This Year's New Directors/New Films is a Corker

This Year's New Directors/New Films is a Corker
Images courtesy filmlinc.com
Story of My Death

Diversity is not exactly a hallmark of American film festivals. During the early part of the year, in particular, cinephiles were greeted by the homogeneity of Sundance and South by Southwest in quick succession, where even the toasts of the programs tend to distinguish themselves by degree rather than type. These festivals have gradually cultivated a brand in harmony with the mainstream — a strategy that has yielded no shortage of lucrative crossover hits. Quite often these films are good. Rarely do they surprise or confound.

This uniformity is an ailment for which New Directors/New Films, co-curated by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art, provides a much-needed remedy. The festival has long been committed to celebrating the bold and unfamiliar, a mandate reflected in this, its 43rd lineup. These 27 features are heartening in part for how unlike one another they seem. Indeed, these films may share only one defining characteristic: deeply original visions. Here are some favorites.

Story of My Death

Buzzard
Buzzard
Dear White People
Dear White People

Location Info

Map

Film Society of Lincoln Center - Walter Reade Theater

165 W. 65th St.
New York, NY 10023

Category: Movie Theaters

Region: West 60s

Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

11 W. 53rd St.
New York, NY 10019

Category: Art Galleries

Region: West 50s

MoMA PS1

22-25 Jackson Ave.
Long Island City, NY 11101

Category: Art Galleries

Region: Long Island City

Details

New Directors/New Films
Walter Reade Theater, MOMA, MOMA PS1
March 19-30
newdirectors.org



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Speaking before the Locarno Critics Academy last year, Albert Serra infamously described his films as "unfuckable" — a term he later clarified: "The films are so radical and special in themselves," he explained, "that there are no weak points: They are impossible to criticize." Needless to say, this is the sort of statement that critics become eager to prove wrong. But here's the thing: Remarkably, and quite irritatingly, he's right. Serra's latest, Story of My Death, proves every bit as radical and special as he claims; it is a singular achievement and, perhaps, something of an esoteric masterpiece. As in Serra's earlier work, the subject is a historical figure: Casanova (Vicenç Altaió), the world libertine, in whose seemingly endless indulgences we're left to delight for the better part of an hour. Conflict arrives with the appearance of none other than Dracula (Eliseu Huertas), conspiring to partake of a more fatal indulgence, and before long gothic fantasy threatens to eclipse the period piece to which we'd grown fondly accustomed. Serra's approach to this material is one of violent defamiliarization. He writes, shoots, and edits in a manner entirely his own, and the result is a film whose greatness seems both obvious and elusive. There's only one word for this: It's unfuckable.

Buzzard

Marty Jackitansky, sprawled across fresh hotel linen in a complimentary bathrobe, dials room service: "I just wondered if I get any free stuff." This is Marty's purpose in life. It is also, in essence, the premise of Buzzard, a modern picaresque that follows this sunken-eyed young grifter as he pillages the world of its gratis pleasures. Marty is played, or rather embodied, by Joshua Burge, whose astonishing performance harnesses an almost feral intensity, like a young Denis Lavant. He works as a temp in a banking office, where his grifting reigns unchecked: We find him enjoying two-hour lunch breaks, ordering expensive office supplies on the company dime so that he can return them for cash, and, in his most devious coup, signing outbound checks over to himself and depositing them in his own account. The director, Joel Potrykus, hardly seems interested in the twists and turns of the conman film, and indeed, Marty recalls not so much a slick Mamet–esque swindler as the urban vulture suggested by the title. But around this unlikely hero Potrykus has fashioned a vigorous and strangely compelling character study, a sustained burst of punk-rock ferocity, and one of the most original American films to emerge in some time.

Dear White People

Like all great satire, Justin Simien's Dear White People is fueled chiefly by anger — at the everyday racism which endures across the United States, but also at the ignorance and complacency that encourages its persistence even among those who consider the problem more or less solved. In other words, this is a satire about racism among those least inclined to regard themselves as racist: The target is the kind of insidious micro-aggressions that, in the words of the press material, make it difficult to be "a black face in a white place." The place is that most enlightened of institutions, the Ivy League school, where absurdly over-privileged white kids blare trap rap and unironically ask their rare black friends about weaves. Simien, widening his satirical sweep, splits the story among four very different black students, who together represent an eclectic cross-section of contemporary black experience. A uniting crisis arrives in the form of an "African-American themed" frat party housed on campus, in which white students are encouraged to show up in blackface — an outrageous idea, you might think, until Simien inserts photographs to remind us that this has actually happened. Simien has a sharp ear for comedy, and the film is certainly hilarious. But it's anger that gives Dear White People the charge lifting it from funny to great.

To Kill a Man

Chilean director Alejandro Fernández Almendras has little patience for waste. His superb dramatic thriller To Kill a Man makes every one of its lean 81 minutes count; there's not an ounce of fat on it. The story is simple: Jorge (the excellent Daniel Candia), a meek family man and caretaker of a local park, finds himself at the mercy of Kalule (Daniel Antivilo), a local bully whose casual brutality quickly becomes a reign of terror that makes life for Jorge unbearable. As its title flatly suggests, To Kill a Man revolves around a murder: Finding the law unable or unwilling to intervene and seeing no other recourse, Jorge ultimately takes matters into his own feeble hands, and the main action of the film concerns his attempts to take the life of his tormentor. Almendras here poses a simple, unpretentious question: What does it take to kill a man? And then, just as simply and unpretentiously, he sets about answering it.

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1 comments
Matt
Matt

It should be noted that Buzzard appeared at SXSW, and To Kill a Man and Dear White People were at Sundance.  Thanks to the author for highlighting these films which I'm now interested in seeing, but it seems poorly researched / parochial to suggest that SXSW and Sundance are homogenous and then to highlight films that appeared at these festivals as deeply original when they appear within the program of New Directors/New Films.

 

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