Is there an award for Unlikely Star of the New York EXPOsition? Though Vladimir Putin is a contender, this year it would probably go to Neil Goldberg, who returns with a video that's even more whittled down than last year's one-take double portrait, My Parents Read Dreams I've Had About Them. His A System for Writing Thank-You Notes is an unblinking look at his father, an engineer who sits in a cluttered office reading off a meticulous list of sentences for reply cards after his wife's funeral. The movie morphs within its single take into a detached study of Goldberg père, with both camera and subject determined not to crack a discernible expression. What's chilling is that the director seems less a rival to Egoyan than one of his early characters brought to life.
Unknown Putin is a far more flip study of an isolated being. Filming chiefly amid Putin's appointment and election, director Sergei Miroshnichenko appears determined to ferret out the acting president with banal non-inquiries. Putin's old hairstyle, first car, wife, and favorite watch all bubble up, ping-ponging the video into a zone between day-in-the-life tagalong doc and Parade profile. Playing it straighter than Goldberg, Hadar Friedlich's Grief drops in on a Jerusalem cabbie mourning for his soldier son; he's interrupted by a succession of passengers who don't notice he's off the clock. The movie begins at an impasse, with soldiers, rabbis, and the father all figuring out what to call the death. Grief tracks emotions irradiated by workaday weariness; it climaxes with a nigh heartbreaking show of solidarity at a cemetery.
Copy Shop, a semi-experimental Austrian entry by Virgil Widrich, treads heavily on (Michael) Keaton/Kafka territory, presenting one man's life as an infinitely Xeroxable happening. It stops just short of overloading the synapsesthe wavering, crackling, blanched surface suggests a domesticated edition of the more erotic found-footage fetishists Martin Arnold and the Sixpack Film collective.
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