By DAVE ITZKOFF
The premiere of a documentary about Bill Cunningham, a photographer for The New York Times, will open New Directors/New Films, the annual series presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art, the society and the museum announced. The documentary, called “Bill Cunningham New York,” follows Mr. Cunningham on his assignments for the Styles sections of The Times and chronicles his life and work over eight decades. It is directed by Richard Press and produced by Philip Gefter, a former staff member of The Times, and will be presented on March 24 at MoMA.
The festival’s closing-night film, on April 4, will be “I Killed My Mother” (“J’ai Tué Ma Mère”) by the Canadian writer and director Xavier Dolan. Mr. Dolan also stars in the film, with Anne Dorval, as a man who is consistently at odds with his mother as he discovers his homosexuality. New Directors/New Films will present 38 films, including 27 features and 11 shorts, representing filmmakers from 20 countries.
A lineup of films with descriptions provided by the festival appears below.
Bill Cunningham New York
Richard Press, USA, 2010; 84 min.
In a city of dedicated originals, New York Times photographer Bill Cunningham stands out as one who both captures the essence of the singular personality and clearly represents one himself. Entering his ninth decade, Cunningham still rides his Schwinn around Manhattan, putting miles between his street-level view of personal style and what the titans of fashion will come to discover down the road. This heartfelt and honest documentary turns the camera on one who has so lovingly and selflessly captured the looks that have defined generations, and the events and people that captivate our beloved New York.
I Killed My Mother (J’ai tué ma mère)
Xavier Dolan, Canada, 2009; 96 min.
Director Xavier Dolan’s cri de coeur bracingly exposes the limits of love. Dolan himself plays the lead character, Hubert, a fiery creature full of lust and venom. His burgeoning (homo)sexuality is distinctly and intensely at odds with his mutually parasitic maternal relationship. The more Hubert and his aggravatingly conventional mother (Anne Dorval) realize they cannot continue to live as child and parent, the more they are drawn to each other. Their intimacy can only manifest through vicious arguments, lending an Albee-esque absurdity to their encounters. Dolan brilliantly situates the violence of the relationship within an exquisite filmic structure, allowing the humor and the pathos of his tale to emerge. A Regent Releasing Film
Eric Mendelsohn, USA, 2010; 85 min.
Eric Mendelsohn (Judy Berlin, ND/NF 1999) returns with this exquisite, unsettling trio of life-changing episodes set in a leafy, tranquil corner of Long Island suburbia. After his business trip is canceled, John (Elias Koteas) finds himself minutes from home yet lost and distanced from everything familiar. Part-time painter and full-time mom Peggy (Edie Falco) is delighted when asked by a celebrity neighbor for a lift to a distant ferry, but the trip has a trajectory profoundly different than what she’d expected. And when 8-year-old Christina (Rachel Resheff) runs to school after missing the bus, the journey takes her to places she never imagined existed. Endowed with the mystery of a John Cheever short story, 3 Backyards is a beautifully composed film, with light, color, sound, and action blending together to create the vibrant sense of a world full of interior and exterior secrets.
Looking at Animals
Marc Turtletaub, USA, 2009; 25 min.
After a lifetime photographing animals in the wild, Raymond retires to a small town and starts observing his neighbors.
Hélène Cattet/Bruno Forzani, Belgium/France, 2009; 90 min.
The title is the French word for “bitter” but this provocative and sensational debut is anything but. An oneiric, eroticized homage to 1970s Italian giallo horror movies reimagined as an avant-garde trance film, Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s pastiche tour de force plays out a delirious, enigmatic, almost wordless death-dance of fear and desire. Its three movements, each in a different style, correspond to the childhood, adolescence, and adulthood of its female protagonist—and that’s all you need to know. Drawing its stylized, hyperbolic gestures from the playbooks of Bava, Leone, Argento, and De Palma and taking them into a realm of near-abstraction, Amer has genre in the blood. Its bold widescreen compositions, super focused sound, emphatic music (lifted from original giallo soundtracks), and razor sharp cuts make for an outrageous and intoxicating cinematic head trip.
Christoph Rainer, Austria, 2010; 13 min.
For two boys locked in a basement, boundaries become blurred between dream and reality, light and shadow, life and death.
Beautiful Darling: The Life and Times of Candy Darling, Andy Warhol
Written and directed by James Raisin, USA, 2010; 82 min.
Born James Slattery in Massapequa, Long Island, in 1944, Candy Darling transformed herself into a stunning blonde actress who in the mid-Sixties became an active player in New York’s “downtown” scene. In her passionate act of self-creation, Candy Darling mesmerized. A party fixture, she appeared in Warhol films, and Tennessee Williams cast her in a play. She was seen and written about, and then, before she turned 30, cancer claimed her life. Using vintage footage and interviews old and new, and anchored by the presence of Candy’s very close friend, Jeremiah Newton, director James Rasin creates a critical and loving portrait of a singular and audacious life. With Jackie Curtis, Holly Woodlawn, Penny Arcade, Paul Morrissey, Fran Lebowitz, John Waters. Candy’s letters and diaries read by Chloë Sevigny.
Carmen Vidal, USA/Spain, 2010; 15 min.
A film editor working late finds himself mysteriously drawn to the raw footage he is cutting.
Sultan Sharrief, USA, 2009; 83 min.
For almost 60 years, Bilal’s family has run a taxi business—known to everybody in the neighborhood as “the stand”—started by his grandfather. But times are getting tougher: there’s more competition, and Bilal is thinking of leaving the stand and going off to university. Based on a true story, Bilal’s Stand is a delightful and moving look at a world rarely seen: a stable, loving, black Muslim family, struggling to keep a business alive amid both internal and external pressures. For his crew, debut director Sultan Sharrief used many of the students from EFEX, the inner-city outreach program he founded in his native Detroit, as well as many nonprofessional actors, some of whom even play themselves.
2009. Greece. Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos. A Kino release. 96 min.
The most perverse film of the year—you’ll be scratching your head when you’re not laughing it off. In an inscrutable scenario that suggests a warped experiment in social conditioning and control, Dogtooth presents scenes from the life of a not-so-average family that inhabits an idyllic villa compound sealed off from all contact with the outside world. In a new spin on home schooling, the head of the household has taught his adolescent children a drastically rearranged vocabulary: a salt shaker is a “telephone,” an armchair is “the sea” and—you get the idea. Moreover, to attend to the teenagers’ sexual needs, he arranges occasional visits from a female employee. With echoes of Buñuel, Arturo Ripstein and early Atom Egoyan, this is a deadpan satire on patriarchy and the sexual Pandora’s box concealed within every family.
Amy Grappell, USA, 2010; 20 min.
An unconventional look at the director’s conventional parents, who lived in a group marriage in the ’70s.
Ben Wheatley, UK, 2009; 89 min.
Mike Leigh meets The Sopranos in this extraordinary family crime drama, shot in eight days largely in one location. Fresh out of jail, Bill (Robert Hill) is obsessed with finding out who snitched on him. His son, Karl (Robin Hill), also just released, is similarly concerned but has other things on his mind—namely, what to do about his pregnant girlfriend. Bill, eager to ferret out the informer, lays out a series of traps and ruses for his associates—that is, when he’s not singing old Fairport Convention songs while accompanying himself on guitar. Director Ben Wheatley (BBC’s The Wrong Door) makes a powerful feature-film debut, creating an astonishing sense of normalcy laced with jet-black humor. A Magnolia Pictures/Magnet release.
Break a Leg
Jesse Shamata, Canada, 2009; 7 min.
You talking to me? A tightly wound hit-man meets his mark for breakfast.
The Evening Dress (La robe du soir)
Myriam Aziza, France, 2009; 95 min.
Juliette lives with her two siblings and mother, and while a bit shy, seems to lead an average life. Then she develops a crush on her French teacher, Madame Solenska (Belgian-Portuguese singer Lio), who at first seems to appreciate her pupil’s admiration. Juliette becomes convinced that she’s as special to Madame Solenska as she feels the teacher is to her. But the crush veers off into obsession, as Juliette starts to follow Madame Solenska around town and even to her home. Myriam Aziza beautifully captures the stifing small-town atmosphere, as well as the complex, contradictory emotional life of this twelve-year old: even if Juliette’s feelings are misguided or naïve, they are no less susceptible to being hurt. Lio is terrific as the teacher, a proud woman comfortable with her beauty.
Every Day Is a Holiday (Chaque jour est une fête)
Dima El-Horr, France/Germany/Lebanon, 2009; 90 min.
A stunning first scene immediately establishes the highly charged atmosphere in Dima El-Horr’s carefully controlled first feature, filled with absurd moments and symbolic gestures. Three women (Hiam Abbass, Manal Khader, Raïa Haïdar) with very different motives board a bus on the Lebanese Day of Liberation to visit their husbands in jail. When the bus is stopped short by a stray bullet, the women are left to find their own way in the hot sun through mountains full of mines, amid sounds of muffled explosions, throngs of refugees, and rumors of massacres. Their perilous journey becomes an internal one towards liberation, as individual life and collective memory blend, and the personal and political are blurred.
Salomé Aleksi, Georgia, 2009; 30 min.
A Georgian woman working in Italy finds a very modern way to uphold a custom from her old homeland. A microcosm of relations in the global economy.
The Father of My Children
Mia Hansen-Løve, France/Germany, 2009; 110 min.
Inspired by the life and death of the late, legendary French film producer Humbert Balsam, Mia Hansen-Løve’s film is a work of two halves. The first follows the business dealings of Grégoire (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing), frantically shuttling between office and home, juggling the demands of artistic egos, lawyers, and bankers and the needs of his beloved family—not to mention his surrogate family at work. Then the focus shifts dramatically to Grégoire’s wife Sylvia (Chiara Caselli), who together with her three daughters, must cope with devastating loss and struggle to keep Grégoire’s company going and preserve his legacy. If the first half of this moving yet never sentimental drama is among the most convincing depictions of life in the movie business ever filmed, the second is an incredibly tender look at picking up the pieces after heartbreaking bereavement. An IFC Films release.
Babak Jalali, Iran/UK/Italy, 2009; 95 min.
Iran’s northern border ranges from mountains to plains to the Caspian Sea; Persians, Turkmen, and Kazakhs share the landscape. Filmmaker Babak Jalali presents an assortment of hometown stories that evoke the potential and diversity of this unfulfilled gateway between Europe and Asia. Alam is in love with a girl he has never spoken to; Kazem owns a clothing store but can’t seem to stock anything that fits; and Hassam, at age 30, counts a pet donkey and a tape player as his only companions. Meanwhile, a minstrel who claims his wife was stolen by someone in a green Mercedes years ago is chronicled by a Tehran photographer. With a cinematic style that is a study in elegant simplicity, Frontier Blues is a sweet, slightly absurdist snapshot of desperate men, absent women, and waiting for whatever the future may hold.
The Bizarre Friends of Ricardinho
Augusto Canani, Brazil, 2009; 20 min.
A weird trainee. A stifling job. In the midst of corporate oppression, a worker passively fights back with stories from home.
The Happiest Girl in the World
Radu Jude, The Netherlands/Romania, 2009; 99 min.
Romanians are back with another bone-dry, pitch-black comedy—this time bearing a particularly cynical view on happiness, the cruelty of families, and the making of inept television commercials. In his feature-film debut, Radu Jude is already a master of uneasy hilarity. When a plucky provincial duckling of a young lady wins a contest, she must travel with her parents to the buzzing metropolis of Bucharest to claim her prize. But there’s a catch—in fact, there are several, the most troublesome aimed straight from home… Jude’s film is a bittersweet experience that’s as nasty as it is enjoyable, and as true to life as fiction can get over one hot summer afternoon. And as “the happiest girl,” Andrea Bosneag is a breakthrough discovery.
François Alaux, Hervé de Crécy, and Ludovic Houplain, France, 2009; 17 min.
Cops and robbers and wild animals, oh my! Brought to you by every possible sponsor under the sun.
How I Ended This Summer
Alexei Popogrebsky, Russia, 2010; 124m
Immersing us in the frozen wilds of the Russian Arctic, writer/director Alexei Popogrebsky makes an impressive addition to the canon of films about man’s extraordinary ability to cope with harsh nature and extreme isolation. Young Pavel (Grigory Dobrygin) arrives at a remote research station for a summer of adventure under the tutelage of the wise and crusty Sergei (Sergei Puskepalis), whose multi-year assignment to the post is coming to an end. Misplaced confidence and youthful immaturity lead to a string of potentially deadly deceptions. The deliberate pace of life in the Arctic, combined with the disorienting round-the-clock sunlight, sets the stage for a thriller infused with equal parts psychological trauma and physical endurance.
Hunting & Sons
Sander Burger, Netherlands, 2010; 93 min.
Newlyweds and childhood sweethearts Tako and Sandra lead a cute suburban life. Tako relocated from the city to marry Sandra and runs the family bike business; she seems happy working at a small employment agency. Both the couple and their apartment look ripped from this season’s Ikea catalogue—everything is perfectly lovely. Then things get even better: Sandra is pregnant. But the good news starts a small tear in the adorable façade that grows as the characters pull at it. Tako decides to take this opportunity to grow up, while Sandra, suffering from an eating disorder, starts to slim down—and the pretty scenery of their life starts to fall away. Panicked about the future, Tako takes measures that become more and more drastic. In his second feature film, director Sander Burger paints a sharp and biting portrait of the pitfalls of happiness.
Rob and Valentyna in Scotland
Eric Lynne, USA/UK, 2009; 23 min.
Long-lost — and just plain lost — cousins travel from the Ukraine to the Scottish highlands.
I Am Love
Luca Guadagnino, Italy, 2009; 120 min.
Luca Guadagnino’s third narrative feature is a thrillingly melodramatic story of family business—in more ways than one. Set in the haut bourgeois world of modern-day Milan, the film ushers us into the seemingly perfect world of sumptuous elegance inhabited by the Recchi dynasty, whose fortune is built on its successful textile manufacturing business. After the firm’s founder and patriarch transfers co-control of the business to his son Tancredi and grandson Edoardo, Tancredi’s wife, Emma (Tilda Swinton), feels pangs of empty-nest syndrome and a growing sense of living in a gilded cage—until she finds herself led down an unlikely path by unexpectedly stirring desire. This compelling yet oh-so restrained drama of the eternal conflict between family ties and personal fulfillment unfolds with dazzling visual style, propelled by John Adam’s distinctive staccato score. A Magnolia Pictures release.
Last Train Home
Lixin Fan, Canada/China, 2009; 88 min.
Each year the largest migration of people in human history happens over New Year’s when city workers leave en masse for their homes in the countryside, often traveling days by train. For the first half of this remarkable documentary, you’ll wonder how the filmmaker even shot it. But as that wonder subsides, an absorbing drama develops—a drama that plays out among families all over China yet is universally intense, powerful, and heartbreaking. With his 35mm camera, Lixin Fan follows one couple (out of one hundred and thirty million travelers!): the Zhangs, who make the long and crowded journey to their rural village. Sixteen years ago, they left their now-teenage rebellious daughter with her grandparents—and their welcome is not a happy one.
Snow Hides the Shade of Fig Trees
Samer Najari, Canada, 2009; 21 min.
Six immigrants eke out a living with humor. The bitter cold weakens the resolve of one, but not for long.
The Man Next Door (El hombre de al lado)
Mariano Cohn/Gastón Duprat, Argentina; 2009; 100 min.
The star of this dry and wicked black comedy is a building: The Curutchet House in La Plata, south of Buenos Aires—the only residence designed by Le Corbusier in the Americas. In this Argentine satire about class, the love of beautiful things, and violent urges, the landmark structure plays the fictional home of world-famous interior designer Leonardo and his wife and daughter. All cherish the privileged status conferred by living in the house. Then, horror strikes: a neighbor who wants more sun puts a window in the wall facing the family’s courtyard! Suddenly, aesthetic symmetry is destroyed, and the neighbor—too friendly, too crude, and too insistent—can now peer into their pristine and elegant abode. With scalpel-like precision, filmmakers Mariano Cohn and Gaston Duprat chart the ebb and flow of this dramatic disturbance.
Robby Reis, Canada, 2009; 8 min.
A young graffiti writer marks her way through Montreal’s graffiti art subculture.
Robin Hessman, USA/UK, 2010; 87 min.
The history of the 20th century was bookended by the Bolshevik Revolution and the collapse of the Soviet Union, and in between came the era-defining Cold War. But for Russians who grew up during this history and now live beyond it, what does it mean to be Russian today? Robin Hessman’s thoughtful and beautifully crafted documentary explores the lives of a group of former schoolmates who are finding their ways in a brave new world: two teachers, a businessman, a single mother, and a famous rock musician. Their stories, and the fabric of their lives, reveal a Russia that may or may not be worlds away from the Soviet model. Using propaganda films, home movies, and incredible access to her subjects, Hessman’s film creates a touching portrait of ordinary people living through extraordinary times.
Night Catches Us
Tanya Hamilton, USA, 2009; 90 min.
The debut feature from Tanya Hamilton exposes the realities of African-American life during the final days of the Black Power movement, as potluck suppers, run-ins with the authorities, and lingering radicalism threaten to set off a neighborhood teetering on the edge. Set in Philadelphia in 1976, Night Catches Us focuses on two former Black Panther activists (Anthony Mackie and Kerry Washington) who reunite during the summer before Jimmy Carter’s election. Through two people drawn together despite their past, the film paints a fresh perspective of the era and gives an allegory for our own times in the age of Obama. As friends forced to confront personal and political demons, Mackie and Washington give spectacular performances, while Hamilton’s use of 14
an intense soundtrack (by The Roots) and moving archival footage bring to life the history of black resistance.
Dima El-Horr, France/Germany/Lebanon, 2009; 93 min.
Cinema’s fascination with illegal border crossings between Mexico and the United States is given a totally fresh take in Rigoberto Perezcano’s delicately poised film. Focused on how life is lived precariously between desperate attempts to cross over, the story follows Oaxaca-born Andres (Harold Torres) as he bides his time in Tijuana. He finds a little work at a convenience store and gets friendly with the two women (Alicia Laguna and Sonia Couoh) who run it. As their friendship deepens and their individual stories emerge, the emotional costs of the ties that bind are explored with great sensitivity. The sincerity of the minimal story line is balanced by a liberating humor and breathtakingly beautiful images that give life and dignity to Andres and his fellow travelers.
Laura Poitras, USA, 2010; 95 min.
Filmed over a two-year period, The Oath interweaves the stories of Abu Jandal, Osama bin Laden’s former bodyguard (now driving a cab in Yemen), and Salim Hamdan, a Guantanamo Bay prisoner charged with war crimes. Filmmaker Laura Poitras (My Country, My Country, ND/NF 2006) takes us deep inside the world of Al Qaeda, Guantanamo, and U.S. interrogation methods through a dramatic structure filled with plot reversals, betrayals, and never-before-seen intelligence documents. The second in a planned trilogy on America post–9/11, The Oath is an intricately constructed work that keeps the viewer off balance and works on several levels. Shading the complexities of her subjects in the manner of great novelists, Poitras delivers an intimate portrait that precludes easy conclusions as it builds to question the methods of America’s war on terror with uncommon eloquence.
Tizza Covi/Rainer Frimmel, Austria, 2009; 101 min.
Looking for her lost dog, a middle-aged circus worker, Patti (Patrizia Gerardi), instead finds an abandoned two-year old child near her trailer. In this engaging unsentimental tale of human decency and solidarity, the little orphan finds home and family with circus folks in a trailer park on the outskirts of Rome. As they look for the mother, Patti and her friends and neighbors slowly but surely fall in love with the kid. Drawing on their background in documentary, filmmakers Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel naturally depict the easygoing rapport among generations in a small community where everyone depends on one another. The superb acting brings us close to a marginalized group rarely depicted with such unpretentious dignity, displaying a joie de vivre and infectious family vibe.
The Red Chapel
Mads Brügger, Denmark, 2009; 87 min.
Denmark launches an all-out attack on North Korea in this has-to-be-seen-to-be-believed documentary that ventures into territory somewhere between Michael Moore and Borat. Bankrolled by Lars von Trier’s Zentropa production company, the aptly named Mads Brügger travels to Pyongyang on a feigned mission of cultural exchange, bringing a camera crew and the Danish-Korean slapstick-comedy team Red Chapel. The duo consists of Simon, who aims to perform an acoustic rendition of Oasis’s “Wonderwall” accompanied by a choir of Korean schoolgirls, and Jacob, a self-described “spastic” whose mangled speech is incomprehensible to the minders assigned to “assist” the troupe. And while the duped hosts get more than they bargain for—a lot more—the Danish visitors find things aren’t as ethically clear-cut as they’d prefer them to be.
Samson and Delilah
Warwick Thornton, Australia, 2009; 101 min.
Samson (Rowan McNamara) and Delilah (Marissa Gibson) are two young people struggling to find themselves and each other. Set in the aboriginal communities of Australia, what might have been an age-old love story explodes cliché and convention through unvarnished and unyielding authenticity. Director Warwick Thornton—who, like the principal cast, hails from aboriginal background—plunges us into red-dirt landscapes that serve in equal measure as oasis and prison. Traditions both nourish and entrap, and as boy and girl wrestle with a fate that may seem inevitable, love shows the way forward. Winner of the Caméra d’Or for best debut feature at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival.
Nader T.Homayoun, Iran/France, 2009; 95 min.
A man holds a sickly child in his arms, begging passersby for money with a tale of how his wife has recently died and he desperately needs help. We soon learn the man is Ibrahim, a recent arrival in the big city, and that the child isn’t really his—the boy’s actually rented from a local gang-lord to make Ibrahim a more effective beggar. Welcome to Tehroun, as Iranians call their capital city. Nader Homayoun’s debut feature presents a searing portrait of the city’s hidden, seamier side, a world of child trafficking, smuggling of just about anything, and assorted other criminal activities. A sensation in the Critics’ Week at last year’s Venice Film Festival, where it won the audience award, Tehroun marks a new chapter in the fascinating evolution of Iranian cinema.
Women Without Men
Shirin Neshat, Germany/Austria/France, 2009; 100 min.
Directed by Shirin Neshat in collaboration with Shoja Azari. Winner of the Silver Lion for best director at the 2009 Venice Film Festival, Shirin Neshat’s feature-film debut represents an assured shift from the gallery-based moving images for which she is known, to the grand screen of the cinema. Devotees of Neshat’s earlier work will recognize her signature visual virtuosity and narrative grace in the story of four women in early 1950s Iran, played by Pegah Ferydoni, Arita Shahrzad, Shabnam Tolouei, and Orsi Toth. Then as now, the ambitions and actions of these women from across the spectrum of Iranian society inform and affect the course of events—public, private, and often political. With history as a backdrop, and imagination extending the limits of lives lived under oppressive conditions, Neshat offers an exquisitely framed window onto these women’s world. An Indiepix release.