NEW DIRECTORS/NEW FILMS 2012 — Recommendations

It’s that time of year again in New York City, folks. No, not the St. Patrick’s Day parade. No, not March Madness. We’re talking about the annual teaming up of the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art to co-present the latest (41st?!) installment of their celebrated New Directors/New Films series (March 21-April 1, 2012). This year, we hope to provide as much coverage as possible, and though that means including films that we certainly don’t think are perfect every step of the way, most of the below work shows enough promise for us to recommend it (they don’t call it “New Directors” for nothing). Those films that are exceptional from top to bottom and which show a degree of maturity that would fit in seamlessly on the Film Society’s varsity squad—i.e., the NYFF—will be marked with a * so that you can add them to your must-see list immediately. As we’re still playing catch-up with the program ourselves, we’ll be updating this post throughout the next week; be sure to check back daily for new additions. Enjoy!

Wednesday March 21st

Where Do We Go Now? (France/Lebanon/Italy/Egypt, Nadine Labaki, 100m) — UNSEEN BY US BUT WORD ON THE STREET IS VERY POSITIVE; IT OPENS THEATRICALLY ON MAY 11TH THROUGH SONY CLASSICS [7pm and 8pm, MoMA]

Thursday March 22nd

The Raid: Redemption (Indonesia/USA, Gareth Huw Evans, 100m) — If you’re looking for nuanced, subtle storytelling, this ND/NF entry will punch you in the f**king face! And if you’re in the mood for some cinematic adrenaline of a jaw-dropping order, this film will punch you in the f**king face! In the tradition of so many action b-movies, the story of The Raid: Redemption is simple to the point of being laid out plainly by a character in a few sentences of dialogue at the very beginning: a SWAT team is infiltrating an apartment complex that has been commandeered by an evil kingpin; their job is to get him. That’s really all there is you need to know. But that’s also beside the point. The real reason to see Evans’ film—which, quite frankly, needs a term slightly more out of control and revved up than “action” to describe it—is to witness the sheer audacity of the filmmaking on display. Days later, I’m still dizzy. (Michael Tully) [6pm, MoMA]

* Las Acacias (Argentina, Pablo Giorgelli, 85m) — Giorgelli’s debut, which won the Caméra d’Or for best first feature at Cannes last year, is a gentle, absorbing road movie about Rubén, a middle-aged Argentine truck driver (Germán de Silva) who transports Jacinta (Hebe Duarte), a young Paraguayan woman, and her infant daughter Anahi (Nayra Calle Mamani) from Asunción to Buenos Aires, where Jacinta hopes to reunite with relatives and find work. He’s a loner, long divorced, with a son he hasn’t seen in years. She’s a single mother who says that as far as she’s concerned, her daughter “doesn’t have a father.” Over the course of their journey, Rubén begins to glimpse the possibility of a new life opening up before him. The characters are shy, and not given to displays of feeling; the narrative moves at a calm, meditative pace; there are no sudden reversals or dramatic revelations, simply the gradual stirring of long-suppressed hopes and desires. Yet the film is thoroughly engaging and emotionally accessible from start to finish, a testament to Giorgelli’s quiet brilliance as a director and the faith he places in his marvelous actors. (Nelson Kim) [6pm, Walter Reade]

Goodbye (Iran, Mohammad Rasoulof, 104m) — If you didn’t know this film was directed by the person who made The White Meadows, you certainly wouldn’t guess it. Rather than making a political statement by embracing magical realism this time around, Rasoulof instead gets more matter-of-fact and blunt in his criticism of the Iranian powers-that-be, telling the story of a human rights attorney who is desperate to acquire a visa in order to leave the country. Rasoulof lights each scene with the intense darkness and extreme shadings of a noir, and though he doesn’t use a score to drive his point home, the jarring silence only heightens the atmosphere of claustrophobic tension. (MT) [8:30pm, Walter Reade]

Found Memories (Brazil, Julia Murat, 94m) — This is a small, patient movie—a short story as opposed to a novel—about a young photographer who arrives in an seemingly forgotten Brazilian town and finds shelter in the home of a stern older woman. As she adjusts to the quiet rhythms in this environment that has not been touched by industry or technology, a tender friendship blossoms, leading to a wisp of a punchline that ties everything together. (MT) [9pm, MoMA]

Friday March 23rd

Gimme The Loot (USA, Adam Leon, 81m) — UNSEEN BY US BUT WORD ON STREET IS VERY POSITIVE [6:30pm, Walter Reade]

Hemel (The Netherlands/Spain, Sacha Polak, 80m) — Chaptered out in two- and three-character scenes, many in sumptuous beds, Sacha Polak’s debut feature follows a young woman named Hemel (“Heaven,” played by Hannah Hoekstra) as she looks for sex and love, often confusing or conflating the two. Hemel’s a fiend for confrontation and addicted to frank declarations—a kind of dank inversion of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, pampered and mad, defined by men, essentially unknowable but rarely unf**kable. The trick here, which Polak and her screenwriter Helena van der Muelen mostly pull off, is to portray this woman’s independence as something both unstable and necessary. It’s only in the second half that the panic-pressures of running time force the filmmakers to lean heavily on a rather rote back story (mother, suicide, daddy, flamboyance giving way to unmistakable mental illness). Hoekstra’s performance is admirably nasty—a scene involving her father’s soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend reeks of chilly refusal. It all adds up to a prickly, well-acted character study—not much more than that, though at 80 minutes, one credible character is more than most first-timers achieve. (John Magary) [9pm, Walter Reade]

Saturday March 24th

Shorts Program #1 (misc, 84m) — Over the course of this program’s seven films and 84-minute run time, a lot of global and thematic ground is covered. While all the work is compelling in its own way, my personal faves include: Matt Lenski’s Meaning of Robots (USA), Clarissa Knoll’s Street Vendor Cinema (Brazil), Colin Elliott’s Giongo (France), and Medeni Griffiths’ Summit (UK/USA). The most ambitious entry, and not just because it’s 26 minutes long, is Caroline Deruas’ The Children of The Night, which tells the tale of a pretty young French woman’s doomed romance with a German soldier in 1944. (MT) [12:15pm, Elinor Bunim Monroe]

Goodbye (see above) [1pm, MoMA]

* Las Acacias (see above) [4pm, MoMA]

An Oversimplification of Her Beauty (USA, Terence Nance, 90m) — A fast paced iteration of young male infatuation, obsession, and yes, the oh so overused L word, Nance’s film throws the kitchen sink at the problems of modern cinema. It seems to be inventing its own cinematic language from the ground up. From claymation to direct address, it’s in here. It’s no surprise then that Mr. Nance, whose film is marching to the beat of its own drum from its sensational opening credit sequence onward, is a visual and audio artist first, a filmmaker second. The feature consists of a series of short experimental films that radically deconstruct Nance’s romantic foibles. Nance, a prototypical blipster with a wavy fro, an overwhelmingly goofy smile and the occasional bow tie, explains in an insistent voice-over that informs the visuals for much of the movie, how he came to meet and become too encumbered by infatuation with Namik Minter, who earns a “starring and inspired by” credit in this madcap, multi-format evocation of and meditation on the director’s obsessive love for her. (Brandon Harris) Read the full HTN review [4:15pm, Walter Reade]

How To Survive A Plague (USA, David France, 109m) — UNSEEN BY US BUT WORD ON STREET IS RESOUNDINGLY POSITIVE [9pm, Walter Reade]

* Neighboring Sounds (Brazil, Kleber Mendonça Filho, 124m) — Mundane and mysterious, affected and only occasionally dramatic, Brazilian Kleber Mendonça Filho’s feature debut is an invigorating, malformed statement on the low-humming anxiety of middle-class urban dwelling. Set on a prosperous block within lost-soccer-ball distance of a lower-income neighborhood, the hazy narrative cuts across a few families anchored to the ragtag private security firm they’ve just hired. Filho’s shading is somewhere between Carlos Reygadas and Fred Wiseman, with dry co-op meetings and desperate housewives butting up against expressive sound-thuds and logy tracking shots. It’s like a set of intertwined Raymond Carver stories plopped down in Recife and gutted to just their second acts. In this right-angled universe of white tiles and iron gates, the only certainty, it seems, is menace. What’s most startling is the clammy, disorienting sense of creeping inevitability, of pain, of loss, of the always-never-buried past. Filho seems to be asking: Who among us is not a trespasser? (JM) [9:15pm, MoMA]

Sunday March 25th

Shorts Program #1 (see above) [1pm, MoMA]

Found Memories (see above) [4:30pm, Walter Reade]

Hemel (see above) [5pm, MoMA]

* Neighboring Sounds (see above) [7:15pm, Walter Reade]

Monday March 26th

* 5 Broken Cameras (Palestine/Israel/France, Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi, 90m) — A personal video diary of a motion picture, Burnat and Davidi’s infuriating film collects on the ground footage shot by Burnat over the course of five years and on five different cameras (that’s because they were maimed in the line of fire). While it’s borderline impossible not to read 5 Broken Cameras as a bitter indictment of an Israeli regime that bullies its way onto Palestinian land through shady political tactics at best and criminally inhumane acts at worst, Burnat’s measured voice-over and loving footage of his growing son Gibreel prevents this from become an all-out screed. By simply presenting the ceaseless corruption and senseless murders from Burnat’s position on the ground, the filmmakers give voice to a people who are confused, frustrated, and forced to bear this maddening weight. Everyone should see this movie. (MT)

An Oversimplification of Her Beauty (see above) [MoMA, 9pm]

Tuesday March 27th

* 5 Broken Cameras (see above) [MoMA, 8:30pm]

Wednesday March 28th

* Oslo, August 31st (Norway, Joachim Trier, 96m) — Trier’s Reprise (ND/NF 2007) was surely one of the most acclaimed—make that beloved—debuts of recent years. His follow-up, made with many of the same collaborators, including co-writer Eskil Vogt, lead actor Anders Danielsen Lie, and DP Jakob Ihre, more than lives up to expectations. Anders (Lie), a literary-minded child of the middle class, has squandered most of his youth on drugs, wasted his talent, and alienated those closest to him. At 34, he emerges from rehab and heads back to his home city to see old friends and family. Everyone has moved on, if not always happily. Anders is clean and sober, but tormented by an internal darkness that sees no possibility of a bright future ahead. He wanders the streets for 24 hours seeking a reason to go on living—or, perhaps, an excuse to check out early. Though the film is all about disappointment and failure, as a work of art, it’s a triumphant success. Trier has the rare gift of creating cinematic scenes and sequences that are like perfectly achieved pop songs; certain passages in Oslo—the opening montage of city streets overlaid with voices sharing their youthful memories; Anders’s visit to a cafe, where he eavesdrops on the conversations of the strangers around him; the climactic return to his family home, rendered in a Steadicam shot lasting several minutes—are condensations of style and story and emotion that linger in your consciousness like rooms you’ve lived in and people you once loved. (NK) [8:30pm, MoMA]

Fear and Desire (USA, Stanley Kubrick, 72m) — Stanley Kubrick’s relatively short body of work—13 films all told, most available for pristine home viewing—feels, like the self-curated master-filmographies of Welles or Bresson or Tarkovsky, at once tantalizingly surmountable and frightful to fathom. The films are devoutly narrative, often funny and kinky and visceral, yet within each lies a maze of misdirecting symbols, wildly divergent performance styles, and a photographic sense of light raw enough to make even a plain medium-close-up feel semi-pornographic. So, what masterly residue is to be found in his first feature Fear and Desire, with its uncharacteristic brisk running time (72 minutes) and doubly-uncharacteristic B-budget? What traces are there of Kubrick’s lack of easy sentiment, his lucid fusion of drama and distance? Serving on Fear and Desire as director, photographer, and editor, the 24-year-old Kubrick dove headfirst and naked into themes he’d chase the rest of his life (Fear and Desire would be a fine alternate title for Eyes Wide Shut, Full Metal Jacket, A Clockwork Orange, etc.). It’s a rough piece of first-timer work, to be sure—badly looped performances scored to redundant voice-over, curiously distended set pieces, a dependence on bald theme-driven action that makes the whole project feel both obvious and unsure—but its corrosive overall scheme, like some terribly unfair game of moral chess, is pure Stanley, and the use of light and composition is uniquely expressive, unsparing. Yet to master pacing and story, not to mention theme and performance, Kubrick knew where to put the camera. His eye was already deeply, deeply scary. (JM) [6:30pm, Walter Reade]

Thursday March 29th

* Oslo, August 31st (see above) [6pm, Walter Reade]

Friday March 30th

Generation P (Russia, Victor Ginzburg, 112m) — Adapted from Victor Pelevin’s 1999 novel (published here under the title Homo Zapiens), Generation P is a cynical, high-spirited satire of capitalism and consumerism in post-Soviet Russia. During the early Yeltsin years, as foreign corporations descend en masse to peddle their products on the newly opened Russian market, a failed poet, Babylen Tatarsky (Vladimir Yepofanstsev), finds work as an advertising copywriter. Tatarsky’s lack of political and social ideals make him ideally suited to the task—sample job interview: “Do you believe in anything?” “No.” “Good.”—and his talents are soon in great demand. Before long, he moves from selling cigarettes and soft drinks to dreaming up new ways to promote religion (“A first-class Lord for first-class people”) to designing computer-generated political candidates. Not all the jokes land, and the tone sometimes wobbles, but if you’re in the mood to laugh rather than cry at the sorry state of the world, there’s some nasty, black-hearted fun to be had here. (NK) [6pm, Walter Reade]

The Ambassador (Denmark, Mads Brügger, 97m) — If you’ve seen The Red Chapel, you know what you’re getting into with a Mads Brügger picture. Brügger is what would happen if Sacha Baron Cohen decided to become a real-life investigative journalist. In The Red Chapel, his target was North Korea. Here, it’s the rampant corruption in the Central African Republic. Buying his way into the position of a Liberian diplomat, Brügger pretends to be a match factory magnate while simultaneously pursuing a career in trafficking blood diamonds. As inappropriately funny as much of the film is, things begin to get serious when Brügger’s illegitimate paperwork threatens to expose him as the sham that he is. After this film and The Red Chapel, I fear for where Brügger will go next. (MT) [9pm, MoMA]

Twilight Portrait (Russia, Angelina Nikonova, 105m) — Without being too rude or blunt about this, I’d like to make it clear that in recommending this screening, I am not recommending the film itself. I am suggesting that you purchase a ticket for the post-film Q&A, which I have a very, very, very strong hunch will be quite lively! It was absolutely baffling to me to discover, while wandering out of the theater in a bit of a furious daze, that this film was made by women?! Seriously, check it out if you have the chance, as I’d be willing to bet real live money that the Q&As for this film are going to be memorably fiery. (MT) [6pm, MoMA]

Saturday March 31st

Shorts Program #2 (misc. 96m) — In contrast to Shorts Program #1, the second shorts package at ND/NF is comprised exclusively of 20ish minute works (five in all), most of which stand firmly alongside the fest’s strongest features. I’m specifically referring to Russell Harbaugh’s Rolling on the Floor Laughing and Jonas Carpignano’s The Plain (A chjána), which are very different in style and tone but remain equally impressive achievements. The “Cassavetes” adjective gets thrown around a lot, but in the case of Rolling on the Floor Laughing, it earns it, as Harbaugh and his actors capture a similarly frenzied state of heightened realism when two men-children are forced to meet their mom’s new boyfriend. Carpignano’s film starts with stunning footage of a riot in Italy by African immigrants, and follows one character in particular as he tries to find his way to safety. If you’re looking for new directors with immense promise, this program is a great place to start. (MT) [12:30pm, MoMA]

Twilight Portrait (see above) [1pm, Walter Reade]

Fear and Desire (see above) [2pm, MoMA]

The Ambassador (see above) [3:45pm, Walter Reade]

* Porfirio (Colombia, Alejandro Landes, 106m) — The title character of Alejandro Landes’s Porfirio, based on a real person and performed by same, cannot use his legs. He lost the ability after a policeman’s stray bullet found its way to his spine. With the assistance of his son and a young woman next door, he scratches out a meager existence in a small Colombian town by selling cell phone minutes to passersby. Though faced with maddening daily indignities—getting out of bed requires a complicated system of heaves and pulls—Porfirio maintains a placid composure, calm, even inscrutable, brightened by the indulgences of the woman next door and by the promise of a hefty disability payment from the government. When the payment fails to materialize, and desperation mounts, he plans a violent act of protest. Porfirio is notable first for what it is not: it’s not a dramatic novelization, nor is it a heartwarming character restoration, nor is it a dreary parade of grievances, nor does it wallow in fetishized neglect. What activates this unique piece of experiential cinema is Landes’s intimate connection to his subject—an intimacy without pity, a kind of ironic faith—coupled to a bracing, rigorous aesthetic. The anxious moments of a man’s past, empathetically curated—a story not restaged but relived, not re-created but re-witnessed. Bathed in natural light, placed almost invariably in the center, and seen through the gentle distortions of an anamorphic lens, Porfirio gives himself to us, like some kind of wretched saint. It is, broadly speaking, a redemptive biography. (JM) [7:30pm, MoMA]

Sunday April 1st

Shorts Program #2 (see above) [12:30pm, Elinor Bunim Monroe]

Generation P (see above) [1:30pm, MoMA]

* Porfirio (see above) [3pm, Walter Reade]

CLOSING NIGHT GALA — SURPRISE SCREENING — Believe it when I say that I don’t have the slightest hint of proof that we’re talking about Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild here, but that’s what my gut is telling me it’s going to be (or maybe that’s just very wishful thinking). (MT) [7pm, Walter Reade]

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