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Cult Artist, Sparring Teens, and Lonely Hit Man Wrap Up ND/NF

 THE DEVIL AND DANIEL JOHNSTON
March 30 and April 1

The umpteenth documentary probe of an infirm cult artist is uniquely harrowing for the degree to which those around him, for whatever reasons (including their love of the art), seem to want him to remain infirm. It's also exceptional for its choice of subject, a singer-songwriter whose howling cris de coeur inevitably hit hardest when he's near collapse—which is to say that neither our approval of his work nor our contempt for his handlers is easily felt. The title refers to Johnston's inner demon, but the film is most provocative for suggesting that his public wears horns as well. ROB NELSON


Details

New Directors/New Films
Through April 3, MOMA, Walter Reade

GAMES OF LOVE AND CHANCE (L'ESQUIVE)
March 31 and April 3

The English title of Abdellatif Kechiche's surprise César winner is from the Marivaux play that the kids in the film are rehearsing, but the original French name—the fencing term for a dodging body move—more accurately represents the hyper-verbal sparring in this irrepressible teen comedy. Set in the Paris suburb projects, the movie features a terrific cast of mostly non-pro kids of North African backgrounds. Working in a handheld, faux-vérité style, Kechiche uses the dramaturgical shenanigans as a reflexive framework—extending Marivaux's themes of disguise and class consciousness into his banlieue milieu while illuminating the intense theatricality of hormonal adolescence. A New Yorker release. DENNIS LIM


SOUTH OF THE CLOUDS
March 31 and April 2

Wasting away in a northern Chinese town, retired factory worker Xu (Li Xuejian) leaves behind cold weather and demanding offspring for a long-deferred trip to the mythical southwestern province of Yunnan. Zhu Wen's second (and first legal) feature, after the sensational Seafood, is a deceptively placid delight. Characterized by a subtle seepage between reality and fantasy, Xu's faintly metaphysical journey, even as it strands him in a Kafkaesque bureaucratic limbo, allows the regretful old-timer to dream his way into an alternate life. Li's performance is note-perfect, and Tian Zhuangzhuang contributes a memorable cameo as a lackadaisical police chief. LIM


STARLIT HIGH NOON
April 1 and 3

This pensive, superbly composed anti-drama by Yosuke Nakagawa begins with a mood-dampening premise—a model-pretty hit man's efforts at romance during his Okinawa downtime—but grows into something beguiling, a recombinant mix of Wong, Hou, and Tsai moments circling around the hero's happy solitude, his halting efforts at socialization, and a fragrant ardor for good Taiwanese cooking. Even the gangster subplot is delicately observed over food and tea preparation. Nakagawa knows his Asian-cinema precedents, and what his movie lacks in original plotting it makes up for in carefully observed in-between-ness. MICHAEL ATKINSON


AGNES AND HIS BROTHERS
April 2 and 3

Three German sibs compete for Most Fucked-Up in Oskar Roehler's tedious Freudian roundelay: There's a sex-addicted, therapy-addled Peeping Tom librarian turned porn actor, a deluded Green Party politician with a suburban family who hates him, and a nightclub dancer whose transgendered status is apparently inseparable from her tragic aura (the title's pointedly incorrect pronoun is typical of the film's obtuse childishness). Painfully literal/ironic soundtrack choices add to the general unpleasantness, and the nods to the great In a Year of 13 Moons only emphasize what this scattershot satire most decidedly is not. LIM

 
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