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New Directors New Films (#110 of 16)

New Directors/New Films 2011: Copacabana

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New Directors/New Films 2011: <em>Copacabana</em>
New Directors/New Films 2011: <em>Copacabana</em>

A frothy fantasy dressed up as a quirky character study, Copacabana is a mishmash of mismatched parts that left me feeling a little queasy. Isabelle Huppert stars as Babou, the kind of boho free spirit who coasts as far as she can on sheer charm and sex appeal. She’s still childlike in middle age, not just because Huppert gives her the wide-eyed, unbroken gaze of a curious toddler, but because she operates on impulse, never stopping to consider the consequences of her actions. As a result, her daughter Esme acts more like her mother, working at a restaurant to pay the rent the job-allergic Babou can’t be relied on to scrape together. But when Esme (Huppert’s real-life daughter, Lolita Chammah) announces that she’s getting married and doesn’t want her mother at the wedding to embarrass her, Babou decides it’s time to get a job and show her daughter that she can be responsible.

New Directors/New Films 2011: Microphone

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New Directors/New Films 2011: <em>Microphone</em>
New Directors/New Films 2011: <em>Microphone</em>

On paper, Microphone sounds remarkably like Nobody Knows About Persian Cats, another documentary-style feature about a vibrant but endangered underground music scene. Both are set in Muslim countries with repressive governments, and both showcase young people who are trying to change an ancient city and culture. But Microphone, the second feature by director-writer Ahmad Abdalla, is to Persian Cats as the kiddie pool is to the deep end.

New Directors/New Films 2011: Happy, Happy

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New Directors/New Films 2011: <em>Happy, Happy</em>
New Directors/New Films 2011: <em>Happy, Happy</em>

Unfolding in a snow-beset Norwegian town that ironically could double for the blustery environs of Affliction, Anne Sewitsky’s Happy, Happy indulges in more than its fair share of clichés and predictable narrative decisions, starting with its plot. The story, involving two neighboring couples who passive aggressively or unknowingly stir up and eventually expose each other’s covert longings and buried guilt through a series of activities and encounters, is reminiscent of literally dozens of sometimes caustic, consistently discomfiting independent dramadies. In fact, it wasn’t even the best film to use the premise within the confines of ND/NF: Hospitalité, Koji Fukada’s odd, witty, and essentially timeless parable, involved a similar story, though it took place largely within a single household, and was one of the great triumphs of this year’s program, along with festival favorites Curling and Attenberg.

New Directors/New Films 2011: El Velador

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New Directors/New Films 2011: <em>El Velador</em>
New Directors/New Films 2011: <em>El Velador</em>

“A film about violence without violence,” as the production notes put it, El Velador is deliberate, repetitive, and deceptively peaceful. Watching it feels at first as if you’re eavesdropping on someone else’s daydream, as director/producer/DP/editor Natalia Almada captures the rhythms of daily and nightly life in a Sinaloa cemetery in a quiet flow of images that gains power with surprising speed, breaching the seawall of our preconceived notions to impress upon us the horror of the war being waged on civil society in Mexico by a handful of drug cartels.

Lining the central road through the cemetery and extending several rows back are a forest of elaborate mausoleums that look like high-end haciendas in miniature. A construction crew comes in every day to build more and Almada is there to document their work, her lingering close-ups of bare feet and deteriorating shoes clinging to precarious perches personifying the grace and resilience that are characteristic of Mexico’s campesinos.

Taxi Driver, The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975, and the Venom of New York City

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Taxi Driver, The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975, and the Venom of New York City
Taxi Driver, The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975, and the Venom of New York City

Where do collective memories come from? From faded photography, and skewed reviews? A recent meticulous restoration of Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver gives us a chance to see what the film looked like in 1976. The Taxi Driver of our memory is, according to many reports, a documentary-esque depiction of a faded, gritty New York that doesn’t exist anymore. A warped memory of an antiquated reality. The Taxi Driver of our memory is not from 1976, but from 1981 and afterward, after John Hinckley Jr. claimed watching the film 15 times in a row was the reason he shot Ronald Reagan, as “the greatest love offering in the history of the world” to Jodie Foster.

New Directors/New Films 2011: Pariah

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New Directors/New Films 2011: <em>Pariah</em>
New Directors/New Films 2011: <em>Pariah</em>

When she and writer-director Dee Rees were trying to turn their short film into a feature, says producer Nekisa Cooper in Pariah’s production notes, potential funders kept saying it was “a bit too ’small and specific.’” Specific? Sure. But there’s nothing small about this deeply felt coming-of–age story.

Pariah’s Alike (pronounced Ah-lee-kay and played with grave sensitivity by Adepero Oduye) is a Fort Greene teen who’s learning to trust her instincts and find her place in the world. Shy and often unsure of herself, but rock-solid at her core, Oduye’s Alike is a 17-year-old searcher you can believe in. Her story is a classic adolescent quest, complicated by the fact that she’s gay in a world where a lot of people, including her tightly wound mother, think homosexuality is an abomination.

New Directors/New Films 2011: Curling

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New Directors/New Films 2011: <em>Curling</em>
New Directors/New Films 2011: <em>Curling</em>

The last several years have seen the influx of a number of films about characters shielding either themselves or their families from the alleged dangers of the world, confining their lives to a greater or lesser degree to the relative safety of the domestic fortress. Call it Shut-In Cinema. To Ursula Meier’s Home, Anders Edström and C. W. Winter’s The Anchorage, Yorgos Lanthimos’s Dogtooth, and Bong Joon-ho’s segment in the anthology film Tokyo!, we can now add Denis Côté’s Curling, making its New York debut at New Directors/New Films. Rivaling The Anchorage, the best of the above listed works, in its combination of utter precision of detail and overwhelming sense of mystery, Côté’s film makes for instructive comparison with the movie it most superficially resembles, Lanthimos’s celebrated tale of overprotective parenting gone bonkers.