Rounding up a bit of what the critics have been saying about the work screening at the New Directions/New Films festival tomorrow, we begin with Adam Leon's Gimme the Loot, winner of the Grand Jury's award for Best Narrative Feature at SXSW just a last week. In his latest entry at Artinfo, J Hoberman, who was on that jury, calls it "a funny, smart-mouthed, high-energy comedy about Bronx graffiti writers that's less a remake of the 80s indie hit Wild Style than a movie in the doomed caper tradition of Big Deal on Madonna Street. Not without some dubious stereotypes, the movie transcends them thanks to Leon's adroit direction and infectious self-enjoyment of its ensemble cast."
At GreenCine Daily, Steve Dollar agrees that it "has the run-and-gun mobility and funky vibe of a 1980s downtown comedy, evoking in various ways a kinship with the likes of Susan Seidelman, Jonathan Demme, Spike Lee and Jim Jarmusch. Its story, which more immediately calls to mind something like Raising Victor Vargas, follows a pair of teenage graffiti artists from the Bronx, Malcolm and Sophia (played by newcomers Tysheeb Hickson and Tashiana R Washington) over the course of 48 hours of misadventures as they plot a daring escapade. Alive to the visual poetry of the city streets and the energetic flow of adolescent enthusiasm, director Adam Leon captures the essence of the city."
He also "keeps the romantic angle on a low burn," writes Andrew Schenker in Slant, "never allowing his film to stray too far from the materialist dictates that define the characters' lives. Class is everything here, a point made clear when Malcolm engages in an aborted sexual encounter with a rich white girl, and then returns later only to be condescended to by her well-heeled friends. Mostly, though, this is a film about both the pleasures and the emptiness of the hustle. The tone remains light, and nothing too great seems to be at stake (which is probably why the film's ending feels so abrupt and, ultimately, unsatisfying), but in the behaviors of his characters, the mapping out of their urban environment, and the ever present dictates of the dollar, Leon gets at the driving forces that shape his protagonists' loot-driven world."
More from David Fear (Time Out New York) and Bryce J Renninger (indieWIRE). And the Film Society of Lincoln Center has a few questions for Leon.
Update, 3/27: "Gimme the Loot involves drug-dealing, constant foul language and vandalism, but Hickson and Washington, both attractive and charismatic enough to be stars, carry the film with an air of lightweight pleasure, keeping it light and bouncy," finds Gabe Toro at the Playlist, where he gives the film an A-.
Melissa Anderson in the Voice on Crulic: The Path to Beyond: "Anca Damian's lean, astute animated documentary, her second film, tells an outrageous true story dispassionately: that of Claudiu Crulic, a 33-year-old Romanian who died in a Polish prison while on a hunger strike after being wrongly accused of stealing a judge's wallet. As Crulic (voiced by Vlad Ivanov) narrates from beyond the grave, recounting a short life that 'could be told in 100 photos,' the muted color palette and the variety of animation techniques — hand-drawn, cutout, stop-motion, and collage — indelibly convey the bureaucratic horrors the young man faced, whether behind bars or not."
"Technically a documentary," writes Howard Feinstein for Filmmaker, "this brilliant medley of animation and cutouts, with slivers of live action tossed in, is creative interpretation at its most sublime. Crulic has a distinctly Eastern European dry humor, manifest in the drawings and in the rapid, highly detailed voiceovers (mostly in Romanian, with a few observational points made in English)…. Telling a tragic true story with almost lighthearted animation techniques is a brilliant choice that pays off."
But Ed Champion wonders "whether Damian the filmmaker is as reckless with the truth as the Polish authorities were with Crulic's life." For Andrew Schenker, writing for Slant, Crulic is "a gloriously inventive visual mélange that can't quite make up for the thinness of the story it's illustrating." The FSLC has questions for Damian as well.
"Lust, love, and need prove a tangled knot inside the heart of one young woman in Hemel, Sacha Polak's alluring character study of a beautiful Dutch twentysomething driven to fill an emotional void with casual one-night stands," writes Nick Schager in Slant. "Polak's film opens with a nude Hemel (Hannah Hoekstra), whose name translates to 'Heaven,' casually bantering with a lover in bed before allowing him to shave her pubic hair — an act that Hemel tellingly remarks will make her look like a young child. Her subsequent escapades with a variety of random men make clear her desire for carnal pleasure devoid of love, and that refusal to seek out, if not outright terror of, mature interpersonal connection is most forcefully confronted via her relationship to her father, Gijs (Hans Dagelet), whose own new-girlfriend-every-week bachelor's life is the model after which Hemel's own conduct is clearly modeled."
"The sequential journey into self-destructive rebellion (her aloof priapic father is a specialist in Impressionism at Christie’s in Amsterdam who surpasses her in conquests) makes you think of Shame," suggests David D'Arcy at Artinfo, "and close-ups of cadaverously gaunt actress Hannah Hoekstra lurch from shots worthy of the most elegant jewelry ads to glimpses into the eyes of someone in a private hell…. Hemel won the critics prize at the Berlin International Film Festival."
The FSLC passes its questions along to Polak, too.
Update, 3/27: At the Playlist, Gabe Toro finds that Polak has Hoekstra playing "an affliction rather than a character. Hemel is sharply realized in fits and starts, but its this lack of psychological depth that robs the film of its potential considerable dimension."
"The Minister, from the veteran French screenwriter Pierre Schöller, is in some ways this year's answer to Margin Call," suggests AO Scott in the New York Times, "a claustrophobic study of the inner workings of power at a time of crisis. The film is a chronicle of a hectic time in the life of an ambitious minister of transportation, played by the great Belgian actor Olivier Gourmet as a whirlwind of ambition, cynicism and embattled idealism. His achievement is matched by Mr Schöller's ability to infuse routine bureaucratic procedure with the momentum and energy of a thriller, endowing the tedious workings of the modern state with a glamour that is both repellent and seductive."
Melissa Anderson in the Voice: "Plagued by weird Sadean nightmares involving hooded black figures, naked women devoured by alligators, and his own asphyxiation, Saint-Jean [Gourmet] inexorably transforms from a man of principle to a pizza-scarfing, hectoring tyrant — who then reverts, after a horrific accident, to someone slightly more humane. Schöller's second feature forgoes moralizing for a more complex (and rewarding) approach: uncovering the thin line that separates altruism from narcissism."
Elise Nakhnikian in Slant: "The macro focus on Saint-Jean and his two closest advisors — Pauline (Zabou Breitman), the briskly brilliant press agent who follows him everywhere, and Gilles (the great Michel Blanc), the minister's behind-the-scenes right-hand man — can make it seem at times as if what matters most about politics is how it affects the politicians involved. Schöller remains firmly agnostic on Saint-Jean's main power struggle: Should private railroad stations be privatized or should they remain in the state's hands? But he makes the stakes clear by salting in vivid scenes of furious citizens, who are protesting rising unemployment, dwindling benefits, and bureaucratic incompetence in what someone calls 'this tired and tiring country.'"