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

  1. #16
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    LIBORIO (Nino Martinez Sosa 2021)

    NINO MARTINEZ SOSA: LIBORIO (2021)


    KARINA VALDES (RIGHT) IN LIBORIO

    Revisiting a popular Dominican legend

    This new film from the Dominican Republic starts out on the wrong foot for me. It's always risky to begin a movie at top speed because the audience isn't ready; and where can you go from there? A hurricane is something you need to build up to, but Nino Martinez Sosa, the maker of LIborio,, opens with his protagonist in shirtsleeves battling the hurricane that is going to temper him, somehow, into a man with healing and forgiving powers. But this remarkable event is allowed only four minutes to unroll. It's violent and noisy, but it's only a big man in a damp shirt roiling around. It seems both too much and not enough.

    Sosa sets out to tell the 'true' story of Olivorio Mateo, a peasant who according to legend returned from a battle with a hurricane transformed also into a leader of local people. He acquires a following and moves around the countryside directing spiritual gatherings, doing good, and so forth. (He doesn't always heal. When a woman comes asking her lost son to be brought back to life, he disappoints her.) The actors and rural settings are attractive, though sometimes the filmmaking seems as naive as the characters. The whole thing seems rather like a ballet, and like a ballet, it shows generic figures and does not delve beyond the surface.

    The seven sections of the story - Liborio, Returns from heaven, To move the people, And raise the dead, Of this land of ours, Tearful, Blessed, present events from changing points of view toward the emerging but always somewhat mysterious "Papá Liborio." There’s his grown son, who is happy to find his father alive and becomes his chief follower. There is Matilde (Karina Valdes), the woman in who attaches herself to him as a follower and second in command and becomes the mother of his child. There is an outsider and recent convert who remains suspicious to others. And so on. This multifaceted approach doesn't hide the fact that the film unquestioningly believes in Father Liborio - until the US invasion comes.

    At that point it soon turns out to be a pet project of the local Marine commanding officer, Captain Williams (Jeffrey Holsman), to destroy Liborio, whose independent authority is seen as an obstacle to American colonial interests.

    On the one hand this sleepy production finally gets a slight jolt past midway with the arrival of the odious Capt. Williams. On the other hand this development only further highlights the simplistic nature and naiveté of a film that never seems confident of its storytelling or distinctive in its cinematic style. While Oscar Duran’s cinematography is handsome, it needs a further edge to convey the sort of numinous magic we believe to be experienced by the Father's followers who come to accept him as a reincarnation of Jesus.

    Liborio is an admirable stab at recreating local legend and reviving national culture. But it seems too much of a stretch to compare this film as some have done to Lucrecia Martel's complex, historically precise Zama. It lacks that kind of stylistic flair.

    Liborio, 95 mins., 99 mins., debuted Feb. 2021 at Rotterdam, also showing at Göteborg, Tertio Millennio (Rome), FICUNAM (Mexico), and San José (Costa Rica). Screened at home 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 02:03 AM.

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    TAMING THE GARDEN (Salomé Jashi 2021)

    SALOMÉ JASHI: TAMING THE GARDEN (2021)


    TREE MOVED ON BARGE IN TAMING THE GARDEN

    TRAILER

    Collecting trees in rural Georgia

    Taming the Garden tells about this extremely, obscenely rich Georgian guy called Ivanishvili, the former Prime Minister who loves trees - big, old ones, hundred-year-old trees, and buys them from farmers here and there in Georgia, and, at enormous expense, his own expense but also some public inconvenience and sometimes shock to the locals, moves them to his own private compound park on his estate in Shekvetili. There are articles about Ivanishvili's tree collecting hobby here and there. Large trees are regularly moved as a way of preserving them. It's not such an eccentric practice as some may think, and moving a full-grown tree may not be prohibitively expensive. But this is the Guinness Book of Records of tree moving.

    It has caused power lines to be taken down temporarily, and whole main roads into a town to be shut down for a day at times. For the trees to be taken down the road to the coast where they're ferried across the water slowly on a barge to the park, some tress may have to be chopped down along the road. How do you lift a big tree with its roots out of the ground? Well, it's a bit of a mystery but we see long pipes with drills being inserted in the ground alongside each other under a couple of trees, and then we see the large section containing the roots contained by planks. And all along we have heard the sound of metal and saws.

    Jashi, the filmmaker, is often most interested, as we are, in the people. For a while she hangs out watching experienced tree men and hearing their chatter. More often she watches oldsters around a farm watching when a tree gets taken away. A 75-year-old lady remembers planting some trees when she was twenty-five. When she was that age a now 100-year-old tree was relatively young. All kinds of family histories are tied in with the old trees. Rumor has it that some old tree or trees got severely damaged in this process, or had some limbs lopped off, and lost some of their looks. A tree, though, is a being that grows more beautiful in old age. When these trees are removed, there is compensation, but no filling is provided for the empty space that is left behind. Houses may be hotter in summer. Foliage may be sorely missed.

    There is a lot of complaining. Some farm family members say they felt coerced. But they don't claim that the have been cheated. Some say they will miss the tree; others say it always made a mess, it got in the way of the orchard, or they wanted to get rid of it but couldn't. Certainly Ivanishvili has the power here, the power of money, plus the power of political influence.

    Ivanishvili gets the last word, though, and some objections may be stilled by what they see at the end. The final ten minutes or so of the film are taken at his park of very old trees. It's amazingly beautiful. The trees look like they belong together; this seems an over-tended but extraordinarily rich forest. Grounds are being cared for by little crawling green machines operated by two men. Wide but unobtrusive paths wander through. A watering system also wanders this way and that. Even the way it sprays is graceful. The place is in its way a masterpiece. The trees by their nature are very individual; they don't look posed or organized. One can only hope that some day this will be open to the public - but not too many at a time.

    I was seduced, at least. Others simply find this whole film "surreal," and Allan Hunter of Screen Daily thinks the park looks like "the secluded lair of a Bond villain." Yes, perhaps so; but didn't you ever want to be a Bond Villain? This is a billionaire who has made a natural fantasy real. If the choice is between Bolsonaro tearing down the Amazonian rain forest and this guy, I'll go for this guy. And I liked this filmmaker's quiet observational approach and subtle use of music.

    Taming the Garden, 86 mins., debuted at Sundance Jan. 2021; it was also shown at the Berlinale, Cinéma du réel (Paris), FICUNAM (Rome), Docudays UA International (Ukraine), and Hong Kong. Screened at home 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; 05-26-2021 at 09:45 AM.

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    WE (NOUS) Alice Diop 2021)

    ALICE DIOP: WE (NOUS) (2021)


    POSH TRADITIONAL HUNTERS IN NOUS

    A search for unity in diversity - along the rail line

    Documentary filmmaker Alice Diop grew up in the banlieue of Paris as the daughter of African immigrants. For years they made payments to arrange to have their remains returned to their native Senegal upon their demise. But when they asked her as a teenager to start making such payments for herself, she had to tell them that she had no desire to do that; she would stay in France, in death as in life.

    But how much is she "intégrée" in the contemporary "multicultural" France? How much is it really multicultural? These are questions that probably hovered as she made this subtle, observational new documentary film, shot, she says, obsessively "en banlieue" (in the suburbs) and about people living nearby and around but not in Paris along the dividing RER B intra-city train line as she shot everyone, from a mechanic living out of his van to people who still hunt in a lush preserve with wild game. (The RER is a hybrid commuter and raid transit line that cuts through the middle of Paris from north to south, like a deeper spine that overlays the vertebrae of the Métro.) The result is a doc that as the reviewer for Variety wrote, quietly morphs into an "epic interrogation of France's multicultural project."

    The mechanic who works on cars here and there comes originally from Mali. As he works on a car, he tells his mom using earbuds and mike that he would really like to return, but he has not done so - for twenty years, so it doesn't seem likely. We follow the filmmaker's sister, who visits people confined to their houses, some of them sprightly talkers. Her father, now retired, says he is satisfied with what fifty years of life in France have brought him. He never had trouble finding work, and he could buy a house. It is enough.

    Suddenly it's a service to honor the memory of a king of France and we are studying faces in the congregation of the Basilica of Saint Denis, where French royalty is buried. These are parishioners who are all white and look as if they themselves may very well identify with royalty. Suddenly, the camera eye roams through the eery Drancy center, also on the RER B line. It commemorates the 10,000 children (and 50,000 adults) held at the internment camp here who were denounced, arrested, detained, and sent to Germany where they died. We hear excerpts from their plaintive, deeply saddening letters. Drancy is a dramatic sign of an earlier, total, lack of "integration" for part of the population, the Jews of France.

    Alice's camera roams on: Teenagers and young adults hanging out in the summertime; people watching 14th of July fireworks. Finally Alice herself, who has not minded occasionally answering questions from behind the camera, appears talking with Pierre Bergounioux, a French writer, white, who has been an inspiration to her and whom she sought out after reading one of his articles, because she discovered he has long written himself about the sort of poor and under-noticed "banlieue" locations and their inhabitants that she has made it her aim to film.

    While this scene and the far-ranging conversation that Bergounioux and Alice hold light up and connect all the segments that have come before, there is intentionally no clearcut point of view. She has shifted from on scene to behind camera, to fly-on-the-wall, to interactive, because by its nature the subject Alice touches on here is always a moving target, with conclusions remaining undrawn. But she chooses the title intentionally: "nous," we. Everyone here is part of the picture.

    If this works better than it may sound, it's partly because of editing that creates a rhythm and inserts interstices that bind unlike things, even to the bookending of the aristocratic French people who go on an historic formal-dress "hunt', but who, also, strictly, live on the RER B line. Likewise, the young men of color along the water with their shirts off who listen with a mocking air to an old Édith Piaf song on the radio outdoors but are till listening to it, and still know the words and savor certain parts. Alice Diop is showing that French culture has a surprising power to bind people, even those from all the new places who distance themselves from it. The closing song is Jean Ferrat's "Ma France," part of which goes:

    My France
    From lowlands to forests, from vales to hills
    From the spring to be born to your dead seasons
    From what I lived to what I imagine
    I shall not stop writing your song
    My France


    Rather than seeking to be revolutionary or contrarian, Diop consciously joins an established tradition of continuing to write France's changing song. But it's work. . "'We' is what happens when 'I' opens up," she says. Orla Smith in Seventh Row likes this film but thinks it just skims the surface and would like something as long as a Frederick Wiseman documentary. She has a point. Alice Diop should certainly continue her project of chronicling France's "nous." But not everyone needs to push as hard and relentlessly as Frederick Wiseman. There is a place for delicate touches.

    Nous/We, 116 mins., debuted in the Berlinale Mar. 2021, showed at Paris' Cinéma du réel, and was screened at home 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 01:53 AM.

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    DARK RED FOREST (Jin Huaging 2021)

    JIN HUAGING: DARK RED FOREST (2021)



    Harsh winters for Tibetan Buddhist nuns

    Jin Huaqing is a Chinese documentary filmmaker with numerous short films to his credit. In Dark Red Forest he spent a year focusing on Tibetan Buddhist nuns. Thousands of them are in a single monastery, Yarchen Monastery located on the Tibetan Plateau, and during the coldest time of the year move out to huts scattered over a mountain, one num per hut. Their outer garb is a thick dark red cloth. At the end of the season the huts are taken apart and lugged back. What we get is an external picture of an austere spiritual practice. There is even a time when some prostate themselves over and over moving along a rough road. They wear padding on their fronts to mitigate the roughness. There is also a sequence of testing before an audience, where what appear to be very young nuns are in the spotlight, speaking with shrill, artificial voices. There are the familiar trappings, the "prayer wheels" endlessly spun, the big drums held aloft. What else do we see? What do we learn? Jin Huaqing has no narration, only the bare bones of information at the outset in captions, 10,000 nuns, 4,000 meter elevation, and so forth. We also learn from signage that the Chinese want to subsume Tibetans into the mainland population and aren't very friendly toward monasteries.

    There is an austere beauty in the harsh landscape at times - the snow on the ground, the dawn light over the mountain, the flushed faces of the nuns. They are of all ages from young to pretty old. With their shaven heads, they look alike, and sometimes it's hard to tell which gender they are. The sheer population is an eye-opener. There are revealing moments. Besides the very young performers, we see nuns being questioned by a monk (whom we do not see), who often finds fault with their knowledge, or when they are tongue-tied gently dismisses them. They are told to work harder. Some are told they must go home, and this is hard for them to take, especially after many years as a nun, and the voice says they may be too old now to have children, and should find another place to be a nun.

    This did not have the beauty of some films about western Christian monasteries. The monastery itself in those films seems a comforting, enveloping place, with its thick stone walls and its rituals organizing the day from dawn to dusk. As can happen with the documentary without narration, we're left with many questions. It's not clear what the accomodations in the monastery are like, also not clear how the nuns sleep in the huts, or do they sleep there at all? Many details seem to be missing.

    There's a sequence where nuns seek help for ailments. It can be little surprise that they rely heavily on folk medicine. Still neither the diagnosis nor the prescription leaves one confident that they're in reliable hands.

    As a friend of mine used to say after many a ND/NF screening, "That's another place I never have to go." Is this, indeed, the last word? There seem many ways of learning more. But this seems a difficult subject, Tibetan Buddhism being less amenable to western study than the Japanese kind.

    Dark Red Forest, 85 mins., debuts in New Directors/New Films May 2021. Screened at home 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 01:22 AM.

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    BEBIA, À MON SEUL DÉSIR (Juja Dobrachkous 2021)

    JUJA DORACHKOUS: BEBIA, À MON SEUL DÉSIR (2021)


    ANASTASIA DAVIDSON IN BEBIA A MON SEUL DESIR

    A Georgian family drama seems hampered by its own ambition

    This film from Georgia seems to want to be about a f--ked up young woman who cuts herself and works as runway model currently in London. But it gets all involved in staging the funeral of the girl's aged grandmother, with over-the-top professional mourners and various other screen-stealing characters of this neurotic family like the mother (Anastasia Chanturaia), a moody older brother, sententious father and various other characters, all pouty and full of themselves. Even Veronica Solovyeva's cinematography, in arty, shadowy black and white, vies for attention, and sometimes the cameraman likes to cut off the tops of people's heads or focus on one little thing and not let you see what's going on, which is no help.

    Ariadna (Anastasia Davidson), the protagonist, is assigned a ritual task to link her dead grandmother's body to where she died, which involves traveling over the country unspooling a thread. This among other things occasions many flashbacks including to the "bebia," or grandma, herself, Medea (Guliko Gurgenidze). We have already seen her to be rather mean and pessimistic, brushing the girls' hair and telling her women's lives are just one generation after another doing the same things. At the funeral banquet somebody says she was a psychologically abusive teacher by her own admission: that fits. The ritual unspooling requires a fifteen-mile walk on which Ariadna is accompanied by Temo (Alexander Glurjidze), a young man who picked her up at the airport whom she doesn't know but who seems somehow now part of the family.

    I'm indebted to the Variety reviewer for reminding me that Ariadne in the Greek myth, alluded to here, gets rescued from the Minotaur after helping Theseus navigate the labyrinth with the help of a thread. But not much is made of this theme, nor is this Ariadne transformed. She remains the same messed up young person at the end. Dobrachkous's film is full of ambition but, at least on the first go, doesn't seem to hit its targets, and is a turnoff from the get-go. She is trying to do too much at once. This is her first feature after working on two screenplays before. Some viewers seem enthralled. No doubt there will be more.

    Bebia mon seul Désir, 118 mins., debuted Feb. 6, 2021 at Rotterdam (virtual), also showing at Seattle Apr. 9. It was was screened at home 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; 05-08-2021 at 02:43 PM.

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    STOP-ZEMLIA (Kateryna Gornostai 2021)

    KATERYNA GORNOSTAI: STOP-ZEMLIA (20212)


    Yana Isaienko, Maria Fedorchenko in Stop-Zemlia

    Ukrainian high school junior year class portrait is charming if a bit familiar

    In Stop-Zemlia, the directorial debut of Ukrainian Kateryna Gornostai, an introverted high-school girl called Masha (winsome gamine Maria Fedorchenko) sees herself as an outsider who for safety must hang around with Yana (Yana Isaienko) and Senia (Arsenii Markov), two fellow students who share her non-conformist status. While she is trying to deal with the intensity and confusion of the year before graduation Masha is pushed out of her comfort zone further by falling in love, an emotion one of the teachers not very helpfully has presented as in psychology, something like an illness.

    The main characters are all infected, then, because they find themselves in a chain of unrequited affection: Yana is in love with Senia; he is in love with Masha, and Masha is in love with Sasha (Oleksandr Ivanov). Masha's crush is used by Gornostai as an excuse to follow the handsome, sensitive Sasha's story, including his troubles with his obtrusive, verbally abusive alcoholic mother and his piano playing taught, incidentally, by an over-touchy older woman piano teacher. This hint of sexual predating behavior is one of numerous troubling details the film passes over without comment. We notice that woman's hand that won't leave the boy's shoulder. Doesn't anybody notice?

    Certainly Kateryna Gornostai’s look at the troubles and joys of youth is nonetheless carefully crafted as it quietly surveys the year for the eleventh graders. The director is a documentarian who has sought to build a low keyed yet in its way panoramic drama. She uses her cast of remarkably poised, well coiffed, and nice looking teenagers to play fictional versions of themselves, centering mostly on Masha but also on a bully boy and his small sidekick and of course Masha's sidekicks and Sasha. There are probably a few too many characters, though the main ones we get to know the names of at least.

    We feel like we're there, but we just perhaps don't stick around quite long enough because we move around. As Kevin Jagernauth wrote in his review for The Playlist at the Berlinale, there's an effect of "immersiveness," but that leads to too much information about characters and behavior being left aside, including some big issues. He mentions "depression, PTSD, cutting, bisexuality, abandonment, bullying" - all as "issues" the film "glides over." And don't forget the over-touchy piano teacher! Jagernauth even goes so far as to say he thinks that the more material the film adds, after a while, the "less meaningful the experience becomes."

    He has a point. It's observable with the repetitious scenes of Sasha and his mother. One strong scene could have announced the dysfunctionality of their relationship, and then it could have been brought further to light by being set in another context. Jagernauth is also right that the film's dream sequences are "ultimateluy extraneous," another thing added without enriching. He likes the film's unhurried pace, its avoidance of hysteria.

    The title refers to an Eastern European game of blind tag when you call that out when you think you've got someone to tag, is obviously seen as symbolic of the search for a boyfriend or girlfriend as well as lostness and needing to belong.

    These young first-time actors, partly playing themselves (though interpolated "interviews" are as made-up as anything else), are presentable and unvaryingly charming. There's the buly and the bullied kid, the misfit boy, the sensitive boy, the sensitive girl. . . but aren't they beginning to blend together a little? The first-time director does a good job of wrangling the main ones within a field of what are essentially extras in a created atmosphere of familiarity, trained to feel and act if they'd nearly all been in the same homeroom class for their whole lives. They work well together - and by the way, Ukrainians are pretty good dancers.

    I thought, however, of how all this might have worked better. First, as a TV series. The Norwegian series "SKAM" wisely makes each season primarily about one couple (or with Sana at the end, one person), while skillfully delineating relationships. But "Skam" has a lot more time than this film's two hours, which just isn't enough for this kind of sequence of sketches.

    Though there are some intense moments. The one when three best friends cut themselves, though it's comparable to the age-old ceremony of pledging blood brotherhood (or sisterhood), feels distinctly troubling So does the mother's continual hounding and verbal abuse of Sasha, which is just repetitious and boring after a while: we get it. Finally less and less that's new, or new-feeling, emerges, even if kids are redefined as of these times. THey can't go to bed without their phone, and they accuse each other of being "homophobe" (as they do in "SKAM" and which is a good thing). But anecdotes on the order of Senia's of being lectured for an hour by his father on contraception and finding out he knows more than his dad, deliver familiar material to us. I guess all this winds up being a nice calling card for everybody - the able, energetic Gornostai and the main young actors as well, part of a bourgeoning, youthful film industry with women directors that reportedly was on hand at the Berlinale this year.

    Stop-Zemlia, 122 mins., debuted in the Berlinale's Generation section Mar. 1, 2021. It was was screened at home for this review as part of the MoMA/Film at Lincoln Center series New Directors/New Films (Apr. 28-May 8, 2021). It screens virtually May 5-10.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-09-2021 at 12:07 AM.

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    ALL THE LIGHT WE CAN SEE/TODO LA LUZ QUE PODEMOS VER (Pablo Escoto Luna 2020)

    PABLO ESCOTO LUNA: ALL THE LIGHT WE CAN SEE/TODO LA LUZ QUE PODEMOS VER (2020)



    A new variation on ancient Mexican legends

    Between Popocatépetl and Ixtaccihuatl, one day before the war. Maria, forced to marry a bandit, escapes her fate and runs away into the woods in the company of El Toro. Rosario, in love with an assassinated general, weeps on his tomb dug into the side of a volcano. All of them are destined to wandering and error; all climb, fall and are beset by doubt, all are adrift and lost in the night." So the director, Pablo Escoto Luna, who is 24, describes the premise of his film, Todo la luna que podemos ver/All the Light We can See. Using simiple, sometimes primitive film methods and untutored actors, the director follows a very slow, meandering path, out in beautiful landscapes around the volcanoes Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl in the Valley of Mexico, in telling the story of a woman who will do anything to be united with her lost love. but Escoto Luna interweaves multiple stories and a while bibliography of sources ranging from Garcia Lorca to Hannah Arendt. For a better idea of the complexity of this young director's (still basically simple and pure) canvas, see Daniel Gorman's comments in In Review | Online.

    The review forTHE FILM STAGEcalls thie film "mostly successful"noting its style method is "risking vagueness and grandiosity" but thinks it "worth remembering. I thought of some of the films of Eugène Green. However this young man has not yet reached Green's level of confidence. Not to be confused with the New Directors/New Films closing night film, Theo Anthony's All Light, Everywhere.

    Todo la luz que podemos ver/All the Light We Can see, 123 mins., debuted May 3, 2021 at FTD Marseille. It was was screened at home for this review as part of the MoMA/Film at Lincoln Center series New Directors/New Films (Apr. 28-May 8, 2021). It screens virtually May 5-10. Last Chance to Rent May 11, 6:00 PM ET.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-10-2021 at 05:53 PM.

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    MOON, 66 QUESTIONS (Jacqueline Lentzou 2020)

    JACQUELINE LENTZOU: MOON, 66 QUESTIONS (2020)


    LAZAROS GEORGAKOPOULOS, SOFIA KOKKALI IN MOON, 66 QUESTIONS

    Daughter reconciles with estranged dad by being his caregiver

    This first feature by the young Greek director Jacqueline Lentzou (who already had eight shorts to her credit) is about a young woman called Artemis (Sofia Kokkali) who is called back from abroad to care for her suddenly disabled father, Paris (Lazaros Georgakopoulos). There seems to be nobody else to do it. She does this with a very ill will because she and her dad are estranged. One only wonders why she would do it at all. He himself is strange, inarticulate or at least willfully tight-lipped, not just with her. It seems he has MS, but has had a stroke, or something - nobody is sure what has happened, as the story is told.

    This vagueness smooths things over as the film focuses closely on the man's disability as it must be performed by an actor, reportedly using some version of the Alexander Method as his preparation tfor a full-body recreation of tremors and general weakness. An attention-getting, risky business, which goes very well on the whole, though not entirely. There is an early scene where a physical therapist shows a group of family members, including Paris, how to help Artemis stand up and step forward. The actor, Lazaros Georgakopoulos (suggestive first name!) is so impressive I naively wondered at first if a real disabled person had been engaged for the role. However, the ease with which the actor later on fires up a cigarette with a lighter (when Paris spitefully refuses to do so), or eats, seems incompatible with his general shakiness and disability. He will not have to say much. Sofia Kokkali, who has been a frequent collaborator with the director, works too hard to show the difficult changes her character is going through.

    Scenes alternate between being agonizing, and irrelevant. Why must so much time be devoted to ping pong? Like the unnecessary mythological names, other devices are added for framing - interpolations from "found" VHS family tapes from the nineties; tarot deck cards, from which the mysterious title comes - when more solid dramatic scenes might have helped, still winding up with a shorter and pithier film.

    A "secret" about Artemis is revealed to Paris that, in a typically grating and molasses-slow sequence, she offers to tell him. Why bother? He knows. But he declines. Somehow this awkward discovery of hers, which we can't reveal, except to say there are rustles of interest in festival "queer" sections, makes Paris understand Artemis better. And at a restaurant meal - a difficult undertaking, one would think - he performs another feat of dexterity and slides over beside Paris and gives her a big hug. Problems solved.

    Moon, 66 Questions 108 mins., had French internet release June 2020, debuted at the Berlinale Mar. 5, 2021, showed Mar. 25 at FICUNAM, Mexico, and was screened at home for this review as part of the MoMA/Film at Lincoln Center series New Directors/New Films (Apr. 28-May 8, 2021). Last Chance to Rent May 11, 6:00 PM ET.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-11-2021 at 01:17 AM.

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    DESTELLO BRAVÍO (Ainhoa Rodríguez 2021)

    AINHOA RODRIGUEZ: DESTELLO BRAVÍO/MIGHTY FLASH (2021)



    A town of old people

    Beatrice Loayza in her New York Times preview of this year's New Directors/New Films series heralded Ainhoa Rodriguez's distinctive and surprisingly mature debut feature Destello Bravio as one of three good films in the 2021 series about older women. This one as she put it is about ladies of a certain age stuck in "a dead-end Spanish town" with their "idiot male components " with their "gloomy routine" periodically interrupted "by bursts of surreal eroticism, unsettling manifestations of their repressed desires." That is an overview of Destello Bravio. But that doesn't convey the style and the wit of it.

    What I like about this film isn't just its distinctive grayish look, painterly in village landscapes and positively Vermeer-ish in the interiors, but the natural flowing rhythm of its dialogue, which contrasts with the awkward, self-conscious scripts of other ND/NF first films.

    There is nobody young here and there's no escaping the men are burnt-out old birds and the women have lost their looks, though some of the latter cover that with the elegance of piled up hairdos you want to see, careful makeup, and lizard skin high heels. This is Spain, after all. There is a solemnity and quiet grandeur even about the bourgeois living rooms.

    This is a town in the Estramadura, a remote region of Spain near Portugal. Letterboxd reviewer Michael Sicinski specifies Tierra de Barros, and says with cruel wit that Rodríguez's version of it is "a universe where all the young people have moved on, and seemingly taken narrative development with them." Definitely, the focus here is a state of mind and state of society, not an event. The director isn't concerned with philosophical pronouncements à la Roy Andersson or scary evocations of weirdness à la David Lynch. There are characters. Perhaps it's true they aren't threaded through the film quite as clearly as they might be, but there are some potent sequences, notably a woman taken out and humiliated by men, left all night naked in the countryside to come back next day weeping. There is the big banquet of ladies who get drunk and start writhing and making out. Admittedly stylistic and technical decisions wind up giving most scenes their distinctive feel.

    It's also clear that Rodríguez is concerned to bring out the hypocrisy of Catholicism and the deeply entrenched differences in genders, as she does by setting the action around Holy Week and switching back and forth between all-male and all-female gatherings. She is also more focused on a mood than on individual stories, an imminence of something dire that hovers over the near-nothingness. Leonardo Goi in The Film Stage notes the unnamed, unspecified town "juts into being from a fable, a land of almost biblical desolation and solitude." "The old folks marooned here." he writes, are the "last surviving members of an old species, but the film is so committed to its oneiric and sepulchral fabric that they may as well be dead already. Ghosts in a ghost town." They are half dead - someone even says so. Or they may be on the edge of an apocalypse, the sudden "mighty flash" of the title that a strange woman predicts, in one of her pronouncements to herself into a tape recorder, will one day suddenly possess the valley. Sound effects constantly predict something mad and strange - but it may just as well be only a collective desire for such a thing to relieve the boredom.

    Maybe not everything comes together here. But this is work that makes you sit up and take notice. Forced to watch it at home, I switched to my big screen and turned up the sound. I wanted to hear the full resonance ofr those pungent voices and savor those colors and that fancy makeup of the vain ladies well past their prime. It would be very interesting to know how Rodríguez cast this film and how she got these balls-out performances from all these old people.

    Mighty Flasy/Destello bravio, 98 mins., debuted at Rotterdam, showing also at FICUNAM (Mexico) and it was screened at home for this review as part of the MoMA/Film at Lincoln Center series New Directors/New Films (Apr. 28-May 8, 2021). Last Chance to Rent May 11, 6:00 PM ET.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-13-2021 at 12:23 AM.

  10. #25
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    GULL ( Kim Mi-jo 2020)

    KIM MI-JO: GULL (2020)


    JEONG AE-HWA AS O-BOK IN GULL

    A tough debut film about a Korean rape

    This is a youthful South Korean film about a Seoul fish market vender who becomes the victim of rape. In various ways this is not your usual rape movie. O-bok (a powerful Jeong Aehwa) is 61 and petite and feisty, which may make her not seem a likely victim. though her energy may make her youthful and attractive. The audience never sees the rape, only events leading up to it and away from it. You might feel this way is more from the victim's point of view, since O-bok cannot "observe" what is happening to her when she's assaulted. But this might be considered the public's point of view, because no one wants to think about rape.

    There is the freshness and boldness of the newcomer about this film made as a graduation feature for the film school of Danking University. The school is also the producer. A relentless little movie, it's made up of many small naturalistic scenes made so the action and shifts of locale never let up. Kim decided on few closeup shots and an avoidance of camera movement: a calm, placid lens, an ironic contrast to the protagonist's turbulent state. There's a relentlessly unfun, style-less quality, but one might have said that about Italian neorealist films that are now classics. Director Kim is taking on society - which, despite #MeToo and changing attitudes, is a tough decision to make. The title she has said is an homage to Chekhov's The Seagull but doesn't relate specifically to the play; she thinks of her protagonist as a bird who can't fly away, and also was reminded of the sound, to her, of the English word "girl."

    The director planned to focus on a mother-daughter relationship in a sexual assault but later chose to make the mother the victim, which surely adds to the resonance, or lack of it, in the society beyond, since this woman is the breadwinner of the family whose lack of education makes her daughters tempted to distance themselves. This is a film about class as well as male power, and a film about the dangerous role of alcohol in Korean culture. O-bok's three daughters have gotten college educations thanks to her hard work and she is left seeming to them rude and uneducated. A fishmonger, she can talk like one. In a rather overly explicit one-way phone conversation O-bok remonstrates with her own mother, who now has dementia, for not assuring her an education with the many benefits it would have brought her in life.

    The market is waiting for government-aided improvements. Getting all the venders on board for this requires bonding which, in Korean culture, requires getting drunk together. O-bok is assaulted by Gi-taek, a fellow vender and the powerful chairman of the redevelopment committee. We don't glimpse him till later. He can't be made vulnerable.

    It's after a stiff dressup restaurant dinner where O-tek, her husband and the betrothed eldest daughter sit down with the groom and his parents, that O-tek goes and hangs out with coworkers to unwind by getting drunk herself. When she's drunk the others leave her, thinking her "safe," and the assault - which we don't see - occurs. She is bleeding as she comes out of the subway on the way home. The moment of shock and realization this causes for the reader is a potent one.

    Things are never the same. Though O-tek never wilts, she can't focus on her shop, on anything but what has happened, which she can't talk about at first. She tries medical help, then complaining to the police, seeking supporting witnesses from the market, and first her eldest daughter and then the youngest one come along to help her. O-bok ultimately has to absorb, without imploding, the rage she must experience at her assault and at living in a culture dominated by males and tolerant of violence. When her husband finds out he drunkenly recites the saying that when a woman is raped, she has wanted it.

    For her next project, Kim is planning a mother and daughter revenge story. "I’m expecting to make a Korean-style film, a mixture of action, thriller and comedy," she said in a Variety interview. Let's hope that will be more fun.

    Gull, 74 mins., won the Grand Prize for the Korean Competition at the 2021 Jeonju Film Festival and showed in San Sebastian’s New Directors sidebar, also released in Switzerland, French-speaking region, and shown at the London Korean Film Festival and Filmfest Hamburg. It was screened at home 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 12:17 AM.

  11. #26
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    EYIMOFE (THIS IS MY DESIRE) (Arie & Chuko Esiri 2020)

    ARIE & CHUKO ESIRI: EYIMOFE (THIS IS MY DESIRE) (2020)


    JUDE AKUWUDIKE IN EYIMOFE (THIS IS MY DESIRE)

    Ah, Lagos

    The Esiri brothers, Arie and Chukko, spent most of their early life in England going to school. As they returned periodically to their native Nigeria they report overcoming initial distrust and concern and gradually coming to appreciate and even love the place. Now they have made a first feature there, teeming with its energy - and its frustrations and heartbreaks.

    When I lived in Cairo in the sixties it was the largest city in Africa. Lagos has since gotten the jump on Cairo by half a million (Lagos 21 million, Cairo 20.4 by a recent estimate), and Lagos is growing by half a million a year.

    This first feature the Esiris have made, set in Lagos, is clearly impatient to show their concern and affection for the place and simply reveal to us as much as they can at one time of this world partly strange to them and yet theirs. (This is much the way my young self would have wanted to film sixties Cairo.) Eyimofe is cast in the form of two halves focused separately on two people, a man and a woman struggling to survive in the city at multiple jobs, as many do. Alive, specific, and vibrant, this film is a complete and invigorating (but also exhausting) contrast to the country's usual myriad hastily produced "Nollywood" film industry products which have little interest or value for outsiders.

    Eyimofe (This Is My Desire) teems, like the city where it's set. The successive scenes, whether focused first on Mofe (the appealing Jude Akuwudike), then on Rosa (the arresting Temi Ami-Williams) are shot by skilled Beginning cinematographer Arseni Khachaturan largely in busy locations that show off the city - in many specific situations - as well as the protagonists; and it reminds me, in its crowded energy, of that Cairo I once knew and loved so well and have periodically revisited, finding it always larger, more overwhelming, more a nightmare, yet the spirit of its people as vigorous and charming as before. One imagines the Esiri brothers feeling the same.

    But while Eyimofe has unquestionable festival appeal and is an energetic and accomplished production, it sprawls like the city and doesn't quite hang together, primarily because the two protagonists who divide the action between them have only the sketchiest narrative connection - except that both are making expensive but seemingly futile efforts to leave the country, he for Spain, she for Italy.

    The struggles of Mofe are almost unbearably pathetic and intense. He is the "engineer" at a printing firm where the machinery is continually breaking down and the electrical system is dangerous. The Esiris have said "Nigeria is a third world country, so it's more difficult than other places." That's for sure. When Mofe and his new young electrician, Wisdom, handle fuses or connections they get continual shocks. The young female boss is imperious, queenly, disdainful toward Mofe when he quietly insists equipment must be replaced.

    At home where Mofe lives with his sister and her young kids, a tragedy occurs. As he deals with the aftermath, he encounters impossible expenses and Kafkaesque red tape. A visit to his estranged father in the country to appeal for help is chilly and surreal. He keeps pursuing a visa, passport, other emigration arrangements, only to encounter continual additional tangled obstacles and requirements. Nonetheless he strives on. The tragedy does not deter him. At night he works at his secondary job, a street repair stand where he fixes little appliances. And so on and on. There is no poetry here, save the poetry of a human spirit that doesn't falter - not that he has not lashed out in anger at the broken wiring and fuses and incurred his lady boss's ire. This can't be Dante's Purgatory: there are too many different levels of struggle.

    Rosa's life has different problems, pertaining to her young pregnant sister and men. Her two jobs are hairdresser and bartender, and she is responsible for her school age sister Grace (Cynthia Ebijie). Grace's pregnancy is problematic; she is not taking her unspecified meds, which she is warned endangers the pregnancy. Then there is the sharply dressed landlord, Mr. Vincent, who loves Rosa madly but whom she keeps at arms length, while accepting his favors because she is so needy. She's short for the rent, for medical fees for Grace, and for the travel "arrangements," which will include numerous fake documents. For this she falls under the control of unscrupulous broker Mama Esther (Nigerian comedian Chioma Omeruah in a pungent cameo), who wants the baby or, barring that, to have both women as her wage-slaves.

    Mr. Vincent, courtly, generous, but needy, must take second place to Peter (Jacob Alexander), an American expatriate, who has greater means and is generous with this attractive young woman who comes to bed with him. But she goes back and forth, not wanting to be too obliged to the landlord or too overly demanding with Peter. At one point the ladies' fridge breaks (again) and thus one evening Grace meets Mofe.

    The Rosa half of this picture has a gentler pace, but it has its own rhythm, and its own dire situations. It also has more interiors, and whether indoors or out, every shot has a different set of eye-candy coordinated colors in Khachaturan's increasingly ravishing images. In the maternity clinic, the walls are dark blue and the attendants' uniforms are bright red, which is prettier than it sounds. Rosa and Grace have a succession of different hairdos and outfits. But this though less turbulent and more aesthetic nightmare is still a nightmare. It's also of course a picture of ways big city urban third world problems are complicated by being unattached and female. At the end, Rosa finds a big compromise solution. In an Epilogue, things for Mofe are looking up. But nobody's going anywhere.

    And that's your story, which artistically is a bit shapeless. But as the Variety review from the 2020 Berlinale says this "low key charmer" really shines, which shows from the start, as "a clear-eyed portrait of a vibrant city, informed by the unfakeable love and well-earned exasperation of two talented native sons."

    Eyomofe ((This Is My Desire), 116 mins., debuted at Berlin Feb. 2020; also IndieLisboa, Hamburg, London, Rome, Nantes (internet), San Francisco and Seattle. Screened at home for this review as part of New Directors/New Films (Apr. 28-May 8, 2021).



    .
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-13-2021 at 12:10 AM.

  12. #27
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    FAYA DAYI (Jessica Beshir 2021)

    JESSICA BESHIR: FAYA-DAYI (2021)



    A dreamy doc about khat is perhaps better than it deserves

    Faya-Dayi, a poetic and sometimes beautiful black and white film weaving documentary material about people in Ethiopia and the khat industry (and the addictive stimulant leaves' ever-present consumption) is "hypnotic" in its effect but also numbing and much less informative than it might be if it provided sociological facts and personal information. It's set ostensibly in Harar, Ethiopia, which is considered by some authorities to be where the thousand-year-old custom of khat chewing was born. The filmmaker Jessica Beshir was forced to leave Harar when very young due to political unrest. In her poetic, dreamlike film composed through visual-conscious editing and the use of live and diegetic music and a new age score to bind images together and give some moments an edge of magic, she's made a film that may have "mythical undercurrents" and suggest the spiritual lives of some of its subjects. But over and over we come back to the gangs of hopped-up men and boys stripping khat plants and arranging them in bunches in a large warehouse, bagging them, loading them on a truck to be shipped.

    A Variety reviewer describes the film as a mix of "observational vérité" and "esoteric myth-building" that "suggests an in-and-out grasp on reality." Younger boys air the legend (clearly there is a lore that surrounds the plant) that heavy khat-chewers enter into their own private reality, though the Wikipedia article suggests its use is not much different from amphetamines, strong coffee, or lots of green tea. But the reviewer adds that this "seductive device" eventually palls as it "unfurls across two calculatedly low-energy hours." We meet people, though we admire their faces, only superficially, even if the film is "an immersive success, as the languid rhythms of the filmmaking mirror the woozy impact of the drug..."

    What is the woozy impact of the drug? It doesn't seem one of the many that William Burroughs thought worth trying. It's usually described as chewed for hours to make dreary routine work palatable. If it is like an upper, it doubtless may leave its heavy users drained between uses. Young men sorting or arranging the khat branches are obviously speeded up on the leaf-chewing; an older, bearded long-time user, with his head scarf and thick, dog-eared Qur'an, often looks either drained or blissed-out.

    The final message, not a message because nothing is spelled out, is that many dead-end lives are lived here, and youngsters are notably seen discussing whether they are going to take off on a boat presumably crossing the treacherous route to Lampedusa. No magic there. This film is cunningly edited. It may make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. But Jessica Beshir will go on to do good things.

    Faya Dayi, 120 mins., debuted at Sundance. Also shown at Seattle, three prestigious documentary festivals, Nyon, Switzerland (Visions du réel), Hot Docs (Toronto), and True/False (Columbia, MI), and it was screened at home for this review as part of New Directors/New Films (Apr. 28-May 8, 2021 NYC and virtual).

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-12-2021 at 11:42 PM.

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    ALL LIGHT, EVERYWHERE (Theo Anthony 2021)

    THEO ANTHONY: ALL LIGHT, EVERYWHERE (2021)



    ("A far-ranging look at the biases in how we see things, focusing on the use of police body cameras")

    Anthony began his career as a filmmaker with Chop My Money (2014), a 13-minute film that was a day in the life of three street kids in the Eastern Congo. Next came Rat Film (2016), 82 minutes, a documentary that uses a study of the rat and its habitations in walls, fences and alleys to explore the history of Baltimore. He did a short documentary not long ago about sports record photography, the 37-minute 2019 Subject to Review.

    Here, in New Directors/New Films' 2021 Closing Film, Anthony moves on to meatier matter, still taking off from recorded images and considering, as the blurb for Subject to Review said, "how the technology exposes deeper questions of spectacle, justice, and imperfect human knowledge." Anthony's researches took him to Arizona as well as his native Baltimore.

    Axon, formerly TASER International in Scottsdale, provides a main focus. This booming business, proudly shown off by the company boss, Steve Tuttle, in shirtsleeves, now produces a panoply of devices, starting off with the Taser electroshock stun gun weapon and moving on (rebranding itself to do so) to the body camera - both used by police. That the company started off with Taser weapons and moved on to police body cameras is telling in itself; the owner sees these as two sides of the same function, the Taser to disable citizens/offenders "harmlessly" (but they have been known to result in death), the body camera to protect the police from charges of abuse. It's all computerized, tied in with a high tech system, and activated when the cops pull out their weapon.

    Anthony also had access to the Baltimore police department where the Axon body camera was being explained to some police, and to a community meeting where Ross McNutt, President and CEO of Persistent Surveillance Systems, is trying to sell a group of Baltimore citizens of color on the advantages of another aerial surveillance camera system, strenuously objected to by some, particularly a citizen originally from Haiti. Eventually the system was assumed by the City of Baltimore, whose crime problems have been well known.

    Underlying these specific highlights, and a neuroscience focus group wearing far-fetched looking tracking devices to analyze their visual responses, there are narrations and music linking them together under general themes of: the camera as an all-seeing eye that is flawed, and earlier surveillance systems; carrier pigeons with cameras on them used by the Germans in WWI; early systems of recording data (photos and measurements) on "criminals" and things like facial types and "pictorial statistics." These narratives and images, accompanied by droning music, are attractive and may be thought-provoking. Basic flaws in the historic "criminal composite" system are pointed out and the fact that it never led to apprehension of any criminals. A wealth of archival imagery, old photos, drawings, diagrams, and sketches make this section attractive and reflect Anthony's extensive related research into the subject matter his film broadly broaches.

    It probably wouldn't be enough just to focus on the Axon body cameras - which of course are linked to whole computer systems to detect, record, and analyze. How all these hypertrophied and outsourced to private industry systems are growing by the day is troubling indeed. But the other information and images and the narration and Dan Deacon's musical score are all part of the package. This is entertainment, after all. Anthony's team makes the end result both entrancing and disturbing. "From what picture does the future dream?" Whatever that means.

    What somebody said in Baltimore is, turn the camera around: that's what the people want. They want the Big Brother overhead lens on the cops, not the citizens.

    What astonished me is that it's an essential part of the police body cam system that cops can choose to turn it on or off. It apparently only records permanently when they choose. Before we get there, moreover, it's already designed to show only what the cops see, so in court, the body camera information won't show when the cop saw something that wasn't there or missed things that were there. In all the Axon devices, the scale is weighted in favor of the police.

    A whole segment of black filmmaking students at Frederick Douglas High School in Baltimore working on a related project is sampled toward the end, but it's explained that it was decided to cut most of it out. This somehow isn't so bad, because it's part of Anthony showing the complexity of his process and its openendedness. (The students made their own film.)

    This is, then, another version of an experimental doc (like, also in ND/NF 2021, Fern Silva's Rock Bottom Riser) that is interestingly made to bring us into the filmmaker's thought process so it's both beautiful and stimulating to watch. It is food for thought, a starting point, perhaps, left with pieces we have to put together for ourselves. While some citizen reviewers found it "pretentious at times" or felt it "tries too hard to be deep," its evident energy and invention is one obvious reason why the ND/NF organizers honored it by selection as their Closing Night Film. It comes out with all barrels blazing. It shows off a bit without ceasing to be serious and informative. A documentary that was less "experimental," that focused a little more clearly on one central issue, as Alex Gibney would have done, might also have wound up not being as much fun. But you have to be open minded to enjoy and be stimulated by this kind of film.

    For fuller details of the multiple threads woven into this complex film see Sheri Linden's review in Hollywood Reporter.

    All Light, Everywhere, 115 mins., debuted at Sundance Jan. 31 (special jury prize in nonfiction experimentation), 2021, showed at Copenhagen's CPH DOX Apr. 24; Toronto's Hot Docs Apr. 29; at Jeonju (virtual) Apr. 29; in Columbia, MI's True/False May 7. It was screened at home May 13 for this review as part of New Directors/New Films (Apr. 28-May 8, 2021 NYC and virtual).
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-14-2021 at 09:26 AM.

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