Global Swarming

Precocious kids and old joys at 35th annual showcase of up-and-coming directors

The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros
(March 22, 23, and 25)

An incongruous vision of lipsticked, hip-swiveling fabulousness, 12-year-old Maximo (Nathan Lopez) flounces through his Manila shantytown, a beacon of beatific flamboyance in the gritty (but mostly tolerant) 'hood as well as a doting mother hen to his petty-criminal father and brothers. All is improbably well, until Maxi's undisguised attraction to a strapping policeman sparks tensions at home. Even more so than Gregg Araki's Mysterious Skin, Auraeus Solito's feature debut confronts the taboo of pre-teen sexuality with extraordinary openness. No less than its precocious protagonist, the film is alarming, endearing, and utterly unflappable. A Film Movement release. DENNIS LIM


Beatific flamboyance: Maximo Oliveros
photo: Film Society of Lincoln Center
Beatific flamboyance: Maximo Oliveros

October 17, 1961
(March 23 and 24)

Made for French TV, Alain Tasma's tense and engrossing docudrama re-creates the political terror—both police and revolutionary —of the Algerian War as it played out in France. A veteran assistant director, Tasma orchestrates his large cast through the buildup to a long-suppressed political scandal, the police massacre of a peaceful group of Algerian demonstrators (also referenced in Caché). Modeling his movie on The Battle of Algiers, Tasma plunges to the vortex of a dozen intersecting lives. For those unfamiliar with this history (and who of us isn't), the movie is strong stuff. J. HOBERMAN


Look Both Ways
(March 23 and 26)

The two romantically entwined depressives in Australian animator Sarah Watt's feature debut see death everywhere, and in the film's primary stylistic innovation, so do we: Both are arty types, and their morbid fantasies are visualized accordingly. An illustrator returning from her father's funeral, Meryl (Justine Clarke) imagines grisly fates in animated watercolors. A photographer reeling from a cancer diagnosis, Nick (William McInnes) pictures metastasizing cells in quick-fire montages. The film's determined reticence, though refreshing, often slips into preciousness, and Watt undermines the potently awkward mood with relentless sub–Aimee Mann balladry and unsubtle bids for Magnolia-style cosmic misery. A Kino release, opens April 14. LIM


Iceberg
(March 24 and 25)

Tati-influenced and tainted with the punk-expressionist parody vision of flat, robotic, pastel domestic suburbia, this deadpan, almost dialogue-free Belgian comedy chronicles an overlooked mom who gets locked in her ice cream shop freezer for a night, and then falls completely off her family's radar afterward, in search of things frosty. Written and directed by its three stars (Fiona Gordon, Dominique Abel, and Bruno Romy), the movie makes the most of their extraordinarily long circus-performer limbs and abject homeliness (they're all Oyls), but having every composition conceived as a dry joke is, soon enough, a wearisome strategy with a patronizing tone. Being tame and far from reliable, the campy comic rhythms do not rescue the day. MICHAEL ATKINSON


Quinceañera
(March 24 and 25)

In the largely Hispanic, rapidly gentrifying Echo Park neighborhood of L.A., Magdalena (Emily Rios) is gearing up for her 15th- birthday party (the ceremony named in the film's title) but discovers she's pregnant, though she insists her virginity is intact; meanwhile, her troublemaking cousin Carlos (Jesse Garcia) becomes a lust object for a gay couple and their rather predatory friends. Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland's movie means well, but its affected reverence for community standards mutates into bipolar condescension (the Latino leads are literal saints, the whiteys either dumb or mean) and a weirdly puritan voyeurism, especially when it comes to its Madonna figure. A Sony Classics release, opens in August. JESSICA WINTER


Cavite
(March 24 and 26)

Made for little more than the cost of two plane tickets to Manila, this brilliantly resourceful debut by Filipino American duo Neill Dela Llana and Ian Gamazon uses a real-time ransom countdown to orchestrate a stricken tour through the slum-ridden titular town. (The location DV camerawork is sensational.) Traveling home from San Diego for his father's funeral, Adam (Gamazon), a lapsed Muslim, promptly finds himself a pawn in a terrorist plot, taking instructions via cell phone from an unseen Abu Sayyaf operative who has kidnapped his mother and sister. This impressively tense and sweaty little thriller is a guerrilla descendant of Larry Cohen's beat-the-clock contraptions (Cellular, Phone Booth). Fueled by the visceral alienation of the returning expat, it's also some kind of landmark in diaspora cinema. A Truly Indie release. LIM


Sangre
(March 25 and 26)

So bad boy Carlos Reygadas has a partner in crime. An assistant director on Reygadas's cannily outrageous Battle in Heaven, Amat Escalante has produced a kindred ritual in neorealist sexual performance. A devotedly domestic working-class couple, played by a pair of stoic nonactors and most often seen at home, push each other into the maw of a bloody crime. If Sangre's uninflected stylization (presenting the action head-on in long static takes) seems more suggestive of early-'70s Fassbinder, there's a ceremonial quality to Escalante's filmmaking, as in Reygadas's, that heralds the invention of a really new Mexican cinema. HOBERMAN


A Soap
(March 25 and 27)

In a run-down apartment building, the unstable bitch from hell meets the self-loathing transsexual prostitute. They meet, clash, bond, make curtains, perform symmetrical rescue missions, and, true to the movie's self-referential approach, watch soap operas, while Bitch negotiates with her pathetic ex and Self-Loather juggles family strife and various clients. The tipsy camerawork and arch narration ("Why is it so hard for her to find happiness?") soon grate, and despite its up-front title, this glib Danish entry is a sheepish drama queen—it's not a soap so much as "a soap." WINTER


Eleven Men Out
(March 26 and 29)

After a pleasingly no-nonsense opening—a Beckham-esque stud from a top Icelandic soccer team casually announces he's gay during a locker-room interview—this low-key comedy settles into an obvious, if curiously unenthused, routine of underdog affirmation. Director Róbert I. Douglas himself seems a little fed up with the exigencies of the coming-out odyssey and the redemptive sports fable—the jokes and clichés are sheepishly muffled, which doesn't make them any fresher. By the time the movie culminates in a Big Match on Gay Pride Day, its glum Scandinavian deadpan seems more like ill-concealed boredom. LIM


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Calls waiting: Toll-Free
Film Society of Lincoln Center

John & Jane Toll-Free
(March 27 and 30)

Globalization gets a human face and outsourcing a spiritual dimension in Ashim Ahluwalia's semi-staged, sometimes jaw-dropping HBO documentary about life under the harsh fluorescent lights of an Indian call center. John & Jane Toll-Free is a hybrid film in a hybrid world. Spending their nights fielding calls from frantic Americans, the operators indulge their own fantasies about America, take American names along with their virtual identities, and even convert to Christianity: "It was kind of an American feeling that I started having." See this haunting little movie and you'll have to wonder exactly what that is. HOBERMAN


In Bed
(March 27 and 28)

Two Chilean hotties hook up for a long night of talking and fucking in an overdesigned motel room. Having just met (and proceeded right to the shtupping without retaining each other's names), the fetching couple (Blanca Lewin and Gonzalo Valenzuela) post-coitally reveal and rewrite personal histories, debate pop culture and the existence of God, and puncture the inevitable monotony with back rubs, headstands, and pillow fights. Director Matías Bize likewise strives to jazz up this airless two-hander—jumpy camerawork, mismatched cuts, pointless split screen—but the gimmicks are tiresome, the dramatic reversals predictable, and the stakes negligible. LIM


Old Joy
(March 27 and 29)

A dozen years ago, Kelly Reichardt made a wonderfully desultory, nearly avant-garde riff on the last romantic couple. If her River of Grass was a comic, slacker Bonnie and Clyde, the more elegiac Old Joy is a diminished, grunge Easy Rider. An aging Oregon hippie, one step from sleeping on the pavement, persuades his cautiously domesticated buddy, soon to be a father, to come out and play. The two spend a night in the woods and . . . nothing happens. Or maybe everything: Reichardt's evocatively low-key sense of nature seems closer to classic Japanese than current Amerindie cinema. Will Oldham is brilliantly annoying as the cow-eyed free spirit, provocatively named Kurt. HOBERMAN


Iron Island
(March 28 and 30)

A Kino release. Opens March 31, reviewed next issue.


Pavee Lackeen
(March 29 and 31)

Photographer Perry Ogden's debut film isn't a documentary, but his slyly nonfictional eye makes it feel like one. Moreover, also in the Iranian New Wave tradition, Ogden has a genuine Irish traveler family play themselves amid the family's battle with trailer evictions and the eldest daughter's fierce attempts to overcome her status and participate in the world as a functioning teenager. As herself, Winnie Maughan is iconic and natural, but opaque; Ogden's more immediate achievement is the chilling portrait of modern Euro poverty, down to pre-adolescent huffing, on the last rung of what has become one of the richest countries in the E.U. The slurry brogues are necessarily subtitled. ATKINSON


First on the Moon
(March 29 and April 1)

The fake film object has become something of a Russian specialty—a means of evoking Communism's lost world (and its synthesized past). First-time director Alexei Fedorchenko combines artfully distressed "documentary" footage and actual Stalin-era propaganda to tell the tale of the lost 1938 space flight that a Soviet cosmopilot and his comrades took to the moon. Too eccentric and wistful to merit the mockumentary label, First on the Moon reaches an early peak of factoid delirium with an invented NKVD "instructional" film on use of a spy camera. HOBERMAN


Texas
(March 30 and April 2)

According to Fausto Paravidino's debut film, there are areas in the Italian Alpine foothills that are Bush State–obsessed, down to the western saloons, U.S.-pop-loaded jukeboxes, and blackout drinking. The invasive Americanisms amount to little in this attempt at a despairing, self-destructive my-gen tapestry, beginning/climaxing with a rape and a shooting, and retracing the steps of three buddies as they hunt for pussy, booze till they fall down, and in one case, get tangled up with a hot married teacher (Valeria Golino). Hot to trot, Paravidino (who also stars) serial-steals the glibbest syntax from Tarantino, Boyle, González Iñárritu, Meirelles, Wes Anderson, et al., but the stereotypes and contrivances slow it to a crawl. ATKINSON


Into Great Silence
(March 30 and April 2)

A portrait of the secluded Grand Chartreuse monastery in the French Alps, where monks of the Carthusian order have lived a silent, austere existence for centuries, Philip Gröning almost wordless, barely structured, nearly three-hour documentary itself aspires to be an object of contemplation. Filled with lushly grainy, time-killing shots (of candles, snow, dozing monks), blanketed in a great echoey hush (interrupted by the odd Gregorian chant), the film means to strong-arm viewers into a state of awed reverence. Already a prizewinner at Sundance and a surprise hit in Europe, and no wonder—it's the visual equivalent of a New Age meditation CD. LIM


Twelve and Holding
(March 31, April 1 and 2)

Michael Cuesta's follow-up to the glib L.I.E.is likewise a poisoned valentine to suburban adolescence, focusing on a trio of 12-year-olds from floridly dysfunctional families. Sullen Jacob plots revenge for the accidental death of his twin brother; lonely Malee develops an age-inappropriate crush on a construction worker; and fat Leonard, to the disapproval of his fat family, is compelled to slim down when he loses his sense of taste. The film's tonal shifts are alternately ambitious and irrational, and the terrific child actors lend some credence to a self-canceling mode that might be called humane Todd Solondz. An IFC release, opens in May. LIM


13 Tzameti
(March 31, April 1 and 2)

Part of an impoverished Georgian family in France, 20-year-old Sébastien (George Babluani) gets a job doing roof repair for an aged drug addict; the guy kicks the bucket before he pays up, but Sébastien has gotten wind of what sounds like a hugely profitable arrangement, so he appropriates his employer's train ticket and Paris hotel room and just follows instructions, with horrific results. With shades of The Passenger, Hostel, and Seven, Géla Babluani's assured and terrifically tense black-and-white debut is an unnerving noir on the sin of covetousness, even if the last act loses steam. A Palm release, opens in August. WINTER


Things That Hang From Trees
(March 31 and April 1)

A pint-sized Southern Goth indie set in late-'60s Florida, twentysomething Ido Mizrahy's debut movie doesn't pick and choose its clichés, but scoops them up by the payloader: a philosophical drunk, an abusive white-trash father, wayward kids (the hero is a bullied asthmatic), a caricatured old-school Christian (Daniel von Bargen as a barber so impacted he can't masturbate for throwing up), a diner-as-community-hub, and Deborah Kara Unger as a haughty, vampy, doped-up single mom. Mizrahy, adapting a novella, imbues everything with an adolescent sense of portent, and so it all proceeds as if it's underwater. ATKINSON


My Country, My Country
(April 1 and 2)

Laura Poitras, an experienced progressive doc-maker, makes the definitive nonfiction film about the U.S. occupation of Iraq, and as a counterpoint to acres of the usual cor porate-spun, power-tweaked non-news, it is indispensable, heartbreaking, and fe rociously wise. Time and again, Poitras manages to be where platoons of U.S. telejournalists were afraid to go, as she follows a Sunni activist-doctor around the Triangle in the year leading up to the 2005 elections, even accompanying him to the fences around Abu Ghraib: "We're an occupied country with a puppet government," Dr. Riyadh says to the pleading prisoners. "What do you expect?" Never intruding on her own movie, Poitras rides with the Kurds, records U.S. military briefings, listens to security contractors try to make sense out of chaos, sits in Sunni living rooms as shells fall in the street—it's a month's worth of visual experience packed into 90 minutes, and the most valuable piece of film to emerge about the war in all of its three years. ATKINSON


Wild Tigers I Have Known
(April 1 and 2)

The stifling, cloying tale of an adolescent boy's sexual coming-of-age, Cam Archer's nominally experimental debut doodle plays like a lobotomized Tarnation (or like an improbably straight-faced The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things). The erotic provocations are sometimes vapid, sometimes precious, and almost always unbelievable.A mannered attempt to capture the absurdity of hormonal pubescence, the film does achieve one dubious distinction: It often feels like it could have been made by a 13-year-old. LIM


Toi et Moi
(April 1 and 2)

Julie Lopes-Curval, she of 2003's Seaside, coasts on her demographic a bit with this fluffy ditz-fest: Two Parisian sisters, Ariane and Lena (Julie Depardieu and Marion Cotillard), struggle with unsatisfying long-term relationships as other options and dalliances emerge, all of it interpolated with candy-hued digital tableaux out of the soapy "photonovels" Ariane writes. Lopes-Curval is alive to her actresses' energies, but the mess of romantic fumbles and misconnections is unoriginal and sitcomy, edging dangerously close to being a My Big Fat French Infidelity. ATKINSON

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