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Thread: New Directors/New Films and Film Comment Selects 2011

  1. #16
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    Rebecca Zlotowski: Belle Épine (2010)

    Rebecca Zlotowski: Belle Épine (2010)


    JOHAN LIBÉREAU AND LÉA SEYDOUX IN LA BELLE ÉPINE

    Nice girl seeks leather boys

    The director Maurice Pialat has often been mentioned in connection with the dark, intense style of French girls' coming-of-age story Belle Épine by first-time director Rebecca Zlotowski. This nice Jewish girl whose mother has just died and whose father has gone to Canada to look into property issues is taking walks on the wild side from the first frames, where Prudence Friedmann (Léa Seydoux) is shown stripping with another girl who has also been caught shoplifting at a store, Marylene (Agathe Schlenker). Prudence refuses to grieve. She seems dead set on disproving her name and in the middle of the night she's dragging Marylene out to the periphery to join leather bikers risking their lives on motorcycles at Rungis in illegal races. Zlotowski's film takes us on a rambling, rapid journey full of shocks and contrasts -- a journey that, alas, rambles too much sometimes to keep us engaged in its action or even sometimes clear what's going on. The ambiance is often wonderful, and it's good to see a coming-of-age story about a girl that's so fraught with danger and risk. There are scenes whose howling music and dark desperation have an edge and energy rarely felt since Patrice Chéreau's 1983 L'Homme Blessé. But Zlotowski and her collaborating writer Gaelle Mace needed to construct a screenplay with more of a shape to it. A nice final scene in which Prudence begins to come to terms with a phantom of her mother almost saves things.

    A member of a French movie royal family, since she's the granddaughter and grandniece of the directors of Pathé and Gaumont, Seydoux is a rising star in her own right who has been seen in movies as different as Le Belle Personne, Robin Hood, Lourdes and Inglourious Basterds. Her performance here is intense and defiantly unglamorous, though hardly unsexy, since both she and Demoustier appear bare-breasted early on. She loses her virginity to Franck, a boy from the Rungis circuit whose mother runs a small hotel and whose own job involves cleaning fish. As Franck, Johan Libéreau (Cold Showers, The Witnesses) is, like Seydoux, de-prettified for his role.

    All this wild stuff is in contrast to the bourgeois Jewish life exemplified by Prudence's friend Sonia Cohen (Anais Demoustier), whose home Prudence goes to for a dinner that turns out to be a religious evening when the meaning of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are explained to her.

    Back to contrast again, Prudence invites her wild-side pals to come to the family apartment -- her dad's still away -- and trash it. Most of the scenes in the film take place at night (or indoors) and (except for Rungis, seen only as a dark place of shiny roaring motorcycles) in unspecified locations. Eventually the death of someone she knows in the illegal bike racing circuit jolts Prudence back to an awareness of her own recent loss. Moments here are compelling, and Seydoux gives a good performance, but the action doesn't come together; Bell Épine seems a bit of a waste. It's atmospheric, edgily exciting, well shot, and stars several of the poutiest, sexiest young female stars in French cinema. But when you consider Chéreau's L'Homme Blessé, and why it has far greater power, apart from the greater ease of having a young man rather than a girl take a run on the wild side for their coming-of-age, and the stunning obsessive drive of Jean-Hugues Anglade's debut performance, you have the fact that the main characters are locked into a death grip with each other. In contrast the main characters of Belle Épine rarely seem truly engaged. The film is on a search; it never finds itself. Besides an attractive cast it has great music (by Rob) and atmospheric images (by George Lechaptois) -- and a theme worthy of treatment.

    Le Belle Épine opened in Paris November 10, 2010, when it received some dissatisfied reviews ("moody and disjointed," "terribly boring"), but also some very favorable ones from good sources, like Les Inrockuptibles, which approved the film's willingness to go "beyond social realism" and "affirm the power of fantasy and of fiction" -- a valid point. They may have been welcoming qualities the film promises. The public was less favorable in its ratings. Zlowkowski, a graduate of the elite École Normale Supérieure, is only 31; she's made a promising first film and is a new director to watch. This film was reviewed earlier on Filmleaf by Howard Schumann.

    This film was part of Critics' Week at Cannes last year. Seen and reviewed as part of New Directors/New Films presented March 23-April 4, 2011 by MoMA and the Film Society of Lincoln Center.

    ND/NF sceenings:

    2011-03-24 | 6:00 PM | FSLC
    2011-03-26 | 1:00 PM | MoMA
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-18-2013 at 02:12 PM.

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    Ahmad Abdalla: Microphone (2010)

    Ahmad Abdalla: Microphone (2010)


    KHALED ABOL NAGA IN MICROPHONE

    An Alexandrian expatriate finds a mélange of new arts in bloom

    Everything Egyptian tends to look a bit different since the youth revolution of 25 January. So it is with this collective, multi-voice film from last year about the arts in contemporary Alexandria, the sunny, breezy port city north of Cairo. Anchored somewhat vaguely by the handsome, Mastroianni-lookalike Khaled (Cairo media personality Khaled Abol Naga ), an expatriate returning to his native Alexandria after seven years in the States, the film depicts a multiplicity of musical, rap, and hip hop artists and bands living under the radar in the city. Special credit is due to film editor Hisham Saqr for interweaving various threads in ways that are seamless and sometimes very telling. The storyline is too slight to make for a fully coherent film, but there is much life here, and certainly a different world from those whose idea of Egyptian arts is Yousuf Shaheen and Umm Kulsoum.

    The wryest scenes, post revolution, are those that feature a self-important government cultural official called Saleh (Khaled pointedly can never quite remember his name), who sees music groups in his office and lays down the law about what they can or can't do if they want to be included in a sanctioned show or receive state funds. In the end he takes away whatever he has offered, all the while babbling about "democracy" and "freedom of expression" -- and finally admits that the big prize is going to go not to the best singing group we hear but to an unseen woman who does covers of Umm Kulsoum songs. For a brief moment, a particularly angry rap group actually chants about revolt, as images -- pale ones, as if a fantasy -- of an actual street demonstration are shown. That was then. Even if there still won't be funds, "freedom of expression" is not an empty phrase in Egypt now. The Salehs of the country are no longer in charge of stifling Egyptian cultural innovation.

    While Khaled is looking for new music or rap groups (Masser Egbari, Mascara,and Y-crew are three that he finds), he's being filmed by a couple of lovebirds (who break up midway) pursuing a degree in film at a Jesuit college. In a parody of academic dead-ends, another film student's thesis project is simply talking into the camera, and he can't get started. One rap group's member works at a fish market where he symbolically rescues a fish that has miraculously stayed alive for hours out of water. Another rap band member is held prisoner by his family because they think he's stolen his mother's gold jewelry. He jumps off the balcony and is rescued by friends waiting with a big Egyptian festival tent to catch him. Several groups gather with sound equipment in a square and begin performing to a small audience -- but are gently nudged to move on by cops. Also omnipresent is Naseer, a long-haired young skateboarder who probably should be in school, but is another contact for Khaled for the music and graffiti underground. He and the soon to be lovelorn student filmmaker show that young Egyptian males can be as longhaired and inarticulate as any westerners. In yet another little subplot, a man is selling pirated recordings in front of a big political poster.

    On the personal side, Khaled meets with his old girlfriend Hadeer (Menna Shalabi), who while he was pining for her and planning to come home, was longing to leave, and she's now going to London to get a Ph.D. Her message is a familiar one of Egyptian films. She feels that in the liberal West everyone can live in their own world. In Egypt, she feels, there is only one world hat everybody has to live in. She finds Egypt stifling and has had enough. He had only wanted to get back together with her. He smiles with that charming sadness he has as if to say, "How could this not be enough?" Since he's back everything has changed. To begin with, his relationship with his father has deteriorated. He stays with an uncle, who seems depressed till the escaped rapper takes refuge with them and he perks up.

    The shifts from scene to scene are seamless and rhythmic, and nearly always herald a new sound and a new group, including several pop-folksingers (western style, but in Arabic), a woman's group that wants to wear masks and insists on singing in English (not acceptable to the government cultural official Saleh), an accordionist who plays in evocation of Umm Kulsoum's songs of the mid-Sixties, and more. In some ways Microphone reminds one of Fatih Akin's 2005 Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul, which is a chronicle of many styles practiced in the city, notably rock, Turkish style. But Abdallah opts out of thoroughly spotlighting and identifying individual groups and styles in favor of conveying an "underground" music scene that comes across as energetic but surreptitious, in need organization and performing venues.

    It thus becomes Khaled's aim to set up a studio or foundation for the unknown groups and performers. However when the government official withdraws any offer of either a venue or funds, Khaled moves to the idea of a sidewalk cafe. Then even that is withdrawn when (in a hint of Islamic repression) men say the street is their open-air mosque, and can't be used for music. Finally a scattering of the musicians moves down to the sea, where graffiti on the rocks symbolize underground expression -- and provide the closing credits. We have not particularly gotten anywhere. But we've moved with Khaled toward enthusiasm for a world of new more contemporary (if less distinctly Egyptian) performing arts.

    Egypt, 120 min. In Egyptian Arabic. Hisham Saqr won a well-deserved best editing prize at Dubai for this film, which was also shown at Toronto, London, and other festivals. Seen and reviewed as part of the New Directors/New Films series presented March 23-April 4, 2011 by MoMA and the Film Society of Lincoln Center, NYC.

    ND/NF screenings:
    2011-03-29 | 8:30 PM | MoMA
    2011-03-31 | 6:00 PM | FSLC




    POSTER FROM ABOL NAGA'S BLOG: "In every street of my country
    the voice of freedom is calling" (revolutionary song) -- "THE REVOLUTION OF 25 JANUARY"
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-05-2014 at 11:05 PM.

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    Paddy Considine: Tyrannosaur (2010)

    Paddy Considine: Tyrannosaur (2010)


    PETER MULLAN IN TYRANNOSAUR

    The actor Paddy Considine produces a powerful writing-directing debut

    In Tyrannosaur, the relatively young but well-established actor Paddy Considine (he's 37) directs a group of superb British thespians in a searing drama about a rageoholic widower in the town of Leeds. Basing his protagonists on unspecified but intimate experiences, and aspects of his own mother in the dead wife, Considine has written a film that's intense, brutal, and compelling. It takes us to the deep end of violence and cruelty but leads us through to a sense of redemption. A gray, grizzled, lonely, angry pub denizen widower, Joseph (Scot Peter Mullan, a scary life-force with both violent and sensitive sides) displays nothing but drinking-fueled violence in the early scenes of the film, in which he beats his own dog to death, smashes the window of a bank, and assaults three rowdy youths in a pub when we're barely past the credits. He runs into a charity shop to hide from the youths, and it's here he meets Hannah (Olivia Colman, complex and heartrending), with whom he will be involved throughout the film. Considine strains the audience's ability to stomach violence and ugliness, but hardly strains our credulity. He has made what is very close to a great film.

    When Joseph hides behind a rack of clothes in the shop, Hannah calms him and prays for him. He begins things on an honest basis with her, declaring, "My best friend's dying of cancer. I killed my dog. I'm fucked." Visits to his friend and a funeral punctuate the action and add perspective. The next day in a desperate emotional state Joseph returns to the shop again, but is abusive and nasty about Hannah's religiosity and what she later ironically calls her "cozy" life in the Manors housing estates. Now the film's point of view shifts to Hannah. We learn she too drinks whenever the bus takes her home to her suburban house. First it may seem this is to deal with the violent emotions she has absorbed from Joseph, but it soon emerges that she lives in a horribly abusive relationship with her jealous, cruel and desperately unhappy husband James (Eddie Marsan), whose return home is anything but a pleasure. There's a surprising role-reversal that gradually develops between Joseph and Hannah.

    James' behavior makes Joseph's violence seem simpler. He urinates on Hannah for falling asleep on the sofa before he gets home, and other cruelties she reveals later that prevented her from childbearing are disgusting (and some of her experiences may strain credulity). James's mood swings are scary while Joseph seems his own worst enemy but not entirely a bad man. For one thing he has one warm relationship with a kid across the street (Samuel Bottomley) who must live with his irresponsible mother (Sian Breckin) and her aggressive punk boyfriend (Paul Popplewell ) but maintains good humor and friendliness toward Joseph. There's some humor if of an insensitive kind too in Joseph's explanation to Hannah of how "Tyrannosaur" came to be his nickname for his overweight diabetic wife, but the word suggests that part of him is a prehistoric raging animal. The film's final scene offers hope for both Hannah and Joseph.

    Considine seems just to be establishing character and situation halfway through the film, but when Hannah and Joseph seem equally at risk of violence, inflicted on self or by others, events become tense and suspenseful, and desperate though the characters are, we care about them and wonder what will happen between Hannah and Joseph when she leaves James for the drunken widower as the safer bet. Semi-comical rants from Joseph's scraggly-haired drinking partner Tommy (Ned Dennehy) add flourishes, and the death of Joseph's friend and his funeral, with family and Hannah, now very battered and taking refuge with Joseph, provide a temporary pause before final revelations. Considine is as strong in the plotting as in the character areas, and his choice and directing of actors can't be faulted.

    There is intensity and bitter truth in Considine, who steers clear of the edge of wild fantasy one finds in the Irishman Martin McDonagh. His harshness verges on the crude. But considering how well all the elements are managed here, Considine has produced a very impressive debut. He knows how to grab you and hold you all the way through. If you're looking at your watch, it's just because you're terrified. Brutal and ugly this world may be, but Considine seems to know it and love it enough to show its truth and humanity. The accomplishment here is to give us lives that seem broken and hopeless and then hold our sympathy and offer a chance of a new beginning that's far from soft and easy. Erik Alexander Wilson's images, which for a welcome change are not distractingly jerky and hand-held, have a kind of limpid clarity, and there are some songs at the funeral that are almost too rich and pretty. Peter Mullan is also a director. He and Eddie Marsan figure in the dark, intense Red Riding trilogy, as does Paddy Considine. Considine is known for his beginning with Shane Meadows, and has significant Hollywood acting credits. His 2007 Bafta-winning short, Dog Altogether, presented Mullan and Colman in the same roles, differently developed.

    UK, 91 min. Tyrannosaur had its US debut at Sundance where it won acting awards for Colman and Mullan and a directing award for Considine. A Strand Films US theatrical release is scheduled for October 11, 2011. Seen and reviewed as part of the New Directors/New Films series presented from March 23 to April 4, 2011 by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and MoMA, NYC.

    ND/NF screenings:

    2011-03-30 | 6:00 PM | MoMA
    2011-03-31 | 9:00 PM | FSLC
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-05-2011 at 07:03 AM.

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    Sameh Zoabi: Man Without a Cell Phone (2010)

    Sameh Zoabi: Man Without a Cell Phone (2010)


    BASSEM LOULOU IN MAN WITHOUT A CELL PHONE

    Nowhere much to go

    Sameh Zoab's genial but low-energy feature (co-written with Fred Rice) focuses on a young Israeli Arab slacker and his disgruntled father. Zoabi adopts a rambling sitcom style as the utilitarian means of showing the hemmed-in life lived by Arabs whose town long ago became a part of Israel and who must submit to the racism, limited movement, land grabs and other quiet humiliations that go with living where they do. These are topics more wittily and artistically shown in the films of Elia Suleiman, or in the case of land grab issues, more intensely worked out in Eran Riklis' Lemon Tree. Zoabi's aim however is is to emphasize the humdrum, to keep things casual. Thus Zoabi shows the everyday quality of the frustrations on view. Deeply memorable this is not, but as a young filmmaker focused on Palestinian issues, Zoabi is one to watch.

    Dimply-cheeked charmer Jawdat (Razi Shawahdeh) is a non-starter at the university because he keeps failing the Hebrew exam. So he works making concrete with his cousin Muhammad (Louai Nofi) and chats up girls on his cell phone. His father is the film's spokesman of Israeli-Arab anger: Salem (Bassem Loulou) never stops remembering times when the land was beautiful and it was theirs. He points out that Palestinians like them with Israeli citizenship are treated like inferiors in a thousand ways. Salem's big focus now is the new cell phone tower the Israelis have set up on land adjacent to his olive groves, on land leased to them by a neighbor. Salem is convinced the tower radiation causes cancer.

    Jawdat fails the Hebrew exam again, and can't take it again till next year. A local cop hassles him for being interested in his sister. He's blocked from visiting another girl he's particularly interested in who lives on the Left Bank. His frequent calls there have been monitored and are considered suspicious. These experiences politicize him a bit, and he gets quite involved in a petition his father started to force removal of the tower.

    Don't get your hopes up. None of this goes anywhere, though it seems like maybe Jawdat may get to go to the Hebrew university and hence date the cool girl who's studying there. He also makes an excellent impression on the local Arab mayor with his ability to galvanize some of the population around a political issue. Zoabi adds another little tile to the mosaic of Arab life under Israeli domination. It its light, situational approach, this film somewhat resembles Sayed Kashua's hit Israeli sitcom about Arabs employed in Israel, Arab Work."

    The film is set in Iksal, the Palestinian village near Nazareth where Sameh Zoabi himself was born. Zoabi graduated from the University of Tel Aviv in English literature and film studies and has an MFA in film directing from Columbia. His short Be Quiet won multiple prizes. Filmmaker Magazine named him one of the top 25 new faces in independent cinema. This is his first feature. Though it has some rough spots in the writing and deficiencies in the energy level, Zoabi still could be a new director to watch for his treatment of themes of Palestinian experience.

    83 minutes. In Palestinian Arabic. Cinematography by Hichame Alaouie, editing by Simon Jacquet; music by Krishna Levy. Bidoun mobile was featured at the Doha Festival. Seen and reviewed as part of New Directors/New Films, presented from March 23 through April 4, 2011 by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and MoMA, New York.

    ND/NF screenings:
    2011-04-01 | 6:00 PM | FSLC
    2011-04-03 | 1:30 PM | MoMA
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-17-2011 at 09:08 PM.

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    Koji Fukada: Hospitalité (2010)

    Koji Fukada: Hospitalité (2010)




    With a friend like Kagawa

    The oddly-titled Hospitalité (Kantai), Koji Fukada's film set in working-class Tokyo about a sudden "acquaintance" who moves in on a little family and takes over their house and business and invades with a horde of fake relatives, is a variation on the theme treated thriller-style in Dominik Moll's 2000 With a Friend Like Harry, which starred the charmingly menacing Sergi Lopez. This time the focus is on hidden secrets that backfire and an elaborate scheme to hide illegal immigrants. Fukada's droll comedy is a triumph of the deadpan that overwhelms itself with an overdone finale and a too-simple trajectory. This is one of those process tales. The alien takeover advances, proceeds, climaxes, explodes, and vanishes, leaving us with zero enlightenment about human beings or these characters, who remain opaque. So too with the mildly thought-provoking implications about Japanese xenophobia. But there is much neatness and drollery in the plotting and the acting here, and this is promising work.

    The plot opens with a family of four who live over a little printing business. The production has dwindled to subcontracted government pension envelopes for the elderly (a boom business). There's the husband, Mikio Kobayashi (Keji Yamaguchi); his very young wife Natsuki (Kiki Sugino); his divorced sister Seiko (Kumi Hyodo); and his young daughter Eriko (Eriko Ono), not by the young wife, whom Natsuki "tutors" in English, though she has only an elementary knowledge of the language. Eriko's pet parakeet, Pea (Pi-chan), has escaped and they put up a notice on the local bulletin board. Seiko is thinking about leaving the country, but meanwhile is involved with a local committee to deal with the threat of foreigners, squatters and homeless people in the neighborhood.

    Kagawa (Kanji Furudachi) -- that's what he calls himself, anyway -- tears down the parakeet notice and goes to the house, claiming to be the son of a man who originally financed the printing business with Kobayashi. The regular employee who operates the press has just fallen ill, and Kagawa offers to fill in. He also takes up residence upstairs, saying he's just been evicted. Without explanation he brings a foreign woman, Annabelle (Bryerly Long) who he says is his Brazilian wife. She tells somebody else she's Bosnian, but she speaks unaccented English, and little Japanese. She adds the first truly ominous and weird note.

    Kagawa now proceeds to do his work, and we find out secrets as we watch. Mikio's previous wife did not die of an illness as he's told Kagawa; she left him and has remarried. Mikio runs into her while shopping, and Eriko has dinner with her -- she is, after all, Eriko's mother. Natsuki secretly meets with a seedy young guy called Honma (Naoki Sugawara) who turns out to be a relative who's getting illicit money from her. While Natsuki, Eriko, and Kagawa are out looking for the parakeet, which he pretends to have spotted earlier, Kagawa uses his binoculars to spy Mikio having sex with Annabelle. He uses this secret to force Miko to take in Natsuki's seedy relative as another assistant at the press, and he steps up production. Natsuki has an admirer, Kono (Tatsuya Kawamura), a pop singer, and she eventually has a secret with him too.

    And there is more that happens and to say it eventually quite strains credulity would be to overlook, perhaps, the intentionally surreal nature of the proceedings right from the beginning. The casualness with which details about people's lives are peeled, or reeled, off, reminds one of the plays of Ionesco. And, by the way, several of the principals here have strong theatrical experience, which may help explain good timing and pointed delivery of some key lines. Fukada is good at delivering his surprises. The only problem, but it is a serious one, is that when Kagawa's takeover goes into high gear, the event and its staging become so over-the-top that one begins to lose focus on the characters and in the end one realizes that nothing of any consequence has been revealed about anybody, really.

    The way the movie zeros in on a household and stays in its rooms suggests with deep irony how unlike Ozu or his more recent avatars all this is, though the film consciously alludes to him. These people like those of Morita's The Family Game are a send-up of the traditional Japanese family. They're mismatched, ill-sorted, and not what they seem. Kenichi Negishi's sharp HD photography underlines the apathy, the lack of affect, an extreme of Japanese good manners that is the essential motor behind Kagawa's takeover. He can move several dozen illegal, foreign, and homeless people into a little petit bourgeois household and the inhabitants will be too polite to object. But of course the organized xenophobic neighbors, led by Toshiko (Hiroko Matsuda), are not at all happy. At the end, the intruders have vanished like a bad dream or a rowdy party; everything has gone back to where, physically anyway, it was; and there's a fresh parakeet in the cage to replace Pea. It's not the same bird but, "She won't remember," Mitsuko says, meaning Eriko.

    Koji Fukada, who is 31, and who wrote, directed, and edited, is a member of Seinendan Theatre Company. This is his fourth film. It debuted at the Tokyo Film Festival in October 2010. Seen and reviewed as part of New Directors/New Films March 23-April 4, 2011, presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and MoMA, New York.

    ND/NF screenings:
    2011-04-02 | 5:15 PM | MoMA
    2011-04-03 | 1:00 PM | FSLC
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-24-2011 at 04:32 PM.

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    Vladimir Kott: Gromozeka (2011)

    Vladimir Kott: Gromozeka (2011)


    POLINA FOLONENKO AND LEINID GROMOV IN GROMOZEKA

    Three characters in search of significance

    The young Russian director Vladimir Kott has directed three excellent actors in this sophomore effort about three former school buddies dealing with midlife meltdowns. But despite the excellence of the leads and the movie's general competence Kott doesn't achieve the transcendence he seems to be striving for. If he's fumbling toward something like Krzysztof Kieślowski's Dekalog as his succession of characters facing grim life challenges suggests, Kott never quite marshals the depth of writing or the grandeur of overall conception to carry that off, and Gromozeka arouses hopes that it eventually dashes.

    In their teens this trio of men whose intertwined narratives form Gromozeka were in a band with that same name. The film is book-ended with a reunion when the three sing with drunken enthusiasm into a video camera and take a sauna together. When they ask each other, post sauna, how they are, they all blissfully, or numbly, say "fine." But that is anything but the case, as the rest of the film shows us. Thirty years after their spirited band days they are, to begin with, in different worlds. More upscale, Eduard (Nicolay Dobrynin) is a surgeon who lacks the courage to tell his grim wife (Darya Semenova), an optician (a job used symbolically) that he’s in love with a younger woman at the hospital. It’s eating away at him; or is he just sick?

    At the next level down, which is more humble in Russia, a cop or a cabbie? Well, longtime policeman Vasya (Boris Kamorzin) is about to be demoted because he hasn’t got the stuff to go out on active assignments. And his wife Larisa (Yevgeniya Dobrovolskaya) is having an affair, though he doesn’t know with whom. His son is a thug, though he doesn't really know that either. This is where two of the three plots cross over, because band alumnus number three, taxi driver Mozerov (Leonid Gromov) is so angry when he finds out his daughter (Polina Filonenko) is not a student as she claims but a porn star, he pays the mafia to disfigure her, and the cop’s son is the one sent out. The son refuses to do the job – he recognizes the daughter (lots of people do! she's in the latest Russian porn movies), and some amusing contretemps follow. When Mozerov takes things into his own hands he's almost as grimly buffoonish as one of Nabokov's cardboard villains. And Vasya, who is always posing with a pistol but unable to use one, has a truly Nabokovian moment of clumsy accidental machismo when he tries to punish his wife's lover.

    Yes, this is bleak-ish Kieślowski-style essay on life and the fate we choose for ourselves does have sparks of genuine dark humor, as well as touches of supernatural symbolism. But Kott, whose debut The Fly (ND/NF 2009) about a man in the remote provinces who discovers he has an obstreperous 26-year-old daughter, was full of promise, shows here that despite good direction, performances, and cinematography, he’s not, and probably never will be, Kieślowski. Gromozeka lacks Dekalog's profound moral vision, Kieślowski's ability to look deep into the human psyche through intensely specific moments.

    There is some energy and suspense in the first half of the movie as we watch to see if the surgeon and cop will man up and the cabbie will find something better to do than victimize his daughter, but the three narrative lines, however smoothly edited together, just dig the men deeper in dirt in the second half, and the musical bookend is merely an escape from the lack of resolution. As for the women, they are depicted as an unpleasant lot -- whores, cuckolds, or just mean and frigid. No wonder the only child in sight is a hoodlum. But should he really be the only fellow with cojones and a code?

    Shown in competition at the Rotterdam Film Festival. In Russian. 103min. Seen and reviewed as part of New Directions/New Films, presented March 23-April 4, 2011 by MoMA and the Film Society of Lincoln Center, New York.

    ND/NF screenings:
    2011-04-01 | 6:00 PM | MoMA
    2011-04-02 | 3:45 PM | FSLC
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-09-2014 at 01:34 PM.

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    Daniel and Diego Vega: Octubre (2010)

    Daniel and Diego Vega: Octubre (2010)


    CLEMENTE'S 'OFFICE' IN OCTUBRE: CLIENT'S SEAT ON THE LEFT, HIS ON THE RIGHT

    A reluctant father in a month of miracles

    In this fully realized if slow-to-charm debut, the Vega brothers take us into a world of Lima that seems initially as dark as Pablo Larraín's Seventies Buenos Aires. Their protagonist is almost as dry and inhuman as the characters played by Alfrado Castro in Larraín's successive films, Tony Manero and Post Mortem. But Octubre focuses on a month of miracles and forgiveness, a middle-aged lady who lights candles and bakes sweet pastries, and a found baby girl who is rescued and thrives. At the center of things is a ghetto money lender with a heart of granite, a hard black pompadour, and a tendency to get prostitutes pregnant. He is going to change, though unwillingly, and only a little.

    The middle-aged Clemente (Bruno Odar) has the dignity of a fading peacock, and everyone knows him as "the pawnbroker's son," even if his father is long gone. He lends money at high interest, and his office is as bleak as, and part of, his rudimentary house. He is mean, and deeply trained so, but the worst he does if a client doesn't pay on time is break a window pane. There's nothing in his life otherwise, no real friends, and when someone breaks into his house and leaves a baby in a basket he receives this event with scant enthusiasm. But he keeps the girl, holding it like a rag doll while seeing clients. This can't last, obviously.

    This is when Sofia (Gabriela Velasquez), a motherly spinster in the neighborhood, comes in. Clemente hires her to come over and take are of he baby. This is ostensibly to give Clemente time to go looking for the mother, which involves trying, with comic lack of success, to pass a forged banknote he took because "it" (the baby) distracted him, and visiting various prostitutes, and finally getting roughed up by a cabbie he's rude to. Meanwhile Sofia has moved in, and even winds up sleeping in Clemente's bed at times. She goes on baking cakes for the local deli and participating in lottery discussions and the week-long October religious procession -- the real one is filmed -- that is a feature of the month of October, the "purple" month of miracles -- in Lima. She names the baby "Milagros," miracle.

    Bruno Udar, as Clemente, anchors the piece with his deadpan puss and dry line deliveries. Eventually though the film avoids either buffoonery or excessive sweetness, it shows Clemente turning into something more of a human being. The naturalness of Gabriela Velasquez is an important element too, and all the actors read as authentic, particularly a couple of the clients and Clemente's plump, glasses-wearing favorite prostitute, who qualifies almost as a friend. A running subplot is of an old man who is finagling to get his chronically ill girlfriend out of a hospital ward into his house. We get to see, briefly, plenty of Clemente's clients.

    When I said this is slow-to-charm I meant it has not quite begun to charm me yet. For one thing Fergan Chavez-Ferrer's lighting is so dim and his cinematography is so cold (though composed with great precision) that the picture takes a long time to draw you in. The "happily ever after" consists of the fact that Clemente tries to throw Sofia out, but she stays. Ultimately his scant enthusiasm is, after all, still enthusiasm. The prayers to the Land of Miracles that are a feature of Octobers in Peru have had their effect. One French reviewer compared the protagonist to Ebenezer Scrooge, but his transformation is nothing like as dramatic as Scrooge's. It's almost invisible. He remains a character who's hard to like; but he has also failed to exhibit quite a Scrooge-like cruelty. The Vega brothers have kept their charm and sweetness tart, learning by their own admission their lessons from Kaurismäki, Jarmusch and Bresson. They've also mentioned Uruguayan director Juan Pablo Rebella's Whisky as a work they admire.

    Octubre was featured at Cannes in the Un Certain Regard series, winning the President of the Jury Prize, and got three other nominations. It has since been in many festivals internationally. It was released in Paris December 10, 2010. Reviews were moderately good, public response less warm. Cahiers du Cinéma thought the brothers adhered too strictly to a fixed notion of what's auteurist, and I felt that too. Whether the Vega brothers themselves will emerge as distinctive stylists still remains to be seen, but their work as anointed by Cannes is guaranteed a place on the festival circuit. Seen and reviewed as part of the New Directors/New Films series, presented by MoMA and Lincoln Center from March 23 through April 4, 2011.

    Octubre got a limited US theatrical release beginning May 6, 2011.

    ND/NF screenings:
    2011-04-02 | 9:00 PM | FSLC
    2011-04-03 | 4:00 PM | MoMA
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-05-2011 at 10:20 AM.

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    Deron Albright: The Destiny of Lesser Animals (2011)

    Deron Albright: The Destiny of Lesser Animals (2011)


    YAO B. NUNOO (RIGHT) IN THE DESTINY OF LESSER ANIMALS

    In quest of identity, and a fake passport

    The Destiny of Lesser Animals (Sibo ne kra, Dabo ne kra), from Ghana, by a director from Philadelphia via the Midwest, is an earnest and well-meaning but unconvincing effort about becoming reconciled to one's homeland. This debut feature follows Boniface Koomsin (Yao B. Nunoo, who wrote the screenplay), a police inspector through a meandering, talky odyssey that starts with trying to leave Ghana and ends with deciding to stay and raise a beggar girl. Boniface was barred from the US for assaulting local police around the time of the 9/11 attacks. He is convinced his future is there, and so a decade later he is planning to return by using an expensive fake passport. Unfortuantely as soon as he picks up the passport it's stolen from him. For the rest of the film he goes looking for it pretending he's lost his police pistol and is in search of that.

    When he gets to "where the money is," Accra, he runs into Chief Inspector Oscar Darko (Fred Amungi). Darko is on an armed robbery case and Boniface becomes convinced the perpetrators also nicked his fake passport. This leads the two of them to a casino hostess, Serwah Bimpong (Abena Takyi), but it's a dead end. On the way to the grave of his father, whom he often addresses in voice-over, Boniface runs across a seemingly mute Beggar Girl (Xolasie Mawuenyega) who for some reason fascinates him. Back at the casino, Boniface has a violent confrontation. An attack on an American leads Boniface and Darko back to Serwah, who fingers a drifter named Yaro.

    Eventually Boniface confesses to Darko the true nature of his search and Oscar throws him off the assault and robbery case, and later he's evicted from the force. The final scenes show Boniface seeking out the Beggar Girl, who's gone missing, and eventually finding her and taking her home, hoping to send her to school. The outcome of his rambles is that he has decided his mission is to remain in his home country and, presumably, raise some kind of family.

    Yao B. Nunoo, the writer/main actor, is handsome and soulful but his screenplay is more well-meaning than successful. We get the idea. His protagonist needs to realize that his place is in Ghana, not the USA. But this detective story turns into a feeble wild goose chase that never makes much sense. It's just a series of red herrings. After all, the investigation Boniface goes on with Chief Inspector Darko is never proven to have anything directly to do with his stolen passport. Besides that, going off his duties to run around looking for a fake passport is not a good idea in the first place. The Beggar Girl has nothing to do with any of this. It's just something for Boniface to focus on when his useless search peters out. The film is a series of one-on-one conversations. Despite some actual running by Boniface/Yao at the outset, there is little variety to the action.

    This film is the fruit of a year that director Albright spent in Ghana recently on a Fulbright research grant. Albright is an associate professor of film/media at St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia. His 2006 short film, The Legend of Black Tom, has played at festivals and won awards. He has also worked in television.

    87 min. In Fante, English, Pidgin, Twi, and Ga with English subtitles. The HDCAM cinematography is serviceable and the film provides views of the Ghanan urban landscape.

    Seen and reviewed as part of New Directors/New Films, presented March 23-April 3, 2011 by MoMA and the Film Society of Lincoln Center, New York.

    ND/NF screenings:
    2011-04-01 | 9:00 PM | MoMA
    2011-04-02 | 6:30 PM | FSLC

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    Athina Rachel Tsangari: Attenberg (2010)

    Athina Rachel Tsangari: Attenberg (2010)


    EVANGELINA RANDOU AND ARIANE LABED IN ATTENBERG

    Sex and death and primate observation

    From the producer of Dogtooth comes this hip, Nouvelle Vague-influenced and largely insufferable study of a dying man and at a Greek town on the sea and his daughter's belated and self-indulgent introduction to sex. The younger man who assists in this introduction is remarkably patient with the young woman's incessant talkiness and gaucherie; indeed the dying man, reputedly an innovative architect, is remarkably patient with his daughter as well. We should be so patient. Giorgos Lanthimos' Dogtooth, which has been much admired, was highly annoying and self-conscious like this film too, but its schtick succeeded, if you didn't look too close, anyway, because of its boldness and conceptual force. The idea of adult children so isolated from ordinary life they can be fed a whole new vocabulary and set of concepts is arresting and thought-provoking, despite its artificiality.

    But here Tsangari, as Howard Feinstein wrote recently in a roundup of the New Directors/New Films 2011 series in Filmmaker magazine, has produced an "overly studied" film, most glaringly so in its constant inserts of symmetrical travelling shots of two young women walking arm and arm up and down a crunchy stone pathway kicking their feet in the same direction. What do these sequences mean? They mean that this is semi-feminist in its outlook, perhaps. But most of all they mean this is an art film and doesn't want you to forget it.

    Attenberg is an intentionally sui generis spelling of the family name of Sir Richard Attenborough, whose intimate filming of gorillas (as dangerously up-close as Herzog's Grizzly Man) is glimpsed on the Tube, and alternates with a man and woman jumping up and down on a bed doing a passable imitation of a pair of very animated primates. A young woman also screeches like a bird while lying on a bed watching an unseen nature film, perhaps also by Attenborough. The implication is that the film examines human behavior with the detachment of an observer of animal life. This is not a claim that is justified by the film itself.

    Towards the end, the film shifts to a focus on arrangements for the architect's cremation. The process cannot legally be performed in Greece, so the family must pay to have the body sent abroad, incinerated, and then returned in an urn. A scene in which the daughter makes arrangements for all this at a posh commercial establishment is rather droll, and perhaps authentic. The final boat trip with the urn when the ashes are sifted into the sea has a certain stern beauty. Not everything in Attenberg, then, is totally annoying. Obviously Tsangari is sophisticated and confident as a filmmaker, as is her colleague Lanthiomos. The Variety review of Attenberg by Boyd van Hoeij ( written when the film debuted at Sundance this January) calls this an "impressive" sophomore effort and explains for us that its purpose is to show how "The opposing yet strongly connected forces of Freudian buddies Eros ('passionate love') and Thanatos ('death') " are "reluctantly explored" by the "femme protagonist." Yes and of course Eros and Thanatos are Greek words and this is a Greek film. The Variety review also explains to us that some of the more manic and absurd on screen antics are explained as the way "while people intimidated by or frustrated with human social constructs revert to animalistic behavior." Van Hoeij concludes that Attenberg "certainly works as a wacky, decidedly arthouse coming-of-age narrative." Wacky and decidedly arthouse it certainly is, but "works"? It "works" if its self-indulgent mannerisms appeal to you and the Eros-Thanatos themes seem to you to cohere with the arch animal-observation theme.

    The film features Ariane Labed as the daughter, Giorgos Lanthimos as the dying architect father, Vangelis Mourikis as the willing sexual initiator, and Evangelia Randou as the daughter's friend who teachers her to tongue-kiss and struts up and down the stone path with her.

    Seen and reviewed as part of the New Directors/New Films series presented March 23-April 3, 2011 by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

    ND/NF screenings:
    2011-03-31 | 6:00 PM | MoMA
    2011-04-02 | 1:00 PM | FSLC
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-24-2011 at 04:41 PM.

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    New Directors/New Films: A Roundup

    New Directors/New Films: A Roundup


    STILL FROM MARYAM KESHAVARZ'S CIRCUMSTANCE (NOT COVERED IN MY REPORTS)

    NEW DIRECTORS/NEW FILMS 2011: A ROUNDUP

    There are a few outstanding films this year, and a number of ones that show the directors have talent and should be watched. Then there are some uncertain cases. And some strong differences of opinion at screenings. I also missed some.*

    Bogdan George Apetri's OUTBOUND
    An intense, non-stop Romanian story about a young woman released from jail for one day. Its powerful ending evokes the great Italian neorealists. This is a pretty nearly flawless film, which follows the current Romanian style of focusing on a minute-to-minute saga.

    J.C. Charndar's MARGIN CALL
    A fresh, elegant look at the beginning of the Wall Street financial meltdown by a new American director, featuring Kevin Spacey and Jeremy Irons. It all happens in a dark steel-and-glass box but it's quite cinematic nonetheless.

    Denis Villeneuve's INCENDIES
    A powerful, visually rich look at a personal family heritage of Middle Eastern confict. The director is a French Canadian, whose films have four times been nominated for the Best Foreign Oscar. From a stage play but the realization is thoroughly cinematic.

    Paddy Considine's TYRANOSAUR
    A brilliant, harrowing portrait of English violence and alcoholism with all the focus on the superb acting. Peter Mullan is the star, with Olivia Colman. You may want to look away but you cannot.

    These are the standouts. They have some flaws. Margin Call could be more engaging; it's a little too dry at times. Incendies is far-fetched; its mashup of nationalities and history may seem absurd to some from the region and its surprise final revelation strains the credulity of anyone. Tyranosaur's ugliness and violence are over the top and so it can't be recommended to the faint of heart. Outbound seems best overall precisely because it doesn't have any single notable flaw.

    Notable or promising
    At another level are some movies that showed a high level of competence or promise. Dee Rees' Pariah, a young black lesbian coming-of-age story, has some beginner's flaws but is warm and colorful, one of the most enjoyable of the series. Ahmad Abdalla's Micorphone, the musical mélange about Alexandria, Egypt, is also enjoyable, if rambling. Fukada's Hospitalité is very clever; this Japanese writer-director has it all together, but his film degenerated into silliness; one hopes his brilliant films come to have a bit more warmth and depth. Anne Sewitsky's Happy, Happy is an adultery comedy (from Norway) that's quite funny but a bit too condescending toward its characters. Göran Hugo Olsson's Black Power Mixtape has a wealth of new footage about the Sixties and Seventies. It may add little that's new to our basic fund of knowledge of the period, but it may yet be new for and fresh for a younger audience. The Vega brothers from Peru, whose Octubre was shown, seem already well established on the festival circuit, with a slightly derivative dry stylishness to which they have added a tiny dab of uplift. They have a style; time will tell if it's their own.

    I was not enthusiastic about the French films. Copacabana, with Isabelle Huppert and her daughter, which I reviewed last year, seems lackluster, Huppert doing an "eccentric" shtick that ill-suits her. Mikhael Hers's Memory Lane, a generational reunion, is unfocused and slight. People differed on Rebecca Zlotowski's Belle Épine. I can grant that this dark girl's coming-of-ager shows promise and originality, not that the film makes any sense. People also differed on whether the searing Tyrannosaur can be recommended. I'd warn people about its ugliness and violence, but it's far too masterful not to be warmly endorsed.

    Arabic language films were well represented, with four if you count Incendies, which has a lot of Arabic dialogue though it's French Canadian. Besides Microphone, there was another engaging Egyptian film, Mohamed Diab's Cairo 678, and Sameh Zoabi's mild-mannered Palestinian entry, Man Without a Cell Phone. Cairo 678 was the best received, but I found Microphone enjoyable and it was a prize-winner in the Arab world.

    I will draw a veil over a few entries that were lackluster or seemed mere stylistic exercises. One can still see why they might have been included because they had previous festival champions, not totally deluded, or they fill some niche. Other films in the series didn't quite come together, but the filmmakers are worth watching.

    I missed the new Iranian director Maryam Keshavarz's Circumstance, which is highlighted as the closing night film. It depicts two young women going to parties and listening to outlawed music and beginning to "explore their true feelings for each other." Several people told me this was one of the best, so I wish I'd seen it. My world was rocked anyway a couple of times, I enjoyed myself, and I became acquainted with the work of a lot of interesting new directors and several, like Denis Villeneuve, whom I ought to have known about already.

    *ND/NF selections I did not see or did not review:
    Circumstance (Maryam Keshavarz 2010, Iran)
    El Velador (Natalia Almada 2010, USA/Mexico)
    Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure (Matthew Bate 2010, USA)
    Some Days Are Better Than Others (Matt McCormick 2010, USA)
    Summer of Goliath (Verano de Goliat Nicholás Pereda 2010, Mexico)


    .
    .
    .

    [Subway ad for the New Directors/New Films series 2011].

    A.O. Scott's introduction to the series, "Modest Methods, Big Ambitions," appeared in the NY Times today (March 23, 2011) as the series begins public screenings at MoMA and the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center.


    INDEX OF LINKS TO ALL FILMLEAF ND/NF 2011 REVIEWS:

    At Ellen's Age (Pia Marais 2010)
    Attenberg (Athina Rachel Tsangari 2010)
    Belle Épine (Rebecca Zlotowski 2010)
    Black Power Mixtape: 1967-1975, The (Göran Hugo Olsson: 2011)
    Cairo 678 (Mohamed Diab 2010)
    Curling (Denis Côté 2010)
    Destiny of Lower Animals, The (Deron Albright 2010)
    Gromozeka (Vladimir Kott 2011)
    Happy, Happy (Anne Sewitsky 2010)
    Hit So Hard (P. David Ebersole 2011)
    Hospitalité (Koji Fukada 2010)
    Incendies (Denis Villeneuve 2010)
    Majority (Seren Yüche 2010)
    Man Without a Cell Phone (Sameh Zoabi 2010)
    Margin Call (J.C. Chandor 2010)
    Memory Lane (Mikaël Hers 2010)
    Microphone (Ahmad Abdalla 2010)
    Octubre (Daniel, Diego Vega 2010)
    Outbound (Bogdan George Apetri 2010)
    Pariah (Dee Rees 2010)
    Tyrannosaur (Paddy Considine 2010)
    Winter Vacation (Hongqi LI 2010)



    ©Chris Knipp 2011
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-09-2014 at 01:35 PM.

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