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Claus Mueller is a Film Festival Ambassador to filmfestivals.com

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New Directors / New Films 2017

 

Since 1972 the New Directors / New Films festival has been organized each year  by the Museum of Modern Art and the Film Society of Lincoln Center. The festival has introduced to a discerning audience the most innovative new directors and new films, frequently showing the first or second feature of an emerging director. Held from March 15-26 its 46th edition  the festival presented in 63 screenings 29 feature and 9 short films from 30 countries including the USA, France, Brazil, South Korea, CanadaGermany, United  Kingdom, Argentine, Poland, India, and China. It is noteworthy that 12 of the features shown were co-productions with some involving countries relatively new to film productions such as Qatar, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, Nepal, and Mali with the UAE involved in 3 co-productions. Eleven films were US Premieres and the two features reviewed below, The Future Perfect from Argentine and Sexy Durga from India were winners of the best first feature film and  main competition in Locarno and Rotterdam respectively.

 

It is certainly difficult to find a common distinctive nominator for the films selected in the ND/NF festival. Many directors selected by the festival over the last decades are now established film makers. Many films produced by female and minority directors found their first voice at the festival.  The distinguishing criterion of this annual program is its status as the reflexive cinema with respect to the themes and execution of the films. Though some of the films are also entertaining, reflecting about the film rather than consuming it is essential. In other words what happens in our minds after we see the film is essential.

 

Beach Bums, Eliza Hittman, USA  2017     

There are few professional actors in this film with most were of the performances coming from newcomers found through street casting. A sense of intimacy and authenticity is created through camera closeups in frequently tight settings such as homes. Though the narrative of the careless leisure activities and portraits of young males could easily result in clichés, the film carefully avoids them. There is little exaggeration in Beach Bums and the story is carried forward with restrained tensions. The story is centered on four teenagers focusing specifically on Frankie who is reluctantly facing his gay sexuality. They are all out of school having no work, just looking for good times in the confines of Brooklyn, its fireworks and the beach.   Frankie does not reveal his sexual orientation to his friends but when he mentions it they do not seem to be surprised, though he tries to hide it behind labelling his encounters with men as trades where he gets weed in exchange for sex. Much of his time is spend on the computer reviewing gay chatroom sites looking for potential partners.  One spontaneous beach encounter and an interaction with a bartender do not involve drugs. He suggests to his friends to lure a man who has weed to the beach and rob him, an action they carry out.  Frankie has a reluctant relation with a girl friend who eventually breaks up with him. There is a related detachment from his mother who asks him to leave because of his drug habits. Frankie presents a certain ambiguity since he does not openly acknowledge that he is gay.         

 

Future Perfect,  Nele Wohlatz, Argentine, 2016

An original and unique concept drives this film which evolves on several levels. The narrative is constructed around the acquisition of language, verbal articulation and the transposition of language into real life action. A small group of foreign students learn Spanish and the film captures the class instruction with students acting out the roles featured in their textbooks which they have memorized. The longer they are in the class the better their presentation. At the same time the film presents them in real life scenes and blurs the lines between text book recitation and actual real life practice. Prompted by questions and cues from the instructor, different scenarios are played out by the principal character Xiaobin. She is a young Chinese woman who joins her family in Argentine. The father is a cook and her mother a laundry worker. Her parents communicate in Chinese only and their command of Spanish is limited. Xiaobin starts learning Spanish in a small language course, but her Spanish language skills area so broken that she loses her first job working in a restaurant. The next job as a cashier works out and she is befriended by an immigrant Indian computer programmer, Vijay, and starts living with him. Her parents take most of the money she earns and expect her to get married to a Chinese person whom they select. Vijay wants her to marry him and she is caught up by inevitable tensions. She starts working in the laundry. In one sequence she is confronted by a woman who claims to be married to her Indian boyfriend. She moves out.  When her instructor asks her what she would do if her parents discover her liaison with an Indian man, three detailed scenarios are enacted in real life. She would break up the relation or her parents would kill him and are arrested or she gets happily married to him. The audience can decide what actually happens. The director was a foreign language teacher in Latin America and drew her experiences to craft this intriguing story. The progress of Xiaobin’s language acquisition parallels her growing social immersion in Argentine and opens her to possibilities and perspectives alien to her parents.

 

Sexy Durga, Sanal Kumar Sasodharan, India, 2016     

The feature offers an unusual experience as there was no script which provides a continuous narrative basis with a clear beginning and conclusion, rather the segments are mostly improvised by the non-professional actors.  A young couple, Durga and Kabeer, are picked up at night time by a van driven by two men offering a ride.  During the trip the van makes stops picking up three other men. They all seem to know each other, frequently using a language the couple does not understand. Early on Durga shows fear of their company and wants to get out of the van but her companion Kabeer is reluctant to do so. When they can get out and walk away on the road the van catches up and the driver convinces them to get back in arguing that the road at night is very dangerous. There seems to be no exit from the crowded van, the railway station is far away and the couple’s fear and anxiety builds to paranoia. The last moment in their travel is the transformation of the van into a loud music box with hard rock blasting and glaring neon tubes  attached to  the inside and outside of the van. To make matters worse the five men have donned large ferocious masks, narrowing the space in the van further and exchange loud incomprehensible utterances. The scene comes close to horror; Durga and Kabeer break out in tears and are allowed to leave.  Without a transition, the film turns to the imagery of the festival. For the couple the trip turns into a nightmare yet the men did not engage in any behavior justifying their fears. The film has not received permission to be shown in India because the name Durga refers to the Hindu goddess Shatki.

 

Lady  Macbeth,   William Oldroyd, UK, 2016   

The feature is an impressive achievement a first time film by the theatre director William Oldroyd. He adapts Nicolai Leskov’s Russian novel from 1845 Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District and sets the story into a remote area in 19th century northeast England.  The film provides s superb character portrait of innocent Katherine who was sold into marriage to Alexander, a man twice her age. Her character evolves from a submissive and oppressed wife to the dominant force in her household. She becomes more assertive as the story progresses and ends up controlling those surrounding her. When her impotent authoritarian husband leaves for a trip Katherine is told not to leave their home and to restrict her company to the maid, Anna, and Boris, her stern father-in-law. Instead of limiting herself, she immediately explores the estate and the surrounding fields and converses with all of the servants.  Breaking the social boundaries, Katherine starts a wild passionate affair with the servant Sebastian without trying to hide it, actually having him wear the clothing of her absent husband. She openly contradicts her father in law and he soon dies under mysterious circumstances, possibly poisoned. When her husband returns suddenly in the middle of the night she hides Sebastian in an adjoining room. Accused of adultery and bringing shame to the family name, she calls Sebastian back in and they have sex in front of him. Alexander is stunned by this sight and is killed by the couple. Sebastian buries Alexander’s in the woods and Katherine kills and disposes of Alexander’s horse. The bloodbath continues when a woman shows up with a little boy claiming that she has papers proving that her ward is the son of Alexander. Katherine allows her to move into the house with the young child. Katherine becomes a close friend of the woman, yet conspires with Sebastian to kill the ward. They succeed in suffocating him. At the inquest Sebastian shows up and confesses that they were responsible for the murders but Kathrine claims innocence and provides a detailed account of how he carried out all the killing. Sebastian has no evidence to contradict Katherine and the maid who knew about the affair remains silent. After all who would believe a colored maid? The faultless acting and casting of Lady Macbeth is impressive as is the correspondence of the mood and verbal exchanges with the cinematography. The film is a small masterpiece.

 

Claus Mueller,     filmexchange@gmail.com

 

 

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