More than compensating for last year's lackluster selection, the 31st edition of the Museum of Modern Art-Film Society of Lincoln Center survey, though somewhat back-loaded, is full of unexpected pleasures. The second week is jump-started by the stunning Inuit saga The Fast Runner (Atanarjuat), and the series concludes in sensational fashion with another, quite different ethnographic spectacular, the Israeli chamber frenzy Late Marriage.
Both films have pronounced documentary subtexts, as do many of the other entries (made in central China, Albania, the southern tip of India, the Iran-Afghanistan border, and suburban Vienna). The documentary features are particularly strongranging in subject from Palestinian refugees to Vietnamese war babies. As globalizing as it is, "New Directors" resists trend-spotting. Still, it's possible to find in its lineup the specter of migration that haunts the contemporary world. Fully half of the 22 features were either made by or concern the displacedrefugees, immigrants, and guest workers.
REAL WOMEN HAVE CURVES In Patricia Cardoso's Sundance Audience Award winner, a working-class Mexican American high school senior convinces friends and family that fat is a feminist issue. The likable performances (by newcomer America Ferrera and Lupe Ontiveros as her nagging mother) go a long way toward mollifying the shrill old-hat empowerment of the title. March 22, 23. (Dennis Lim)
TAKE CARE OF MY CAT Set in the Korean port of Inchon, Jeong Jae-eun's heartfelt debut is a breezily realist look at five ordinary girls making the uncertain transition from high school friendship. Jeong examines the secret lives of 20-year-olds with a low-key seriousness lacking in most North American coming-of-age films, believably accenting class divisions and giving extra-special care to the incessant use of cell phones. March 22, 23. (Mark Peranson)
DAUGHTER FROM DANANG Recording the first meeting in 22 years between an Operation Babylift participant and her Vietnamese birth mother, Gail Dolgin and Vicente Franco's documentary (a Grand Jury Prize winner at Sundance) appears to have feel-good sniffles in store, but the family reunion quickly turns sour. The long-lost daughter behaves like a petulant tourist, the relatives she barely remembers expect financial assistance, and the filmmakers steadfastly refuse to take sides as the emotional carnage escalates. March 23, 24. (DL)
THE MARS CANON In her accomplished third feature, Shiori Kazama turns a rapt camera on everyday unhappiness, contemplating the trajectory of a once-a-week affair between a 29-year-old travel agent and a married man 14 years her senior. Set in a subtly emptied-out Tokyo, The Mars Canon is deliberate without seeming ponderous. (The performances are similarly meticulous but not showy.) Kazama delineates an elegantly reduced world, pierced by an impossible stab of longing. March 23, 24. (JH)
THE NEW COUNTRY A pair of aspiring new Swedesone a Somali refugee, the other from Irantake it on the lam, eventually in the company of a former Miss Sweden. Geir Hansteen Jörgensen's film is trimmed down from what might have been a mildly daring four-hour TV series (recognizably co-written by Lukas "Together" Moodysson), The New Countrystarts broad, then turns tiresome and ultimately insufferable in its maudlin humanism. Plenty of drinking and a fair amount of puking it up. March 25, 26. (JH)
TIRANA YEAR ZERO A young veteran of Albanian cinema, Fatmir Koci is represented by a movie that's appropriately steeped in oxymoron. Well-shot but disorganized, turgid yet crazy, Tirana Year Zeroprovides a travelogue through a bucolic dumpa land of abandoned bunkers and sunny beaches that the natives seek to leave even as foreign tourists appear. Koci's movie imagines itself funnier than it actually is, but periodically stirs from its agitated depression and orchestrates the chaos with the aplomb of a wino staggering out to direct traffic. March 25, 27. (JH)
A DOG'S DAY Murali Nair follows Throne of Deathwith another sardonic political allegory set in the southernmost Indian state of Kerala. In the gaudy ceremony that opens the film, the longtime ruler of a village cedes power to an elected leader and bequeaths a royal dog to an old couple. The canine proves rabid, and Nair's fable goes on to observe, with deadpan brevity, the birth pangs of a new democracy. March 26, 27. (DL)
TRULY HUMAN Ake Sandgren's misguided modern-day fable illustrates Dogme Cliché No. 1: The innocent must suffer to prove society has gone to hell. A little girl with disgruntled yuppie parents forges a relationship with her imaginary aborted brother, who lives inside the walls of the family domicile. When the house is torn down, the full-grown naïf is unleashed on the world, and his pure heart leads him to violate all kinds of social norms. March 28, 31. (MP)
MY WIFE IS AN ACTRESS French writer-director-actor Yvan Attal casts himself as the green-eyed, eminently flappable spouse of a movie star (Attal's real-life partner, Charlotte Gainsbourg). When she lands a role opposite an English smoothy (Terence Stamp), the jabbering insecurity reaches pathological proportions. Sony Pictures Classics will release the film in July. March 29, 30. (DL)
THE SLAUGHTER RULE Suffused with the cruel beauty of winter light, the first feature by writer-director twins Alex and Andrew Smith derives its metaphoric density from the brutality and intimacy of contact sport. After a Montana teenager (Ryan Gosling) loses his father and his spot on the football team, a garrulous loner who coaches a six-man squad (David Morse) elbows his way into the kid's life. Morse's portrait of impacted masculinity is a career peaka remarkably fine-tuned study of a broken man concealing the open sores of regret and defeat behind a mask of brute willpower. March 29, 31. (DL)
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