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I love the tagline for Munich’s festival. In its 32nd year, they are boldly proclaiming to offer the best movies of the summer, and its not an empty boast. I would say that the offerings run counter to the blockbusters we’ve come to expect in the US, but truth be told, you would need to evaluate the festival from a far different perspective. Imagine a world without the blockbusters. Since I’ve been here, I haven’t seen hide nor hair of a poster or a trailer for Transformers: Age of Extinction or Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Munich is an art house respite, a haven for cinema (art) over movie (product), but they see nothing wrong with using the “movie” label.

As part of my scheduling efforts at the Toronto International Film Festival, I attempt to select a few titles that may not grace US screens during the prestige season or beyond. I want (and need) to stretch out of the awards season mindset, to take the road less traveled, and discover titles worth trumpeting, hidden gems that might pop up in Netflix cues or for the diligent cineastes on services like MUBI, that curate films online. Munich, since I am here for the entire festival (rather than just six days) and because this festival doesn’t occupy prime year end premiere real estate, allows me the opportunity to sample even more remote cinema byways and report back from the alluring hinterlands.

Maria Roveran as Luisa

Maria Roveran as Luisa

This morning, which is technically the third day of the festival, I set my sights on Piccola Patria (Small Homeland), directed by Alessandro Rossetto. The story, of two girls – Luisa (Maria Roveran) and Renata (Roberta Da Soller) – friends yet as different as the sun and the moon, starts off with the feeling of a typical immigrant tale in modern Europe. The struggles to settle in, to hold onto the Old World culture, but also embrace the new, to create a new intimate state, it is all here, and of course, there is a boyfriend named Bilal (Vladimir Doda), Luisa’s kind and loyal beau, who complicates the dynamic, ever so slightly between the girls. Because of the modern aspects, Piccola Patria traffics in sex and kink without wandering into the seediness of porn. Sex is expression and has value as a means of commerce in this underground world that is not as criminal-minded as we, in the West, know it to be.

Before long, Rossetto has conjured a dramatic stew that fancies itself more in line with Shakespeare than the soap operas that have dried up on daytime television. Tangled webs of interconnectedness, blackmail and betrayal feature prominently as the narrative rushes towards its ambiguous climax, but because it is rooted in family and interpersonal conflict, this Small Homeland is a far more tragic place. We recognize not the global news story lost in a feeding scroll, but the intimate broken humanity of these characters and pray for some small miracle to keep them safe and whole for a little while longer. (tt stern-enzi)