European film productions and cinemas continued to be affected by the coronavirus pandemic in 2021.
But new movie talents, both in front of and behind the camera, managed to emerge and make a splash despite virus-related production measures and restrictions.
Here is THR’s look at some of European cinema’s 2021 breakout talents and their films.
Titane’s Agathe Rousselle
Titane director Julia Ducournau “discovered” French newcomer Agathe Rousselle on Instagram, casting the intense, androgynous talent to play the non-binary lead Alexia/Adrien in her genre-smashing, Palme d’Or-winning horror thriller. Playing both violently intense and painfully vulnerable, Rousselle lends an emotional core to the wild unbelievable character of Alexia/Adrien, a serial killer with an extreme car fetish.
Lamb Director Vladimar Johannson
Vladimar Johannson’s debut feature has drawn favorable comparisons with Robert Eggers’ breakthrough The Witch. Both are boldly assured first features that use a steadily-building sense of brooding dread to build tension ahead of turn into more in-your-face horror. Johannson draws from Icelandic folk tales for his dark exploration of nature and grief in a story of Icelandic sheep farmers (Noomi Rapace and Hilmir Snær Gudnason) whose world is disrupted when they make an astounding discovery.
Army of Thieves Star Ruby O. Fee
Costa Rica-born German Ruby O. Fee made her film debut as a 9-year-old Eva Green in Benedek Fliegauf’s Womb (2010) and she’s been a feature on German TV and in German movies ever since, with roles in kids film franchise Bibi & Tina and popular police procedural Tatort. After a supporting role in Polar (2019) alongside Mads Mikkelsen, Fee delivered a breakout performance as master hacker Korina Dominguez in Netflix’s Army of Thieves, the Matthias Schweighöfer-directed prequel to Zack Synder’s Army of the Dead. Having recently signed with Paradigm for U.S. representation, we can expect to see a lot more of Ms. Fee in the future.
The Hand of God Actor Filippo Scotti
Paolo Sorrentino regular Toni Servillo (The Great Beauty, Il Divo) is a towering force in the director’s latest The Hand of God. But the real star is Filippo Scotti as Fabietto, Sorrentino’s alter ego in this deeply-personal coming-of-age drama set in Naples in the 1980s. His carefree, naturalist performance, which reveals a deep emotional vulnerability as Fabietto learns the harsh rules of life, has had some comparing the Italian talent to Call Me By Your Name star Timothée Chalamet.
The Innocents Director Eskil Vogt
Best known as Joachim Trier’s screenwriter — the Norwegian filmmaker has co-written all of Trier’s films, from his 2006 debut Reprise to Cannes winner The Worst Person in the World — Trier proved his ability behind the camera with this sophomore breakout, a low-budget, high-tension horror movie about young kids who develop superpowers, with devastating consequences.
Happening Director Audrey Diwan
Diwan’s second feature, which won the Golden Lion at the 2021 Venice Film Festival and was widely expected to represent France for the 2022 Oscars (it got beat out by Julia Ducournau’s equally-impressive Titane), is a harrowing and urgent look at the still hot-button topic of abortion, through the story of a college student in early-1960s France when abortion was still illegal in the country. Diwan’s social realism is miles away from Ducournau’s wild experimentation, but the former’s subtle direction and tight economic script (co-written with Marcia Romano) marks the emergence of a major talent.
The Worst Person in the World‘s Renate Reinsve
Renate Reinsve was ready to give up acting entirely before getting offered the role of Julie, a young Norwegian woman facing an existential crisis as she is about to turn 30, in Joachim Trier’s The Worst Person in The World. Lucky for us, she stuck with it. Her performance in Trier’s “un-romantic romantic comedy” is a tour-de-force: by turns funny, touching and deeply emotional. It won Reinsve the best actress honor in Cannes and put her on the radar of casting directors worldwide.
Hive Director Blerta Basholli
Set seven years after a Serbian-led massacre in a Kosovo village in the 1990 Balkan war, Blerta Basholli’s triple Sundance-award winning debut shocks not with plot twists or experimentation — the film is conventionally told — but with the director’s keen sense for detail and with emotionally-devastating set-pieces that wring drama and heroics out of a superficially quiet tale of an uneducated, but determined survivor (played with astounding intensity by Yllka Gashi).
Natural Light Director Dénes Nagy
It’s hard to imagine how any director can find a new way of telling the story of atrocities of World War II, but Hungarian first-timer Dénes Nagy manages to provide a different slant on Eastern Europe’s horrific history with this slow-burning drama, a prize winner in Berlin, that focuses on the moral culpability of those who witness evil and do nothing to stop it. Low on action – the massacre at the center of the story takes place off-screen – but high on tension, Natural Light marks Nagy as an auteur talent to watch.
Unclenching The Fists Director Kira Kovalenko
With her second feature, Russian filmmaker Kira Kovalenko is clearly ready to step out from the shadow of her former teacher, Russian directing great Alexander Sokurov (The Sun, Russian Ark). The drama, which took the Un Certain Regard prize in Cannes, sees Kovalenko twist the rigorous, austere aesthetic of Russian realist cinema to tell a powerful, and ultimately inspiring coming-of-age story about a teenage girl breaking free of oppressive patriarchy.