26 March, 2012
by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor
With record warm temperatures bringing early blossoms to New York, the surest sign yet that winter is over and spring is here is the appearance this week of New Directors/New Films, one of the city’s most provocative film festivals, co-presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Film Department of the Museum of Modern Art. Culling the gems from previous festivals (Sundance and Berlin especially), with a focus on first-time directors, this year’s edition is essential viewing and a great way to check the pulse of the indie and international film world (which, I am happy to report, is strong). NDNF runs from March 21 to April 1, with screenings at both MoMA and Lincoln Center.
Amidst the 29 features (24 narrative, 5 documentaries) and 12 short films from 28 countries, NDNF highlights a strong roster of European films and co-productions, most being feature debuts or second films. Here are some of the highlights of this year’s event with descriptions provided by NDNF. To see the full line-up and follow interviews and other details, visit: www.newdirectors.org:
BREATHING (Karl Markovics)
The remarkably assured directorial debut from veteran Austrian actor Karl Markovics (best known for The Counterfeiters) creates an interplay between the perilousness of youth and the inevitability of death. Roman is an inmate at a juvenile detention center whose last hope of parole rests on his ability to hold down a job, in this case as a morgue assistant. A chance observation of a body bag sparks the first bit of initiative in a previously aimless life, but a brief reunion with his wayward mother further stymies his search for a sense of purpose. As Roman attempts to connect with a life hanging in the balance, his work leads to remorse, horror, and ultimately a glimmer of illumination. A Kino Lorber release.
DONOMA (Djinn Carrénard, France)
Rumored to have been shot for about $200, DONOMA announces the arrival of an intriguing new talent on the French scene, Haitian-born, Paris based Djinn Carrénard. Devised, shot (often guerrilla-style) and edited over a period of years, the film is a choral piece that chronicles the romantic destinies of three women, offering a fresh, funny portrait of an emerging French generation.
5 BROKEN CAMERAS (Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi, Palestine/Israel/France)
Emad Burnat’s and Guy Davidi’s documentary began five years ago in the Palestinian town of Bil’in when Burnat bought a camera to record the birth of his son Gibreel. Gibreel’s arrival, however, coincided with a period of great unrest in the area, which is witnessed by five video cameras, each subsequently damaged by bullets or rocks. A Kino Lorber release.
GENERATION P (Victor Ginzburg, Russia)
Ginzburg’s GENERATION P could be described as a metaphysical Mad Men from the go-go 1990s – a wonderland of images and ideas that emerged from the rebirth of a nation as a marketer’s paradise. The film offers a “view” of post-Communist Russia as the arrival of democracy and Pepsi-Cola brought the advance of capitalism with all of its mechanisms and fuzzy messages.
HEMEL (Sacha Polak, The Netherlands/Spain)
A sexually aggressive woman is a dangerous thing — or at least that’s what we’ve been led to believe. Images of the vamp, the damaged innocent, and the prostitute are staples of cinema, but what about the woman who uses sex as a distraction or comfort and isn’t hung up on emotional attachments? Filmmakers have largely ignored her story. This is what makes Hemel such a discovery. Hannah Hoekstra plays a strongwilled, complicated, and vulnerable heroine who longs (perhaps too much) to connect with her elusive father and ultimately find herself. The film follows her raw investigation of both physical and intellectual intimacy.
IT LOOKS PRETTY FROM A DISTANCE (Anka and Wilhelm Sasnal, Poland)
A Polish village virtually cut off from civilization and seemingly on the verge of dissolution serves as the setting for this brooding, almost wordless drama. The rough and impassive Pawel makes a living scavenging for scrap metal. There’s bad blood between him and the “community”.
OMAR KILLED ME (Roschdy Zem, France)
Actor-turned-director Roschdy Zem’s OMAR KILLED ME tells a story of racism, politics, and injustice with the clarity of a documentary and the pacing of a thriller. When a rich widow was murdered in the south of France 20 years ago, her Moroccan gardener was convicted and jailed with no evidence; it took a committed journalist to try to unravel the rush to judgment that laid bare the racism that was hidden in the French justice system.
OSLO, AUGUST 31ST (Joachim Trier, Norway)
Daylight lingers at the end of August in Oslo, but sunlight is not a friend to Anders, a semi-recovered addict, facing a new life, which may not be appealing without former habits. Adapted from the same novel as Louis Malle’s THE FIRE WITHIN (1963), Joachim Trier’s OSLO, AUGUST 31ST follows Anders as he tries to adjust – making love, wandering through Oslo, having a job interview, seeing old friends, and trying to get comfortable with his situation. A Strand Releasing Film.
TEDDY BEAR (Mads Matthiesen, Denmark)
This teddy bear is quite a sight: a gentle giant of a bodybuilder named Dennis, who sculpts his muscles by day and lives quietly at home with his mom at night. At 38, Dennis wants a girlfriend badly, and despite his mother’s resistance (she is a master of emotional manipulation) and his own profound awkwardness, he leaves on a journey to Thailand to find his true emotional core.
THE AMBASSADOR (Mads Brugger, Denmark)
The consummate agent-provocateur–his method fittingly described as “Graham Greene meets Borat”–Brügger (THE RED CHAPEL, NDNF 2010) shocks and mightily entertains by performing an artistic intervention in reality using role-playing and hidden cameras to expose an awful truth.
THE MINISTER (Pierre Schöller, France)
French politicians have been in the news a lot lately, making this breathless political thriller especially timely. A cabinet minister in charge of national transportation believes himself to be a man of the people. He wants to be good, but in order to get anything done he must compromise, cajole, bend, and even betray.
THE RABBI'S CAT (Joann Sfar & Antoine Delesvaux, France/Austria)
Adapted from the graphic novels of Joann Sfar, The Rabbi’s Cat is a vivid, lively, and imaginative animated film co-directed by Sfar and Antoine Delesvaux. The story takes place once upon a time (not too long ago) in Algiers, where Jewish and Islamic communities existed in relative peace and rabbis and mullahs could be friends.
TWILIGHT PORTRAIT (Angelina Nikonova, Russia)
Twilight Portrait is a powerhouse collaboration co-written and co-produced by Angelina Nikonova, who directed, and Olga Dihovichnaya, who stars in this dark, provocative, and constantly surprising debut feature. In a modern Russian city where corruption, apathy, and class warfare are the norm, a woman is raped, rather casually, by the police. What follows explodes the conventions of sexual politics and will certainly have viewers talking. This staggering film features great performances and an unvarnished view of life in the age of Putin.
WHERE DO WE GO NOW? (Nadine Labaki, France/Lebanon/Italy)
Women of different religions in a remote Lebanese village band together and invent schemes to prevent their men from killing each other in the intractable religious conflict that surrounds their community. This entertaining and unlikely near-musical tears down stereotypes of women in the Middle East and uses humor to explore serious subjects, with one eye toward Aristophanes’ Lysistrata and the other toward Bollywood. Winning audience awards at the Toronto and San Sebastian Film Festivals after a successful premiere in Cannes, Labaki’s follow-up to the delicious Caramel is refreshing and unflinching.