By Andrea Meyer
Another New Directors/New Films has come and gone. At the annual festival hosted by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art, 25 up-and-coming feature film directors from around the globe screened their darlings for New York, and now they’ve packed up their press notes and party clothes and returned to Denmark, Australia, Mexico, the Philippines, Iran, Russia… Or in some cases they’ve gone back to whatever other United State then came from or to a studio in Brooklyn, where they’ll begin dreaming up the next flick. Any common themes or trends to be found there this year? Not really. The only generalizations that can be made about the films is that they’re eclectic, and, by and large, very, very good. Lucky for those New Yorkers not lucky enough to catch them at the festival, many were picked up for distribution and will appear on theaters in the upcoming year.
“Half Nelson” (directed by Ryan Fleck): One of the more talked-about films stars Ryan Gosling, the guy with the best face and possibly the strongest acting chops of his generation, in a heartbreaking performance as a passionate, committed high school teacher and coach who on his own time is battling a major crack habit. When one of his students, Drey (the astounding Shareeka Epps), catches him wasted in a school bathroom stall, an unlikely friendship is born. While director Fleck leads audiences on a seemingly familiar path toward lessons learned and expected redemption, every stumble feels painfully real, every gentle moment is earned. Opens in August.
“October 17, 1961” (Alain Tasma): Most Americans have a cursory knowledge of the French-Algerian conflict at best. This thoroughly disturbing docu-drama explores the ways in which the violence crept onto French soil in the 60s, as Algerian residents were targeted for humiliation and violence at the hands of Parisian policemen and Algerian activists retaliated with attacks on the police. Expertly building tension, the film interweaves several stories of good cops afraid for their lives, viciously racist cops driven to perverse acts arguably sanctioned by the government, French officials trying to play tough in uncharted political territory and innocent civilians afraid to walk the streets and culminates in a demonstration (also referred to in last year’s “CachÃƒÂ©”) that led peaceful protestors to a horrific and inevitable tragedy that history has largely obscured.
“Look Both Ways” (Sarah Watt): Is it a predictable rom-com or a deeply moving philosophical treatise on death and its sneaky habit of biting people on the ass when they least expect it? Actually, it’s both. Australian animator Watt makes her live action feature debut with a bittersweet story about a man and a woman who are both obsessed with death but nonetheless prefer to spend whatever days, weeks and years they have left with another warm body in their bed. Meryl (Justine Clarke), a cranky painter on the way home from her father’s funeral, imagines her own death constantly (in scenes that animate her artwork), while Nick (William McInnes), a newspaper photographer, has just learned that he has cancer. When Meryl witnesses an actual accident, the pair meets and cautiously explores romantic possibilities. Thought provoking, a bit gooey and stylistically experimental at the same time. Opens on April 14.
“QuinceaÃƒÂ±era” (Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland): In the Mexican-American community in L.A.’s Echo Park, Magdalena’s (Emily Rios) dreams of the perfect 15th birthday celebration are interrupted when she becomes pregnant even though she’s never had sex. Meanwhile, her gay cousin Carlos (Jesse Garcia) has been ousted from his father’s house. The two shameful exiles shack up together at the home of their aging uncle, a modern-day saint. While the film, winner of the Sundance Grand Prize and Audience Award, at times becomes saccharine, at others infuriating, overall the film offers a textured and enormously likeable window into a community many of us cruise by on the freeway without much attention. Opens in August.
“John & Jane Toll-Free” (Ashim Ahluwalia): This surprising doc points a camera at an unlikely subject: the men and women who field customer service questions and try to sell you better, cheaper phone service from an overseas call center in India. This diverse group has taken on American names and learned to sleep by day and work by night to perform the jobs that have been outsourced to them. The film opens our eyes to the many ways that Glen, Naomi and Nikki have happily sacrificed their own culture for an imposed belief system that worships money, individual success, consumerism and all things American. The film will be broadcast on HBO/Cinemax in 2007.
“In Bed” (MatÃƒÂas Bize): With his camera glued to the same pretty pair for the length of his film, the Chilean director dissects a one-night love affair, taking its participants from sweaty sex with a stranger to flighty conversations loaded with pop-psychology and pop-cultural references, to goofy pillow fights, to something deeper. Secrets are revealed, emotions touched, future prospects explored, dismissed, explored again, and more meaningful love is made. This playful experiment that could have been slight and predictable is actually entertaining, at times touching, and amazingly for 85 minutes of footage of the same two people in the same cheesy motel room never boring.
“Iron Island” (Mohammad Rasoulof): On an enormous, abandoned oil tanker off the coast of Iran, a community has been established, with a fragile economy, a semi-functional government headed by Captain Nemat (Ali Nasirian) an old man with a cell phone who acts as if he’s got it all under control and a host of problems from insufficient medical care to inappropriate love affairs. When a company lays claim to the ship just as it becomes increasingly clear that the vessel is sinking, other plans must be made. The film plays like an enigmatic fable with Biblical undertones and an intriguing tug-of-war between optimism and hopelessness. Opened on March 31.
“13 Tzameti” (Gela Babluani): It’s hard to believe that this taut, outrageously tense thriller was made by a 26-year-old first-time filmmaker. The Georgian-born, Paris-based Babluani tells the story of SÃƒÂ©bastian (played by his intensely beautiful brother Georges), an immigrant fixing the roof of an aging drug addict who suddenly dies, leaving a hotel reservation and train ticket leading to a mysterious get-rich-quick scheme. Without any financial prospects, SÃƒÂ©bastian snags the goods, figuring he’ll follow directions to the pot of gold he expects to find at the end of the rainbow. What he finds is a house in the woods that might as well be hell. Opens in August.
“Twelve and Holding” (Michael Cuesta): Following his acclaimed debut “L.I.E.,” Cuesta again enters the realm of adolescence and again digs into the disturbing conflicts and urges that lie beneath the giggling, picnics and bike rides in the woods. After young Rudy Carges (Conor Donovan) is accidentally killed by the neighborhood bullies, his quieter twin brother Jacob plots revenge. His friend Malee (ZoÃƒÂ« Weizenbaum) develops a crush on her therapist mom’s patient. And the third in the trio, overweight Leonard (Jesse Camacho) goes on a health kick after losing his sense of taste in the accident and tries to convince his whole fat family to diet with him. It is painfully obvious that these kids’ journeys, fueled by hormones and emotions they are too young to handle, are sorting through the muck on their own. Their parents are too self-absorbed to have a clue. Opens on May 19.