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Thread: NEW DIRECTORS/NEW FILMS 2019 (March 27-April 7, 2019)

  1. #1
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    NEW DIRECTORS/NEW FILMS 2019 (March 27-April 7, 2019)

    New Directors/New Films Reviews 2019


    Full ND/NF schedule

    Angelo (Markus Schleinzer 2018)
    Bait (Mark Jenkin 2019)
    Belonging/Aidiyet (Burak Çevik 2019)
    Clemency (Chinonye Chukwu 2019)
    End of the Century (Lucio Castro 2019)
    Fausto (Andrea Bussmann 2018)
    Honeyland/Медена Земја (Tamara Kotevsk, Ljubomir Stefanov 2018)
    Joy (Sudabeh Mortazai 2018)
    Load, The/Teret (Ognjen Glavonić 2018)
    Long Way Home/Temporada (Andre Novias Oliveira 2018)
    Manta Ray (Phuttiphong Aroonpheng 2019)
    Midnight Family (Luke Lorentzen 2019)
    Misericórdia (Xavier Marrades 2019)
    Monos (Alejandro Landes 2019) Centerpiece
    MS Slavic 7 (Sofia Bohdanowicz & Deragh Campbell 2019)
    Present.Perfect.(Shengze Zhu 2019)
    Suburban Birds//郊区的鸟/Jiao qu de niao (Qiu Sheng 2018)


    Mark Jenkin, UK, 2019, 89m
    North American Premiere

    Mark Jenkin’s tale of tensions between two brothers in a Cornish fishing village is an idiosyncratic work of social realism (shot on hand-processed black-and-white 16mm) fascinatingly pitched somewhere between documentary and political melodrama.

    Shengze Zhu, USA/Hong Kong, 2019, 124m

    Mandarin with English subtitles
    U.S. Premiere
    Shengze Zhu’s third feature shines a light on the curious world of live-streaming, a singularly contemporary form of human connection and commerce wherein “anchors” document their lives and interact with a virtual audience.

    MS Slavic 7
    Sofia Bohdanowicz & Deragh Campbell, Canada, 2019, 64m

    North American Premiere
    In Sofia Bohdanowicz and Deragh Campbell’s clever comedy, a young woman (Campbell) visits Harvard University to research a correspondence between her great-grandmother (a renowned Polish poet) and another poet who seems to have been her lover.

    Preceded by:
    Xavier Marrades, Brazil/Spain, 2019, 21m

    Portuguese with English subtitles
    World Premiere
    Filmed around Brazil's Itaparica Island, this oneiric documentary evokes the rich, complicated ancestry of Bahia—considered the African heart of Brazil—through the dreams of its present-day inhabitants.


    Alejandro Landes, Colombia/Argentina/Netherlands/Germany/Sweden/Uruguay, 2018, 102m

    English and Spanish with English subtitles
    New York Premiere
    In Alejandro Landes’s intensely thrilling twist on Lord of the Flies, Julianne Nicholson plays a terrorized American engineer held captive by teenage guerilla bandits in an unnamed South American jungle. A Sundance award-winner, Monos is sure to be one of the most hotly debated films of 2019.

    Manta Ray
    Phuttiphong Aroonpheng, Thailand/France/China, 2018, 105m

    Thai with English subtitles
    U.S. Premiere
    Cinematographer Phuttiphong Arronpheng’s auspicious directorial debut is a mysterious, intoxicating work that centers on the friendship between a fisherman and the mute refugee he rescues from a swamp.

    End of the Century
    Lucio Castro, Argentina, 2019, 84m

    Spanish with English subtitles
    World Premiere
    What seems like a one-night encounter between two strangers becomes an epic, decades-spanning relationship, which filmmaker Lucio Castro depicts in a nonlinear fashion, and in which time and space refuse to play by the rules.


    Chinonye Chukwu, USA, 2019, 113m

    New York Premiere
    Winner of the Jury Prize in the U.S. Dramatic Competition at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Chinonye Chukwu’s sophomore feature is an enthralling prison-set drama anchored by powerhouse performances by Alfre Woodard and Aldis Hodge.

    Philippe Lesage, Canada, 2018, 130m

    French with English subtitles
    U.S. Premiere
    Following his autobiographical 2015 debut The Demons, Philippe Lesage continues to chronicle the life of young Felix (Édouard Tremblay-Grenier), and also captures the romantic trials and tribulations of two Quebecois teen siblings; the result is one of the most beautiful coming-of-age stories in years.

    Burak Cevik, Turkey, 2019, 72m

    Turkish with English subtitles
    North American Premiere
    A murder investigation is flipped inside out in Burak Cevik’s second feature, a spellbinding and surprising film concerning the first encounter of a young couple accused of murder.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-30-2019 at 11:00 AM.

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    BAIT (Mark Jenkin 2019)

    MARK JENKIN: BAIT (2019)


    An antiqued-format film of Cornish fishermen bucking local gentrification

    Tourists rule Cornwall: it's the form of rampant gentrification that can run roughshod over the fragile ecosystem of a small fishing community. And fishing itself is a kind of artisanal food-provision that is endangered constantly by industrial sources. This is the root source of Mark Jenkin's unusual film, shot in black and white with a Bolex cine-camera on 16mm kodak stock, in boxy academy ratio, hand-processed for a rough, flickery look, and so, artisanal in itself. It was the UK's only entry to the Berlinale’s Forum program this year.

    The film is edited oddly, experimentally, sometimes evoking early expressionism and sometimes cross-cutting madly with aims of the filmmaker's own. The protagonist is Martin Ward (Edward Rowe), a cove-fishermen currently without a boat. His brother Billy (Martin Ellis) is now using the family vessel profitably for tourist day-trips; Martin is welcome to join, but refuses. He is using a net to cast for bass along the shore and drop a single lobster trap off a shore, providing small catches to a few local customers. His son joins in with him.

    The opposing force is experienced in the film in the form of a single family of outsiders to whom Martin and his brother have sold their late father's sea front cottage. (Simon Shepherd and Mary Woodvine play the parents; and there are a teen son and daughter.) They occupy it in summer and rent out parts of it to other tourists, airbnb fashion. Martin is infuriated with everything about them, particularly the way they have tricked out the house with nautical objects and "Ropes and chains like a sex dungeon," as he tells his brother. The growing bone of contention is Martin's insistence on parking his truck near the house as he always did, while now there are parking regulations requiring him to use a public area. Eventually he gets his wheel locked by parking authorities.

    His son Neil (Isaac Woodvine) crosses with outsiders differently: he spends the night with their pretty daughter. There are ample pub scenes to give a sense of the younger generation.

    None of this adds up to very much yet in terms of conflict. It's simply the inchoate seething resentment on both sides that counts. Jenkin knows the scene, he has strong material, and it's easy to follow, the intense, scratchy images gorgeous and ugly by turns. Jenkin gets a mite to fancy, though, with his cross-cutting at times, such as when he interlaces two arguments second by second between different people at once. It seems almost childishly playful, and distracting from the seriousness of the material, which however admittedly needs the touches of humor and sensuality to avoid over-earnestness.

    One thing that works at times is a combination of short cuts to big closeups in staccato rhythm underlined by snatches of tight-lipped one-liners. The interrelation of image, cut, and dialogue in the contrasty imagery makes for a very distinctive mix, almost like a music video - a kind of experimentalism we all know nowadays. But Jenkin's habit of sudden flash-forward images, as when a teenage girl (Chloe Endean) assaults the outsiders with a cue ball and we see her hands getting handcuffed before the event, is another ornamentation that feeds the experimentalism of the film at the cost of its emotional authenticity and clean storytelling. When conflict leads to tragedy, the followup isn't clear, and the line between reality and nightmare imagining becomes hazy. I wanted to love this original and strongly-felt effort, but ultimately got lost in the details.

    Peter Bradshaw, at the Berlinale, on the other hand, was very admiring in the Guardian of this proudly English material, giving Bait 4 out of 5 stars, describing its style and elements better than I could, calling it "one of the most arrestingly strange movies in Berlin this year, " "an adventure in zero-budget analogue cinema," and concluding that it's "an experiment – and a successful one." Jessica Kiang's Variety review adds something more: that the look of Jenkin's film is meant to evoke Robert Flaherty and his now out-dated, but deeply evocative fisherman saga Man of Aran. If, she suggests, we can see the rise of digital as "gentrification" of filmmaking, then Jenkin's deligerate archaism is s counter blow to that.

    So if you like a retro look, virtual primitivism in cinematic technique, you should probably give Bait a look, and if its authentic knowledge of the Cornwall fisherman environment doesn't communicate itself fully in the storytelling and editing, that's not for lack of energetic trying. As the screening ended, I had the feeling that if I'd seen it projected at a cinema somewhere in Cornwall for some reason, the audience would be carried away and me with them.

    Bait, 89 mins., debuted at Berlin in the Forum series Feb. 2019. Reviewed there for by Jessica Kiang and also by Peter Bradshaw for the .
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-11-2019 at 07:14 PM.

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    PRESENT. PERFECT. (Shengze Zhu 2019)



    A film about the phenomenon of "live-streaming" in China

    Documentary can be both voyeuristic and boring, and such is the case with Shengze Zhu's Present. Perfect., a film that documents the craze for "live-streaming" in China, said to have peaked in 2016, when the government moved in to set some limits. This is an online combination of exhibitionism, or simply self-vérité documentation, where the "anchor" hooks up with a site where others can connect and ask questions or make donations.

    We get several young men with artful hair, one of them a would-be street dancer (he's not at all good). An attractive young woman with a child who works in a factory making men's underwear films herself both there and at home. She explains that she only does it when her boss is not there. A man with deformed extremities who begs on the street simultaneously takes donations online and talks. A thirty-year-old man who describes himself as "sexually undeveloped" and unable to have children answers questions from many locations and takes donations. He describes having been bullied at school, then a recluse, now, through this medium, having acquired the ability to go in some sort out in the world. So live streaming has given him a life, of sorts. He giggles delightedly as he answers the many questions.

    This is a medium for lonely and unfortunate people, or is as we see it here, at any rate. Aren't YouTube videos a form of live streaming, in a way? And then isn't the fame of vloggers-become celebrities like Charlie McDonnell of "CharlieIsSoCoolLike" a form of this? Isn't even Justin Bieber an ultimate example? But isn't it just that "live-streaming" is a "career open to talents" that's, instead, a "career open to the untalented"? At the end of this over-long film there is extended footage of what appears to be an ant colony, while the voiceover talks to us about cockroaches. But it is interesting - and shows that for someone with imagination and focus, "live-streaming" could actually become instructive. And probably often is - only not mostly, and not during the craze for it in China documented here.

    Present. Perfect., 124 mins., debuted at Rotterdam Jan. 2019, also showing at (FICUNAM - Festival Internacional de Cine UNAM) Mar. 3. Screened for this review as part of the MoMA-FSLC 2019 series, New Directors New Films.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-11-2019 at 07:29 PM.

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    MS SLAVIC 7 (Sofia Bohdanowicz, Deragh Campbell (2019)



    A young woman seeking a literary grandmother's legacy

    In MS Slavic 7, The Canadian filmmakers take a real literary legacy of a sort, that of filmmaker Sofia Bohdanowicz, and blend it with putatively invented complications for a momentarily interesting series of vignettes. In them a determined young woman Audrey Benac, played by co-writer Deragh Campbell, who comes to the Houghton Library at Harvard to examine the eponymous file, containing letters in Polish from her great grandmother Zofia Bohdanowiczowa’s correspondence with Nobel Prize nominee Jozef Wittlin, making notes, as required, only with a pencil. This is puzzling, because later she has a drink with a translator, apparently hired by her, where they discuss an odd translation he has made (too literal, might we say?) using the word "mint," she asserts that she does not know a word of any language but English. He seems surprisingly passionate about the material, but I guess that's what makes a good translator of literary-related materia

    There is a celebratory (memorial?) gathering, with an old couple who've been married sixty years, where the young woman encounters her aunt Ania (Elizabeth Rucker), who plainly disapproves of Audrey's studying the manuscripts, which she thinks either fraudulent on her part, because she lacks the academic qualifications for literary study, or exploitative, since she might get grants or publish books out of this for her own personal gain. Ania completely loses her cool. Later, is that the translator in bed with our young researcher and family literary executor? But it's chaste: they just read from translations of the Polish letters.

    I can't make much out of this. But there is interesting material here. First of all, there is the young woman's pursuit of a plangent literary legacy. Second, there is the content of that legacy, a correspondence with the renowned Polish poet who was once a candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature - a kind of literary romance heightened by the agony of exile, a kind of literary romance between members of the opposite sex who eventually meet in Toronto, where Zofia had settled, while Witlin had put down roots in New York. Was the meeting disappointing, because of the "gray," depressing city, or "apocalyptic"? Hints of both are dropped. Third, there is the competition, the jealousy, perhaps a conflict over custody of documents, and no doubt much more.

    There is good material here, and an example of how literary or academic ephemera can make for drama is Joseph Cedar's suspenseful tragicomedy about warring father-don Talmudic scholars, Footnote (NYFF 2011). More recently one might think of Ricky D'Ambrose's Notes on an Appearance (ND/NF 2018), a film that plays with fragmentary literary hints in a poetic, mysterious wan and constructs a story out of them. Things don't come together quite as well in MS Slavic 7, but there is good raw material here for further work.

    But others were more impressed at the Berlinale. Deborah Young, in her Hollywood Reporter review, approvingly speaks of the "industrious intellectual labor" required by this film, and describes it as 'the kind of offbeat indie that will intrigue college students and younger festgoers." She does admit that "In themselves, Zofia’s delicate letters full of anxiety and Wittlin’s evocative poems set in a war camp" - the essential raw material of the film - "offer nothing very new or striking." She thinks it is the hints of the Holocaust that make the theme resonate. In fact the whole here is more than the sum of its parts. Perhaps the most touching part is Deragh Campbell's halting attempt, as Audrey, to define what makes old fashioned snail mail special. She seems to sense that it was, but for someone of her generation, it's all so theoretical. . .

    MS Slavic 7, 64 mins., debuted at Berlin Feb. 2019. It was screened for this review as part of New Directors/New Films of MoMA and the Film Society of Lincoln Center. This is its North American Premiere.

    March 30
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    April 1
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    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-13-2019 at 06:01 PM.

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    MONOS (Alejandro Landes 2018)



    Teen guerrillas run amok

    The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw raved, understandably, about Brazilian-born Alejandro Landes' explosive, enveloping film about teenage soldiers run wild. He called it "the best thing I have seen at Berlin this year: something between Apocalypse Now, Lord of the Flies and Embrace of the Serpent," and that's a good place to start. It also reminded me strongly of Carlos Reygadas, and Lisandro Alonso's 2004 film Los Muertos. This is a Latin American Heart of Darkness inhabited by adolescents.

    It's a gang of teenage fighters, boys and some girls, with an American woman hostage. They're ostensibly commanded by a small, muscular Indio type called Mesajero (Messenger, Wilson Castro)who holds them in a military formation and gives them instructions. But let's make clear right away that it's not particularly what is going to happen in this movie that you will take away with you but it's palpable sense of humans gone feral. These kids go wild like in Lord of the Flies but it's different, because they start out as part of a guerrilla organization somewhere else, with which they are in radio contact.

    Mesajero assembles them in military ranks and gives them instructions. He puts Wolf (Lobo, Julián Giraldo) in charge. They have gang nicknames. There is Perro (Dog, Paul Cubides); little Pitufo (Smurf, Deibi Rueda); innocent-looking Boom Boom (Sneider Castro); three girls, Leidi (Lady, Karen Quintero), Sueca (Swede, Laura Castrillón), and the oddly named Rambo (Sofia Buenaventura). Then there is the wiry, dangerous Patagrande (Bigfoot, played by New York-born actor Moisés Arias)

    Their task is to take care of an American hostage, a woman engineer they call La Doctora, Sara Watson (Julianne Nicholson). They now have been entrusted a cow, for whose well-being Wolf is responsible. But they have a celebration, they get drunk and fire off their weapons, and Dog misfires and kills the cow. Wolf is held guilty and imprisoned, and he commits suicide, whereupon Bigfoot takes charge. So everything has gone very bad very quickly. Not to waste good meat, they skin and cut up and roast and eat all they can of the cow meat. We see all this.

    Where the cow lived and died they fall into its shit, and in it discover "fungitos", i.e, "'shrooms," magic mushrooms. There's more wildness.

    Hostilities and rivalries arise, but also sexual relationships, which are allowed if requested. They move from the mountains down into the jungle, and when La Doctora starts trying to escape the new leader goes into a rage and partly destroys the radio that is their link to 'The Organization,' a sign of disintegrating order that's plain to see - or hear, since thee raucous and powerful sound score by Mica Levi, is one of the mechanisms that drives the action and the scene into our consciousness most irresistibly; it's so good it continues to surprise us even during the closing credits, which in themselves are beautiful. Monos is an exhilarating experience. It really leaves you speechless. Some, however, such as Keith Urlich in his Hollywood Reporter review, have spoken up in disapproval of the film as "irresponsible." Of course it is! They killed a cow. And in some scenes they may have put the young actors in danger. But Alejandro Landes and everyone concerned have created for us a wonderfully vivid, intense, and memorable screen experience. Consider what Rory O'Connor said in CineVue: it's "nothing short of an aesthete’s dream, a film crammed with visual bravado that at various times echoes Kubrick, Malick, and Coppola’s Apocalypse Now." One may be tempted to bend the rules for such an experience and such a filmmaker.

    Monos TRAILER

    Monos, 108 mins., debuted at Sundance, winning its Special Jury Prize in the World Cinema Dramatic competition.Monos has received major reviews and has received a Metascore of 82. At its Berlinale debut, Peter Bradshaw reviewed Monos for the Guardian, giving it five out of five stars and writing a rave review: "This overpoweringly tense and deeply mad thriller from Colombian film-maker Alejandro Landes is the best thing I have seen at Berlin this year: something between Apocalypse Now, Lord of the Flies and Embrace of the Serpent." Screened for this review as part of the Film Society of Lincoln Center-Museum of Modern Art joint series New Directors/New Films, March 2019, which is the New York Premiere, and the Centerpiece Film of ND/NF.

    Previously reviewed by me: Alejandro Landes' 2011 Porfirio (ND/NF 2012). Landes was born in Brazil of a Colombian mother and Ecuadorian father, educated at Brown University and later employed as a writer for the Miami Herald. He is thirty-nine.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-13-2019 at 07:10 PM.

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    MANTA RAY (Phuttiphong Aroonpheng 2018)




    Cinematographer Phuttiphong Aroonpheng's directorial debut is a complex and haunting film whose storytelling has several layers. The story told in Manta Ray is complicated and verges on the mythical.

    The film opens on a man in a place of mangroves and forest carrying an automatic weapon. It is a wild looking scene. The ground is sprinkled with flickering lights. The man is draped in a wire of flickering lights too. Later, this place seems to be a killing field, but also a site of semi-precious stones a fisherman has often visited, but is afraid of at night.

    We meet a scrawny, bleach-haired young fisherman (Wanlop Rungkumjad). He is rummaging through a muddy forest plain when he comes across a corpse. But the man is not dead, only nearly starved and with a bleeding chest wound. (It turns out he is a Rohingya muslim - many die in this region). The fisherman rescues him and takes him home, nursing him back to life.

    As he recovers, the man (Aphisit Hama) turns out to be mute. The fisherman arbitrarily gives him a name, Thongchai, after the Thai pop superstar Bird Thongchai.

    Here's a nice idea: a companion who is mute, and also needy, because he's a refugee, and you've rescued him. He keeps you company, he follows you around and helps you, and he makes no trouble. The scenes for a while are peaceful, because Thonghai is soothing company, and the man don't speak. Thonghai indeed follows the fisherman around, helping with chores and riding with him in the sidecar attached to his motorcycle.

    Reviews of the film note its "humanism." But is the fisherman doing a good deed, or partly seeking company, and partly atoning for his own as yet unrevealed multiple sins? The fisherman talks to Thonghai (he seems to understand), and tells him one day that he had a wife,but she left him for another man. He is very angry at her and at the man. So Thonghai provides the fisherman with needed company and a soothing presence.

    They go back to the forest plain and listen to the earth. The fisherman teaches Thonghai to collect gemstones that he uses to attract and catch manta rays. At night they glow in the ground, he says, but men are afraid to come then because there are so many bodies of the dead here.

    In a scene that rhymes with the gemstones in the forest, the fisherman rigs his shack with fairy lights that flicker, and he and Thonghai sway to a dreamy electronic tune. It almost seems for a moment they will become lovers. It's pretty clear the fisherman is also something else, maybe a hitman, himself guilty of murders in the mangrove swamp and indeed atoning (feebly) with the rescue of Thonghai, when he suddenly gets a phone call and answers, "Boss, I don’t want to do this anymore." Not surprisingly, he soon disappears, and Thonghai is left alone to live by himself in the shack and ride around in the fisherman's motorcycle with its sidecar. But there are more surprises to come.

    Unfortunately this film gets so involved in its mood-weaving that it winds up taking a little too long to end. Nonetheless the spell it weaves, with its haunting mangrove swamp, mix of calmness and danger, and its ambiguous and changing intimacies, never ceases to be fascinating and promising for the director's future work.

    Manta Ray/Kraben rahu, 105 mins, debuted at Venice 7 Sept. 2018. It was reviewed there for Hollywood Reporter by Clarance Tsui. Also reviewed at Venice for Variety by Richard Kuypers, who calls it "promising" and notes that itt "is likely to be pleasurably hypnotic for many viewers." He rightly comments the editing team of Lee Chatametikoolf, who has cut most of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s films, and "rising young talent Harin Paesongthai," plus dp Nawarophaat Rungphiboonsophi and the French team of Christine Ott and Matthieu Gabry who did the atmospheric sound designs. Shown at eight other festivals, including Toronto, Vancouver, and Rotterdam.Screened for this review as part of the 2019 MoMA-Film Society of Lincoln Center New Directors/New Films series.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-13-2019 at 10:25 AM.

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    END OF THE CENTURY/FIN DE SIGLO (Lucio Castro 2019)



    Multiple hookups; perhaps a long term relationship? A gay puzzler set in Barcelona

    Lucio Castro studied at the Parsons school of design, and has a fashion line that "focuses on clean and ethical production, offering contemporary menswear with attention to texture, unique fabrics, and masculine proportions." The line lays claim to a "cinematic spirit, stemming from Castro’s passion for filmmaking and interest in building character through clothing." Had I known this, I might have paid more attention to the clothing the two men wear in the film, End of the Century/Fin de siglo. In retrospect nothing stands out. The weather in Barcelona was warm. The man were lightly clad. Notable only was a black T shirt with the word "KISS" emblazoned on it in white letters, worn by Javi (Ramon Pujol). Its cinematic spirit is uncertain, but it catches the eye of Ocho (Juan Barberini), the other man, who invites its wearer up. Javi asks for water, then relents and joins Ocho in a beer, one thing leads to another and - they have to go out to buy condoms. Eventually the deed is done.

    But this film isn't so much about sex, or encounters, though the gay men's hookup app "Grindr" is mentioned, pronounced, in Spanish, "Green-dir." This is very physical, yes, a thing of hot sex, sunshine, beers, and an attractive airbnb flat with a built in fridge I couldn't help envying. But it's a mindbender. One of the men says he has been in a relationship for twenty years. It seems mildly implausible, since he seems young. Later, there is another meeting, another pickup, more sex - between the same two men. Only it is happening - twenty years ago? They'd forgotten they knew each other. Or are these other lives? One of them has a child. Both of them, at one point, were involved with a woman. One of them was married to a man. But the married men don't have sex with each other very often, if at all. They think that normal enough. On the other hand, one declines to have sex again, because he's married, and there's a limit, evidently, on the openness.

    The basic idea, that two men could meet in Barcelona , have brief, intense sex, and later discover that they were together twenty years ago, is quite plausible, especially since they both have a bland clone quality - pleasant but forgettable - except that twenty years ago is a long time for men who look this young, and in the two separate sequences they don't look a different age. But when alternate lives start being mentioned, things become confusing. This is an amiable and pleasant film. But it's not only hard to follow. It's also ultimately hard to care about. Even this Barcelona has been rendered neutral and modern, Gaudí- and Ramblas-free. Talk of Y2K and making a film about the year 2000 also puzzles, since everything seems of the present day, like searching the internet for information about AIDS.

    End of the Century/Fin de siglo, 84 mins., will have its World Premiere at New Directors/New Films, Mar. 2019, where it was screened for this review.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-12-2019 at 09:39 PM.

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    CLEMENCY (Chinonye Chukwu 2019)



    A blunt instrument of a film that's a powerful indictment of capital punishment and death row practices

    Clemency is a film that seems so long I thought it ought to be a mini-series - or an opera. Powerful but rather heavy-handed, it is full of drama and full of woe, and there is one long, loud wail that might be more ennobling and memorable as an aria. This is a story "ripped from the headlines." The new California governor, Gavin Newsom, has just announced a moratorium on capital punishment in the state. The lengthy delays everywhere satisfy opponents of the death penalty, but are agonizing. So is the method of "lethal injection"- used at the prison in Clemency, which is headed by a black woman warden, Bernadine Williams (veteran actress Alfre Woodard, magnificent in this plum role), who has administered too many executions. Her marriage has come to a standstill. She drinks. Her rigid insistence that she is doing the right thing is frozen against her secret, inner awareness that it is all very, very wrong.

    To make this blatantly clear, debut director Chinonye Chukwu provides an excruciating prologue depicting the botched execution of a Hispanic prisoner, Victor Jimenez (Alex Castillo), where the paramedic assigned to kill him can't find a working vein and keeps stabbing the man in more and more painful places until he writhes and screams in agony. (This has indeed happened.)

    The focus shifts in the rest of the movie on another condemned man, a convicted cop killer Anthony Woods (Aldis Hodge, in another incredibly rich role), and we see him go through the gamut of emotions with Bernadine, a priest, his beleaguered lawyer Marty Lumetta (Richard Schiff of "The West Wing"), who, like the warden, has come to the end of his tether; and a long-missing wife and hitherto unknown son. Woods' story is one of endless tormenting dashed hopes. The case against him and the jury conviction seem to have disintegrated. That seems not to matter to the prison system. But it may matter to the governor, who, we're repeatedly told, can stay execution up to the very last minute.

    The thrust of the film, which was also written by Chukwu, is to show the intolerable burden the capital punishment system imposes on everyone. This is a grim and powerful work. The acting is superb. But it, like Steve McQueen's Twelve Years a Slave, seems to revel in the punishment it metes out on the hapless viewers, rendering us too benumbed to do the intellectual work the complex issues demand of us. When it is not browbeating us, it is often lecturing us, as when Bernadine's estranged husband Jonathan (Wendell Pierce), a schoolteacher, is shown reading an extended passage from Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man.

    The racial aspects of this story are hinted at, but not directly addressed. It's impossible not to think, when forced to contemplate for nearly two hours the cruel and ruthless punishment meted out on a black man for killing a putatively white cop, how aware even white people are now of the impunity with which American cops, mostly white, daily kill black men.

    Clemency, 113 mins., debuted at Sundance, winning the Grand Jury Prize for U.S Dramatic films at the festival, first win of this award by a black woman director. Reviewed at Sundance by Amy Nicholson for Variety and by David Rooney for Hollywood Reporter as well as in Playlist, and IndieWire. Screened for this review as part of New Directors/New Films, Mar. 2019 at Lincoln Center and MoMA. New York Premiere.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-15-2019 at 06:52 AM.

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    GENESIS/GENÈSE (Philippe Lesage 2018)



    Love problems of a Québecis generation

    Following up on his autobiographical 2015 debut The Demons (SFIFF 2016), French Canadian auteur Philippe Lesage continues to chronicle the life of young Félix (Édouard Tremblay-Grenier), now grown from fearful schoolboy to timid teen.

    But Félix figures only in a final section. Taking center stage this time are step-siblings Guillaume (Théodore Pellerin) and Charlotte (French actress Noée Abita). Their separate amorous troubles alternate, along with frequent recourse to dance scenes depicting teen revelry. Central are doings at Guillaume's posh all-male boarding school, eventually involving a fourteen-year-old named Alexis (Antoine Marchand-Gagnon), who develops too much of an attraction to Guillaume, just as Guillaume becomes dangerously enamored of his best friend, Nicolas (Jules Roy Sicotte). Some scenes take place at the school dormitory, others at night when drinking has gone on. Charlotte wavers between her steady, Maxime (Pier-Luc Funk from The Demons), and several older guys, who prove untrustworthy, to put it mildly.

    There are some arresting classroom scenes at Guillaume's school, mainly involving Guillaume and his homeroom teacher, Perrier (Paul Ahmarani), who not only talks frankly to the class about sex, but harshly critiques certain of his charges, particularly Guillaume. On one occasion he encourages Guillaume to do a lengthy imitation of himself, on others he abuses the boy.

    Lesage is telling stories that evoke the teen years. He's not worried about unity. Perhaps he's a little inspired by Arnaud Desplechin's Golden Days/Trois souvenirs de ma jeunesse? An admirable model, if so, but a difficult one, and even Desplechin doesn't fare equally well with all his subplots. At the end of Genesis, we drop Guillaume, Nicolas, Alexis, Charlotte, and Charlotte's boyfriend Maxime, for a final section at traditional adjoining boys and girls summer camps, where The Demons'Félix, who sings now and performs in a sweet guitar duo song for the combined camps, timidly woos Beatrice (Émilie Bierre). They are perhaps the Adam and Eve of Lesage's adolescent Genesis.

    If this sounds complicated, it is. While Lesage shows a gift for serious and sometimes arresting depictions of what may appear on the face of them clichéd situations, this film seems at times bewilderingly diffuse, and could obviously have used some trimming and rearranging. It doesn't even try to have narrative drive, and drops some important events (such as a drunken party rape of one of the main characters) without a followup. Perhaps some threads will be picked up in later installments. Anyway Lesage continues to be a remarkably talented chronicler who has enlisted some very engaging young actors to tell his tales, the already experienced Théodore Pellerin being the most vivid one here, worthy of his own separate and exclusive bildingsroman.

    Genesis/Genèse, 130 mins., debuted at Locarno Aug. 2018. It was reviewed by Boyd van Hoeij at Locarno for Hollywood Reporter and by Guy Lodge for Variety and in The Apologist by Sven Papaud. Screened for this review as part of the Film Society of Lincoln Center-Museum of Modern Art New Directors/New Films series (Mar. 27-Apr. 7, 2019).

    ND/NF Showtimes: March 30, 2:30 PM; March 31,6:00 PM
    U.S. Premiere

    EXCERPT of the film: Perrier gets tough with Guillaume.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-15-2019 at 07:17 AM.

  10. #10
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    BELONGING/AIDIYET (Burak Çevik 2019)



    Romance and murder: a Turkish conceptual noir

    In this second feature by Turkish director Burak Çevlik, a cold, blow-by-blow description by locations of the brutal murder of the parents of a young woman turns into a depiction of a couple's first romantic meeting. As Florian Weigl describes it on Letterboxd, this is a "meet-cute" where Onur (Çaglar Yalçinkaya), who turns out to be an economics student now serving in the army, chats up Pelin (Eylül Su Sapan), a student in psychology who dropped out before completing university but is lying about it to her parents and sending them a faked graduation photo. Starting the conversation, Onur pretends to approach Pelin to make sure she isn't going to throw herself in the river. They chat, then go for a walk and wind up making love at her place, which has a wall of postcards from people she's written to via the internet.

    It's all too hard to explain, but what's interesting is that while the opening half, where the clumsy amateur murder plot is explained, seems highly abstract because of only showing locations and not the people, the second, in time earlier "romance" section seems casual, relaxed, and physical, with its closeups and odd angles.

    The highlight, for me, is the morning after, when the couple have a delicious-looking Turkish breakfast, where once again the camera focuses more on things, but appetizing ones: bread and jam, cheese, tomatoes and cucumber, olives, milk (but she doesn't seem to drink it) and tea with one sugar. The night before, because Onur didn't want to drink since he had to get up early, they had Turkish coffee, also a lovely, simple, tactile thing. We get to see the grounds decorating the inside walls of the emptied cups.

    Thus does Çevik create a nice blend of sensual and intellectual, a Turkish conceptual neo-noir - for this is noir, with its dude and babe, its clumsy crime, and its rueful recollections. Economical this is, but it could be more so, and Florian Weigl got it right when he said the final voiceover "tries a little too hard to bring closure to a story which for me should have ended with the evocative shot of Peril leaning against the threshold of the door, surrounded by light, longing for Onur to return." That is a lovely shot; but so is another of a car interior exploding with red reflected neon light.

    Belonging/Aydiyet, 72 mins., debuted in the Forum section at the Berlinale, Feb. 2019. Reviews on Letterboxd. Reviewed by Carlota Mosesgui on Cineropa.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-19-2019 at 04:59 PM.

  11. #11
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    ANGELO (Markus Schleinzer 2018)



    Even when treated royally, an 18th-century slave remains alien

    Based (but very loosely and impressionistically) on the actual life of a real person, Angelo Soliman, Angelo recounts the life history of an African sold into 18th-century Viennese court society at the age of ten, replaced by a similar boy when the original one soon dies of a fever, named for a court servant, enabled to become the beloved Court Moor of the Habsburg empire — before being banished (punished by being set free) for marrying his white mistress. At the end of a long life we see him meet in death the humiliating and revealing fate of being re-objectified and primitivized.

    In a pointed early scene unlike the others, a row of similar-sized young black boys in identical rough muslin garb stand on a slave-market platform in a big modern chrome and neon room to be chosen, suggesting this is a process that's still contemporary. Thenceforth the settings and clothes are sophisticated and individualized eighteenth-century ones, often with special, more colorful garments for the boy, and later man.

    This film is indeed particularly notable for its exquisite scenes and costumes and original sense of the "look" of the eighteenth century in Austria where a black slave is treated as an exquisite showpiece and pet. Angelo shows the cunning appeal of racial exoticism, the glow of black skin clad in handsome and colorful western garments chosen to set it off that make their inhabitant seem elegant and exotic. While still a child (Angelo is divided among five different actors and the life into three stages), Angelo learns to play the flute. He immediately appears remarkably talented, and civilized, but also a showpiece, someone/something to be exhibited and admired. In early scenes, he is addressed (first he learns French, later also German) but not expected to reply.

    The style here, austere and elegant, is paramount. Markus Schleinzer is known mostly as the busiest Austrian casting director, responsible for that aspect of some of Michael Haneke's and Ulrich Seidl's most admired films, and he works in that cold Austrian mold. His own first feature was a shocker, Michael, about three months when a pedophile keeps a ten-year-old boy prisoner in his basement, told from the pedophile's point of view. It was this debut that caused the outspoken critic Mike D'Angelo to tweet "WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH EVERYONE IN AUSTRIA?" Note that this second feature, seven years later, begins with an enslaved ten-year-old boy: it's been hypothesized that Schleinzer may be slowly completing an "imprisoned boy" trilogy.

    The force of Schleinzer's tale and its bitter irony is that this man of Africa brought and sold as a slave to an Austrian countess, who had much honor and distinction, remained seen always as a curiosity, a savage, and an alien creature, despite his actual sophistication, grace, and numerous civilized accomplishments. (I suspect Schleinzer also unconsciously sees the eighteenth century as much the same kind of exotic oddity as his Europeans see in Angelo, but that contributes to the considerable visual pleasure of the film.)

    The Wikipedia article about the real Angelo Soliman, based on historical accounts, shows that Schleinzer's version, apart its choppy structure (he's not the best storyteller) and fanciful mise-en-scène (where he excels) , despite its connecting with the historical figures's life at key points, still hasn't a lot to do with it. But the one key appalling fact is true. After his death Angelo's body was embalmed or stuffed for display in a feathered primitive costume such as he never wore in life. Whether it was actually displayed as shown in the film isn't known, but it was destroyed in a fire as shown here. This is where Schleinzer gets it right: in his striking and elegant scenes of objectification and distancing.

    This film is described by Wendy Ide in Screen Daily as "a unnerving, austere counterpoint to Amma Asante’s Belle." But Belle is quite different, a Jane Austen-esque tale of a mulatto relative. One may contrast both the style and the story of Angelo with Abdellatif Kechiche's heavy-handed but by some admired Black Venus (NYFF 2010), but its African slave woman is treated as a cruder, more brutal curiosity, and meets a prolonged unpleasant fate. Compared to her, Angelo sure has it good. But that's the irony this film is about, that however posh the existence he is offered, he can never overcome the European conviction that as a black African he is basically not human. Maybe almost.

    Angelo, 111 mins., debuted at Toronto; in half a dozen other festivals. It was reviewed at Toronto y Angelo Muredda for CinemaScope and at San Sebastián 25 Sept. 2018 by Guy Lodge for Variety. Nicholas Bell has a nice review in Ioncinema.

    ND/NF Showtimes: April 6, 1:00 PM; April 7. 3:15 PM
    New York Premiere · Q&As with Markus Schleinzer on April 6 & 7


    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-19-2019 at 09:34 AM.

  12. #12
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    FAUSTO (Andrea Bussmann 2018)



    A world of possibilities in storytelling and musing

    The Canadian filmmaker Andrea Bussmann's debut feature, set near Oaxaca, in Mexico, is a philosophical and spiritual musing of words and pictures preoccupied with the spiritual, paraphysical, and inexplicable. Its running narration and sporadic interviews, most in Spanish, one in Lebanese Arabic, are to be taken with a grain of salt but also welcomed with open mind.

    Fernando and Alberto, we're told, own this place. They're rarely seen at night. Ziad works for Alberto translating documents. Now he is working on a map that's very difficult because the coastline is constantly shifting. He won't say what it's for, but I know they're searching for a shadow. Of a charming young Frenchman who came to work in exchange for lodging, promising also to leave his shadow as an offering. When the moon is bright they look for it. In town they hear about a one-armed zookeeper who only comes at night because afraid of his shadow; all his animals are blind.

    All animals are telepathic to a degree, the voiceover informs us, but blind ones more so. Messages from the future can be received even from stuffed ones, if one strokes them in a clockwise direction. One of the speakers, at nighttime, clad in singlet, meditatively smoking and sipping wine, tells of a local person, rich in academic lore, but bored with ordinary knowledge, who strikes a Faustian bargain. Another tale, told in English by a man with a big white beard, is of a woman who comes to talk to an untamable black panther, and learns why he's angry.

    The beach here has a high iron content, which makes visitors' computers go dark. Once a year the sand is invaded by turtles that come to lay eggs. There is someone who has two graves. The secret is that she had two shadows, so it was decided to build one for each. The Homeric myth appears of men converted to beasts by a seacoast witch.

    "On the Oaxacan coast of Mexico, rumblings of previous times are never far from the surface. Tales of shapeshifting, telepathy and dealings with the Devil are embedded in the colonization and enslavement of the Americas. Characters from the Faust legend mingle with the inhabitants, while attempting to colonize and control nature through a seemingly never-ending building project. Through literature, myth and local entanglements, the frontier between reality and fiction, and the seen and unseen, no longer apply."-IMDB.

    Featured in the [Toronto Film] festival’s Wavelengths selection, Andrea Bussmann’s Fausto shows audiences why this particular programme is so important for a well-rounded TIFF experience.

    Part documentary, part avant-garde ghost story Canadian, Bussmann’s debut feature is mostly comprised of stories from the inhabitants of Mexico’s Oaxaca coast; stories of interactions with ghosts, spirits and other supernatural beings, creatures that haunted their ancestors as they staved off colonial powers. These stories are frequently fascinating while the narration holds a particularly powerful voice. Images of Mexico are also breathtaking, if not expertly shot. The film is a bit slow to start, but once the viewer realizes what they are in for, Fausto is smooth sailing from there.

    My only complaint is that the stories are presented in an interview format. With such rich material, the filmmaker really should have considered a different approach. However, this will not hinder your enjoyment. - Wylie writes.
    "These images are lovely; but what do they amount to?" - POV Magazine. Sometimes as I watched, I wondered what they had been smoking. But mostly it only seemed to be tobacco. Mysticism and folkloric imagination seem to be inhaled in the coastal air.

    Fausto, 70 mins., debuted at Locano Aug. 2018; half a dozen other festivals, including New Directors/New Films, where it was screened for this review.

    ND/NF Showtimes: April 6, 3:45 PM; April 7, 1:00 PM
    New York Premiere · Q&As with Andrea Bussmann on April 6 & 7

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-18-2019 at 12:29 PM.

  13. #13
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    HONEYLAND/ Медена Земја (Tamara Kotevsk, Ljubomir Stefanov 2018)



    No matter how remote, your environment is in danger

    Austere but rich, Kotevsk and Stefanov's Honeyland is one of the most immersive and atmospheric documentaries you will see this year. No narration is necessary. This film has only the limitation of its restrictive life. At the center of it, living in an abandoned Macedonian village, is Hatidze or Atidze Muratova, a small, tough birdlike woman of 55 with an easy smile, lined face, and big crooked teeth who tends her bee colonies with expertise and respect and her mother, with whom she lives, out of love and duty. Her mother Nazife is 85, not planning on dying, "just making your life misery," she says, declaring she's become a tree. She is half blind and does not stretch or go outside.

    Hatidze is busy. What she does is wild beekeeping, or bee hunting, in hives she finds behind slabs of stone. Her easy skill with bees is clear, her respect for the sustainability of her task. She removes the combs like books from a shelf, easily, gently. She is cooperative, non-invasive. Look how she is with her skinny graceful dog at the very end of the film. She has a knack for nature that's almost elegant. She is good also with people, trading fairly and confidently to shopkeepers in the market in the capital, Skopje, touting the healthy and medicinal quality of her honey. Hatidze is a good person.

    What a bare life this is. Comforts are dye for Hatidze's hair, tying it up with a nice scarf with rocky village chic, favoring yellow and green, a fan for her mother, and a little transistor radio hooked up once to a small speaker atop a pole she tries to broadcast music, but she gets only snatches of a song here or there. Herself, she sings. She cries and calls and sings to the bees when when she is working them.

    The film is the result of three years of shooting by this team. As will happen with diligent documentarians, the reward of a significant event arrives: new neighbors appear with a dinky, antique trailer, seven unruly kids, and a bunch of calves. The man, Hussein Sam, takes up bee keeping too, but despite Hatidze's advice, never learns the way of it, or will not, because he is greedy for instant rewards and has not the necessary patience and respect that nature requires. We learn from Hatidze that you take half the honey and leave the other half to the bees. This maintains the balance. Take too much, and the bees will die, or attack Hatidze's bees. Sam takes too much, and both things happen.

    One of the boys bonds with Hatidze. He understand them and respects her way with them. "If I had had a son like you. . . " she says. But his family doesn't understand the balance. But the neighbors are a nightmare. They are lazy and quarrelsome and the do serious damage. Their rampages cause the destruction of a lot of Hatidze's bees, their own, and, finally many of their young calves die due to the fat wife's carelessness. All goes wrong, angering even Hatidze's quiet mother. "May God burn their livers" is one of her last declarations. And then, after all their damage, they pick up and leave. Perhaps nature will regain its equilibrium again somehow. At the end, Hatidze's seen looking forward, alone, hopeful, strong.

    This simple film is nonetheless superb and hard to improve upon. Kudos to the cinematography of Fejmi Daut and Samir Ljuma with its naturally gorgeous compositions of rocky hillside, animals, and ruined village architecture, the deep color of the clothes and gnarly skin in the market, the clear natural light. Much respect also to the filmmakers Tamara Kotevsk and Ljubomir Stefanov for their personal human sense of the observational documentary style, which makes this film so memorable.

    Honeyland, 85 mins., debuted at Sundance (reviewed there by Guy Lodge for Variety and by Shiri Linden for Hollywood Reporter). It was screened for this review as part of the Mar.-Apr. 2019 MoMA-Lincoln Center New Directors/New Films series.

    ND/NF Showtimes: April 3, 6:15 PM; April 5, 6:30 PM
    New York Premiere · Q&As with Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov on April 3 & 5

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-09-2019 at 08:28 AM.

  14. #14
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    JOY (Sudabeh Mortazai 2018)


    A staggering work of compassionate realism, Sudabeh Mortezai’s second fiction feature follows a young Nigerian sex worker living in Vienna as she struggles to simultaneously create a better life for her family and pay off her madame. - Festival blurb.

    Joy, 99 mins., debuted at Venice (reviewed there by Guy Lodge for Variety). It won won Best Film at the BFI London Film Festival. Screened for this review as part of the 2019 MoMA-Film Society of Lincoln Center New Directors/New Films series.

    ND/NF Showtimes: March 28, 8:45 PM; April 3, 8:45 PM - New York Premiere
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-04-2020 at 09:40 PM.

  15. #15
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    THE LOAD/TERET (Ognjen Glavonić 2018)



    A Serbian trucker's grim ride: a stoical look at an ambiguous journey

    This atmospheric, wintry road movie by Ognjen Glavonić concentrates on a truck driver who must convey sensitive cargo along a treacherous path, from Kosovo to Belgrade during the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. Reference to Henri-Georges Clouzot’s classic Wages of Fear of Friedkin’s remake Sorcerer is obvious but so is the difference: this driver has an unknown load, and papers permitting him to pass without opening it up to authorities. This is not a high tension journey with deliciously unbearable suspense, but rather one of slow, brooding, tedious nerve-wracking-ness and the growing sense that Vlada (Croatian actor Leon Lučev), the driver, has gotten involved in some unspecified but considerable evil. The oblique but insistent reference is to an atrocity, a late Kosovo war massacre, that Glavonić meticulously documented earlier in his 2016 non fiction film, Depth Two. Ognjen Glavonić is a person in intense pursuit of secrets his countrymen want to forget.The director has said "every country is built on crimes that they don’t want to talk about." The load: the very burden Vlado carries is weighted down with metaphorical conceit that, despite the minimalism of the style, feels lugubrious and heavy-handed.

    On the journey not much happens but each small incident is magnified. Vlada picks up a young hitchhiker (Pavle Čemerikić) on his way to Munich. He stops to rest several times. He telephones to his wife, who's having hospital tests. He gets his cigarettes and what turns out to be a historic lighter stolen during a brief absence from the truck. The camera briefly leaves Vlada, following the hitchhiker to an abandoned playground where his name is painted (a goodbye to his youth, perhaps?) watched two young petty thieves examine the stolen lighter.

    At the end of the film, Vlada meets with his son, Ivan, and tells him a wartime grandfather Leka cigarette lighter story that's less colorful, but may remind you of the gold watch story told by Captain Koons (Chris Walken) in Pulp Fiction. In a Film Comment interview with Eric Hynes, Glavonić says everything must lead up to the father's opening up to his son in this sequence. A nice touch, the walnut tree that grew out of the fallen Leka's pocket. There was actually a medal, a watch and a lighter awarded posthumously to Leka after WWII.

    The ending is hopeful, with the teenage Ivan liking his dad's "friend's" band tape and sharing with his sister the thought that he needs to form a band of his own. But he won't escape the burden of these days he doesn't yet know about - not if Ognjen Glavonić has anything to say about it.

    The Load/Teret 98 mins., debuted at Cannes in Directors Fortnight May 2018; over 1 5 other festivals including Toronto, Vancouver and Rotterdam. Reviewed at Cannes by Jessica Kiang for Variety (she calls this feature debut "harshly intelligent and uncompromisingly spare"), and by Stephen Dalton for Hollywood Reporter. Dalton comments pointedly that this film "should find a keen audience among the the misery-porn masochists who program and attend film festivals," but will be only "very niche commercial prospect, especially for non-Balkan viewers." A pessimistic view of a well-crafted film in which, indeed, not enough finally happens. Screened for this review as part of the 2019 MoMA-FSLC New Directors/New Films Series.

    ND/NF ]Showtimes: April 3, 8:45 PM; April 4, 6:30 PM
    U.S. Premiere · Q&As with Ognjen Glavonić on April 3 & 4
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-09-2019 at 08:38 AM.

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