Results 1 to 15 of 28

Thread: NEW DIRECTORS/NEW FILMS 2020 (April 28-May 8, 2021)

Hybrid View

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    Location
    SF Bay Area
    Posts
    14,250

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    Location
    SF Bay Area
    Posts
    14,250

    BIPOLAR (Queena Li 2021)

    QUEENA LI: BIPOLAR (2021)


    HA KAILANG IN BIPOLAR

    On the road in Tibet with a lobster

    Richard Gray on Letterboxd says "Queena Li’s Orpheus by way of Alice tale is all about the journey. The best use of a lobster in a narrative since Annie Hall." The Girl (Leah Dou) may be getting over something. Maybe her ridiculously pretty boyfriend (He Kailang), who shows up in swimming pool flashbacks inexplicably suicidal (I guess the movie's named for him), did commit suicide. Or maybe he's her, and maybe her alleged career as a singer-songwriter hit a snag. At the outset we see the Girl in a phone booth getting bad news. Her Tibetan pilgrimage takes a turn at a fancy Lhasa, Tibet hotel. She has arrived here alone on her birthday. Her room is big but dinky. She steals the "rainbow" lobster enshrined in a lobby display as a holy creature, and carries it beside her in her car as she goes wandering cross country.

    Leah Dou, a singer-songwriter fluent in English as well as Cantonese, is the daughter of the Cantonese pop superstar Faye Wong who played the winsome Faye in Wong Kar-wai's Chungking Express. So whe comes from fame and privilege, and she projects ennui and entitlement, but modestly. The news the Girl receives in the phone booth brings pain and her body starts to shiver. As she cringes in the booth and memories take over for a while - the film announcing itself as more surreal than, in the routine of its road picture trajectory, it actually winds up being. Sometimes shadows drift underwater though, and there is the occasional flashback to Pretty Boy. What continues apart the nice music is Ke Yuming's beautiful, fluffy widescreen black and white cinematography, ultimately the dominant thing. It is is heavy on overlaid images and framing shots using drapery, shrubbery, leaves and branches. Later the Girl's car breaks down in the middle of nowhere - the adventure begins - and somehow she winds up continuing in a very local pickup truck with lots of folkloric decoration and fringes. Girl doesn't know where she is going. At a temple or school she is commended for saying this. Nobody knows, someone says, but they usually can't admit it. Use is made of Tibetan holy places and wooly bearded, matter-of-fact old Tibetan men (and a boy monk) ready with a chuckle and a word of wisdom. And there is a flamboyant wig salesman played by a real local celebrity, the Tibetan/Bhutanese lama, filmmaker and writer Khyentse Norbu. Girl's English comes in handy when an American on horseback invites her to a feast. A young woman who says she's pregnant hitches a ride. They release some caged animals, including an elephant.

    The Screen Daily Rotterdam review describes the film as full of challenging hints and portents (it's certainly rich in alternate possibilities) and says that "Audiences game enough to come along for the ride might not all end up at the same destination; this isn’t the kind of filmmaking which comes with a map." No, it doesn't. But the meandering road trip movie is a familiar genre and though this one is teasing and pretty, it's not so memorable. The lobster may be what people will remember. It's often talked of. The old question of whether it hurts for a lobster to be dropped into a pot of boiling water comes up repeatedly. If only David Foster Wallace could have been on hand to provide a thoughtful answer. The lobster develops serious health problems, and ultimately the Girl's aim to deposit it at the (famous?) Ming Island Lighthouse is thwarted for several reasons, a main one being that there is no lighthouse. Try as one might, one starts to care how things will turn out even if it may just be that they'll end; but darned if there isn't a sense of an ending, somehow.. A mite long, though.

    Bipolar, 107 mins., debuted Feb. 3, 2021 at Rotterdam. Screened for this review as part of New Directors/New Films at MoMA and Lincoln Center, hybrid post-pandemic version Apr. 28-May 8, 2021.


    LEAH DOU IN BIPOLAR
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-01-2021 at 05:01 PM.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    Location
    SF Bay Area
    Posts
    14,250

    EL PLANETA (Amalia Ulman 2021)

    AMALIA ULMAN: EL PLANETA (2021)


    ALEJANDRA AND AMALIA ULMAN IN EL PLANETA

    Acts of random reality denial

    Unless you're very rich, there is an edge between yourself and homelessness that is thinner than you may think, and this is a frightening fact the new Spanish comedy El Planeta gives us some bitter tastes of in its series of dry black and white (but mostly black) vignettes. The director is conceptual artist Amalia Ulman, who studied costume design at Central Saint Martins in London, whose history seems not unlike that of Leo, her character here. Her mother Ale Ulman is here too as the mother of "Leo" (Ms. Ulman), and they are living, barely, in Gijón, Asturia, in a flat where they can no longer pay the utility bills. They live by grifting and in self deception. But how much of comfortable bourgeois life, in a time of economic crisis, is a thing of self-deception and narrow margins?

    Leo and her mother are stylish and the mother looks young. They like shopping. A credit card is still working and mom charges meals and food to a rich man friend who may or may not exist. Leo sells her sewing machine to someone, perhaps to afford a trip to New York where she has been requested to design outfits for Christina Aguilar; only it would be only for the prestige as the pay would be minimal. But she would take nothing less. As for her mother, she qualifies for virtually no benefits because she is considered a housewife, and she doesn't consider getting a job. So the time and money are running out.

    In the opening scene, Leo is meeting with a married man who has answered her online self-advertisement as a sex worker. But his requirements are disgusting and his pay offer is derisory so it's a no-go. Later in a shop Leo meets Amadeus (Chen Zhou), a sometime London resident minding his relative's business. He seems attractive. He lures Leo into a date, which turns to sex at his place. The next day she learns he might buy the small shoes he's admiring for his son. He has a son and a wife too. Is that a thing? Yes, as a matter of fact it is.

    Leo doesn't wear heels because she was in an accident as a result of which her legs hurt.

    At the end, it seems mother is interested in how she's heard the food in prison is good.

    This is a kind of bare bones sexually explicit pessimistic comedy that is stunning in its cold-bloodedness. It has been compared with early Jim Jarmusch, but where is the hilarity of Stranger Than Paradise and Down by Law? or the sense of orderly pacing? I found no delight here. What I did find was a mindset that's eye-opening about living on the edge and living by lies, women who call eating nothing but cookies and cakes a "disassociative diet" and who, when the electricity is turned off, switch to reading in bed on their cell phone, or peruse a book by the timed light in front of the elevator. In the daytime they shop and afterwards treat themselves to taxis. The end is in sight, but when it comes they'll never tell, not even one another.

    Il Planeta 79 mins., debuted at Sundance, Jan. 2021. Screened at home for this review as part of New Directors/New Fims, MoMA and Film at Lincoln Center, Apr. 2021. Metascore 79%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-01-2021 at 05:01 PM.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    Location
    SF Bay Area
    Posts
    14,250

    FRIENDS AND STRANGERS (jAMES vAUGHAN 2021)

    JAMES VAUGHAN: FRIENDS AND STRANGERS (2021)


    FERGUS WILSON AND GREG ZIMBULIS IN FRIENDS AND STRANGERS

    Looking at a generation and a class in a very intentional piece of seeming randomness


    An Australian film about "millennial ennui" and, possibly, deeper menace, James Vaughan's debut feature, which he also wrote, has very slow-moving dialogue that's caused it to be linked with mumblecore, but it has more of an agenda. It concerns Ray (Fergus Wilson), a twenty-something videographer who runs into Alice (Emma Diaz) in Sydney in the summertime. She is driving her brother's car to Brisbane and he joins her on an ill-starred camping trip. The two wind up together in a tent (zip, unzip, zip); Ray misunderstands what's going on (nothing), resulting in a very delayed-fusing (but short-lived) "comedy of manners and misunderstandings." The action is so slow, the conversation so inconsequential, it seems almost an acid trip. This quality will eventually be redoubled, or more. Soon Ray is back in Sydney running some errand with a friend, then having to be rescued by his disapproving mother when his car breaks down.

    She wonders when he's ever going to amount to anything. An underlying message of the film is that this very question, seemingly threatening, is really a sign of safety, because it is only askeable by and of the semi-affluent. The answer doesn't matter because, whether Ray succeeds at anything or not, he'll be okay. Those who lack this level of ease don't have the luxury of asking.

    The acid trip feel redoubles during Ray's visit to a seaside villa where he’s expected to film a wedding and wanders the house and talks to the bride's father David (Greg Zimbulis), a garrulous art collector with a pouty daughter, Sammy, lazing in her messy room. Ray's gets into dangerous territory again - it's largely his function to do so - when David makes seemingly damning remarks about artists whose works cover his walls floor to ceiling as being foul minded and deranged and Ray refers to it as "filth" and gets tromped on, also literally knocks a hole in a wall when pushed by David to test its strength. All the while from next door comes fluctuating, sometimes very loud and disturbing string music whose sound is very much on the order of fingernails clawing a blackboard. Mood quite effectively outweighs content here. Mumblecore obviously never achieved this level of menace, hysteria, of lurking horror.

    Later the director rounds out his picture of social privilege by pointing out that, in fact, there is not a single non-white or probably non-Anglo person to be seen throughout this film. Ray winds up joining a tour of the fancy seaside property as it ends and a lady asks, "This may be a stupid question, but what about the aboriginal people, are there any around here?" The guide begins, "No, that's not a stupid question at all..." but somehow the tour gets interrupted at that point and there is never an answer. Ray goes swimming, and his mother comes to rescue him, brought by David who, no surprise, has discovered they're old school friends. Closing captions say "Filmed on the lands of the Eora and Ngunnawal peoples." Friends and strangers, indeed. A little film that begins by annoying and trying one's patience but ends up seeming pretty cool.

    The cinematography of Dimitri Zaunders may mirror "the looks of surveillance footage" as Leonardo Goi writes in (The Film Stage but it's really quite handsome all through, especially when depicting landscape, and more strikingly it exudes a sunny, bland beauty that makes everything more trippy.

    Friends and Strangers, 93 mins., debuted at Rotterdam Feb. 3, 2021, virtual also at Jeonju, it was screened online for this review as part of the MoMA/Film at Lincoln Center series New Directors/New Films (Apr. 28-May 8, 2021).
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-11-2021 at 08:18 AM.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    Location
    SF Bay Area
    Posts
    14,250

    PEBBLES ( P.S. Vinothraj 2021)

    P.S. VINOTHRAJ: PEBBLES (2021)


    CHELLAPANDI IN PEBBLES

    Raging in the heat in Tamil country

    Pebbles is the grim drama of a alcoholic man, Ganapathy (theater actor Karuththadaiyaan) - also (in modern psycho-babble) a "rageaholic" - who drags his little son Velu (newcomer Chellapandi) out of school on a bus trip to his wife's impoverished village in the Tamil Madurai district after she runs away from his abusiveness. When he and the boy get to the town, they learn his wife has left to go back to him. Everyone heaps abuse on everyone else. All this takes place in remote southeastern India, Tamil country, which looks like the American southwest. It's so hot and dry nothing grows but wispy little trees. Women sit around waiting to grab rats when they're smoked out of their lairs, for food. The direness of the environment suggests the Australian outback, and these people feel a little like abandoned Australian aborigines.

    Vinothraj shot the film in washed-out widescreen images with Sony A7 camera with CP.3 lenses: it's possible nowadays to get near-professional-quality visuals with a portable camera costing three or four thousand dollars and edit with the latest version of Apple Final Cut Pro. It's a particular advantage to work this light as an independent filmmaker can today when the subject is rugged country and unbearable weather like this. The determination, plus the modern technical efficiency of method, pay off as a combination in this powerful little film that Richard Brody of The New Yorker commends for "the stark clarity of its story and the audacity of its style" and calls "the best dramatic feature" in this year's New Directors/New Films series.

    The ultimate subject is dire poverty aggravated by extreme drought. Rage and alcoholism are seen as almost, in a way, legitimate responses. It makes for what the jury at Rotterdam, giving Pebbles the highest "Tiger" award, called "pure cinema." But as Brody points out, Vinothraj is a keen observer of the social and physical details he finds and the momentary changes of situation and mood his story delineates, so people like a woman with a child in her lap on the back of the bus and angry riders who tangle with Ganapathy over his smoking stand out and are individually memorable, even extra tickets charged for pots of water and the loose pole detached from the bus's roof. Even Ganapathy standing and glaring in all directions, retying his lungi, or energetically lighting a cigarette: it all seethes with energy and menace, though menace we sense is going nowhere and in time will burn itself out. Velu is obedient, and follows, but also tears up the return bus tickets so they must walk back and runs the the opposite direction in powerful protest later on, and continues to provoke and sabotage is father in other ways, throwing away his matches and burning his father's bare back with a reflective shard. There is no order here but the background throb of desperation and the rage of one against another when all are victims, but the filmmaker creates his own sense of order and perhaps of hope through his relentless attention to physical detail and his gift for pauses and silences that give his little film its power and its passion, the sense of a story, however grim and petty, told extremely well and with precision.

    Pebbles/Koozhangal, 75 mins., debuted at Rotterdam Feb. 2021 where it won the Tiger Award; FICUNAM, (Mexico, Jeonju (all internet). Screened at home online for this review as part of the MoMA/Film at Lincoln Center series New Directors/New Films (Apr. 28-May 8, 2021).
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-01-2021 at 11:15 PM.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    Location
    SF Bay Area
    Posts
    14,250

    LUZZU (Alex Camilleri. 2021)

    ALEX CAMILLERI: LUZZU (2021)


    JESMARK SCICILUNA AND MICHELA FARRUGIA IN LUZZU

    Maltese fisherman must give up his ancestral job

    Luzzu is the kind of neorealist docudrama that never quite goes out of style. Not when it's about someplace unfamiliar or new (yet perennial) social problems. The luzzu is an archaic small fishing boat indigenous to the island of Malta, where this takes place. It's most unusual to see a movie actually set in Malta, and the dialogue may be the first time you've heard the Maltese language, a unique combination of Arabic, Italian and Sicilian with some English thrown in. Unlike Arabic or its many local dialects it's written in roman letters and has no diglossic linguistic relationship with classical or modern standard Arabic yet it's a Semitic language included in the European Union. The language dramatizes what a peculiar mixture these people are.

    The protagonist, Jesmark ( Jesmark Scicluna) is a handsome, square-jawed young fisherman and son and grandson of fishermen who fished with the same luzzu boat, which for them was sustainable. In the current economic climate it's not. The movie piles problems on Jes and his wife Denise (Michela Farrugia), The old fishing boat leaks and requires extensive repair, which may not be enough. The couple's baby boy has growth problems requiring special diet and regular visits to expensive specialists. The local wholesale fish market appears corrupt, or at least discriminates against Jes and his father, whom he fishes with while his luzzu awaits repair. Regulations are so strict now Jes's father insists - following a dutiful call from his boat to the local fishing authorities on his cell phone to ask - very much against Jes's wishes - on throwing back a swordfish (dead because they die the minute they're out of water) which would have netted them hundreds of euros.

    The safe alternative, a steady paycheck, for Jes would be going to work on a trawler. But he knows those damage the sea bed and he will not work a job that destroys the environment his family has been part of for generations. But while he is righteous, a big negative problem is his anger and big mouth. He is becoming persona non grata with a gathering number of people in the trade he has offended. It's classic, really: the biggest problems here are Jes and his luzzu - and they are where the movie hooks up our sympathies from frame one. Nothing is subtle here. But nothing gets in the way, either. So we are drawn in when Jes is tempted to throw in his lot with a lucrative but dangerous illegal black market operation having nothing to do with the sea.

    Camilleri is a new voice on the world cinema scene who works in the neorealist tradition of early Visconti, Rossellini, the Dardenne brothers, and an American mentor, Ramin Bahrani, the Iranian American from the South whose early films, Man Push Cart (ND/NF 2006), and Goodbye Solo had a pleasing authenticity. He has gone in other, less effective directions with his socially conscious filmmaking since but producing efforts like this one are always welcome.

    Luzzu,, 94 mins., debuted at Sundance Jan. 2021 (Sciciluna won an acting award at Sundance, where the film was nominated for the world Best Picture prize). It was also included in the Tronheiim Norway virtual fest, Sofia, and Hong Kong. Screened online for this review as part of the MoMA/Film at Lincoln Center series New Directors/New Films (Apr. 28-May 8, 2021).
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-13-2021 at 01:04 AM.

Bookmarks

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •