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Thread: NEW DIRECTORS/NEW FILMS 2018 (March 28–April 8, 2018) - Festival Coverage

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    NEW DIRECTORS/NEW FILMS 2018

    This now venerable series introduces New York audiences to the work of emerging filmmakers from around the world, bold new artists who push the envelope. I plan to review around 22 of these. A varied selection including some of the most exciting or new offerings from Locarno, Cannes, Berlin, and Rotterdam, and one or two other festivals last year, shown to the public at two venues in New York, Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art. This is an annual collaboration between the Film Society of Lincoln Center and MoMA.


    GUILTY (GUSTAV MÖLLER)

    FILMS & DESCRIPTIONS
    All films are digitally projected unless otherwise noted


    OPENING NIGHT

    Matangi/Maya/M.I.A.
    Stephen Loveridge, Sri Lanka/United Kingdom/USA, 2018, 95m
    In English and Tamil with English subtitles
    New York Premiere

    Before rapper M.I.A. became a global sensation, known for her musical daring and tireless political activism for the Tamil people in her native Sri Lanka, she was an aspiring filmmaker, having made countless video diaries chronicling her youth and private life. First-time documentarian Stephen Loveridge, who attended art school in London with M.I.A. in the nineties, uses this first-hand material to craft a nuanced and intimate portrait of a woman finding her roots, voice, and stardom, and a deeply personal statement from a pop star yearning to express herself.
    Wednesday, March 28, 7:00 & 7:30pm [MoMA]
    Thursday, March 29, 6:30pm [FSLC]


    CLOSING NIGHT
    Hale County This Morning, This Evening
    RaMell Ross, USA, 2018, 76m
    New York Premiere

    “The American stranger knows Blackness as a fact—even though it is fiction,” says writer-director RaMell Ross. For his visionary and political debut feature, which premiered to great acclaim at Sundance in 2018, Ross spent five years intimately observing African American families living in Hale County, Alabama. It’s a region made unforgettable by Walker Evans and James Agee’s landmark 1941 photographic essay Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, which documented the impoverished lives of white sharecropper families in Alabama’s Dust Bowl during the Great Depression. Ross’s poetic return to this place shows changed demographics, and depicts people resilient in the face of adversity and invisibility. Hale County This Morning, This Evening introduces a distinct and powerful new voice in American filmmaking.
    Saturday, April 7, 8:30pm [FSLC]
    Sunday, April 8, 2:00pm [MoMA]


    3/4
    Ilian Metev, Bulgaria, 2017, 82m
    Bulgarian with English subtitles
    New York Premiere

    3/4 evokes the intimacies, joys, and tensions of a contemporary Bulgarian family facing an uncertain future; the father is an astrophysicist with his head in the clouds, his son a waywardly antic teenager, his daughter a gifted but anxious pianist. Illian Metev (whose previous film was the gripping documentary Sofia’s Last Ambulance) won the Filmmakers of the Present prize at the 2017 Locarno Festival for this fiction feature debut, a gracefully shot, uncommonly tender character study that plays like an exquisite piece of chamber music.
    Thursday, March 29, 6:00pm [MoMA]
    Saturday, March 31, 1:00pm [FSLC]


    Ava
    Sadaf Foroughi, Iran/Canada/Qatar, 2017, 103m
    Farsi with English subtitles
    New York Premiere

    Adolescence creates intense pressure for any girl, but it’s particularly strong for 17-year-old Ava, buffeted by the harsh strictures of home and school in contemporary Tehran. Iranian writer-director Sadaf Foroughi won the jury prize at the Toronto International Film Festival for her intimate and intensely dramatic portrait of a young woman whose private longings drive her to rebellion and lead to public shaming. A Grasshopper Film release.
    Thursday, March 29, 8:30pm [MoMA]
    Sunday, April 1, 7:30pm [FSLC]


    Azougue Nazaré
    Tiago Melo, Brazil, 2017, 80m
    Portuguese with English subtitles
    North American Premiere

    No measure of hellfire preaching can quell the boisterous and bawdy passions of Maracatu, an Afro-Brazilian burlesque carnival tradition with roots in slavery that takes place in the northeast state of Pernambuco. As the Falstaffian character Tiao, Valmir do Coco leads a nonprofessional cast of authentic Maracatu practitioners in a tale told through dance, music, and the supernatural, set in the sugarcane fields outside Recife. The fabulous—and fabulist—Azougue Nazaré is the first film by Tiago Melo, who worked on such recent celebrated Brazilian films as Kleber Mendonça Filho’s Aquarius (NYFF 2016) and Gabriel Mascaro’s Neon Bull (ND/NF 2016), and who was awarded the Bright Future prize at this year’s Rotterdam International Film Festival.
    Friday, March 30, 6:30pm [FSLC]
    Saturday, March 31, 7:30pm [MoMA
    ]

    Black Mother
    Khalik Allah, USA, 2018, 75m
    New York Premiere

    The second feature by filmmaker and photographer Khalik Allah is a kind of documentary tone poem, a polyphonic work rich in atmosphere and intimate portraiture. Allah immerses us in Jamaica’s neighboring worlds of charismatic holy men and equally charismatic prostitutes, the sacred and the profane alike. Allah captures them and their environments with a haunting visual style and absorbing sense of rhythm entirely his own, their testimonies flooding the soundtrack with reflections on everyday survival and hopes for the future. Seamlessly switching from Super-8mm to HD video, Black Mother affirms its maker as one of the great stylists in documentary cinema today.
    Wednesday, April 4, 6:00pm [MoMA]
    Saturday, April 7, 6:00pm [FSLC]


    Closeness / Tesnota
    Kantemir Balagov, Russia, 2017, 118m
    Russian with English subtitles
    New York Premiere

    A young woman is trapped in a tight-knit Jewish community in the Kabardino-Balkar Republic, located in Russia’s North Caucasus, that demands her total dedication but provides her with little protection from the perpetual violence encompassing all aspects of life. Shot mostly in interior spaces, Closeness conjures a world of darkness and claustrophobia as the heroine quietly revolts yet succumbs to her bleak existence. This debut feature by Kantemir Balagov feels more beholden to the social realism of the Dardenne brothers than to the transcendental flair of his mentor, Russian auteur Alexander Sokurov (a producer on this film). Warning: this film contains a scene featuring images of documented violence that viewers may find upsetting.
    Saturday, March 31, 4:30pm [MoMA]
    Sunday, April 1, 4:30pm [FSLC]


    Cocote
    Nelson Carlo de los Santos Arias, Dominican Republic/Brazil/Argentina, 2017, 107m
    Spanish with English subtitles
    New York Premiere

    This format-mixing, formally eclectic opus is at once a profound film about religion and a unique tale of revenge. Upon learning that his father has been murdered by a powerful local figure, Dominican private gardener Alberto travels from Santo Domingo back to his hometown to participate in his funeral rites—a mixture of Catholicism and West African mysticism that flies in the face of Alberto’s own evangelicalism. But Alberto’s family has vengeance in mind, and he finds himself at a spiritual and existential crossroads. Boldly synthesizing ethnographic documentary and scripted drama, Cocote is a visually resplendent and stylistically audacious work that evokes the films of Glauber Rocha and the fiction of Roberto Bolaño. A Grasshopper Film release.
    Tuesday, April 3, 6:15pm [FSLC]
    Wednesday, April 4, 8:15pm [MoMA]


    Djon África
    João Miller Guerra and Filipa Reis, Portugal/Brazil/Cape Verde, 2018, 95m
    In Portuguese with English subtitles
    North American Premiere

    Documentarians João Miller Guerra and Filipa Reis turn the subject of their previous film into the central character of their debut fiction work. A Cape Verdean in Portugal, Miguel Moreira, also known as Djon África, travels back home to look for his birth father. This hopefully soul-searching journey quickly gets derailed as he comes across beautiful women, colorful parties, and the local liquor known as grogue. Written by Pedro Pinho, director of The Nothing Factory, also playing in this festival, this woozily intoxicating road movie is as youthful, charming, and adventurous as its title character.
    Wednesday, April 4, 9:15pm [FSLC]
    Friday, April 6, 6:00pm [MoMA
    ]

    Drift
    Helena Wittmann, Germany, 2017, 96m
    German with English subtitles
    U.S. Premiere

    Filmmaker-artist Helena Wittmann’s subtly audacious first feature follows friends Theresa, a German, and Josefina, an Argentinian, as they spend a weekend together on the North Sea, taking long walks on the beach and stopping at snack stands. Eventually they separate— Josefina eventually returns to her family in Argentina and Theresa crosses the Atlantic for the Caribbean—and the film gives way to a transfixing and delicate meditation on the poetics of space. Self-consciously evoking the work of Michael Snow and masterfully lensed by Wittmann herself, Drift is by turns cosmic and intimate.
    Thursday, April 5, 6:30pm [FSLC]
    Saturday, April 7, 4:00pm [MoMA]


    An Elephant Sitting Still
    Hu Bo, China, 2018, 234m
    Mandarin with English subtitles
    North American Premiere

    Sure to be remembered as a landmark in Chinese cinema, this intensely felt epic marks a career cut tragically short: its debut director Hu Bo took his own life last October, at the age of 29. The protagonist of this modern reworking of the tale of Jason and the Argonauts is teenage Wei Bu, who critically injures a school bully by accident. Over a single, eventful day, he crosses paths with a classmate, an elderly neighbor, and the bully’s older brother, all of them bearing their own individual burdens, and all drawn as if by gravity to the city of Manzhouli, where a mythical elephant is said to sit, indifferent to a cruel world. Full of moody close-ups and virtuosic tracking shots, An Elephant Sitting Still is nothing short of a masterpiece.
    Sunday, April 1, 6:30pm [MoMA]
    Sunday, April 8, 6:00pm [FSLC]


    Good Manners / As Boas Maneiras
    Marco Dutra & Juliana Rojas, Brazil/France, 2017, 135m
    Portuguese with English subtitles
    New York Premiere

    An immaculately stylized twist on the monster movie, Dutra and Rojas’s second collaboration (following the acclaimed Hard Labor) inventively engages matters of race, class, and desire. Set in São Paulo, the narrative initially concerns the curious relationship between rich, white, pregnant socialite Ana (Marjorie Estiano) and her new housemaid Clara (Isabél Zuaa). As the two women grow closer, their rapport turns first sexual then shockingly macabre. Good Manners evolves into a werewolf movie unlike any other, a delirious and compulsively watchable cross between Disney and Jacques Tourneur. A Distrib Films US release.
    Thursday, April 5, 8:30pm [MoMA]
    Friday, April 6, 8:45pm [FSLC]


    The Great Buddha +
    Huang Hsin-yao, Taiwan, 2017, 104m
    Taiwanese and Mandarin with English subtitles
    New York Premiere

    Provincial friends Pickle and Belly Button idle away their nights in the security booth of a Buddha statue factory, where Pickle works as a guard. One evening, when the TV is on the fritz, they put on video from the boss's dashcam—only to discover illicit trysts and a mysterious act of violence. Expanded from a short, Huang Hsin-yao's fiction feature debut The Great Buddha + (the plus sign cheekily nodding to the smartphone model) is a stylish, rip-roaring satire on class and corruption in contemporary Taiwanese society. A Cheng Cheng Films release.
    Tuesday, April 3, 8:45pm [MoMA]
    Wednesday, April 4, 6:30pm [FSLC]


    The Guilty/Den Skydige
    Gustav Möller, Denmark, 2017, 85m
    Danish with English subtitles
    New York Premiere

    In this pulsating crime thriller set entirely inside a claustrophobic emergency call center, police officer Asger is assigned to dispatcher duty following a fatal incident. An initially slow evening takes a sharp turn when he receives a mysterious call for help, and Asger must spring into action, embarking on a hair-raising journey—on the phone—to bring the caller to safety. Debut feature filmmaker Gustav Möller keeps the tension and the viewer’s imagination alive in this chamber piece that won audience awards at the Rotterdam and Sundance film festivals. A Magnolia Pictures release.
    Friday, March 30, 6:00pm [MoMA]
    Saturday, March 31, 6:30pm [FSLC]


    Makala
    Emmanuel Gras, France, 2017, 96m
    French and Swahili with English subtitles
    New York Premiere

    Gras’s transfixing road movie and Cannes Film Festival prizewinner follows a young Congolese man named Kabwita through the making, transporting, and selling of charcoal—from the felling of a tree to pushing a teetering bicycle weighed down with bulging sacks along treacherous dirt roads to contending with motorists, extortionists, and potential customers. As Gras observes Kabwita’s perilous trade, he derives beauty from the monumental efforts that go into his day-to-day existence. Makala is a documentary that resembles a neorealist parable, locating an epic dimension in the humblest of existences. A Kino Lorber release.
    Sunday, April 1, 2:00pm [FSLC]
    Monday, April 2, 8:45pm [MoMA]


    Milla
    Valérie Massadian, France/Portugal, 2017, 128m
    French with English subtitles
    New York Premiere

    Following up her acclaimed 2011 debut Nana, Valérie Massadian has made a moving, visually striking meditation on young motherhood and the vagaries of growing up. Severine Jonckeere turns in a remarkably subtle performance as the titular 17-year-old; just as her youthful romance with Leo (Luc Chessel) seems ready to cross the threshold into teenage parenthood, Massadian performs a radical formal gesture that both complicates Milla’s predicament and evokes the beauty and cruelty of time’s passage. A prizewinner at the 2017 Locarno Film Festival, Milla audaciously eschews conventional melodrama, searching instead for a complex, truthful reflection of life itself. A Grasshopper Film release.
    Sunday, April 1, 3:30pm [MoMA]
    Monday, April 2, 9:00pm [FSLC]


    Nervous Translation
    Shireen Seno, Philippines, 2018, 90m
    Filipino with English subtitles
    North American Premiere

    Informed by filmmaker Shireen Seno’s childhood in the Filipino diaspora and her dual training in film and architecture, this sophomore work is a stylized evocation of a child's fanciful interpretation of the world around her. Eight-year-old Yael, left to her own devices after school, secretly plays and replays audio cassettes her father sends home to her mother while working overseas; pursues happiness as communicated to her via a TV advertisement; and, in fanciful scenes that evoke the work of American artist Laurie Simmons, enters the meditative, immersive world of her dollhouse’s kitchen. Seno offers fleeting clues from the late-eighties outside world, hinting at societal turmoil following Ferdinand Marcos's ouster and complicated adult relations, but these never overshadow her film‘s touching depiction of childhood imagination.
    Saturday, April 7, 8:45pm [MoMA]
    Sunday, April 8, 1:00pm [FSLC]


    Notes on an Appearance
    Ricky D’Ambrose, USA, 2018, 60m
    North American Premiere

    Ricky D’Ambrose’s debut feature follows a quiet young man (Bingham Bryant) who mysteriously disappears soon after starting a new life in Brooklyn's artistic circles. Distraught friends (including Keith Poulson and Tallie Medel) search for him with the help of notebooks, letters, postcards, and other tiny clues; meanwhile, a parallel story about an elusive and controversial philosopher provides a rather sinister backdrop to their pursuit. This dark, minimalist pseudo-detective tale offers plenty of humor and displays a distinctive aesthetic. Following a series of remarkable shorts, D’Ambrose has clearly defined himself as a talent to watch.

    Preceded by:
    Young Girls Vanish / Des jeunes filles disparaissent
    Clément Pinteaux, France, 2017, 16m
    French with English subtitles
    North American premiere

    Clément Pinteaux explores the echoes of violence in Essonne, France, where dozens of girls were killed by wolves in the 1600s. Centuries later, young women begin disappearing again.
    Friday, April 6, 6:30pm [FSLC]
    Saturday, April 7, 6:30pm [MoMA]


    The Nothing Factory / A Fábrica de Nada
    Pedro Pinho, Portugal, 2017, 177m
    Portuguese and French with English subtitles
    New York Premiere

    A rich and formally surprising film of ideas, beautifully shot on 16mm, and featuring one of recent cinema’s most memorable musical numbers, Portuguese director Pedro Pinho’s nearly three-hour epic concerns the occupation of an elevator plant by its workers. They are stirred to action when the factory’s machinery is removed in the middle of the night by the owners; they rapidly organize, kick out the brass who have arrived offering buyouts, and discuss the feasibility of managing the facility themselves—all the while a Marxist theorist exerts ideological influence from the sidelines. The Nothing Factory is a serious and singular look at the meaning of work today, further developing Pinho’s interest in the status of labor amid his country’s financial crisis.
    Saturday, April 7, 2:00pm [FSLC]
    Sunday, April 8, 4:30pm [MoMA]


    Our House / Watashitachi no ie
    Yui Kiyohara, Japan, 2017, 80m
    Japanese with English subtitles
    North American Premiere

    This feature debut is an evocative and surprising exploration of female friendship, parallel realities, and the mysteries of everyday life. An adolescent girl named Seri lives with her mother in an old house in a coastal town. Seemingly in the very same house, amnesiac Sana is taken in by Toko, a young woman who harbors secrets of her own. As the parallel stories unfold, the boundaries between these two worlds grow increasingly porous... Inspired by the fugues of Bach and recalling the films of Jacques Rivette, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, and David Lynch, Our House announces Yui Kiyohara as an exciting new voice in Japanese cinema.
    Friday, April 6, 8:30pm [MoMA]
    Sunday, April 8, 3:30pm [FSLC]


    Scary Mother / Sashishi Deda
    Ana Urushadze, Georgia/Estonia, 2018, 107m
    Georgian with English subtitles
    New York Premiere

    In Georgian filmmaker Ana Urushadze’s gripping and bleakly comic feature debut, Manana, a 50-year-old Tbilisi mother abandons her duties as a wife and mother to pursue an obsessive and hermetic life of writing poetry. In a performance of coiled fear and rage that recalls the best of Isabelle Huppert, Nato Murvanidze plunges into Manana‘s feverish imagination. Scary Mother, which won awards at film festivals around the world, is a haunting, singular new vision.
    Saturday, March 31, 9:00pm [FSLC]
    Monday, April 2, 6:00pm [MoMA]


    Those Who Are Fine / Dene wos guet geit
    Cyril Schäublin, Switzerland, 2017, 71m
    German with English subtitles
    North American Premiere

    This dark comic study of an alienated contemporary Zurich begins by following an impassive twenty-something, a call center worker by day who initiates phone scams targeting elderly workers after hours. The film then spirals out to incorporate into its narrative city residents—police, bank tellers, reporters—obliquely linked to this swindle. Swiss filmmaker Cyril Schäublin’s feature debut (following a half-dozen short films to his name, including Stampede, ND/NF 2013) is a razor-sharp, formalist satire, using the city’s grey concrete architecture; clipped, digit-dominated exchanges between urbanites (phone numbers, Wi-Fi passwords, credit cards); and even a dash of sci-fi-esque atmospherics to portray a fractured, contemporary dystopia.
    Thursday, April 5, 9:00pm [FSLC]
    Saturday, April 7, 1:45pm [MoMA]


    Until the Birds Return / En attendant les hirondelles
    Karim Moussaoui, Algeria/France/Germany, 2017, 113m
    Arabic and French with English subtitles
    New York Premiere

    A property developer is witness to random street violence. A pair of secret lovers make their way across the desert. A doctor is accused of having a criminal past. In these three interconnected tales, exciting newcomer Karim Moussaoui—whom critics at Cannes compared to Abbas Kiarostami and Leos Carax—takes the pulse of modern-day Algiers, a country once riven by colonial occupation and sectarian warfare yet still abundant in beauty and promise. A KimStim release.
    Friday, March 30, 8:30pm [MoMA]
    Saturday, March 31, 3:30pm [FSLC]


    A Violent Life / Une Vie Violente
    Thierry de Peretti, France, 2017, 107m
    French with English subtitles
    New York Premiere

    Stéphane returns to Corsica for the funeral of a childhood friend and gang member, despite having a target on his back. Through flashbacks, this sophomore feature by Corsican filmmaker Thierry de Peretti tensely unspools as a coming-of-age tale dashed with crime, political radicalism, and youthful idealism born of the island's separatist movement. Loosely based on actual events and cast with local actors, A Violent Life resonates with regional folklore and crafts a poignant portrait of a marginalized generation. A Distrib Films release.
    Monday, April 2, 6:15pm [FSLC]
    Tuesday, April 3, 6:00pm [MoMA]


    Winter Brothers / Vinterbrødre
    Hlynur Pálmason, Denmark/Iceland, 2017, 100m
    English and Danish with English subtitles
    New York Premiere

    This debut feature from Hlynur Pálmason, an Icelandic visual artist/filmmaker based in Denmark, is an immersive sensory experience set in a desolate Danish limestone mining community. A landscape covered in indistinguishable white ash and snow masks the darkness enveloping Emil, a lonely and eccentric young man who works in the mine with his much more sociable brother. Few notice Emil until he is suspected of causing a co-worker’s grave illness, which leads to his ostracization. A relentless industrial soundscape accompanies this portrait of a man trapped in unforgiving isolation. A KimStim release.
    Thursday, March 29, 9:00pm [FSLC]
    Saturday, March 31, 2:00pm [MoMA]


    (Reviews begin below.)
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-13-2018 at 10:07 PM.

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    WINTER BROTHERS/VINTERBRØDRE (Hlynur Pálmason 2017)

    HLYNUR PÁLMASON: WINTER BROTHERS/VINTERBRØDRE (2017)



    Cold conflict, odd job

    Reviewed by Jessica Kiang in Variety at its Locarno debut: "An isolated Danish limestone plant," Kiang notes, "provides a surreally bleached-out backdrop for a strange, exceptionally crafted 'lack-of-love' story." "First there is the darkness of a limestone mine, lit only by helmet flashlights and the occasional shower of flinty sparks from a pickax connecting with rock. And then there’s the comparative dazzle of the processing plant, bleached white by a settling of lime dust and snow. Somehow these conflicting images are rendered equivalently bleak and scuzzy in Hlynur Pálmason’s challenging, deeply weird and yet peculiarly compelling directorial debut, in which a tiny community of Danish workers, clustered around a factory in the middle of nowhere, feels so isolated and remote it could well be on the surface of the moon.. . " This unique directors intentions are not always totally clear, but the action revolves around the clashes of two brothers who work at the plant, and the dubious practice by protagonist Emil of making ultra-strong hooch from chemicals filched on the work site.
    aa

    Maybe as Kiang asserts, this film reps an "impressively original, auspiciously idiosyncratic debut" - it can be read that way with its intense, authentic limestone mine locations and macho workers, and the various sui generis sequences Pálmason inserts. These include a pissing contest; male frontal nudity, and a fight almost to the death between the two nude brothers; a card trick and a chemical trick of water to wine or clear to dark liquid; a singularly odd manner for a boss to punish a worker; a story about a mine worker's dog loyal to the death; running video lessons by an English soldier that teach Emil how to fire an M1 rifle in combat, a skill he threatens to use.

    In compliance with narrative necessity, the rifle at least gets fired, and there are strategically smashed windows. One can't help admiring the deadpan calm of Elliott Crosset Hove, the actor who plays Emil, whose resemblance to Stan Laurel gives his vicissitudes a lightness they might otherwise lack. Aki Kaurismäki might have done good things with him and with this material, had he chosen to take it on, and been Danish instead of Finnish.

    However, all these elements fail to jell. The idiosyncratic scenes don't fit at all. But Kaurismäki would have known how to deal with that. What is needed is a narrative structure that makes the criminal hooch and the love triangle fit together more effectively. A striking setting, some decent actors, and oddball incidents aren't enough to meld it all together. However, there is, of course, plenty of talent and ambition here.

    Winter Brothers/Vinterbrødre, 100 mins., debuted at Locarno, Aug. 2017; 17 other festival showings including Toronto, Vancouver, and London, and screened for this review as part of the 2018 Museum of Modern Art and Film Society of Lincoln Center joint series, New Directors/New Films.

    ND/NF showtimes:
    Thursday, March 29, 9:00pm [FSLC]
    Saturday, March 31, 2:00pm [MoMA]
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-25-2018 at 07:23 PM.

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    THE GUILTY/DEN SKYDIGE (Gustav Möller 2017)

    GUSTAV MÖLLER: THE GUILTY /DEN SKYDIGE(2017)


    JAKOB CEDERGREN IN THE GUILTY

    Tense, absorbing Danish police emergency call drama marks a "crackerjack feature debut"

    The Guilty was reported on earlier in Filmleaf's 2018 Sundance thread: you can read Mike D'Angelo's Letterboxd review that says Möller does "a solid if unremarkable job of sustaining visual interest while confined to a single bland location, and generates considerable suspense from noises heard tinnily through the protagonist's earpiece." They aren't heard all that tinnily, though: the auxiliary soundtrack is as full throated as it needs to be to enrich the mainly one-person drama.

    An accomplished, spare tour-de-force, all the action concerning a crisis confined to a police office call station and one man, a demoted officer struggling to save a woman being abducted by her ex-husband. D'Angelo confesses to finding aspects of the story implausible, and going back and forth on the film but with a positive conclusion overall: "Thought Möller had won me back over at the end, but then he adds a cheap additional misdirection (for which I did not fall), and I got annoyed at the contrivance again. Crackerjack feature debut, though." It has been bought by Magnolia, and it got the Sundance World Cinema Audience Award. Also reviewed in Variety, Hollywood Reporter, The Village Voice, The Verge, and other publications.

    This film invites comparison with Tom Hardy in Stephen Knight's 2013 Locke as a telephone tour-de-force. Anything like this is like a radio play, not at all a bad association: radio plays used to be wonderful and they stimulate the imagination more than TV or movies.

    Actually Locke is in some ways more limited and others richer. Both are excellent dramas. While The Guilty plunges us in the effort of phone emergencies duty cop Asgar (Jakob Cedergren) to save a woman who has been abducted by her ex-husband in his van, Locke, while suspenseful too - that's the nature of the genre - is more a character study from the start. Tom Hardy's protagonist is a wrongdoer, like Asgar, the cop suspended from street duty with his partner Rashid (Omar Shargawi) pending a court hearing tomorrow. And tomorrow is initiation of the biggest project of architect Locke's career, which involves laying foundations for large buildings, and it has to be run by his assistant because he must go to a London hospital for the birth of his child - to a woman not his wife. He's expected at home tonight to be with his family to watch an important football match, and he won't be there either. His effort to juggle all these things and keep them from tumbling down on him is the nail-biter.

    In the juggling of multiple valences the Hardy vehicle - which one can't imagine working without him - resembles the stage play Michael Shannon did in 2011 about the failing theatrical agent, Mistakes Were Made. All these works are a matter of juggling multiple strands around a single main speaker on the phone (or phones) in front of us and keeping out attention riveted. They are all portraits of the man.

    Asgar becomes desperate to save Iben (Jessica Dinnage), the abducted wife, from Michael (Johan Olsen) but doesn't know the location of his van, only the district (New Zealand, Copenhagen). And that's not all he doesn't know. In this respect, The Guilty is more single minded, simple, and focused on a single set of events than the other two stories. It also seems, somehow, more "real." When watching Shannon and the arguably even more gifted Hardy I was constantly repeating to myself, "Wow, isn't this guy talented!" WithThe Guilty, I was not. This is a tribute to the scenario as well as to Jakob Cedergren's acting, which allows him to disappear into the part of Asgar, to keep it from feeling like an aria.

    Guilty/Der Skyldige, 85 mins., debuted Jan. 2018 at Sundance; it was also sown at Rotterdam, Göteberg and Sun Valley, and it was screened for this review as part of the MoMA-Film Society of Lincoln Center series New Directors/New Films Mar. 2018. This is Möller's first feature; in 2015 he made a 28-min. short film about a woman seeking to leave a closed psychiatric ward.

    ND/NF showtimes:
    Friday, March 30, 6:00pm [MoMA]
    Saturday, March 31, 6:30pm [FSLC]]
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-25-2018 at 07:27 PM.

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    AZOUGUE NAZARE (Tiago Melo 2017)

    TIAGO MELO: AZOUGUE NAZARE (2017)


    VALMIR DO COCO IN ASOUGUE NAZARE

    A drama of popular clashes between Christian and more primitive satanic rituals in Brazil is colorful but a bit rough

    Reviewed at Rotterdam in Hollywood Reporter by Neil Young, who explains the basics - how Azougue Nazare shows cultures clashing "with a reverberant clang" in this "promisingy energetic" - emphasis on "promisingly" - first feature. Specifically the conflict is between annual spectacles of a primitive tribal nature and the local Pernambuco (in NW Brazil) strain of evangelical Christianity.

    The special element is Maracatu, a local tradition of an elaborately costumed celebration like the Mardi Gras Carnival, and based on roots in Brazil's time of slavery. The trouble is Tiago Melo wrangles his authentic local performers and musicians with unequal skill, and fails to develop the Christian evangelical side as clearly, or integrate his various subplots, which include a pretty young woman who wants to leave her locksmith husband, and a major performer in Maracatu, a big fat black man (Valmir do Coco), whose wife wants to have a baby by her elderly evangelical minister because a dream has told her so.

    It's nice ironic twist, if filmmaker TIago Melo were as good as telling a story as Marcel Camus of the classic 1959 film Black Orpheus. But then, Camus had beautiful local stars (the Orpheus was a champion footballer) and a Greek myth. Even Carlos Diegues' updated 1999 local version of Camus's film, Orpheu, though beautiful, could not quite capture the earlier film's magic. Nothing in Azougue Nazare develops that kind of emotional power; only two peripheral actors are attractive, and there is no clear and unified central story. Neil Young acknowledges some of the cast of Melo's movie "are not the most gifted of thespians," but neither is Melo the most gifted of writer-editors. This is colorful indeed, but all pretty rough.

    Azougue Nazarre, 80 mins., debuted at Rotterdam, where it won the Bright Future prize. It was screened for this review as part of the Mar. 28-Apr. 8, 2018 Museum of Modern Art-Film Society of Lincoln Center joint series, New Directors/New Films.

    ND/NF showtimes:
    Friday, March 30, 6:30pm [FSLC]
    Saturday, March 31, 7:30pm [MoMA]
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-13-2018 at 10:14 PM.

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    UNTIL THE BIRDS RETURN/EN ATTENDANT LES HIRONDELLES (Karim Moussaoui 2017)

    KARIM MOUSSAOUI: UNTIL THE BIRDS RETURN/EN ATTENDANT LES HIRONDELLES (2017)



    Fitting in and standing out in the Maghreb

    The Maghreb countries, Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco, have been so deeply influenced by outside cultures that their inhabitants suffer sometimes from split personalities. The title of Karim Moussaoui's debut feature even has a, to us, secret Arabic title. While it's French and English names refer poetically to birds, the Arabic more prosaic one is "طبيعة الحال" (ṭabi'at al-ḥāl) or "The Nature of the Situation."

    The film is also split into three unrelated segments, which shift back and forth between European influence and local in style and content. The first one shows a property developer whose spacious apartment, shared with his wife, would be elegant and sophisticated in Paris. Their conversations shift back and forth between French and Algerian Arabic in every sentence. When he speaks to his somewhat lazy son to urge him not to give up pursuing medicine, they speak mostly in Arabic. When he speaks later with his stylish daughter who has studied in France and vows to go back there ("It's too complicated here"), they speak only in French, with not a word of Arabic.

    When the developer gets caught on a diversion road, he witnesses the violent beating of a man, about which he can do nothing. His alienation from it is shown by the fact that he never even reports it to the police after his flat tire has been fixed and he has come home. Along that deserted road are rows and rows of empty new buildings evidently never completed like many one can see in Cairo since the time of Sadat.

    The second segment, with its attractive, alienated couple, might evoke Antonioni. They wind up on a long drive cross country, and are ex lovers. She is now promised to another, but they drift back together. They go to a big empty nightclub where she persuades musicians to play and reveals herself to be an excellent belly dancer. He reluctantly joins in. Later they encounter a lively group of musicians whose playing might suggest the folklore-rock blend of the famous Moroccan group, Nass El Ghiwan.

    The final segment brings up old ugly memories when a well-respected doctor is accused by a woman living in a shanty town of complicity in her mass rape during the revolution. And her son, too metaphorically for words, is a mute boy who cannot bear to be touched and speaks only in high-pitched, plaintive cries. This will haunt the doctor. But this episode too is invaded by lively local music, this time when the doctor is involved in a wedding. Instead of the spacious French-style apartment of the property developer, or the wide spaces of the car trip, the screen is filled with the oppressive, cacophonous celebration of a typical folkloric Magrebi wedding, and we can't say if the big doctor's jaunty dancing and forced smile convince anyone.

    How does all this fit together? It doesn't. But while there is a kind of sympathetic fallacy in making work that exhibits the flaws one's trying to describe, the filmmaker shows skill as a storyteller and creator of mood.

    Reviewed in Hollywood Reporter at Cannes by Jordan Mintzer ("An intriguingly crafted look at contemporary Algeria"), who described the film as bringing together the country's "troubles both past and present" by exploring " the damaged emotional landscape of his homeland." Cannes critics compared Moussaoui's style to Abbas Kiarostami and Leos Carax.

    "Separated into three stories that are less connected than they are complementary," Mintzer writes, "the film features various characters from different backgrounds searching for a form of attachment in a country left divided by years of sectarian conflict — most notably the civil war that engulfed Algeria throughout the 1990s. While some parts are stronger than others, through its twists and turns Bird gradually builds into a tender portrait of a place, and a people, looking for ways to come together. A premiere in Cannes' Un Certain Regard sidebar should help push it into foreign festivals and markets," Mintzer concluded.

    Until the Birds Return/En attendant les hirondelles, Arabic title "طبيعة الحال" (ṭabi'at al-ḥāl) or "The Nature of the Situation," 113 mins., debuted in Un Certain Regard at Cannes, May 2017; six other international festivals and four countries theatrical release. French release 8 Nov. 2017; AlloCiné press rating a very positive 3.8 with high praise from Libération, Cahiers, and Le Monde.Screened for this review as part of the MoMA/FSLC 2018 New Directors/New Films. A KimStim release.

    Showtimes:
    Friday, March 30, 8:30pm [MoMA]
    Saturday, March 31, 3:30pm [FSLC]
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-25-2018 at 07:36 PM.

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    CLOSENESS/TESNOTA (Kantemir Balagov 2017)

    KANTEMIR BALAGOV: CLOSENESS/TESNOTA (2017)



    A dose of family, in bright boxy color

    Balagov's colorful intensity forces itself upon us from the start. Most of the shots are close-ups, sometimes so close we can't get a good view. The opening scene is of a sister and brother, who flirt and talk dirty that may define the title for us: this is a world of family and tribal intimacy.

    The title states a theme worked out narratively and visually in Balagov's intense, slow-moving film about a Jewish family in Russia. It's in squarish Academy ratio, which is claustrophobic in itself, with that effect amped up by intensifying the color of the images and making them mostly closeups, so close sometimes it's hard to see the people in the shots. The closeness is family and tribe. The opening scene is a too-intimate one between the grown brother and sister. The family is Jewish. She is a tomboy who works in their father's garage and prefers overalls. He is about to be married to his love, Lea. She has a secret lover, from an obscure tribe whom her parents might not approve of and who might not approve of her. They meet clandestinely, often in a car. Then her brother and Lea are kidnapped and held for ransom. The Jewish community, led by the rabbi, are unable to raise all the ransom money. They decide to sell the garage and its contents and this will mean they will have to move. The are constantly moving and they had begun to fit in, but that's over. Only when the brother comes back the issue becomes: will he go with the family? Will Lea? Will his sister?

    All of this matters so intensely that it pushes all else away, each one thing occupying the small crowded box of the screen at a time and making it seem as if there is nothing else. Thus Balagov captures the beauty and oppression of a rich ethnic family life in a small, encroached-upon tribal community struggling to exist against the world.

    Many including audience members at the Cannes Un Certain Regard original screening of this film have objected to the use of a real "snuff film," showing Russians being threatened, tortured, and killed, which goes on for several minutes. This is just the most oppressive and drawn-out passage of a film that tends, for some of us, to feel oppressive and drawn-out for much of its nonetheless distinctive and in its own way beautiful run-time.

    Reviewed by Jessica Kiang as part of Un Certain Regard at Cannes in Variety: "An ethically indefensible choice mars Russian first-timer Kantemir Balagov’s otherwise impressively tough-minded debut," she began, pointing to the use of what might be considered a real 'snuff film' in its contents. ] "Even without its most controversial segment," Kiang said, this is "a demanding, difficult watch, presents an unavoidable [ethical dilemma}" whether to consider this inclusion remotely acceptable, of at midpoing a lengthy excerpt from a "scratchy and degraded VHS tape" of the kind we know from ISIS, of "anti-Semitic Islamist violence and murder." Tara Brady of Tara Brady of The Irish Times explains it is "actual footage from the 1999 Dagestan massacre - in which Chechens torture Russian soldiers.". "the sequence goes on for a long time," Kiang writes, and the press notes indicate its not just realistic but real. .

    Closeness is a tough-minded, rigorously composed, quite brilliantly acted story of the challenges of everyday religious prejudice and ethnic divides in the bleak heart of Russia’s North Caucasus, and in many ways Balagov’s uncompromising but stylized social realism rewards as much as it punishes. But in including this real video — essentially a snuff movie — within a fiction narrative and not announcing it as such, a line is crossed. . ." But Tara Brady concluded with: "A divisive and discombobulating new talent has arrived on the Croisette."

    Closeness/Tesuta 118 mins., debuted in Un Certain Regard at Cannes May 2017. Opened theatrically in France, very well received (AlloCiné press rating 4.1) Reviewed as part of New Directors/New Films, FSLC and MoMA, Mar. 2018.

    Showtimes:
    Saturday, March 31, 4:30pm [MoMA]
    Sunday, April 1, 4:30pm [FSLC]
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-26-2018 at 12:01 PM.

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    SCARY MOTHER /SASHISHI DEDA (Ana Urushadze 2018)

    ANA URUSHADZE: SCARY MOTHER/SASHISHI DEDA (2017)


    NATO MARVANIDZE IN SCARY MOTHER

    Genius and madness are often linked, perhaps because genius is outside the norm. Plain folks may not understand it. When a brilliant writer approaches the surreal, who can follow? One of the accomplishments of Georgian director Ana Urushadze's debut feature is the way we remain unsure to the end of the middle-aged mother working on a troubling manuscript, expressing a long-repressed desire to write, has lost it, as her conventional husband says, or is creating a work of incomparable originality, as her friend the stationary store owner fervently believes.

    Her husband says in the opening scene that his wife looks disheveled and worn out. Yes, she does, a bit; but throughout she is capable of maintaining an upright, elegant look as well. Urushadze maintains a nice level of clarity and a firm narrative line. Much credit is due also to Ramaz Ioseliani, the admirable actor playing Nukri, the stationary store owner, who not only champions Manana (Nato Murvanidze), but sets up a room for her in the back of his store as a retreat - and he has no ulterior motives. He really is trying to find Manana a publisher, and nurturing what he feels is an extraordinary new work of literature.

    Anri (Dimitri Tatishvili), Manana's upright spouse, thinks what she has written is extreme pornography. So do some of the publishers who have looked at her 150 finished pages (she has to find an ending). But didn't they say that about Henry Miller and William Burroughs?

    To us Manana may seem crazy at times, certainly. But isn't that because she is in the white heat of creative fervor?

    Urushadze makes her film turn more and more into a thriller, a mystery, and a chase, admirably speeding up the tension. She introduces a fourth hand in the game: Jarji, Manana's father, who is translating the manuscript, without knowing yet that it is hers. He is played by the quite extraordinary Avtandil Makharadze, who builds up a maniacal energy of his own. Meanwhile Manana has three handsome children, two boys and a girl, all upright and fine. Where does her explosion of creative power come from? Jarji, no doubt.

    The film was reviewed at Antalya Film Festival (competing) by Jessica Kiang in Variety. She described the theme of Urushadze's "darkly daring debut" as " A middle-aged Georgian woman finds freedom, ferocity and freakiness in writing her first novel" and noted, "The vast, largely unmapped terrain of a middle-aged mom’s creative life gets a witchily weird, uncompromisingly assured showcase in Georgian director Ana Urushadze’s exhilaratingly offbeat oddity. [The film's] cerebral chilliness, emotional remove and narrative abstruseness might make it a hard sell in that context. . .this is nevertheless a startling debut that wholly earns its place as standard-bearer for one of the most exciting and distinctive national cinemas to have emerged in recent years." This is indeed a fresh and original and well-made film.

    Scary Mother/Sashishi Deda, 107 mins.,debuted at Locarno, won a prize at Sarajevo, also at Atalya, and was, not surprisingly, Georgia's Best Foreign Oscar entry for 2018. Screened for this review as part of FSLC and MoMA's New Directors'/New Films series, March 2018.

    ND/NF showtimes:
    Saturday, March 31, 9:00pm [FSLC]
    Monday, April 2, 6:00pm [MoMA]
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-15-2018 at 09:31 PM.

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    AN ELEPHANT SITTING STILL (Hu Bo 2018)

    HU BO: AN ELEPHANT SITTING STILL (2018) 234 mins.


    WANG YUWEN, LI CONGXI, YU ZHANG, AND PENG YUCHANG IN AN ELEPHANT SITTING STILL

    Extraordinary first film, by a young director too soon lost

    This four-hour, intimate, almost real-time epic follows several people of different ages at the end of their tether who converge finally at the train station heading for the same escape, the city of Manzhouli where they say an elephant simply sits and ignores the world. The style made me, like others, think both of Edward Yang (A Brighter Summer Day) and Jia Zhang-ke (Unknown Pleasures), and this profound, ambitious work of an impressive new filmmaker takes on a tragic resonance because he committed suicide, at 29, so all this promise will never be realized again. A sad astonishment.

    Reviewed at Berlin in Hollywood Reorter by Clarence Tsui: "An Elephant Sitting Still began with a myth — and ended up becoming a myth itself. Revolving around four characters shaken out of their small town stupor by an enigmatic tale about a lethargic pachyderm, the film attained instant cult status among critics at the Berlinale, where it premiered in the Forum sidebar, because of the suicide of its 29-year-old novelist-turned-director Hu Bo last October." Tsui notes a debt to s Krzysztof Kieslowski and Bela Tarr for its fatalistic worldview and "omnipresent tracking shots."

    Another reviewer (actually several, the present writer included) saw elements of Edward Yang and Jia Zhangke. Tsui adds, "Elephant isn’t exactly the film maudit suggested by the difficult circumstances from which it emerged. Long and a bit unwieldy, and self-consciously philosophical in parts, yes, but Hu's first (and sadly last) feature weaves together its narrative threads clearly and sturdily." In Sight and Sound Giovanni Marchini Carnia calls the film "A shattering, soul-searching debut (and one-off)."

    Writing for the site Filmstage from Berlin, Zhuo-Ning Su makes some astute observations about this film's strengths and weaknesses, notably how the director "writes microscopically, detailing the characters’ circumstances and choices at every turn, but addresses at the same time something on a much larger scale–an ancient civilization slowing losing its human touch." Zhuo-ning uses some marvellous phrases, calling the film a "grand tapestry of sorry." He's also right on the film's faults, that the "time element" may not be well-considered, making too much happening on the same day, and the "intellectual exposition," the expressions of the hopelessness and meaningless of existence, are unnecessarily repetitive. I simply find the film visually unsatisfying at some points, and too murky in the interiors by half. The much-admired long takes and long tracking shots might have been curtailed, in the interests of economy and toward the achievement of a more manageable run-time. But great talents are sometimes unwieldy and hard to contain.

    In any case, the film and the stories it tells haunt you.

    The way the camera doggedly, but deftly, follows the people around is somehow both obsessive and calm. In classic fashion, it is an eye: you are there. The world around is indifferent, yet penetrated with violence, cacophonous. It's nowhere and everywhere in contemporary China, dreary, vast, in rapid flux yet somehow also deserted-seeming. There is violence and indifference everywhere.

    The narrative follows four main characters. There is a family that wants to put the grandfather, Lao Jin (Congxi Li), a retired man who doesn't look very old and is perfectly agile, into a home for the aged to make more space. And this man loses his dog when it is attacked by another dog that causes its death. A teenage boy, who emerges as the main protagonist, is Wei Bu (Peng Yuchang), a 17-year-old who stands up for himself and his buddy against the menaces and accusations of the local school bully, which results in a shoving match and the bully's fall down a cement stairway, apparently leaving him dead. Wei Bu's classmate and crush, Huang Ling (Wang Yuwen), is dating the married vice-principal to escape from her cruel mother. Yu Cheng (Yu Zhang), a slick, goodlooking petty hoodlum type, in the area and vaguely connected to the others, we learn later has slept on this momentous day with his best friend's girl, and sees his best friend jump to his death when he knows. The neatly woven action eventually brings these four people together on the way to Manzhouli.

    Elephant Sitting Still, 234 mins., debuted at the Berlinale. Also shown at New Directors/New Films, where it was screened for this review. The late filmmaker, a Beijing Film Academy graduate, had also directed a couple of award-winning short films and published two novels.


    HU BO
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-25-2018 at 07:46 PM.

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    COCOTE (Nelson Carlo de los Santos Arias 2017)

    NELSON CARLO DE LOS SANTOS ARIAS: COCOTE (2017)



    A clash of images and rituals

    The Dominican filmmaker Nelson Carlo de los Santos Arias is drunk on sound and images. He enjoys sliding between color and black and white and different size formats, between still, wide pans and uptight agitated coverage of intense local gospel meetings amped by drum beats, depicting a clash of Catholicism and West African mysticism.His use of sound early and late in Cocote, his debut feature, isn't just ethnographic but radical and dramatic. In purely cinematic terms the viewer shares the intoxication of this interwoven ethnic, ritual, and visual blend - until it begins to clog the intended narrative a bit. Because there is a narrative, and an intensely driven, even if blocked one.

    Alberto (Vicente Santos), the stifled, conflicted protagonist, a tall, awkward black man, is a gardner on a wealthy estate. He is also an evangelical Christian. We see only the wide, distant shot of the very large pool, which bookends the film. News of his father's death takes him to his rural "pueblo." Here he learns his father has been brutally murdered, decapitated, probably by a policeman. He is moved to revenge. But that goes against his Christian faith. So does the requirement that he attend pagan ceremonies rooted in Dominican Vodou that are part of the local obsequies for his father.

    Never mind that Alberto is blocked morally and emotionally. The film itself is sidetracked by a wealth of documentary footage of those ceremonies and of impassioned, repetitive preaching that the director must have, understandably, thought too good to leave out, but somehow does not have quite the skill to include and still maintain narrative rhythm and suspense.

    The synthesis of ethnographic documentary and scripted drama is an intoxicating but uneasy one. There is a situation here, more than a plotline. The real locations and people never cease to feel alive and exotic, but the revenge story keeps getting submerged, and it doesn't feel right. But it isn't entirely wrong either, though: Alberto is being urged to revenge by his family, but it goes strongly against his gospel Christianity, so he really is stuck. Perhaps if Alberto were stronger as a character all this would work better. As it is, as a first feature by a previous maker of a documentary and several shorts, this is a promising sign of ambition and passion that's been justifiably compared to the films of Glauber Rocha and fiction of Roberto Bolaño.

    Cocote is a study of class and power. After an hour of glorious images, documentary vibrancy, and narrative stagnation, Alberto meets up with someone who may be his father's killer, a cop who explains that helps but means nothing against the powerful. It sounds as violent a world as anywhere in Latin America, as Mexico among the cartels.

    The climax feels rushed into the last fifteen minutes - though there is a beautifully ironic, and differently documentary, final sequence of rich folks talking falsely sociable nonsense around that big pool.

    Cocote, 107 mins., debuted at Locarno Aug. 2017 in the Signs of Life section, winning the Best Film Award, and the film has been in a half dozen other international film festivals, including Toronto, Hamburg, Mar del Plata and Miami. It was screened for this review as part of the 2018 edition of the Museum of Modern Art-Film Society of Lincoln Center series, New Directors/New Films. A Grasshopper Film release.

    In New Directors/New Films:
    Tuesday, April 3, 6:15pm [FSLC]
    Wednesday, April 4, 8:15pm [MoMA


    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-01-2018 at 06:39 AM.

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    THE GREAT BUDDHA + (Huang Hsin-yao 2017)

    HUANG HSIN-YAO: THE GREAT BUDDHA + (2017)


    CRES CHUANG AND BAMBOO CHU-SHENG CHEN IN THE GREAT BUDDHA

    Forbidden pleasures

    Huang Hsin-yao's catch-all titled The Great Buddha is the most clever and witty film in this year's New Directors series so far and likely to remain so. For some reason it reminded me of the droll Mexican minimalist Fernando Eimbcke of Lake Tahoe and Duck Season, though really its emphasis on electronic game-playing and its well-thought-out nexus of religious hypocrites, crooked politicians, minor fat-cats and low-level losers is different; so is the self-reflective irony of the filmmaker introducing himself before th film starts to roll, and interrupting with commentary. Maybe it's the drollery and sympathy for underdogs that's the link with Eimbcke. Anyway the pleasure felt similar.

    The dangerously scrawny Belly Button (Bamboo Chu-Sheng Chen) and bespectacled Pickle (Cres Chuang) are a perfect pair of loser buddies: they couldn't be more invisible, and that's why entering their imaginative world feels special and their quietly combative intimacy feels real. Pickle is the night security guard for a little factory that produces Buddhas, including one big one that's featured in the spectral final scene where it's the center of a cultish celebration. But it looks like a fly-by-night place. Do these guys have any life or friend than each other? Belly Button is a scavenger who lives in a shack. He reminded me of the father in Kurosawa's Do-des-ka-den. PIckle moonlights in a funeral band to help care for his aging mother. That his status matches Belly Button's is shown by his sharing girlie mags with sticky pages and receiving and consuming with only mild complaint partly frozen, expired bento meals dumped by convenience stores. Pickle at least has a job and a mother, but as Maggie Lee points out in her review for Variety written at Taipei, Belly Button gives himself a sense of status by bullying or looking down on Pickle for his naivete about most things and general nerdiness.

    Into this yucky world comes a dangerous entertainment: watching the factory boss' dashcam memory card images from his new Mercedes, Belly Button's idea of entertainment to fill in for a broken TV. Now this is a medium new to feature films. But it turns out to be a great one. The images of The Great Buddha proper are black and white; the dashcam ones are in lurid digital color. The metaphor is one aspect, the rest is sheer visual pleasure. The trouble for the surreptitious snoopers is most of the memory card videos are nothing. But a few times they hit pay dirt.

    Pickle's boss Kevin Huang (Leon Dai) is sleazier and more evil than they had imagined. The dashcam card shows him in, shall we say, compromising positions with several women, not his wife.

    Another aspect, a subplot that's not insignificant but never gets in the way of the loser drama, is the big Buddha, and the cult that visits and the annoying woman who critiques the Buddha, on which her group is to take delivery. And some appearances of local officials, throwing their weight around.

    The new formats, including the self-reflective voiceover, the dashcam adventure, and the passages increasingly depicting boss Huang as a creepy loser who yet deserves some sympathy for the hairpiece toupee he always wears, are the highpoints of this inventive and droll production that's none the less for being an expansion of a prize-winning short. I must rely on Mabbie Lee for the information, not a surprise however, that the two underdogs' dialog reps "vulgar banter" that's "wickedly funny", and that in Huang's personal voiceover, "choice use of puns and obscenities in Taiwanese dialect is a source of constant delight as well as insight into his protagonists’ inner thoughts." The "+" in the English title is a reference to the iPhone6, she also explains. I am sure much more is to be gleaned in repeated watches of this thought-provoking and ingenious film, which not surprisingly is heralded by Lee as the best in a year of resurgence of a recently dormant Taiwan cinema, and the big prizewinner at the local Oscar equivalents.

    The Great Buddha +, 104 mins, in Taiwanese and Mandarin, debuted at Taipei, and was subsequently included in ten or so other international festivals including Toronto, Busan, Tokyo and Palm Springs, opening on the Internet in Canada and the US in Feb 2018 after Jan. limited releases. Screened for this review as part of the MoMA-Film Society of Lincoln Center 2018 New Directors/New Films series.
    .
    ND/NF showtimes:
    Tuesday, April 3, 8:45pm [MoMA]
    Wednesday, April 4, 6:30pm [FSLC]


    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-19-2018 at 11:14 PM.

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    BLACK MOTHER (Khalik Allah 2018)

    KHALIK ALLAH: BLACK MOTHER (2018)



    Jamaica in a visual tone poem

    Khalik Allah's short documentary feature is in the nature of a long poem of cross purposes about Jamaica, land of the director's maternal grandfather, with many motion picture snapshots of local people from different times accompanied by multiple voices speaking about life, motherhood, God, Rasta and ganja, and other germane matters but not specifically lined up with the faces we see. There are country people and city people, prostitutes and holy man, though the overwhelming focus is on the poor. There is black and white and color, Super-8mm, HD video, and Bolex footage, there is meditative thought of death and it all ends with the birth of a child, the whole being organized into three trimesters following the pregnancy. This is not the kind of documentary that gives you specific information, but it may lead you to fall back on your own related memories in a more personal way. It is highly evocative, but negotiating the non-correspondence of related images can also ultimately be wearying.

    According to Christopher Gray of Slant, writing from the True/False documentary festival in Columbia, MO, this film follows quite logically from Allah's first, which used the same technique of germane but out-of-synch images and testimony in an impressionistic montage, the 2015 Field Niggas being focused on drug addicts, prostitutes, and cops in a single intersection in Harlem. Gray adds that Beyoncé's Lemonade film works similarly, and Allah was its director as well.

    Black Mother, 75 mins., was screened for this review as part of the MoMA-Film Society of Lincoln Center 2018 series New Directors/New Films.

    ND/NF showtimes:
    Wednesday, April 4, 6:00pm [MoMA]
    Saturday, April 7, 6:00pm [FSLC]
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-20-2018 at 09:02 AM.

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    DJON ÁFRICA (João Miller Guerra, Filipa Reis 2018)

    JOÃO MILLER GUERRA, FILIPA REIS: DJON ÁFRICA (2018)



    Picaresque ramble of a party boy searching for his father

    João Miller Guerra and Filipa Reis are some more documentary filmmakers who've turned to a fiction feature based on their own material, and the focus of their last non-fiction effort, a young man of Cape Verdean origins born in Portugal. There are several classic themes wrapped up in this easy-going movie, which is more on atmosphere and the occasional colorful character than interesting plot twists. Yes, this is a bit of a picaresque tale, even an Odyssey - its hero is seduced from time to time by pretty women and intoxicating drink - and he gets seriously sidetracked and relieved of his wallet. Miguel (Miguel Moreira), also known as Djon África (Djon pronounced "John") or Tibars.

    He's using electric clippers on the sides in the opening scene, leaving only some thin, stylish dreadlocks, making his look halfway between rasta and rap. Miguel is a big, easygoing school dropout of 25 with jutting lips and big gap teeth, and he's strong to be hired on construction sites, where he makes money he saves up for his first trip to the Cape Verde island archipelago off the West Coast of AFrica, to find his father, whom he's never seen. Even on the plane, in sequence that is half fantasy, he is surrounded by pretty Cape Verdean young women, and freely imbibes grogue, the strong national drink.

    This is the pattern, and since he speaks the language and moves freely, Miguel slides right into the sunny world he meets. A big party leads to being fleeced by the pretty ladies, who disappear next morning. Eventually he winds up hired on a ferry boat by a tough old crone puffing a ciggy who keeps an old cow and some goats up in the hills. She hires him to do the work, in exchange for board, but no WC, because there ain't none. There is a gentle magic in these sequences, and they provide an engaging picture of a pleasant place with good-looking people, however crooked the government, as they tell him, may be.

    There's no more to it than that.

    Written by Pedro Pinho, director of The Nothing Factory, also playing in the New Directors festival.

    I wonder if anyone would think of Pedro Costa, of Colossal Youth (SFIFF 2007) and other films, the preeminant film chronicler of Cape Verdeans in Portugal. A darker, more realistic picture comes from him, perhaps.

    Djon África, 95 mins., debuted at Rotterdam, Jan. 2018, in the 2018 Hivos Tiger Competition, and bought for international distribution before that by the Paris based Still Moving . It was screened for this review as part of the MoMA-Film Society of Lincoln Center 2018 New Directors/New Films series.

    ND/DF showtimes
    Wednesday, April 4, 9:15pm [FSLC]
    Friday, April 6, 6:00pm [MoMA]



    MIGUEL MOREIRA
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-20-2018 at 06:31 PM.

  14. #14
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    GOOD MANNERS (Marco Dutra, Juliana Rojas 2017)

    MARCO DUTRA, JULIANA ROJAS: GOOD MANNERS/AS BOAS MANEIRAS (2017)



    Lesbian love and lycanthropic childbirth in São Paulo

    Well, this is a humdinger, and on top of being a lesbian vampire-werewolf movie with social overtones, eye-candy Brazilian mise-en-scene and São Paulo locations, it wants to be a musical, and probably would make a darn good full-fledged one, given half a chance.

    The movie, arguably a little long, is in two self-sufficient parts, before and after the childbirth, which is the first big scene-stealing special effects display, to be followed by plenty more.

    The story initially explores the unexpectedly intimate relationship across race and class that develops between the rich white pregnant socialite from the country Ana (Marjorie Estiano), whose unplanned pregnancy and refusal to lose it has exiled her from her family in a spacious (and festively decorated) condo in the center of São Paulo, and Clara (Isabél Zuaa) the handsome, cropped-haired black woman, trained as a nurse, but with an uncertain past, whom she hires as a nanny and housemaid. As the two women grow closer, their rapport turns first affectionate and intimate, then sexual, then more fraught and complicated, and in the end shockingly macabre.

    It's hard to know where to begin, and this movie, blending art house and genre features in a very sui generis manner, is too good to want to spoil it by revealing many details. The first thing that charms, aside from the two attractive ladies and their somehow inevitable sympathy, is how great things look. Ana's condo is decorated in an understatedly fantastic manner. Outside, the big modern buildings of São Paulo glow deliciously. Then there is the glow of the night skies, and the great big moons. Dutra and Rojas are not into drabness. Everything is a visual delight.

    I don't think we've ever gotten sympathetically close to a young boy who's a werewolf before, so you get concerned about him. This no doubt is why Neil Young, of Hollywood Reporter,* writing from Locarno, said this movie's "most obvious antecedent" is "Tomas Alfredson's 2008 Swedish kiddie-vampire smash Let the Right One In." As Joel, Miguel Lobo is a sweet, delicate kid, whose fur pelt that time of the month seems an embarrassment. There is another key support character in Clara's harmonium playing, singing landlady Dona Amélia (Cida Moreira). Everything here seems unique and inevitable, including the dedicated songs, some of them duets. You kind of want to see this again - soon - and with friends.

    Young thinks this needed to be trimmed truly to compete with Alfredson's film. And Good Manners indeed has structural complications, maybe irreparable ones. But it doesn't matter. It's still original and a delight.

    Good Manners/As Boas Maneiras, 135 mins., debuted at Locarno, and was included in an unusually large number of festivals - over forty. Screened for this review as part of the MoMA-Film Society of Lincoln Center 2018 New Directors/New Films series, It is a Distrib Films US release.

    ND/NF showtimes:
    Thursday, April 5, 8:30pm [MoMA]
    Friday, April 6, 8:45pm [FSLC]

    _______
    *Jay Weissberg gives a fuller account of the film in Variety.


    MIGUEL LOBO

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-28-2018 at 11:39 PM.

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    NOTES ON AN APPEARANCE (Ricky D'Ambrose 2018)

    RICKY D'AMBROSE: NOTES ON AN APPEARANCE (2018)


    BINGHAM BRYANT IN NOTES ON AN APPEARANCE

    Gone boy

    Ricky D'Ambrise, who wrote and directed this short feature, is evidently part of a little group of young people in Brooklyn involved in making literate, talky, low-keyed films which flirt with themes of mystery and the occult. We note the common thread among others of Bingham Bryant, who co-directed For the Plasma a couple of years ago and plays the young man, David, who disappears in this one. Bryant also produced a 2016 film about two Argentinians in New York called Dear Renzo. There are links with Alex Ross Perry, and the credits cite a number of New York film critics, as well as Film Society of Lincoln Center programmer Dennis Lim, who chose the present film for inclusion in the New Directors series that gives it its debut. New York movie writer Glenn Kenny plays a minor role as a morgue assistant.

    Notes on an Appearance is more about the disappearance of a young unemployed man from Chappaqua, NY, called David (Bryant), who at one point was in Milan and sent some postcards from there. There is some old footage. There are many shots of tables with snacks or breakfast. Given that this is a film by and about young people, and caffeine has never been in higher regard with this demographic, coffee is a constant item in these shots. There are also shots of diary entries by David, as well as his cards, and rather arcane references to a controversial political theorist called Stephen Taubes, an elaborate creation of this film, whom David has been hired to gather research on for a biography of Taubes by David's friend Todd (Keith Poulson), who has a fellowship that allows him to work on it full time.

    Taubes is made to seem more real than David, with severalTimes news articles about him shown, a photograph, and an obituary, and even an article about him by Louis Menand in The New Yorker. And there is a dryly staged meeting of three young literary critics before a small audience. D'Ambrose likes to create or recreate his world at one remove. Taubes' reputation and influence after his demise is nearly as important as the physical disappearance of David.

    The invented documents are "paper" rather than electronic, ostensibly because one of the characters most concerned by the disappearance is a doctoral candidate who's an archivist, gathering material for somebody else who is writing a biography of Taubes. But it's also true that "paper documents" probably have a quaint and appealing historical flavor for twenty-somethings weary of their own tiresome Internet- and device-driven generation. D'Ambrose recognizes there's something more genteel and pleasant, perhaps, about a world free of smartphones and such, even though this film's world is the present.

    The characters speak in little scenes of dialogue shot up close with blank backgrounds. The action is seen as being an arcane "search" for the missing David, but the process lacks urgency, and the solution to the mystery doesn't come through the young clique's efforts.

    This is a "minimalist" film, its spare style making a virtue of the necessity of a very low budget. It's an exercise in style, with something a little European about it, a hint of W. G. Sebald, perhaps; something intellectual, something that avoids the visceral or genre or emotional, with its dry invented worlds of a vanished young man and invented public figure. There is a delicate aesthetic, with the academy ration images in pale colors and a little fuzzy at times. Greg Cwik of Slant notes that this film falters when it comes to the disapparance of David. Despite his use of a haunting, broody soundtrack, D'Ambrose's approach is too meditative and too far from basic genre techniques to generate tension. What he's best at (as Cwik says) is playing thoughtfully, unhurriedly, with locations and objects. Sometimes, though, this film seems to be grasping for an elegance and complexity of style D'Ambrose, despite reportedly some very interesting shorts under his belt, still lacks the means or the chops to achieve. Notes on an Appearance is valuable for what it seeks to be rather than for what it is.

    Notes on an Appearance, 60 mins., showed in the Forum section at Berlin Feb. 2018 and also in the Spirit of Fire Film Festival in Russia. It was screened for this review as part of the MoMA-Film Society of Lincoln Center 2018 New Directors/New Films series, its North American premiere.

    ND/NF showtimes:
    Friday, April 6, 6:30pm [FSLC]
    Saturday, April 7, 6:30pm [MoMA]


    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-21-2018 at 05:40 PM.

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