Returning for its 26th edition and with 2021's Covid restrictions largely a thing of the past, Tallinn's Black Nights Film Festival (PÖFF) this year crowned Hilmar Oddsson's Icelandic dark comedy Driving Mum as the 2022 Grand Prix winner, with the Best Director award going to Ahmad Bahrami for thriller The Wastetown.

Returning for its 26th edition and with Covid regulations largely a thing of the past, Tallinn’s Black Nights Film Festival (PÖFF) this year crowned Hilmar Oddsson’s Icelandic dark comedy Driving Mum as the 2022 Grand Prix winner, with the Best Director award going to Ahmad Bahrami for the Iranian revenge thriller The Wastetown.

Fears over the continuing pandemic were mostly replaced by concern/support for President Zelensky and the people of Ukraine in their continuing conflict with the amassed Russia forces of Vladimir Putin – events still so tumultuous and ever-evolving that NATO had reportedly increased its presence in Tallinn as the festival opened (the Estonian capital is about 125 miles from the Russian border). The blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag was visible across the snow-sprinkled city, while the almost-near absence of Russian delegates continues to provoke debate.

But what of the films themselves? Stark contrast, as ever, could also be found in the festival’s eclectic blend of festival big-hitters – from the likes of Steven Spielberg, Park Chan-wook, Laura Poitras and Mia Hansen-Løve – with its competition strand of feature debuts and world premieres. Titles well-received by the smattering of trade press attending the festival included Hilmar Oddsson’s Grand Prix winner Driving Mum, identical twin drama A Cup of Coffee and New Shoes On, Matías Bize’s The Punishment and Filip Heraković’s Pelican, amongst others. Heraković’s debut film offered an intriguing counterpoint to the glitz and glamour of football’s winter World Cup in Qatar, following injured professional goalkeeper Josip (nicknamed “Condor”) wandering the corridors and function rooms of a Croatian sanatorium.

Reminiscent at points to Wim Wenders’ The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick, while perhaps more similar in tone to 2017’s Diamantino, Pelican (First Feature Competition, Special Jury Prize) proved a welcome addition to the gradually expanding footballer-in-existential-crisis-drama sub-genre. Committed performances from Edi Celic as Josip and Lucija Barisic helped to elevate Heraković’s film above some of the other titles in competition. Sergio Machado’s Brazilian bonkathon River of Desire had all the he-said/she-said familial hullabaloo of a telly novella and with it a certain sweaty charm, yet struggled to move break free from its gossipy, soapy chains. The film follows a ménage à quatre between three brothers and one of the sibling’s frisky new wife (Sophie Charlotte), with Adrian Teijido’s work behind the camera rewarded with the Best Cinematography prize.

The UK film industry was well-represented this year, with new films from Carol Morley (Typist Artist Pirate King), Ben Parker (Burial), Neil Maskell (Klokkenluider) and more flying the flag for filmmaking and production. A timely portrait of farcical political skullduggery, Maskell’s directorial feature debut – receiving its international premiere at Black Nights – served up a heady mix of dry British humour and Black Mirror-style satire as a skittish government whistleblower Ewan (Amit Shah) and his Belgian wife Silke (Sura Dohnke) await the arrival of a newspaper journalist, all under the watchful eye of two odd-couple bodyguards (played by Tom Burke and a wonderful Roger Evans). As the end of the world rears its head the wine flows, charades commences and beans are gradually spilled.

The horrors of a different type of warfare – all too familiar to those living on the borders of Ukraine and Russia – was the central focus of Adrian Goiginger’s Second World War drama The Fox, a handsomely staged but somewhat twee film about an Austrian soldier and a wounded fox club he takes under his wing as he pushes past the French front. There were echos of Terrence Malick’s Austrian-set A Hidden Life at points, but the central conceit of fox club-as-symbol-of-innocence draws away the emotional heft of some of the film’s bleaker moments. It was, however, always a pleasure to see Karl Markovics (The Counterfeiters, Breathing) effectively steal the film with an early monologue. One wonders if it should perhaps be mandatory for Markovics to either act or direct in all off the Austrian film industry’s output.

For a full list of PÖFF award winners, please see below:

Official Selection Competition

Grand Prix for Best Film – Driving Mum (Ice) dir. Hilmar Oddsson
Best Director – Ahmad Bahrami, The Wastetown
Best Cinematography – Adrian Teijido, River of Desire
Best Script – Shahar Rozen, Dudu Busi, DUCKS – An Urban Legend
Best Actor – Gurban Ismailov, Cold As Marble
Best Actress – Antonia Zegers, The Punishment
Best Original Score – Tonu Korvits, Driving Mum
Best Production Design – Michael Schindlmeier, Servus Papa, See You in Hell

First Feature Competition

Best First Feature Film – The Land Within (Switz-Kos) dir. Fisnik Maxville
Special Jury Prize – Pelican (Cro) dir. Filip Herakovic; Amar Colony (India) dir. Siddharth Chauhan

Baltic Competition

Best Baltic Feature Film – Poet (Lith) dirs. Giedrius Tamosevicius, Vytautas V. Landsbergis
Best Baltic Poducer for Co-production – Inna Sahakyan, Aurora’s Sunrise

Rebels With A Cause Competition

Rebels With A Cause Award – Rebelión (Col-Arg) dir. Jose Luis Rugeles
Special Mention – Three Thousand Numbered Pieces (Hun) dir. Adam Csaszi

Critics Picks Competition

Critics’ Picks Award – About Us But Not About Us (Phi) dir. Jun Robles Lana
Special Mention – The Bone Breakers (It) dir. Vincenzo Pirrotta

Fipresci Prize – Upon Entry (Sp) dirs. Alejandro Rojas, Juan Sebastian Vasquez

Audience Award – Amusia (It) dir. Marescotti Ruspoli

More information on the 2022 Black Nights Film Festival (PÖFF) can be found at poff.ee.

Daniel Green