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Thread: NEW DIRECTORS/NEW FILMS 2022 (Mar. 29-Apr. 1, 2023)

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    NEW DIRECTORS/NEW FILMS 2022 (Mar. 29-Apr. 1, 2023)



    GENERAL FILM FORUM THREAD

    LINKS TO REVIEWS
    Absence (Wu Lang 2021)
    Almost Entirely a Slight Disaster (Umut Subaşi 2023)
    Arnold Is a Model Student (Sorayos Prapapann 2022)
    Ashkal: The Tunisian Investigation (Youssef Chebbi 2022)
    Astrakan (David Depesseville 2022)
    Autobiography dir. Makbul Mubarak
    Chile ’76 (Manuela Martelli 2022)
    Coconut Head Generation dir. Alain Kassanda
    Disco Boy dir. Giacomo Abbruzzese
    Earth Mama dir. Savanah Leaf / OPENING NIGHT FILM
    Face of the Jellyfish, The dir. Melisa Liebenthal
    Family Time dir. Tia Kouvo
    Gush dir. Fox Maxy
    Have You Seen This Woman? dir. Dušan Zorić, Matija Gluščević
    Joyland dir. Saim Sadiq
    Leila’s Brothers dir. Saeed Roustaee
    Maiden, The (Graham Foy)
    Maputo Nakuzandza dir. Ariadne Zampaulo
    Metronom dir. Alexandru Belc
    Milisuthando dir. Milisuthando Bongela
    Mutt dir. Vuk Lungulov-Klotz./ CLOSING NIGHT FILM
    Pamfir dir. Dmytro Sukholytkyy-Sobchuk
    Petrol dir. Alena Kodkina
    Remembering Every Night dir. Yui Kiyohara
    Safe Place dir. Juraj Lerotić
    Tommy Guns dir. Carlos Conceicao
    Tótem dir. Lila Avilés
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-19-2023 at 01:45 AM.

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    ABSENCE (Wu Lang 2021)

    WU LANG: ABSENCE (2021)



    Sad poetry

    Cinematography by Wang Jiehong is the chief star of this symphony of sad stoicism following the doomed idyl of a returned ex con and the hair dresser who has waited ten years for him, an affair that suffers the drawback of a fraudulent building scheme.

    Lee Kang-sheng, best known for his indelible starring roles in the films of Tsai Ming-liang over more than 30 years, holds the screen with his customary stoic vulnerability in this stirring feature debut from Chinese director Wu Lang. Here he plays Han Jiangyu, who has returned to the island province of Hainan after a long stint in prison, endeavoring to reconnect with his former girlfriend (Li Meng), a hairdresser, and the little girl who might be his daughter.

    At the same time, he must navigate the difficulties of a new job in construction while the country’s real estate boom begins to unravel. Wu eludes cliché, using the camera in continually gorgeous and unexpected fashion in this story about the slow process of rejoining a world that seems to have irrevocably moved on. A possible problem for the viewer is that the slow-cinema beginning fades off into fantasy toward the end as the unfinished apartment complex becomes flooded below and then is occupied by a herd of sheep. The images of the couple playfully occupying an apartment in a derelict space with no services, then gesturing to adopt a last baby sheep feel just a little too fanciful and fey. We Lang, who has a background as a sculptor, is more a visual poet than a storyteller.

    Absence/Xue yun, originated as a short film at Cannes in 2021, its feature film form debuted at the Berlinale, Feb. 21, 2023. Screened for this review as part of New Directors/New Films at MoMA and Film at Lincoln Center Mar. 29-Apr. 2023.

    Sunday, April 2
    3:00pm, FLC Walter Reade Theater (Q&A with Wu Lang)
    Monday, April 3
    6:00pm, MoMA T2 (Q&A with Wu Lang)



    LEE MENG, LEE KAI-SHENG IN ABSENCE
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-26-2023 at 03:28 PM.

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    ALMOST ENTIRELY A SLIGHT DISASTER (Umut Subaşı 2022)

    UMUT SUBAŞI: ALMOST ENTIRELY A SLIGHT DISASTER (2022)



    Dry urban social comedy of twenty-somethings adrift in Istanbul

    "Four twenty somethings in contemporary Istanbul: Zeynep is a student who feels distressed from following daily news. Her housemate Ayşe tries to flee abroad because she cannot see a future for herself in Turkey. Mehmet is a married engineer who is never satisfied with his above-average life, while unemployed Ali feels stuck living with his parents. Coincidences bring them together in a playful manner. Almost Entirely a Slight Disaster explores the anxieties faced by the new generation with its humorous and intertwined ways."

    This is an effort to present contemporary urban Turkish life in a dry, ironic manner. It may work for some localsmore than for those from other climes. It is frankly hard to see where the disjointed little scenes are going. An effort is made at coldness. Settings are drab, with a repetitious little piano theme. The scenes and costumes and color coding are blue, gray, and a little beige. In the first half, there are numerous jump-cuts in which the various characters are shown sobbing privately: we get that theya re much less happy than they appear - not that they seem very upbeat. Some repetitions or overlapping sequences, such as going to tourist spots or a game where the other person is supposed to copy hand motions, are hard to make sense of. There is a theme of asking for money, asking for a recommendation for a job, paying money back; horoscope, the zodiac, the lottery, the stars. Some of the people speak English to each other and one claims to be visiting from Afghanistan. Two of them almost go to a hotel together, but the girl changes her mind.

    At the end, the four principal characters unite and drink cups of Turkish coffee in someone's home. Later, the two young women send the two young men packing. This is a highlight;, a coming together.

    Someone is looking for poetry, for excitement, for romanticism. Someone takes a personality test and it shows her to be not very romantic. And there are the sudden, private, inconsolable sobs.

    With Mert Can Sevimli, İbrahim Arıcı, Melisa Bostancıoğlu, and Melis Sevinç.

    Tuesday, April 4
    6:00pm, FLC Walter Reade Theater (Q&A with Umut Subasi)
    Wednesday, April 5
    8:45pm, MoMA T2 (Q&A with Umut Subasi)
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-26-2023 at 03:28 PM.

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    ARNOLD IS A MODEL STUDENT (Sorayos Prapapan 2022)

    SORAYOS PRAPAPAN: ARNOLD IS A MODEL STUDENT (2022)



    School revolt in Thailand


    This is a clinically cold, rather naive piece of filmmaking, doubtless meant to be dry and satirical, but in its implications no doubt deadly serious for those concerned. Its primary inspiration and purpose is to depict the "Bad Student" movement in Thailand (largely led by young girls!) in opposition to authoritarianism and excessive discipline, including caning, in Thai schools, and it's inspired by the movements A Manual on How to Survive School. It takes place since the pandemic, so at least at first, everyone is wearing masks. It includes real material as well as fiction.

    It's a little hard to see how Arnold (Korndanai Marc Dautzenberg) fits into this picture. He is a high school senior who has won a math prize and is very smart and has spent 15 months studying in the United States but he could care less about school and is defiant to the chief disciplinarian of the school, the plump Mrs. Wanee (Niramon Busapavanich) , who canes students and also checks their clothes, hair length, etc. at the school entrance. She cuts hair that's too long, a violation of privacy and rights.

    School is completely corrupt. Parents bribe the teachers as a matter of course so their kids pass.

    The tall, confident and shaven-headed Arnold is expecting to go to college abroad on a scholarship (a complicated project the film neglects to depict), yet he sleeps in class, vapes and smokes, and collaborates with Mr. Bee (Winyu Wongsurawat), the owner of a cram school, providing a false endorsement for money, then helping rich students cheat for money. When the student movement against school "dictatorship" comes, Arnold doesn't participate. Given his lack of motivation it's hard to see him as a star student, but heh's not a rebel either.

    The school principal is a bland Machiavellian who only wants to maintain the school's high reputation and good enrollment. Mr. Bee of course is a lower level mercenary, a more open part of the corrupt system. Arnold isn't really a model student but just a smart kid who's directionless, who cheats, drinks, and smokes and is without future plans. But he decides not to be a "signaler" for Mr. Bee again, and it beginning to be discontented. His conscience is awakening, partly because his own father – a French citizen, – was sent into exile for publishing satires of the government.

    As John Bleasdale notes in a review for BFI, the tone is mixed here, the humor and dryness countered by images of red wounds on kids' legs from caning and real images of government repression.

    This is a film about an important subject whose chilly mise-en-scene, amusing performances and colorful inter-titles recommend it particularly to the interest of all those concerned about human rights and democratic edcucation.

    Arnold Is a Model Student, 83 mins., debuted at Locarno Aug. 5, 2022 and has shown at many other international festivals. Screened for this review as part of the Mar. 29-Apr. 9, 2023 New Directors/New Films series at MoMA and Film at Lincoln Center.

    Saturday, April 8
    2:00pm, FLC Walter Reade Theater (Q&A with Sorayos Prapapan)
    Sunday, April 9
    7:30pm, MoMA T2 (Q&A with Sorayos Prapapan)
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-26-2023 at 03:35 PM.

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    ASHKAL أشكال (Youssef Chebbi 2022)

    YOUSSEF CHEBBI: ASHKAL: THE TUNISIAN INVESTIGATION ASHKAL أشكال (2022)



    The fire next time

    A vast semi-abandoned construction site in a northern suburb of Tunis known as The Gardens of Carthage is the location for a series of lonely, haunting murders or suicides by fire in this moody, well-shot film from Tunisia. It will not satisfy police procedural fans, but those who like sophisticated horror movies may very well be intrigued by its roiling atmosphere of political corruption, scary magic and inexplicable evil slowly growing out of control. In the center of it is an appealing young woman investigator, Fatma Fatma Oussaifi), the only cop honest or persistent enough to carry on when one death leads to another, then two more, and the supervisor wants it hushed up and some powerless "suspects" put away.

    Things are coming to a boil here and nothing is ever resolved; that is the point. Tellingly a starting point - an event locals would inevitably think of - is the 2010 death of Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi, who set fire to himself to protest exploitative economic conditions and thereby started the "Arab Spring" suite of revolts throughout the Middle East. An implication is that those revolutions curdled, leaving a suicidal madness. But the history is alive and present because while Fatma is of the new regime, her older associate goes back to the old, corrupt one. On the current agenda, mistreatment of migrants is alluded to, as well as radicalization spread by social neetworks.

    A pulsating sound design and nervous score are central; so are beautifully composed images of the empty building sites and half-completed buildings by cinematographers Hazem Berrabah and Amin Messadi. They are frankly gorgeous and we could lose ourselves in them and in the moody atmosphere, which never lets up. It's rather bold, not to say dangerous, of the filmmaker to include scenes of prayer in a mosque and suggest that an evil-doer may be a worshiper there. (It also seems there are posh hotels in the area now, whose management might not like this film.) With that this is a highly urban, chilly and alienated atmosphere, and a lot of the shots of people are from a considerable distance.

    Chebbi works things up to more and more of a fever pitch. When some humble workmen (about the be jailed for one of the deaths, but innocent) tell Fatma the mysterious man seen with several of the victims - who appear to strip naked and die of immolation without a fight - has "given them fire," rather than "set them on fire," we begin to know there is something supernatural - enough said. It's essential to keep the mystery.

    An excellent, highly sophisticated cross-genre film, fine if we accept that there is a visionary climax rather than a solution to the riddle. It's a little more atmosphere than substance but that atmosphere rich and well sustained.

    أشكال / Ashkal: The Tunisian Investigation, 94 mins. debuted at Cannes Directors Fortnight May 25, 2022; Neufchatel, Lisbon, Toronto, Naumur, and a dozen other international festivals followed. It won the main prize at the Pan-African festival in Ouagadougou. Released in France Jan. 25, 20223, AlloCiné press rating 3.7 (74%).Screened for this review as part of New Directors/New Films (NYC), 2023. A Yellow Veil Pictures release.

    Tuesday, April 4
    8:30pm, MoMA T2 (Q&A with Youssef Chebbi)
    Wednesday, April 5
    6:00pm, FLC Walter Reade Theater (Q&A with Youssef Chebbi)
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-26-2023 at 03:36 PM.

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    ASTRAKAN (David Depresseville 2022)

    DAVID DEPRESSEVILLE: ASTRAKAN (2022)


    MIRKO GIANNINI IN ASTRAKAN

    A boy's life in rural French foster care

    Astrakan concerns Samuel (Mirko Giannini), a boy of 13 in foster care in Le Morvan. This is a poor region of France where people raise money by taking on paid foster care. Such is the case of Marie (Jehnny Beth) and C. (Clément: Bastien Bouillon), who receive money for raising Samuel (they have a boy of their own). Depressoville's account is no-holds barred string of incidents without fanfare, from good to bad. It's a rural situation. We don't know what Sam's past is except that his father was shot and killed "accidentally" by the police and about his mother nothing is said. The situation is fundamentally flawed for the adopted child. Jean Genet was raised this way, by an older couple that it's said was very kind; he still engaged in a lot of petty thievery and irregular behavior. This is a poignant subject that allows us to see boyhood and family life with new eyes. One French critic called this film "ambitious but maladroit." Maybe; but with the maladroitness comes originality and surprises.

    Sam has some nice moments and some bad ones. Marie is not always uncaring, but C. beats him more than once. Hélène (Lorine Delin), a neighbor girl his age, invites him over. She shows him her dad's secret girly mag and he bolts. Another time she seduces him with a risqué movie and undresses, he makes out with her, her father comes in, and he gets blamed, and beaten by C. Marie puts up the money for him to go to ski camp (viewers may remember Claude Miller's 1989 Classe de neige), and the girl kisses him on the bus coming back. It's a great time; but it soon ends when Hélène invites him to a movie and on the way he's menaced by some rude boys. In the cinema they attack him and the girl bolts and later ditches Samuel for one of the boys. Meanwhile Samuel goes to gymnastics class - another thing Marie, with some difficulty, gets together the money for - and he's good. In the competition he takes second place.

    He smokes when he gets the chance, and openly. He has a problem with defecation. He can't go and instead soils underpants. There is trouble with Marie's brother Luc (Théo Costa-Marini), who is damaged in some way and lives with their parents some distance away. When Samuel pulls a nasty trick, she takes him to stay with her parents and he muss sleep with Luc, whose pedophle tendencies he has become aware of. He runs home the next day.

    They take him to church; everybody's there. At Luc's place an old man teaches him to say the Rosary and says he's a "good boy." Well, he's not always a good boy. Through a final montage reviewing earlier moments and culminating in a riverside picnic where Marie takes a black baby sheep to her bare breast, thanks to a long passage of lovely sacral choral music the film takes on a quality partly surreal, partly perhaps even Catholic. There is definitely a sense in which the film confronts love, sin, and forgiveness.

    Astrakan examines a boy's life and in a sense life itself in a fresh, raw way; "maladroit," if you will: there is a little of the early Bruno Dumont here. A French critic cited on AlloCiné, Michaël Delavaud, speaks in Culturopoing.com of the writing as "zigzagging deftly between its violence and its softness." This keeps us feeling surprised. The actors and settings feel very authentic and there is a classic and timeless feel. Neil Young in his review forScreen Daily called this debut "an engrossing exercise in emphatic humanism, unhurried and uninflected."

    Astrakan 104 mins., debuted at Locarno Aug. 9, 2022, with nine other festivals listed on IMDb. Screened for this review as part of the New Directors/New Films series of MoMA and Film at LincolnCenter (Mar. 29-Apr. 14, 2023).

    Altered Innocence release in theaters and VOD Sept. 1, 2023.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-25-2023 at 05:20 PM.

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    CHILE '76 (Manuela Martelli 2022)

    MANUELA MARTELLI: CHILE '76 (2022)


    ALINE KÜPPENHEIM IN CHILE '76

    TRAILER

    An upper middle class woman swept into Chile's anti-fascist resistence

    Chile '76 is a stunning, stylistically elegant political thriller that makes you feel what it's like to live in a dictatorship and get your life changed by helping the opposition. The film takes place three years after the U.S.-backed coup d’etat that toppled the pro-socialist government of President Salvador Allende in the nation’s capital of Santiago on September 11, 1973. Carmen (Aline Küppenheim), whose family lives in Santiago, is a most unlikely revolutionary. That's the beauty of it. She could be you or me. And the slow, meandering process by which Carmen's transformation takes place. An IMDb citizen critic finds it "too subtle," too "meandering." But real-life thrillers take place in slow motion, by fits and starts.

    True, Carmen is not all of us. She's an upper middle class Chilean woman of the Seventies. She may feel like a well off American woman of a somewhat earlier era. She smokes too much, takes too many pills, she dresses beautifully. Her hair is soigné. She has parties and teas, carries around cakes made to perfection by the faithful Estela (Carmen Gloria Martínez). It's a comfortable, privileged life and she enjoys it. She is all about her family, the children she's brought up, her husband (Alejandro Goic), a prominent doctor, her work with the Catholic Church, her experience years ago, but well remembered with the Red Cross. Director Martelli beautifully, at leisure, captures the pleasant rhythms of this life.

    Her old friend Padre Sánchez (Hugo Medina) persuades Carmen to take over the care at her summer beach house, undergoing renovation, of a wounded young man, Elias (Nicolás Sepúlveda), whom he has been hiding. It's serious. There is danger of infection. He needs antibiotics, Penicillin. Why was Padre Sánchez hiding this man? He says he's "a common criminal," but with his handsome looks, his long hair, his private manner, that doesn't seem likely. Carmen is innocent of these matters at first. It's just a project.

    This is a time, a place, a culture of pulling strings, indeed Carmen wangles extra pills and much more all the time for herself, so it's only a little stretch for her to start lying to get bandages and medicine, to invent a big sick dog and a problem with the vet. Now Carmen has a new occupation. Her life rather revolves around this task, but she covers; her husband is at the hospital most of the time.

    We join her in her immaculate little blue Peugeot (a wonderful touch) as Carmen goes on jaunts. The stepped up thriller action comes when she attempts to carry and receive messages for her patient, for he and his fellow activists are in constant, mortal danger and cannot communicate except in person, and he cannot walk yet.

    There are two particularly well-written, memorable scenes. After unspokenly Carmen has come to understand what she is working for and has been allowed even to think of herself as a heroine of Elias' cause. In the new government to come he half humorously promises a hospital will be named for her, or for her new code name in her communication jaunts, "Cleopatra." There is an afternoon when she goes out with her husband and another wealthy couple on. the latter's sailboat,. They sit very close together. Subtly, or not so subtly, the other three's conversation hints at their endorsement of power, of repression, and we see her draw away when the other wife spews vicious anti-communist, pro-Pinochet rhetoric, Carmen literally throws up, pretending to be seasick. She is aware now. She feels differently. She is no longer one of them. She can never condone such talk or look the other way again. Her moral universe has changed.

    In the other scene Carmen has gone to an unsuccessful meeting in a park some distance from Santiago. We feel her exhaustion. Impulsively, she stops on her way home at a little restaurant and orders a wine - no, a Coke - and a hot dog. A customer, a local, comes over and talks to her. In the new context his curiosity, otherwise so bland, or simply so off-key, vibrates with a menace that's all the worse for being inexplicable.

    Chile,'76 succeeds so well because of this impeccable actress for whom surely this is a career best rol;e and because of how richly the filmmakers recreate a class and lifestyle whose innocence could not be, and the omnipresent menace and physical danger in a fascist dictatorship.

    Both Küppenheim and Goic have previously been in films about the Pinochet regime. For more about that and other background see the review by Ed Rampell in The Progressive Magazine.

    Chile, '76/1976, 95 mins., debuted at Cannes Directors Fortnight May 26, 2022 and showed at over two dozen other international festivals including London, Tokyo, Helsinki, Palm Springs and Santa Barbara. Screened for this review as part of New Directors/New Films of MoMA and Film at Lincoln Center (NYC), Mar. 29-Apr. 14, 2023.

    Friday, April 7
    8:45pm, FLC Walter Reade Theater
    Sunday, April 9
    5:00pm, MoMA T2



    ALINE KÜPPENHEIM IN CHILE '76
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-14-2023 at 03:28 PM.

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    Maiden (graham foy 2022)

    GRAHAM FOY: THE MAIDEN (2022)



    A poetic picture of teenage grieving

    This beautifully slow, observational, touchingly restrained film from Alberta, Canada follows two high school boys who skateboard and wander the summer together, and then follows one of them when a tragic accident separates them, leaving the remaining one alone. Maiden, named for the tag of the lost boy, touches on the oeuvre of Gus Van Sant sensitively, particularly Paranoid Park, weaving an artisanal magic of its own, capturing a magical mood with slowness.

    The boys are the stockier Kyle (Jackson Sluiter), the leader, and his lanky, fuzzy-haired best friend Colton (Marcel T. Jiménez). Their talk is conventional, bland, laced with F-words, ordinary. They agree they have no plans for the next ten years. They emerge as distinct with a respectful little gesture. After they discover a dead cat in a construction space and, wanting to do something kind, carry out some ceremonial act, they decide to set the corpse adrift on a small raft down a river.

    After the tragedy Foy follows Colton at school: his inarticulateness with a well-meaning but inept school counselor; a shop teacher's lack of sympathy when he acts out a little; an "enemy's" cruel note; a physical confrontation with the popular Stetson-wearng Tucker (Kaleb Blough), with an apology and a rapprochement. It's all wonderfully slow and desultory, the empty hours of school time beautiful captured. Foy is skillfully using non-actors throughout, not intervening too much, and it pays off.

    Maiden gradually morphs from the naturalistic mode to something a little different when a girl from the school called Whitney (Hayley Ness) has disappeared, and Colton finds her battered notebook journal. This on-paper "voice" sounds communication linked with Kyle, and Colton enters almost a fantasy world that springs up as Colton pages through Whitney's diary - a change perfectly logical given how inarticulate he has been since he's lacked Kyle to talk to. Whitney emerges as a shy, sensitive girl who gets upset when her best friend, June (Sienna Yee), thinks it's time to move on. Here Jonathan Romney in Screen Daily thought Foy achieves a seemingly "impossible sift of register". into something dreamy and supernatural.

    Jessica Kiang in Variety points out faults but is also admiring, as others are, of the 16mm photography by Kelly Jeffrey; and further, of the poetry the film achieves in its last section when it comes to appear that maybe Kyle and Whitney are united at film's end "in the vale beyond the veil." Patience is required, especially given the fixed-focus long shots and two-hour run time, but Foy rings successful changes on old themes, if we provide it.

    Maiden, 117 mins., debuted at the Biennale in Giornate degli Autori Sept. 6, 2022, also showing at Toronto, Göteborg, and Norway. Screened for this review as part of New Directors/New Films at MoMA and Lincoln Center (Mar. 29-Apr. 9, 2023).

    Tuesday, April 4
    8:30pm, FLC Walter Reade Theater (Q&A with Graham Foy)
    Wednesday, April 5
    6:00pm, MoMA T2 (Q&A with Graham Foy)
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-21-2023 at 03:10 PM.

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    METRONOM (Alexandru Belc 2022

    ALEXANDRU BELC: METRONOM (2022)



    SERBAN LAZAROVICI, MARA BULGARIN IN METRONOM

    Love in a time of repression

    Romanian director Alxandru Belc is willing to go all the way with his swoony deep-saturated cinematography of a 1972 Bucarest teenage party, and it works. Making superb use of the most passionate American music of the time, Jimmy Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, he lets the intense closeups of a hopeless young couple play out in a long, frustrated sigh, out into the gloomy night where suspicious figures loom in corners: they are representatives of the secret police and this is the time of Nicolae Ceaușescu's dictatorship. Partying to the tunes of Radio Free Europe, dancing passionately, wearing long hair are subversive acts, not to mention the political jokes that start off the evening, still less the seriously compromising letter of dedication to the radio program most of the youths have signed. Belc has also gathered a group of young actors styled for the era and equally go-for-broke in their identification with these sweet, doomed youths.

    At the center of them is the slippery, long-nosed, smiling Sorin (Serban Lazarovici), who doesn't show up for the party, and then he does. Ana (Mara Bugarin), who's been waiting, longing, goes into a room with him, makes out, gets naked, declares her love over and over. They kiss and kiss, and then - he suddenly leaves. (Later we learn why.) The long dreamy sequence wonderfully captures the devastation brought about by his inexplicable behavior. After a dramatic kiss in a square with a triumphal stature and celestial lens flare, Ana has earlier learned Sorin and his family are leaving for a safer life in Germany. The party is given at the sumptuous home of Ana’s friend Roxana (Mara Vicol). Ana has put on a purple dress of Roxana's to seduce or dissuade Sorin from departing.

    Half of this film is a visual and sound poem about teen spirit and doomed teen love intimately shot with shoulder camera, but the other half depicts the tarnished experience of life and love in a world of specific 1970's Romanian government menace. The images are drowning in intensity and seem doomed, yet linger unwilling to depart. The Academy Ratio, emphasizing intensity and confinement, and the saturated reds steep them a painterly quality, a reverence. The fundamental beauty and success of the film is the spirit and ensemble acting of the young cast in the party, and the long dance sequence, which reminded me of a famous one in Phiippe Garrel's long and overwhelmingly stylish film Regular Lovers. But these aren't effete French youths: they're children of the Communist Bloc for whom dedication to "Light My Fire" and listening to the decadent radio program "Metronom" are brave declarations of freedom. (Local cult star Mircea Floria is also featured.) And this time the topic of frustrated, caring, defiant love so confidently embodied by Mara Bugarin against the capriciousness (and emerging betrayal) of boyfriend Lazarovici is inseparable from our gathering sense of the captivity of youth in an authoritarian regime, and the way the secret police's petty manipulation and threats play out. (The theme of bargaining and manipulation for favor and advancement throughout iron curtain bureaucracies we have seen before. This film is more notable for its period flavor than for its originality.)

    In the police sessions the poetry vanishes . Ana is the most resistant to capitulating, the most ambiguous. (Were she not, the film would have no center, no interest.) She decides to spend some of Sorin's last minutes in Romania with him, but it's more a quick coupling than an idyll. In the main part of the second half of the film Ana has come up against threatening Securitate officer Biris (Vlad Ivanov) as the tension and her emotions mount with the film - and a sense of grim hopelessness and indifference. Her defiance is out of loyalty to her friends rather than political passion. She's young, like Juliet, ready to dedicate all yet still in some ways barely more than a child with developed breasts. It's impossible to separate the girl's passion from politics, as inherent to her separation from Sorin that there's a brutal regime in charge as the feud of the Montagues and Capulets is to Shakespeare's tragedy. But here it's not a sword fight. It's an interrogation as long as the party, Belc each time letting things play out, confident that what he does matters. And the romance is subjugated by desperate political necessity.

    Belc has been admired for his documentaries and shorts that, according to Nikki Baughan of ScreenDaily, already blended "the socio-political and the cinematic," his way of working in this admirable feature debut.

    Metronom/Radio Metronom, 102 mins., Debuted at Cannes May 24, 2022, where it won Best Director in the Un Certain Regard section. It has been shown at over two dozen international festivals. Screened for this review as part of New Directors/New Films, presented by MoMA and Film at Lincoln Center (Mar. 29-Apr. 9, 2023).

    Sunday, April 2
    8:45pm, FLC Walter Reade Theater (Q&A with Alexandru Belc)
    Tuesday, April 4
    6pm, MoMA T2 (Q&A with Alexandru Belc)
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-26-2023 at 03:44 PM.

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    AUTOBIOGRAPHY (Makbul Mubarak 2022).

    MAKBUL MUBARAK: AUTOBIOGRAPHY (2022)


    ARWENDY BENING SWARA, KEVIN ARDILOVA IN AUTOBIOGRAPHY

    In the belly of the beast

    Haunting, scary, and meticulous, Autobiography is a superb thriller from Indonesia about moral and political corruption. It's a hypnotic coming of age tale, slow and precise but breathtaking. In a way it is metaphorical, but it's tactile and specific. This debut feature marks first time director Makbul Mubarak as one to watch with interest. It's about - what? - the grooming of a servant, a right hand man, a successor, an assassin, an ally, an enemy? The ambiguity is hypnotic and fascinating in a story that's as much about corrupt and corrupting power all over today's world as it is specifically about the evil legacy of Indonesia's Suharto.

    At the outset the meek, quiet young Rakib, aka "Kib" (Kevin Ardilova) is caretaking a large mansion. A shy fellow, he's happy here, and it annoys him when Purna (Arswendy Bening Swara), the owner, arrives to occupy it. But it's not only his; it's ancestral. Kib's family has served his for generations, and with the boy's father in prison and his brother abroad, he's he only one left to play this subservient role. A general who's just retired from the military, Purna is now turning to politics and running for local mayor. As he moves in on the mansion, his influence infiltrating the whole region, he takes over Kib as well. The two are, from now on, constantly together.

    The action feels slow at first. Mubarak is careful to weave in a foundation of atmosphere, which is steamy and dark, embracing and cozy in a creepy way. It's not always good to notice technical details like the cinematography of a film right away, but the work of dp Wojciech Staroń has a dark, tactile beauty one can't help savoring from early on. As one also savors the baroque, complex sets of the looming house and crowded street scenes, the sparing, quietly haunting score and the rich, subtly invasive sound design. And all the while one is watching Pema and Kib as they circle around each other. It wouldn't work unless both actors were compulsively watchable. But they are.

    Purna is mounting a political campaign but also has a hydroelectric project, and the latter will displace many local citizens' businesses. Going to meetings and canvassing the area, Purna uses Kib as butler, chauffeur, cook, companion, surrogate son - he has never had a son of his own, only three daughters. He is intimate with Kib, uncomfortably so, with too many touches and moments of leaving hand on shoulder or back just a little too long - and in one unforgettably uncomfortable scene, walking in and manually showering Kib, like a child: he also behaves as if he owns the young man.

    In fact he does not know the difference between love, ownership, and exploitation. And yet he flatters the young man with the intimacy he offers, playing chess with him and even cooking for him on occasion. Every gesture is both meaningful and ambiguous, kind and potentially hurtful. Mubarak's control in all this is breathtaking.

    Once things are set up, the cut to the chase is rapid. When Kib is driving Purna and backs into a small mosque, Purna has him get out and apologize to complaining locals. This works well enough with the old man's menacing presence: everybody is afraid of him and knows who he is. "Sorry" is "a little word that turns rage into gentleness," says Purna, to explain. Purna gets Kib to track Agus (Yusuf Mahardika), a young man much like himself, who has vandalized one of his campaign posters, and lure him to the mansion to apologize. Kip thinks this will be like the scene at the mosque, but Purna shuts Kib out and beats Agus brutally, leaving him for dead. Agus, of course, was one whose family business will be destroyed by Purna's corrupt hydroelectric project.

    By now we are on the edge of our seats, have been so for a while. Every moment is more fraught and scary than the last. Kib is shocked and terrified and says he will resign. But he does not, cannot. His father, in prison, appears spectrally to advise him to stay where he is and enjoy it. That over-intimate shower takes place after the tragedy of Agus. As things have progressed, Kib has already changed rapidly. Being with Purna all the time, he has, stealthily, become him. When Purna gives him a lesson with a precision rifle, Kib shows natural skill. He beams whenever praised by Purna, smokes cigarettes ostentatiously in his presence. and has begun to walk with a swagger.

    After the horrific beating, Kip continues to cooperate, but draws inward. That is, the actor Kevin Ardilova does so for us. Through the course of the film he takes us through many subtle changes which we watch for with rapt attention - as we do for the older actor Arswendy Bening Swara's unnerving alternations of charm and menace. When we know what a monster Purna truly is, it's wonderfully creepy to see him playing the jolly family man, or the benevolent leader. Now we know tings are different, and the tension and suspense, building all along, grow greater than ever.

    We'll leave things here. The rest, with the skillfully surreal finale, is too good to spoil.

    A stunning first film. Enormous thought, wisdom and observation of power at the intimate and collective levels have gone into this. Mubarak has put Indonesian cinema on the map.

    Autobiography, 115 mins., debuted at Venice in the Orizonti and Parallel sections, winning the FIPRESCI prize; the film went on to show at Toronto, Hamburg, Busan, and many other festivals, including London, Tokyo, Taipei, and New Directors/New Films in New York, receiving nominations and prizes along the way. Admiring reviews came at the outset from, among others, Jessica Kiang in Variety (" Sleek, Sinuous Thriller Delves Into Indonesia’s Heart of Darkness"), Allan Hunter in ScreenDaily, Damon Wise in Deadline ("A taut and elegantly staged two-hander that transcends regional politics to make a profound comment on the state of the world today"). Autobiography is Indonesia's 2024 Official Oscar Entry.

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