The 2002 "New Directors" (which introduced two of the year's best movies in Late Marriage and The Fast Runner) is a tough act to follow. Opening with the charming Loisaida romance Raising Victor Vargas, the 2003 edition seems more modest but no less far-flung. Familiar instances of Hong Kong power-pop, Iranian self-reflection, and Japanese crazy comedy are complemented by movies from Bangladesh, Cameroon, Slovenia, Tajikistan, and Camp Ovation. J. Hoberman
Bus 174 "This ain't no action movie," warns the hijacker of the titular coach in José Padilha's riveting documentary. Or maybe it is. Holding a half-dozen hostages and untold Brazilian TV viewers captive for nearly five hours in the summer of 2000, the villain sprinkles his menacing dialogue with references to a popular blockbuster while banking on the standards and practices of prime time to prolong his performance. Padilha, for his part, extracts the maximum drama from extraordinary video footage of hell in the City of God. Yet Bus 174 is most remarkable for doing what TV news and action films do not: delivering the details as part of a larger investigation of how terror is bred by neglect. March 27 and 28 (Rob Nelson)
Infernal Affairs In Andrew Lau and Alan Mak's fast-paced cops, robbers, and moles film, an undercover officer ensconced as a triad boss's right-hand man (an unshaven Tony Leung) goes cat and mouse with a mob plant in the police (Andy Lau). This flashy riff on the notion of fractured post-handover identity harkens back to the early-'90s heyday of the Hong Kong genre picture, with psychological conflict rather than bullet ballets. March 27 and 28 (Mark Peranson)
Mondays in the Sun Fernando León de Aranoa's drama about laid-off dockworkers in a Spanish port town suggests a buttoned-up Full Monty swimming in a salty marinade of Loachian naturalism. Sad-eyed, short-tempered Santa (Javier Bardem) resorts to baby-sitting; José (Luis Tosar) reluctantly cedes the role of breadwinner to his wife; Lino (José Angel Egido) wonders if dyeing his hair will help at interviews. More sorrowful than angry, the film emphasizes the men's laconic camaraderie as much as their emasculated frustration. Lions Gate releases it in April. March 27 and 28 (Dennis Lim)
Respiro Valeria Golino stars as a bipolar babe trapped in a stultifying, sunbaked Sicilian town. It's not exactly La Terra Trema, but the actress is superb. Everything she does, from mothering her children to packing sardines, has a wiry glint of madness. Emanuele Crialese's unsentimental movie overplays its hand, but there's no denying its fierce, dreamy lyricism. Sony Classics releases it in May. March 28 and 29 (JH)
Angel on the Right A tough Tajik gangster returns home from Moscow to see his dying mother. Jamshed Usmonov's deadpan dark comedy is Friedrich Dürrenmatt's The Visit in reversethe town has lured the hoodlum back, hoping to get its hands on his money. March 29 and 30 (JH)
The Day I Will Never Forget As in her films Runaway and Divorce Iranian Style, British documentarian Kim Longinotto takes a powerfully straightforward look at a complicated issue as it affects girls and women abroad: in this case, the customary practice of female circumcision within Kenya's Somali community. The nine-year-old girl whose poem gives the film its title also supplies the most haunting moments. "If you want me to forgive you," she tells her mother, who ordered the operation, "don't circumcise my sister." A Women Make Movies release. March 29 and 30 (RN)
Ticket to Jerusalem A Palestinian projectionist is determined to show some 16mm cartoons in a Jerusalem courtyard that has been appropriated by an orthodox yeshiva. Rashid Masharawi's slight but affecting verité fiction is not only a vivid account of Palestinian life under military rule but a little essay on the "use-value" of cinema. A Global Film Initiative release. March 29 and 30 (JH)
My Architect Director Nathaniel Kahn goes in search of the father he barely knewrenowned architect Louis Kahn, who died mysteriously, broke and without ID, in Penn Station some three decades ago, leaving behind three families. Organized as a pilgrimage to the elder Kahn's grandiose, geometric structures (culminating in Bangladesh's astonishing riverside National Parliament), this absorbing if somewhat baggy personal doc folds in candid testimonials from the master draftsman's peers and family members, including the filmmaker's mother and half-sisters. March 29 and 30 (DL)
The Embalmer Meet Peppino, suave gay dwarf taxidermist and sugar daddy to his hunky young assistants. Enter Valerio, who Peppino picks up while trolling the zoo, and trollop Deborah, who seeks to woo Valerio away from his Iago-like, mob-connected keeper. Fireworks! Ripped from the Italian headlines, this true-life love triangle is actually played for little sensationalism by director Matteo Garrone, who patiently observes Peppino's bubbling sexual anxiety. The result is a low-key thriller, oddly nuanced and creepy. A First Run release. March 29 and 30 (MP)
A Red Bear After being released from prison, the ursine, fortysomething antihero seeks out his young daughter while collecting the money he's owed from his last job, by any means necessary. Bolivia director Adrián Caetano's thuggish, awkwardly acted revenge drama transposes the character-driven western, Eastwood-style, to the Buenos Aires barrio. What's unique, though, is the introduction of genre elements at a time when the Argentinean new wave heavily lists in the direction of neo-neorealism. March 31 and April 1 (MP)
The Glow One of the most philosophical of Israeli directors, Igal Bursztyn turns a comedy of manners into a science fiction allegory, predicated on the arrival of an alien presence. Among other attractions, The Glow features Israeli performance artist Tinkerbell in the role of a middle-aged ex-general's trophy girlfriend. March 31 and April 1 (JH)
Wild Berries With the exception of the long-suffering daughter, everyone lies, for all too transparent reasons, in Japanese first-timer Miwa Nishikawa's mild wacky-family riff. As in Time Out, Dad keeps his unemployment a secret, but his cover is blown at granddad's wake, where the estranged son, now scamming funeral parlors, re-enters the picture, offering to put his parents' finances in order. March 31 and April 1 (DL)
Black Tape: The Videotape Fariborz Kam-kari Found in the Garbage The subtitle spells out the Blair Witch-y premise. In choppy, motion-sick fragments, a camcorder records the intensifying mind games between a Kurdish teen bride and her monstrous Iranian husband. There are plenty of harrowing moments in Fariborz Kamkari's first featuresome more oblique than othersbut as a conceptual stunt, it has curiously little regard for structural integrity. March 31 and April 1 (DL)
"New Directors/New Films" coverage continues next week.
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