guarded story is revealed in fittingly operatic proportions in this electrifying tour de force. Director: Marco Bellocchio

The White Ribbon (Germany/Austria/France/Italy) - Winner of the Palme d'Or at Cannes, Michael Haneke's (Funny Games) mesmerizing and disturbing mystery follows the escalating errant behavior of a group of children and adults in a rural German village in the years leading up to the First World War. Director: Michael Haneke


1981(Canada) This cheeky, semi-autobiographical coming-of-age tale tells the story of Ricardo, 11, who, struggling with his family's move and a new school, decides to become a liar. With a flare for inventiveness and a desperate desire to impress his classmates, Ricardo dismisses his family and weaves an elaborate web of untruths.

Adrift (Vietnam) This poetic, languidly sensual story of tangled loves in modern Vietnam illustrates changing values in a traditional society as it explores sexual awakening, lesbian desire and marital infidelity.

Alive! (Albania/Austria/France) A carefree Albanian student gets drawn into an ancient gjakmarrja, or blood feud, when he returns to his native village for his father's funeral. This fascinating drama considers how deeply the traditions of one's forebears can affect one's life.

Altiplano (Belgium/Netherlands/Germany) A ravishingly shot environmental drama set in the High Andes of Peru. When a mysterious sickness afflicts a remote village, the superstitious inhabitants' fears turn to anger, which they direct against a team of European medics until one young woman learns the sinister truth about the source of the illness, to her own great cost.

Angel at Sea (Belgium/Canada) Twelve-year-old Louis lives a charmed life in a small Moroccan town. But one night his father shares a secret with him that changes their relationship—and Louis' life—forever. This visually arresting and emotionally gripping film won the top prize at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.

Bad Day to Go Fishing (Uruguay/Spain) A droll dark comedy that plays out like a classic Western crossed with the decidedly modern sensibilities of filmmaker such as Jim Jarmusch or Aki Kaurismäki, this quirky tale pits a scamming hustler and his wrestler sidekick against the inhabitants of a small Uruguayan town, circa 1961.

The Balibo Conspiracy (Australia) In 1975, five young Australian TV journalists covering the invasion of East Timor by the Indonesian army were murdered at the border village of Balibo. Their story, denied and covered up for more than 30 years, is grippingly recreated in this tense and moving film from Robert Connolly (The Bank, Three Dollars).

Blessed (Australia) Focusing on the often-fraught bond between mothers and their children, Blessed unfolds in a blue-collar suburb of Melbourne over the course of 24 hours. The intersecting stories are divided into two parts, the first told from the viewpoint of the troubled offspring and the second through the weary eyes of their struggling moms.

A Brand New Life (South Korea/France) It's 1975. Jinhee is nine years old, and the life she knows is about to be shattered. Inexplicably abandoned by her father in a Catholic orphanage outside Seoul, Jinhee begins an extraordinary emotional journey marked by rage and hope, death and rebirth.

Bride Flight (Netherlands) Fifty years after they met on a flight to New Zealand, where they were headed to join their already-settled fiancés, three women meet at the funeral of a fellow passenger and discover just how intertwined their lives have been over the past half century. A sweeping melodrama from the director of Twin Sisters.

Brotherhood (Denmark) Former Danish servicemen Lars and Jimmy are thrown together while training in a neo-Nazi group. Moving from hostility through grudging admiration to friendship and finally passion, events take a darker turn when their illicit relationship is uncovered.

Chamaco (Mexico/USA/Canada) Abner is trapped in the rough life of Mexico City. His escape? Boxing. Dr. Frank Irwin and his son Jimmy, a pro boxer, come together to teach Abner that the heart fuels the punches we throw in life.

Children Metal Divers (Philippines) A realistic docudrama, Children Metal Divers tells the heart-tugging story of children who scavenge for metal scraps in the murky waters of Manila Bay, often risking their lives in the process.

Dark Resonance (Bangladesh) If a child is sent to university by parents who are beggars, is she an emancipated person who can choose her destiny or only the literate daughter of beggars? This sensitive first feature comes from award-winning painter Khalid Mahmood Mithu.

Dawson, Island 10 (Chile/Brazil/Venezuela) After the 1973 coup that deposed Allende and brought Pinochet to power in Chile, the former members of his cabinet are imprisoned on Dawson Island, the world's southernmost concentration camp. Veteran filmmaker Miguel Littin follows the ordeal of these men who are determined to survive and provide history with their testimony.

Dev. D (India) Dev D is a modern take on the classic love story Devdas, illustrating the sensibilities, aggression, and free thought of youth today. At times reckless, it reflects the conflicts of a generation caught between their Eastern roots and Western sensibilities.

Devil's Town (Serbia) A stylish black comedy about life in contemporary Belgrade that satirizes the moral malaise clouding Serbia, Devil's Town features a host of top actors as city dwellers whose lives intersect on a hot summer day while the country's tennis stars compete in an important tournament.

Donkey (Croatia/Bosnia-Herzogovina/UK/Serbia) A gentle comic fable that shows how one family of mulish, macho men in the Herzogovina countryside ultimately gain some much-needed self-awareness—with the help of a real donkey.

Draft Dodgers (Luxembourg/Switzerland) When the Nazis annex Luxembourg, François must make a choice: either be conscripted and fight the Allies on the Russian front, or become a draft dodger living underground. This gritty psychological drama depicts a world in which his fascist father and shackled nation are weapons in a war for his identity.

Dumbstruck (USA/Japan/Bahamas) At the annual Vent Haven Convention in Ft. Mitchell, Kentucky, ventriloquism capital of the world, director Mark Goffman discovers five extraordinary characters straight out of a Christopher Guest mockumentary. But in this delightful, it's-all-true documentary, the characters are real, and so are the emotional attachments that they have with their "dummies."

Dzi Croquettes (Brazil) Dzi Croquettes is a revealing documentary about a Brazilian dance and theater group resembling an all-male, 1970s version of the Ziegfeld Follies. Banned by the ruling military dictatorship, they used their empowering sexuality to revolutionize the gay movement worldwide.

Excited (Canada) In this smart dramatic comedy that impishly bills itself as a relationship movie "about premature ejaculation," successful businessman and sexual sad-sack Kevin learns a thing or two about relationships when he is introduced to the sexy Hayamm. Funny, pithy and profane in equal measure.

Father and Guns (Canada) Jacques and Mark are cops who just don't get along. Unfortunately they are also father and son. When they are assigned as an undercover team to infiltrate an outdoor adventure group-therapy camp for fathers and sons, hilarity ensues. An American remake is already in the works.

For A Moment, Freedom (Austria/France) Combining realism, warmth, suspense, humor and tragedy, For A Moment, Freedom, centers on a group of weary Middle Eastern refugees who have made their way to Turkey to apply for European visas.

Forgotten Transports: To Poland (Czech Republic) From a forbidden love affair to participation in the Sobibor uprising, those who escaped Nazi ghettos, labor and death camps speak out, some for the first time. This is the final entry in a monumental quartet of documentaries that meticulously trace the history of Czech Jews deported during the Holocaust.

The Front Line (Italy) Here's the fictionalized story of Sergio Segio and Susanna Ronconi, a modern-day Marxist Bonnie and Clyde who terrorized Italy in the 1970s through their extreme left-wing terrorist organization Primea Linea. It's an insightful examination of the terrorist mind.

Glorious 39 (UK) Set in the days leading up to World War II, Glorious 39 is a complex mystery built around Britain's secret plot to bargain with Hitler to stay out of the war. Uncovering secrets about her upstanding ruling-class family, one strong young woman finds herself in terrible danger as she struggles to be heard.

The Happiness of Kati (Thailand) With the impending death of her mother, a young girl living with her adoring grandparents completes the puzzle of her past and discovers the reason that her mother gave her up as a baby. A delicate and touching adaptation of one of Thailand's most beloved novels.

Harry Brown (UK) When the escalating gang violence of his public-housing neighborhood leads to the death of his best friend, aging Royal Marines veteran Harry Brown's (Michael Caine) contempt for the ineffectual forces of the local law sees him turn vigilante with devastating results.

Heliopolis (Egypt) An honest and important expression of a generation's fight for their dreams in the face of harsh realities, Ahmad Abdalla's ensemble drama focuses a sharp critique of Egyptian society matched by a nostalgia-drenched longing for life before the 1952 Revolution.

Huacho (Chile/France) Huacho is a poignant but unsentimental look at the harsh life of the rural population in southern Chile. Following a small peasant family through its day, we are privy to the hardships they bear but also to their indomitable resilience and resourcefulness.

In My Father's Country (Australia) In one of the most remote corners of indigenous Australia a boy will soon become a man. Following preparations for the ritual, the film shows the life lessons he receives from his father and grandfather. Set against the political backdrop of government pressure to close "uneconomic outstations," it also shows modernity almost imperceptibly penetrating their community.

Last Ride (Australia) When his ex-con father (Hugo Weaving) bundles him into the car in the middle of the night, 10-year-old Chook knows that something is wrong. As the two drive into the desert towards an unknown future, their troubled relationship and the need to survive sees them battling the elements and each other.

Letters to Father Jacob (Finland) In the latest from the talent behind the PSIFF 2006 Audience Award Winner, a simple but transcendent story about faith and human frailty achieves a state of grace. Centering on a tough ex-con temporarily serving as an amanuensis for a blind pastor in rural Finland, the director's magisterial control renders predictable material into something fresh and heart-rending.

Lucky Country (Australia) A gripping thriller set in 1902, in the wild Australian outback, where a desperate family on the brink of ruin find themselves turning on each other after three strangers arrive at their farm with rumors of gold.

The Making of Plus One (UK/Canada) A fictional documentary set among the wheelers and dealers behind the scenes at the Cannes Film Festival, this satirical comedy packs a punch and pokes more than a little fun at the celebrity obsession fuelling the modern-day film industry.

The Man Beyond the Bridge (India) A lonely forest guard comes across a filthy, mentally challenged woman outside his house. After his initial disgust, he slowly gets used to her visits and starts to care for her. However, when she becomes pregnant the villagers question his right to do so.

A Matter of Principles (Argentina) A man with seemingly unwavering ethics is challenged by his new boss, who believes everyone has a price and is willing to prove it. In this Capra-esque tale no one leaves unscathed when principles and pragmatism collide.

Medal of Honor (Romania/Germany) Told with precision, irony, and extraordinary performances, this immensely touching film encapsulating Romania's shift from Communism to Capitalism, centers on a 75-year-old man awarded a Medal of Honor for unspecified "heroic" actions during World War II.

My Queen Karo (Belgium) Moved from Belgium to the chaos of a 1974 Amsterdam artists' commune, a precocious 10-year-old witnesses the disintegration of her parents' marriage in this compelling coming-of-age story.

My Year Without Sex (Australia) A middle-class Melbourne mom recovering from a near-fatal illness wrestles with the titular problem and a whole lot more in this endearing comic drama from the writer/director of the prize-winning Look Both Ways.

Nothing Personal (Netherlands/Ireland) A lone woman on the road in Ireland meets an equally reticent man who offers her food for work on the grounds of his grand house. Urszula Antoniak's wonderfully understated and surprising debut features standout performances from Lotte Verbeek (Best Actress at Locarno) and Stephen Rea in the leads.

The Over the Hill Band (Belgium) In the tradition of sassy social comedies such as last year's Moscow, Belgium and playing like a combination of Calendar Girls and Young at Heart, this charming comic drama is a coming-of-old-age story about a classy woman who rediscovers life and love when it's almost too late.

Paulista (Brazil) From award-winning director Roberto Moreira, Paulista is the story of three young people in search of love amid the frantic pace of São Paulo. What will a relationship unearth of their unspoken past, and can they dare hope for a happy future?

Plan B (Argentina) When conniving Bruno gets dumped by his girlfriend he decides to win her back by hook or by crook. Since she is happy with new boyfriend Pablo, Bruno devises another plan to get him out of the way in this clever, witty comedy.

Polytechnique (Canada) A mesmerizing dramatization of the 1989 massacre by Montreal engineering student Marc Lepine of 14 female students, fuelled by rage at feminist "viragos." The film faithfully recreates the violence in gleaming black and white, but refuses to wallow in it, abstracting an impression of profound beauty from the atrocity.

Prince of Tears (Hong Kong/China/Taiwan) Yonfan's sumptuously made drama looks back to 1950s Taiwan, when anti-communist feeling was at an all-time high, to tell the fairy-tale-like story of two young sisters whose parents are arrested as communist spies. Stunning cinematography, luscious set design and a plot with more than a few twists.

Rabia (Spain/Colombia) A gripping social thriller about two immigrants: a short-tempered construction worker and a live-in maid eking out a livelihood in Spain. A few weeks into their passionate relationship a tragic accident forces him to hide in her attic. Unbeknownst to her he becomes a menacing ghost-like dweller in the house.

Regrets (France) Cedric Kahn's suspenseful tale of irrational, obsessive love features Yvan Attal (Munich) and Valéria Bruni Tedeschi as old flames who reconnect and leave emotional carnage in their wake. With a suitably propulsive score by Philip Glass.

Restless (France) This delicately wrought gem proves the "coming-of-age" story knows no age limit. Orphaned 18-year-old Claire lives with her elderly grandfather Maurice. As she meets a hopeless romantic and fumbles through her first feelings of love, he struggles to heal love's old wounds in his waning days.

Reverse (Poland) A darkly comic story of three generations of Polish women and the mysterious young man whose presence sparks a series of surprising events that change all of their lives.

Reykjavik-Rotterdam (Iceland/Netherlands) The principals of Jar City (PSIFF 2008) reunite in this tight thriller about an ex-con lured into one last job smuggling booze. This film is being remade as a vehicle for Mark Walhberg under the direction of current star Kormákur.

Sagan (France) With perfect attention to period detail and a decidedly sympathetic point of view, director Diane Kurys and actor Sylvie Testud (in a César-nominated performance) bring the controversial life of French author Françoise Sagan—known best for writing Bonjour Tristesse at the age of 18—to the big screen.

Sawasdee Bangkok (Thailand) Sawasdee Bangkok is comprised of four love letters to the city that form a colorful tapestry of life in the capital. Directed by four of Thailand's most respected filmmakers, these shorts move from magical travelogue to heartfelt melodrama.

The Shadowless (Turkey) Unfolding in a timeless village rife with supernatural beliefs, mysterious disappearances, and untimely deaths, this mesmerizing film offers an ambitious adaptation of a multilayered literary work by Hasan Ali Toptas, "the Kafka of the East," and plays like an Anatolian "Twin Peaks."

Shirley Adams (South Africa/USA) A searing, unsentimental story of a mother whose world is forever changed when her son is left paralyzed by a stray bullet in a gang shootout. Struggling after her husband walks out and battling meddling hospital authorities, Shirley refuses to seek charity or compassion as tragedy inexorably closes in.

Slovenian Girl (Slovenia/Germany/Serbia/Croatia) An amoral coed gets more than she bargains for when she tries prostitution as a shortcut to the good life. Centering on secrets, lies, and a single-minded quest for money, this smoothly made drama starts as a thriller but later switches tracks.

Soul Birds (Germany) Boasting an exceptional visual style to match its elemental themes, Soul Birds from documentarian Riedelsheimer (Rivers and Tides, Touch the Sound), observes the intimate relationship between human beings and nature in this deeply moving portrait of three children battling leukemia.

Sticky Fingers (Canada/France/Spain) In this sly comedy, six of the world's worst gangsters managed to heist $2 million, but only one got away. Now after four years in the clink, five bumbling thieves from Montreal are forced to walk the famous Camino pilgrimage in Spain to prove they've changed their ways and deserve their cut of the loot.

The Sun Behind The Clouds: Tibet's Struggle for Freedom (India/UK/USA/Austria) With unusual intimate access, filmmakers Sonam and Sarin find a unique perspective on the Dalai Lama's trials and tribulations and follow him over an eventful year, including the 2008 protests in Tibet, the long march in India, the Beijing Olympics, and the breakdown of talks with China.

This Way of Life (New Zealand) Peter Karena, his wife Colleen, their six children and many horses live almost wild in the stunning beauty of New Zealand's rugged Ruahine Mountains. Until, that is, Peter's escalating battle with his own father has profound consequences for the whole clan.

Time of the Comet (Albania/Germany/France)Romantic, tragic, and profoundly hilarious, this period epic, set shortly before WWI and based on the novel by Nobel Prize winner Ismail Kadare, marries the absurdity of war to the utter absurdity that was once Albania.

The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls (New Zealand) "On paper," says comedy writer Paul Horan, "Yodeling lesbian twins don't really work." But for the last 30 years New Zealanders Jools and Lynda Topp have brought their kooky Kiwi sense of humor, political potency, and snazzy country music stylings to dazzled audiences—and now prove dynamite on the big screen.

Transmission(Hungary) A mesmerizing dystopian drama set in a world in which all the screens have stopped functioning. Television stations don't broadcast, computer monitors are empty, the entire telecommunication industry is gone. The story starts months after the last screen has stopped working and society has started to develop alternative ways of living.

Villon's Wife (Japan) This enticing period melodrama depicts a long-suffering woman's relationship with her brilliant but self-destructive writer husband in postwar Tokyo. Based on a semi-autobiographical 1947 novel by Osamu Dazai, the story centers less on the womanizing, heavy-drinking, suicidal hero than on the wife who loves him.

Vortex (Lithuania) The story of the generation who lived through the entire Soviet period is told through the main character: his childhood spent in a village, true friendship, work in Soviet Klaipeda, thrilling eroticism, and a final, fatal love.

Weekend (Chile) Patricio wants time alone with Francisca while she tries to forget her recent heartbreak. Sofia, a sexy hitchhiker, just wants a little distraction on her aimless journey. In a beautiful beach house on the Chilean coast, three twentysomethings are about to get much more than they expected.

What You Don't See (Germany/Austria) Vaguely reminiscent of François Ozon's See the Sea, this impressive psychological thriller about a sensitive German adolescent grappling with his father's suicide and his mother's new boyfriend plays out against the eerie woods and fantastic rock formations of the Brittany Coast.

The Wildest Dream(USA/UK) The Wildest Dream uses astonishing visuals to tell the intersecting stories of George Mallory, the first man to attempt a summit of Mount Everest, and Conrad Anker, the mountaineer who finds Mallory's frozen remains 75 years later.

Will You Marry Us? (Switzerland) A charming romantic comedy about a small-town civil servant whose life is thrown for a loop when an old boy friend pops up from her past and they find they still have feelings for each other.

Winter in Wartime (Netherlands/Lithuania) The perfect blend of classical cinema and arthouse sensibilities, this exciting WWII coming-of-age story portrays a 14-year-old Dutch lad's brutal loss of innocence when circumstances force him to become a one-man Resistance movement.

The World is Big and Salvation Lurks Around the Corner (Bulgaria/Germany/Slovenia)This sweet intergenerational drama about an amnesiac helped toward recovery by his charismatic grandfather encompasses over 30 years of social and identity crises, with backgammon as a metaphor for life. 

Full schedule will be released December 24. Check out the festival's site for more information.