There were 27 features and 10 short films scheduled in this year’s New Directors/New Films series (March 16-27, 2016), the 45th in the event sponsored jointly by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art. The heavy schedule forces one to pick and choose, and there were mixed results out of those I could catch, par for the course, as the purpose is to present the works of new directors and the caliber inevitably varies.
The most engagingly complex of those that I saw was “Suite Armoricaine,” a French film directed by Pascale Breton. Consistently well-acted, the story involves coming to terms with the past in the context of the present, and various relationships are tested in the process.
Valérie Dréville gives a very impressive performance as Françoise, an art historian who has been living in Paris but accepts an assignment to teach at her old alma mater in Rennes, where she runs into problems. For one thing, she encounters a former classmate, the tragic Moon, played impulsively by Elina Löwensohn. Although they had been close friends, the gap is now sprawling, as Moon is homeless, deeply disturbed and bursting with anger and resentment. Trying to help her is a lost cause. The irresponsible man in her life shows up with his buddies and they are all also a mess.
Moon’s son Ion, played by Kaou Langoët, a student at the school, falls for Lydie (Manon Evenat), who is blind, but his life is marked by battles with Moon. The film gains from its various character portraits, but basically it is a story of how Françoise copes with her life, as she must decide on what she wants and figure out how to deal with the emotional challenges that face her.
Director Breton displays a novelistic bent as the layers of characters and relationships are explored with both sweep and intimacy. Actually, Breton made her directing debut in 2004 with “Illumination.” This is her first feature since then.
Kirsten Johnson has been a major cinematographer and for “Cameraperson” she has assembled clips from her work on various films. The result is a fascinating tour of many countries where she has followed her profession.
In effect “Cameraperson” is a visual scrapbook and personal story of her career. The scope of her experiences also makes it a story of people and their lives as reflected in her work. Seeing this film affords an enjoyable and often moving experience, and it is among the most gratifying achievements in the series.
If you ever had an interest in what farm life was like, you might enjoy following the day to day existence of Peter Dunning in “Peter and the Farm,” an American documentary directed by Tony Stone. The scene is Dunning’s farm in Vermont, where he leads a reclusive life devoted to daily farming chores.
The film follows Dunning in his routines, whether caring for animals or killing and skinning one. He blabbers a lot to us as he goes about his duties with casualness that reveals how deeply engrained his work is. He also enjoys drinking a lot.
One is hard pressed to like Dunning, as he is irascible and at times off-putting. Yet his lonely life, severed from his past wives and children, make one feel sorry for him. It is a hard life, and by the end of the film he indicates that he is fed up with it, but what else is there to do?
In the process we get an ultra-detailed view of the strenuous work it takes to keep up a farm. For one who has never had that experience, “Peter and the Farm” can seem like a richly informational travelogue. But I was happy to return to my New York City apartment.
One film that started off interestingly but ultimately disappointed me was “Under the Shadow,” directed by Babak Anvari, a UK/Jordan/Quatar production in Farsi with English subtitles. The scene is in the midst of the bloody war between Iran and Iraq. Shideh, played by Narges Rashidi, has been a political activist but now wants to return to medical school. However, she is turned down. Her husband has been ordered into the military, and as bombs fall in Tehran, people are trying to escape.
Shidah has a young daughter named Dorsa, who is obsessed with a favorite doll. One has sympathy for this mother and daughter, and the impression is that this will be a tough story related to the war.
So what happens? Unfortunately the film turns into a typical horror tale. Dorsa is hearing voices, and there is a metaphysical plot that involves mysterious forces etc. with hysterical mother-daughter scenes.“Under the Shadow” starts out to be one thing and winds up another, and that twist falls into the realm of horror film clichés, only they take place in Iran.
“Remainder,” directed by Omer Fast, is a convoluted film that keeps up interest in flitting from present to past and back and establishing a mystery that deepens as it progresses, although the ending is on the far-fetched side.
The film, based on a novel by Tom McCarthy, begins with a thud, literally. In London a chunk of a building falls on the head of a young man played by Tom Sturridge. One would think he had to be dead, but no, he survives and gets a bundle of cash as a settlement.
But his memory is shot. He has no recollection of what happened, including where he was headed at the time. He sets out to learn the truth. We noticed a mystery woman early on, and what was taking place at the moment he was hit is for us to discover as well as for him to learn.
Thus the film plays with memory, and teases us into its revelations. Fast structures it well, and little by little there is enlightenment about the intrigue that was under way when the protagonist got clobbered.
There were portions of one film that gave me particular pleasure. They occurred in “Kaili Blues,” a film from China directed by Bi Gan. Although the plot is no great shakes, it did involve moving along stretches of countryside roads that offered a picture of what natural beauty exists Guishou province, and by inference, elsewhere in China. Reviewed March 23, 2016.