Goings On

New Directors/New Films 2019

The Daily — Mar 27, 2019
Félix Maritaud in Camille Vidal-Naquet’s Sauvage (2018)

It’s a good day for the new issue of Cinema Scope to pop up online. Deragh Campbell is on the cover, and inside, she and codirector Sofia Bohdanowicz talk to Adam Nayman about their latest collaboration, MS Slavic 7. It’s one of twenty-four features slated to screen during the forty-eighth New Directors/New Films, opening today and running through April 7 at New York’s Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art. “In the space of just a few years,” writes Nayman, “Bohdanowicz has emerged as one of the most acclaimed and interesting English-Canadian filmmakers of millennial vintage, cultivating both a spare, poetic style and a recognizable set of preoccupations tied to female creative experience and the simultaneous materiality and ephemerality of the past.”

MS Slavic 7, in which a real-life Polish poet’s letters inspire her great-granddaughter to assert herself as her literary executor, is one of two ND/NF titles I included in a roundup on the best of this year’s Berlinale. The other is Peter Parlow’s The Plagiarists, cowritten by James N. Kienitz Wilkins and Robin Schavoir, in which a passage from a fairly famous autobiographical novel sparks a young couple’s tedious yet somehow quite funny quibbling. The Plagiarists is “something like a conceptually baroque homage to the very films and filmmakers it is taking the piss out of,” writes Dan Sullivan. “Schavoir and Wilkins manage to have their cake and eat it, too: the provocations of their script and Wilkins’s uncanny editing structure—stitching together images of actors who never physically shared the same space—are inextricably bound up in its pleasures.”

The new Cinema Scope also features Jesse Cummings’s piece on Shengze Zhu’s Present.Perfect., which “offers an alternative concept of (self-)observation as mediated by digital technologies.” Gleaned from over 800 hours of live streams from “anchors” in China who trade viewers’ virtual gifts for cash, Present.Perfect. recently won the top prize, the Tiger Award, in Rotterdam.

Award Winners

Three award winners from this year’s Sundance anchor ND/NF 2019. Tonight’s opener is Chinonye Chukwu’s Clemency, winner of the grand jury prize in the U.S. Dramatic competition. Clemency stars Alfre Woodard as a prison warden on the verge of an emotional breakdown as she prepares to oversee her thirteenth execution. Alejandro Landes’s Monos, the winner of a special jury award, is the centerpiece screening. It’s a contemporary rendering of Lord of the Flies with teenage guerrillas holding an American engineer captive in the South American jungle. The closing night film will be Share, which scored a screenwriting prize for writer-director Pippa Bianco and an acting award for Rhianne Barreto, who plays a high-school sophomore who wakes up on her front lawn and has no idea how she got there—or what happened to her the night before.

There are two more Sundance winners in the program. Ljubo Stefanov and Tamara Kotevska’s debut feature, Honeyland, which took the grand jury prize in the World Cinema Documentary competition, focuses on a Macedonian beekeeper whose harmonious relationship with nature’s bounty is disrupted when a rowdy family moves onto a neighboring farm. And Luke Lorentzen won a cinematography award for Midnight Family, which he also directed and edited. The documentary tracks the lives of a family that struggles to make ends meet by driving a private ambulance in Mexico City. I took a look at the critical accolades for all five of these films right here.

I also gathered early impressions of Yeo Siew Hua’s A Land Imagined, a noir-tinged investigation into the case of a missing construction worker, when it won the Golden Leopard in Locarno last summer. Two ND/NF titles won awards in Venice: Sudabeh Mortezai won the Hearst Film Award for best female filmmaker and the Europa Cinemas Label prize for best European film when Joy, the story of a young Nigerian woman forced into prostitution in Vienna, premiered in Venice Days. And Phuttiphong Aroonpheng’s Manta Ray, winner of the top prize in the festival’s Orizzonti section, is the story of the friendship between a Thai fisherman and a mute Rohingya refugee from Myanmar. At Slant, Joshua Minsoo Kim notes that the Thai government’s “treatment of the refugees has been deplorable—human trafficking camps and mass graves have been found—and Manta Ray functions as an oblique portrait of Aroonpheng’s anger about the situation.”

Guide to the Guides

New York Times critics Manohla Dargis and A. O. Scott have selected eleven titles to recommend. Belonging opens with a “just-the-facts description of a murder,” notes Dargis, before writer-director Burak Cevik “flips the switch and the movie shifts into a more lyrical narrative register, one that fills in all the little nuances, most notably the intimate in-between moments that both explain and obscure so much.” One of Scott’s choices is Lila Avilés’s The Chambermaid, which sticks close to Eve (Gabriela Cartol) as she goes about her work cleaning in a high-rise hotel in Mexico City. “Our sense of exploitation and alienation is palpable,” writes Scott, “but the moments of beauty, tenderness and freedom that punctuate the drudgery provide flickers of humanity that feel almost miraculous.”

In the Notebook, Ela Bittencourt writes about three films, including Camille Vidal-Naquet’s Sauvage, a portrait of a gay hustler roaming the streets of Paris. “Not since Agnès Varda’s Vagabond (1985) has there been a film in which the main character drifts into willful dissolution with as much abandon and panache as Léo (Félix Maritaud, BPM),” writes Bittencourt.

Slant hasn’t gathered all its ND/NF reviews under one handy link, but if you poke around, you’ll find, for example, Ed Gonzalez on Lucio Castro’s End of the Century. For Gonzalez, this decades-spanning story of a relationship between Argentinian man from New York and a Spanish man from Berlin is “a profound and casually artful expression of the lengths to which people go in order to not have to embody their desires.”

The writers at the Film Stage have covered every film in the program, and one of the most intriguing—recommended by Manohla Dargis as well—looks to be Qiu Sheng’s Suburban Birds. Two stories, both set in the same suburban landscape, seem to be running parallel to each other, even intersecting now and again, though there’s also a hint that they’re taking place in different time periods. Mark Asch suggests that “viewers shouldn’t approach this ambiguously bifurcated narrative expecting the visual ambition or narrative invention of Bi Gan and Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Suburban Birds is more studious—even if Qiu is a student with real promise.” The young director manages to strike a harmony between “metaphorical form and naturalistic content, and the note he hits is rich and tantalizingly unresolved.”

Meantime, IndieWire’s contributors are previewing eight “must-see” titles, and Screen Slate has opened a rolling column where fresh reviews will be appearing throughout the festival. Topping that alphabetical stack is Angelo, Markus Schleinzer’s portrait of an African slave brought to the Viennese court in the eighteenth century. Cosmo Bjorkenheim suggests that Angelo plays as if François Truffaut’s The Wild Child (1970) “were given the Haneke treatment—not surprisingly, since Schleinzer worked with him several times as casting director.” 

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