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Thread: NEW DIRECTORS/NEW FILMS 2020 (March 25-April 5, 2020)

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    NEW DIRECTORS/NEW FILMS 2020 (March 25-April 5, 2020)


    ]

    New Directors/New Films ̶(̶M̶a̶r̶c̶h̶ ̶2̶5̶-̶A̶p̶r̶i̶l̶ ̶5̶,̶ ̶2̶0̶2̶0̶)̶ ]

    C̶A̶N̶C̶E̶L̶L̶E̶D̶ POSTPONED TO DEC.9-20, 2020, VIRTUAL, DUE TO THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC

    GENERAL FILM FORUM THREAD

    LINKS TO THE REVIEWS:
    ATLANTIS/АТЛАНТИДА (Valentyn Vasyanovych 2019)
    BABYTEETH (Shannon Murphy 2019)
    BOYS STATE (Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine 2020)
    CLOUD IN HER ROOM, THE 她房间里的云 (Zheng Lu Zinyuan 2020)
    CONDUCTOS, LOS (Camilo Restrepo 2020)
    DOVE AND THE WOLF, THE/LA PALOMA Y EL LOBO (Carlos Lenin 2019)
    DWELLING IN THE FUCHUN MOUNTAINS 富春山居圖 (Gu Xiaogang 2029)
    FEVER, THE/A FEBRE (Maya Da-Rin 2019)
    GIRAFFE (Anna Sophie Hartmann 2020)
    KALA AZAR (Janis Rafa 2010)
    KILLING OF TWO LOVERS, THE (Robert Machoian 2020)
    METAMORPHOSIS OF BIRDS, THE/A METAMORPHOSE DOS PASSEROS (Catarina Vasconcelos 2020)
    MOLE AGENT, THE/EL AGENTE TOPO (Maite Alberdi 2019)
    NASIR (Arun Karthick 2020)
    NEFI'S FATHER (Mamadou Dia 2019)
    RED MOON TIDE/LÚA VERMELA (Lois Patiño 2020)
    SERVANTS/ SLUŽOBNÍCI (Ivan Ostrochovský 2020)
    TWO OF US/DEUX (Filippo Meneghetti 2010)


    FILMS & DESCRIPTIONS

    All films are digitally projected unless otherwise noted



    OPENING NIGHT FILM BOYS STATE

    Opening Night
    Boys State
    Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine, USA, 2020, 109m
    New York Premiere
    The sensational winner of the Grand Jury Prize for documentary at this year’s Sundance Film Festival is a wildly entertaining and continually revealing immersion into a week-long annual program in which a thousand Texas high school seniors gather for an elaborate mock exercise: building their own state government. Filmmakers Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine closely track the escalating tensions that arise within a particularly riveting gubernatorial race, training their cameras on unforgettable teenagers like Ben, a Reagan-loving arch-conservative who brims with confidence despite personal setbacks, and Steven, a progressive-minded child of Mexican immigrants who stands by his convictions amidst the sea of red. In the process, they have created a complex portrait of contemporary American masculinity, as well as a microcosm of our often dispiriting national political divisions that nevertheless manages to plant seeds of hope. An Apple release.

    Closing Night
    The Mole Agent
    Maite Alberdi, Chile, 2020, 90m
    Spanish with English subtitles
    New York Premiere
    This clever, entirely unexpected delight weds a spy movie conceit to an observational documentary framework: Sergio is a dapper widower in his early eighties who gets hired by a private detective to go undercover in a nursing home to investigate whether a woman who lives there is being abused and robbed. Initially, Sergio, with his spy glasses and lack of tech savvy, cuts a conspicuous and amusing figure as he reports back to his no-nonsense boss. But like any great detective story, the solution to the mystery isn’t as important as what’s learned along the way, and Sergio forges poignant, sometimes heartbreaking bonds with an array of fascinating elderly women. Director Maite Alberdi’s camera captures interactions with remarkable intimacy and compassion, resulting in a warm, funny work of nonfiction with an emotional power that sneaks up on you.

    Anne at 13,000 Ft.
    Kazik Radwanski, Canada, 2019, 75m
    New York Premiere
    Actress Deragh Campbell has been building a repertoire of idiosyncratic, lived-in performances (including last year’s ND/NF selection MS Slavic 7), but her rattling, interiorized portrait of a young woman in free-fall in Anne at 13,000 Feet sets new heights for her—as well as for its director, Kazik Radwanski (whose also tightly focused Tower was an ND/NF highlight in 2013). Here, the nimble Canadian filmmaker forces viewers to dive headlong into the daily struggles of Anne, a young daycare worker in Toronto whose seemingly steady life gives way to increasing anxiety and recklessness, her unpredictable behavior coinciding with a burgeoning romance with a well-meaning guy (Matt Johnson) wholly unprepared for her quarter-life crisis. Like John Cassavetes, Radwanski risks putting us in close proximity with a character we may bristle at, but the result is a cleansing emotional experience that coaxes our compassion. A Cinema Guild release.

    Atlantis
    Valentyn Vasyanovych, Ukraine, 2019, 106m
    Ukrainian with English subtitles
    U.S. Premiere
    A debut of remarkable formal precision, Valentyn Vasyanovych’s Atlantis is an urgent yet highly controlled dispatch from the wartorn Donbass in Eastern Ukraine. Set five years into the future, this all-too-real dystopia uses a series of distanced, compositionally rigorous frames to follow Sergiy, a Ukrainian soldier suffering from PTSD as he tries to restart his life amidst these scourged, uninhabitable lands. Rather than foreground the in-the-moment battle between Russia and Ukraine, Vasyanovych instead powerfully depicts the inevitable aftermath, marked by economic and ecological degradation. Yet somehow, through a new volunteer job exhuming the dead, Sergey finds an unexpected path back to humanity.

    Babyteeth
    Shannon Murphy, Australia, 2019, 117m
    New York Premiere
    In a poignant and tersely funny domestic drama that moves to its own special rhythms, first-time feature filmmaker Shannon Murphy achieves an impressive tonal balancing act, distinctively capturing the wild ups and intense downs in the life of a teenage girl who knows she doesn’t have long to live. Eliza Scanlen—so memorable as Beth in Greta Gerwig’s Little Women—embodies both steely self-awareness and fragility as Milla, whose new romance with a troubled twenty-something (Toby Wallace) cast out of his family disturbs her supportive but confused parents (Essie Davis and Ben Mendelsohn, unpredictable marvels from scene to scene), who are going through their own emotional difficulties. A film of delicate hairpin turns, Babyteeth refuses to feed its viewers bromides about family life, allowing its characters to reveal all their contradictory complexities. An IFC Films release.

    The Cloud in Her Room
    Zheng Lu Xinyuan, China, 2020, 101m
    Mandarin with English subtitles
    U.S. Premiere
    Winner of the top prize at this year’s International Film Festival Rotterdam, this mesmerizing debut feature from Chinese filmmaker Zheng Lu Xinyuan is an autobiographically tinged portrait of 22-year-old Muzi (Jin Jing), a young woman drifting through her days and nights after returning to her hometown to celebrate the New Year with her parents, and unable to let go of her past. With gorgeously monochrome photography, the director finds seemingly endless new ways to capture the dawns and twilights, the familiar pleasures and urban estrangement of the city of Hangzhou, where the director is from. Alternating between realist conversations between Muzi, family, and lovers; dreamlike interludes; and intermittent documentary sequences with local young people who are floating through their own discombobulating twenties, The Cloud in Her Room is an expressive depiction of the feeling of being transitory in one’s time and place.

    Collective
    Alexander Nanau, Romania, 2019, 109m
    Romanian with English subtitles
    New York Premiere
    What begins as a seeming exposé into a tragic accident gradually turns into something deeper and more shocking in this heartrending and revelatory documentary about state neglect and corruption. In October 2015, a devastating fire broke out at the Bucharest nightclub Colectiv, killing 27 people that night; in the following weeks, while the country was still reeling, nearly 40 more people who had suffered burns and other injuries died in hospital. As the film begins, newspaper journalists are investigating the suspicious reasons how this could possibly have happened—the beginning of a search for truth that uncovers an increasing litany of misappropriations, malfeasance, and lies, from medical officials to corrupt pharmaceutical company owners. With astonishing access, director Alexander Nanau follows the trail of evidence along with the film’s journalists and the newly installed Minister of Health, creating a universally relatable nonfiction thriller that uncovers the depths of governmental rot. A Magnolia Pictures release.

    Los conductos
    Camilo Restrepo, France/Colombia/Brazil, 2020, 70m
    Spanish with English subtitles
    North American Premiere
    A former criminal and cult member living under cloak of night in the crevices and corners of the Colombian city of Medellín makes his way back into civilization, yet is gripped by a shadowy past, in this fragmented first feature from Camilo Restrepo. After his memorable shorts Cilaos and La bouche, the director proves his mastery at economical yet expansive storytelling here, taking a complex narrative about the possibility of regeneration within a society all too willing to discard its outcasts and boiling it down to a series of precise shots, sounds, and gestures of off-handed beauty.

    Days of Cannibalism
    Teboho Edkins, France/South Africa/Netherlands, 2020, 78m
    Sesotho, Fujianese, and Mandarin with English subtitles
    North American Premiere
    South Africa-raised filmmaker Teboho Edkins’s remarkable documentary begins in the Chinese port city of Guangzhou, following the daily movements of a young African man trying to make a living working in a hotel; soon the film moves to Lesotho, a mountainous, landlocked region in the middle of South Africa, where a group of Chinese migrants have recently settled seeking their own economic stability and are living uneasily beside the rural community’s cattle ranchers. Edkins situates his subjects as though in a fictional narrative, privileging us to bear witness to their lives and minute interactions even as they become players in a story of an emerging and competitive global trade relationship. This expansive and immersive work of nonfiction redefines the rules of the “western” genre.

    The Dove and the Wolf
    Carlos Lenin, Mexico, 2019, 106m
    Spanish with English subtitles
    U.S. Premiere
    The terrors of the past haunt the present in the astonishing debut feature from Mexican filmmaker Carlos Lenin, in which trauma lurks beneath every meticulously composed shot. Factory workers Paloma (Paloma Petra) and Lobo (Armando Hernandez) share a tender, loving relationship, though as their story unfolds it grows ever clearer that something from long ago is obstructing their happiness, and that for their romance to survive they must confront it. Setting the memory of unspeakable violence against hushed tones and deceptively placid imagery, Lenin gradually reveals the source of their pain, constructing an essential drama of the people who become collateral to the rampant gang and cartel violence in contemporary Mexican society.

    Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains
    Gu Xiaogang, China, 2019, 150m
    Fuyang dialect and Mandarin with English subtitles
    New York Premiere
    Taking its title from a renowned 14th Chinese scroll painting by Huang Gongwang, this debut feature from Gu Xiaogang is a panoramic evocation of one year in the life of a provincial family. In tribute to its artistic inspiration, the film often presents its action from a quiet distance, the camera lyrically moving across the frame as its central characters—the members of the sprawling Yu family, overseen by an aging matriarch (Du Hongjun), whose birthday celebration opens the film—deal with business and romantic entanglements, financial debts and work struggles. All the while the seasons inexorably change. Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains was shot over the course of two years, and is the first in a declared trilogy of films about life along the Yangtze River—a first-time filmmaker’s labor of love that’s as accomplished as it is ambitious.

    The Fever
    Maya Da-Rin, Brazil, 2019, 98m
    Portuguese with English subtitles
    New York Premiere
    In her spellbinding first feature, Brazilian director Maya Da-Rin takes a delicate, metaphorical look at the fragile political state of her country from a perspective most moviegoers haven’t seen. Da-Rin centers on the working and home lives of a father and daughter of indigenous Desana descent—middle-aged Justinio (a splendid, quietly expressive Regis Myrupu, who won Best Actor at the Locarno Film Festival) and Vanessa (Rosa Peixoto)—who have moved from their community to the northwestern city of Manaus. There, he works as a security guard in a massive warehouse; she has a position in a hospital and has recently been accepted to study medicine in Brasilia University. Trying to support his family, all the while dreaming of a soul-sustaining return to the Amazonian rainforest, Justinio must contend with encroaching obstacles, including casual racism, reports of a wild animal on the loose, and a mysterious malaria-like illness. Da-Rin keeps the film at once realist and mythic, modern and spiritual, leading to a symbolic, emotional conclusion.

    Giraffe
    Anna Sofie Hartmann, Germany/Denmark, 2019, 87m
    English, Norwegian, Danish, German, and Polish with English subtitles
    New York Premiere
    A finely observed burgeoning romance is set against a rapidly changing landscape in Anna Sofie Hartmann’s spare and humane portrait of the dissolving boundaries of our ever more globalized world. Giraffe follows an ethnologist in her late thirties (Lisa Loven Kongsli) who has come to the remote island of Lolland in the south of Denmark. She’s here to study its inhabitants and record their traditions and objects before their homes are demolished to make way for a tunnel linking to Germany. Unexpectedly, she meets an attractive younger man (Jakub Gierszal), a laborer who’s been hired from Poland. Their beautifully etched love affair functions as the fictional centerpiece of an otherwise documentary-like exploration of belonging, memory, and work, featuring the island’s real inhabitants, whose way of life is about to change forever.

    Identifying Features
    Fernanda Valadez, Mexico/Spain, 2020, 94m
    Spanish with English subtitles
    New York Premiere
    Middle-aged Magdalena (Mercedes Hernandez) has lost contact with her son after he took off with a friend from their town of Guanajuato to cross the border into the U.S., hopeful to find work. Desperate to find out what happened to him—and to know whether or not he’s even alive—she embarks on an ever-expanding and increasingly dangerous journey to discover the truth. At the same time, a young man named Miguel (David Illescas) has returned to Mexico after being deported from the U.S., and eventually his path converges with Magdalena’s. From this simple but urgent premise, director Fernanda Valadez has crafted a lyrical, suspenseful slow burn, equally constructed of moments of beauty and horror, and which leads to a startling, shattering conclusion. Winner of the World Cinema Dramatic Audience and Screenplay Awards at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. A Kino Lorber release.

    Kala azar
    Janis Rafa, Netherlands/Greece, 2020, 91m
    Greek with English subtitles
    North American Premiere
    Appropriately for a film about the unspoken connection between humans and animals, Kala azar seems to invent a new cinematic language. Set in a desolate, perhaps post-apocalyptic landscape in which people and their dogs, cats, and fish live together in a kind of liminal state, Greek director Janis Rafa’s first film, a top prizewinner at this year’s Rotterdam International Film Festival, surveys the grim but matter-of-fact day-to-day lives of a young, unfettered couple who work for a crematorium service. As they pay house calls to people who have lost their pets, helping to give their animals respectful send-offs, their own relationship begins to fracture. Rafa focuses on tactile surfaces and bodies rather than conventional narrative beats; her film is a sobering, poignant vision of the cohabitation of different species on our endangered planet.

    The Killing of Two Lovers
    Robert Machoian, USA, 2020, 84m
    New York Premiere
    After a startling opening image of extreme tension, first-time solo director Robert Machoian’s stark, slow-burn drama never quite goes where you expect. An evocative and atmospheric transmission from wintry Utah, The Killing of Two Lovers is a compact, economical portrait of a husband and father trying to keep it together while seething with rage during a trial separation from his wife. An interior drama set mostly outside, on the vast, lonely street where David (a knockout Clayne Crawford) stays with his ailing father just a few doors up from his wife Niki (Sepideh Moafi) and their four kids, Machoian’s film compassionately depicts a family in crisis, while moving at the ominous pace of a thriller. A complex, brooding soundscape from Peter Albrechtsen that seems to emanate directly from the head of its disturbed protagonist, and a claustrophobic aspect ratio contribute to the powerful emotional register of this impressive new work of American independent cinema.

    The Metamorphosis of Birds
    Catarina Vasconcelos, Portugal, 2020, 101m
    Portuguese with English subtitles
    New York Premiere
    A highly unorthodox documentary that has the feel of a precious heirloom, this impressionistic yet emotionally rich film finds Portuguese filmmaker Catarina Vasconcelos sifting through the memories and dreams of her ancestors. In prismatic images, richly shot on 16mm film, we get the sense of a family’s entire lineage, starting with her naval officer grandfather, Henrique, who married her grandmother, Beatriz, on her 21st birthday; he then spent extended periods at sea, leaving her with an expanding brood of children. This is the beginning of a generational saga, told in shards of memory and voiceover. The Metamorphosis of Birds achingly evokes the natural world—the changing seasons, the play of sunlight, the ever-flowing tides, and the plant and animal life—that counterbalances and nurtures human life cycles.

    Nafi’s Father
    Mamadou Dia, Senegal, 2019, 109m
    Fula with English subtitles
    North American Premiere
    A personal conflict between brothers escalates into a political, religious, and moral crisis in the gripping debut from Senegalese filmmaker Mamadou Dia, winner of the Best First Feature award at the Locarno Film Festival. When Tierno (Alassane Sy), the acting imam of a small town, discovers that his daughter, Nafi (Aïcha Talla), has agreed to marry the son of his older brother, Ousmane (Saïkou Lo), he becomes desperate to find a way to stop the wedding, without getting in the way of his daughter’s independence. The source of his alarm is Ousmane’s growing affiliation with a fundamentalist form of Islam that believes in employing any means to prevail, even violence. As Ousmane’s power in the town strengthens, his relationship with his more moderate brother becomes ever more fractured. Dia’s compellingly told tragic drama brims with detail and is an eye-opening portrayal of a man trying to hold fast to his principles in a world of intolerance and greed.

    Nasir
    Arun Karthick, India, 2020, 80m
    Tamil with English subtitles
    North American Premiere
    A day-in-the-life portrait expands into something else entirely in this patient yet ultimately startling sophomore breakthrough from Tamil filmmaker Arun Karthick. Based on a short story by Dilip Kumar, Nasir takes place in Coimbatore, a town in Tamil Nadu, where a small Muslim community lives alongside the Hindu population. Nasir (Koumarane Valavane) is a Muslim family man struggling to make ends meet for his wife and their mentally challenged nephew who lives with them. He makes a small wage working at a Hindu sari shop, and is also a poetry lover whose verses we hear in lyrical passages. With placid, beautiful imagery of the everyday, Karthick brings us fully into Nasir’s mundane world, but off-screen news reports and casual conversations remind us of the violence that hangs in the peripheries.

    Red Moon Tide
    Lois Patiño, Spain, 2020, 84m
    Spanish with English subtitles
    North American Premiere
    As he proved in his previous works, including Coast of Death and Night Without Distance, films that take place on borders between countries, or between life and death, Spanish filmmaker Lois Patiño is singularly brilliant at creating transfixing, ghostly images of enormous power. With Red Moon Tide, he has made his most haunting film yet, a journey into a phantom world, set on Spain’s Galician coast, where Rubio, a diver who retrieved bodies from shipwrecks, has gone missing. The small seaside community, made up of both the living and the long deceased, mourn his absence, in a series of exquisitely composed tableaux that turn images of everyday lives into the mythical.

    Servants
    Ivan Ostrochovský, Slovakia/Romania/Czech Republic/Ireland, 2020, 80m
    Slovak with English subtitles
    U.S. Premiere
    Slovak filmmaker Ivan Ostrochovský turns a politically fraught moment in his nation’s history into a spare, tense morality tale that moves like a thriller. Set in totalitarian Czechoslovakia in 1980, Servants takes place at a Catholic seminary that is being put under increasing pressure by the ruling Communist party to fall in line and for its students to essentially act as informants for any nonconformist behavior; meanwhile its head priest has become an easy target for blackmail. Ostrochovský tells his story of mounting anxiety through the eyes of two conflicted novitiates just arrived at school, Michal (Samuel Polakovic) and Juraj (Samuel Skyva), and shoots in a pristine, high-contrast black-and-white that gives his film the sense of a constant waking nightmare.

    The Shepherdess and the Seven Songs
    Pushpendra Singh, India, 2020, 98m
    Gujari and Hindi with English subtitles
    North American Premiere
    A visually entrancing fable with a core of steel, Pushpendra Singh’s The Shepherdess and the Seven Songs centers on the unforgettable Laila, a ferociously independent young Bakarwal woman from the politically fraught Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. She movies with her new husband, the shepherd Tanvir, to a home in the forest, where her beauty and strength make her the obsession of a befuddled local police officer and the forest guard Mushtaq, whose attention she constantly, cleverly thwarts. All the while she tries to figure out her own, new identity. Structured around a series of local folk songs and poetic interludes, which function as Laila’s interior monologues, this humorous and meditative feminist tale observes a woman who wants to be free to make her own decisions in a modernizing world, despite her connection to age-old traditions.

    Surge
    Aneil Karia, UK, 2020, 99m
    New York Premiere
    Ben Whishaw commands the center of every frame in the propulsive feature debut of British filmmaker Aneil Karia, a drama about a young man’s mental breakdown that takes off as if from a slingshot and never lets up. Joseph is an airport security worker who’s increasingly affected by the daily pressures of his high-stress job and seems disconnected from everyone around him, including his parents. Finally, something inside him seems to snap, and, over the course of one day, Joseph devolves into anarchy, rebelling against his surroundings, and lashing out at all propriety and social codes. Karia captures Whishaw’s intense dissolution/liberation with a visceral visual approach that speaks to a deeper contemporary rage.

    The Trouble with Being Born
    Sandra Wollner, Austria/Germany, 2020, 94m
    German with English subtitles
    U.S. Premiere
    This eerily placid work of science fiction begins as though a summer idyll in an isolated house in the forest between a middle-aged man (Dominik Warta) and what appears to be his adolescent daughter (Lena Watson). As the languorous days wear on, instances of a stranger, more intimate relationship between the two emerge, and we discover not all is what it seems in this otherworldly yet earthy environment. The film then takes a turn when the girl drifts away into the woods. Austrian director Sandra Wollner’s disturbing, unsentimental vision of the fracturing effects of technology on human life and memory is both compassionate and unsparing, and vivid in its hard-to-shake imagery.

    Twelve Thousand
    Nadège Trebal, France, 2019, 111m
    French with English subtitles
    North American Premiere
    In her fiction debut, which she also wrote and co-stars in, French documentary filmmaker Nadège Trebal masters a series of radical tonal shifts for a wildly entertaining, sexually unapologetic portrait of a couple contending with economic instability and the fight to maintain equality in their relationship. In a star-is-born performance, the magnetic Arieh Worthalter is down-on-his-luck charmer Frank, who, after being fired from his black-market scrapyard job, enters into an agreement with his partner, Maroussia (Trebal), to earn exactly 12,000 euros, the amount that would equal her annual income. Throughout Frank’s journey, which is occasionally absurdist and fraught with perilous seductions, both financial and sexual, Trebal never loses sight of the very real pressures that capital puts on contemporary lives.

    Two of Us
    Filippo Meneghetti, France/Luxembourg/Belgium, 2019, 95m
    French with English subtitles
    New York Premiere
    In his intensely moving middle-aged queer romance, first-time feature filmmaker Filippo Meneghetti casts Martine Chevallier and the legendary Barbara Sukowa as Madeleine and Nina, two women who live in the same apartment building and have been carrying on a love affair in secret for decades. Now that Madeleine’s husband has died, Nina encourages her to tell the truth about their relationship to her meddlesome, selfish grown children, hoping they can move to Rome together. As in any great melodrama (Sukowa’s work with Fassbinder is here never far out of mind), the cruel vicissitudes of society and fate get in the way; yet as their romantic dreams become more distant, their desperate love grows ever stronger. A Magnolia Pictures release.

    Window Boy Would Also Like to Have a Submarine
    Alex Piperno, Uruguay/Argentina/Brazil/Netherlands/Philippines, 2019, 85m
    Spanish and Tuwali with English subtitles
    North American Premiere
    Enter a world of the unexpected in this exceptional surrealist debut from Uruguayan poet and filmmaker Alex Piperno in which doors never lead to where they’re supposed to and the world is a lot smaller than it appears. Melding together two inexplicably interconnected stories from wildly different settings, Piperno’s vividly drawn dream movie initially follows a group of rural farmers in a Filipino village who come to believe a shack that has mysteriously appeared in a valley clearing contains evil properties they must exorcise; at the same time, a young janitor working on a bougie cruise ship discovers a portal that opens to somewhere else entirely. Touching upon ideas of global connectivity and economic inequality with a lightly fantastical touch, Piperno has made a delightful fantasia for our moment.

    SHORTS PROGRAMS
    Program 1

    Exam
    Sonia K. Hadad, Iran, 2019, 15m
    Persian with English subtitles
    New York Premiere
    This precisely calibrated nail-biter from Iranian filmmaker Sonia Hadad follows a teenage girl who reluctantly transports her father’s cocaine on a school day. Enlivened by a gripping performance by Sadaf Asgari (who picked up the Special Jury Award for Acting at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival), Exam delivers genre thrills and serious social commentary.

    Monster God
    Agustina San Martin, Argentina, 2019, 10m
    Spanish with English subtitles
    New York Premiere
    Glowing red, an all-seeing power plant looms above a foggy town and seems to anticipate an unknown cataclysm while a punk teen longs to escape.

    Wong Ping’s Fables 2
    Wong Ping, Hong Kong, 2019, 14m
    Cantonese with English subtitles
    New York Premiere
    Hong Kong animator Wong Ping renders social dynamics and economic anxieties through intersecting moral tales of an anthropomorphized cow and three sibling rabbits. Something like Memphis Design as envisioned through a video game, this candy-colored continuation of the award-winning Wong Ping’s Fables 1 builds upon the self-taught animator’s bizarrely funny observations of contemporary society.

    The Eyes of Summer
    Rajee Samarasinghe, Sri Lanka/USA, 2020, 15m
    New York Premiere
    A young girl communes with the spirit world around her in the aftermath of the Sri Lankan Civil War in this dialogue-free movie about ghosts and the pain of memory.

    Sun Dog
    Dorian Jespers, Belgium/Russia, 2020, 21m
    English and Russian with English subtitles
    North American Premiere
    “The everlasting night is unbearable,” laments the client of a young locksmith in a frozen city in northern Russia. He stumbles through the inky darkness, captured by a floating, roving camera evoking the delirium of deep winter. Will the sun ever rise?

    Program 2

    Playback
    Agustina Comedi, Argentina, 2019, 14m
    Spanish with English subtitles
    North American Premiere
    This fiction-documentary hybrid is a tenderly crafted love letter to a group of Argentine drag queens and trans women as they lose their community to AIDS against the backdrop of an oppressive regime.

    After Two Hours, Ten Minutes Had Passed
    Steffen Goldkamp, Germany, 2019, 19m
    German with English subtitles
    North American Premiere
    Anonymous male inmates go about their daily routines in Germany’s Hahnöfersand juvenile detention center. Questions of time, identity, and the realities of space convene in this quietly devastating documentary from Steffen Goldkamp, who captures a simultaneous sense of inertia and restless longing as it permeates the prison.

    Happy Valley
    Simon Liu, Hong Kong/USA, 2020, 13m
    World Premiere
    In Hong Kong, echoes of resistance and turmoil are sensitively captured on 16mm in this poetic rumination of public spaces and everyday life in a metropolis in upheaval.

    Black Sun
    Arda Çiltepe, Turkey/Germany, 2019, 20m
    Turkish with English subtitles
    New York Premiere
    A death in the family occasions a man’s return to an Aegean Turkish island, where an impending storm puts his trip on a circuitous route. Winner of the Locarno Film Festival’s Pardino d’Oro for Best International Short Film, Arda Ciltepe’s Black Sun is a laconic, 16mm-shot road movie where fleeting encounters and the indefinite hold of grief take shape in vivid sensory detail.

    Keisha Rae Witherspoon, USA, 2019, 14m
    New York Premiere
    Keisha Rae Witherspoon’s sui generis quasi-fiction follows three grieving participants of Miami’s annual T Ball, a fabricated event where community members honor their dead by modeling wildly imaginative R.I.P. t-shirts. Combining elements of Afrofuturism and cinéma vérité, T is a powerful examination of mourning through the seen and unseen forces that influence our w
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 12-24-2020 at 12:39 AM.

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    BOYS STATE (Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine 2020)

    JESSE MOSS, AMANDA MCBAINE: BOYS STATE 2020)


    STEVEN GARZA BOYS STATE

    Politics in action in a riveting new documentary

    This fascinating, exciting documentary focuses on one of the American Legion's longtime annual summer events for high school juniors (mostly 17, but 16 to 18), 1200 of them at the Texas state capitol. This is a training ground of future leaders. Alumni the film mentions include Samuel Alito, Cory Booker, Dick Cheney and Bill Clinton. It's artificial - two invented competing parties, the Nationalists and the Federalists, electing officials and then a governor from one of the two parties, legislating on invented issues - but also realistic. It provides some stunning lessons in practical politics, for them and for us. The filmmakers follow four boys. Two become their separate party's managers and become embroiled in some cutthroat political maneuvers. Two run for governor, both unsuccessfully, but one is the runner-up. There are also boy journalists covering events (and social media playing a big role at some points), and ancillary events like a talent show.

    The top position is governor, and the winner of this post has parents who emigrated from Italy. Of the two elected early on as the party managers, one Ben Feinstein, is handicapped, having a withered arm and two artificial legs due to childhood meningitis. He is a fierce and articulate party infighter, a politics junkie and a conservative. The other, tall, skinny Rene Otero, is black and hispanic, originally from Chicago, and a gifted public speaker who knows how to galvanize an audience. The gov candidate who washed out, Rob, has an Irish last name and looks like young Matt Dillon. He's confident, good-looking, and a charmer, and might have done well had he planned his campaign better. Each of them has private time for the camera, and Rob admits his pro-life stand (perhaps his pro-gun one as well) was adopted to appeal to the predominantly conservative group. He also takes a somewhat jokey, collegiate humor tone in his candidate speech that he later admits was wrong: he thought that was what the boys wanted, he realized they wanted serious. The other governor finalist, perhaps the most memorable of the four, is Steven Garza, the son of poor Mexican immigrants, whose mother was illegal for a while.

    Cynically we may assume people go into politics to become famous or assume power and wealth, and they do. We may also assume that high schoolers chosen by American Legionnaires in Texas would be pro-gun and anti-abortion. But this is not true of Steven Garza, and it turns out he led an anti-gun march a while back. But he too like Ben has always cared about politics, and his appeal to the thirty he has to get to sign to get on the ballot is that he wants to know what they want, and serve their needs and wishes. Whether this shows the makings of a dedicated public servant or a chameleon ready, like Rob, to shift stands to get elected may not be wholly certain. But his dedication impresses many, and when he loses, he is vervently thanked and congratulated by supporters. When he calls his mother weeping he says it's not because he lost, but because of those faithful supporters, and he is proud.

    As he must be. And we can wonder how conservative these thousand mostly white boys are if the governor and runner up are sons of immigrants, one hispanic, and if the two party managers elected were also minorities.

    What may disturb viewers is how some incidents get manipulated by boy-politicians, especially in a public conflict between the two party managers that may swing the gubernatorial party vote when Rene steps in to block the winning candidate from taking questions from the assembled boys as part of his final speech, and Ben objects. Was it racist earlier that there was a move within his party to impeach Rene? But when it comes to a vote finally few dare to vote for his ouster after all.

    We see how hard Rene is willing to fight to hold onto his hard won position, and how tough Ben is in his realpolitik. We see Rob frankly say in politics you have to lie sometimes to get elected. And we wonder if Steven isn't being cagey about his real progressive politics so he can get elected by a more conservative group. It's all American politics in action.

    This film has aroused great interest and high praise, yet its Metascore is only 73, mainly it appears because of a bad review in Hollywood Reporter by John DeFore. His main criticism should be considered: that the few boys chosen for the doc may be interesting, but they are too few to be considered representative of the group or the event. A few of the rank and file - the boys who aren't very active - are heard from but more personalities would have provided a richer mix. But this is a tough event to cover in an under two-hour film. Maybe Frederick Wiseman might have provided more detail. But Moss and McBaine provide exciting action in compact form, and the admiration is warranted.

    Boys State, 109 mins, debuted at Sundance Jan. 2020, where it won the Grand Prize for Documentary; five other festivals including New Directors/New Films of Film at Lincoln Center and MoMA, where it was screened for this review, and San Francisco, which has announced it too will make it the opening night film. Distribution rights belong to Apple and A24. (Metascore: 84%)
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-21-2021 at 10:08 AM.

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    THE KILLING OF TWO LOVERS (Robert Machoian 2020)

    ROBERT MACHOIAN: THE KILLING OF TWO LOVERS (2020)



    Repressed violence

    Repressed violence is the underlying theme of this interesting new film from Robert Machoian, which focuses on a couple in a trial separation. Some of his opportunities he has missed. There is a long dialogue between husband and estranged wife in a truck that's bold, and most of the scenes with kids are remarkably specific and natural. The hammering sound throughout (the obtrusive "soundscape" of Peter Albrechtsen), more suitable to a horror film, continues at the end to undermine the seemingly happy ending. Is worse violence afoot? Subtlety is one thing, confusion is another. And I'm not sure I quite believe the premise. But I have to admit the twist and its positive outcome worked for me.

    David (Clayne Crawford) seems like a doormat, but he seethes inside, moved in with his dad nearby leaving his wife Nike (Sepideh Moafi) in the house with the four kids, three bouncy young ones who plainly adore him, and the teenage (but isn't the actress too old-looking?) daughter who is miserable with what's going on and wants it to stop. His wife seems to want this, a separation that's "open," so either person can be with somebody else. There's no indication David wants it. Why does he agree to it? This film is all in the dialogue, which pops with energy and realism, but doesn't quite define a conceivable situation.

    A "compact, economical portrait," yes; a nice grayish yet colorful palette in the mostly Academy ratio images. Rural Utah landscapes that don't look at all clichéd. "An interior drama set mostly outside."

    ND/NF blurb:
    After a startling opening image of extreme tension, first-time solo director Robert Machoian’s stark, slow-burn drama never quite goes where you expect. An evocative and atmospheric transmission from wintry Utah, The Killing of Two Lovers is a compact, economical portrait of a husband and father trying to keep it together while seething with rage during a trial separation from his wife. An interior drama set mostly outside, on the vast, lonely street where David (a knockout Clayne Crawford) stays with his ailing father just a few doors up from his wife Niki (Sepideh Moafi) and their four kids, Machoian’s film compassionately depicts a family in crisis, while moving at the ominous pace of a thriller. A complex, brooding soundscape from Peter Albrechtsen that seems to emanate directly from the head of its disturbed protagonist, and a claustrophobic aspect ratio contribute to the powerful emotional register of this impressive new work of American independent cinema.

    The Killing of Two Lovers, 84 mins., debuted at Sundance Jan. 2020; three other US festivals including New Direcdtors/New Films Mar. 2020, where it was screened for this review. US theatrical release slated for Sept. 2020. Currently screening in the delayed virtual pandemic edition of ND/NF in Dec. 2020.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 12-14-2020 at 09:23 AM.

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    BABYTEETH (Shannon Murphy 2019)

    SHANNON MURPHY: BABYTEETH (2019)


    ELIZA SCANLON IN BABYTEETH

    Cancer requires new rules for parenting

    This is a fresh and original Australian feature. It's just a bit hard to know how to take it. Is it serious? Or is it all a lark? And if it's a lark, is not taking a teenager with fatal cancer lightly not shockingly frivolous?

    Milla (Eliza Scanlen of Little Women) is the teenager in question, and she's sixteen. Her meet-cute with Moses (Toby Wallace) happens at a train station where she has a nose bleed and collapses. Moses immediately takes charge, with an intimacy and charm (and closeups by a camera that loves him) that belies his battered-looking face because its lines are good. Wallace has the manner of a homeless kid, but an older one - he answers to 23 - and one that's blooming with health and sexiness. He's of an age when drugs and shifty living haven't caught up with him yet. We later learn he's kind of a bourgeois hoodlum. He immediately establishes a voluptuous intimacy with Milla, with a sense that he's got problems too (like drugs, using and dealing). He's got a mother, who breeds fancy dogs and has a younger son, and a nice house. She inexplicably hates Moses and keeps chasing him away (his backstory is never clear), but he keeps going back there. His father he admits he knows little of, and hasn't gotten on well with. Yet there is a gentleness about him and love of life, a sweet smile, and an eagerness to care for Milla though she isn't sure he loves her.

    About Milla there seems little to learn, not even about her disease, which is never specified, and there is only one hospital scene, though she gets chemo and spends more than half the film shaven-headed, with multiple wigs - an opportunity for giddy playacting and charming Moses. We learn more about her parents. Her mother Anna (Essie Davis) is highly-strung and chronically self-centered and a gifted pianist, who has a connection with the quirky, offhandedly passionate man with a heavy accent who teaches Milla violin (Eugene Gilfedder), also to a little Asian boy he insists is in love with Milla. Her father Henry (the great Ben Mendelsohn) is a psychiatrist, and works out of a wing of their bright, airy modern house. Anna and Henry have a mock appointment, a regular thing, the inter-title tells us, where (we find out, to our embarrassment) he very casually screws her. He is listening, later, to a patient who is having a major breakthrough (she says) which he abruptly interrupts to go and screw in a lightbulb for the very pregnant neighbor he encounters regularly, a kind of running joke. He is in running midlife crisis but he's pretty sexy too.

    The whole movie seems a running joke signaled by the oddball running titles of segments that may be deemed necessary to order the episodic structure, or cutesy, or borderline twee.

    Again, the question: is it a good idea to run a funny undercurrent to a film about cancer? Well yes, maybe it is. We need humor to help us get through the heartache. And this film is at least half about youth, that's beautiful even in disaster and resilient enough to make light of the heaviest things, to get through them.

    Henry and Anna are a running melodrama. Moses is a disaster that can laugh itself off and turn it into sweetness. Milla is a tragedy that can be fragile and angry but also steely.

    Milla invites Moses to her school's formal dance, and prepares for it with a dress her mother brings her that matches her current wild blue wig, but in the event it doesn't matter. All that matters are the moments. Anna has strong objections to bringing Moses into the house, but she and Henry can deny her daughter nothing because she may have no time. "This is the worst possible parenting I can imagine," she declares to Henry, wisely, as they see Moses climbing on top of Milla out on the lawn. Her first love is possibly her only love and he's not the nice boy with a promising future but he's what they'e got even if he's fleecing his underage girlfriend for money and drugs.

    Babyteeth earns the unfortunate classification "dramedy," but it avoids sentimentality despite having a trajectory that links it with the weepie. Its quirks are at least its own. This is Shannon Murphy's third feature, adapted from her own play by Rita Kalnejais. She is talented and original and is slated to direct the third season of the much-discussed BBC series "Killing Eve."

    Babyteeth, 11Babyteeth, 117 mins., debuted at Venice Sept. 2019, showing at a dozen other international festivals, including New Directors/New Films, where it was screened for this review (except the press screenings were stopped midway and the series was cancelled, due to the coronavirus pandemic). An IFC Films release in the US with a planned release date of June 19 - in theaters (originally) and available on demand. (It can now be rented on Amazon Prime - 6/29/2020.)
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-28-2020 at 08:43 PM.

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    DWELLING IN THE FUCHUN MOUNTAINS 富春山居圖 ( Gu Xiaogang 2029)

    GU XIAOGANG: DWELLING IN THE FUCHUN MOUNTAINS (2019)



    [Watched; not reviewed]

    Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains
    Gu Xiaogang, China, 2019, 150m
    Fuyang dialect and Mandarin with English subtitles
    New York Premiere

    Taking its title from a renowned 14th Chinese scroll painting by Huang Gongwang, this debut feature from Gu Xiaogang is a panoramic evocation of one year in the life of a provincial family. In tribute to its artistic inspiration, the film often presents its action from a quiet distance, the camera lyrically moving across the frame as its central characters—the members of the sprawling Yu family, overseen by an aging matriarch (Du Hongjun), whose birthday celebration opens the film—deal with business and romantic entanglements, financial debts and work struggles. All the while the seasons inexorably change. Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains was shot over the course of two years, and is the first in a declared trilogy of films about life along the Yangtze River—a first-time filmmaker’s labor of love that’s as accomplished as it is ambitious.

    Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains 富春山居圖, 150 mins., debuted at Zurich; nine other international festivals, including Zurich, Hamburg, Vancouver, Busan, ,Tokyo, Rotterdam, Gothenberg and New Directors/New Films; it is not included in the delayed virtual Dec. 2020 version of ND/NF, however.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 12-15-2020 at 01:23 AM.

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    SERVANTS (Ivan Ostrochovský 2020)

    IVAN OSTROCHOVSKY: SERVANTS (2020



    Aesthetics triumphs over story in this tale of Soviet era religious repression

    Slovak filmmaker Ivan Ostrochovský's movie shows the aesthetics of totalitarianism. The focus is a seminary in 1980 during the period (1971 to 1989) when "Pacem in terris" was a decree and a body that existed in Czechoslovakia, created to repress Catholicism, and some of the priests and their acolytes rebelled, resulting in brutal repression.

    It's all shown in academy ratio and black and white in the velvety cinematography of Jural Chlpik accompanied by a menacing, throbbing score. Every scene is beautifully composed. Cold stone and snow add to the contrast. The novitiates, some handsome, trim in their long black soutanes, enhance the graceful uniformity of the images, and a scene of a mountain town has medieval charm.

    One could just sit and admire the sound and pictures, but this is about modern history. What's going on is ugly, and, indeed, comes on wearing the air of a noir thriller. "Where're not here to enjoy ourselves," says a priest to a boy at one point, and that's putting it mildly. If you find it hard to see being Catholic as being free, the action may confuse you. These young men, seeking a life of the cloth, find its expression stifled. One must imagine, if one's in a very special place to cultivate one's religion, and one is hampered at every turn, because the regime sees one's Church as a threat, the oppression is outside the house.

    There's a priest beaten and murdered and dumped out of a trunk under a bridge. There is a hunger strike. A couple of the novitiates are eliminated. Much is going on here. But it's conveyed collectively, like a dance. We don't get to see all the young men in any detail. Even courtyards are often seen from above, like a mouse cage. Most of the action is seen from the point of view of two newly arrived novitiates, Michal (Samuel Polakovic) and Juraj (Samuel Skyva), who see things are not as they should be and grow growingly tense and outraged. As the noirish strain grows, there is a growing fear by some priests that there is too much independence here among the boys, and the seminary will be shut down. They are being put under pressure to act as informants on any nonconformist behavior, or be removed and sent into the army. It's all like a deadly, nightmarish dance. One can admire Ostrochovský's artistry, while feeling the cold beauty somewhat blurs the story details. Handsome film, though.

    Servants / Služobníci, 80 mins., debuted at Berlin, Feb. 2020 and was included in a dozen or so international festivals, winning a number of nominations and awards.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-10-2021 at 09:28 AM.

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    ANNE AT 13,000 FEET (Kazik Radwanski 2019)

    KAZIK RADWANSKI: ANNE AT 13,000 FEET (2019)


    DERAGH CAMPBELL IN ANNE AT 13,000 FEET

    Portrait of a woman in dysfunction

    Anne (Deragh Campbell) is seen almost nauseatingly up close in this minimalist, leanly edited, music-free portrait of a dysfunctional young woman trying to set out on her own. We see her twice, start and finish, sky-dive from a small plane, and it's not a more out-of-control moment than usual. In fact, while falling through the air is one time when Anne isn't likely to do something unpredictable and disruptive. She moves out from her mother to her own place, takes a part0time daycare center job and starts dating a guy, but does this mean she's got things under control or is out on her own? Not really. Radwanski, his star, and his editor are doing top work here. There's only the little nagging question: is it worth it?

    Deragh Campbell has been seen in a number of ND/NF films, including last year's oddball MS Slavic 7, and Radwanski produced another portrait of a lost adult child, Tower,, seen in ND/NF 2013 (I rated it "sub mumblecore") The current effort, which takes us through Anne's moments of charm and strong empathy with children at the daycare and her childlike clumsiness with fellow workers and social contacts, has been compared to John Cassavetes working with wife Gena Rowlands in A Woman Under the Influence, but maybe those who're making that comparison need to go back and look at the original. This film feels more like a reality show. There is a lack of depth or humanity here.

    Anne at 13,000 Feat, 75 mins., debuted at Toronto Sept 2019, and was shown at a half dozen other festivals in 2020 including Vancouver, AFI, Portland, and now, ND/NF which was postponed from Mar. to Dec. 2020 due to the paneemic.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 12-15-2020 at 10:29 AM.

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    TWO OF US / DEUX (Filippo Meneghetti, 2019)

    FILIPPO MENEGHETTI: TWO OF US/DEUX (2019)


    MARTINE CHEVALLIER, BARBARA SUKOWA IN TWO OF US/DEUS

    Secret lesbian romance leads to complications in Italian Filippo Meneghetti's directorial debut, in French and set somewhere in the south of France and shot near Montpellier.

    Former tour guide Nina Dorn (the handsome Barbara Sukowa, a protegee of Fassbinder), who lives in a facing apartment on the top floor of the building, has long been the lover of Madeleine (Martine Chevallier of the Comédie-Francaise), but secretly; no one, even Maddie's adult divorced daughter Anne (Léa Drucker), knows about this relationship, though how very loving and happy it is we are shown very clearly in scenes of sweetness and smiles. The couple is well into retirement age, but only now they are planning to sell Madeleine's very nice apartment and go to live together at last, in Rome where they met so many years ago. An Italian version of a corny but romantic pop song is their reminder of that moment; they dance to it still.

    The plan is for Maddie to tell Anne about the relationship and the plan. Not surprisingly, after all these years of secrecy, in the event, at the end of a birthday dinner for her, she chokes. She just doesn't seem to be ready to do it. When Nina finds out this change of heart from the real estate agent, it's beyond disappointing and into infuriating. Nina speaks harshly with the more conventional Maddie in the street in front of the estate agent.

    The result of this spat is dramatic indeed. Shortly thereafter, Maddie has a stroke. The bulk of the movie is what happens after that.

    The film has had a good reception in France. It is slated for US release by Magnolia in Feb. 2021. It's in a good position, but its status as a bold work by a new director fits it, marginally, for the New Directors series, though it seems like firm arthouse material. I sympathize with the writer for the French publication Les Inrockuptibles who said it took two great actresses to crack the code of the sometimes clumsy and maladroit direction. There are many early hints, for instance, of a distance between the two women that are not appropriate; the camera is often either too close or too far away. Expressionism wasn't needed!

    Meneghetti stirs up a good deal of melodrama, where it might do better to have drawn up a screenplay that showed how such very human problems might be safely resolved. After a while, we're just in a movie. The action seems to me rather implausible, and at once too eventful and too slow. But the look of the film is handsome, and the ladies are, needless to say, magnificent. Numerous viewers (Letterboxd, for instance) have expressed gratitude for a movie about older lesbians, and asked for more. In that this is welcome. Women who identify with Maddie and Nina will appreciate this film, even though its story details may not have that much to do with them.

    Two of Us/Deux, 95 mins., debuted at Toronto and showed in at least 15 other international festivals, including ND/NF, as part of the virtual form of which it was reviewed for this film. AlloCiné press rating 3/6/5.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-10-2021 at 09:32 AM.

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    RED MOON TIDE/LÚA VERMELHA (Lois Patiño 2020)

    LOIS PATIÑO: RED MOON TIDE/LÚA VERMELhA (2020)


    STILL FROM LUA VERMELA

    Gorgeous images of a haunted world staged along the Galician coast of Spain

    The young Spanish filmmaker Lois Patiño has a penchant for haunted, beautiful landscapes and for the human history embedded in his own native landscape. In this film the focus is on a fishing village along the Galician coast, rock tides, and death in the water. Village people, engaged for the film enterprise, lend their stubby bodies and stolid gazes to Patiño, who uses them arrestingly as statues or mannequins posed near the water, in a small grove, in an awesome, empty building, or in a quiet, old fashioned family house interior.

    A simple narrative theme runs through the images. Rubio (Rubio de Camelle) is a fisherman who is also diver who has specialized for years in retrieving drowned bodies from shipwrecks, who himself has disappeared, and villagers speculate about whether he will reappear. He believed a monster is hunting the shores of his coastal town as he discovered corpses around as he takes his boat out in the morning. Now his boat has run aground, without Rubio. Gradually statue-like figures appear around in landscapes and architectural interiors, tall, thin, immobile, draped in shimmering white. There is talk of phantoms and ghosts and demons and three witches coming for people. Themes of death and the water come and go.

    It's impossible to exaggerate how subtle and beautiful these images are, the soft yellow-filtered tints, the reds, the textures of cloth: everything is like a sculpture or something made out of sewn cloth. And the colors, toward the end, when red begins to prevail, you can lose yourself in them. It is indeed a gorgeous picture of a phantom world, dreamland, nightmare, or perverse paradise? The scenes unfold, one after another exquisitely composed tableaux that transform what might in some cases be only ordinary images of everyday Spanish village life into mythical wonders. And the moons! The 37-year-old Patiño has mastered the art of turning images of everyday lives into the mythical.

    This is filmmaking that is largely a celebration of the visual. The dreams or nightmares of a lost fisherman and a world of lost souls, a project long in gestation are nonetheless somewhat underdeveloped as narrative. But if you're willing to sit back and enjoy the eye candy, there's something rather unique here. The transition from his short films to this feature length has been a little uneven. This may be a pretty long slog for some people.

    In an interview with Film Comment, the filmmaker has said that this long-gestating film was at first meant to be more of a documentary. But, I'd say, he is just too much of an artist and a dreamer to be contented with the real. Toward the end of the process of making Red Moon Tide, he says he "got very deep into H.P. Lovecraft," so he "eventually tried" to "bring the story a little towards the terror genre." Everything he loves and knows, he put into it. It's thus a film to study more than simply go and watch.

    Red Moon Tied/Lua vermelha, 84 mins., debuted at the Berlinale Feb. 2020, also showing at Malaga, IndieLIsboa and Toulouse. Screened for this review as part of the delayed FLC New Directors/New Films 2020, online Dec. 2020.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 12-19-2020 at 01:49 AM.

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    ATLANTIS ( Valentyn Vasyanovych 2019)

    VALENTYN VASYANOVYCH: ATLANTIS (2019)


    ANDRIY RYMARUK IN ATLANTIS

    Ravaged young war veteran winds up helping people bury their dead: a formal survey of the physical and human toll of post-war Ukraine

    Dennis Harvey's Variety review says simply, "Its cryptic, rigorously minimalist progress will test the patience of many viewers and present a challenge for commercial placements." So that is Atlantis in a nutshell. It may seem more like serving a stint in the military than watching a movie. You do get more of a look than you've ever had before of forensic examinations of long-dead corpses. But that is repeated more often than necessary, unless you are going to work for a coroner. Nonetheless Atlantis, set in Eastern Ukraine in 2025, the tale of a young man who has been a solider in the war with Russia and slowly works his way back to something more like human life, and seems to succeed. The first time director who won first prize in the Horizons section at Venice this year with the film also succeeds in delivering a valid picture of the punishing series of steps that might be necessary for such a process as this. The punishment, for us, is mitigated after a while at least by appreciation of the formal elegance and control of the consistent sequence of horizontal compositions, with fixed camera positions.

    When we meet Sergiy (Andriy Rymaruk) he's living in an isolated location with a war comrade and all they do in their spare time is target practice using big metal human targets. Their attempt at civilian life is very partial, consisting only of work at a steel mill about to be closed down. Such a clangorous environment isn't good for people with PTSD, and it takes a severe toll on Sergei's roommate.

    Sergiy makes his way by accident to the forensic archaeology, as it might be called; a woman he works with turns out to have been an archaeology student, in fact. She considers this a logical continuation, archeology on ourselves. He has met her and gotten into this because he rescued her and her partner when their truck was stuck along the road as he was going on a long trek in a bigger truck.

    In some of these scenes I felt I was in a Soviet social realist painting. The sense of focus on the function, not the individual, is intense.

    One of the most memorable and unusual moments is the scene where Sergiy explores a cavernous building that leads to a room with a small piano. One assumes it may be where he used to live. It's all a wreck now, and yet, you wonder why he doesn't try to play the piano, which is more or less intact. Instead he quietly sets a Christ Crucified figure up on the piano top. While so many of the sequences seem more like demonstrations of equipment than experiences, this has the haunting quality of a ceremony and a dream.

    As the Variety review says, most of this film is made up of "prolonged, stationary, symmetrically formal widescreen compositions of activity within various harsh vistas and decrepit interiors." This one departs from that. But toward the end, a relationship develops that shows Sergiy hasn't lost all ability to function as a human being. There's hope, for him. For the Ukraine territory where the fighting was, an expert assesses that it's uninhabitable - for decades, maybe hundreds of years. They won the war and destroyed the country. Win a few, lose a few. This film has not only a very distinctive vision and a unique experiential intensity but a compelling authenticity about it: the performers reportedly are all themselves Ukrainian war veterans.

    Atlantis/Атлантида, 107 mins., debuted at Venice, winning best film in the Orizzonti section; numerous other nominatinons and awards; it has also shown in over two dozen other festivals including Toronto, Warsaw Hamburg, Tokyo, Vienna, Taipei, and in New Directors/New Films. As part of ND/NF in its delayed pandemic virtual form, Dec. 2021, it was viewed for this review. It is the 2021 Ukrainian entry in the Best International Feature Oscar competition.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 12-15-2020 at 12:57 PM.

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    THE MOLE AGENT/EL AGENTE TOPO (Maite Alberdi 2020)

    MAITE ALBERDI: THE MOLE AGENT/EL AGENTE TOPO (2020)


    SERGIO CHAMY IN THE MOLE AGENT

    An old man is set to spy on an old folks' home in this Chilean documentary hybrid

    This is a clever concept that doesn't quite convince, though it does wind up providing a series of disarmingly closeup glimpses of an old people's home at the level where the old people sit around and are lonely and sometimes quite lost, even though tended to caringly by staff.

    Ostensibly, Silvio is hired by a private detective, Romulo, who in turn has been hired by a lady to check and see if her mother is being properly cared for in the home.

    It's initially amusing to see half a dozen men ages 80-90 being interviewed for this job and trying to convince they're capable of being undercover agents. The guy chosen, Silvio, has a precise quality, is on the ball, tidily dressed, and mannerly: good choice! He even seems to pick up on how to use a smart phone and several spy recording devices. This whole thing is a very novel idea. However, the old folk's home plainly is aware that they're being filmed. What we see is not just from a hidden camera, though as part of the film we hear Silvio's phone calls and messages to his detective boss and see his secret videos. His tour of duty is to be three months.

    There is one human value to Silvio's job. He has, reportedly, lost his wife just a few months earlier. It does him good to get out of the house, away from being constantly reminded of his late spouse. In the home there are 40 women and 4 men, and Silvio's instantly the most "eligible" man and thus the object of constant admiration, attention, even love from the old ladies. He is fussed over and celebrated - exaggeratedly so. He's made, like a prom king, "king" of the home, and later given a spectacular birthday party. He is to spend three months here. How sad the ladies will be to see him go!

    The "blanco," the target, turns out to be a very unfriendly old lady, who rarely speaks to anyone and spends most of her time in her room. There is little to report on, but also nothing discernible wrong in her treatment. The bulk of what will seem a pretty long and repetitious 84 minutes is devoted to Silvio's interactions with the old ladies and the cameraman's observation of them.

    Early on one lady observes that she finds it sad when a man who is capable of coping on his own chooses to check into a place like this, a very telling point. Silvio seems to be a great help here providing cheer and support to the others. Obviously this fills a need for him, too. He was lonely at home. He perhaps isn't here.

    The filmmakers lean toward observation of old ladies who either are quite enamored of Silvio, or are losing their marbles. Various ones believe their mothers are still alive and keep calling for them, to be taken home. One of them cannot remember if her family has visited her or not. Silvio checks, and finds no one has visited her all year. It's pathetic and sad to contemplate such loneliness and uselessness. It's sad to realize that many old lives are like this and many old people's homes are like this. The cute premise of the film goes sour after a while, despite the self possession and good cheer of the protagonist.

    The Mole Agent/El agente topo 84 mins., debuted Jan. 2020 at Sundance, playing at 15 other festivals, including New Directors/New Films, as part of the delayed virtual pandemic version of which it was screened for this review, chosen as Closing Night Film for ND/NF. Metacritic: 71%. Chile's Best International Feature Oscar entry.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 12-14-2020 at 10:08 AM.

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    GIRAFFE (Anna Sofie Hartmann 2019)

    ANNA SOFIE HARTMANN: GIRAFFE (2019)


    JAKUB GIERSZAL IN GIRAFFE

    Meditations, speculations and lovemaking in a summer on a Danish island

    Danish director Anna Sophie Hartmann in the enigmatically titledGiraffe, delivers a cool but enticing slice of beautiful color photography, meditation, and summer love. At the center is Dara (Norwegian star oLisa Loven Kongsli of Force Majeure), a 38-year-old woman somewhat at loose ends (and at the moment unattached) on the Danish island of Lolland, where a tunnel connecting Denmark to Germany is being built that will wipe out farms and houses. She is working as an ethnologist preparing a generational history of the region that's going to be demolished, ruminating over and reading diary entries from years past, in particular those of a librarian named Agnes Sørenson. Meanwhile Polish construction workers are extending big fiber cable lines, and Dara meets one of them, young Lucek (Jakub Gierszał), who has a soft, disarmingly accentless voice in English. They make love. And it goes on for a while. Kongsli and are great together.

    The director blends these actors with real people, some of whom are used in staged scenes, some interviewed. The effect is to show fiction as moments of dipping into lives as the film surveys past and present. There are farmers about to give up their farms to be turned into asphalt or a tunnel, whose family has been there for three generations and were hoping to continue for four or five. Others are younger, newcomers, and not concerned. Lucek just wants to stay working there till the autumn so he can be with Dara. Dara wants to find someone who used to know Agnes Sørenson. And I just want to look at the images by dp Jenny Lou Ziegel,, which at times have some of the unexpected beauties anthologized in Sally Eauclaire's landmark 1981 New Color Photography. It's almost 40 years later, but one realizes that the color images in movies rarely have the beautiful simplicity of those still photographers who revitalized color in the late seventies. Color photography can still be fresh. The use of middle distance and classic golden rectangle aspect ratio with doors, windows, and clear summer light create one delightful effect after another. The images have an openness and limpidity that reinforces the meditative, relaxed feel of the film, making the love story and the revelations of people's lives come naturally.

    There is another character, Käthe (Maren Eggert), who works on the ferry, and somewhat like Dara, but as a hobby, likes to review lives, looking at people standing on the boat and imagining what they do and who they are.

    This mixture of land, history, and people seen in layers, led Peter Bradshaw, in his Guardian review, to connect this film with Sebald's The Rings of Saturn, which combines a walking tour of Suffolk with meditations prompted by places and people encountered along the way. That works. But Sebald didn't have these visuals. Or a sexy love affair.

    Giraffe, mins., debuted at Locarno Aug. 2019, showing at half a dozen other international festivals including Hamburg, Vienna, Thessaloniki and the delayed virtual pandemic edition of the 2020 New Directors/New Films series, where it was screened for this review in Dec. 2020.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 12-14-2020 at 10:16 AM.

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    THE SHEPHARDESS AND THE SEVEN SONGS (Pushpendra Singh 2020)

    PUSHPENDRA SINGH: THE SHEPHERADESS AND THE SEVEN SONGS (2020)


    NAVJOT RANDHAWA IN THE SHEPHERDESS AND THE SEVEN SONGS

    Kashmir politics and feminism overburden this pretty but undynamic tale

    This film's greatest asset is its beautiful northeastern Indian green mountainous landscape, which at the end, flows off into snow covered mountain and then pure snow, as the heroine, Laila (Navjot Randhawa), walks away wearing only a thin snakeskin she has draped over her shoulders. The basis is the Rajasthani writer Vidaydan Detha’s story of a woman discarding all identities society wants to impose on her. It may not feel like a very positive image. A trouble with the film is that the folktale base is repetitious and the tale of libidinous men and a teasing woman hasn't the wit or edge of, say, Boccaccio. Laila, the nomadic shepherdess, we're supposed to see as a feminist heroine but it's hard to see her as winning out at the end, if she walks off naked into the mountains. It's also hard to see the message of the man not her husband who is crazy for Laila (is he like Majnun Laila in Arab culture?). He doesn't seem like a bad guy or a fool. And what's happening to Laila's husband Tanvir (Sadakkit Bijran)? Why is he supposed to be a coward? There never seems to be real danger he's dodging. It's all a silly game.

    Inspired, we're told, by the poetry of 14th century Kashmiri mystic Lalleshwari, also known as Lalla or Lal Ded, and set against the backdrop of the conflict in Kashmir, this is a film that carries a considerable weight. There is a moment of contemporary politics when the locals are told they can no longer travel with their sheep from terrain to terrain freely but must have individual ID cards. "We're poor, we can't do that," they say, and the cop answers, "Get real, everybody has to."

    Singh, the director, has assembled an impressive bare bones folk production that maximizes the beauty of the people, their simple sheepherding lifestyle, their graceful costumes, and the landscape, which is always photographed to good advantage. It is when Laila's questioning voiceovers come, with the occasional striking musical interlude, that the film shines and begins to take on significance.

    The seven songs, however, are a few too many, and one loses track of them after a while. Nor is the wrangling of groups a success, as we see early on in the interlude where Tanvir passes the groom test of lifting the heavy rock. The crowd of men is chaotic and ineffective. So we have to conclude that this is strictly festival stuff - though, sadly, probably not included in as many festivals as it deserved to do, due to the pandemic.

    The Shepherdess and the Seven Songs (Laila aur satt geet), 96 mins., debuted at the Berlinale in Feb. 2020; listed in seven other festivals on IMDb, including Hong Kong, Singapore and New Directors/New Films; it was in the delayed Dec. 2020 pandemic virtual form of the latter that it was screened for this review.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 12-19-2020 at 01:41 AM.

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    THE CLOUD IN HER ROOM 她房间里的云 (Zheng Lu Zinyuan 2020)

    ZHENG LU XINYUAN: THE CLOUD IN HER ROOM 她房间里的云 (2020)


    MATTIAS DELVAUX, LIU DAN IN THE CLOUD IN HER ROOM

    Young Chinese woman director enters her own personal Nouvelle Vague

    Zheng Lu Zinyuan, who studied film at USC, has done something a bit different for her feature debut. She has not made a bildingsroman, nor a portrait of a Chinese generation in transition like the early films of Jia Zhang-ke. This is a cinematic study in hanging out. It's vaguely autobiographical - the main character, Muzi (Jin Jing), is of the director's sex, age and generation. But if you focus too much on what's happening in the picture, you're missing the point. The delight of this loosely-slung-together piece of casually experimental filmmaking- and it does have such delight to offer if you don't push it too hard - is in its casualness, a diaristic flavor so loose even the specificity of a diary entry is asking a bit much. It's just the celebration of being there, letting the camera follow things around.

    Ture, this is in its meandering way a vaguely autobiographical portrait of Muzi as she returns to her waterway-rich, typically torn-apart 9-million population mainland Chinese hometown of Hangzhou (also Zheng's city of origin). She is ostensibly on hand there for New Year's celebrations, personal reunions with family members, and her twenty-second birthday. But mainly she's hanging out. She has two possible boyfriends. There's the young laidback painter and photographer about her age, Yu Fei (Chen Zhou), and the older new guy she meets, , Dong Kang-ming, a drummer who runs a bar. Dong may be more interesting to the young Muzi. But is he more interested? But how interested is Yu Fei? These are questions casually explored off and on in the film.

    There's also an old apartment her parents used to occupy that's vacant now, still rented by her father. She goes there with Yu Fei, who has come to Hangzhou by surprise to see Muzi and, in a bedroom, they have sex. At that point, they're clearly both interested.

    But what's "happening" is beside the point. This is more the opportunity to meander around the town, try to find something familiar, to cast an eye around. For us and for Zheng Lu Zinyuan, it's also an opportunity to admire the soft black and white of her talented young Belgian cinematographer, Matthias Delvaux (a China resident and dp of Zhou Ziyang's Old Beast, who also briefly plays the new boyfriend of Min (Liu Dan), Muzi's mother. Delvaux lightens everything a bit, and, more radically, a couple of times gives us the negative so everything goes exotic and dark. Mostly Delvaux here makes things look like seventies fashion photography, mitigating the harshness of modern China and further encapsulate Muzi in her own personal world - except for one thing: even during an intense sex scene, we hear the clangor of the city outside.

    Muzi says every time she comes back to Hangzhou it seems stranger to her, and her personal world is fragmented. Her musician father, Feng (Ye Hongming) has remarried and is the father of a young daughter, and her mother seems to get drunk a lot and have various boyfriends. All are big smokers. Smoking and drinking have always been screen staples; this is a reminder of that. And of how much this feels, at moments, like a French film. Sadly, without Paris. But there's something new here.

    And yet the chief appeal of Zheng Lu Zinyuan's filmmaking may be its unformed quality, or its ability to capture that quality in its protagonist - the sense that while Muzi is moving around the fragments of her family and the great, transforming city independently, she is yet uncertain, a quality suggested by her clunky shoes. Clearly the director has some clunky shoes too, but not as clunky; and her boldness and freedom bode well.

    TRAILER

    The Cloud in Her Room 她房间里的云 (Ta fang jian li de yun), 101 mins., debuted at Rotterdam, where it won the top prize, the Tiger Award. It is included in 6-10 other international festivals with other nomnations and awards, including Taipei, Hamburg, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Dec. 13, 2020 in the postponed Dec. virtual pandemic edition New Directors/New Films series, as part of which it was screened for this review.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 12-17-2020 at 04:06 PM.

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    THE TROUBLE WITH BEING BORN (Sonndra Wollner 2020)

    SONDRA WOLLNER: THE TROUBLE WITH BEING BORN (2020)



    An unspeakably creepy and precise film about desire and the future from Austria

    Austria is where such things often come from. We follow an android constructed by a father of his young daughter and then used in vaguely unspeakable ways. A ten-year-old actress is used. She wanders off (semi-human, perhaps, as in Spielberg's A.I.) and is taken up by an old crone who misses the younger brother she lost many years ago. Somehow the android is repurposed easily as a male.

    Some lines of thought really don't bear being worked out or, when they are, being watched as movies. But you may want to watch this, because it is undoubtedly impeccable in its construction. In her Variety review Jessica Kiang calls it "rivetingly unsavory," a "a desperately creepy, queasy, thought-provoking film", and ends, "Wollner's lacerating intelligence and riveting craft make this extraordinarily effed-up riff on the 'Pinocchio' legend [and] . . . much more than empty provocation."

    The Trouble with Being Born, 94 mins., debuted at the Berlinale Feb. 2020, and won the special jury award there in the Encounters section. It played at about a dozen other international festivals, including the postponed Dec. virtual pandemic edition of the 2020 New Directors/New Films, where it was screened for this brief notice Dec. 15, 2020.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 12-17-2020 at 03:54 PM.

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