New York: 2013 New Director / New Films

Held from March 20 – 31, the New Director / New Films series is arranged as an annual event by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art and had its 42nd edition this year. Established before similar screenings were held at Sundance  and other festivals the ND/NF program remains the most important New York screening of innovative new film makers whose work has not been shown before in the US  and whose directorial and formative approach are noteworthy. Focusing on emerging filmmakers from around the world who are not yet established 25 feature length films and 17 short films were selected for the 2013 program. Among past discoveries featured early in their career were Pedro Almodovar, Spike Lee, John Sayles, Darren Aronofsky, Ken Burns Wim Wenders, and Wong Kar Wai. . Among some of the excellent productions were

THE ACT OF KILLING Joshua Oppenheimer, 2012, Denmark; Oppenheimer applies a unique documentary approach in his investigation of the murder of hundreds of thousands communists in Indonesia in the mid 1960s with Errol Morris and Werner Herzog serving as executive producers. As prompted by Oppenheimer the death squad leaders from local criminal gangs responsible for the killing in one region proudly re-enact their crimes dramatically as if playing in a movie.  They show little sense of remorse and gladly take the film makers to the places where they committed the killings.  The only exception seems to be Anwar a principal killer, now loving grandfather, whose past haunts him in his dreams  since the re-enactment of the horror made apparently his actions real again. The death squad leaders and their gangs still celebrate the genocide today in public events with their Pancasila Youth gangs   and are proud of the service provided to Indonesia by getting rid of the communists.  Senior government officials do attend these events. Members of the death readily demonstrate to the film makers the most effective ways of killing they invented and the torture techniques applied. They even go on national television to brag about their past activities. During the discussions they suggest that “God hates communists” and that they were more effective than the Nazis. They make no secret of the military hiring them and of the other criminal activities they were carrying out during the mass murders. Today they are running protection rackets and dispossess for real estate speculators with paramilitary units people from their land. To date there has been no prosecution of the genocidal crimes committed though they were clearly exposed. Oppenheimer’s film cannot be shown publicly in Indonesia but had private screenings there.

SOLDATE JEANETTE, Daniel Hoesl, 2012, Austria; Here we have a fascinating representation of the surreal shift of life styles of a woman starting as a high style luxury prone upper class socialite and becoming a farm hand in an isolated rural mountain setting. In her rapid downward slide she drops an expensive luxury purchase into the trash,  burns all her cash, works in a slaughter house,  feeds pigs, has an affair with a farmer and eventually takes off with his jeep destroying it. The feature has little dialogue and an attractive production quality yet Jeanette’s character development remains a mystery. We know what happened to her but not why, other than watching Jeanette’s perfect adaptation to whatever setting she becomes part of, a chameleon

JISEUL by O Muel, 2012, South Korea; This marvelously composed monochrome feature is set around a village on the Korean island of Jeju in 1948 which gets caught in the frenzy of anti communism. Ijssel is among the best films selected for the 2013 New Directors/New Films series.  The US army had ordered Korean troops to execute on sight inhabitants of the island as suspected armed civilians. The film records in austere minimalistic black and white tones the hunting and killing of the villagers and their attempts to escape. Jiseul impresses like a requiem given its narrative structure, pacing, subdued action by the civilians, villagers threatened by death maintain their composure through small talk and their survival in a dark cave. An amazing acting performance by the non-professional cast adds authenticity with the story evolving slowly in the setting of a wintery landscape. An estimated 25-30,000 civilian was killed.

LEONES   Jazmin Lopez, 2012, Argentina / France; Lopez seems to be presenting a riddle in this puzzling and entrancing film which features five young characters meandering aimlessly through Leones a labyrinth, a forest. Mostly without food and sleep they share their thoughts in an impromptu fashion. They are frequently unconnected and the film does not follow a clear narrative structure. We do get some clues, a tape recording of their  car trip that stops suddenly with the sound of a crash, a car wreck in the middle of the forest, silence prevailing over aborted fragments of dialogues, and an ending where the characters end up walking into the ocean.  What we see may be just a dreamscape or actions in the afterlife by victims of a deadly car accident, life as death, or the filmmaker’s attempt to disengage the audience from preconceptions and induce reflection.

ANTON’S RIGHT HERE,   Russia, Lyubov Arkus, 2012; This film debut for Arkus is a marvel of a documentary on the problems of taking care of an autistic individual. The production was recorded over six years against the background of a poorly functioning Russian mental health system where ware housing and drugging those diagnosed with mental problems is widespread.  As a Russian professional states, hell awaits those entering the public system.  The film makers provide here the counterweight since they are getting more and more involved in Anton’s fate and help him to survive the different phases of his life. His fate includes an initial period with his single mother who is dying of cancer, an isolated stay in a summer camp, being kicked out of an elite clinic since he cannot adapt, a six month stay in a village caring for the disabled which Anton is forced to leave due to behavioral problems because his care giver had left, subsequent incarceration and total isolation in mental institution, and eventual ‘illegal’ liberation from the hospital arranged by his film maker friends. He joins his father after the family and friends are exposed to the documentary material and lives with him in a house bought with the help of the film makers. Anton’s Right Here is an object lesson of the problems helping and overcoming obstacles. As a documentary the film is very effective since the film maker remains objective and authentic dealing with a very emotional issue in spite of her personal involvement.

STORIES WE TELL Sarah Polley, 2012, Canada; Polley presents a marvel of the social construction of realities in her quest to identify her biological father Interviewing members of her nuclear family and friends she records contradictory and conflicting notions as to what happened in the past.  Polley and the audience face the problem of differentiating between reality and truth the accounts represent. She supplants the statements with family home film and video footage presenting all principals. In the mostly sympathetic portrayals of her two fathers and her mother by professional actors the audience gets excellent insights into family dynamics, the construction of narratives and the lesson of Stories We Tell, truth is more powerful than fiction.

As in past editions the 2013 New Director / New Film series provided an excellent introduction to critically acclaimed new filmmakers.

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