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The best festival films that won't be playing in Indian theatres in 2020

From 'Never Rarely Sometimes Always' to 'Gunda', these were some of the most talked-about releases on the pandemic-hit festival circuit this year

Paula Beer in 'Undine'
Paula Beer in 'Undine'

When it was announced in early August that the Mumbai Film Festival would not be held this year, it only made official what film fans in India already knew: that they would not be watching some of the best films of the year on the big screen. Some of these films premiered at festivals that took place before coronavirus struck, some in the recently held Venice and Toronto festivals. Here is a list of titles that you can keep an eye out for on streaming platforms or, if you are lucky, in a theatre next year.

Never Rarely Sometimes Always

Eliza Hittman’s film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January, then went on to win the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. It continues Hittman’s intimate style and focus on young characters, seen in her earlier films It Felt Like Love and Beach Rats. The story of a young girl who decides to have an abortion feels like her most resonant work; this is a striking and melancholy work, anchored by astonishing performances by Sidney Flanigan and Talia Ryder, both making their movie debuts.


Christian Petzold’s Casablanca-tinged drama, Transit, was one of the best films of the last decade. For his next film, Undine, he teamed up again with many of the principals: producer Florian Koerner von Gustorf, actors Franz Rogowski, Paula Beer and Maryam Zaree, cinematographer Hans Fromm and editor Bettina Böhler. Undines are mythological water sprites; the film revolves around whether Beer’s Undine will fulfil her destiny of killing the lover who betrays her and returning to her natural state.

The Woman Who Ran

After three films in 2017 and two in 2018, Korean director Hong Sang-soo sat out 2019. He’s back this year with The Woman Who Ran, a triptych of conversations between female characters, starring Kim Min-hee, his partner and lead actor (they first collaborated on Right Now, Wrong Then in 2015). The trailer suggests another chatty, precisely shot, slice of life offering from the director.

There Are Not Thirty-six Ways of Showing a Man Getting on a Horse

Nicolas Zukerfeld's experimental feature, which showed at the New York Film Festival, begins with clips of varying lengths from the films of Hollywood veteran Raoul Walsh. After that, it becomes a search for the original version of the quote that gives the film its title, transforming into a unique look at criticism and film history.

The Disciple

The Disciple, which recently premiered at the Venice Film Festival, was the first Indian film in competition at any of the major festivals since Monsoon Wedding (2002). On top of that, it was awarded Best Screenplay at Venice. The story of a budding Indian classical vocalist, this is Chaitanya Tamhane’s first feature since the critically acclaimed Court, which also played at Venice, in the Orrizonti section.


Gianfranco Rosi’s Fire At Sea (2016) was the rare documentary to win the Golden Bear, the Berlin Film Festival’s top prize. His first film since then is Notturno, shot over three years in Syria, Kurdistan, Iraq and Lebanon, about the lives of people near war zones in the Middle East. It premiered at the 2020 Venice Film Festival.

The Salt Of Tears

Now in his early 70s, Philippe Garrel is one of the last remaining purveyors of a certain kind of French film: stripped down, talky, intimate. The Salt Of Tears, which played at Venice and the New York Film Festival, looks much like the films he has been making for the last two decades, a story of young people falling in and out of love, shot in exquisite black and white.

The Human Voice

In Pedro Almodóvar’s short film, his first in English, Tilda Swinton plays a woman struggling to come to terms with the end of a relationship. Based on a Jean Cocteau play, this film was shot during lockdown in July, and premiered at Venice earlier this month.


Francis Lee’s Ammonite looks poised to be this year’s Portrait Of A Lady On Fire. It’s a windswept drama about palaeontologist Mary Anning (Kate Winslet) and the woman who is entrusted to her care, Charlotte Murchison (Saoirse Ronan), in 18th century England.


Viktor Kossakovsky’s dialogue-free non-fiction feature, which premiered at the Berlin Film Festival, follows a pig named Gunda and other farm animals. Shot in emotive black and white on farms in Spain, England and Norway, this looks like a fascinating and unusual documentary.

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