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Seven at ND/NF 2024

Jiajun “Oscar” Zhang’s All, or Nothing at All (2023)

Earlier today, we followed up on our first and second dips into this year’s New Directors/New Films with the premiere of a clip from Oksana Karpovych’s Intercepted. This overview will take us through the festival’s final weekend, and we begin with the Thursday evening screening of Nelson Yeo’s debut feature, Dreaming & Dying. A not-so-happily married couple (Doreen Toh and Kelvin Ho) and their old friend Heng (Peter You) are the only three people to show up at a high-school reunion in Singapore.

Sparks fly, love hovers intermittently, Heng becomes a merman, and dreams and reality meld into each other. Nearly every reviewer so far has mentioned Hong Sangsoo, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, or both. Devika Girish was on the jury in Locarno that awarded the Filmmakers of the Present Golden Leopard to Dreaming & Dying. On the Film Comment Podcast, she explains why she’s still taken with it, while Vadim Rizov lays out his reservations. In his festival dispatch to Filmmaker last summer, Rizov wrote that “Hong’s mature mode from 2004 on had him removing a great many tones from his palette of possibilities, so Dreaming & Dying is most interesting as an exercise in seeing his methods brought to bear upon unfamiliar material (in this case, a potentially sexy middle-aged poolside love triangle).”

Jovan Ginić won the Rising Star Award in Cannes when Vladimir Perišić’s Lost Country premiered at Critics’ Week last year. Ginić plays Stefan, a Serbian teen in 1996, when Slobodan Milošević claimed victory in the November election and opposition parties—joined by students, including Stefan’s classmates—rose up in peaceful protest against widespread electoral fraud. Stefan’s mother—played by Jasna Đuričić, who won the European Film Award for Best Actress for her performance as a Bosnian translator trying to save her family in Srebrenica in Jasmila Žbanić’s Quo Vadis, Aida? (2020)—is Milošević’s spokesperson.

Torn between his friends and his mother, Stefan broods. At Cineuropa, Elena Lazic has a problem with that, but for International Cinephile Society founder Cédric Succivalli, “what holds the film together is Perišić’s assured direction, steadily pacing Stefan’s brooding arc to its desperate conclusion,” writes Succivalli.

Brazilian actress Malu Rocha is best known for her work in a string of films in the 1970s, though she carried on working, primarily in television, up to her death in 2013. Her son, director Pedro Freire, has had his crew build sets based on his memory of the house he lived in as a teen and cast Yara de Novaes as his mom in Malu. “A volatile, weed-loving, Rio-born actress who dreams of turning the family house into a community theater for the kids who live in the local favela, Malu relishes every opportunity to cause a scene in her own living room, even—or especially—if that opportunity comes at the expense of good taste,” writes IndieWire’s David Ehrlich.

Malu is constantly clashing with her elderly mother, Lili (Juliana Carneiro da Cunha), and her daughter, Joana (Carol Duarte), who has just returned to Brazil from France. “The highs are luminously high, and the lows are terrifyingly low among this trio of women,” writes Carlos Aguilar in Variety. “What the superb De Novaes does with this acting feat is at once electric and monstrous,” while Carneiro da Cunha and Duarte “stand their dramatic ground, understanding that their role is to remain in the periphery of De Novaes’ gravitational pull.”

Jiajun “Oscar” Zhang’s first feature, All, or Nothing at All, was shot entirely inside Global Harbor, a multistoried and brightly lit shopping mall in Shanghai. Zhang and cowriter Hee Young Pyun tell two stories. In one, an aspiring architect crushes on a breakdancer, and in the other, a cosmetics salesgirl catches the eye of a customer. The film’s two halves can be shown in any order, and ND/NF will present both versions.

“Because of the connection people feel to that shopping mall it’s almost a religious feeling, like being in a church, something they almost believe in,” Hee Young told Marina D. Richter at Asian Movie Pulse when All, or Nothing at All screened at the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival. “We were approached by a young woman who works in the shopping mall in Tallinn and she told us how surprised she was that a movie from China portrayed the feeling she is going through every day at work.”

Khuzestan, a province in southwestern Iran, has been the site of ethnic and religious tensions for a century as well as a battleground in the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s. ND/NF programmers call Shahab Mihandoust’s Meezan, which focuses on the local fishing industry, “at once an immersive process film about labor and a rich, sensorial account of a former combat zone reorganized by decades of industrialization.”

Presenting the New Vision Award to Meezan at the Montreal International Documentary Festival last year, the jurors noted that the film is “a subtle reflection on work. The filmmaker captures the precision of all gestures and lingers on their space, on the details of their environment, and on the system that dictates it. The sound design opens up the confined space of the workers, which is used to situate the repetitive and concentrated work in a relentless, industrial frame.”

In Elene Naveriani’s Blackbird Blackbird Blueberry, a near-death experience by the river of a small town in Georgia prompts Etero (Eka Chavleishvili) to grab the first man who comes along and to bid farewell to forty-eight years of virginity. “Blackbird joins a current wave of strong arthouse cinema from Georgia challenging the status quo of patriarchal intolerance in the Caucasus nation,” writes Carmen Gray at Film Verdict. “It is a lot gentler and more understated in its societal critique than a film such as Dea Kulumbegashvili’s confronting and stylistically audacious breakout success Beginning (2020). But, having disavowed superficial dramatic fireworks, Naveriani allows deep currents of emotion to accumulate” in this “deliciously wry but reflective comedy-drama.”

Wang Ping-Wen and Peng Tzu-Hu’s A Journey in Spring is an “assured and resplendent Taiwanese tale that unfolds in evocative tableaux giving minor moments of everyday life a resonance without resorting to fanfare,” writes Meredith Taylor. When his wife passes away, an aging man decides to hide her body in a freezer. “I never really thought about why he does it,” Wang tells Marta Bałaga in Variety. “In our life, most of our decisions are made unconsciously. Behind our actions, there is desire, fear, all these different emotions. I don’t pass any judgment here and I don’t show sympathy either. I just observe him through the camera, inviting the audience to do the same.”

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