By Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor
As another sign of seasonal change, the venerable New Directors/New Films festival returns to the Museum of Modern Art and the Film Society of Lincoln Center in what is one of New York’s rites of Spring. Dedicated to the discovery and support of emerging artists, New Directors/New Films has earned an international reputation for its cutting-edge programming and commitment to more artistically ambitious filmmaking. This year, a total of 26 features and 6 short films made the cut, spotlighting first and second-time directors who are beginning to make their market on the international film world.
This year, European films and co-productions make up 10 of the 26 features, among the strongest showing of European talents in the Festival’s 37 year history. In a city, which is open about its embrace of all things French, it is no surprise that France is the country most represented in the Festival mix. The two purely French productions include Water Lilies, by director Celine Sciamma and La France by Serge Bozon. Water Lilies, which won the Prix Louis Delluc as Best First Feature and was nominated for several Cesar Awards, tells the intriguing story of three young women who form a murky bond of desire and emotional violence during a sultry summer in the Paris suburbs. La France is a historical epic with musical interludes set in the waning days of World War I. The film, which stars the sultry Sylvie Testud as a woman who disguises herself as a man to find her husband on the frontlines, won for its director the Prix Jean Vigo.
France is represented in several co-productions as well at this year’s Festival. In Jellyfish, co-directors Etgar Keret and Shira Geffen offer a fresh exploration of life in contemporary Tel Aviv. The film won the prestigious Camera d’Or prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival for best debut feature. In A Lost Man, a French co-production with Lebanon, director Danielle Arbid explores sexual taboos in the Arab world in a story of an encounter of a French photographer with a Lebanese man who can’t remember his past. France is one of three co-producers with Spain and Argentina in the provocative XXY by Lucia Puenzo. The film tells the intriguing tale of a hermaphrodite raised as a girl who must now decide on whether she wants to live as a man or a woman. The film has been a major hit on the international film festival circuit, having won Best Film prizes at the Cannes Critics Week, Bangkok, Athens and Montreal film festivals, as well as a Best Director prize for Lucia Puenzo at the Edinburgh Film Festival. In Eat, For This Is My Body, director Michelange Quay brings considerable gifts to his debut feature set in his native Haiti. Vibrant musical sequences give way to contemplative tableaux of sexual ambiguity and colonial politics in this unique film debut.
Two new films from Greece make a surprising showing at this year’s Festival, pointing to the vitality of this lesser known cinema of southern Europe. In Correction by Thanos Anastopoulos, a young man just released from prison wanders the streets of Athens and becomes fascinated by a woman and her daughter. This affecting story of inner and national identity won the Best Screenplay Award at the Thessaloniki International Film Festival. In the offbeat Valse Sentimentale, director Constantina Voulgaris spins a sentimental yarn between a girl and a boy stuck in downtown Athens who secretly years to be together but are too cool to admit it. The film has been a major box office hit in its native Greece and is beginning its European theatrical run later this year.
This is the first year in memory that the Festival is not showcasing a purely English film but two co-productions with the UK are included in the roster. In Soul Carriage, a co-production with China by director Conrad Clark, a young worker at a Shanghai construction site returns to his country village to return the body of a co-worker who died on the job. In this beautifully shot film the conflict of modernity fighting tooth and nail with tradition serves as a metaphor for Chinese migrant workers searching for material and spiritual fulfillment. In We Went To Wonderland, another co-production with China, director Xiaolu Guo tells the intimate story of a man who has lost his voice after an operation who embarks with his wife on a tour of Europe. The film offers a striking critique of the effects of globalization and the disconnect between China and its Western allies.
As the sole Spanish title, La zona by Rodrigo Pia offers a telling tale about vigilante justice and class warfare. In this co-production with Mexico, a young robber goes on the run inside a privileged gated community as private security guards try track him down. The film offers a critique of the disparity between the privileged class and powerless teens who must scrounge for a meager existence.
For the next two weeks, New Directors/New Films showcases some of Europe’s most promising film artists in a revelatory program of discovery and engagement. For more information on the New Directors/New Films series, log on to the websites of the Film Society of Lincoln Center: www.filmlinc.com or the Museum of Modern Art: www.moma.org