In its 39th edition of New Directors / New Films the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art presented through April 4th 27 features and documentaries as well as eleven shorts from 20 countries, spanning a broad spectrum of themes and approaches. Most were rather impressive, some of lesser interest other than having been shown at prestigious festivals. Yet the impressive ones were far superior in their reflexive reality presentations demonstrating again the merit of the New Directors / New Films series.
WOMEN WITHOUT MEN by Shirin Neshat soon to be released in the U.S. by Indiepix theatrically and on home video, is the first feature by this well known Iranian photographer. It captures the fate of four woman during the 1953 CIA engineered coup d’état which toppled Mossadeq and installed the Shah Pavlevi.. Transcending conventional cinematic rules Neshat provides through her allegorical yet realistic story telling approach a superb understanding of the mind set of these women who break out of the prison imposed on them by traditional customs, religion and oppressive politics. She chronicles how these four women from different socioeconomic segments of Iranian society escape over several days their old life where they were immured in a meaningless marriage, prostitution, political oppression, and tradition as represented by the men they associated with. Eventually they find refuge in an orchard owned by one of them, though must face reality again when the military invades it.
I KILLED MY MOTHER by Xavier Dolan, a first feature, centers on the passionate hate-love relation between an artistic 17-year old boy and his working class mother with petty bourgeois aspirations. The relation is enacted through a furious fast paced dialog and frequent screaming matches in which both protagonists act out the manipulation and guilt embedded in their early childhoods. This film is a marvelous primal exercise in acting out conventional mothering impulses and adolescent desires.
Mia Hansen-Love depicts in the first part of THE FATHER OF MY CHILDREN the opposite of Dolan’s chaotic household. We have an entirely normal family with a caring father, a film producer, and loving mother, engrossed in her role as a house wife with both taking care of three daughters with all trimmings of a professional French setting, apartment in Paris, house in the country side, and upscale life style. With his rewarding job, a happy family life, and an admiring company entourage Gregoire, the film producer, appears invincible. Yet suddenly his production company goes bankrupt, his projects fall apart, there seems to be no exit and he kills himself. Several factors elevate the film. For once there is an extraordinary realistic presentation of the film making business, great acting by all participants and careful attention to details and the sets. But most importantly the reaction of the wife and the children to the suicide and their loss is shown in a masterly way. The children become the center of the film and become ‘natural inhabitants’ of the story. Hansen-Love relied much on improvisation and proceeded slowly with the script which the children had not read. As she put it in an interview “……we did very long takes starting from improvisation and then we moved on to the script little by little. In the end, the script was enriched…..thanks to the contact with the girls’ imagination and with real life, which gave it more truth and more lightness”.
Dima El-Horr’s Lebanese film EVERY DAY IS A HOLIDAY is a most original and perceptive narration of one day in the life of three women taking a bus ride to visit their men in prison and are about to liberate themselves from their shackles. One will see her husband who has been in prison since the day after the wedding, the second has divorce papers to free her from the man who serves a long sentence, and the third woman brings as gun for her husband, a prison guard. Traversing a desolate landscape the journey comes to a sudden end when the bus driver is shot dead with the disoriented women searching for a way to the prison. Despair, anxiety, and chance events are rampant yet the women are driven to act no matter how grim the situation they face. From boarding the bus to the arrival at the prison where all inmates and guards had been killed by a rebel force, the story evolves through unpredictable absurd components, including a lift on a rebel chicken truck to making a call from a desert phone booth and to stealing a hearse from a funeral procession coming out of nowhere. The presentation is reinforced by the surreal dialog between the three women and the empty space of the desert surrounding them.
THE LAST TRAIN HOME by the Chinese director Lixin Fan tracks a couple through a long train journey around New Years to their village which they left 16 years earlier. The migration of millions of Chinese laborers back to rural areas to celebrate the New Year and the havoc created by the long term separation of parents from their children and families are in the focus of this docudramatic film. There is a parallel depiction of changing values prompted by the unpredictable life of the migrant workers, the impact of economic shifts on their work, and their seeming inability of controlling their lives, from getting a train ticket to maintaining a reasonable rapport with parents and children who live a distant and separate life. Lixin Fan demonstrates the migrant workers’ fate in a detached yet intimate fashion.
Among films of lesser appeal were an anorexic Dutch feature and an Italian luxury exercise. In the seemingly pointless and redundant Dutch HUNTING AND SONS by Sander Burger, a suburban couple suffers from the wife’s eating disorder and the husband’s desperate response to it, a flat portrayal without bite or depth. The superbly photographed yet vacuous Italian feature I AM IN LOVE by Luca Guadagnino, excelled in depicting the lifestyle and decorum of the Italian high bourgeoisie, the extended family of the wealthy industrialist Recchi, through carefully presenting parties, frequent restaurant visits, haute cuisine, sex, fashionable garments, and faithful servants. Tilda Swinton provides her customary outstanding acting performance as Emma Recchi, the industrialist’s spouse who recreates her life and eventually abandons high society since she is liberated by an affair with her son’s best friend, who is a passionate cook . She is promptly disowned by her husband. The film lacks depth and momentum. moves on an admittedly beautiful surface and reminds of the trade dictum ‘the higher the production value the less content’. One of the eccentricities of the film is the appearance of a well dressed bearded Muslim about to buy the family business who stresses at the business and dinner tables the need for radical global change.
Most films in the 2010 series were authentic leaving the audience with the task of deciphering the meaning. Only few were exercise in the obvious with an absence of creative content, films soon to be forgotten or relegated to the commercial exploitation..