New Directors/New Films - 2012 programme highlights

We take a look at New York's showcase dedicated to fresh talent.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

New York's New Directors/New Films showcase, presented by the Museum of Modern Art, features 29 features and 12 shorts from 28 countries in just 12 days.

Here are six stand-outs from this year's programme - on the wars outside and the wars within.

Las Acacias

Director Pablo Giorgelli embraces time and he gives his audience the perfect amount of room. A road movie like no other, the 900 miles from Asunción in Paraguay to Buenos Aires in Argentina on board a lumber truck, driven by reserved Rubén (Germán de Silva), with a mother and her most captivating baby as illegal passengers, show us everything we want to know about human interactions. Don't be surprised, if, triggered by a baby's sneeze, you suddenly reflect on the Virgin Mary, or even question some of your own choices in life. In a festival with so many films exploring terror, war, and more than ever, a chilling, all-encompassing human indifference, Las Acacias, is the masterly gentle, subtle, unsentimental, and very intelligent antidote.

The Rabbi’s Cat (Le chat du rabbin)

The first ND/NF film in 3D, adapted from Sfar's graphic novels, concerns an utterly fascinating and irritating cat which, after eating the rabbi's parrot, is now able to speak. The cat is in love with the rabbi's daughter, discusses serious religious matters and insists on having a bar-mitzvah. The title credits transport you to Algiers in the 1920s, but you might as well have landed on a wildly patterned orange purple Prada pantsuit. The nameless cat, with big green eyes, and movements that at times resemble a kangaroo, at others a deer, snuggles, reads Stendahl's Le Rouge et le Noir out loud, discusses the Talmud, and is worried about his changing nightmares - all in the first 15 minutes of the movie. How he gets to Ethiopia in a 1925 Citroën, meets Tintin, and tries to "solve all problems through dialogue" is an impressive and entertaining undertaking.

Oslo, August 31st

Louis Malle's magnificent Le Feu Follet (1963), is an adaptation of the same novel by Pierre Drieu La Rochelle from the 1930s. Joachim Trier in his second film at ND/NF after Reprise (2006) makes it the story of Anders (excellent non actor and now medical doctor Anders Danielsen Lie in the Maurice Ronet role). He is a recovering drug addict on leave in Oslo, where he meets up with old friends, has a job interview, goes to a party and reconnects with his past. Or is he saying goodbye? Trier is at his best with his perceptions of every-day estrangement, the impenetrable barriers between people who grew up together, had the same bourgeois privileges and are all wrapped in their own stifling layers of passive aggressive unhappiness. Anders' oldest friend, who is now married and has a child, "vivisects Rilke and writes articles that nobody reads" for work, and plays "Battlefield" with his wife for fun. The job interview is at Folio magazine, which prints articles on "Mad Men and The Man Without Qualities", but Anders is not riveted by the prospect of "Samantha in Sex and the City seen through Schopenhauer". The fire within has nowhere to go.

Twilight Portrait (2011) 105min

Kafka for the 21th century - no more the all-powerful undecipherable meaningless bureaucratic plan, but total indifference and lack of empathy, presented with an aggressively blank stare. Angelina Nikonova's Russian portrait shows a world where police cars drive around a bleak and impoverished city, merely in order to pick up women for them to rape. Marina (Olga Dihovichnaya) is a social worker, specialising in abused children, and her very bad day, that starts with a broken heel, spirals out of control. This mesmerising, truthful film exposes sheet after sheet of dispassion and lack of concern in a world so far and yet so near from everywhere. Aside from getting the price for most offensive food in cinema, Twilight Portrait has one of the best surprise birthday parties, and a toast that challenges the one in Thomas Vinterberg's Celebration. If you ever get your bag stolen by a car driving by, this film prepares you to answer when the police asks you how much you usually drink and how well the purse was made.

Fear and Desire

"There is war in this forest … This forest is outside history … These soldiers have no other country but the mind." A 24-year-old Stanley Kubrick's Fear and Desire - from 1953 - begins with a potent voice over. Howard Sackler, who wrote the script, and was Kubrick's friend from high school, later won the playwriting Pulitzer Prize. Some scholars connect it to his later films Paths Of Glory or Full Metal Jacket. Kubrick saw his early attempt as amateurish. He tried to buy all the prints and withdraw it from general circulation.

Many of the scenes are haunting like a dreamscape, "where spirits leap into your mouth". The soldiers encounter a dog running loose in the forest. One of the soldiers smells the dog, not the other way around. An afternoon outdoors by the river in enemy territory. Cold stew mixed with the blood of the gunned down men. "If you have to hate me - please try to like me also" says a soldier to the native woman he tied to a tree, while hugging her and the tree, and telling her about The Tempest. To get water, she has to lick his hand.

None of the soldiers wants to go mad and as the lieutenant says: "Well, we have nothing to lose besides our futures."

Goodbye (Bé omid é didar)

Like his colleague Jafar Panahi, Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof is presently under house arrest and no longer allowed to make films. In Goodbye, we follow disbarred human rights lawyer Noora (engrossing Leyla Zareh), who is desperate to leave the country. "Roll up your sleeves", are the first words spoken, while a woman draws blood from another woman's arm. Noora, who would love to slam the door like the Ibsen heroine, if she only could acquire a visa, allows us glimpses into a web of subtle details of entrapment. We trail her through different modes of Tehran public transportation, see her strategically put on and remove nail polish, depending on the next meeting, and notice how much of her head has to be covered for each occasion. As the obstacles are piling on - a visit from her oblivious mother, appointments with several gynecologists, an escaped turtle, police inspecting her apartment - the constant sound of airplanes taking off, belie the unbearable confinement.

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