Neon

New Directors/New Films 2017
New Directors/New Films 2017

Diamond Island

An unearthly neon glow emanates from the Phnom Penh street lights at night in Diamond Island. A similar luminosity was glimpsed throughout Wong Kar-wai’s depiction of Hong Kong nightlife in Chungking Express and Fallen Angels, though director and co-writer Davy Chou’s aesthetic touch is less jazzily impulsive than Wong’s, more Tsai Ming-liang-like in its surface sobriety. Still, there’s a near-surreal quality to Diamond Island’s images—lensed by cinematographer Thomas Favel—that infuses the film with a woozily intoxicating dreaminess that grips the audience’s attention, even when Chou’s loose coming-of-age narrative goes in fairly predictable directions. >>

New Directors/New Films 2017

The Dreamed Path

With seven features already to her credit, Angela Schanelec can’t exactly be designated a “new” talent, but her latest, The Dreamed Path, certainly feels like something brazenly, mystifyingly new in international cinema. On one hand, the film wears a skin of Bressonian austerity—dutifully withheld character exposition, an emphasis on pared-down bodily gestures as opposed to dialogue, sturdily selective Academy ratio framings—that’s been more or less in vogue in the highbrow factions of the festival circuit for some time. On the other, the particular articulation of these tropes in The Dreamed Path operates so unapologetically on Schanelec’s own wavelength that the film risks, even invites, utter bewilderment on first pass from even the most discerning of viewers. That the film adheres, upon close scrutiny, to the rough shape of a classical romantic tragedy—a seemingly intuitively understandable genre—only confirms the extreme degree to which Schanalec’s idiosyncratic manner of storytelling skirts and frustrates expectations. >>

New Directors/New Films 2017

The Future Perfect

German director Nele Wohlatz’s The Future Perfect addresses the increasingly complicated challenges of intercultural communication. Divided into three parts with each meant to correlate with the linguistic structure of past, present, and future, the film chronicles Xiaobin (Xiaobin Zhang), a Chinese teenager trying to learn enough Spanish to hold a job in Buenos Aires. The opening scenes represent Xiaobin’s failure on this front, as she cannot remember the names of deli meats well enough to handle cashier duties in her uncle’s supermarket. Wohlatz depicts Xiaobin’s ineptitudes as seeming flashbacks from the questions asked during an oral exam in a Spanish course. Thus, each successive line of questioning moves the narrative further into the future, until arriving at the titular tense. It’s an ingenious structuring device, one that Wohlatz utilizes for intriguing questions about the need to constantly reform the definition of culture, whether for interpersonal relationships or theorizing the contemporary state of global migration. >>

New Directors/New Films 2017

The Giant

One of the many strengths of The Giant is that it pays homage to the everyday courage of the physically and mentally disabled without ever condescending to their struggles. There’s no patronizing, self-congratulatory pity on display throughout this film, which is both a sensitive account of one handicapped man’s efforts to lead a normal life, and a grotesque comedy of pain that exposes the cruelty that lingers in modern European society. Set in contemporary Sweden, the film begins as a kind of faux documentary of a local pétanque club and its eccentric members. Pétanque is a variation of lawn bowling, and thus a modification of an already niche sport. In choosing this particular game around which to craft his story, writer-director Johannes Nyholm emphasizes the outsider status of his characters, particularly the film’s protagonist, Rikard (Christian Andrén), an autistic and severely deformed man whose life revolves around pétanque. >>

New Directors/New Films 2017

Happiness Academy

New-agey folks gather for a retreat at a hotel in Kaori Kinoshita and Alain Della Negra’s documentary-fiction hybrid Happiness Academy. Among these “super consciousness” enthusiasts are at least one real-life actress (Laure Calamy, who plays Lily) and one singer (Arnaud Fleurent-Didier, who plays Arnaud), both of whom work as conceptual moles aimed to extract a dramatic story from the setup. What initially promises to be a fly-on-the-wall look at the events staged by the Raelian Church to coach candidates on how to live better lives soon gives way to a love triangle of sorts, as Lily and Dominique (Michèle Gurtner) fight for Arnaud’s erotic energy—and his body. >>

New Directors/New Films 2017

Happy Times Will Come Soon

In Happy Times Will Come Soon, Alessandro Comodin tries to work out a new filmic vocabulary that merges realistic fiction with fable—fracturing time, tracing out just the barest outline of each character and situation, sometimes mixing realism with surrealism, and lingering so long on shots in which the action barely changes that he all but forces us to be in the moment with him. But while the director creates many individual moments of beauty, his film is a mélange of gorgeous tiles that never quite comes together as a mosaic. >>

New Directors/New Films 2017

Lady Macbeth

William Oldroyd’s Lady Macbeth is an adaptation—and a calculated streamlining—of Nikolai Leskov’s 1865 novella Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District. The novella is a relentlessly miserablist parade of abuse, adultery, and homicide, but the changes that Oldroyd and screenwriter Alice Birch have made to its plotline all but ensure that their Lady Macbeth is also essentially sexist. Leskov’s Shakespeare-inspired antiheroine—a wife who plans and carries out multiple murders—is transformed from a character driven by desperation into one who’s seemingly animated by an innate wickedness. >>

New Directors/New Films 2017

The Last Family

Jan P. Matuszynski’s The Last Family reconstructs nearly 30 years in the life of Zdzislaw Beksinski (Andrzej Seweryn), a famous Polish painter, photographer, and sculptor whose family remained perpetually on the precipice of ruin due to his son Tomek’s (Dawid Ogrodnik) chronic emotional problems. Matuszynski stages a collection of scenes, based on Beksinski’s own home-video footage, that intimate Tomek’s manic-depressive tendencies and sexual dysfunction as a primary source of the family’s tension but stops short of interrogating these facets in order to form a meaningful argument about them. Instead, the leering approach devolves into a succession of sobering moments of grief as Zdzislaw silently reckons with his inability to help his son and salvage his relationship with his spouse, Zosia (Aleksandra Konieczna). >>

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