Directors’ Fortnight Standouts

Eka Chavleishvili in Elene Naveriani’s Blackbird Blackbird Blackberry (2023)

The Directors’ Fortnight, founded by the French Directors Guild in 1969 after the tumult of 1968 shut Cannes down, is not a competitive program. Its partners, though, do give awards, and on Thursday, the Europa Cinemas Label gave its prize for Best European Film to Elena Martín Gimeno’s Creatura and the French Writers’ Guild presented its SACD Prize for the best movie in French to Pierre Creton’s A Prince.

In Creatura, Gimeno herself plays Mila, one half of a couple who have stopped having sex—but not for lack of trying. Writing for Screen, Nikki Baughan finds that “while it’s refreshing to see such an uninhibited portrayal of female sexuality, particularly one which explores the close relationship between guilt, shame, and desire, the film’s focus on the physical can overshadow its intriguing psychological themes.”

For the past three decades, Pierre Creton has been a farm worker in rural Normandy. He’s made around twenty films, and he calls A Prince his first work of fiction. It’s an “intensely personal and idiosyncratic film” that’s also “horny and almost idealistically queer,” writes Daniel Kasman in the Notebook. “Revolving around the slow rite of passage of a young gardener as he grapples with his professional calling and his sexual desires,” writes Clarence Tsui at the Film Verdict, “the film offers enigmatic drama delivered through elliptical storytelling, mixed with sporadic dollops of rapturous black humor.”

This year’s Directors’ Fortnight opened with Cédric Kahn’s The Goldman Case, a courtroom drama based on the real-life trial of leftist revolutionary Pierre Goldman. In 1976, Goldman was retried for four robberies—which he readily admitted taking part in—that led to two deaths, for which he denied any responsibility. Propelled by Arieh Worthalter’s “galvanizing, near-feral lead performance,” The Goldman Case “follows Alice Diop’s recent Saint Omer in offering a rigorous, documentary-inspired Gallic reworking of the legal drama template,” writes Guy Lodge for Variety. “Yet its take on the genre is alternately more austere—with the action, following a brief prologue in lawyers’ chambers, never leaving the tense confines of the court—and more rousingly traditional, sticking to a factual record that nonetheless permits momentary, Hollywood-style catharsis.”

Michel Gondry is back with his first feature since 2015’s Microbe & Gasoline. With The Book of Solutions, Gondry “offers his most explicit author surrogate yet, as well as his harshest self-critique,” writes Mark Asch for Little White Lies. “Both a cute, crowd-pleasing comedy and a confession, the film stars Pierre Niney as an antic director who struggles to buckle down and finish his next movie while engaging in monstrously selfish behavior, notably the verbal abuse and intimidation of the underlings dedicated to enabling his wildest dreams . . . Gondry makes the tale of how he weaponizes his neurodivergence to manipulate people around him adorable in the telling. He’s impossible to stay mad at, that little devil.”

The New York contingent was strong this year. Cinematographer Sean Price Williams (Good Time, Her Smell) brought his directorial debut, The Sweet East, a picaresque road movie written by critic, editor, and author Nick Pinkerton. Lillian (Talia Ryder) breaks away from a high school field trip to tour ideologically varied pockets of America. The Sweet East is “definitely its own thing,” writes Filmmaker’s Vadim Rizov, “greater than the sum of its easily identifiable parts, which include Sean’s visual sense . . . and Nick’s ridiculously profuse vocabulary, which manifests with characteristic regularity.” In the Notebook, Leonardo Goi suggests that to call the film “a little patchy would be to play into Williams’s hands; The Sweet East is a snapshot of a shattered and paranoid nation, a mosaic whose tesserae are never less than intriguing.”

Joanna Arnow, who won a Silver Bear in Berlin for her 2015 short film Bad at Dancing, writes, directs, edits, and stars in her first feature, The Feeling That the Time for Doing Something Has Passed. IndieWire’s Ryan Lattanzio describes Arnow’s Ann as “an existentially moribund millennial wasting away in an anonymous-feeling corporate job who passes her time with sexual debasement when not quarreling with her nagging Jewish family.”

Ann strikes Catherine Bray, writing for Variety, as “somebody panicking in slow motion but who is too switched off to really fully commit to their own existential crisis.” Bray wishes Arnow nothing but “fame and fortune,” even though That Feeling is “also such a perfect example of what can be achieved on a low budget with modest production values that from a strictly creative point of view, material success feels almost irrelevant.”

A young man takes his five-year-old nephew—who has survived the car wreck that killed his mother—from Saigon to his own hometown in the countryside in Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell. Director Thien An Pham “transforms a well-trodden premise into something at once mysterious and magically sensual,” writes Clarence Tsui. For Guy Lodge, “this is challenging but seductive art cinema that invites comparisons to such titans as Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Tsai Ming-liang, and even Theo Angelopoulos, without feeling derivative of any.”

Georgian director Elene Naveriani’s Blackbird Blackbird Blackberry “tells a bittersweet love story in order to present a much sweeter one of self-love,” writes Savina Petkova at Cineuropa. Forty-eight-year-old shop owner Etero (Eka Chavleishvili) is still a virgin when she meets—and falls for—Murman (Temiko Chinchinadze). “She has a renewed zest for life,” writes Petkova, “a sexual awakening. But just as the story starts to look predictable, the director surprises us, again and again. Naveriani’s skill in circumventing the more conventional psychological cues leaves room for the freedom—and responsibility—to give us a character we would wish to empathize with, even if we don’t have to.”

Film Comment’s Devika Girish talks with documentarian Rosine Mbakam about her first fictional feature, Mambar Pierrette, which Girish describes as “a seemingly modest drama about a seamstress in Cameroon struggling to pay the bills, raise her three kids alone, and protect her rickety home and workshop from floods that threaten to swallow up everything, like some kind of cosmic joke. Yet, as in Mbakam’s bravura nonfiction, the simplicity and directness of Mambar Pierrette belie a penetrating emotional and political vision.”

Directors’ Fortnight 2023 is closing out with the thirtieth feature from Hong Sangsoo, whose in water premiered in Berlin just a few months ago. In Our Day, which Cinema Guild has already picked up for North America, stars Kim Minhee as an actress thinking about giving up her career and Ki Joobong as a poet stressing out over his doctor’s orders to stop drinking and smoking. There will be talk of art and cats.

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