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Thread: New Directors/New Films 2017

  1. #1
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    New Directors/New Films 2017

    New Directors/New Films 2017

    March 15-26, 2017

    For updates and discussion go to the General Film Forum HERE

    Links to the reviews
    4 Days in France/Jours de France (Jérôme Reybaud 2016)
    Albüm (Mehmet Can Mertoglu 2016)
    Arábia (João Dumans, Affonso Uchoa 2017)
    Autumn, Autumn/Chuncheon, Chuncheon (Jang Woo-jin 2017)
    Beach Rats (Eliza Hittman 2017) Centerpiece Film
    By the Time It Gets Dark/Dao khanong (Anocha Suwichakornpong 2016)
    Boundaries/Pays (Chloé Robichaud 2016)
    Challenge, The (Yuri Ancarani 2016)
    Diamond Island (Davy Chou 2016)
    Dreamed Path, The/Der Traumhafte Weg (Angela Schanelec 2016)
    Future Perfect, The/El Futuro Perfecto (Nele Wohlatz 2016)
    Giant, The/Jätten (Johannes Nyholm 2016)
    Happiness Academy/Bonheur académie (Kaori Kinoshita & Alain Della Negra 2017)
    Happy Times Will Come Soon/I tempi felici verranno presto (Alessandro Comodin 2016)
    Lady Macbeth (William Oldroyd 2016)
    Last Family, The/Ostatnia Rodzina (Jan P. Matuszynski 2106)
    Last of Us, The/Akhar Wahid Fina 2016)
    Menashe (Joshoa Z. Weinstein 2016)
    My Happy Family/Chemi Bednieri Ojakhi ((Naa Ekvtimiishvili, Simon Gross 2017)
    Patti Cake$ (Geremy Jasper 2017) Opening Night Film
    Pendular (Julia Murat 2017)
    Person to Person (Dustin Guy Defa 2017) Closing Night
    Quest (Jonathan Olshefski 2016)
    Sexy Durga (Sanal Kumar Sasidharan 2017)
    Strong Island (Yance Ford 2017)
    Summer Is Gone/Ba yue (Zhang Dalei 2016)
    White Sun/Seto Surya (Depak Rauniyar 2016)
    Wound, The (John Trengove 2017)
    Wùlu (Daouda Coulibaly 2016)

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-17-2017 at 01:15 AM.

  2. #2
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    Here is the whole program of features with the FSLC blurbs:

    New Directors/New Films 2017 (15-26 March)

    The Film Society of Lincoln Center has announced the following 2017 program of New Directors/New Films (in collaboration with MoMA). Reviews of the films follow in the rest of this thread.

    For dates and times of the films at Lincoln Center and MoMA go HERE.


    All films are digitally projected unless otherwise noted. A fuller list of short films will follow. For the Film Society of Lincoln Center (Walter Reade Theater) and Museum of Modern Art show schedules for each film go HERE.

    Opening Night
    Patti Cake$
    Geremy Jasper, USA, 2017, 108m

    New York Premiere
    Make way for the year's breakout star: newcomer Danielle Macdonald is Patti Cake$, aka Killa P, a burly and brash aspiring rapper with big plans to get out of Jersey. Patti lives with her mother (Bridget Everett), a former singer who drinks away her daughter's wages, and ill grandmother (an epic Cathy Moriarty); meanwhile Patti is assisted in realizing her dreams by her hip-hop partner and BFF Hareesh (Siddharth Dhananjay) and their mysterious new collaborator Basterd (Mamoudou Athie). This raucous and fresh tale from first-time writer-director Geremy Jasper—a musician and former music video director from Hillsdale, NJ—follows Patti from gas station rap battles to her shifts at the lonely karaoke bar, while empathetically portraying the aspirations and frustrations of three generations of women. With homegrown swagger and contagious energy, Patti Cake$ announces Jasper and Macdonald as major talents. A Fox Searchlight release.


    Beach Rats
    Eliza Hittman, USA, 2017, 95m

    New York Premiere
    Eliza Hittman follows up her acclaimed debut It Felt Like Love with this sensitive chronicle of sexual becoming. Frankie (a breakout Harris Dickinson), a bored teenager living in South Brooklyn, regularly haunts the Coney Island boardwalk with his boys — trying to score weed, flirting with girls, killing time. But he spends his late nights dipping his toes into the world of online cruising, connecting with older men and exploring the desires he harbors but doesn’t yet fully understand. Sensuously lensed on 16mm by cinematographer Hélène Louvart, Beach Rats presents a colorful and textured world roiling with secret appetites and youthful self-discovery. A Neon release.


    Closing Night
    Person to Person
    Dustin Guy Defa, USA, 2017, 84m

    New York Premiere
    This understated yet ambitious sophomore feature by one of American independent cinema’s most exciting young voices follows a day in the lives of a motley crew of New Yorkers. A rookie crime reporter (Abbi Jacobson of Broad City) tags along with her eccentric boss (Michael Cera), pursuing the scoop on a suicide that may have been a murder, leading her to cross paths with a stoic clockmaker (Philip Baker Hall); meanwhile, a precocious teen (Tavi Gevinson) explores her sexuality while playing hooky, and an obsessive record collector (Bene Coopersmith) receives a too-good-to-be-true tip on a rare Charlie Parker LP while his depressed friend (George Sample III) seeks redemption after humiliating his cheating girlfriend. With Person to Person (exquisitely shot in 16mm by rising-star DP Ashley Connor), Defa matches the sophistication of his acclaimed shorts and delights in the freedoms afforded by a bigger canvas.

    4 Days in France / Jours de France
    Jérôme Reybaud, France, 2017, 141m

    French with English subtitles
    North American Premiere
    An erotic road movie like no other, Jérôme Reybaud’s fiction feature debut begins in the dark, as Pierre (Pascal Cervo) uses his smartphone to snap photos of his lover’s sleeping body. Then, as if in a trance, he hits the road without any clear destination, drawn this way or that only by the connections he forges with strangers on a hookup app. Soon, his lover will set out in hot pursuit of Pierre across four long days and nights, crossing paths with a succession of curious characters. In the sophisticated angle he takes on the state of modern Eros, Reybaud evokes the work of Stranger by the Lake director Alain Guiraudie, imbuing the proceedings with mystery, humor, and a restrained yet pronounced sensuality.

    Mehmet Can Mertoglu, Turkey/France/Romania, 2016, 105m

    Turkish with English subtitles
    New York Premiere
    In this shrewd and visually accomplished social satire from Turkish filmmaker Mehmet Can Mertoglu, a taxman named Bahar (Şebnem Bozoklu) and his history teacher wife, Cüneyt (Murat Kiliç), adopt a child, only to find they feel no emotional connection to the kid. Further complicating their own situation, the self-involved couple initiates an elaborate ruse, with the assistance of contemporary social media, to alter the facts about how they came to have a family. Stunningly photographed on 35mm by Marius Panduru (DP of Romanian New Wave cornerstone Police, Adjective), Mertoglu’s debut feature uses biting black humor to lampoon present-day Turkish society, capturing in equal measure the absurdity of reality and the reality of the absurd.

    João Dumans & Affonso Uchoa, Brazil, 2017, 97m

    Portuguese with English subtitles
    North American Premiere
    Arábia begins by observing the day-to-day of Andre, a teenager who lives in an industrial area in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais. After a local factory worker, Cristiano, has an accident on the job, he leaves behind a handwritten journal, which the boy proceeds to read with relish. The film shifts into road-movie mode to recount the story of Cristiano, an ex-con and eternal optimist who journeys across Brazil in search of work, enduring no shortage of economic hardship but gaining an equal amount of self-knowledge. Invigorating and ever surprising, Arábia is a humanist work of remarkable poise and maturity.

    Autumn, Autumn / Chuncheon, chuncheon
    Jang Woo-jin, South Korea, 2017, 78m

    Korean with English subtitles
    North American Premiere
    With a surprising structure that recalls the work of both Hong Sang-soo and Apichatpong Weerasethakul, this delicate sophomore feature by Jang Woo-jin is a tale of human connection and searching for one’s place in the world. It begins simply enough, with a young man sitting next to an older couple on a train from Seoul to the city of Chuncheon. From there, we follow the man as he copes with the anxiety of trying to find a job, and then the couple, who, as it turns out, don’t know each other as well as it seems. With funny and moving scenes that play out in understated yet bravura long takes, Autumn, Autumn is as attuned to the passage of time and fluctuations of light as it is to everyday human drama.

    Screens with
    Dea Kulumbegashvili, 2016, France/Georgia, 15m

    Georgian with English subtitles
    U.S. Premiere
    A lonely horseman wanders past the river of forgetfulness and through a rural Georgian village where both children and adults explore life's more instinctual pleasures.

    Boundaries / Pays
    Chloé Robichaud, Canada, 2016, 100m

    English and French with English subtitles
    New York Premiere
    Chloé Robichaud’s sophomore feature centers on three women trying to square their political careers with complicated personal lives. Besco, a fictitious island country off the eastern coast of Canada, possesses vast natural resources that foreign companies would love to tap into, which occasions negotiations between Besco’s president (Macha Grenon) and Canadian government reps (including Natalie Dummar as a junior aide from the Ottawa delegation), mediated by a bilingual American (Emily Van Camp). As these three suffer through endless condescensions and mansplanations, they must also contend with an array of outside threats, from lobbyists, terrorists—and their own families. The performances are impeccable, and Robichaud stylishly renders the often absurd mundanity of her heroines’ political ordeal.

    By the Time It Gets Dark / Dao Khanong
    Anocha Suwichakornpong, France/Netherlands/Qatar/Thailand, 2016, 105m

    Thai with English subtitles
    U.S. Premiere
    In the beguiling, mysterious second feature by Thai director Anocha Suwichakornpong, the story of a young film director researching a project about the 1976 massacre of Thai student activists at Thamassat University is just the beginning of a shape-shifting work of fictions within fictions, featuring characters with multiple identities. Drifting across a dizzyingly wide expanse of space and time, By the Time It Gets Dark offers a series of narratives concerning love, longing, the power of cinema, and the vestiges of the past within the present. Asking quietly profound questions about the nature of memory—personal, political, and cinematic—this self-reflexive yet deeply felt film keeps regenerating and unfolding in surprising ways. A KimStim release.

    The Challenge
    Yuri Ancarani, Italy/France/Switzerland, 2016, 69m

    Arabic with English subtitles
    New York Premiere
    If you have it, spend it: Italian artist Yuri Ancarani’s visually striking documentary enters the surreal world of wealthy Qatari sheikhs who moonlight as amateur falconers, with no expenses spared along the way. The Challenge follows these men through the rituals that define their lives: perilously racing blacked-out SUVs up and down sand dunes; sharing communal meals; taking their Ferraris out for a spin with their pet cheetahs riding shotgun; and much more. Ancarani’s film is a sly meditation on the collective pursuit of idiosyncratic desires.

    Diamond Island
    Davy Chou, Cambodia/France/Germany/Qatar/Thailand, 2016, 101m
    Khmer with English subtitles

    U.S. Premiere
    In this stylish coming-of-age story, an 18-year-old from the Cambodian provinces arrives at Diamond Island luxury housing development outside Phnom Penh to work a construction job transporting scrap between building sites. He makes friends and courts a local girl, but things grow ever more complicated when his long-estranged brother resurfaces. Making his feature-length fiction debut, Chou (whose documentary Golden Slumbers explored the vanished past of Cambodian cinema) creates an intoxicating blend of naturalism and dreamy stylization, rendering the ecstasies and agonies of late youth with remarkable attention to detail.

    The Dreamed Path / Der traumhafte weg
    Angela Schanelec, Germany, 2016, 86m

    English and German with English subtitles
    New York Premiere
    The Dreamed Path traces a precise picture of a world in which chance, emotion, and dreams determine the trajectory of our lives. In 1984 in Greece, a young German couple, Kenneth and Theres, find their romantic relationship tested after his mother suffers an accident. Thirty years later in Berlin, middle-aged actress Ariane splits with her husband David, an anthropologist. Soon, these two couples’ paths cross in unexpected ways, short-circuiting narrative conventions of cause and effect as well as common conceptions of the self. Angela Schanelec, part of the loose collective of innovative German filmmakers that came to be known as the Berlin School, puts her signature formal control to enigmatic and subtly emotional ends in a film of mesmerizing shots and indelible gestures.

    The Future Perfect / El Futuro perfecto
    Nele Wohlatz, Argentina, 2016, 65m

    Spanish and Mandarin with English subtitles
    New York Premiere
    Winner of the Best First Feature prize at the 2016 Locarno Film Festival, Wohlatz’s assured debut is a playful, exceptionally idea-rich work of fiction with documentary fragments. Seventeen-year-old Xiaobin arrives in Argentina from China unable to speak Spanish. Employed at a Chinese grocery store, she saves up enough money to pay for language classes, and enters into a secret romance with a young Indian man, Vijay. As she begins to grasp the Spanish language’s conditional tense, she imagines a constellation of possible futures.

    Screens with
    Three Sentences About Argentina / Tres oraciones sobre la Argentina
    Nele Wohlatz, Argentina, 2016, 5m

    Spanish and Mandarin with English subtitles
    U.S. Premiere
    Nele Wohlatz transposes archival footage of Argentinian skiers into prompts for language exercises in this short made as part of an omnibus feature for the Buenos Aires Film Museum.

    The Giant / Jätten
    Johannes Nyholm, Sweden/Denmark, 2016, 86m

    Swedish with English subtitles
    U.S. Premiere
    Rikard lives to play petanque (a kind of lawn-bowling played with hollow steel balls). But his severe physical deformity, coupled with autism, makes communication with the world beyond a very small group of family, friends, and petanque teammates nearly impossible. As Rikard’s team gears up for a prestigious tournament, his fantasies—some involving his mother, who lives in squalor with her pet parrot, and some imagining himself as a giant stomping across a kitschy, romanticist landscape—transport him beyond the confines of the long-term care facility where he lives. Nyholm’s debut feature is a true original: a provocative, grittily realist sports movie, suffused with compassion and humor.

    Happiness Academy / Bonheur Academie
    Kaori Kinoshita & Alain Della Negra, France, 2016, 75m

    French with English subtitles
    U.S. Premiere
    Uncannily melding fiction and documentary, Happiness Academy transports us to a hotel retreat for the real-life Raelian Church, a religious sect devoted to the transmission of knowledge inherited from mankind’s extraterrestrial ancestors. As the new candidates for "awakening" (two of whom are played by actress Laure Calamy and musician Arnaud Fleurent-Didier) spend time together at meals, out by the pool, at bonfires, and participating in new age-y group exercises, an unexpected humanism emerges amid the absurd spirituality. Humorous and moving, direct and enigmatic, this singular film meditates on the peculiar ways in which people strive to give their lives meaning.

    Happy Times Will Come Soon / I Tempi felici verranno presto
    Alessandro Comodin, Italy/France, 2016, 102m

    Italian with English subtitles
    North American Premiere
    Two young fugitives out in the wild, a series of talking heads recounting a local legend about a wolf on the prowl, a loose dramatization of that same myth… With a narrative that enigmatically leaps from one hypnotic passage to another, Alessandro Comodin’s sophomore feature, set deep in the northern Italian woods and drawing on local folklore, is the work of a true original. This beautiful and haunting meditation on the relationships between imagination, desire, and violence is a dreamlike fable with the weight of documentary reality.

    Lady Macbeth
    William Oldroyd, UK, 2016, 89m

    New York Premiere
    The debut feature by accomplished theater director William Oldroyd relocates Nikolai Leskov’s play Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District to Victorian England. Florence Pugh is forceful and complex as Lady Katherine, who enters into an arranged marriage with the domineering, repressed Alexander (Paul Hilton), and must contend with her husband’s even more unpleasant mine-owner father (Christopher Fairbank). In this constrictive new milieu, she finds carnal release with one of her husband’s servants (Cosmo Jarvis), but there are profound consequences to her infidelity. Boasting deft performances by an outstanding ensemble cast, Lady Macbeth is a rousing parable about the price of freedom. A Roadside Attractions release.

    The Last Family / Ostatnia rodzina
    Jan P. Matuszynski, Poland, 2016, 124m

    Polish with English subtitles
    New York Premiere
    This sort-of biopic of Polish surrealist artist Zdzisław Beksiński, renowned for his stark, unsettling, postapocalyptic paintings, focuses as much on the rest of the funny and reclusive Beksiński family: his religious wife Zofia, a perennially steadying presence; and his son Tomasz, a DJ/translator always on the verge of spiraling out of control. Jan P. Matuszynski’s fiction feature debut renders Beksiński’s home life as a vivid and affecting succession of near-death experiences and psychodramatic blowouts, and shows the brilliant artworks that emerged from all the sturm und drang.

    The Last of Us / Akher Wahed Fina
    Ala Eddine Slim, Tunisia/Qatar/UAE/Lebanon, 2016, 95m

    North American Premiere
    Two men silently traverse a vast, flat landscape; they get in the back of a smuggler’s truck, and soon after they’re attacked by men with guns; one of them escapes to sea, perhaps headed to Europe. He soon then finds himself in an endless forest, where a kind of spiritual journey unfolds. In Ala Eddine Slim’s mysterious, entrancing, dialogue-free film, the political significance of the unnamed protagonist’s journey is given a metaphysical twist. Urgent and evocative, The Last of Us speaks powerfully about both contemporary migration and the ancient struggle between man and nature.

    Joshua Z. Weinstein, USA, 2017, 79m

    Yiddish with English subtitles
    New York Premiere
    Something like Woody Allen meets neorealism in Borough Park, Brooklyn, Menashe follows its titular hapless protagonist through a host of existential, spiritual, and familial crises. In the wake of his wife’s recent death, Menashe must care for his ten-year-old son—despite the fact that he knows bupkis about parenting—at the same time that he finds himself straying from the rigid norms of his Hasidic community. His friends and family insist that he remarry as soon as possible, but since he can’t get over his deceased wife or make enough money to feed his son, an uncle attempts to intervene. Joshua Z. Weinstein’s fiction feature debut is a poignant and funny parable about the tension between our best intentions and our efforts to make good on them. An A24 release.

    My Happy Family / Chemi bednieri ojakhi
    Nana Ekvtimishvili & Simon Gross, Georgia/France, 2017, 120m

    Georgian with English subtitles
    New York Premiere
    The second feature by Ekvtimishvili and Gross subtly and sensitively follows a middle-aged woman as she aims to leave her husband and escape from the multi-generational living situation she shares with her aging parents, the aforementioned husband, her son, her daughter, and her daughter’s cheating live-in boyfriend. Lacking both personal space and free time, she breaks out on her own, building a new life for herself piece by piece while contemplating the family structure she has left behind. My Happy Family is a funny, perceptive, and sociologically rich work about the myriad roles we play in life and the obligations we endlessly strive to fulfill.

    Julia Murat, Brazil/Argentina/France, 2017, 108m

    Portuguese with English subtitles
    North American Premiere
    A male sculptor and a female dancer live and work together in their big, barren loft, a mere strip of orange tape serving as the boundary between his atelier and her studio. Here, the stage is set for a low-key psychosexual drama centered around the couple’s erotic, artistic, and everyday rituals. This absorbingly intimate third feature by Julia Murat (her second, Found Memories, was a ND/NF 2012 selection) is a moving portrait of a couple caught between rivalry and the desire to build a future with each other.

    Jonathan Olshefski, USA, 2017, 105m

    New York Premiere
    Jonathan Olshefski’s documentary chronicle of an African-American family living in Philadelphia is a powerful and uplifting group portrait rooted in today’s political realities. Beginning at the dawn of the Obama presidency, the film follows the Raineys: patriarch Christopher, who juggles various jobs to support his family and his recording studio; matriarch Christine’a, who works at a homeless shelter; Christine’a’s son William, who is undergoing cancer treatment while caring for his own son, Isaiah; and PJ, Christopher and Christine’a’s teenage daughter. A patient, absorbing vérité epic, Quest covers eight years filled with obstacles, trials, and tribulations.

    Sexy Durga
    Sanal Kumar Sasidharan, India, 2017, 85m
    Malayalam with English subtitles
    North American Premiere
    Sasidharan’s third feature, main competition winner at this year’s International Rotterdam Film Festival, is a wildly tense nocturnal thriller with a razor-sharp political message. Late one night, Kabeer and Durga, a young couple on the run, are picked up by two strange men in a minivan who offer them a lift to a nearby train station. However, these men reveal themselves to be anything but benevolent, and so begins a long, claustrophobic drive that feels like Funny Games meets The Exterminating Angel. Sasidharan renders this bad trip with precision and an economy of style.

    Strong Island
    Yance Ford, USA/Denmark, 2017, 107m

    New York Premiere
    A haunting investigation into the murder of a young black man in 1992, Yance Ford’s Strong Island is achingly personal — the victim, 24-year-old William Ford Jr., was the filmmaker’s brother. Ford powerfully renders the specter of his brother’s death and its devastating effect on his family, and uses the tools of cinema to carefully examine the injustice perpetrated when the suspected killer, a 19-year-old white man, was not indicted by a white judge and an all-white jury. As a work of memoir and true crime, Strong Island tells one of the most remarkable stories in recent documentary; as a political artwork, its resonance is profound.

    The Summer Is Gone / Ba yue
    Dalei Zhang, China, 2016, 106m

    Mandarin with English subtitles
    New York Premiere
    Dalei Zhang’s atmospheric debut feature is a portrait of a family in Inner Mongolia in the early 1990s that doubles as a snapshot of a pivotal moment in recent Chinese history. As the country settles into its new market economy, 12-year-old Xiaolei stretches out his final summer before beginning middle school, while his father contends with the possibility of losing his job as a filmmaker for a state-run studio, and his mother, a teacher, worries about her son’s grades and future. Beautifully shot in shimmering black-and-white, The Summer Is Gone is intimate and far-reaching, creating ripples of uncertainty from the microcosm of one family’s everyday life.

    White Sun / Seto Surya
    Deepak Rauniyar, Nepal/USA/Qatar/Netherlands, 2016, 89m

    Nepali with English subtitles
    New York Premiere
    The second feature by Nepalese filmmaker Deepak Rauniyar sensitively explores the damage done to the fabric of Nepalese society by the decade-long civil war between the Maoists and Nepal’s monarchical government. On the occasion of his father’s funeral, Chandra returns to the village he left years earlier to join the Maoists, and finds himself united with the daughter he never met and revisiting uneasy relations with family members and neighbors. Past traumas return and cause tensions to boil over. Finding the political within the everyday, White Sun uses one village’s complex tribulations to speak to an entire national history. A KimStim release.

    The Wound
    John Trengove, South Africa/Germany/Netherlands/France, 2017, 88m

    Xhosa with English subtitles
    New York Premiere
    In a mountainous corner of the Eastern Cape of South Africa, an age-old Xhosa ritual introducing adolescent boys to manhood continues to this day. This is the backdrop for this stark and stirring first feature by John Trengove, in which Xolani, a quiet and sensitive factory worker (played by musician Nakhane Touré), guides one of the boys, Kwanda, an urban transplant sent against his will from Johannesburg to be toughened up, through this rite of passage. In an environment where machismo rules, Kwanda negotiates his own identity while discovering the secret of Xolani’s sexuality. Brimming with fear and violence, The Wound is an exploration of tradition and masculinity. A Kino Lorber release.

    Daouda Coulibaly, France/Mali/Senegal, 2016, 95m

    Bambara and French with English subtitles
    New York Premiere
    A gangster picture with political resonance, Wùlu tracks the rise to power of Ladji, a 20-year-old van driver in Mali who takes to crime so that his older sister can quit a life of prostitution. He calls in a favor from a drug-dealer friend and soon finds himself deeply involved in a complex and illicit enterprise; as he discovers his knack for his new profession and his lifestyle ostensibly improves, the stakes grow higher and deadlier by the day. Set during the lead-up to 2012’s Malian Civil War, Wùlu is more than an exciting and superbly made thriller—it offers a powerful glimpse at the complexities of a particular historical moment.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-02-2017 at 01:13 PM.

  3. #3
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    PATTI CAKE$ (Geremy Jasper 2016)



    Plus size white girl from Jersey as a rising rapper

    Patricia Dombrowski (Australian find Danielle Macdonald) is a fat girl in New Jersey who pursues a challenging role as a rap artist with her best friend and co-star Hareesh (Siddharth Dhananjay), who works as a pharmacist assistant. Patti, aka Killa-P, aka to her macho competition Dumbo, works at part-time catering jobs, where she pushes her CD when she can. One big chance is a famous black rapper's spread, but when she demonstrates her style he puts out his cigar on the disc and tells her to stick with her day job, along with some cruel put-downs. A love interest appears in a black outsider death metal guitarist-singer who calls himself "Bastard - The Anti-Christ" (Mamoudou Athie): he lives in a shack with elaborate sound equipment and when he finally speaks turns out to be named Bob and have a dad who's a lawyer. The director lights up many scenes with humor and visual excitement and the actors have fun - this was a Sundance hit.

    Patti's home life revolves around her disabled, cigarette smoking Nana (Cathy Moriarty) and her potty-mouth alcoholic mom Barb (Bridget Everett), who had singing aspirations in her youth and still has a good voice. Even Barb puts Patti's rap aspirations down. She gives up hope midway. But then she comes back to Hareesh and they enter a competition even Barb comes to, and shares in - a climactic performance that redeems this movie's hitherto spotty progress - it seems more interested in rap and music video-style moments and wallowing in down and dirty New Jersey white trash atmosphere to advance the plot much - with a galvanizing musical moment that makes you walk out humming along with Hareesh's melodious obligato.

    Patti Cake$ may arouse comparisons with Precious - at least the haters call her "white Precious" - and various other films and worlds. It's of the flashy editing-surreal-bright colored style of filmmaking and might remind you of Tangerine in that regard, or the gay coming-of-age movie Closet Monster. Geremy Jasper, for whim this is the feature debut, has directed music videos, and many of the scenes sparkle with ADD editing and lurid colors - though paradoxically, Macdonald's rap performances shine most when she performs a cappella and the words are really clear. She lacks the precise diction, though she occasionally echoes the rhythms, of Eminem (Marshall Bruce Mathers II), the preeminent white rapper. Another comparison must be to the 2002 white rapper battle to recognition movie 8 Mile, written by Scott Silver and directed by the late Curtis Hansen. Though less dazzling visually, that one is more fantasy - after all, Eminem did become a famous rapper, and it has rap duels that are fascinating and real; Patti Cake$ lacks a sense of the creative process. But here there are multiple themes, rising from low life poverty inspired by MTV; recognition for other-sized ladies. This is the time of the underdog Millennials who have their day in the limelight.

    Patti Cake$, 108 mins., debuted and was a hit at Sundance. It was screened for this review as part of New Directors/New Films (Film Society of Lincoln Center-MoMA) 2017, at is the Opening Night Film in the series. Ir is a Fox Searchlight release.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-27-2017 at 09:29 PM.

  4. #4
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    THE LAST FAMILY/OSTATNIA RODZINA (Jan P. Matuszynski 2106)



    Tame craziness

    This Polish film is actually a true story. It recounts the lives and deaths of a family of three. First is the highly respected painter Zdzislaw Beksinski (Andrzej Seweryn) - and the works on view in their digs, of which there are many, look very interesting though, perhaps for copyright reasons, we never get a very close look. Second, there is his strange but talented son Tomok, or Tomasz (Dawid Ogrodnik, of Ida), who became a well known music critic, translator, and radio broadcaster. Spoiler alert: things do not end well for either of them. In the middle, a patient, stabilizing element, is the wife and mother, Zofia (Aleksandra Konieczna), who surprises Beksinski by predeceasing him due to a fatal heart condition. The movie takes us along with this trio for about 25 years. Most of the action transpires in the artist's and his son's apartments. They are located in one of those looming blocks of flats surrounded by empty space we know so well from Krzysztof Kieślowski's masterful Dekalog.

    The film charms initially with its intelligence and its composure. Tomok, obviously, is a strange and maladjusted personality. There is a funny, yet troubling scene in which he sits talking to a bearded, pipe-puffing psychiatrist, begging him to say something. He needs help, but doesn't get it. He seems dangerous, but his father is never worried. It isn't indifference: it's a close-nit family, and an indulgent one for Tomok - but that may be the problem. Later in life he wishes that his father had punished him, even once, to give him a sense of structure. He has been indulged, and ignored, and on his own, he does not fare well.

    One of the film's problems is figuring out whether it's about Tomok or his father. There is much about interviews with the painter, who expresses many views, and a sense of the stylistic periods he goes through is provided. But the crises all come from Tomok. It is a continual surprise that Tomok becomes successful at things - though hardly with women, a field in which he is a very late and spotty developer. Or with acceptance of life, since he is constantly thinking of ending his.

    The sets are characters. The artist has a great collection of records, books, and tapes; he is always taking pictures, first with a 35mm camera, later with a video recorder, a large, solid, dark one, that looks like a small artillery weapon. How neatly his collections are arrayed along the walls, with his paintings! And Zofia has her collection of the paintings, and Tomok, who moves into his own place, has a larger, and an eager collector things, better, collection (he wants to buy it; neither wife nor son will do so). Tomok's collections are a little different. He has more records, more tapes, more videos. When he brings a woman in on a date, she wants to make out; he wants to show her his collections. They are his life; which is to say, in a sense, that he has no life.

    These three people are famous, and interviewed and written about, but they have no social life, and this makes the action seem a little hollow. The film is also too caught up in the details of the lives, and never quite gets around to organizing them into a movie with dramatic highlights that would grab non-Polish viewers not acquainted already with this family's biography. When the artist finds his son lying dead in his apartment, he says "Congratulations, you finally succeeded." Is it surprising that we feel no more involvement, if the father's reaction is so cold?

    The film was scripted by Robert Bolesto, who also recently penned the surreal horror version of "The Little Mermaid," The Lure.

    The Last Family/Ostatnia rodzina, 124 mins., debuted at Locarno, Aug. 2016, and opened theatrically in Poland a month later; also showed at a dozen international festivals, including the Film Society of Lincoln Center-MoMA 2017 New Directors/New Films series, as part of which it was screened for this review.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-27-2017 at 08:09 PM.

  5. #5
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    WHITE SUN/SETO SURYA (Depak Rauniyar 2016)



    The personal and the public

    It's not so often that you see a movie set in Nepal, and the Nepalese director Eeepak Rauniyar and his cowriter David Barker have created an involving, palpably real tale that skillfully interweaves the country's turbulent recent warfare with intimate, local, personal events. Chandra (Dayahang Rai) comes back to his remote village for the first time in years on the death of his father. He has been fighting in the Maoist army that defeated Royalist government forces in the 1996-2006 conflict, with 16,000 lives lost along the way. Chandra carries the wounds of this war.

    Things get complicated, and Chandra has to deal with both his past and traditional customs to which the generations have different degrees of loyalty. To begin with a homeless war-orphaned kid among the boys jostling to carry Chandra's bags up the hills, Badri (Amrit Pariyar), attaches himself to him and claims to others to be his son. (Maybe he is.) He remains a touching presence throughout; we worry what will happen to him. Durga (Asha Margranti), Chandra's ex-wife, is a fiercely independent lower-caste woman who is cursed by the elders for touching the corpse. Durga has problems of her own. She has a daughter, Pooja (Sumi Malla), not Chandra's, but she wants Chandra to sign paternity papers so the girl can be legal and attend school.

    The large body of the father, a village elder and a staunch royalist, has to be removed from an upstairs window because it's against custom to take it out the front door. Only males can attend the funeral. The only men qualified to carry the body down to the river are his sons, Chandra and his royalst brother, Suraj (Rabindra Singh Baniya), but they have a fight and Suraj goes off, leading Chandra on a meandering trail to find somebody else, while the village elders cluster around the corpse, stuck there for hours. No one can touch it unless the old priest (Deepak Chhetri), an absolute stickler for traditions, allows it.

    Pooja and Badri, who at first are at odds, join forces and begin taking steps on their own. The arrival in the area of Chandra's former commander, with Maoist troops at hand, will also alter the course of things. All this is symbolic, of course, but it seems emotional and circumstantial because it all happens in such a relaxed, natural way, with - to the outside eye, at least - such authentic locations and performances, that we can't help getting emotionally involved. The 10-year-old newcomer Amrit Pariya, as Badri, is particularly convincing. Dayahang Rai, a locally well-known actor, inhabits his role profoundly, and exudes an inner sadness that is expressive of the country's long turbulence and troubles. This is an outstanding example of vernacular naturalism. It's exotic, for sure, but Depak Rauniyar has achieved some of the intimacy of Satyajit Ray.

    White Sun/Seto Surya, 89 mins., debuted Sept. 2016 at Venice in the Horizons section; seven other festivals so far, including MoMA-FSLC's 2017 New Directors/New Films series, as part of which it was screened for this review.

    A KimStim release. It's now been announced that it begins limited theatrical release 6 Sept. 2017 at MoMA (NYC) and 29 Sep t. at Laemmle Music Hall (LA).
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-28-2017 at 07:29 PM.

  6. #6
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    THE CHALLENGE (Yuri Ancarani 2016)



    At play and at play

    Italian documentary filmmaker Yuri Ancarani's film The Challenge is a matter of access. He had it, but he also keeps his distance. He shot wealthy Qatari men at play - serious play, that costs serious money. It is a rare and special scene, but Ancarani isn't seeking to tell you all about it; it's simply material he works with visually. His interest is in ritual, and repeated gestures, and odd customs, and surreal situations.

    The main focus is their pursuit, now utterly altered by the introduction of modern gadgetry such as lightweight cameras and SUVs, of the ancient Arabian gentleman's sport of falconry. We also see a man driving a Lamborghini with a leopard in the passenger seat; and we see a group riding gold Harley Davidson bikes, dressed for once not in white thawbs and kufiyas but jeans and biker jackets. The falconers buy their special birds for up to 87,000 riyals ($24,000) via an auction they view on flatscreen TV as they bid by smart phone. We fly inside a posh private plane fitted with not passenger seats but rows of perches for flacons. We see men share a tasty meal of meat, rice, and side dishes in the traditional way, with the right hand only, the fingers molding the rice into a ball.

    There are closeups of men's faces, young, dark, handsome, ancestrally Arabian, with perfectly trimmed short beard. Do they trim it themselves or, more likely, have a barber come in every morning? But for all this intimacy, there is no sense of entering the personal lives of these men. Ancarani's film is more like an art piece, shifting from scene to scene in a distancing way, occasionally bringing in soaring music, often offering nothing but ambient sound or the childish, repetitious dialogue of the 'sportsman' or buyers, saying nothing but 'that's a good one,' 'it's worth the price,' or most often the phrase 'ma shaa' Allah', which in this context is just a muslim way of saying 'wow!'

    Mike D'Angelo wrote in Letterbox'd: "My kind of documentary: utterly devoid of exposition (or even basic contextualization), formally adventurous, offhandedly witty (love the sharp cut to a tranquil landscape shot that happens mid-car accident, just as a dude witnessing the vehicle roll over clutches his hands to his head in shock), confident enough to let viewers intuit the film's meaning/intention/big idea."

    It is a confidently accomplished film and an elegant one. It's also an alarming one that makes its very rich subjects look like morons. But they look good too. Their cars and their hooded birds and they are handsome, and surreal. Jonathan Romney of Film Comment wrote: "the film is so elegantly shot, with heightened attention to staging and symmetry, that at first thought I was watching a gallery-art fabulation à la Matthew Barney. But no. . ." Material to play with, too good to be true. And in a sense itself making this film is as idle a kind of play as the "shaykhs'" with their dangerous SUV races, their falcons, and their Lamborghinis. And the photographs from the camera attached to a bird of prey on the hunt for a pigeon: the cinema of the future!

    The Challenge, 69 mins., debuted at Locarno where it won the Special Jury Prize and was nominated for the Golden Leopard. Ten other international festivals, including the FSLC-MoMA New Directors/New Films (NYC), as part of which it was screened for this review.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-03-2017 at 12:38 PM.

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    THE SUMMER IS GONE/BA JUE (Zhang Dalei 2016)



    About a boy

    The style of Zhang Dalei's excellent debut feature links it both to Edward Yang and Jia Zhang-ke: it's a nostalgic, restrained study - far from gaudy coming-of-ageers, of a boy of twelve in the Nineties in the director's hometown in Inner Mongolia, Hohhot, a place and time so quiet it feels sometimes like the Fifties (but trouble is on the way). Unlike Yang's and Jia's early panoramas, here the focus is more modest: a summer before the boy starts middle school. His rather nervous and fussy mother (Guo Yanyuan) is a teacher and wants him to get into an elite school, requiring a good test score, or maybe a bribe as in Mungiu's recent Graduation (NYFF 2016). His father (Zhang Chen) doesn't see the point. His own very real concern, shared with a close group of coworkers who gather socially to drink beer and talk, is that he'll lose his state-run filmmaking job - and his career dreams - in the growing wave or privatization. The film matches public and private: a big transition for the Chinese economy comes with the boy's big jump from elementary school to junior high.

    Zhang Xiaolei (Kong Weiyi) is a scrawny kid with matchstick limbs. He always, always has his nunchucks around his neck, and a Bruce Lee poster is his inspiration, but despite a moment of showing off with them in his bedroom, this is a bit of a joke. He is a scrawny kid with matchstick limbs. He is a pensive, but cocky boy.

    Xiaolei, as embodied with charm and serenity by Kong Weiyi is a quite ordinary, nondescript boy, but that makes him see more real. He is without discernible ambition, though he goes along - for a while - with his mother's push for him to try to get into an elite school. He is close to his father, physically, even though his dad sometimes loses patience with him. They regularly go to a local - vanishingly - state run cinema where they can in free and watch classic Chinese movies. As Clarence Tsui points out in his Variety review, when the free entry ends is when Xiaolei and his dad try to get into "The Fugitive, the first-ever US film to receive an official release in China back in 1994" - another milestone of the several ones Zhang's meditative screenplay alludes to.

    Zhang works quietly (like Yang) but with a full social canvas, using amateur actors throughout, with marvelous social scenes at a restaurant, pool hall, swimming pool, and of tough kids on the street - and a particular tough kid called Saner, a misfit Xiolei admires and, unwelcomely, attaches himself to. The camerawork by Lv Songye quietly soars too. Watch the scene when Xiaolei comes out into a rainstorm at night and watches cops handling some of those toughs: the long corridor of street with bright light at the end silhouetting the action a block away is gorgeous, but because it's black and white it doesn't seem too showy. The only color is at the end when Xiaolei's father has gone away to work on a film, because there's now work for him at home anymore. We have seen his father grouse and worry, and watch foreign videotapes at home.

    A moment symbolizing dad's giving up artistic and job hopes comes when he grabs his grainy tape of Scorsese's Taxi Driver - he's been watching the famous "Are you talking to me?" scene over and over - and pulls out the tape in anger. At the end of the summer - which wasn't as peaceful and happy as Xiaolei or his father would have wanted - father boards a bus and rides away to seek work on photo shoots elsewhere. He eventually sends a videotape showing the shoot and him. The grainy video is in color. And that's the end.

    Perhaps Tsui is correct: the reality and the changes going on at the time of the film are "certainly much more harsh than the sepia-tinged stories unfolding here." But this is a lovely restrained and slow-building study in childhood and change. here is an awful lot here, and it all fits together subtly and seamlessly.

    The Summer Is Gone/Ba yue/八月 (August), 106 mins., debuted 23 July 2016 at the FIRST International Film Festival Xining, also showing at Tokyo, Taipei, Rotterdam, Groningen, and New Directors/New Films, screened at the latter for this review under the auspices of the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
    March 16, 9 pm, Walter Reade Theater FSLC
    March 17 6:45 pm, Titus Theater MoMA
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-01-2017 at 04:56 AM.

  8. #8
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    WÙLU (Dauda Coulibaly 2016)



    A dangerous success

    Wùlu, Ladji, a young Malian who's continually on the screen, switches from bus driving to drug trafficking and earns himself and his sister a lot of money. They rise to the top of Bamako society and Ladji gets into more and more danger - right to the edge of doom. A posT-film title explains that the cocaine boom in Mali brought vast sums into the country, and that was a large factor in the political crisis of the past five years. So, a thriller that is topical and political, confident and brightly colored and full of energy from first to last. This is an unusually accomplished and great-looking first film from Africa whose mise-en-scène, from hovels to mansions, town squares to desert shootouts, is impeccable.

    As Ladji, Ibrahim Koma (who was actually born in Paris) is impressive, confident too, a dark, burnished statue who rarely shows fear or uncertainty. He is continually on the screen and we are asked to care about him, but so great is his impassivity and remoteness it may be a bit hard to care about him. We understand his logic and his motives. He's driven cross-country busses for five years and we see him at first explaining to a novice who to let on board. No fatties: they take up too much space. No sexy women: too distracting. No old people: too slow. He's got it aced, but when a nephew of the boss takes over his driving job and, absent the expected promotion he angrily walks off the job and to Driss, a drug dealer who owed him a favor and presto! he's transporting pot the Senegal on busses and bringing back cocaine. He innovates, suggesting small passenger vans, which customs passes because they'r too much trouble to check. Except there's a dangerous contretemps the very first run, and when he gets back, Driss is murdered.

    From then on it's success following success and as the ante increases, just like Scarface, the hero flies closer to the sun. Ladji and his two pals and cohorts Houphouet (Jean-Marie Traoré) and Zol (Ismaël N’Diaye) start working for Driss's boss, Jean-François (Olivier Rabourdin). So much money is coming in, they're sent further afield, to Timbuktu, with weapons. And they need them.

    Intermixed with the intense, accelerating narrative of the drug trafficking, which gets more dangerous and more profitable all the time, is the story of himself and his sister Aminata, a prostitute when we meet her, later a professional party girl (played by Malian singer Inna Modja). Ladji has so much money he buys land and builds a big house with a large pool. He's not happy - the danger of his criminal operations is matched by financial risks, and realization that his liaison with the high class Assitan (Mariame N’Diaye), which Aminata first pointed him to, is shaky, because he not respectable - and the high living has put him in heavy debt, which hits the fan when political disintegration in a neighboring country forces his French drug boss to check out and banish him. Again he goes higher, to Assitan's father, for more risk and more profit. Again Coulibaly has surprises in store for us.

    Wùlu is well-written and skillfully plotted. It has constant excitement. Its scenes or social excess are as colorful as those of crime. It merely suffers from that familiar problem of actioners. It never stops for breath. The non-stop intensity holds our attention. But it also makes every moment equally tense, thus reducing some of the force of climactic moments - and leaving little room to set mood or develop character. There is nothing wrong with making Ladji a kind of Camus Stranger, an empty man, although this story hasn't the style of a movie by Jean-Pierre Melville or the philosophical underpinnings of Camus. But it's damn good stuff for an African debut film, it looks great, and its cast is excellent.

    Wùlu, 95 mins. (in Bambara and French), debuted at Angoulême Aug. 2016; in at least nine other international festivals including Toronto, Hamburg, London, Gothenburg and the Film Society of Lincoln Center-Museum of Modern Art New Directors/New Films festival, as part of which it was screened for this review. See the highly favorable reviews from Toronto by Pamela Pianezza in Variety and Boyd van Hoeij in Hollywood Reporter.
    New Directors showtimes:
    Saturday, March 18 1:30 pm MoMA
    Sunday, March 19 6:45 pm Walter Reade Theater FSLC
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-01-2017 at 05:00 AM.

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    ARÁBIA (João Dumans, Affonso Uchoa 2017)



    The wanderer

    Arábia is storytelling. It's about a wanderer, who worked at all kinds of laborer jobs imaginable in Brazil. So it's also about labor, pretty explicitly. Neil Young in Hollywood Reporter called it a "political road movie." But it's not so much a tract (or a "road movie") as a meditation about loneliness and rootlessness, while at the same time full of manly togetherness and music - a lot of music, which helps mitigate the sadness. This is a unique thinking man's film, rather like a novel - though its interest isn't so much in the content as in the meditative structure and the moody atmosphere. For some reason - the philosophical voiceover, partly - it reminded me of Wong Kar Wai's Happy Together.

    Arábia takes its time getting started, in the manner of old-fashioned adventure tales. It's a full 20 minutes before the title even appears. First there isa long shot (arguably longer than necessary), of a youth, Andre (Murilo Caliari), riding a bike, then a song, and up to the title it looks like this movie is going to be about Andre. Then news that a man named Cristiano (Aristides de Sousa), who lived nearby in this industrial neighborhood in Ouro Preto, Brazil in the southern state of Minas Gerais, near an old aluminum factory, where he, Cristiano, worked, has been in an accident and is in the hospital. Andre is sent to Cristiano's flat to get clothes for him and his ID. When there, Andre comes across a notebook with a journal in it. Writing about "important events in his life" turns out to have been a project of a factory theater group, which Cristiano joined to be more among people. Well, Andre begins to read the journal. . .

    And what follows in the rest of Arábia is a narrative - the journal - in De Sousa's voice of Cristiano's many wanderings, in his voice over the past decade, all over the country working at all kinds of jobs, a one-man tour of the world of physical labor. We see him as the story unfolds in many diverse scenes. The filmmakers make no secret of their focus on the subject of manual labor. One memorable scene has Cristiano discussing with a companion of the time - people come and go in his life, including his one true love Ana (Renata Cabral)- a an older man who is shortly to die of diabetes - what contents are best and worst to load onto a truck: cement, tile, potatoes, etc. And at the final factory he starts working the night shift and explains why it's bad.

    But Aristedes deSousa, with his strong, rough voice and lean features, is never a metaphor, always real, and so are the situations and settings. This is also a story of hard knocks. Cristiano does jail time, and another thing happens that could have led to jail. The story with Ana is suffused with sadness. And loss of best friends, when circumstances force a sudden departure. And constant change of venue every few months or year or so. There is a sense of sampling, of exploration, and one may think of Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London.

    It is the combination of its contemplation and filtering of experience along with, through images, the retaining of the experience in very specific and vivid form that gives this film its special quality. Through the film we live life and examine it at the same time, and this is what is novelistic and not like most films.

    Arábia, 97 mins, debuted at Rotterdam 1 Feb. 2017. It was screened for this review as part of New Directors/New Films (Film Society of Lincoln Center, MoMA).
    SATURDAY, MARCH 18 4 p.m. Walter Reade Theater FSLC
    SUNDAY, MARCH 19 6:30 p.m. MoMA

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-01-2017 at 06:20 PM.

  10. #10
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    BY THE TIME IT GTS DARK/DAO KHANONG (Anocha Suwichakornpong 2016)


    A cinematic experiment of great elegance, all in the head

    Anocha Suwichakornpong is a made-to-order film festival darling. Her films are exquisite, hushed, and conceptually complex. Their visual debt to her more famous countryman "Joe" Apichatpong Weerasethakul is obvious. The point of departure of By the Time It Gets Dark, is a film, or film within a film, related to the 1976 massacre of Thai student dissidents at a university. The settings are beautiful - perhaps too beautiful: this seems like a brochure for a decoration magazine. The people are too beautiful too, including the young men whose regular features - and, at one point, smooth naked thighs - are lovingly dwelt upon. When anything serious happens, like the death of a leading cast member in a car accident, it goes by with such a tiny scintilla of emotion that you don't wonder that the massacre doesn't build up much heat either.

    A brace of art-film critics, excerpted by Critics Roundup, have penned enthusiastic comments on the film. Jay Kuehner (from Toronto, Sept. 2016), for instance: "To call what happens in By the Time It Gets Dark a 'plot' is to do it a disservice of sorts, such is the beguilingly self-reflexive nature of Anocha Suwichakornpong’s becalmed, trippy, historically conscious fungus of a film." Which is to say it vanishes up its own arse, seduced by its own cleverness and elegance. Perhaps it is "deeply felt," as a festival blurb claims. Certainly a massacre, with thousands injured and at least 50 to 100 killed by royalists and right wing troops, is something to do more than merely ponder but also to be angry and disturbed about.

    Suwichakornpong presents protagonists who regularly change identities and scenes that play through twice in different ways with different actors. Such gestures resemble Rivette's methods in Last Year at Marienbad - except that film was clearly enigmatic and made no claim to be about an historical event. Even the favorable Film Comment comment by Jonathan Romney acknowledges that this film is in an "incongruously lyrical style, given the theme of state violence." That is the basic problem. The other is that what happens on the screen, while beautiful, is becalmed, and ultimately unengaging, except as an exercise in style and self-reflexive cinematic experimentalism. Experimentalism can be gutsy. This version is cool and weightless. Like the visitors to immaculate apartments repeatedly shown removing their shoes, this film handles everything with kid gloves, and never gets its feet wet or engages our emotions. I was not in the mood for it, and the use of a massacre as the starting point for a cinematic art piece offended me in such a way that I don't think I ever would be.

    By the Time It Gets Dark/dao khanong, 105 mins., debuted at Locarno, followed by over a dozen festivals including Toronto, London, and Rotterdam. Screened for this review as part of the FSLC-MoMA series New Directors/New Films of March 2017.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-01-2017 at 07:41 PM.

  11. #11
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    MY HAPPY FAMILY/CHEM BEDNIERI OJAKHI (Naa Ekvtimiishvili, Simon Gross 2017)



    Going non-traditional

    One can understand why there are two directors of Ekvtimishvili and Gross's My Happy Fmily. There's a lot of complicated people-wrangling going on here. First of all in the family of Manana, a middle-aged schoolteacher (singer and stage actress Ia Shugliashvili), who do a lot of vociferous squabbling in the crowded, noisy Tbilisi flat all seven of them inhabit. It's fun to watch - until maybe it isn't any more. This is rather like a play, at first anyway. It also "opens up," and most impressive perhaps is Manana's encounter with an old school friend in a local market, the way people keep pushing through them and by them and crowding around them. It's a fine bit of choreography. If New Directors/New Films had an Ensemble Acting prize, My Happy Family would be a prime contender. (This wrangling reminded me of Asghar Farhadi's in The Salesman.)

    The second reason why it's good two people directed this film: they're a couple, and this is basically a story about couples - Manana and Soso (Merab Ninidze), their daughter an her husband, and their son and the young pregnant bride he surprises everybody with later on.

    Manana and Soso live with her family, which she's sick of (and we can see why). They consist of her querulous and bossy mother (Berta Khapava), her brother, her grandfather, her husband, son Lasha (Giorgi Tabidze) and daughter Nino (Tsisia Qumsashvili) and daughter's husband, augmented on occasion by aunts, uncles and other relatives, as needed. The big squabbles concern Manana's decision to move into a cheap apartment on her own, leaving her husband and all the rest, but the squabbles themselves show us why Manana would want to take this liberating step. It's not that she can't get along with her husband. She can't breathe.

    Her departure is against the wishes of everyone over 25. But it's a foregone conclusion we're aware of from the first scene, when she views a sunny if shabby flat in an unfashionable but quiet neighborhood. The price is right, and the decision is made. The objections confirm its validity. But will Manana stay with this decision? Will the tomatoes she plants on the balcony bear fruit? Stay tuned - though the film ends with a question mark, as it should. The conflicts here depicted between traditional and nuclear families, couples and independence, aren't easily resolved.

    This is Georgia, where the language has a special lilt, and where any festive gathering means people will sing, in a rich, resonant chorus. The most interesting chapter comes when Manana meets that old friend in the market, who's got her own farm and sells cheese. She tells about a reunion of their school, 35 years out. At this reunion Manana gets some surprise news that deeply upsets her. Though she's in a state, she's prevailed upon to sing for everyone. It's beautiful, and it relates so well to the news she's just gotten this begins to seem a little like a musical. The long takes with ensemble squabbling, the ensemble singing, the surprises, the boisterous well-wrangled small crowds: these are the charms of My Happy Family. The new apartment is nicely conveyed, with sunlight, open doors onto the balcony, Manana sitting quietly (or cleaning up the mess) and listening to Mozart. Scenes of Manana at school are few, but help flesh things out: one session with a girl who's missed classes, and turns out to have left her young husband, is an obvious parallel and link to Manana's departure. All these are aspects of this film's good staging and construction.

    Its defects? None really, except that the ending is a little underwhelming (as Jordan Minzer said in his Hollywood Reporter review), and that it is a little too long. After a while it feels like this is, or ought to have been, a miniseries; or, that to be a well made film it needed better editing. It is best in its individual scenes, but some of the less necessary ones could have been shortened or cut out.

    My Happy Family/Chemi bednieri ojakhi, 120 mins., debuted at Sundance Jan. 2017, then played at the Berlinale. It was screened for this review as part of the Film Society of Lincoln Center-Museum of Modern Art series, New Directors/New Films 1 Mar. 2017. Released 10 May 2017 in France as Une famille heureuse to excellent reviews - AlloCiné critic rating 3.6. English language reviews are raves - Metacritic rating 86%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-30-2017 at 06:24 PM.

  12. #12
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    STRONG ISLAND (Yance Fort 2017)


    A searingly intense and complex film about a brother's killing and a family's pain

    Strong Island is a documentary not of the kind that cooly informs us but of the autobiographical and otherwise intensely personal kind. A somewhat incongruous comparison might be with Nathaniel Kahn's My Architect, his exploration of his famous father, Louis Kahn. Yance Ford is exploring his family, and a single event that changed, perhaps destroyed it: the murder of his brother William a quarter century ago, when he was 23 and Yance was 18 and a sophomore at Hamilton College, by a 19-year-old white man, a mechanic in a Long Island body and "chop" (illegal spare parts) shop whose vehicle William had crashed into some time before. The events that followed are an example of racism in America and the difficulty and danger of being African American. This is a searing, powerful film.

    This is also the story not just of a murder that went unpunished by a white grand jury that brought no charge but of a family, and of being gay, or being black, and how these things intertwine. Yance, one of two sisters who has since become a transgender male, is exploring his own identity. He goes through many snapshots that record the early lives of his parents - handsome, promising, and happy people, and of himself, his sister, and his brother (who never learned that he was gay). The most powerful speaker is their mother, Barbara, a teacher who became a principal and then started her own school for young women at Riker's Island, where his brother William eventually taught for a while. This experience he thinks altered William's sunny nature in the realization that there were others like him who were not yet free, still slaves.

    His mother did not survive for the release of the film. His father had a stroke after William's death and not long later died. This was a peaceful black family unfamiliar with jail sentences and violence and this tragedy was devastating.

    Interviews with close friends of William, including the one who was with him when he died, suggest that William drank and went to strip clubs and perused Playboy but he never got into real trouble. He was a gentle giant, a large and slightly overweight young man whose last project, detailed in his journal, which Yance shows and reads from, was to lose enough weight to qualify to train to become a corrections officer. He failed, but appealed the decision, and an irony of this scrupulously detailed film is that saved documents show six weeks after his death his appeal was granted and he was reclassified as qualified - too late.

    The three Ford siblings' parents, who met in high school (but Barbara was aware of and in love with William Sr. long before), came from the Jim Crow South and lived in Brooklyn, among elderly Jewish women, which Barbara loved. She was disappointed when they moved to a nice, pleasant and inexpensive house in Long Island because it was in a black part of Long Island that was in effect a ghetto, but it pleased William Sr. to escape New York City because in his work as a train driver he saw the ugliest parts of it and wanted to get out.

    There are many other ironies in this rich account. William might have been a fine correctional officer. We hear about an ADD (Assistant District Attorney) who was robbed and shot at an ATM; William chased the killer and brought him down. The ADD was gravely wounded, but was saved. The Brooklyn Bridge was shut down so he could be rushed to emergency care. When William was shot, police and hospital negligence due to his race insured that he was not saved.

    At William's funeral Barbara felt convinced that William's killer would be punished, but she was to be powerfully disabused of this notion. Her appearance at the grand jury, where some of the all white group were reading magazines and ignoring her testimony, convinced her otherwise and she concludes, on camera, that her teaching of her children to be race-neutral in judgment was wrong. By implication, they ought to have been taught that the white man is the enemy. It seems also that William made a grievous error to begin with with Mark Reilly. He hit Reilly's car. Reilly said that if he would not report the accident he would repair William's car for free. He should have had nothing to do with Reilly and realized that he was on dangerous ground with him from the start.

    Another irony of the film is that while it may seem to viewers that Yance Ford is setting out to show his brother's innocence this is not what happens. His brother secretly told him how he had menaced Mark Reilly, the mechanic, with a car door and a vacuum cleaner, and Yance should have told him he was being stupid but instead rejoiced that he was being a bad-ass. Yance counts himself as therefore sharing in the guilt of William's death. The implication is that, as a police investigator reveals to Yance, evidence shows William was sufficiently provocative and threatening to suggest, to the white grand jury at least, that Mark Reilly may have been in danger, even if shooing William was not necessary. Nevertheless that William and his friend became the principal suspects in William's death was a typical absurdity of an unjust, racially biased system.

    ,Strong Island, 107 mins., debuted at Sundance and has been in other festivals including the Berlinale, True/False, and New Directors/New Films, and it was as part of the latter that it was screened for this review.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-01-2017 at 09:22 PM.

  13. #13
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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    BONHEUR ACADÉMIE/HAPPINESS ACADEMY (Kaori Kinoshita & Alain Della Negra 2017)


    A superficial picture of New Age togetherness

    The trouble with Bonheur Académie/Happiness Academy, a docudrama about a Raëlian summer gathering at a hotel complex in Croatia, is how superficial it is. And because it's sort of faked, we only get to "know" a handful of "participants" who are cast members: the movie doesn't look in on a wide spectrum except where they introduce themselves on mike at an early gathering.

    And what do they all do? Listen to Raël, Claude Vorilhon, the white-bearded, Geneva-based 70-year-old cult leader, the "man in white," talking from a remote hookup on two big flat screens to the gathered participants. This gentleman, who likes laughing and happiness and has been at this for over 40 years, allegedly talked to outer space creatures who set up planet earth. But there is only passing reference to these beliefs. Most of what we see are rituals you might find in various New Age-y gatherings, people playing get-together games, talking about themselves in a New Age-y way, declaring their love of each other, stripping and touching, humming, singing, dancing and swimming, having a supervised good time if you like this kind of feel-good summer camp. It's sort of like a commune without the hard work and poverty.

    A peculiarity of Raëlianism is it favors sex. There are several unusual wrinkles. Participants are encouraged to wear one of a whole line of colored wrist bands to show what they're up for, from red (open for lots of all kinds of sex) to white (prefer to abstain from sex altogether). In between are gay or bi, cuddle but no sex. Raël gives a pep talk encouraging men to open up to their feminine side and women to their masculine one - and this time they really mean it literally: that night everybody disguises in his or her own particular version of the opposite sex, and dancing, or flirting, at a party they mix in gay or reverse-sex play-unions. The next day they talk about the experience. The characters who emerge include , Lily and Dominique, who seem to be vying for the favours of a Parisian singer, Arnaud Fleurent Didier. But these are not vivid portraits, just people who are in the limelight for a while.

    Moments like the sex-switch night show this film might have been interesting: this activity seems genuinely transformative for some participants, perhaps quite troubling for others, suggesting this aspect of Raël-think could be controversial or revelatory. But for some reason, whether through mere ineptness or our of a need to stay on the right side of the Raëlians, who were somehow the filmmaker's hosts, this is a timid effort and it never gets deep enough either into the ideas or experiences touched upon. And while this feels like a giant singles event, we don't see any sex happening.

    If you want to find out something about Raëlians, see Wikipedia. It points out that they used to favor a symbol that combines the Star of David and the swastika, but the obvious offense this causes multiple groups has led them to switch to a star-and-swirl combination.

    But here, in the middle of the two big screens Raël booms forth from, the symbol is the swastika-Star of David one.

    Is this a parody or pro-Raëlian propaganda? It never really quite makes up its mind, or maybe it is propaganda, but the whole thing plays as parody anyway. As apprentice film critic Lucille Manent says in her critique from the Bordeaux festival on the French-language festival review website ACCRÉDS (, the filmmakers' neutral stance just doesn't work because of the aforementioned superficiality.

    This film comes out in France 28 Jun. 2017. It's classified on AlloCiné as a mixture of documentary and "comédie dramatique."

    Happiness Academy/Bonheur Academie, 75 mins., debuted at the Festival of Independent Film of Bordeaux 2016. It will have a French theatrical release 28 Jun. 2017. It was screened for this review as part of FSLC-MoMA's New Directors/New Films series (15-26 Mar. 2017).

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-02-2017 at 08:54 PM.

  14. #14
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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    SEXY DUERGA (Sanal Kumar Sasidharan 2017)


    Long ride

    This rough but visually lush and successfully disquieting film rubs some usually open-minded film critics the wrong way. Jay Weissberg of Variety its "Unremitting sadism," which he said "is the hallmark of this unpleasant impressionistic mood piece meant to draw attention to the degradation of women and man’s cruelty to man." Neil Young reviewed in in Hollywood Reporter with little more enthusiasm. He said "Sexy Durga is in the end just another exasperatingly elaborate illustration of Jean-Paul Sartre's timeless dictum, 'Hell is other people'." Maybe so. But Sexy Durga delivers a vivid and persistent and occasionally beautiful nightmare that will etch a little place on your brain. The use of improvisation without a script leads to a grating monotony that's all too real.

    Sexy Durga starts out and is briefly bookended by an (actual, filmed) Indian folk ritual event where young men, observed by a big crowd (some filming with their smart phones) go into trances and are hoisted up above the people by hooks through the flesh of their backs and legs. It begins in daylight just as the sun's setting and goes on into the night. Later there are fires and running over hot coals.

    While this is going on, a young couple hit the road hitchhiking to a railway station to go to Madras, so they say (we never quite know who they are or what their plan really is). They are picked up by two men in a van who become their psychological tormenters, mocking them and playing with them. All through the night they try to escape and get out briefly only to be picked up again. They cannot get away for long. Early on the van is stopped by cops - or are they? - who turn out to be more abusive to the abusers than the abusers are to the innocent couple.

    It's a nightmare, a variation of one many of us have had where we keep trying to get somewhere but continually are frustrated. The tension is unrelenting and the couple is more and more helpless and frightened, especially the young woman (who can't speak the local language, adding to her helplessness). Toward the end, the van comes back once more and picks up the couple (who can't get a ride at this hour from anybody else: they keep getting in because it's even more frightening to be out on the dark road). This time, the van lights up inside and out like a flashing pinball machine while loud heavy metal music plays, and the men are wearing wild full-head masks. The eye candy of this sequence matches the exoticism and shock value of the men with hooks in their flesh. The critics call this flesh-piercing ritual masochism. But that's a simplification, because it's a traditional ritual. If they're in a trance, aren't they feeling no pain? The greater masochism may be the couple's reentering the van.

    Sasidharan's cinematographer Prathap Joseph is skillful, seeming to fly through the air, riding on top of the van, staring down the luminous dividing line along the rural highway, flipping into the van from above. Some of the tricks he performs are mystifying. Those who describe this picture as directred in social or political terms toward mistreatment of women (or hooliganism or male sexual predators) doubtless are right, have a point but they risk missing its overriding nature as direct experience and transfixing dream.

    This film debuted at Rotterdam, where it won the $43,000 Tiger Award. It was screened for this review as part of New Directors/New Films (FSLC-MoMA series, NYC, Feb. 2017).
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-02-2017 at 08:14 PM.

  15. #15
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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    MENASHE (Joshua Z. Weinstein 2017)



    A grieving Hasidic widower in Brooklyn

    The setting is a very particular one, the Yiddish-speaking Hasidic community of Borough Park, Brooklyn. Mehashe (Menashe Lustig, playing a variation on his own life experiences) is a widower with a ten-year-old son named Rieven (Ruben Niborski). In the community, children are not supposed to be in the care of single men, so Rieven is living with Menashe's judgmental brother-in-law Eizik (Yoel Weisshaus). Another factor is that Menashe, who has a menial job at a kosher supermarket where the boss is as disapproving as Eizik, is impoverished, not a winner; Eizik sells real estate, and does well. Menashe very much wants to have Rieven with him. He does get Rieven for a while, but it's a tug of war. The fact is, Menashe seems a mess. He's urged to get a new wife as soon as possible, but he's disinclined, and this big sloppy man is no dreamboat.

    There is a burlesque, comical aspect to this little tale. But it's also notable for its warmth and humanity. Essentially this is a story of love and loss. Documentary filmmaker Weinstein uses simple, no-nonsense methods,* and it seems uncertain where things are going for a while. But at the end, Menashe has gained some recognition - particularly from us, the viewers, and we realize that this is about grieving. Menashe is going through a process. He struggles to have the memorial service for his wife not at his brother-in-law's but at his humble abode, and, despite disasters, he succeeds. The event ends with the approval of the Rabbi (Meyer Schwartz)and the other men who come. When we see him standing tall walking down the street finally dressed in a proper Hasidic long coat and hat, no longer the sloppy shirt sleeves he's been in all through the film, we realize he is working through the grief and turning a corner toward self-possession and self-respect. He's becoming a mensch in his own eyes and acceptable material for a matchmaker, and we feel a lift.

    Menashe is not only a culturally distinctive tale with documentary particularity but also a story with real slow-building emotional heft. Much is owed to the scenes of Menashe and Rieven together. Rieven is a lively boy, playful, unpredictable, unscholarly, a bit of a handful. He is happier with his father, but also wary when his father messes up, repeatedly. On the other hand Eizik is prissy and mean as well as judgmental. This film isn't simplistic, though. The Rabbi and Eizik come to recognize Menashe's emotional sincerity and turn out not to be as mean as they first appeared, as playing by the Hasiidic rule book made them look. Hasidic values are strict, but there is also warm-heartedness and joy.

    This film shot among actual Hasidic people in Brooklyn, which is tricky, since the Hasidics don't even watch movies, let alone approve of acting in them. It had to be made somewhat on the sly. How Weinstein persuaded real Hasidic people to play all these roles is a bit of a mystery, but he spent several years making the film, and as a documentarian was familiar with ways of fitting in. This is one of those films where using non-professionals pays off. You could never make these people up, or recreate them with makeup.

    One does't feel here the wholesale admiration of Jewish ultra orthodox life you get in Rama Burshtein's Fill the Void (NYFF 2012), but one's not getting a sense of tragic consequences as with the gay orthodox butchers in Haim Tabakman's bold and devastating Eyes Wide Open. When you read accounts like Lutser Twersky's Huffington Post article, "I Escaped Hasidic Judaism..." you wonder, and there are hints here, like a young woman complaining that she's being prevented from going to college. But, of course, every story need not directly critique the society it depicts. It's complicated.

    Menashe, 79 mins., debuted at Sundance; also shown at Berlin and Cleveland, and screened for this review as part of the Film Society of Lincoln Center-Museum of Modern Art 2017 series New Directors/New Films. It's Weinstein's debut as a feature director. An A24 release: starting July 28, 2017.
    *L.A. Times article by Steven Zeitchik describes making of the film.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-20-2017 at 11:50 AM.

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