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New York: New Directors / New Films 2012


            Among 28 international films and two shorts programs, presented in the 41st edition of New Directors/New Films series few would qualify as belonging to traditional genre films or reflecting Hollywood imprinted market oriented productions. To the contrary, the selection committee from the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art picked first or second feature films from relatively unknown directors identifying new trends in directorial and thematic approaches.  The six members choose these films over the last year at the Cannes, Berlin, Sundance and other top film festivals. It would be difficult to identify a major theme or directing approach underlying the ND/NF 2012 program. To the contrary the directors are eclectic and the range of their presentations spans despairing bleak stories as told by the Polish and Russian directors in IT LOOKS PRETTY FROM A DISTANCE and TWILIGHT PORTRAIT to truly poetic features like the Brazilian FOUND MEMORIES. On one hand we encountered manifold diverse stylistic and formal elements in the directorial tour de force of the American Terence Nance's AN OVERSIMPLIFICATION OF HER BEAUTY and but on the other an outstanding low cost production from France,   DONOMA shot on low grade HD for about $200 directed by the Paris-based Haitian director Djinn Carrenard. This self distributed film takes place in an urban setting and presents in a most plausible manner everyday experiences and conflicts of young members of immigrant underclass minority groups, experiences shaped by class and race issues.

            Some films did stand out. The Iranian film GOODBYE by Mohammad Rasoulof depicts a young woman trying to leave Iran using any measure possible. She is arrested by undercover police just few hours before her departure. The celebrated production THIS IS NOT A FILM by Jafar Panhai with whom Rasoulof shares the fate of persecution by Iranian censors comes to mind. GOODBYE is filmed with unpaid few actors in closed settings to avoid authorities, yet it offers a more convincing picture of oppression in Iran than Panhai's film does. An equally bleak story, though told from a different perspective by Anka and Wilhelm Sasnal is offered in the Polish film IT LOOKS PRETTY FROM A DISTANCE. Set in an isolated but beautiful wooden area it depicts the fate of the scrap metal dealer Pawel. The grimness of the story is reinforced by the imagery of dysfunctional families with physically or mentally disabled members. The disheveled villagers seem to be disconnected from any sense of community, civility or moral fiber. When Pawel disappears they team up to strip his house from all possession and destroy it but the villagers are pious and well dressed when attending the communal church service. Pawel is killed when he returns unexpectedly.  K. Taras characterizes the production as a film about selfless evil that may reveal itself in any time and space regardless of the political system.

            Angelina Nikonovan's TWILIGHT PORTRAIT takes place in a Russian urban context mirroring pervasive corruption and hate of authorities. The lead character is a married social worker from an upscale business background who specializes in child abuse. One day she is robbed and having no identity papers raped by several policemen. Looking for revenge she succeeds in tracking down the commanding officer in a seedy restaurant she has frequented since the robbery.  But in a bizarre twist of the story which runs counter to standard patterns of sexual relations and their interpretation, she ends up having passionate sex with him and moves into his decrepit flat. Whenever she declares her love for him he beats her up. She leaves him but refuses to rejoin her husband. The rapist follows her with the film leaving the story open ended.

            Two outstanding Brazilian films were included this year. Though they differed strongly in texture, composition, photography and storytelling, they were among the best selections. NEIGHBORING SOUNDS by Kleber Medonca Filho covers in a semi-documentary non-staged approach the everyday life of interconnected families living in a middle class street, close to the poor side of the town. Revealing socio-economic contradictions pervading the area, Filho does a superb job depicting the urban communities. He shows the anxieties and pervasive fear of violence of its members, the survival strategies they have developed, and their idiosyncratic behavior. This realistic presentation of the social landscapes of masters and servants and their inner and outer tensions is captured through superb photography, convincing acting and, excellent soundtrack and humorous subplots. One of the  protagonists  engages in  a sex act with a washing machine leads and fights a never ending battle with the constant barking of a neighbor's dog using sleeping pills and ultrasound.  In this neighborhood we meet extended and small families and local apartment building dwellers.  The story includes street security guards who offer their services and are hired because of the fear of crime. In short this is as a slice of Brazilian life without embellishments or cosmetic covers. The only drawback of this enjoyable production is the sudden brief sequence shortly before the film ends when two security guards apparently try to revenge the death of their father. Yet an explosion of firecrackers chasing away the dog actually ends the film on lighter note.

            The film which impressed me most was Julia Murat's FOUND MEMORIES (as originally titled ‘stories that only exist when remembered') a co-production of Argentine, Brazil and France. Probably no greater contrast could exist between this film and NEIGHBORING SOUNDS.  Found Memories also provides a realistic presentation. This portrait of a small village community   excels through its magic imagery as propelled by superb natural day light photography and the use of gas lamps at night time. The dark sepia tones of evening and night sequences are reminiscent of Old Dutch paintings. The story depicts a small community of about a dozen old villagers who live in the settings from their youth dating from the last century and spend their   everyday life in highly routinized redundant behavior. There is little communication between them since time has left them behind and their memories are buried, locked up in the past. As Antonio, owner of a coffee shop with barren shelves puts it, the village priest who has closed the cemetery no longer records names of people passed away since those living forgot to die.  A young photographer Rita arrives in the ghost village and through her friendship with Madalena prompts the release of long hidden memories seemingly bringing the old villagers back to live in the present. Rita records black and white photos with a camera she built similar to those used a long time ago. Superimposing them on the other village photos she achieves stunning results. This first feature by Julia Murat gains its strength not only through the magical ‘photo-poetic' imagery but also through the dialogues of the elderly villagers which are actually based on many interviews which the director carried out with old people in the desolate region where the film takes pace.

            The 2012 selections of New Directors / New Films confirm that international cinema is well.  About a third of the selected titles have been picked up already for theatrical distribution. Some of films may not go beyond specialized internet platforms and the film festival circuit. Yet inclusion in the 2012 ND/NF screenings provides important public recognition. With their topical scope and artistic scope these captivating films assured the critical success of the 2012 ND/NF program.


Claus Mueller


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