• [The Daily] New Directors/New Films 2018 #2

    By David Hudson

    Goodmanners04022018_large


    Updates are still coming into the first entry on this year’s New Directors/New Films running at the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. This entry will take us all the way through to the end of the festival on April 8.

    A Violent Life (Thierry de Peretti)
    April 2 and 3

    As noted in last week’s entry, though James Kang will sadly no longer be updating Critics Round Up, we still have the archives. The entry on Thierry de Peretti’s A Violent Life, which premiered at Critics’ Week in Cannes last year, points us to reviews in the Hollywood Reporter, Screen, and Variety. Fabien Lemercier has reviewed the film as well for Cineuropa.

    Icarus Films notes that A Violent Life “focuses on the violent nationalist struggles that plagued director Thierry de Peretti’s native land Corsica in the 1990s. Stéphane (Jean Michelangeli) moves to Paris to flee his past. The death of a former comrade brings back memories of his transformation from a middle-class youth with conventional aspirations to a radicalized activist with dangerous ties. Stéphane returns to Corsica for his friend’s funeral, knowing that this trip could cost him his life.”

    Update, 4/3: For Leonardo Goi at the Film Stage, A Violent Life “captures a topic seldom shown on the big screen, but a few scattered hints of old and recent mafia classics aside (from Coppola’s Godfather trilogy to the Aldo Munzi’s 2014 Black Souls), the end result never quite feels like the gripping thriller it could have been.”

    Update, 4/6: At the Playlist, Joe Blessing notes that “few films have the courage and intelligence to show the incredibly messy reality of attempting to replace an entrenched modern government. The complexity of A Violent Life will be difficult for many viewers, but this true-to-life moral intricacy is also what makes it such a valuable portrait of Corsica.”

    Cocote (Nelson Carlo de los Santos Arias)
    April 3 and 4

    Critics Round Up.

    “Oral tradition, the particular cadence and expressions of Spanish spoken in the Dominican Republic, syncretist death rituals, class politics, a rooster announcing the coming of Christ, and the remnants of colonialism—these are but some of the elements that encircle Nelson Carlo De Los Santos Arias’s Cocote,” writes Caroline Gil at Screen Slate. “Cocote, along with 2014’s Sand Dollars and 2016’s El sitio de los sitios, is further indication that Dominican film is undergoing a long-awaited flourishing as a powerful voice in Caribbean and world cinema.”

    “The film follows Alberto (Vicente Santos), an evangelical Christian who returns to his hometown after receiving news of his father’s murder,” writes Lawrence Garcia at In Review Online. “Although Alberto intends only to be present for his father’s burial, he ends up participating in Rezos, a nine-day mourning ritual (which goes against his beliefs), and slowly getting drawn in by his family’s desire to punish the corrupt officials responsible for the murder.”

    Cocote is “a dazzling collage of styles and approaches in which every scene—practically every shot—feels different from the one that came before,” writes Keith Watson at Slant. “Evoking the restless unpredictability of a late-period Jean-Luc Godard film, de Los Santos Arias's images shift form almost constantly—from film to video, from black and white to color, from widescreen to full frame—as the writer-director experiments with a vast array of aesthetic stylings, everything from slow-cinema stillness to ethnographic vérité to lustrous film noir. The result is an invigorating, if slightly exhausting, parade of near-perpetual innovation, in which the only constant is the filmmaker's stylistic dynamism.”

    Update, 4/3: Introducing his interview with De los Santos Arias for the Notebook, Alejandro Veciana argues that “what makes Cocote so unique is not just its portrayal of the often-forgotten communities of Dominican Republic, but its radical use of cinematic language.”

    Update, 4/14: At the Playlist, Bradley Warren finds Cocote to be “truly emblematic of the blurring of genres and forms at cinema’s front lines.”

    The Great Buddha+ (Huang Hsin-yao)
    April 3 and 4

    Critics Round Up.

    “No, the title is not a typo,” writes IndieWire’s David Ehrlich: “it’s a reference to a smartphone model, digital camera technology being at the cold, dark heart of Huang Hsin-yao’s morbidly funny fiction debut. Introducing us to a bored security guard named Pickle and his best friend Belly Button, the film kicks into gear when the two of them start watching the surprisingly high-quality dash cam footage that Pickle’s boss has stored in his Mercedes. What starts as a lark quickly gives way to an acidic swirl of high-class shenanigans, as the car’s hard drive is hiding all sorts of damning sleaze.”

    “Using a moody, noirish monochrome palette (punctuated with garish swatches of color video) and mordant, monotone voice-over narration (interrupted by stretches of deadpan dialogue), Huang Hsin-yao composes a dark satire of corruption and class resentment in Taiwan,” writes A. O. Scott in the New York Times.

    In Chicago, Asian Pop-Up Cinema will present The Great Buddha+ on Thursday and writing for the Cine-List, Scott Pfeiffer notes that it “begins like a playful, crass comedy. So how did it wind up stirring me so deeply? In 2017, this film won five coveted Golden Horses, including best new director and best cinematography, the latter for Chung Mong-hong's gorgeous deep-focus black-and-white imagery—stark and noirish. It plays at times like the missing link between the New Taiwanese Cinema of the '80s and Beavis and Butthead.

    “An unaddressed, unresolved, and unsettling aspect about the film that should be addressed is its female characters,” writes Rowena Santos Aquino at VCinema: “practically all the women in the film are sexual objects for high/er ranking men in politics and culture. If indeed Huang had meant for the film to be a kind of essay film about the Taiwanese economy, then perhaps this aspect is understandable; it could be read as a direct commentary on such treatment of women. Otherwise, it is sadly distasteful, presented in such a glaring way as a given.”

    Huang “interjects his own literal voice throughout the film, as narrator, which helps elevate The Great Buddha+ from a mere exercise in cynicism to more of the director’s personal meditation on the helplessness he feels as a person and an artist working within a bleak sociopolitical system,” writes Paul Attard at In Review Online.

    At Screen Slate, Danielle Burgos finds “plenty of open ends and supernatural overtones, but it’s the brief moments of human connection before the sad fates of people too small to count that ground” The Great Buddha+.

    Update, 4/3: “Though the satire Huang employs here is charming, it conflicts sharply with the atmosphere of hopeless melancholy,” finds Jason Ooi at the Film Stage. “In juggling the two, Huang never quite manages to do justice to either tone. As a result, the film can feel a bit messy and occasionally frustrating. The same applies to the politics of the film, which are flaunted boldly, yet connected only tenuously.”

    Update, 4/7: “It takes us to that strange, experiential space where we are so unnerved by the perversity and basic wrong-ness of what we’ve seen that we can’t help but laugh to quiet the unease,” writes Justin Hong for Subtitle. “The Great Buddha+ takes us to this space precisely by prodding at our uniquely modern anxieties surrounding the image’s capacity to salvage truth and, consequently, justice in an era that has seemingly reached peak image saturation.”

    Shorts Program 2
    April 3 and 5

    The program: Christos Massalas’s Copa-Loca, Caroline Poggi and Jonathan Vinel’s After School Knife Fight, Sam Kuhn’s Möbius, and Carlos Conceição’s Bad Bunny.

    Black Mother (Khalik Allah)
    April 4 and 7

    See the separate entry posted earlier today.

    Djon África (João Miller Guerra and Filipa Reis)
    April 4 and 6

    “Guerra and Reis’s first feature riffs on their previous documentary Li Ké Terra, recasting protagonist Miguel Moreira as a fictional version of himself still getting by, living undocumented in Portugal,” writes Danielle Burgos. “Whatever names he uses here, Miguel, Tibar, Djon Africa, he’s marked by a man he never knew—strangers on the street recognize him as his father’s son. Curious about his heredity, perhaps curious for the first time in his laid-back life, Miguel heads to Cape Verde to track down his father based on grudging clues from his maternal grandmother, who chides he’s running away just when he could finally be of use.”

    “A road movie that passes through the thickets of Portugal’s imperialist past and present-day Cape Verde, it mixes longing with exuberance, and finds an anarchic sense of possibility in a world of pain and injustice,” writes A. O. Scott.

    Update, 4/11: “Every encounter becomes tedious in its uneventfulness; even during the most lavish of parties, or the most solemn of introspective moments, the mundane approach taken by Guerra and Reis gives little interiority to their star, who in contrast has given them so much of himself,” writes Paul Attard at In Review Online.

    Update, 4/14: “Through the expressive performance of Miguel Moreira and the keen eye of the directors, Djon África is a terrific evocation of a character and of a place through his perspective,” writes Joe Blessing at the Playlist.

    Drift (Helena Wittmann)
    April 5 and 7

    “Wittmann’s sparse narrative of two friends before and after a weekend together along the North Sea serves as backdrop to her sonic and visual textures which hypnotically capture the terror and splendor of the tides,” writes Patrick Dahl at Screen Slate. “Without bludgeoning her audiences with truisms, Wittmann presents an invitation to consider our triangular relationship to other people and the Earth. Among countless gorgeous, mysterious images is a truly spellbinding final shot worth the price of admission alone.”

    “In a move that reaffirms its structuralist concerns,” writes Carson Lund at Slant, “the film concludes on a bald-faced homage to Michael Snow's Wavelength: a scientifically precise zoom to a specified point on a wall that transports us back in time and space. Are we ever in only one place at any given moment? Drift offers stirring audiovisual evidence of the idea that, emotionally and spiritually, we never are.”

    Update, 4/6: “While some may shrug at its slow pace, wordless narration and sea-sickening lulling camerawork, Wittmann’s debut is a visually entrancing, one-of-a-kind experience,” writes Leonardo Goi for the Film Stage. More from Christian Gallichio at the Playlist.

    Update, 4/11: “Like the immersion into a milieu found in a film like Pedro González-Rubio’s Alamar, though even more abstracted, Drift is an accomplished exercise in tonal control and aural-visual interplay,” finds Charles Lyons-Burt at In Review Online.

    Good Manners (Marco Dutra and Juliana Rojas; image at the top)
    April 5 and 6

    “Even as Juliana Rojas and Marco Dutra’s rollicking second feature [after Hard Labor, 2011] revels in the classic tropes of horror and fantasy, it bends them into other genres with a freewheeling playfulness,” writes Devika Girish in the Notebook. “What starts as a slow-boiling social drama about two women from different ends of São Paolo’s class spectrum—the wealthy, white and pregnant Ana (Marjorie Estiano) and her newly-hired black maid Clara (Isabél Zuaa)—gradually segues into an intimate lesbian romance, and then transforms into a gory supernatural thriller.”

    Good Manners is a strange beast,” finds Jon Dieringer at Screen Slate: “a heartfelt social drama with major, albeit fleeting, genre elements and even a few musical numbers. This is to say nothing of the film’s intermittently idiosyncratic visual style, which rerenders parts of Sao Paolo’s cityscape with colorful matte paintings. Given the effectiveness of Rojas and Dutra’s more offbeat choices—which, at their best, suggest the dark fable-like quality of classic Disney films—one wishes the film wasn’t so evidently resistant to being pigeonholed and instead went full-bore on its weirdness. Instead we’re left with a mixed bag in which the themes of race and class seem underdeveloped beyond signifiers of outsiderness; the occasionally striking visually style is other times blandly static; and, at 135 minutes, it’s significantly overlong. But the lingering impression is of Zuaa’s excellence as a compassionate guardian.”

    Good Manners is an ambitious work not only in scope but design, influenced by Jacques Tourneur’s psychological horror noirs,” writes Jay Weissberg for Variety. “The ultra-high ceilings of Ana’s duplex recall Hollywood set designs from the 1940s, reinforced through the use of obvious matte backdrops for the view outside the balcony. Artificial lighting, especially in Clara’s neighborhood at night, helps to further create the sense of a hothouse environment.”

    “Rui Pocas and Fernando Zuccolotto render the interiors and exteriors of Sao Paulo—its classes divided by the Pinheiros River—via suitably fable-like stylizations, the impact heightened by the sinisterly delicate fairy-tale tones of Guilherme and Gustavo Garbato's classy, harp-heavy score,” adds Neil Young in the Hollywood Reporter.

    Updates, 4/11: “For all its fantasy tropes, werewolves and blood-sucking sleepwalkers, Good Manners retains a realistic and heartwarming tone,” finds Leonardo Goi at the Film Stage.

    “Unfortunately, the film gearshifts once the monster baby is born and embraces some conventions of the horror genre that betray the more methodical build-up of its central relationship,” writes Paul Attard at In Review Online. “It’s a shame that Rojas and Dultra take this path in part because the tyranny of the upper class is far more terrifying than any CGI-laden creature they can conjure up.”

    Those Who Are Fine (Cyril Schäublin)
    April 5 and 7

    Cyril Schäublin’s “delightful dry comedy” Those Who Are Fine “is ostensibly about a woman who swindles the elderly out of their savings by posing as a wayward granddaughter,” writes Calum Marsh in the Village Voice, “but on the edges of the plot Schäublin stages long, placid conversations about long-distance calling plans and the range of mobile Wi-Fi hotspots and data packages. The sheer monotony of the chats is hilarious. In one scene a man describes to a painstaking extent which territories are included as part of his international roaming service; in another, a bank clerk reads a sixty-three-character Wi-Fi password aloud to a customer—and then reads it again in full when it doesn’t work. It rings true. Doesn’t so much of what we talk about now amount to the same garbled mundane code?”

    “With its grifter narrative wrapped in a keenly tuned festival-movie aesthetic, Those Who Are Fine suggests a loose analogy to the Dardenne films infused with crime tropes,” writes Jon Dieringer, “albeit from a radically different, exacting formal approach. In its understated manner, Those Who Are Fine is blazingly insistent in its portrayal of modern alienation—the kind of movie that employs obliquely framed action isolated within harshly canted modern architecture in shots impeccably timed to last just a little too long before abruptly cutting to symmetrical closeups of affectless characters.”

    Filmmaker’s Vadim Rizov finds it to be “a very Now movie in the most morbid sense. If anything, Schäublin is a little too clear about what’s going on: training his gaze on characters outdoors from beyond-surveillance-camera distances, he contrasts the elderly and none-too-tech-savvy getting defrauded with civilians pulled aside by police checking bags in the wake of a bomb threat, a juxtaposition in which both individual participants and systems can repeatedly invade the security of, harass or otherwise mess with a too-complacent populace. The point, however, is well-taken and the film morbidly amusing: the hell we live in now, but more so, captured with impeccably discipline for the mundane.”

    Those Who are Fine may be set in the present, but its subtle uncanniness makes it feel like near-future sci-fi,” writes Jessica Kiang for Variety. “The art background shared by Schäublin and his close collaborator and cinematographer Silvan Hillmann is in evidence in the film’s ascetic, stylized formalism, which contributes to the film’s icily dehumanized (in)expressiveness.”

    Update, 4/4: “Films about surveillance, such as Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville (1965) or Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation (1974), foreground material technologies such as room computers and audio recorders,” writes Sonia Shechet Epstein at Sloan Science & Film. “According to historian of science Dr. Sheila Jasanoff, ‘this was related to the mid-century fears about the state and technology operating together.’ In Those Who Are Fine, set in the present day, there need be nothing bigger than a smartphone or more revealing than a Facebook profile.”

    Update, 4/7: “The Zurich depicted here seems devoid of air and light, a cold and dystopian society in which people go about their daily lives with robotic regularity,” writes Frank Scheck in the Hollywood Reporter. “The modernistic architecture is similarly forbidding, providing a bleak environment that DP Silvan Hillman often shoots from high above to accentuate its large scale and lack of warmth. . . . Fortunately, the film provides enough doses of sly, subtle humor to make its medicine go down more smoothly.”

    Notes on an Appearance (Ricky D’Ambrose)
    April 6 and 7

    “From the coffeeshops and bookstores of Brooklyn comes Ricky D’Ambrose’s austere, bewildering, and unyieldingly cerebral Notes on an Appearance, an anti-mystery in the tradition of L’Avventura assembled with the cool reserve of Robert Bresson,” writes Calum Marsh. “An exercise in patient observation, a study of faces and gestures and hand-written memoranda, the movie seems interested in the sorts of things other movies cut out—the gaps between actions, the things that might happen but don’t.”

    “The spare, incident-by-incident diaries left behind by disappeared protagonist David (Bingham Bryant)—who literally walks out of the movie in an extended street shot one third of the way in—are contextualized by subway and city maps establishing each next location,” writes Vadim Rizov. “The subject of his friend’s study, super-agitationist philosopher Stephen Taubes (Stephen F. Cohen), makes up the other strand. There are home videos taken by Taubes and, rather dazzlingly, an array of mocked-up books written by and documentation on him: a New York Times obit by William Grimes, book reviews in the NYRB and another in Harper’s, Louis Menand in ‘Critic at Large’ mode in the New Yorker, down on through the Washington Post and New York Post. The amount of layout pastiche, all in a particular pocket of media consumption, is almost counterproductively impressive.”

    “The paucity of expository detail in Notes . . . turns every image into a sign, offering temptingly bare, sunlit surfaces on which to project meaning,” writes Devika Girish in the Notebook. “As such, the film has been interpreted in varying ways by critics: as a skewering of the hermetic world of academia, an allegory about young people contending with late capitalism, and an ode to the ever-changing scape of New York City. As the plurality of readings indicates, the one thing Notes is inarguably concerned with is the act of meaning-making.”

    I’ve been collecting notes on Notes in the third Berlinale 2018 Diary entry, and here are the links for quick reference: Neil Bahadur, Phil Coldiron (Cinema Scope), Greg Cwik (Slant), David Perrin (Berlin Film Journal), Michael Sicinski, and for Senses of Cinema, Brigitta Wagner interviews D’Ambrose, Ted Fendt, and their producer, Graham Swindoll.

    Updates, 4/6: Notes “reflects a conflict-riddled, vigorously self-deluding intellectual realm where the ideal, grand-scale stakes bear the weight of immediate passion and the local, personal stakes remain disturbingly, bewilderingly remote,” writes the New Yorker’s Richard Brody. “But D’Ambrose’s ardent intellectualism is a sublime comedic mask. For all his gleeful fabrication of a realm of cultural aspirations and achievements, his subject is the mysteries that elude dialectics and disputations, the ones that animate the artistic, aesthetic impulse that his movie both exalts and embodies.”

    For Frank Scheck in the Hollywood Reporter, Notes “proves far too elliptical to be of much more than academic interest.” More from Christian Gallichio at the Playlist.

    Our House (Yui Kiyohara)
    April 6 and 8

    “The conceit suggests a horror movie,” writes A. O. Scott. “A house in a small town on Japan’s coast has two sets of occupants—a single mother and her adolescent daughter; a single woman and a stranger afflicted with amnesia—who are unaware of each other’s existence. Are they ghosts? Inhabitants of different dimensions? It’s never made clear, and while the film, the feature debut of Yui Kiyohara, is haunting, it’s more disquieting than terrifying. Its texture is delicately emotional and boldly, eccentrically philosophical.”

    “Kiyohara doesn’t betray her background as a student of Kiyoshi Kurosawa,” writes Jon Dieringer, “and while she already has a masterful command of alienation and dread, Our House never veers into abject horror; instead, it balances the antiseptic and strange with a sense of play and wonder—yet always seems to circle back to a tenor of melancholic longing. Even if this brisk feature occasionally feels like a sustained exercise in tone rather than a fully realized feature, it is a truly remarkable one, and I’ll eagerly follow Kiyohara wherever she heads next.”

    “Whereas Lynch or Kurosawa might have doubled down on the nightmarish implications of an imploding multiverse,” suggests Dan Sullivan in Film Comment, “Kiyohara more restrainedly traces a bridge between two realities that reverberates with the ghostly echoes of what could have been, what might be, and what will or won’t be in an obscure future.”

    Haven’t found a trailer with subtitles yet

    “Having shaken her audience out of its grass-is-green complacency, Kiyohara is reluctant (or unable) to deliver the scares of a good genre exercise,” writes Mark Schilling in the Japan Times. “But her interests lie elsewhere, in depicting the ways loneliness and alienation can distort the field we call reality until the afflicted start to feel the presence of unseen others and experience what rationally shouldn’t exist. She does this with a quiet assurance, supported by subtly spooky lighting and crisply composed visuals in traditional Japanese spaces, as though she’s been channeling Yasujiro Ozu as well as Kurosawa.”

    “Unanswered questions abound and potential plot threads dangle tantalizingly, recalling Fruit Chan’s The Midnight After, while the potential interrelations among possible realities point to a Hong Sangsoo comparison,” writes Sean Gilman at In Review Online. “Musical in structure and tone, the two stories weaving through each other and around a central lonely theme, director Yui Kiyohara cites Bach as an influence (there’s a bit of The Well-Tempered Clavier on the soundtrack).”

    At the Film Stage, Jason Ooi finds that “the narrative comes off a bit monotonous. Still, with strong pacing and enough satisfying plot developments scattered throughout, it never overstays its welcome.”

    Update, 4/3: “While emotionally uneven and at times lapsing into affected abstractions, Kiyohara certainly makes one take notice of a new voice/presence in independent Japanese cinema,” writes Rowena Santos Aquino at VCinema.

    Update, 4/11: For Lena Wilson at the Playlist, “while Our House occasionally loses sight of itself and could stand to take more risks, it offers a wholly original perspective on female friendship bolstered by precocious directorial acumen and a self-assured visuals.”

    The Nothing Factory (Pedro Pinho)
    April 7 and 8

    Critics Round Up.

    “In recent years, Portugal has emerged as a laboratory for cinematic experimentation, yielding fascinating and ambitious hybrids of documentary and fiction that tackle the country’s colonial legacy, its cultural traditions, the state of its working class and much more,” writes A. O. Scott.The Nothing Factory, an astonishing film by Pedro Pinho, extends this tradition. It’s an almost clinical study of working conditions and labor discontent, set at an elevator factory whose employees are in conflict with management. It’s also a musical. Mr. Pinho, shooting in 16-millimeter film, fuses nostalgia with a militant sense of novelty.”

    The workers go on strike, but it soon “becomes clear that the selfishness of some in accepting payoffs will ruin the chances for collective bargaining to prevail,” as Diego Semerene explains at Slant. “This tale of worker dissatisfaction is built around the purposeful absence of heroes. Its main character is the factory, a site of nothingness in lieu of workers ceasing to act as a collective. . . . They argue about the logic of the commodity, machines, Marx, mass movements, micro decisions, ecologically sustainable capitalism, and alternatives to the barbarisms of the market. . . . Such a cerebral approach works better during sequences that are less dependent on narrative and more essayistic in nature.”

    Update, 4/11: “This is the kind of film that recognizes the traditions it’s working in (a filmmaker character serves as a stand-in for auto-critique) and that mines them for maximum, though occasionally exhausting effect,” writes Lawrence Garcia at In Review Online. “All told, Pinho uses this debut as a means to give a resolute middle-finger to the very notion of marketability, allowing the film to stand as its own strange, singular object.”

    Nervous Translation (Shireen Seno)
    April 7 and 8

    “Life is reduced to the tiniest details for eight-year-old Yael in Nervous Translation, an understated yet appealing imagined-memory piece set in Manila in the late 1980s,” writes Jay Weissberg for Variety. “Imagined because director-writer Shireen Seno evokes a time and place she never knew, with a young girl whose father works abroad and whose cold mother pines for her husband’s presence. Seno strips everything down to Yael’s experiences, keeping the focus on the world the young girl created and can control, unlike the world of adult dynamics that are so difficult to read for a lonely child who senses more than she understands. The result is a fragile, well-made and engaging film.”

    “Yael’s world comprises the house–a physical space dressed up but without character–and her education,” writes Jason Ooi at the Film Stage. “A comfortable life unbesieged by the struggles of those poorer classes come at the cost of a broken family unit with a missing, invisible father who provides financially but fails emotionally. Her alienation from the setting is achingly clear, and soon, the vast spaces become claustrophobic. Seno’s formal experimentation does wonders, though occasionally feels too egregious, especially near the end.”

    Updates, 4/6: “It’s a mark of Seno’s ingenuity to depict the movie’s minuscule moments with dramatic urgency, to invest them with an intricately detailed intimacy, centered on Agoncillo’s poised, alert performance,” writes the New Yorker’s Richard Brody. “Yael’s quiet energy and constant, inventive industriousness fills the movie with micro-incidents that Seno observes with vast, playful, and resonantly perceptive visual variety. . . . Nervous Translation accomplishes a diverse range of rare cinematic feats—it’s among the best recent evocations of a child’s life and thought, and among the most sophisticated fusions of culture and character.”

    “At times,” writes Rowena Santos Aquino at VCinema, “with the bop of the electronic music and quirky images, sometimes presented in quick montages, the film feels like a music video caught in a loop, as quickly forgotten by a child (and spectator) as the last situation or activity upon entering into another.”

    Update, 4/11: “While the storytelling of Nervous Translation never quite finds its footing, there is much to appreciate with Seno’s original and ambitious project in spite of its lack of cohesion,” finds Kyle Kohner at the Playlist.

    Hale County This Morning, This Evening (RaMell Ross)
    April 7 and 8

    I put together a first round when Hale County premiered at Sundance, and there’s an entry at Critics Round Up, too.

    The film “elliptically traces years in the lives of two African-American teenagers, Quincy Bryant and Daniel Collins,” writes Sierra Pettengill. “In fragmentary glimpses that feel both intimately lived-in and aesthetically experimental and avoid any traditional notions of neat resolution, Ross tackles history, birth, death and the body in imagery that’s radical in its banality, transmitting images rarely received of American black communities.”

    “Mr. Ross focuses on work, school, parenthood and other ordinary experiences, but his method is the opposite of prosaic,” writes A. O. Scott. “He glimpses arresting, at times almost hallucinatory beauty in the rural Alabama landscape, and finds nuances of emotion that grow in intensity over seventy-five heady minutes. The movie is framed by a bluntly political question—as the film’s website puts it, ‘How does one express the reality of individuals whose public image, lives and humanity originate in exploitation?’—that yields pure cinematic poetry.”

    Hale County is most forthrightly an experiment in framing, as Ross, himself a former athlete, shot the documentary over five years while coaching basketball and teaching G.E.D. courses,” notes Christopher Gray at Slant. “And despite his evidently close relationships with his subjects, the film isn’t constructed around major life events or any easily identifiable A-to-B trajectory. The mere eschewal of narrative thrust itself has profound implications. . . . Much of the film transpires around social gatherings on public sites—parking lots, schools, churches, and front and backyards—and the interactions Ross captures suggest lives so intertwined that the presence of a camera and a filmmaker couldn't possibly alter or disrupt them.”

    Devika Girish in the Notebook: “Even the more standard documentary elements of the film are impeccably stylized; when Daniel speaks into the camera about his aspirations and ambitions, he is shot in tight close-ups and lit in neon-purples and glistening pinks. This lush formalism has the effect of redirecting the viewer’s attention from the objects of the camera’s gaze to its modes of seeing, gesturing repeatedly towards Hale County’s central preoccupation with ‘framing’ as both a filmic and a cultural exercise.”

    Update, 4/6: “Following in the footsteps of Terrence Malick, Ross captures moments, big and small, with fragmentary imagery devoid of specific context, which gives the film a sense of the universal,” writes Tanner Tafelski at Hyperallergic.

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