10 European Talents to Watch

5:30 AM 12/6/2019

by Scott Roxborough

From 'And Then We Danced' standout Levan Gelbakhiani to Cannes-winning director Ladj Ly, here are several up-and-comers to keep an eye on.

Helena Zengel in 'System Crasher'
Helena Zengel in 'System Crasher'
Berlin Film Festival
  • Richard Billingham

    Richard Billingham
    Richard Billingham
    Dave J Hogan/Getty Images

    In 2008, Turner Award winner Steve McQueen won the EFA's European Discovery – Prix Fipresci honor for best first feature for Hunger. Richard Billingham, a Turner Prize nominee in 2001, is up in the same category for his first feature as a director, the starkly autobiographical Ray & Liz, based on his real-life alcoholic dad, Ray, and chain-smoking mom, Liz. But don't expect a Ken Loach movie-with-a-message approach. Billingham has a keen, unforgiving eye for the humor and the horror of life in working-class Britain. Ray & Liz already picked up a British Independent Film Award and marks the director as one to watch.

  • Mati Diop

    Mati Diop
    Mati Diop
    Antoine Doyen

    The actress-turned-director won the grand jury prize in Cannes with her first feature, the refugee ghost story Atlantics, and is an awards favorite at the EFAs, where she's a nominee in the European Discovery Prix Fipresci for best feature debut, and the Oscars, where Atlantics is a contender — for Senegal — for best international film. The combination of a socially urgent subject — the plight of African refugees who risk their lives to flee to Europe — with a unique lyrical approach that melds Diop's twin French and Senegalese cinematic traditions marks Atlantics as one of the most impressive directorial debuts in years.

  • Levan Gelbakhiani

    Levan Gelbakhiani in 'And Then We Danced'
    Levan Gelbakhiani in 'And Then We Danced'
    Cannes Film Festival

    The first-time Georgian actor easily leapt beyond the limits of Levan Akin's gay coming-of-age tale And Then We Danced with sheer force of charisma and a physical presence as a dancer struggling with gender identity in the surprisingly macho world of the Georgian National Ballet company. The Hollywood Reporter raved about Gelbakhiani's "wiry and intense physicality" as well as his "extremely expressive face that can never conceal his character’s true emotions." His EFA nomination in the European Actor category marks Gelbakhiani's arrival on the international stage.

  • John Gurtler

    John Gürtler
    John Gürtler
    DOKfest_Sandra Ratkovic
    The U.K.-born composer — of Portuguese and German parentage — has steadfastly avoided conventional sounds and approaches in his work, combining electronic with orchestral music and finding ways to unify a film's score, sound and source music. Nowhere is that more evident than in his European Film Award-winning score to System Crasher, where Gurtler's jittery, high-octane, seemingly impulsive sound perfectly translates the inner fury of the lead character — 9-year-old tomboy Benni (Helena Zengel).
  • Ladj Ly

    Ladj Ly
    Ladj Ly
    VALERIE MACON/AFP via Getty Images
    All eyes are on 39-year-old Ly after his feature debut, Les Misérables — a look at police brutality and the legacy of decades of neglect by France of its black and Arab citizens — exploded in Cannes with the force of a Molotov cocktail. The director first made a splash with his documentary Speak-Up! (co-directed with Stéphane de Freitas), which picked up a César Award last year. Les Miserables — which plays out in the same, still deprived, Parisian neighborhood where Victor Hugo set his 1862 classic — won the jury prize in Cannes and is France's official entry for the 2020 international feature Oscar. At the European Film Awards, Les Misérables is in contention for three of the big honors, including European Film, European Screenplay and European Discovery (for best first feature).
  • Claire Mathon

    Claire Mathon
    Claire Mathon
    Antony Jones_Getty Images

    Mathon is hardly a newcomer — the French lenser has shot some two dozen features and documentaries over the past 20 years — but 2019 could mark her jump to the very top of the cinematographic elite. She was behind the camera for two Cannes winners this year — Mati Diop's Atlantics and Céline Sciamma's Portrait of a Lady on Fire — and picked up a long-overdue nomination for European Cinematographer at the 2019 EFAs.

  • Louise Mieritz, Ditte Hansen

    Louise Mieritz, Ditte Hansen in 'Ditte & Louise'
    Louise Mieritz, Ditte Hansen in 'Ditte & Louise'
    European Film Awards
    The Danish comedy duo Louise Mieritz and Ditte Hansen have mined a rich vein of #MeToo-flavored laughs with their TV drama Ditte & Louise, in which they play versions of themselves — two middle-aged actresses and best friends — struggling with the everyday sexism and inequality of the entertainment industry. But when Ditte pulls a reverse Tootsie — dressing as a man in order to get better roles — the pair's friendship is put to the test. The series' feature-film spinoff — which the pair co-wrote — was a hit in Denmark and garnered an EFA nomination for best comedy.
  • Viktoria Miroshnichenko

    Viktoria Miroshnichenko in 'Beanpole'
    Viktoria Miroshnichenko in 'Beanpole'
    Courtesy of TIFF
    Kantemir Balagov’s Beanpole, — a grim look at the physical, mental and spiritual devastation wrought on those who survived the siege of Leningrad in World War II — is not an easy watch. But it is impossible to pull your eyes away from lead Viktoria Miroshnichenko, the first-time actress Balagov cast as the titular Beanpole. The tall, ethereal actress wanders like an ungainly baby giraffe through the film — The Hollywood Reporter's review calls her to "a cross between Tilda Swinton and Gwendoline Christie" — obviously traumatized but with a hard edge beneath the docile surface. An EFA best actress nominee who's career looks set to soar.
  • Helena Zengel

    Helena Zengel
    Helena Zengel
    Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

    The 11-year-old Zengel dazzled, and terrified, the crowds at the Berlin Film Festival this year as the furious, out-of-control Benni in Nora Fingscheidt's System Crasher. The hard-hitting social drama divided critics, but all agreed on Zengel's performance. "Mightily impressive, showing the natural depth of a born actress" was The Hollywood Reporter's assessment. Zengel is nominated in the European Actress category, but the young Berliner has already landed her first Hollywood gig: Paul Greengrass has cast her to star alongside Tom Hanks in his upcoming News of the World.

  • Sameh Zoabi

    Sameh Zoabi
    Sameh Zoabi
    Eamonn M. McCormack/Getty Images

    Zoabi first attracted international attention with his screenplay for The Idol, the 2015 true-life drama about Palestinian refugee-turned-singing star Mohammed Assaf, which Hany Abu-Assad (Paradise Now) directed. But Zoabi truly comes into his own with Tel Aviv on Fire — a best comedy nominee at this year's EFAs — in which a Palestinian soap-opera writer teams up with an Israeli solider to concoct TV plot lines that are almost as absurd as real life in the occupied territories.