The New World


MOMA and the Film Society of Lincoln Center collaborate yet again on New Directors/New Films, their annual festival of emerging talent and debut films. Here, thoughts on participating films that our critics deemed cool enough to see ahead of time.

The Inner Life of Martin Frost

Directed by Paul Auster

March 21, 22, 24

A Paul Auster affair from tip to toe, The Inner Life of Martin Frost pays crashingly sober tribute to the creative conflicts and conceits of the literary life, with none of the verve or heady incandescence of the similarly concerned Adaptation. Expanded from Auster’s novel The Book of Illusions, the film follows the visitation of muse-like spirit Claire (Iréne Jacob) upon novelist Martin (David Thewlis) as he recovers from the recent completion of a novel at his friends’ country home. Auster provides the narration, which is often more successful (Martin longs “to live the life of a stone”) than the burgeoning lovers’ lumpy exchanges. Auster’s directorial impulses are pedestrian at best (black-and-white, slo-mo montages of Claire persist), and the cross-cutting between Claire’s death rattle, Martin’s typing, and a fire’s flagging embers can’t bring the stubbornly literary melodrama to life. Michelle Orange

El Custodio

Directed by Rodrigo Moreno

March 22, 24

Humiliation comes to a disquieting boil in Rodrigo Moreno’s film about all the waiting a bodyguard, Rubén (Julio Chávez), does for his boss Artemio (Osmar Núñez), the Argentine Minister of National Planning. Conceptually, El Custodio isn’t exactly audacious, but the resilience with which Moreno observes Rubén’s life, creating a consistently intense analog between the headily clenched aesthetic of the film and the soul-crushing procedure Rubén submits to, reveals a keen understanding of the demoral- izing effects of a terrible job. Ed Gonzalez

Red Road

Directed by Andrea Arnold

March 25, 27

English Oscar winner (for the 2005 short Wasp) Andrea Arnold’s first feature is also the first entry in the Advance Party project, a Dogme collective that has challenged three directors to make a film set in Scotland, using the same characters. In a housing complex in the titular dodgy corner of Glasgow, Jackie (Kate Dickie) spends her days manipulating public-surveillance cameras and monitoring the Red Road area for criminal activity, when she spots and is drawn to a man (Tony Curran) whose role in her family’s tragedy is not fully revealed until the end. From the lurid reds bleeding through every frame, to the suffering behind Dickie’s tense, alert eyes, to the unnervingly hot sex scene, Red Road is a bleak, sensual, and harrowing debut. Michelle Orange

The Great World of Sound
photo: Florencia Blanco; Joy Kennedy ©2006, GWS Media, LLC

The Great World of Sound

Directed by Craig Zobel

March 30 through April 1

Craig Zobel’s The Great World of Sound has been described as a skewering spit-take on
American Idol, but it has more in common with the working-class-hero oeuvre of Jack Lemmon. Deceptively studious Martin (Pat Healy) and shit-talking Clarence (Kene Holliday) meet at a record label’s recruiting workshop, a shady affair that hands out “producer” titles like Dixie cups. As “producers,” the duo travels to various cities to audition the starry-eyed saps who respond to scouting ads, then convince them to pay thousands of dollars to produce a sham record. It’s called “song sharking,” and it’s a real phenomenon. Though we are by now conditioned to respond with haughty amusement to the lunacy of the talentless, Zobel further complicates the film’s question of who’s the bigger asshole by capturing the auditions of actual respondents to his own song-sharking ad with hidden cameras, then using them in his film. Michelle Orange

Padre Nuestro

Directed by Christopher Zalla

March 31, April 1

When another Mexican immigrant steals his identity and belongings, Pedro (Jorge Adrián Espíndola) traverses the dingy streets of Brooklyn looking for his father while strangers swoop down to exploit his lack of defenses. A harrowing swirl of bitter betrayals and close calls, Christopher Zalla’s Sundance champ risks trivializing the real-world perils of illegal émigrés beneath its thriller gloss, but the writer-director’s restlessly aestheticized vision of New York City, like the schematic albeit interesting arcs he fashions for his characters, illuminates the way immigrants are readily oppressed while getting at a culture’s notions of privilege and community. Ed Gonzalez

7 Years

Directed by Jean-Pascal Hattu

March 24, 26

Jean-Pascal Hattu lays out a twisted romantic scenario with his new film. Maïté (Valérie Donzelli) begins an affair with Jean (Cyril Troley), a warden at the prison where her husband, Vincent (Bruno Todeschini), is serving his sentence. Things get complicated when Maïté learns that Vincent is privy to her affair, at which point the married couple vicariously lives out its relationship through Jean. Hattu’s direction can be stilted, and while he doesn’t risk the homoerotic daring Patrice Chéreau might have entertained, 7 Years remains interesting for its unique take on emotional surrogacy. Ed Gonzalez