BEFORE THE STORMA pair of moral dilemmas overlap and dovetail in this muted melodrama by director Reza Parsa (born in Iran, now a Swedish citizen). Ali, an émigré cab driver and former terrorist, living happily in Sweden with his unwitting wife and two kids, is strong-armed out of retirement by emissaries from his unnamed Middle Eastern homeland; meanwhile, 12-year-old Leo, who's smitten with Ali's daughter, is pushed to the breaking point by a sadistic bully. Though it labors under the weight of forced symmetries and a fuzzy, cartoonishly broad political dimension, the film has an unerring feel for the textures of family interactions, from incidental caprice to stricken confrontation. March 30, 31 (Dennis Lim)
NINE QUEENSArgentinian director Fabián Bielinsky's show-offy calling card follows two con artists through a series of dupes, culminating with the attempted sale of rare Weimar stamps. The freewheeling ambience helps dilute the genre's endemic smugness. The big gotcha isn't particularly hard to call; more than anything, the film suggests that meta-scam movies, strenuously shifty as they are, have by now exhausted all possible permutations. March 31, April 1 (DL)
PEPPERMINT CANDYBeginning with the endan inspired opening sequence in which the disconsolate antihero boorishly interrupts a reunion picnicKorean director Lee Chang-Dong maps, in reverse-chronological segments, the landmark failures and traumas in the life of his protagonist. (Previous incarnations include ruined businessman, abusive husband, and brutal cop.) Lee relies too much on a horrific military-service episode as psychological linchpin, but at its most lucid, his film throbs with loss, yearning, and unmistakable outrage. March 31, April 1 (DL)
DINNER RUSHVeteran music-video and TV-commercial director Bob Giraldi is also the co-owner of nearly a dozen trendy eateries, including Gigino in Tribeca, where this amusing but gimmicky film is set. His first feature is glamorously photographed, and the behind-the-scenes restaurant details are revealing. Danny Aiello gives a fine, understated performance as a sausage-and-peppers guy who's not quite ready to give up the family business to his celebrity-chef son, and in a supporting cast dominated by scene stealers, Summer Phoenix and John Rothman stand out by playing it straight. But the entire script is conceived as a buildup to a trick ending, which left me with a bad taste in my mouth. April 1, 2 (Amy Taubin)
I PREFER THE SOUND OF THE SEAThe tension between northern and southern Italy is at the heart of Mimmo Calopresti's subtle and complicated family drama about a man from Calabria who goes north and rises to wealth and power, but feels like a perpetual outsider. His inner conflicts are mirrored in the volatile relationship between his spoiled adolescent son and a deeply religious boy from his old hometown. Silvio Orlando oscillates between self-doubt and self-justification as a man undergoing a devastating midlife crisis, and Paolo Cirio and Michele Raso are both fragile and eye-catching as the teenagers. April 3, 4 (AT)
HYBRIDMonteith McCollum's documentary is as much a hybrid as the favorite crop of his grandfather, Milford Beeghly, an Iowa farmer obsessed with breeding the perfect corn. The film mixes home-movie-style portraiture with lyrical barnyard ballets, hilariously lewd animation about copulating corncobs, '50s commercials, and sweeping Midwest landscapes. Shot in grainy black and white, bringing to mind an older tradition of American individualism, the film is enjoyably odd for about an hour, but loses inspiration toward the end. April 3, 4 (AT)
DURIAN DURIANReacting to the "one country, two systems" approach of post-handover Chinese life with alarming alacrity, Fruit Chan's semi-improvised film finds the new Hong Kong as sour as the titular fruit. A mainland transient in HK on a three-month visa, Yan lives the new capitalist's reality: She whores herself ragged and watches TV. Her friend, Fan, is an illegal dishwasher pulled from Chan's even better prequel of sorts, Little Cheung. Chan is most successful with the perversely sensitive, verité-styled HK half; when the troubled Yan returns home, the mood chills and the story meanders. But with two first-class films in one year, this guy's on a bigger roll than Steven Soderbergh. April 5, 7 (Mark Peranson)
NO PLACE TO GOFassbinder might have made something of the story of Gisela Elsner, a former West German literary star who lived in luxury while celebrating East German socialism in her novels, and who discovered, after the reunification, that she had outlived her usefulness to both sides. Unfortunately, Oskar Roehler comes to the material with little apparent directorial skill and an all-too-obvious desire for revenge. Roehler is the son of the real-life Elsner (renamed Hannah Fisher in the movie) and he makes it clear that his home life was no picnic. April 5, 8 (AT)
ROLAND'S PASSIn Arnaud and Jean-Marie Larrieu's high-altitude, low-key farce, paterfamilias Mathieu Amalric (as sublimely consternated as ever) drags his disgruntled brood up the Pyrenees to the site of his conception. As backdrop for the rote squabbles and rapprochements, the mountains furnish an all-purpose majestyalternately absurd, humbling, and exalting. The 45-minute film is paired with Yoshimasa Ishibashi's seamlessly deranged 37-minute THE FUCCON FAMILY, in which grinning mannequins enact (in two seasons' worth of three-minute "episodes") the continuing saga of the titular American expats, who have decided to "live like the Japanese." (This seems to involve bathing together, speaking in rapid-fire non sequiturs, and ending every conversation with a chorus of cackles.) Via reckless repetition and dissociation, Ishibashi effects a comprehensive discombobulation of . . . well, it's hard to say, but possible targets include bourgeois domesticity, cultural imperialism, and serial television. April 5, 8 (DL)
L.I.E.Michael Cuesta's feature debut further frays the already tattered suburban-dysfunction model. Teenage Howie (Paul Franklin Dano) suffers a grim succession of abandonments: His mother was killed in a crash on the Long Island Expressway, his sleazy contractor father is busy fending off criminal investigations, and his closest friend, a precocious boy prostitute for whom he harbors a crush, is planning an escape to California. At rock bottom, Howie bonds with the kindly neighborhood pederast (played with miscalculated hamminess by Brian Cox). The kids, Dano in particular, are naturalswhich only makes this preposterous, self-congratulatory provocation seem even more like an act of bad faith. April 6, 7 (DL)
CLOUDS OF MAYAn aspiring filmmaker returns to his hometown from Istanbul to make a movie, and discovers that the people he wants to use as his cast and crew have real-life concerns that are far more pressing than anything in his fiction. In particular, his frail, elderly father is desperate to keep the poplar trees he planted 50 years ago from being confiscated by the government. Director Nuri Bilge Ceylan cites Chekhov's The Cherry Orchardas an inspiration, but the more obvious influence is Kiarostami. April 7, 8 (AT)
HOLE IN THE SKYThe spirit of solitude infuses this laconic, bittersweet character comedy in which a vulnerable young man, running a diner on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, falls hopelessly in love with a childlike young tourist who has been abandoned by her boyfriend. Kazuyoshi Kumakiri (whose debut feature, Kichiku, concerned a crazed group of left-wing politicos) treats their affair with tender detachment. The long takes eschew camera movement. The structure is anecdotal, but painful as the movie becomes, it's cumulatively quite moving. April 7, 8 (J. Hoberman)
Reviews of earlier films at New Directors/New Films": "Occupational Hazards"
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