The Best European Arthouse Films of the Year (So Far)

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Sandra Hüller in Toni Erdmann

These remarkable movies caused a stir on the festival circuit and they're set to do the same as they hit screens across the UK – here's why...

Our government may be intent on turning inward from the rest of the continent with a symbolic goodbye, but not all of us feel that break-up relief. We need you, European cinema! Below, we celebrate the finest arthouse films that festivals including Cannes, Berlin and Karlovy Vary had to offer, so you can separate the best from the rest as they grace British screens in the upcoming months.  

Toni Erdmann
An ex-pat working for a corporate firm in Romania, played by Sandra Hüller, is at the heart of huge Cannes hit Toni Erdmann. A singular mix of hard-nosed ambition, melancholic outsider awkwardness and an almost self-destructive resignation in following things through to their extreme ends, she is one of the most baffling, intriguing female characters in screen memory. She’s battling the kind of casual sexism that can grind a woman’s self-esteem down with a thousand tiny blows (nailed perfectly by writer-director Maren Ade) when another obstruction to her lifestyle ambitions appears: her estranged father (Peter Simonischek), whose eccentric clowning is the antithesis of business decorum. It’s a German comedy that’s as deeply touching is it is bizarre and emotionally insightful, with a party scene that will leave you in stitches.

Fire at Sea 
The calm of the expansive sea is broken with the mayhem of extreme human desperation day after day in Italian director Gianfranco Rosi’s Fire at Sea, which shows us perilously overcrowded migrant boats as they near the small island of Lampedusa, their passengers risking everything to make it to Europe. It’s a documentary, but much more than a factual recounting of events in its poetic, meditative tone and depths of wordless emotion. The experiences of a boy from a fishing family and a doctor treating refugees and locals are also woven into this essential film, which won the top Golden Bear award at this year’s Berlinale.

Fire at Sea is currently playing at UK cinemas.

House of Others 
A haunted, gloomy and sensual mood pervades the painterly beauty of House of Others, the debut film from new Georgian directing talent Rusudan Glurjidze. She drew on her own life for the film, which is set in a post-war Georgian village in which houses, abandoned by their former occupants, are taken over by new inhabitants. The landscape of tangerine trees is beguiling, but riddled with mines. As the suspicious gazes of armed neighbours and trauma lies unresolved and thick in the air, the future is uneasy. A household of intense women eye the arrival of a new family uneasily. The film had its world premiere at festival Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic this month, winning the East of the West section grand prize.

The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki 
Think of “boxing film”, and you’ll likely think surging testosterone, and maybe even rousing ‘80s hair rock. Juho Kuosmanen’s Cannes-awarded debut feature The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki is of a different universe. Beautifully shot in black and white, the humble and gently melancholy Finnish tale of smalltown underdog fighter Mäki (a pitch-perfect performance by Jarkko Lahti) training to take on an American champion for his title in Helsinki has a straightforward purity that seems miraculously summoned from a past era of realism. The boxer has fallen in love, which sits poorly with the calculating fakery of his management, and an ever-present documentary crew.

All These Sleepless Nights 
The vibrant, youthful pulse of Warsaw is captured by Michal Marczak in his new feature All These Sleepless Nights, a doc-fiction hybrid which won him a Best Directing Award at Sundance this year. His intuitive, fluid camera weaves through the city with two art school friends (Krzysztof Baginski and Michal Huszcza) and an ex (Eva Lebeuf) on their nocturnal wanderings, through a fever-drift haze of rambling chats and after-parties as they struggle to move on from break-ups. Saved from any pretension by a quiet, understated sincerity, the film has the nonchalant drift of an American indie, but in its intimate and affectionate meld with all the city’s secret spaces, it’s Polish through and through.