Archive for the ‘New Voices’ category

Delayed Despair: The Philosophy of Zhang Lu

May 19, 2009

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“If the world is going to get better, it is not going to get much better. If it is going to get worse, it is going to get a lot worse.”

In a Q and A following the screening of his latest feature, Iri (which screened as part of On the Edge: New Independent Film from China, April 24-26 at the Walter Reade Theater), Zhang Lu uses this self-made axiom to explain the despair that supersaturates his films. His words hit me at an oblique angle – unlike everyone else in the audience, I have to wait for them to be translated into English. Lu’s sweetly demure manner of standing and speaking doesn’t help this thirty-second delay in comprehension. I won’t realize how much sense Lu’s grim words make for about another week.

At first I don’t know if it is the gap between our cultures or simply Lu’s natural hand that causes his film to hit me in the same oblique way.  Lu was asked to make a movie about the as of yet unexplained train explosion that took place in Iri, South Korea in 1977. Rather than making a film about the explosion as it took place, Lu sets the movie 31 years after the fact. Our flailing heroine is Jinseo, a woman shaken by the explosion while still in her mother’s womb, and as a result born retarded and motherless.

Just like his treatment of the explosion, Lu’s treatment of the hardships that result from Jinseo’s illness is somehow poignantly indirect. Because Jinseo lacks the IQ or the courage to object, she becomes the victim of constant exploitation. Her boss doesn’t pay her, and the men that surround her molest her wordlessly. Jinseo’s life is unspeakably tragic, but every shot depicting it is perfectly framed. In scenes that foreshadow or even depict rape and suicide, I find myself distracted by some beautiful object focused in the foreground – an elegant doorframe or a teapot from which steam slowly rises. The camera never stays on an assault for more than a second or so – it tilts to some other part of the room while we continue to hear the struggle.

This approach to potent expression may seem paradoxical, but Lu’s slower-acting elixirs probably last longer than the standard drugs.  I might be focused on the red teapot in the foreground while I’m watching an ominous scene, but teapots everywhere for weeks will recall to me what happened in the background.

-Morgan H. Green

On New Voices, Life in Public, and shark attacks…New Directors/New Films wrap up

April 6, 2009

Last night, Ondi Timoner’s witty and fast-moving We Live in Public closed New Directors/New Films, appropriately placing an exclamation point on the provocative festival of new work. Telling the history of the Internet at a speed that suits the information age, the film zeros in on a critical moment in the underground history of pre-millennial New York when a large group of artists, technologist and other assorted creative types got together to live in an underground bunker for twenty days under constant video surveillance.

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Josh Harris and Ondi Timoner, photo by Godlis

Was it a cult? A social experiment? An art project? A premonition of a life lived on Facebook? Though it seemed that no one involved in the original event could agree on the meaning of the project, all acknowledged its main architect–Josh Harris–as a visionary. And just as Timoner’s documentary left all of us in the audience questioning our own place in a brave new world of social networking, the film’s magnetic subject, Josh Harris himself, appeared in the flesh to add an extra layer of self-reflexivity to the proceedings (which were already being webcast and most likely being Twittered about!).With an audience filled with some of the film’s subjects, and cameras roving everywhere, it was hard not to think that all of us were embodying Harris’s correction of Andy Warhol: in an Internet future, we’ll all be famous for fifteen minutes a day.

It really has been a whirlwind of a festival. When I first came up the idea of turning the filmlinc blog over to a raft of New Voices, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Would anyone actually take me up on the offer? And what would they come up with? Looking back now, one thing seems clear: unexpected and wonderful things happen when you engage the diverse talents of a group of creative people. That those wonderful things took the form of lots of fresh points of view, fantastic interviews with the likes of Tatia Rosenthal, Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, Alexis Dos Santos, Adam Leon and Jack Pettibone Riccobono and Armond White, great photography and even a shark attack (press play above) was one of the delights of this experiment. So I would like to say a heartfelt thanks to the correspondents who really went above and beyond to provide daily coverage of this festival: Nick Feitel, Matt Griffin, Tom Treanor, Morgan Green, Jessica Loudis, Michael Masarof, Sam Song, Eric Yue, Melanie Shaw, Jay Felty, Nick McCarthy, Aily Nash, Tim Young, Kazu Wantanabe, Brandon Harris, Christian Del Moral and Wayne Titus.

I’d also like to give a shout-out to our New Directors/New Films co-presenter, The Museum of Modern Art. Not only do they have a terrific film exhibition program of their own, and shows specifically geared toward film-lovers, they also do a terrific job of cultivating an online community.

Because a picture is worth a thousand words, I’d like to thank our wonderful photographers, Susan Sermoneta and David Godlis for shots that really bring our events to life.

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Finally, I’d like to thank our online community: our Fans on Facebook, those who Twitter with us, and of course, readers of the filmlinc blog. It is thanks to your attention that March was our most successful month yet in our relatively brief existence. We are extremely grateful for your interest and we will always be looking for ways to better bring the Film Society experience to you and to engage you in a vital conversation about films and filmmaking.

-Amanda McCormick

New Directors/New Films video diary: the New Voices have a Mid-August Lunch

April 6, 2009

For their very first film festival experience, New Voices Melanie Shaw, Jay Felty and Eric Yue pack light, journey to Lincoln Center, and solicit plenty of seasoned advice from NYU professor Antonio Monda, the Film Society’s Richard Peña and even New Director Gianni Di Gregorio.

Teaming Up: An interview with Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden

April 3, 2009

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Though I was excited when I heard I would get to interview Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden, the filmmakers behind such ND/NF films as Gowanus, Brooklyn, Young Rebels and Half Nelson (which screens Friday at 3, with a conversation with the filmmakers Sunday at 12), but I was slightly disappointed when I found out the terms of the interview.

I had offered beer and ice cream delivered to their hip-Brooklyn locale, along with an informal hang-out session.

They countered with 10 minutes over a cell phone.

(Got to keep interest up for the conversation with them on Sunday I suppose :p)

To be fair, they had just returned from a press tour for their new film Sugar, the story of a Dominican baseball player’s journey to the U.S., which just received a rave from A.O. Scott, the Times’ film critic, who described it as “wise and lovely”.

“We’re shells of our old selves,” they explained.

I should explain that when I say “they explained” that Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden collaborate on seemingly everything from emails to phone conversations to screenplays and motion pictures. They even signed off their emails (under their one synchronous email address) from “R/A”.

“Well, filmmaking is collaborative art,” Ryan explained.

“Yeah,” Anna offered up. “Think about it, you’re always working with someone else, like your director of photography to your producer to someone on set you ask for coffee.”

“So yeah, we work well collaborating.” Ryan concluded.

I asked them as very young filmmakers (graduates of NYU ’04), if they were any more inclined to do digital filmmaking or content for the web.

Ryan: “We shot Sugar on 35mm. I didn’t even know about the RED Camera beforehand, but I think film’s not dead. I think there are still going to be filmmakers out there, young or not, who choose to have that sort of grain and look to their film. But yeah, digital and film are getting very similar. I mean I did really like what Soderbergh did with Che.

Anna: “As for web stuff, I mean, yeah. We’d like to do stuff for the web. We don’t exactly, well, know how yet. But sure we’d do somethings. I think the internet could be a powerful place for films in the future, if it isn’t already now.

Following my personal predilections, I asked them whether Brooklyn was a filmie hangout  and whether they missed video stores (a question dear to my heart).

Ryan: “I don’t know. I mean I guess just all these neo-realist guys like us live out here in the boroughs. So Yong Kim, Ramin Bahrani… I think Kelly Reichardt lives somewhere around here.”

I pointed out she teaches upstate at Bard.

“Maybe she commutes.” Ryan offered.

Anna: “Well I’m from Boston-y suburbs, not Brooklyn, but I miss video stores. I guess you have Netflix now, but the suggestions feel so cold, so computer-generated. I remember moving out here and seeing a video store open and close just like that, full of great movies. I’m worried for these kids today.”

Speaking of kids today, since my 10 minutes were almost up, I figured I asked if they had anything to say to them.

Ryan’s advice was simple: “Go out there and make something.”

Anna tried to elaborate: “Tell a story and don’t be afraid to tell any story. Sure, it’s true that you should write what you know. But you should also find stories you love; you can learn about them, know them and then tell them too. Be unafraid. Be–”

But Ryan informed her that our ten minutes were up.

Collaboration, yet again.

-Nicholas Feitel, ND/NF New Voice

See Half-Nelson today at 3, and join us on Sunday at noon for Teaming Up, a discussion with the filmmakers about their process.

ND/NF: tracking the erotic meaderings of European road movie Give Me Your Hand

April 2, 2009

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Summarizing the plot of film director/animator Pascal-Alex Vincent’s Give Me Your Hand (2008) tells the potential viewer both everything and nothing about this remarkable film: A pair of young, dark, brooding, fantastically handsome identical (monozygotic) twins, Antoine and Quentin, hitchhike across Europe from France to Spain to attend the funeral of the mother they never met. On the way, the two get caught up in a number picaresque side-adventures, particularly sexual encounters—individually, simultaneously, or in tandem—with other lost, seeking people-of-the-road.

Describing the film like this makes it sound like a sexual fantasy. Well, this label—like my skimpy, too-literal logline plot—is both technically accurate and qualitatively insufficient to engage the distinctive, deeply resonant experience Vincent offers. Yes, the film is incredibly sexy and erotic, from the perspective of a number of different sexual orientations, but does this mean this film is nothing more than “high-(t)art”?

With horror films, a reviewer has an easier time pointing to the crafting of mood and setting, the evocation of the uncanny, sensations of dread/fear/menace, and the visceral experience of engaging with the unknown as positive achievements by the filmmakers at a technical level: these are difficult effects to make linger with the audience beyond the boundaries of the screening. In fact, in the best cases (like Wise’s The Haunting (1963) and Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Seance (2000)) these elements become themselves strong reasons to admire and evangelize the film. Baroque variations of plot are not the only way we love a movie.

With Give Me Your Hand (2008), Vincent perfume-composes a new genre by sifting in twin/road movie  (primary scents) with youth-on-the-run, story of siblings, and post adolescent sexual awakening (modifiers) and the erotic, uncanny, and metaphysical (blenders). You don’t worry too much about the existence of ghosts in the real world when watching a ghost story: you think about what makes ghosts tick in this context. Likewise, you don’t doubt that Antoine and Quentin’s journey will continue to become stranger and stranger, and the probability for sexual activity with strangers is at least a bit higher than it might be in the real world. (Though, I’ll admit that part of the fun of the film is wondering if the glances the film reveals of characters gazing at/desire the leads might not spill over into the real world for two such attractive real-world rarest-of-rare monozygotic males.)

What Vincent gains access to with all of this visceral, juices-churning irreality is the creative potential space to imagine his way into compelling questions about brothers and twins that I haven’t seen elsewhere. Unlike something like Twins (1988), and arguably Dead Ringers (1988) (my primary notion of a twin movie before including this one), Vincent does not divide a single human personality into fractions, but instead grapples with the ineffable question confronting all of us not part of a monozygotic twin pair: what does it mean for two complete humans to resemble/share so many external elements in common, and yet also maintain their individual agency? Vincent considers ways in which their private, unspoken, almost too-intense intimacy is as frequently the cue for violent aggression for each other as it is for support and care. How will time and experience and desire effect the evolution of their relationship?

–Matthew Griffin

Buy Tickets
Sat Apr 4: 9 (FSLC)
Sun Apr 5: 4 (MoMA)

ND/NF: Houseguests from a polite hell in Mid-August Lunch

April 2, 2009

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From Italian writer/director Gianni DiGregorio (perhaps best known for his screenplay adaptation of last year’s Italian mafioso film Gomorrah) comes Mid-August Lunch, a sprightly comedy (almost Shakespearean in its farcical scope) that blends the viewer’s empathy for rock-and-hard-place bad luck with a bit of charming sentimentality. This film isn’t the gritty Italy of Gomorrah, but rather the small-town communion Italy eternally drenched in summer sun.

Gianni (played by writer/director DiGregorio, a one-man movie-making placeholder in the tradition of Clint Eastwood), for all intents and purposes, is a sad-sack…. He’s behind on rent, has no outlook to pay it on time, and can’t confide his financial woes to his elderly mother, with whom he lives. He’s not without hope, though: his landlord offers to forgive him some of the back pay (and even a key to the building elevator) if Gianni wouldn’t mind putting up the landlord’s mother for a weekend while he is away. Gianni certainly agrees, but the arrangement quickly snowballs…. Not only does the landlord bring his mother, but also his elderly aunt, and all Gianni can do is grin and bear it. And that he does, even more so when his best friend leaves town…. and needs a place for his mother to stay as well.

Gianni’s goodwill and hospitality makes him a one-man host, chef, and maid…. but not without a glass of white wine for himself at the ready. The screenplay is almost aggressively insular to Gianni’s third-person point of view, and this gives the viewer an interesting warm-up to the peculiarities of his weekend houseguests. These ladies, at first humble and grandmotherly (one brings Gianni a cake as gift, wrapped in a bidet towel), soon exhibit enough orneriness to keep things interesting. They gossip, they throw tantrums, they overeat and overdrink, and do it all through the grateful smiles of prudent houseguests.

Gianni’s mother (Valeria De Franciscis), almost playfully dependent on her dutiful son, is always ready to drop some gossipy complaints about their new houseguests to him, yet is sunny and polite to the point of saccharine. (Gianni’s mother, who old age has not treated terribly well, sports a lioness bouffant of a blonde wig against a face so leather-worn and oversunned that she could easily pass as a grotesquerie out of a Cormac McCarthy novel.)

Mid-August Lunch, though, in a way feels almost too easy; the beats on which the story unfolds are cute but not complicated, and I felt that a lot of the tension in a comedy like this came as unsurprising and almost typical of the situation established. In a way, Gianni is the dope who can’t win and can’t say no (a similar comparison, although a bit out-sized, would be Ben Stiller’s character in Meet the Parents), and there’s only so much layering a character like this can have without forcing the story to sacrifice its levity. Whereas the story doesn’t exactly conform to a formula, it does carry with it the dull glint of being derivative…. yet this is a small price to pay for a film that at times is so effortlessly charming.

-Tom Treanor

Buy tickets: Fri Apr 3: 6:15 (FSLC)
Sat Apr 4: 3:45 (MoMA)

ND/NF: Not-so-charming vulnerability in Can Go Through Skin

April 1, 2009

Rifka Lodeizen in Can Go Through Skin

In the opening moments of Can Go Through Skin, the debut feature from Dutch filmmaker Esther Rots, we meet Marieke (Rifka Lodeizen), a charmingly vulnerable young urbanite, as she attempts to get some friends together for drinks in her native Amsterdam.  She’s eager for social interaction, but comfortable enough in her own skin to enjoy a solitary night of pizza, wine, and long hot bath when her plans fall through. And then, just like that – in a terrifying sequence only minutes into the film – everything changes for Marieke when the pizza deliveryman sneaks into her apartment and attacks her as she lies unawares in the tub.

The next time we see her, that vulnerability that was once so sweet has taken a paranoid edge.  Marieke moves out of Amsterdam to the country, to a fixer-upper that she doesn’t bother fixing up at all. She steadfastly avoids human contact, ignoring knocks at the door, hardly bathing, and screaming at friendly neighbors to go away.  Rots uses a jittery handheld camera to put us firmly in Marieke’s shoes – we spend so much time alone with her, hiding in her barren cottage, that we’re as startled and wary as she is when another person enters into her world.

As the film traces Marieke’s slow, tentative return to normalcy, I couldn’t help but feel a little frustrated with her insistent paranoia and Rots’ overemphasis on the mundane.  But I do give the director much credit for taking the film in interesting directions and giving it a loose, ambling vibe you wouldn’t expect from a film about a sexual assault victim.

In fact, the film I’d most compare it to is one with a very different heroine, Lynne Ramsey’s Morvern Callar, which also employs striking camerawork and occasionally transcendent use of pop music to create an intimate, nonjudgmental portrait of a woman working her way through a serious trauma.  While Can Go Through Skin doesn’t reach the heights of Ramsey’s film, it’s still worth seeing and distinguishes Rots as a filmmaker to watch for in the future.

-Tim Young

Tim Young also writes for I Heard Different.

Buy tickets: Fri Apr 3: 9 (MoMA)
Sat Apr 4: 4 (FSLC)