New Directors/New Films highlights

Giraffe, The Metamorphosis Of Birds, The Mole Agent, The Cloud In Her Room and Two Of Us

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Barbara Sukowa stars with Martine Chevallier in Filippo Meneghetti’s Two Of Us
Barbara Sukowa stars with Martine Chevallier in Filippo Meneghetti’s Two Of Us Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Filippo Meneghetti’s Two Of Us (Deux), (co-written with Malysone Bovorasmy and Florence Vignon), starring Barbara Sukowa and Martine Chevallier with Léa Drucker (Mathieu Amalric’s The Blue Room), Jérôme Varanfrain, and Augustin Reynes (France’s Oscar submission); Anna Sofie Hartmann’s Giraffe (produced by Toni Erdmann director Maren Ade) with Lisa Loven Kongsli (Ruben Östlund’s Force Majeure, Tamara Jenkins’ Wonder Woman), Jakub Gierszal and Christoph Bach (both in Frauke Finsterwalder’s Finsterworld, co-written by Christian Kracht); Zheng Lu Xinyuan’s The Cloud In Her Room (Ta Fang Jian li De Yun) starring Jin Jing; Maite Alberdi’s The Mole Agent (El Agente Topo), starring Sergio Chamy (Chile’s Oscar submission), and (FIPRESCI Encounters winner at the Berlin Film Festival) The Metamorphosis Of Birds (A Metamorfose Dos Pássaros), directed by Catarina Vasconcelos are five highlights of the 49th edition of New Directors/New Films, presented by the Museum of Modern Art and Film at Lincoln Center.

Toni Erdmann director Maren Ade produced Anna Sofie Hartmann’s Giraffe
Toni Erdmann director Maren Ade produced Anna Sofie Hartmann’s Giraffe Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Shannon Murphy’s Babyteeth, starring Eliza Scanlen (Greta Gerwig’s Little Women) with Toby Wallace, Essie Davis, and Ben Mendelsohn, was originally scheduled to screen during ND/NF in March, before cinemas were ordered closed by New York State Governor Cuomo due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Babyteeth was the last in-person press screening that I attended in 2020. It was inside the nearly empty Titus Theater 1 at the Museum of Modern Art on March 12.

Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine’s Boys State (Sundance Film Festival US Grand Jury Prize for documentary winner) was originally scheduled to open New Directors/New Films on March 25 and The Mole Agent was the closing night selection set for April 5.

The New Directors/New Films selection committee is made up of members from both presenting organisations. The 2020 feature committee comprised Dennis Lim (ND/NF Co-Chair, Film at Lincoln Center Director of Programming), La Frances Hui (ND/NF Co-Chair, Curator of Film at The Museum of Modern Art), Florence Almozini (FLC), Rajendra Roy (MoMA), Dan Sullivan (FLC), and Sophie Cavoulacos (MoMA), and the shorts were programmed by Tyler Wilson (FLC) and Brittany Shaw (MoMA).

Museum of Modern Art’s Titus Theater 1 following Babyteeth press screening on March 12
Museum of Modern Art’s Titus Theater 1 following Babyteeth press screening on March 12 Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

La Frances Hui expands upon this year’s ND/NF delay: “The year 2020 has been one of tremendous upheaval and loss. The COVID-19 pandemic has darkened our theatres—for now—but we are more in touch and in love with cinema than ever before. We are excited to take our festival virtual and celebrate this class of new directors who embody the innovative and nimble spirit essential for reinvigoration.”

“The New Directors/New Films selection is always international in scope, but I’m particularly struck by the sheer breadth of this year’s lineup,” said Dennis Lim. “We have everything from speculative war films to intimate dramas, unnerving works of science fiction to political documentaries, hailing from countries often represented on screen as well as some seen less commonly. Collectively these films speak to the continued vibrancy and daring of world cinema in an age of political uncertainty and cultural sameness. They prove that cinema takes to reflect and enhance the moment we live in.”

Giraffe
Giraffe

Giraffe

Anna Sofie Hartmann’s look at a way of life disappearing starts out with three giraffes, one of them chewing languidly, and staring right into the camera. The animals will not appear again. This is not their story, but that of a human transplant, ethnologist Dara (Lisa Loven Kongsli) who takes a temporary job on the island of Lolland, Denmark, to collect for the local museum interviews and objects that will archive the drastic transitions about to take place with the building of a tunnel connecting Denmark and Germany. 38-year-old Dara meets 24-year-old Lucek (Jakub Gierszal) who works there with a Polish construction crew. While the two get to know each other, we get a look at the locals and what they will have to leave behind. In an abandoned farm she finds the remnants of the life of a librarian who lived there alone - her books, her photographs and a diary that reads as if it were written in Haikus as “a quiet rain falls.” Other people’s memories and ways of life are beautifully shot (cinematography by Jenny Lou Ziegel). When buildings are demolished, a bit of the soul of a place goes with them. Wallpaper collects time and the twinkling lights of the ferry that was good enough for so long will soon be of the past. Rocks in a field remain when decisions of how to live in the present are being made. How to live? is the question being asked by people on an island in limbo and it resonates beyond the screen.

Giraffe screens virtually nationwide in the US through Friday, December 18

The Metamorphosis Of Birds
The Metamorphosis Of Birds

The Metamorphosis Of Birds

“What human beings can’t explain, they invent.” Catarina Vasconcelos constructs a magnificent, shimmering dreamscape around her ancestors and their enchanted existence in and with nature. Paternal grandfather Henrique, a Portuguese seaman, writes letters to his beloved wife Triz and their children. The storytelling is mesmerising, both visually, shot on 16mm film by Paulo Menezes, and in regards to the poetry of the spoken language used to express all that longing and insight. Jacinto, their oldest son counts peacock feathers (73, 74, 75) to form a tapestry on a red carpet. There are paintings, and dried leaves, flowers, pomegranates and persimmons and the earth for her, while Henrique at sea wonders about compassion for the ocean that has so many fishes to feed and so many waves to create. Children’s games of sinking ships on paper and a cat’s cradle with wool, Call me Ishmael and horror tales that make the little ones “afraid of the bottom of the bathtub.” At one point, the picture frame cannot hold the children anymore and they grow up. This is a film of lists. Tender, gentle lists, like Peter Greenaway on tiptoe. Jacinto, at age twelve, knows for example the maximum age of flies (4 weeks), mice (1 year), moles (3), bats (15), ostriches (50) and that there was a whale of 210 and a turtle of 250 years of age. He also knows that “you can’t discover a continent already inhabited by millions of people.”

The Metamorphosis of Birds (Berlinale Encounters Award Winner: Special Jury Prize) screens virtually nationwide in the US from Tuesday, December 15 to Sunday, December 20

The Mole Agent
The Mole Agent

The Mole Agent

Sergio (Chamy) answers an ad looking for a man in his Eighties or Nineties to spy on the goings on in a nursing home. Chilean director Maite Alberdi’s immensely entertaining and funny film starts out as an investigation into a specific place and slowly evolves into something much larger that makes you question a society as a whole that decided at some point that people of a certain age or with a certain predicament could be dumped off for storage and that this arrangement is perfectly normal and acceptable. At the San Francisco nursing home Sergio befriends various inhabitants and takes part in joyful extravagant celebrations (with costumes and balloons and cakes) with the staff. Bruno Dumont’s films may come to mind - all that humanity is breathtaking! Not a false note sours what could so easily have gone the cute and brutal, marigold plucky saccharine pensioner horror route. Here the ladies use the adjective of choice: “ He looks lucid!” Sergio is also a smart dresser in his rotating assortment of V-neck sweaters and tweedy jackets. As far as his job is concerned, he is armed with spy glasses and a camera pen and phones in not-so coded messages about the “target” each evening to Rómulo (Rómulo Aitken), the private detective who hired him for a client and advises him to “be prudent.” The real anguish of memory loss is given dignity in this film and the implications about depositing others without care are enormous.

The Mole Agent screens virtually nationwide in the US through Thursday, December 17

The Cloud In Her Room
The Cloud In Her Room

The Cloud In Her Room

Muzi (Jin Jing) returns to Hangzhou where she grew up and where her parents still live. Her father (Ye Hongming) has a new young wife and a little girl who does not yet know that the 22-year-old staying with them is her half-sister. Muzi’s mother (Dan Liu) has international boyfriends, one Japanese and one Dutch. Nothing really makes sense to Muzi, not her parents’ lives, nor her relationship with her photographer boyfriend (Zhou Chen), nor the friendship with an older bar owner (Dong Kangning) she meets. Smoking, drunken karaoke, torrential rains punctuate her days and nights. During one of the frequent visits to the abandoned apartment in a high-rise where she grew up, a window collapses out of the frame when she opens it and the panel crashes down. Filmmaker Zheng Lu Xinyuan’s compositions are extraordinary, with the black and white images at times tumbling into their own negatives (cinematography by Matthias Delvaux). One of the wildest, most claustrophobic shots traps us underwater in a pool, unclear what is up and what is down. Life in your early twenties at the start of this century’s Twenties makes sense to feel that way.

The Cloud In Her Room screens virtually nationwide in the US through Friday, December 18

Two Of Us
Two Of Us

Two Of Us

Two little girls playing hide-and-seek by the river fashion the unexplained mystery thread throughout this film about open and closed doors. Nina (Barbara Sukowa) and Madeleine (Martine Chevallier) go about their routines. They have two adjacent apartments and plan to move to Rome together. At night, our perspective resembles that of a spy who is watching them from the other side of their shared bed. For Madeleine’s children Anne (Léa Drucker) and Frédéric (Jérôme Varanfrain), Nina is just a neighbor and not the love of their mother’s life. Grandson Théo (great performance by Augustin Reynes) has the best rapport with grandma and openness in his eyes. When things get complicated and age-old secrecy takes its toll, Filippo Meneghetti opens up his narratives into other genres. There are horror and thriller elements accompanying the challenging performances. Drucker accomplishes an impressive balancing act of the manifold thoughts racing through a daughter’s head, who discovers that she didn’t know her mother at all. Barbara Sukowa gives Nina a forcefulness at the start that becomes evermore urgent when trickery becomes a necessity of despair. We are allowed to jump to conclusions with surprise turns awaiting us, raising questions of pretense and sacrifice, betrayal and conventions. And don’t worry - Bart, the cat, will be fine.

Two Of Us screens virtually nationwide in the US through Wednesday, December 16. Magnolia Pictures will release Two of Us in the US on February 5, 2021

New Directors/New Films is screening virtually through December 20.

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