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Thread: NEW DIRECTORS/NEW FILMS 2024 (April 3-April 14)

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    NEW DIRECTORS/NEW FILMS 2024 (April 3-April 14)

    NEW DIRECTORS/NEW FILMS 2024

    GENERAL FILM FORUM THREAD



    LIST OF FEATURES/LINKS TO REVIEWS
    All, or Nothing at All dir. Jiajun "Oscar" Zhang
    Blackbird Blackbird Blackberry dir. Elene Naveriani
    Blaga’s Lessons dir. Stephan Komandarev
    Cu Li Never Cries dir. Pham Ngoc Lân
    The Day I Met You dir. André Novais Oliveira
    A Different Man dir. Aaron Schimberg
    Dreaming & Dying dir. Nelson Yeo
    Exhibiting Forgiveness dir. Titus Kaphar
    Explanation for Everything dir. Gábor Reisz
    Foremost By Night dir. Víctor Iriarte
    Good One dir. India Donaldson
    A Good Place dir. Katharina Huber
    Grace dir. Ilya Povolotsky
    Hesitation Wound dir. Selman Nacar
    Intercepted dir. Oksana Karpovych
    A Journey in Spring dir. Wang Ping-Wen, Peng Tzu-Hui
    Lost Country dir. Vladimir Perišić
    Malu dir. Pedro Freire
    Meezan dir. Shahab Mihandoust
    Of Living Without Illusion dir. Katharina Lüdin
    Omen dir. Baloji
    Otro Sol dir. Francisco Rodríguez Teare
    The Permanent Picture dir. Laura Ferrés
    The Rim dir. Alberto Gracia
    Stress Positions dir. Theda Hammel
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-06-2024 at 09:17 PM.

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    MALU (Pedro Freire 2024)

    PEDRO FREIRE: MALU (2024)


    YARA DE NOVAES IN MALU

    Three drama queens in a Rio favela

    Brazilian film, theatre and TV director, writer and producer Pedro Freire's first feature length film (he has made many short films) dramatizes, and we mean dramatizes, the declining days, starting several decades ago in Rio de Janeiro, of Malu (the remarkable Yara de Novaes), based on the life of his own mother the actress Manu Rocha, apparently falling into madness (it's actually prion disease) with no one to play off but Tibira (Átila Bee), a spindly ageless gay man, who doubles as her weed dealer; her aging "conservative" but lively, often provocative, gray-haired and religious mother Lili (the very real Juliana Carneiro da Cunha); and her actress daughter Joana (the bright and cheerful Carol Duarte) just returned, as the film opens, from a time spent in Paris and planning, she says, to be involved in the theater in São Paulo. The fur flies from the start.

    A review of this actors' playground by Nicolas Bell calls the result "Like A Streetcar Named Desire had we cut out Stanley Kowalski to focus on the emotional weaponry of women as they prepare themselves for the madhouse." Bell complains of finding the film "continually frustrating" as "we witness their inability to properly care for one another." But they have only each other, and that's all we get. This is a chamber drama, restricted to the four players, pared down to just mother and daughter at the end. With Lili ending up on the street after she maliciously tampers with Tibiria’s marijuana, backfiring when Malu becomes ill, things steadily fall into decline.

    Along the way there are plenty of splendid and equally of shocking or excessive moments, including revelations of terrible deeds of their men. The dialogue is often over the top, marked by obscene and threatening language, stunning us further because it seems to be close to true events, including tales of family crimes along with recollections of dictatorship. All three women smoke, even the old lady. They have cell phones, but the big heavy kind.

    As Carlos Aguilar points out in his Variety review, Malu doesn't have a monopoly on violence or extremism: the three women are chastening mirrors of each other who have screaming matches and literally claw at each other's faces. And Lili is shocking in her racist and sexist accusations, fobbing off her responsibility for Malu's craziness on her marijuana use and her gay black roomer for supplying it, and she "has no qualms about" and deeply embarrasses her granddaughter by urinating in the middle of the street. It's all too extreme not to be true.

    Whether Freire is representing all three women with cruel honesty or wild artistic license, the film is no doubt meant as a loving and poetically accurate farewell that depicts his vibrant, but declining, mother in her final days (or years) as a disempowered but glorious female Lear, forgotten by the world at large but by us overheard roaring on the edge of a Rio slum.

    And yet the end, though quieting down, at moments is antic as much as tragic. Yes, it is prion disease. "I'm a mad cow" says Malu. "It would seem so," says Joana, who eventually must bring Malu to her home in São Paulo to care for her in her last giddy, distracted and confused days. Here, the action and dialogue are pared down and become more touching and subtle, causing us to listen more carefully for nuances and to feel the greatest of pains: being close to an intimate family member who has begun to lose her mind and thus to disappear even before she is physically gone. These last scenes are very fine.

    Bell thinks we're left wanting more. That might be true of the final segment, but its restraint is welcome since the first half is often more than enough. The ending is delicate and touching. THe madcap early interlude is often redeemed by dp Mauro Pinheiro Jr.'s offhand but handsome and airy natural-lit cinematography, which makes the dumpy, jumbled favela house and everything around it look inviting - as if the house in Grey Gardens were not stifling but sparkling and clear, despite its clutter.

    The house itself - where most of the action takes place, is special to begin with, a fifth actor and a powerful one. Freire has said in an interview that it was a precise reconstruction that closely resembled the house he knew, but also conveys "the visual idea of a house frozen in time, stuck in the middle of the construction process." Malu keeps reiterating her elaborate dreams of rebuilding it into a drama center for local youth with multiple shops to raise money, but nothing can ever be done. This frozen state Freire thought "a metaphor for the psychological stagnation of the protagonist" but also "the political stagnation" of Brazil itself. Symbolic or frozen or not, it lives on the screen and Freire has said a lot with setting as well as dialogue.

    There are leaps of time not clearly defined; the rhythms are sometimes bumpy - though that is doubtless partly the point; we become a part of Malu's confusion. The English subtitles are sometimes, not intentionally, odd. But the acting is the thing, and Yara de Novaes is a wonder to watch at work.

    Malu, 100 mins., debuted at Sundance Jan. 21, 2024. No theatrical release yet reported. Screened for this review as part of New Directors/New Films (Apr. 3-14, 2024), MoMA and FLC. Showtimes:
    Thursday, April 11
    8:15pm, MoMA T2
    Saturday, April 13
    3:00pm, FLC Walter Reade Theater
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-04-2024 at 04:39 PM.

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    THE DAY I MET YOU (André Novais Oliveira 2023)

    ANDRÉ NOVAIS OLIVEIRA: THE DAY I MET YOU/O DIA QUE TE CONNECI (2023)


    RENATO NOVAES (CENTER) IN THE DAY I MET YOU

    Two people bond when one is fired from their school

    Oliveira is interested in ordinariness, as we saw with ND/NF 2018's Long Way Home/Temperada, which also featured Grace Passô as a middle-aged woman of color in suburban Brazil making her way. Here she is Luisa, secretary at the little school where Zeca (Renato Novaes, the director's brother) is the librarian. She is the one who has to tell him that morning that he's fired due (at least in part) to his frequent lateness or no-shows for work. She then is sympathetic and comforting to him about this job loss; she turns out not to be so very happy at the school herself where she finds the mainly white staff not that friendly.

    Luisa gives Zeca a ride home to spare him his usual 90-minute bus commute, not something she wants him to do on the day he's gotten fired. They speak comfortably as equals. They wind up having a couple beers together. They bond especially over the shared revelation that they both take psych meds, and Luisa not only takes Zeca home but comes in with him. He got fired for always being late, he's oversleeping, and she offers to take a look at his prescriptions. She suspects that something's wrong with the meds or how he's taking them that caused this debacle, exacerbated by his working at a school that's so far from home. She asks to look at his bedroom, and one thing leads to another.

    The opening titles dwell on the shot of a wall of shelves. Look in vain on them for anything remarkable. That's the point. Oliveira makes it a practice to gaze closely with sympathy and interest at the ordinary. There are a couple of other closeups of wholly ordinary objects through the course of the film.

    Novaes and Passô live in their roles and in their unremarkable, somewhat overweight bodies, live in their dialogue. By achieving this with his actors, Oliveira draws the viewer into unquestioning sympathy. You just don't think "I'm being sympathetic." It's more like eavesdropping that you (mostly) don't feel guilty about. These two people matter because they're so specific. There is about them the fascination of real people with actual problems. Natural sympathy extends even to the places, and the overall location, as before, of regions around Belo Horizonte, the capital of the mountainous Brazilian state of Minas Gerais. It's all inevitable, unpremeditated, the way it is.

    As in Long Way Home Oliveira again here achieves extraordinary naturalness and specificity. It's hard not to think of Luisa and Zeca as actual people with actual problems, with actual humor and warmth, an actual growing attraction toward each other. Finally when they start making out in his bedroom one feels like one is invading the privacy of a real, very ordinary couple.

    If you step back a bit, there's a sort of glamor of the ordinary, because it's rare that anything like this is so successfully carried off, with the control and self-possession to make it seem without condescension or falsity or any sense of mediation. There's both intimacy and humility in this filmmaking and not any showing off, and So it also seems right that this is quite a short film. It never tries for any dramatic effects. Despite the short runtime, it creeps up on you, worms its way into your consciousness with its naturalness and the sympathy it allows its characters.

    The Day I Met You is another one of those films about nothing that winds up being, when you think about it, about quite a lot. Personal issues aren't usually looked at so carefully and from so close in a film. Not for nothing is there a focus on psych meds, because the encounter between Zeca and Luisa is not only therapeutic for them but may also be that way for us.

    Not everyone will like this kind of thing. And that's why it's being presented in a series called New Directors/New Films, and not at your local movie theater.

    The Day I Met You/O dia que te conheci, 71 mins. Olveira's third feature after his 2015 She Comes Back on Thursday (debuted at Rotterdam and Marseille) and the 2018 Long Way Home/Temporada (debuted at Locarno) debuted at Entrevues Belfort, wining the grand prize. It was screened for this review as part of the Apr. 3-14, 2024 FLC-MoMA New Directors/New Films series. Showtimes:
    Saturday, April 6
    12:30pm, MoMA T2
    Sunday, April 7
    6:30pm, FLC Walter Reade Theater
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-02-2024 at 12:07 AM.

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    GRACE (Ilya Povolotsky 2023)

    ILYA POVOLOTSKY: GRACE/BLAZH (2023)


    MARIA LUKYANOVA IN GRACE

    A poetic father-daughter coming-of-age roadtrip, on wild Russian highways

    A family appears to be traveling around among bare mountains. Later we learn the mother's ashes lie in an urn on board; the father (Gela Chitava) drives, and the daughter (Maria Lukyanova) rides by his side in front of the rusty old van. Rough living, it seems, and a grown girl, who closely resembles her father and with beautiful red-blonde hair, says she wants to be somewhere else. "To the sea," she says. She meets some boys. The boys are bored with football and the mountains. They'd like to go to Paris and speak French. "Would be neat."

    The vehicle has a NO SMOKING hanging windshield deodorant. There is more: a portable outdoor movie, which the girl and her father set up at vacant spaces, providing delivery of beer and chips. The daughter also has a Polaroid camera she uses to record turning points. One night her father sits by a fire outside their van. The daughter comes up and sits, brings bottles, and he puts his blanket over her shoulders, wordlessly.

    That was a bunch of skinny Balkar boys. Balkars originally formed following the merging of tribes from the Northern Caucasus with Iranian and Turkic-speaking peoples. Balkars are ethnically, linguistically and culturally close to Karachai. Kabards and Balkars live in the Kabardino-Balkar Republic. Both groups are Sunni Muslim. In the distance we hear the call to prayer.

    This bold young Russian director wielding these elements, who formed a collective to work independently, planned carefully in advance the story he wanted to tell about a great road trip across Russia. It was a product of the pandemic shutdown, inspired by the way family members were shut up together and got on each other's nerves or stopped talking. Here he tells the story of a coming of age of a young-girl-into-womanhood - unusual for a man to tell such a tale, rather. The movement from innocence to experience is planned also as one from south to north, Kabardino-Balkaria in the south all the way up to the shores of the White Sea in the northwest. The harsh cold mountains of the north become symbolic of adulthood in the film. The girl is in revolt, childishly wanting to run off to the sea. Her father is constantly afraid she will run away from him. And there is a boy who turns up, with a motorcycle, who wants to run off with them and is drawn to the girl.

    Father and daughter are in silent conflict and seldom speak, though there is warmth and wordless communication between them in this intense relationship across the rugged highways of Russia with their petrol dealing, the father's liaisons with truck stop sirens, and many encounters that Povolotsky and his dp Nikolai Zheludovich forge into a visually splendid and often unexpected panorama. (I liked the droning score of Zurkas Tepia that binds it all together, too.) Some call this a "dark road trip," and perhaps in a way it is. But sometimes the images evoke the mysterious riches of the 1001 Nights. And sometimes in some little town many people come out of nowhere for one of the shows.

    Clandestine DVD sales, checkpoint-avoiding detours nd other signs of outlawry create a tawdry excitement that belies the claims of the girls and other youths along the way that the road and the land are boring, and could draw father and daughter together. But as she aspires to a different life they instead begin to throw them apart.

    Echoes of Tarkovsky are just one reason why this is a first film that resonates with vision and a sense of Russian cinematic tradition. It's no surprise that the film was chosen for Directors' Fortnight at Cannes last year. This film may seem long and rambling, but it's one of the kind that, if you give yourself to it, provides rewards and surprises, many tales to tell and its own glimpses of the imagination of a personal cinematic style and way of telling a story out of found landscape. Povolotsky , who was born in the Urals in the middle of nowhere, has traveled much, and knows where the variety of Russia to be found.

    Wendy Ide of Screen Daily calls Grace "atmospheric, if inscrutable, filmmaking." Cahiers du Cinéma's Fernando Ganzof somewhat enigmatically declares the film "impresses by the way it weakens the existence of its characters, unable to protect themselves from a non-existent threat, undoubtedly that of a destiny that separates them." See an article and interview with the director in Le Monde in English
    in which he explains how his background and his travels in impoverished regions with his camera and his friend Nikolay Zheludovich directly played into this film and acknowledges that circumstances may be hard for him when he returns from France to Russia.

    Grace/Blazh, 119 mins., debuted at Cannes May 2023; screened for this review as part of the Apr. 3-14, 2024 FLC-MoMA New Directors/New Films series. Showtimes:
    Tuesday, April 9
    8:30pm, FLC Walter Reade Theater
    Wednesday, April 10
    5:45pm, MoMA T2
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-03-2024 at 06:24 PM.

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    A GOOD PLACE/EIN SCHÖNER ORT (Katharina Huber 2023)

    KATHARINA HUBER: A GOOD PLACE/EIN SCHÖNER ORT (2023)



    Talky, low-keyed apocalyptic sch-fi from Germany

    The filmmaker has a background in animated shorts which I haven't seen. What she is presenting in A Good Place here is to make a vaguely apocalyptic sci-fi film in which the dire events and efforts to escape them are hinted at through overheard radio broadcasts, while the main characters, mostly young women, sit around and talk, or eat, or are out in the country.

    Gute (Clara Schwinning) and Margarita (Céline De Gennaro) emerge as central characters, two women who are close to each other and share their thoughts and plans and what they have heard. Margarita lives with a few people in a family-like community; they share meals, discuss the situation and read to each other from the newspaper. Gute gives gifts, but it is not entirely clear what they consist of

    Unfortunately, the dialogue is often laughably bad and disconnected. I agree with the several disgruntled Letterboxd citizen critics from the original Locarno showing (at which, however, Huber won the Best Emerging Director award). One person wrote:

    "Yes, sorry, but unfortunately that was nothing. In conversation, the director conveys that there was no plan behind the film, that no value was placed on a central theme and that entire supporting story elements and important scenes were simply cut out in the editing. And you can see that in the film. She says - for the mood. And yes, the beautiful images do create a certain mood. But over 90 minutes of randomly strung together beautiful images without context and consistency overfilled with extremely stilted German theatre dialogue doesn't make a good film. Even the largely good actors don't help. Rarely have I seen such an exhausting film. Unfortunately the first real flop of the festival."

    Another Letterboxd contributor, writing in French, comments more bluntly "I liked the fact that the chapters were in descending order: it made it easier to anticipate how much suffering time was left." If people are suffering, obviously something must be wrong. Another Letterboxd contributor speaks of having no patience for the self-indulgence of German film schools and their "aggressively non-commercial output/wankery." A simpler, more down to earth commentator said, "it felt like I was just looking at a random collection of videos that someone recorded at the countryside. Can't really say it had a story, the cinematography didn't catch my eye, the acting made no sense, and the interactions between the characters were nothing but strange."

    Such a film is indeed exhausting, because time really drags when nothing is done well or makes sense and the audience is ignored. Beware: films, however challenging, are always made for the dudience.

    This is the way it goes with the FLC series New Directors/Nw Films sometimes. Not everything is successful.

    But the series has a record of great discoveries too. Imagine, in the seventies the series introduced Stephen Spielberg and Wim Wenders. In the next decade, Whit Stillman's Metropolitan debuted here; early Spike Lee, Almodovar, Lasse Hallstron, Nanni Moretti, Michael Heneke, all in the eighties. Wong Kar-wai's Days of Being Wild showed here in the nineties, the same year as Richard Linklater's debut Slacker. Consider that early François Ozon was shown in ND/NF,the Brit indie great Shane Meadows, and Tom Tykwer, and you begin to see this is a goldmine, even though before you find the gold, much mud and dross must be sifted through.

    A Good Place/Ein schöner ort,, 108 mins., in German, English, and Italian, debuted at Locarno Aug. 9, 2023. Screened for this review as part of the Apr. 3-14, 2024 New Directors/New Films series at MoMA and FLC. Showtimes::
    Thursday, April 4
    8:15pm, MoMA T2 (Q&A with Katharina Huber)
    Sunday, April 7
    1:00pm, FLC Walter Reade Theater (Q&A with Katharina Huber)
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-03-2024 at 06:29 PM.

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    OF LIVING WITHOUT ILLUSION (Katharina Lüdin 2023)

    KATHARINA LÜDIN: OF LIVING WITHOUT ILLUSIONS/UND DAS MAN OHNE TAUSCHUNG ZU LEBEN VERMAG (2023)


    JENNY SCHILLY, ANNA BOLK IN OF LIVING WITHOUT ILLUSIONS

    Love/hate

    Of Living without Illusion explores a dry, neurotic world. Viewers, especially German-speaking ones, may relate to the neuroticism (and the dryness) because it is presented with intelligence and clarity and is, unfortunately, the way people do sometimes behave.

    Take the worst relationship you've ever been in or heard about and it's magnified to the Nth degree in the one between the ironically named Merit (Jenny Schily), the skinny blond middle-aged woman at the center of this piece, and her poor girlfriend Eva (Anna Bolk), whom she periodically subjects to physical and mental abuse and humiliation. Merit is rehearsing for a (not surprisingly?) emotionally tricky play with her ex-husband. Her son and his wife and lively innocent little girl are also around. Merit winds up being neurotic and mean to pretty much everyone at some point except for the little girl, too innocent to be mean to, whom she actually hugs, the film's one moment of kindness.

    A German-language Letterboxd comment on this film revealingly declares: "Absolutely beautiful staging and aesthetics, omg I want to live in this house and pick flowers from my huge garden too! But why does the first lesbian relationship in a German movie between two older women that I have ever seen have to be so bad?" This relationship isn't just bad. It's toxic and dangerous: it warrants an intervention. Eva's monologue about her abusive relationship with Merit, reinforced by the scene of actual physical abuse, may come back to haunt you.

    What one can say quite positively and enthusiastically about the film and what may also be something of a redeeming feature is the painterly way its visuals are organized scene by scene in pale colors that at some points may make one think of Vermeer, and the beautiful framing of dialogues with windows and doors in cool natural light. The figures when there are more than two in a scene show a staginess, however, in the stiff way they are posed, a giveaway that the whole thing visually is somewhat self-conscious. This visual aspect, and its self-consciousness, gets in the way of the comparison with Bergman.

    A light touch is provided by the cheerful little girl, who seems from another family and another film, and the young black woman who is soon going home to America, but still lingers and loves. She is a musician and carries a big string instrument in a shiny red plastic case on her back that jumps out at you, as does the mellow sound of her practicing earlier, which Merit, in another rare positive moment, says she will miss.

    What most keeps the film from living up to the Bergman comparison is not the self-conscious images but the editing: the screenplay hovers and sputters where Bergman would soar, its scenes too many and too different and jumping too fast from each one to the next. The filmmakers also distract by favoring the use of loud ambient sound to fill in the absence of a score, letting in the kind of harsh white noise more conventional filmmakers strive to keep out.

    "And that you can live without deception" is the title's literal meaning and comes in a passage from a book one character reads to another. Someone here needed to step in, though, and point out the difference between living honestly and living cruelly.

    There is talk of books, and smoking of cigarettes, establishing a milieu that is both pastoral (sunny skies, luxuriant flower garden) and European intellectual. But the ashtray I'll remember is the one whose contents we hear about being poured out all over the unfortunate girlfriend.

    Of LIving Without Illusion/Und dass man ohne Täuschung zu leben vermag, 110 mins., debuted at Locarno Aug. 10, 2023, and was screened for this review as part of the Apr. 3-14, 2024 joint MoMA/FLC New Directors/New Films series. Showtimes:
    Sunday, April 7
    3:45pm, FLC Walter Reade Theater
    Monday, April 8
    5:45pm, MoMA T2
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-05-2024 at 11:45 AM.

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    ALL, OR NOTHING AT ALL (Jiajun "Oscar" Zhang 20223)

    JIAJUN "OSCAR" ZHANG: ALL, OR NOTHING AT ALL (2023)


    YOYO AND LAN TIAN (CENTER) IN ALL, OR NOTHING AT ALL

    Choreographed love-longing in a giant Shanghai mall

    The filmmakers, male and female, director Jiajun "Oscar" Zhang and Korean writer Hee Young Pyun who met in London, have an affinity for shy couples stories. Their film is shot in Academy ratio: showing that the vast two-tower Global Harbor mall in Shanghai may be felt as, in a way, strangely confining.

    The Global Harbor mall, opened in 2013, seems timeless, retro, and grand. It is classical Roman in theme, with huge corinthian columns, wall statues, decorative borders, and high domes. And yet it is a cathedral, a place of worship and awe. It is inside rectangular skyscrapers, but seems round inside, a miracle. Its colors and gleaming surfaces awe and delight. It is good to watch this film with a powerful sound system: the space pulsates and throbs, has a basic tone that envelops us, and is beautiful yet oppressive too, and feels like an acid trip. This is a wonderful, open-ended film if you just give yourself up to it. There are many beautiful shots. But as has been pointed out, the plot line is a bit thin at times, and speaks of love-yearning and loneliness.

    There are two halves. During one, a young man, Lan Tian , is filming the mall, or pretending to. He becomes fascinated with a shy young woman who is working at a shop selling skin treatments (cosmetics). She is called Yoyo. He gets her attention for a while, but at the end he is filming her from afar, begging her to look at him, but she does not. He comes up very close on her face with his telephoto lens till she is just a bright cluster of pixels. Whoosh!

    The second story features the young woman, Yoyo, who now is an architecture student from London who wants to return there to study art. Her mother and grandmother question this. A personal reference here, because the writer Hee Young Pyun was studying architecture in London when director Zhang met her, and then switched to film. Yoyo now becomes fascinated with Lan Tian, this time a slim young man with earrings who is at a dance school in the mall called Hip Hop Gang. He gets drawn into a public performance to fill in but isn't one of the pros. Yoyo and Lan Tian (this time) knew each other years before, and dated once. Now they keep meeting up, but he never seems really interested. Yoyo has a hint of a secondary romance also with a sad-faced, droopy-haired coffee shop employee who makes espressos for her every day that are ornamented with snowflakes and hearts. He seems to be an admirer, but is too shy to reply when she talks to him.

    Snow is another motif, because apart from the snowflakes drawn in cappuccino foam, Yoyo and Lan Tian keep talking about the day when they were in school when, she says, it snowed in Shanghai. And in the other story there is a wall of the mall that depicts a beautiful enveloping snowstorm - a real one. And then near the end, "snowflakes" fall down all over the mall from the dome agove. At the end, Yoyo, high above on a stairway, with the snowflakes falling and the music playing loudly like a juke box hurdy-gurdy, is calling down to Lan Tian, down with the dancers, calling to him in a whisper, "Lan Tian, Lan Tian, Lan Tian, look at me!" as the other Lan Tian was calling down to the other Yoyo, at the end of the first iteration of this fairy tale in a giant mall.

    As the filmmakers point out at foreign festivals - this film's Chinese title means "All the Sad Young People": the young people who seem to predominate at the mall are thus felt to be a little sad and lost, though they seem delighted enough when the snowflakes are falling. They have things to do in the mall, but no overriding purpose. The Lan Tian of the first iteration has found one: he is shooting a film, or rather "gathering information" for one, about the mall. The Yoyo of the second iteration is an apprentice architect. But the filmmakers see the youth of the mall is somewhat adrift.

    Director Zhang and his collaborator Hee Young Pyun approach the location with an eye for its structure and its way of interrupting human interactions and dominating them. Ultimately the overall subject, due to having the alternate storylines instead of just one, is meant to be the place where they play out, more than them. Such is the film's special fascination. But also in a way its limitation, because by the time the second storyline has begun, the novelty of the mall is beginning to wear off and the overwhelming space may be felt as an intrusion that trivializes the narrative content a bit.

    Obsessives may find material here for academic studies of minute ways in which moments from one iteration are repeated with variation in the following one. (Which is the first story? descriptions make it the one with Yoyo as the protagonist; but in the screener I watched, that came second.). It may be that the cutting is more interesting than the scenes, and the roar and hum, incidental diegetic music and white noise of the sound track most interesting of all: it captures the strange enveloping spirit of a place like this. And Zhang is also not for nothing interested in both architecture and dance. The crowds Lan Tian and Yoyo negotiate in the Global Harbor mall also contain choreographed figures, notably a gaggle of kids and adults who weave around between them, whose movements provide comical complications, as in Jacques Tati's Monsieur Hulot's Holiday, a possible comparison and influence.

    Chinese director Zhang and his Korean collaborator writer Pyun join are reunited for this feature debut following a widely admired short called If You See Her, Say Hello. A style emerges here of blurred boundaries, rule-breaking narratives and use of odd lenses like cell phones and surveillance cameras to experiment with parallel stories told with lush, almost abstract closeups and overwhelming ambient sound, following on a similar timeline and in identical places. We follow two seemingly separate romantic tales, where the same actors reverse their desires in encounters with usual passersby, controlling vendors, rich clients, or wacky entertainers. We become spectators at the Global Harbor mall, where the two sketchy love stories may be a gentle mockery of our efforts to make sense of our people-watching.

    All, or Nothing at All, 124 mins., in Mandarin and Shanghainese, debuted at Tallinn Black Nights (Estonia), Nov. 2023. Screened for this review as part of of Film at Lincoln Center and MoMA's New Directors/New Films series (Apr. 3-13, 2024). Showtimes:
    Thursday, April 11
    8:30pm, FLC Walter Reade Theater (Q&A with Jiajun “Oscar” Zhang)
    Friday, April 12
    5:45pm, MoMA T2 (Q&A with Jiajun "Oscar" Zhang)
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-05-2024 at 01:33 AM.

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    CU LI NEVER CRIES (Pham Ngoc Lân, 2024)

    PHAM NGOC LÂN: cu li never cries (2024)

    [BLURB]
    Pham Ngoc Lân, 2024, Vietnam/Singapore/France/Philippines/Norway, 92m
    Vietnamese with English subtitles
    North American Premiere
    Personal and political histories are ever-present in the story of Mrs. Nguyên (Minh Châu), who returns to her hometown to spread the ashes of her estranged husband and to reconnect with her niece, Vân (Hà Phuong). Yet Vân harbors resentment against Mrs. Nguyên—a mother figure to the orphaned young woman—for her long absence, complicating this homecoming and dredging up a difficult past. As the older woman traverses the familiar yet increasingly alien environs of her past, she has the companionship of Cu Li, the pygmy slow loris her deceased spouse left her, whose impossibly wide, glassy eyes become a reflection for characters caught in a half-dreamscape. Shot in a pristine black-and-white that offers immersive realism one moment and a fairy-tale shimmer the next, Cu Li Never Cries is a tender yet commanding feature debut for Pham Ngoc Lân in which the legacies of Vietnamese history are written on its characters’ uncertain futures. Winner of the Best First Feature prize at the 2024 Berlin Film Festival.
    Showtimes:
    Tuesday, April 9
    6:00pm, MoMA T2
    Wednesday, April 10
    6:00pm, FLC Walter Reade Theater
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-02-2024 at 04:40 PM.

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    MEEZAN (Shahab Mihandoust 2023)

    SHAHAB MEHANDOUST: MEEZAN (2023)



    Fishermen, and a shrimp factory observed

    Shahab Mehandoust's short observational documentary, without commnetary, presents 2020 footage from the fishing industry in Iran's Khuzestan province, home to Abadan, the first oil company town in the Middle East, built from 1909-1912 and once, in the thirties, the largest in the world. Now this is a former combat zone marginalized by decades of industrialization.

    The fishing is done by men and the filmmaker has recorded a lot of their talk, which is mostly about how hard the work is. The shrimp factory is a simple hand processing plant primarily employing women. Men open boxes of the caught shrimp, dump them in water, and reload them on tables, where the women shell, vein, and clean them. Then a woman supervisor weighs the work of each woman (she knows them all by name) and sends back what has to be further cleaned. The women chatter a lot among themselves but in the cacophony of the concrete space we hear only the supervisor giving instructions.

    There is a third segment showing the Bahrain wharf bartering system in which fishermen are involved. As at the shrimp factory later, everything of the fruits of the seas is counted and divided. The literal meaning of the word "meezan" (ميزان) in Farsi is "amount." The fish or the shirmp is the basic unit. How many of them can you gather in salable condition? That is the basic question in the world Mihandoust chronicles here.

    And that's it. We don't learn the fine points of fishing or fish processing, which would be for a different kind of film. There is a section when some of the fishermen are knotting ropes, showing the powerful ropes fishermen use and hint of the sophistication of sailors' knots. We find also that when catches are brought in for collection, the men in charge can quickly tell if they don't look fresh and at least one batch has to be dumped.

    This was when COVID was coming on, and there is some talk of it among the fishermen. One asks if they should use hand sanitizer and another says that salt water is better than sanitizer.

    A film like this is not so much notable for teaching us the fine points of anything as for conveying a sense of the rhythm of the process, and in the interest of that our attention is called to the intricate sound design of Ernst Karel, which provides the viewer with the constant roar and buzz and hum of the sea, the boats, and the echoing shrimp factory, a symphony of varied noise that may be compared to the enveloping hum of the big Shanghai Global Harbor shopping mall spaces in Jiajun Oscar Zhang's All, or Nothing at All.

    The work of Mihandoust resembles that of the Harvard Sensory Ethnography Lab, part documentary, part anthropology, by Véréna Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor, who in fact made a similarly observational earlier film called Leviathon that was included in the 2012 New York Film Festival. Castaing-Taylor and Ilisa Barbash also made a film recording the
    last of the American mountain shepherds western grazing fields in 2009 called Sweetgrass. While Castaing-Taylor and Veeréna Paravel wound up using tiny digital cameras for the rough work on the big fishing boats, Mihandoust chose to use 16mm. Castaing-Taylor's latest film, which has gotten a good deal of publicity, including a New Yorker article, is De Humani Corporis Fabrica (2022, with Véréna Paravel), which is an exploration of the inside of the body and of doctors and nurses at work.

    Meezan (ميزان), 72 mins., appears to have been in the Cannes marché. It won the 2023 Montreal International Documentary Festival New Vision Award in Nov. 2023. It was screened for this review as part of the Apr. 3-13, 2024 MoMA and FLC New Directors/New Films series. Showtimes:
    Saturday, April 13
    12:45pm, FLC Walter Reade Theater
    Sunday, April 14
    3:00pm, MoMA T2
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-06-2024 at 04:16 PM.

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    OTRO SOL (Francisco Rodríguez Teare 2023,

    FRANCISCO RODRIGUEZ: OTRO SOL (2023)



    Crime stories

    Right from the start, Otro Sol introduces the viewer to an alleged real case that took place in 1978 in Spain. It was a robbery at Cádiz Cathedral, carried out by two Chilean thieves. The film shows the names of the thieves highlighted on the screen. It then cuts to a shot of the pair of cousins, played by Iván Cáceres and Thomas Quevedo. Traveling across the Atacama Desert, they meet a community of local prospectors digging for gold.

    Otro Sol thus references a group of real and invented characters trapped in a film. It has also been described as a "purgatory of retired thieves" located on the coast of the Atacama Desert. The film follows a circular path, seeking to "invent and verify" the myth of Alberto Cándia, a Chilean international thief who, in 1978, carried out the robbery Cadiz Cathedral in Andalucia. Several other thieves are mentioned, with their aliases. Through interviews with his family, his former robbery partners and invented characters, little by little the testimonies and documents "rewrite the real" and "summon a fiction." This is all done in the spirit of play, not a documentary investigation of crime history.

    One story told by a handsome man with a trim gray beard is of following a jeweler and his Alfa Romeo to his house in Milan with other Latin American accomplices, whose identity he kept hidden by speaking Italian, and not allowing them to speak Spanish. He claims they ran off and later killed two who were with them and cut off the head of one of them. (At this point the storytelling drifts into implausibility.)

    Another story told by a corpulent son is of a father whose crack addiction led him to imagine gold hidden in the sand-plastered walls of the bathroom. His crazy digging in the walls all night led his wife to attack him with a knife, and she cut off an ear. He then was never seen again.

    Through stories that seem to be real and others that can only be fantasy, Teare’s inventive film constantly shifts the borders between truth and fable, while presenting to the viewer the staggering, vast beauty of the local mountains, beaches, and rivers of Atacama and Andalusia.

    Some comments have connected this film with David Lynch's Blue Velvet; another has mentioned Raul Ruiz, another, Godard. However the blend of fiction and documentary elements used here makes it different and less connected with mainstream or professional filmmaking. There is a spirit of experimentation and amateurism.

    At the outset there is a little old man who speaks of spending his entire life panning for gold. He appears again at the end in a stream with young people sowing them how to do it. Thievery, gold digging, are themes, and the spirit of play.

    Otro Sol, 85m. debuted at inéma du Réel Paris, Mar. 30, 2022 (chosen Best Latin American Feature Film), showing at Mar del Plata in 2023 Lisbon, Lussas, DMZ South Korea, Jakarta, Santiago, Belo Horizonte, Mexico City, and other festivals. It was screened for this review as part of the Apr. 3-13, 2024 MoMA and FLC New Directors/New Films series. Showtimes:
    Sunday, April 7
    5:00pm, MoMA T2 (Q&A with Francisco Rodríguez Teare)
    Monday, April 8
    6:00pm, FLC Walter Reade Theater (Q&A with Francisco Rodríguez Teare)
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-06-2024 at 09:10 PM.

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    THE PERMANENT PICTURE /LA IMATGE PERMANENT (Laura Ferrés 2023)

    LAURA FERRÉS: THE PERMANENT PICTURE/LA IMATGE PERMANENT (2023)


    A STILL FROM LA IMATGE PERMANENT

    "Idiosyncratic and enigmatically couched musings on photographic reproduction and, by extension, cinema"

    The opening is from Carmen Grey's San Sebastien reivew of this film for The Film Verdict. She describes it as "An elegant, playful exploration of the consolatory but deceptive nature of image-making across generations, from Catalan director-to-watch Laura Ferres."

    This theme is somewhat detached from the central plot line, however, and that promppted a Letterboxd writer to comment that the story "has potential – a 50-year-old woman unwittingly befriends the mother who had her as a pre-teen and who abandoned her as a baby" but to complain that "it's presented in a gratingly self-conscious blend" of "portentous drama" and "over-conceptualised drollness."

    This can be phrased differently. But the problem is that the filmmakers have too little commitment to their story of the accidental discovery of the mother who abandoned the protagonist. As the Letterboxd writer says, this is good material - too good to make subsidiary to comments about photographic imagery. The central plot line also matters.

    Actually, this film wanders off in multiple directions and can be difficult to follow - I had trouble making sense of it. See, however, the sympathetic and detailed description of the film in High on Films by Debanjan Dhar, who was able to follow many of its twists and turns.

    The Permanent image/La imatge permanent,, 94 mins., debuted at Locarno Aug. 2023, also showing at Cambridge, Thessaloniki , and Göteborg. Screened for this review as part of the Apr. 3-15, 2024 MoMA/FLC New Directors/New Films series. Showtimes:
    Tuesday, April 9
    6:00pm, FLC Walter Reade Theater
    Wednesday, April 10
    8:45pm, MoMA T2
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-13-2024 at 10:37 PM.

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