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Thread: New Directors/New Films and Film Comment Selects 2013

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    New Directors/New Films and Film Comment Selects 2013

    Index of Filmleaf reviews of ND/NF 2013

    THE ACT OF KILLING (Joshua Oppenheimer 2012)
    ANTON’S RIGHT HERE (Lyubov Arkus 2012)
    BLUE CAPRICE (Alexandre Moors 2012)
    BURN IT UP DJASSA (Lonesome Solo 2012)
    LES COQUILLETTES (Sophie Letourneur 2012)
    THE COLOR OF THE CHAMELEON (Emil Christov 2012)
    DIE WELT (Alex Pitstra 2012)
    A HIJACKING (Tobias Lindholm2012)
    JARDS (Eryk Rocha 2012)
    JISEUL (O Muel 2012) 109min
    KÜF (Ali Aydin 2012)
    LEONES (Jazmin Lopez 2012)
    L’INTERVALLO (Leonardo Di Costanzo 2012)
    OUR NIXON (Penny Lane 2013)
    PEOPLE’S PARK (Libbie D. Cohn & J.P. Sniadecki 2012)
    RENGAINE (Rachid Djaïdani 2012)
    THE SHINE OF DAY (Tizza Covi & Rainer Frimmel 2012)
    SOLDATE JEANNETTE (Daniel Hoesl 2012)
    STORIES WE TELL (Sarah Polley 2012)
    THEY’LL COME BACK (Marcelo Lordello 2012)
    TOWER ( Kazik Radwanski 2012)
    TOWHEADS (Shannon Plumb 2013)
    UPSTREAM COLOR (Shane Carruth 2012)
    VIOLA (Matías Piñeiro 2013

    Forums comments and notifications thread for these two series is here.

    Still from A Hijacking

    __________________________________________________ _________________________

    Film Comment Selects (February 18-28, 2013) and NewDirectors/NewFilms (March 20- 31, 2013) are two important separate series put on early in the year by the Film Society of Lincoln Center, FCS a series chosen by staff members of the Film Society of Lincoln Center's in-house monthly, New Directors in collaboration with the Museum of Modern Art. I will cover the press & industry screenings of New Directors/New Films, which generally include all the selections. Of Film Comment Selects I will see only a few. That series is spread out and lately has not had a program of press screenings. In between these two every year is the FSLC-UniFrance series, Rendez-Vous with French Cinema (February 28-March 10, 2013). If I can I will provide thorough coverage of all the films of both the Rendez-Vous and New Directors, or all the new ones anyway.

    Manohla Dargis has an introduction to Film Comment Selects 2013 in the NYTimes. (Feb 18, 2013).

    From the New York Times online "Arts Beat" of 16 Jan. 2013:

    Seven Features Announced for New Directors/New Films Series

    Sarah Polley’s documentary exploration into her own family and Shane Carruth’s followup to his 2004 debut, Primer, are among the features that will be presented at this year’s New Directors/New Films series, the annual program presented by the Museum of Modern Art and the Film Society of Lincoln Center, the organizations said on Wednesday.

    Among the seven films announced so far for the program, which will run from March 20 through 31, is Stories We Tell, a nonfiction feature directed by Ms. Polley (Take This Waltz, Away From Her) that combines home movies, re-creations and interviews with family members to tell the story of her mother, Diane. The series will also present Upstream Color, a new film written and directed by Mr. Carruth, and which is described in a news release as "a love story embedded in a horrifying kidnap plot whose full import isn’t revealed until the final, poignant moments."

    The five other selections for New Directors/New Films that were announced on Wednesday are The Color of the Chameleon, a darkly comic spy film by the Bulgarian director Emil Christov; A Hijacking, a thriller by the Danish director Tobias Lindholm; Hold Back, by the French director Rachid Djaïdani, about a black Christian man who becomes engaged to marry a Muslim Arab woman; Peoples Park, by J.P. Sniadecki and Libbie Dina Cohn, which explores a Chinese public square in a single tracking shot; and Viola, in which the Argentine director Matías Piñeiro updates the story of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night in modern-day Buenos Aires.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-04-2015 at 12:19 AM.

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    film comment selects

    More detailed descriptions of the selections are found on the Filmlinc (FSLC) site here. I'll try to cover a few of these, but no press screenings are offered and the schedule overlaps with days of R-V and ND/NF screenings.

    Simon Killer
    Antonio Campos, 2012, 105 mins

    Monday, February 18. 8:15 pm
    A chilling death dance plays out in Paris between a troubled, possibly unhinged American graduate (Brady Corbet) and a French prostitute (Mati Diop).

    The We and the I
    Michel Gondry, 2012, 103 mins

    Thursday, February 28, 8:30 pm
    Michel Gondry’s delightful and wholly unexpected lo-fi experiment is a mobile kammerspiel set entirely on a crowded bus wending its way through the Bronx as it takes its high-school student passengers home on the last day of school.

    Pablo Stoll, 2012, 119 mins

    Wednesday, February 27, 4:30 pm
    A middle-aged dentist with a quietly unraveling life makes repeated and poignantly ineffectual efforts to renew his relationship with his ex-wife and adolescent daughter in this low-key and unexpected melancomédie from the co-director of Whisky.

    A Borrowed Life
    Wu Nien-jen, 1994, 167 mins

    Sunday, February 24, 2:00 pm
    A deeply-felt, epic father-and-son drama chronicling the tumultuous life and times of a provincial mining-town family in the 1950s. One of New Taiwanese Cinema’s masterpieces.

    Call Girl
    Mikael Marcimain, 2012, 140 mins[/b]
    Wednesday, February 20, 9:00 pm
    Thursday, February 21, 3:30 pm
    Based on a true story, and subject of a major controversy in Sweden last year, this inevitably semi-lurid but never exploitative drama is about the corruption of a 14-year-old girl lured into a prostitution ring catering to the political establishment in the 1970s.

    Dormant Beauty
    Marco Bellocchio, 2012, 115 mins

    Friday, February 22, 4:00 pm
    Sunday, February 24, 5:15 pm
    A compelling drama in which four interrelated characters struggle with the moral impasses and compromises of modern life. With Isabelle Huppert and Toni Servillo.
    Wednesday, February 20. 6:30 pm

    Electra Glide in Blue
    James William Guercio, 1973, 114 mins

    Saturday, February 23, 9:45 pm
    Record producer James William Guercio’s first and last film is a visually extravagant, behaviorally loopy story of an Arizona motorcycle cop named “Big” John Wintergreen (Robert Blake) who aspires to be a big-shot Los Angeles detective.

    From the Life of the Marionettes
    Ingmar Bergman. 1980. 104 mins

    Tuesday, February 19, 6:30 pm
    Bergman’s rarely-screened study investigates the underlying emotional and psychological causes that lead a middle class business executive to murder a prostitute.

    Gebo and the Shadow
    Manoel De Oliveira, 2012, 95 mins

    Monday, February 18, 6:00 pm
    Tuesday, February 19, 4:30 pm
    An impoverished civil servant faces a desperate family crisis in this nighttime kammerspiel starring Michael Lonsdale, Claudia Cardinale Jeanne Moreau and Oliveira axiom Leonor Silveira.

    Here Comes the Devil
    Adrián García Bogliano, 2012, 97 mins

    In this creepy low-fi indie, two children return to their parents after disappearing in the wilds, unharmed but not quite themselves. Once home, strange things start happening…
    Friday, February 22, 10:15 pm

    Howard Zieff: Hearts of the West + Slither
    Howard Zieff | | 199 mins
    Thursday, February 21. 6:30 pm
    Howard Zieff’s underrated 1975 comedy about the early days of Hollywood western filmmaking Hearts of the West, starring Jeff Bridges and Alan Arkin, on a double bill with his 1973 caper comedy Slither, in which James Caan demonstrates his comedic chops.

    In the Fog
    Sergei Loznitza, 2012, 128 mins

    Sunday, February 24, 7:45 pm
    Tuesday, February 26, 4:00 pm
    This quietly spellbinding and masterfully directed follow-up to My Joy is a gritty behind-enemy-lines drama in which an alleged Nazi collaborator faces execution by partisans.

    Miss Lovely
    Ashim Ahluwalia, 2012, 110 mins

    Tuesday, February 19, 9:00 pm
    Wednesday, February 20, 4:00 pm
    A delirious tale of filmmaking, love, betrayal and crime set in the sleazy demi-monde of gangster-controlled Bollywood exploitation film production.

    Soi Cheang | 2012 | 89 mins

    Saturday, February 23, 1:00 pm
    Tuesday, February 26. 6:30 pm
    In this kinetic, fuel-injected thriller, a secret high-speed-pursuit unit of the Hong Kong Police called the Stealth Riders battle with underworld getaway drivers through the city’s nocturnal maze of streets and highways.

    Nights with Theodore
    Sébastien Betbeder, 2012, 67 mins

    Friday, February 22, 6:30 pm
    Thursday, February 28. 4:45 pm
    A romantic connection blossoms between two young Parisians over the course of a succession of dreamlike nocturnal visits to the singular, beguiling Parc des Buttes-Chaumont.

    Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2012, 278 mins

    Monday, February 18, 1:00 pm
    After a four-year hiatus, Kiyoshi Kurosawa returns with this five-part, made-for-television psychological drama/murder mystery that tests viewer endurance, and truly rewards it.

    Ben Wheatley, 2012, 89 mins

    Thursday, February 28, 6:30 pm
    A country caravan tour spins horribly out of control when a very English couple embark on a romantic getaway that gradually escalates into all-out killing spree in this blackly funny new outing from rising indie star Ben Wheatley (Kill List, Down Terrace).

    Stemple Pass
    James Benning. 2012, 121 mins

    Saturday, February 23, 3:00 pm
    Images: four landscape shots containing a replica of Unabomber Ted Kaczynski’s cabin, one per season. Sound: the filmmaker’s readings from Kaczynski’s texts and diary.

    Wish You Were Here
    Kieran Darcy-Smith | 2012 | 89 mins

    Kieran Darcy-Smith’s feature debut is a calmly devastating exploration of how one misjudged moment in life has the potential to cause everything to fall to pieces.
    Saturday, February 23, 7:45 pm

    White Epilepsy
    Philippe Grandrieux | 2013 | 68 mins

    Friday, February 22, 8:30 pm
    Grandrieux pushes the limits of the visible and sheds all vestiges of narrative to enter a state of total immersion that’s at once disembodied yet deeply physical, metaphysical yet grounded in the primordial reality of the body.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-04-2015 at 12:36 AM.

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    Mon., Feb. 25, 2013: the Film Society of Lincoln Center and MoMA today announced the New Directors/New Films press & industry screening schedule.


    KUF (94m), FSLC
    TOWER (78m), FSLC
    RENGAINE (75m), FSLC
    JISEUL (108m), FSLC
    LEONES (80m)


    DIE WELT (80m), MOMA
    RP31 (5m) + TOWHEADS (86m), MOMA
    JARDS (93m), MOMA
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-04-2015 at 12:39 AM.

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    Alexander Moors: BLUE CAPRINCE (2013)


    Blue Caprice

    New angles on a killing spree

    Based on the 2002 Beltway sniper attacks (but with a tighter timeline) in which over a period of several weeks ten random victims were killed and three were wounded by a pair of snipers hidden in a Chevy Caprice (the "Blue Caprice" of the story) in Washington D.C., Alexandre Moors’s feature debut is a semi-road movie that looks at the two killers' stories prior to the event. The film follows the elder John and 17-year old Lee as they eventually prepare to carry out their acts of gun violence. Isaiah Washington and Tequan Richmond play the duo killers, the older John Allen Muhammad and the young and largely silent Lee Malvo, respectively. Abandoned by his mother for the last time on the island of Antigua, where they live, Lee is alone and hungry. He seeks out John, first seen with his three children, and is taken in by him, partly because he is barred from seeing the children again. John becomes a mentor for Lee preaching hate and teaching marksmanship in what develops into a powerful if warped father-son style relationship. Blind loyalty grows, and death becomes mundane and necessary. Alexandre Moors, who grew up in the suburbs of Paris, has chosen to focus on the relationship more than on the acts, though they indeed do come in the tense final segment of the film. Moors and his screenwriter R.F.I. Porto present the killings somewhat indirectly, focusing more on its sources than its physical trappings, though at once point we are hidden in the trunk of the Caprice with Lee as he targets people in a grocery story parking lot. More importantly we hear John's ultimately grandiose scheme to create widening mayhem, starting with random killings following no discernible pattern.

    Some viewers at Sundance were troubled that Blue Caprice makes the two killers "sympathetic." It does not make them sympathetic. It explores a little of their lives immediately before they meet and during their brief period together before their rampage. This provides a narrative structure. It doesn't provide an explanation, let alone a justification.

    We first see John, it's true, not as a murderer but a seemingly ordinary man playing nicely with his three children. Young Lee arrives similarly with initial sympathy because his mother has abandoned him. He is a lost boy. As time goes on, it also becomes clear that he's smart. In time Muhammad's inner sickness begins to show, and he begins to seem bent on turning Lee toward hate and cruelty. Moors doesn't avoid the final violence. He merely does not revel in or exploit it. It arrives after a period of growing tension. John Muhammad and Lee meet in the early scenes on the island of Antigua. Then they go together to Washington state. Introducing Malvo as his son, Muhammad falls in with old army pal Ray (Tim Blake Nelson) and his wife Jamie (Joey Lauren Adams). As time goes on Muhammad reveals the he feels deep rage over his own divorce and his separation from his children by his ex-wife. We never really know what Lee feels. When he shows a natural talent as a marksmen when shooting in the woods with military buddies Ray and John. This inspires John to use him as a shooter. We can only guess what moral confusion and desperate need on Lee's part would lead him to become an assassin to please his adopted "dad."

    Blue Caprice is notable for its crabwise entry into the world of a pair of killers. Some will feel something is missing -- a fuller explanation of the origins of these acts; a more climactic development of the acts themselves. When the time comes for the two to be caught, nothing could be more low-keyed. You have to take your satisfaction in the blind mystery of the relationship, which has a certain clarity and beauty -- and being taken into the car, even taught how to drive it, that is going to be a frightening hidden weapon terrorizing citizens.

    The film owes a lot to its excellent cast, cinematography that makes good use of constantly changing venues, and a sharp, pared-down screenplay by promising first-timer R.F.I. Porto, who was signed with UTA (United Talent Agency) at Sundance after the screening of this film. The Irish cinematographer Brian O'Carroll does some classy work with color and light. Isaiah Washington and Tequan Richmond both do outstanding work. Washington has the extraordinarily difficult task of showing John's bitterness, anger, and hatred without making him a mere villain, and Richmond does something at least equally tricky, showing motivation and emotion in a character who rarely spells out his feelings. A useful innovation of the filmmakers is to have Lee find and periodically read aloud from a military sniper manual. If Blue Caprice works, which I think it does, it's because it leaves you with memories you can't digest, and also can't get out of your mind.

    Raffi Asdourian wrote a helpful short review of the film at its Sundance debut and Ty Cooper provides another. David Rooney's Hollywood Reporter review goes into a bit more detail.

    Blue Caprice was screened for this review as part of the New Directors/New Films series presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and MoMA, New York, in which it is the opening night presentation. The film originally appeared as part of the ten-film Next series at the January 2013 Sundance Festival.

    Isiah Washington, Alexandre Moors and Tequan Richmond
    at Sundance
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-04-2015 at 12:40 AM.

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    Emperor Visits the Hell

    Old tale performs new function

    Winner of the Dragons & Tigers Award for Young Cinema at the October 2012 Vancouver Film Festival, Li’'s film Emperor Visits the Hell is a film adapting three chapters of the Ming Dynasty novel Journey to the West to a modern Chinese setting. The new film has been called one of the more promising recent works from an independent Chinese filmmaker. In it, Emperor Li Shimin is transformed into a bureaucratic boss in a big city, where the crooked Dragon King’s attempt to change the weather has backfired and led to a death sentence. Li pulls the rug out from under everyone, from the audience to those whose power has gone to their heads. Or so says the festival blurb. For me this film did not work. It's mundane sequences might make ironic sense if one knew the old stories very well, but even so, they would not make this into a good film. Yes, it has strange, dreamlike moments. But Li does not seem to know where he is going with all this, as indicated by a final drunken scene that has no relationship to "Monkey" and is just self-indulgent blather about the future of China.

    Richard Schieb, who reviewed the film at Vancouver, points out the story has been filmed frequently. These include the Japanese film Monkey Sun (1940); the Chinese animated film Princess Iron Fan (1941) based on a partial segment of the story; the Japanese film Songoku: The Road to the West/The Adventures of Sun Wu Hung (1959); the Japanese anime Alakazam the Great (1961); the Chinese animated film The Monkey King/Havoc in Heaven (1965); the popular Japanese tv series "Monkey" (1978-9); a South Korean television series called "Journey to the West" (1982); a Japanese TV series with the same title (1993); director Jeffrey Lau’s two-part Hong Kong film A Chinese Odyssey Part 1: Pandora’s Box (1994) and Part 2: Cinderella (1995) with Stephen Chow as Monkey; a Japanese anime TV series "Monkey Magic" (1998), and so on and on including another remake by Jeffrey Lau, a US-made Jackie Chan vehicle, and more.

    Sheib thinks the new story resembles Cocteau's Orphee and Black Orpeheus in turning a classic "myth" into a new form in a modern setting. Li Luo doesn't change the magical aspect of the original story, the voyage between heaven and hell including encounters with traditional gods and legends. But in order to make the setting contemporary, the director makes the emperor into a traditional calligrapher whose court is just some corporate offices, while the Dragon King is turned into a petty mobster running his operations out of a bar-cum-pool hall.

    Ghosts out wandering the grounds of a palace now look like just people out for an evening stroll. Li Luo has created something quite unlike all the earlier adaptations of the traditional stories, turning toward the everyday and mundance, with a special difference. He brings out an innate humor in the material, by presenting it in a very toned down manner.

    Li presents a world dominated by small-tim gangsters, corporate stiffs, and petty bureaucrats -- a satirical version of contemporary China. Or just a realistic one? But in the context of the ancient stories, these characters merely seem like odd stand-ins.

    When the character representing the monk Xuanzang/Tripitaka (the hero of "The Journey to the West") arrives toward the film's end, he must get an exit visa to leave China. The film's finale is self-referential, a filming of the wrap part of the film itself. The actor playing the emperor, presumably now just being himself, drunkenly begins to complain about how hard it is to get funding for the arts in contemporary China. And so forth.

    Emperor Visits the Hell was screened for this review as part of New Directors/New Films at Lincoln Center, March 2013.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-04-2015 at 12:40 AM.

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    Emil Christov: THE COLOR OF THE CHAMELEON (2012)


    Ruscen Vidinliev in The Color of the Chameleon

    The crazy scheming of a nonentity in the almost-post-communist world

    Blurb: "Batko Stamenov (Ruscen Vidinliev) is the ideal secret agent. Orphaned at an early age, he was adopted by his aunt, who later confessed to having been his real mother. But when she passes away and the doctor informs Batko that she died a virgin, it becomes clear to him that lying is a family trait. So when he’s approached by a member of the secret police who wants to recruit him as a spy, he’s more than happy to oblige. For his first mission, he is assigned to infiltrate the so-called "Club for New Thinking." This subversive student group meets to discuss a pseudo-philosophical novel called Zincograph, which tells the story of a raving lunatic who works at the Royal Zincography by day, and by night creates an ever-expanding — and wholly fictional — web of spies and saboteurs that bamboozles the country’s actual secret police." I might add that Batko winds up doing much the same himself, learning zinc litho printing, and reporting on the book club's members to his security boss.

    Christov's Color of the Chameleon/Tsvetat na hameleona is a deliberately surreal -- and elaborately droll -- depiction of the simultaneous breakdown and perpetuation of the practices of the communist security and espionage bureaucracies after the fall of the Soviet empire focusing on the odd career of one ostensibly vacuous and unimportant man, albeit one with a zest for life and his semi-imaginary espionage roles -- who attempts to seize significance, as it were, from the jaws of nonentity. All this is in a scenario adapted by Vladislav Todorov from his own 2010 novel Zincograph, centers on young misfit/perfect fit Batko Stamenov (Ruscen Vidinliev a generally appealing tongue-in-cheek protagonist). This is an elaborate, ingenious, and beautiful film, something of which Bulgaria, which hasn't dominated the international film festival circuit of late, may be justly proud -- or might be, if it did not all seem so trivial, somehow. That is perhaps the fault of Comrade Todorov. It all seems like a droll game to him. And one does see its absurdity. But then one remembers Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's devastating study of the secret police in East Germany The Lives of Others, also just a few years before the fall of communism, and one realizes that this stuff was pretty serious and pretty awful, and Christov's and Todorov's farce seems a tad insensitive. And some of the archness seems heavy-handed from the outset: how funny can you find the protagonist's excessive masturbation, or the State's theory that it can lead to epilepsy? Still, there is fun to be had, and this is an awfully good-looking film much of the way.

    Unfolding in the years just before and just after the fall of Communism, this black comedy about an irrelevant but enthusiastic secret police informant "goes down a rabbit hole into a realm of twisted absurdity," says a festival blurb -- a description that could easily be the opening of a damning review. Another blurb enticingly, if over-enthusiastically, suggests Christov has made "a black, absurdist riff on the dank literary labyrinths of Kafka, Le Carré and Don DeLillo, by way of the cinematic influence of David Lynch and Bernardo Bertolucci." Well, now. Actually Le Carré is mentioned in the dialogue, but not those other guys. And the thing is, Le Carré has had some interesting things to say about the post Berlin Wall world. If Todorov is trying to make his way from Le Carré to DiLilllo by way of Kafka, that may be his problem. But all this makes more sense than some viewers seem to have thought, even though the basic idea is a little too easy: that cold war paranoia was so absurd, after the time passed it made just as much sense to invent new security games of nothing. Hence when Batko Stamenov is fired by his state security boss for his irrelevant and self-indulgent reports, he invents his own agency of "SEX" and hires young intellectuals he knows from the book club, whose rituals mimicking his rituals with them from those of his own former boss.

    By this point and indeed long before -- Todorov could have done a good deal more paring down of his novel's elaborate details -- things are becoming an intricate network of absurdist filigrees, creating an effect that some viewers find wonderfully hip, while others see it as increasingly devoid of sense. In either case, Bulgaria is back with its first film at at New Directors/New Films in New York, it's reported, in thirty-five years. Reviews by from Toronto came from David Nosair, who loathed this film (and seems not to have understood it), and James McNally, who found a number of things to admire, but not all. An online review by Joe Bendel provides some insights too. Add one to the cinematic chronicles of communist nuttiness.

    The Cholor of the Chameleon, (2012) 114mins., was shown at various festivals, including Toronto. It was screened for this review at the New Directors/New Films series, a joint presentation of FSLC and MoMA, New York, March 2013.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-04-2015 at 12:41 AM.

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    Ali Aydin: KÜF (2012)

    ALI AYDIN: KÜF (2012)


    Walking the railroad tracks in Anatolia

    In this Turkish-German production, the protagonist Basri, played by the compellingly opaque Ercan Kesal, is a withdrawn 55-year-old widower nearing retirement from a job with the railroad, minutely checking the condition of rural tracks in lengthy daily walks among the low-rolling Anatolian hills. So he spends his days in the outback looking for cracks on the line. But 18 years since hthe disappearance of his son Seyfi, he still writes twice-monthly letters to the government appealing for information about his son. He is so unpolitical he tells the local police chief he's never voted. But Seyfi was an activist and is likely to have been snuffed out during protests of the Nineties. Protests of mothers took place, Aydin has noted in interviews, and his making this film was primarily a matter of "conscience." An new adversary for Basri, with whom he has a memorably long scene at the station, is police inspector Murat (Muhammet Uzuner). It is evident that over the years Basri's unwillingness to be silent has caused him to be repeatedly tortured in the cellar of the local police headquarters. Küf is a very slow burner, but it builds its story with compelling elegance and conviction.

    A third man in the series of character studies is the confrontational, anti-social Cemil (Tansu Biçer), who also works for the railroad, repairing tracks, apparently, and pointlessly provocative to Basri, gradually emerging as central when it seems he ought to be only peripheral. Aydin seeks to create a growing wave of tension with his story and move it toward an emotional finale. However reviewing it at Venice, where Nammi Moretti's Sacher company picked it up before screening, Hollywood Reporter writer Neil Young, perhaps tired out by too much Bela Tarr and Nuri Bilge Ceylan, called Küf "a textbook example of how international art-cinema has somehow come to equate slowness with profundity," describing 31-year-old writer-director Aydin's film as a "patience-taxer" and "static, by-the-numbers debut feature." If Aydin was thinking to compete with Ceylan's (to my mind itself "patience-taxing," but obviously impressive and universally admired) Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, Young suggests, he has another think coming.

    Well, Neil Young was mistaken. In fact I found the cleanness and simplicity of Küf (the title means "Mold" in Turkish) more appealing than Ceylan's rambling storytelling in Once Upon a Time in Anatolia. Ceylan's meandering seems self-indulgent. While Aydin certainly does owe a lot for his slow-moving, minimalist style to various other contemporary filmmakers, including Ceylan and the Romanians, every minute of his film seems painfully earned and authentic. His story is about waiting, and aloneness. So we have to feel Basri's aloneness, and we have to wait. The visual images are splendid, and the violence provided by the scenes with Cemil liven things up considerably. Ali Aydin has produced a handsomely crafted, deeply-thought and -felt film. Essential to the package is the luminous cinematography of Murat Tuncel and the editing by yhan Ergursel and Ahmet Boyacioglu.

    Küf (2012) 94 mins., a Turkish-German production, debuted at Venice 2012, where it received the Lion of the Future Award. Screened for this review as part of the jointly-run series of the Film Society of Lincoln Center and MoMA, New york, New Directors/New Films, this year running from
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-04-2015 at 12:41 AM.

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    Kazik Radwanski: TOWER (2012)



    Not so young any more

    For his (ultra-short) feature debut set in suburban Toronto Kazik Radwanski trains his camera on a character lacking much center or direction, perhaps even much identity, considering he's thirty-four. Still living at home with his parents, Derek (Derek Bogart) struggles to make a small animation about a green creature building rock towers. He proves unskilled at maintaining friendships or romantic involvements, until he encounters Nicole (Nicole Fairbaim), who offers a glint of promise, but that's quite temporary. Derek does part-time construciton work for his uncle, but seems more preoccupied with his slow attempt to create his Shrek-like digital animation on the home computer, though there is no sign he's really worked much on it. On weekends Derek goes out to local nightclubs to drink and dance and trawl for dates. One success, Nicole (Fairbairn), which only makes him more awkward and uncomfortable, is only temporary. Radwanski's film, like its protagonist, doesn't really amount to much. Not only do its vérité methods lead to little enlightenment or structure; the character of Derek himself seems somehow unconvincing, as if Derek Bogart were not good enough an actor (if he is even acting) to make his character's nerdiness and inadequacy convincing. Underneath, Derk Bogart just seems like a pretty average, cheerful, goodnatured young Canadian guy. It is hard to find a movie here.

    The conception of the character and various plot elements are very reminiscent of Todd Solondz's 2012 feature Dark Horse, and the age and social and psychological underdevelopment of the man living with his parents are similar (except that Solondz's character is New Jersey and Jewish and Derek is Toronto). The occupations, such as they are, are a bit different. Derek resembles Solondz's Abe (Jordan Gelber) in being obnoxious and egocentric, despite his lack of accomplishment. However every aspect of Abe's story is developed more fully and interestingly than Derek's. Some fans of Radwanski's film feel it shows great control and precision in its portrait, but the action doesn't develop Derek, only shows him speaking in a series of vignettes, in which the camera is annoyingly close up on Derek so that there is no visual context. Dark Horse picks up a wealth of meaning through its relationship with Doldondz's oeuvre and his skill as an auteur which Tower at this stage lacks. This may best be considered a long short that may lead eventually to a more complete and accomplished feature.

    Some viewers seem capable of reading a great deal into Tower. Here's an excerpt from a more positive, if not particularly convincing, description from the TIFF by Fernanco F. Croce: “'Just sort of fading in and out here,' he murmurs under the sheets as his not-quite-girlfriend stares at him. Often framing a stubbly, balding face against a galaxy of out-of-focus abstractions, Radwanski’s camera reveals an ability to lose itself in visceral action—a dip into a bathtub filled with ice cubes, a late-night rush of head-banging beats and popcorn—even as its gaze remains as vacant as the protagonist’s. Part deadpan theater of evasion and confrontation, part acrid retort to mumblecore celebrations of the arrested man-child, it’s a sustained accumulation of anxiety that’s capped by an intriguing anticlimax involving a hissing, scavenging raccoon."

    "Intriguing anticlimax" certainly puts a positive spin on it. Concluding the film with the capture of a raccoon is about is feeble a device as can be imagined. Maybe Radwanski is the real Derek. This sub-mumblecore effort hardly deserves your attention.

    Tower, 78 mins., debuted at Locarno, and was also at Toronto and several other festivals. It was screened for this review at the FSLC-MoMA series, New Directors/New Films, March 2013.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-04-2015 at 12:42 AM.

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    Tobias Lindholm: A HIJACKING (2012)



    Negotiations with modern pirates

    Danish director Tobias Lindholm (who has worked with Thomas Vinterberg on a lot of writing, including the admired 2012 Mads Mikkelsen film The Hunt and penned the "Borgen" TV series) gives us in Hijacking an intense process-story based on a real events -- several recent hijackings of Danish ships by Somali pirates. About to head home, the Danish cargo ship MV Rozen is seized in the Indian Ocean. But in the film, the actual moment of the hyjacking is bypassed. Instead the film begins by establishing ship's cook Mikkel Hartmann (Pilou Asbæk) as a warm and human guy with wife and young daughter back home by showing him call them from the ship. Then the story skips ahead to when the hijacking has actually happened. It divides its focus between the Rozen and the shipping line's Copenhagen head-office. Originally Lindholm thought of depicting everything from shipboard. But in an interview he recounts how his mother was a classic socialist and so he decided it would give him some sort of extra maverick son pleasure to look at things also particularly from the capitalists' point of view. We get plent of long looks at the raw, ragged, scary events on board as well. The result is a peculiar kind of procedural that balances the naturalistic with the traditionally suspenseful, bosses with the grunts. Lindholm and his fine cast have produced a very authentic-feeling story and a fine feature, his second, his first working solo (his debut was the 2010 prison drama R, co-directed and co-written with Michael Noer).

    Ignoring the advice of hired hijacking expert Connor Julian (played by actual corporate security officer Gary Skjoldmose Porter), the company's CEO, Peter C. Ludvigsen (Søren Malling), makes the decision not to use a professional negotiator but do his own dealing by phone -- and occasionally by FAX -- with the hostage-takers, represented by Omar (Abdihakin Asgar), a multilingual translator/middleman hired by the pirates, who seem to speak no English, certainly no Danish. It is the cool but arrogant Omar with whom Peter, in consultation with Connor Julian, must constantly deal, carrying out a traditional bargaining process that starts at $21 million requested by the hijackers and $210,000 offered by the company. As the Somalis slowly go down and the CEO slowly goes up, the days turn into weeks and then months, Mikkel and his shipmates aboard the Rozen must endure rapidly deteriorating conditions and increasingly harrowing psychological pressures. The film provides a growing sense of the dangerous responsibility Peter has taken on himself (there are other partners who pressure him) as well as the suffering of the family members at home.

    Hollywood Reporter's Neil Young called A Hijacking "One of the more unheralded standouts at this year's Venice," and it has qualities of mainstream appeal, even if its being Danish and conveying most of its excitement through talk (negotiation) rather than action (armed encounter) make it partly a hard sell internationally. There are some choices that are limitations. The film provides good authentic feel in the shipboard and boardroom scenes, but does not expand secondary characters in depth, showing the ordeal primarily through Peter and Mikkel.

    A Hijacking/Kapringen debuted in Venice's "Orizzonti" sidebar and continued at Toronto and other international festivals, opening in Denmark Sept. 20, 2012. It has UK, France, and several other country openings in summer 2013. It was screened for this review at the FSLC/MoMA March 2013 series New Directors/New Films in New York. A Magnolia Films release in the US.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-04-2015 at 12:42 AM.

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    Lonesome Solo: BURN IT UP DJASSA (2012)


    African urban tragedy

    Created with minimal means by a collective in Abijan, Ivory Coast, Lonesome Solo's film tells a schematically tragic story concerning a family divided by poverty. The dialogue is the local urban street slang of Nouchi, with a lot of French. It was all shot in eleven days with a lot of improvisation in the ghetto (or "djassa") of Wassakara where it all takes place. In the story, the mother took Tony Abdoul Karim Konate) and Ange (Adélaïde Ouattara) out of school so their brother Mike (Mammadou Diamandé) could go to school, and Mike has become a relative success, serving as a police officer, while Tony, also known as Dabagaou. Mike has gotten Ange a job working at a hairdressing salon, but she doesn't like it. Recently she has begun working secretly at night as a prostitute. As for Tony, he has been scraping by as a walking cigarette salesman on the high life pathway called Princess Street. With a jaunty step, he takes a naive pleasure in entering the gangsterish world. But he gets involved in card games in the street and loses his money and his cigarettes. Later in a public place where he hears Ange accused of theft by what turns out to be one of her johns, Tony gets into a knife fight. When Mike is called in later to investigate, he makes a horrible discovery.

    The action is periodically interrupted by a narrator (Mohammad Bamba) who recounts events before they are enacted on screed, giving the narrative the feel of traditional village storytelling. There are also some lively moments of urban African popular music.

    Burn It Up is direct, vibrant filmmaking. The acting is sincere and the story is intense but both are quite lacking in nuance. It is fortunate that this film could be made under what are obviously difficult conditions, and it may breathe life into the film industry of a country where it is said cinemas have been closed and turned into churches. Cinematography is unsubtle but decent. The title, Le djassa a pris feu, reminded me a little of Jean-François Richet's 1997 sophomore feature's title, Ma 6-T va crack-er ("My Project's Going to Blow Up").

    Burn It Up Djassa/Le djassa a pris feu, 70 mins., was screened for this review as part of the Film Society of Lincoln Center-MoMA series New Directors/New Films, March 2013. It is also going to be included in the New York African Film Festival, also presented by the FSLC, April 3-9, 2013.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-04-2015 at 12:44 AM.

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    Rachid Djaïdani: RENGAINE (2012)



    Witty, inventive Parisian guerrilla ghetto movie

    In the first scene of Rengaine ("Refrain"), a Parisian ghetto Romeo and Juliet story, black Christian struggling actor Dorcy (Stéphane Soo Mongo) and his girlfriend of one year, the Arab Muslim girl Sabrina (Sabrina Hamida), decide to get married. Sabrina's eldest brother Slimane (Slimane Dazi) learning of this promptly begins contacting the 39 “brothers” in their extended clan to prevent this taboo union. Just what the "39 brothers" means isn't specified; partly, it's a joke mocking tight all-male clans. And that turns out to be even more tongue-in-cheek when a missing older eldest brother turns up, who is gay. Eventually it turns out that Slimane himself secretly dates a Jewish singer called Nina (Nina Morato). Shot largely in the streets and somewhat on the run, this film is a rapid-fire series of very short vignettes, many of which are meant to surprise and amuse. Rengaine is a celebration of the multicultural life of Paris's less posh neighborhoods and a mockery of old-fashioned ideas from traditional cultures lingering on in modern urban settings, specifically, the City of Light. What it lacks in polish the film makes up in inventiveness and promise.

    "This film," says a festival blurb, "is part love letter to the irresistible energy of Paris, part call for interracial tolerance." Said to have been a nine-year project and bearing a French completion date of 2010, as its Allociné page will show (it got a very high press rating of 4.0). Rengaine, which means "Refrain" but whose English title is Hold Back, is rapid-fire guerrilla filmmaking that plays with ideas and situations in an inventive way that brings to remind a similar recent product, Djinn Carrémard's Donoma (ND/NF 2012). These films are remembered for certain moments and for their energy, and their value will come in how much they manage, if they do, to penetrate into and fertilize French mainstream filmmaking.

    In the case of Rengaine, the love story of Sabrina and Dorcy seems almost an afterthought at first. Many other scenes intervene, usually of Slimane meeting with a panoply of different "brothers," but also of Dorcy's uneven attempts to be an actor and at one point a singer, before enough scenes of the loving couple appear on screen to develop their relationship a bit. The notable thing about them is that they are neither young nor particularly pretty. Dorcy is mellow and a bit goofy. His motivation as an actor seems uncertain, though towards the end, in a deliberately deceptive sequence, he seems to be giving his all. Sabrina is a thoroughly modern lady, very firm in the lack of any need to justify her ecumenical affections to family members. But when Slimane expresses this notion to his Jewish girlfriend Nina to explain his unwillingness to introduce her to his mother or father or any other kin, the statements ring completely false. Of such ironies is the ingenious patchwork of Rengaine composed.

    Djaïdani partly uses the forty brothers idea to present a kaleidoscopic society of Arab men, not a single one of whom is old or bearded but who seem all other ages and all occupations. He doesn't actually photograph them with their occupational accoutrements, but one is reminded of August Sander's portraits. The undertone is to say that there can be no unanimity here, but that Slimane's conservative closed-mindedness to Sabrina's marrying "out" will no longer wash with the majority of them, not in Paris.

    If this was made with "no money" as is reported that explains the fact that the cameras used are rudimentary, but the one negative element is that the images are very rough and jerky, absurdly so at times. It's out of keeping with the sophistication of the concept and the richness of the scenes otherwise.

    The 38-year-old Rachid Djaïdani has a lively provenance. Of Mixed Algerian and Sudanese descent, he began as a production assistant on Matthieu Kassovitz's groundbreaking Hate in 1995, then became famous as writer of a 1999 banlieue-set novel, Boumkoeur, which became a bestseller (he now has three novels published by Éditions Seuil). He then was a TV and stage actor and for five years a member of Peter Brooks international touring company. On top of all that he's been a champion boxer. He previously made a 55-minute documentary called Sur Ma Ligne (2006).

    Rengaine (sometimes called Hold Back in English) debuted at Cannes in 2012 as part of Directors' Fortnight. It won the FIPRESCI Prize there, and later the French César for Best First Film. It has showed at a series of other festivals, opening in Paris cinemas November 14 to very favorable reviews, as mentioned above. Screened for this review as a part of the Film Society of Lincoln Center's and MoMA's New Directors/New Films series in March 2013.


    A French article on the filmmaker by Ollivier Pourriol, "Rachid Djaïdani : la révélation cannoise," appeared in Marianne.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-04-2015 at 12:47 AM.

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    Tizza Covi, Rainer Frimmel: THE SHINE OF DAY (2012)


    Two contrasting characters in search of a plot

    Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel are now becoming known in the film festival world for their semi-fictional, semi-documentary films focused on circus performers. I saw their 2010 debut feature La Pivellina ("Little Girl," ND/NF, also SFIFF), though it seemed too desultory an effort for me to write about. This new one has more warmth and momentum, though exactly what the point of it all is seems harder to say. The focus is on two relatives, a famous and highly active stage actor (wiry, hyper 39-year-old Philipp Hochmair) , and his uncle (bewhiskered, mellow 62-year-old Walter Saabel), a vagabond carnival performer, especially with performing bears, who turns up unexpectedly and latches onto his nephew for a while, first in Hamburg and then in Vienna. We get a chance to compare the two men's lifestyles and world views, and the uncle comes to play a helpful role both to the actor and his harried Moldavian neighbor. Then events drift off, with a the success of a major project left dangling. But along the way the interactions of the two men, if making for as desultory a story as the of La Pivellina, provide engaging duo personality studies. The two men are playing ore or less themselves, except that they are not really related, and the specific events of the film are invented for the film.

    It's an intentional part of the way he is depicted, or depicts himself, that Philipp is almost never "himself," if he even has a self -- a point dramatized by having him made up in character as a bald man when Walter first finds him. Philipp freely admits he revels in acting as if it were a compulsion and an addiction, as well as a way of releasing his "rage," which he points out Walter admits he has a store of he'd like to release. Outdoors, indoors, for children, for adults, and in various cities Philipp rushes around, playing everything from Mephisto to Woyzeck to a children's fairy tale, with little time for friendship and just the occasional liaison. Walter, who was once married (and says that's "a beautiful experience of life") was a performer in Italy, especially throwing daggers and dancing and wrestling with bears, but he is as laid back as Philipp is driven, living from day to day, missing the first rehearsal Philipp invites him to because he gets involved drinking and having fun in a bar.

    Philipp is sometimes taxed with having to learn many challenging new parts rapidly; in this, Walter, who has turned up after Philip shifts back to his home town, turns out to be helpful as a prompter or corrector. Meanwhile Victor, Philipp's Moldavian neighbor, a non-citizen carpenter, has been left with the care of his little boy and girl since his wife went back to see her mother and was barred from returning to Germany, so Walter steps in and begins babysitting for the kids nearly full-time. Obviously Walter is cast as the good guy, and Philipp as the workaholic, though the two men have an affinity as artists that is contrasted with Philipp's unseen father, a businessman later revealed to be only Walter's half-brother, not his brother -- as if this were an afterthought of the writers, when it became clear how different Walter was from the other man. On the other hand because he is so driven and competitive, Phlipp can be seen as the artistic offspring of an executive.

    There's time for some mockery of Philipp's pretensions when he's given a sculptor's larger-than-life portrait in the form of a wall plaque that will go up in a main theater of Hamburg, and Walter, unimpressed, uses it for knife-throwing practice. The two men clash more than once, but they also cooperate, Walter seeming to serve as a more simpatico second father for the younger man.

    Unfortunately though there is more energy and momentum and a neater central contrast here than in La Pivellina, many scenes have no other purpose than to round out the two contrasting personalities and it seems odd, yet perhaps somehow typical of Covi and Frimmel, that when Walter is embarking on a trip to clandestinely retrieve Victor's wife from Moldavia, the film abruptly ends. It is never clear all along the way where any of this is headed, and as soon as the film finds a goal, it stops. Defenders of the fiction-nonfiction blend Covi and Frimmel represent might insist the aim is to capture life, where all is a muddle. But muddles have a way of making for pretty ho-hum films, which is a pity in view of how lifelike and appealing Walter's and Philipp's are at playing themselves.

    Der Glanz des Tages , 90 mins., debuted at Locarno, where Walter Saabel got the Best Actor award and the directing duo were nominated for the Golden Leopard for Best Director. It was shown at several other festivals, and was screened for this review as part of the FSLC-MoMA joint series New Directors/New Films in New York in March 2013.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-04-2015 at 12:50 AM.

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    Joshua Oppenheimer: THE ACT OF KILLING (2912)



    Revisiting mass murder in Indonesia as kitsch pageant and therapy

    The US-born and London-educated Joshua Oppenheimer reveals exceptional rapport with his grizzly subjects, the perpetrators of Indonesian mass murders of communists in the mid-Sixties, in his complicatedly self-referential documentary, The Act of Killing. Culminating a seven-year documentary process, Oppenheimer, who is fluent in Indonesian language, chose to focus on the killers rather than their victims he'd begun by studying, and to draw them into a more revealing place by cooking up a movie about the events for them to both consult on and act in. The creepy experience of watching the mostly unrepentant (and unpunished) gangster death squad bosses ham it up relishing and feebly repenting their youthful exploits as government killers is stunning, but would be more effective if the film were better organized and not so long and repetitive. It's not necessary to be told a dozen times, for instance, that the Indonesian word for "gangster" comes from the phrase "free men"; and seeing mass killer Anwar Congo, essentially the "star" of the show, almost repent three times is not more effective than seeing him do it once, and begins to convince one that he's just playing the role Oppenheimer has set him up for. One also begins to wonder if the horrendous bad taste that pervades most of the scenes is just Indonesian cinema, or owes something to the filmmaker's own lack of distance from the material.

    Who is Anwar? When Sukarno was overthrown by Suharto following the tragic 30 September Movement in 1965, Anwar and his friends were promoted from small-time gangsters who sold movie theatre tickets on the black market to death squad leaders. They helped the army kill more than one million alleged communists, ethnic Chinese, and intellectuals in less than a year. As the executioner for the most notorious death squad in his city, Anwar himself killed by his own admission on screen as many as a thousand victims with his own hands. The right wing paramilitary group, Pancasila Youth, that grew out of Anwar's massacre, is prominent today and has government ministers involved in it: the vice president is shown giving a speech touting it and its violence against communists. So here is another appalling thing: the massacres of 1965 are still okay with the Indonesian government and general public. A TV show featuring Answar and his new movie shows this.

    The film oscillates between horror and gruesome comedy, especially when it becomes clear Anwar and his cohorts, who apparently started out scalping movie tickets and resented the communists for (Taliban-like?) closing cinemas, are obviously more interested in how sharp they used to look or look now in costume (with prosthetic teeth, died hair, rakish hats) than how culpable they were -- though there's much emphasis on piano-wire garroting, adopted as a "cleaner" (less bloody) way to kill their victims. Some weird connection between the "gangster" identification with "free men" leads to an even weirder and more kitsch outdoor pageant with pretty girls in pink costumes performing the song "Born Free." What a finale! But what does it mean? It all boils down to Anwar Congo's reminiscences. But the restaging of a village massacre, witnessed approvingly by a current government official, is so intense it leaves an old lady stunned, children in tears, and Anwar himself emotionally exhausted. He seems also to identify with his victims to life-changing effect when he plays a scene in which he is the communist interrogated and then killed. It feels as though even in the more honed-down theatrical version of his film, Oppenheimer provides too much undigested and indigestible material for most audiences, though certainly as a record of man's inhumanity and moral blindness, this just about takes the cake.

    A key question is whether the official interpretation of Oppenheimer's story arc is valid. Is the fimmaking pocess truly an unexpected emotional journey for Anwar, from arrogance to regret as he begins to act out and thus more directly face the impact of what he did? Or is that just something he puts on as part of the film-within-the-film?

    In any case, Oppenheimer has produced a remarkable, if both undigested and indigestible piece of work. Most of it was shot in Medan, North Sumatera, Indonesia between 2005 and 2011. The result was powerful enough to bring Werner Herzog and Errol Morris on board as executive producers after they'd seen preview footage.

    The Act of Killing , 115 mins., debuted at Telluride August 2012 and has been shown at other festivals including the Berlinale. Screened for this review at the FSLC/MoMA series New Directors/New Films, March 2013. Both the theatrical version and the 158-minute director’s cut of the film will be screened at ND/NF, but only the theatrical version was watched for this review. Also included in the June 2013 Lincoln Center Human Rights Watch Festival. A Drafthouse Films release coming to cinemas in NYC 19 Juoly 2013.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-04-2015 at 12:51 AM.

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    Daniel Hoesl: SOLDATE JEANNETTE (2012)


    Paring down and running off

    The young Austrian director Daniel Hoesl's debut feature Soldate Jeannette (or "Soldier Jane") has a lot going for it, though, alas, not quite enough, due mainly to shortcomings in the scenario department. One can't quarrel with the austere, elegant look throughout, the witty conceptual coolness, the nice use of wide aspect ratio by cinematographer Gerald Kerkletz, the cool urban interiors in the earlier sections, and then, when Fanni (Johanna Orsini-Rosenberg) runs away from her posh life, the soft images of a farm up in the hills and a luminous forest. It may be that Herr Hoesl, an eccentric dandy in dress, mistakes style for substance. The nose-thumbing eccentricity of his protagonist and her life-changing radicalism have caused Jeannette to be mentioned in the same breath with the rigorously strange films of Giorgos Lanthimos. But there isn't enough here. It's fun (and aesthetically pleasing) while it lasts; but that isn't long enough.

    Fanni (is she Jeannette?) is a forty-something woman who belongs, from talk with female relatives, to a wealthy family, resides in a beautiful flat in Vienna she's lived in for twenty years. She buys chic designer frocks and frequents spas and martial arts classes. Something causes her to run off the rails, but unfortunately we don't know what. In fact we don't know how normal her behavior was in the past. All we know is that she buys a fancy dress and pops it in the trash on her way out. Agents come to inform her that due to her non-payment of rent for three months (isn't that rather extreme after twenty years?) she must sign an agreement and has a week to move her things out. She is only interested in serving them macha tea and getting to her martial arts class, too busy to sign anything. In a short time she is on her way to the country in a car she's taken on a test drive from a car dealer and not returned, carrying with her an impressive pile of cash she''s gotten from her bank, with which she stages an evening forest potlatch. Later she meets up with Anna (Christina Reichsthaler), a young woman working on a farm tending hogs. Anna brings her along and she's taken on at the farm, but both Anna and Fanni soon both become impatient with farm life, and anyway Fanni's various misdeeds are about to catch up with her if she stays.

    Is it wrong to expect more than this from the writing than this outline? I've said the film is lovely to look at, and the nice package includes strong electronic music, the credits are set in a format that's very Bauhaus. James Greenberg of Hollywood Reporter describes this film as "an elliptical experiment more consumed with form and ideas than telling a comprehensible story" and that's one way of putting it. Hoesl delights in inserting little things like a scene of Fanni/Jeannette (before she flees) snoring loudly in an art house showing Dreyer's Passion of Joan of Arc. All the earlier sequences are sharp statements about the modern urban world's fetishizing of things; Fanni and Anna may be chooosing saintly denial of all that. But apart from these ideas, the story is really perfectly comprehensible; there just isn't enough to it. Hoesl's focus on matters other than "story" has led him to give us elegant imagery and a palpable physicality, but too little sense of an ending. Or not enough. Nonetheless there is great assurance here, and this is a first-timer who may yet give much pleasure.

    Soldate Jeannette/Soldier Jane, 80 mins., debuted at Sundance January 2013 where it was nominated for a Grand Jury prize, also showed at Gothenberg; and at Rotterdam, where it was nominated for the Tiger award. It was screened for this review as part of the FSLC-MoMA series, New Directors/New Films, in New York, March 2013.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-04-2015 at 12:52 AM.

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    Sophie Letourneur: LES COQUILLETTES (2012)


    Thirty-something French "girl" groupies boy-hunt at a film festival

    Sophie Letourneur and several co-filmmakers film themselves in this blithely frivolous round of days at the Locarno Film Festival partying and boy-hunting. Yes, it's even more self-referential: the background is a film festival, the other people a gallery of personalities or wannabes. Lest you think this might tread on Hong Sang-soo territory, let me set you straight: these ladies don't think or talk about filmmaking for a minute, and they're groupies, not industry people. The well-known Swiss film festival is just a pretext and a background. When they get to Locarno cinematic ambition is on hold and the exclusive focus is on possible romances or one-nighters with guys they meet over drinks. Letourneur's film is rough, lacking the usual French gloss, but it bubbles and flows quite well. And though Sophie (Letourneur), Camille (Camille Genaud), and Carole (Carole Le Page) are in search of a connection, a romance, or just a fuck, the real focus is on girl talk and girl-interaction, contemporary French style.

    Les Coqillettes has been dubbed a French "Girls," paralleling the crude talk and blunt focus of Lena Dunham's currently in style US TV series. Only the "Girls" girls are twenty-somethings, and the "Macaroni-ettes" -- they so-dub themselves because at their apartment they most often chow down on pasta -- are a decade older, and we thought the French were more grown up and more sophisticated than this. If you want to hang onto an old-school picture of France, avoid Les Coquillettes. As the blurb says, this is a "comedy of arrested development," and it indeed deserves credit for being so calmly "self-mocking." Indeed we must hope Letourneur and her cohorts Camille and Carole are not playing themselves, that if they can depict one among them as having a ridiculous crush on Louis Garrel, it's because they know Louis Garrel and have his respect (he does appear very briefly on screen and sends the girl a couple of Facebook messages).

    Sorry, no press kit was provided so I cannot supply the names of the actors who play the guys the girls flirt with, except for Louis-Do de Lencquesaing (of The Father of My Children), as an older actor who proves a bit too kinky when he goes to bed with one of the girls, so they agree just to sleep together, and she sleeps in because she's tired. Another one, known as Martin, a chain-smoker in a tight jacket, french-kisses one of the girls at a club, and she has the hots for him forever after. But when he reverses his initial distain and brings her to his hotel, she freezes up. Those are the only bedroom scenes, both flops. There's another guy who's part of the girls' scene, a big Italian in shades so taciturn and non-committal they start to think he's gay, but when he beds one of the girls -- reported, not shown -- she said it was great. So one for three ain't bad.

    A feature of Les Coquillettes is its up-to-date-ness, not only the slightly-more-crude-than-usual girl talk for French cinema but the very liberal use of social media, electronic devices, and texting. The cute, pastel-y opening and closing credits have a bright funny "texto" quality, so bright and witty in fact that the stuff that follows, a mixture of Fellini's Dolce Vita and vintage Cassavetes, is a bit of a letdown, even though it flows and has good moments. But hey, you go, French girls!

    Les Coquillettes was shot at the 2011 Locarno Film Festival, where Sophie Letourneur's short Le Marin masqué was being shown, and debuted at Locarno 2012. In fact Locarno Festival director Olivier Pere makes a cameo appearance, as himself. The events are framed by introductory dialogues of the girls gathered in a bedroom back in Paris afterward remembering everything that happened.

    Les Coquillettes/Macaroni and Cheese, 75 mins., opens in France March 20, 2013. After its Locarno August 2012 opening it also showed at Bordeaux. It was screened for this review as part of the MoMA-Film Society of Lincoln Center series New Directors/New Films, in which it will be shown March 25, five days after the Paris reviews come out.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-04-2015 at 12:58 AM.

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