New Directors/New Films offers New Yorkers a busy weekend, introducing five features on Saturday and filling Sunday with repeat screenings of several of the first week's offerings. Tomorrow begins in the early afternoon with a program of seven shorts, opening with Clarissa Knoll's Street Vendor Cinema, featuring "energetic auteur practicing his art — and trying to hustle a little cash — in a busy São Paulo shopping area." AO Scott in the New York Times: "Equipped with a small digital camera, a few crude costumes and a scroll of ready-made backdrops, he invites passers-by to spend a little bit of money to produce and star in their own movies. The results are an exuberant hodgepodge of genres, including an action thriller, a samurai fantasy epic and an astonishing melodrama of race, passion and family honor set on a 19th-century plantation."
The Film Society of Lincoln Center has sent a few questions to each of the filmmakers with shorts in the program, including Knoll. Medeni Griffiths says her film, Summit, about two people who meet on a mountaintop in Texas, "explores how we are taught to be scared of strangers, and how perhaps sometimes those fears may be unfounded or short-sighted." Colin Elliott, who's worked as the assistant to director Gregg Araki, says describes his Giongo as a "zen koan wrapped in a love story." Ivana Jurić on The Room: "I would describe it in five words: doll, love reverie, sex and pain." And Caroline Deruas on Children of the Night: "I'm very interested by the way society always wants to be judge and guarantor of love stories. At the end of the Second World War in France, 20,000 women had been shaved. Many of them because they had relationship and love stories with German soldiers. France is full of taboos about the Second World War. One of them is the shaved women. I tried to make a film about one of those women."
Two other shorts round out the program, Matt Lenski's Meaning of Robots ("I've been working on this robot movie … and over the years it developed into a sex movie") and Isabell Šuba's Chica XX Mujer, about a girl in Venezuela preparing for her quinceañera.
The first thing to be said about Terence Nance's The Oversimplification of Her Beauty is that Alt Screen's already posted a substantial roundup. I'd start there: "Word on the street is that this is The One To See." When I posted a few notes on the film last month, I noted that Blake Williams, writing for Ioncinema, wasn't quite as enthusiastic as several other Sundance attendees.
To these two roundups, we can add Elise Nakhnikian in Slant: "A playfully self-reflective rumination on what writer-director Terence Nance has described as 'self-awareness through experience with love,' An Oversimplification of Her Beauty is a serious but never somber offering from a member of the Brooklyn boheme 2.0 generation."
And the FSLC has a few questions for Nance.
"Early on in Lee Kwang-kuk's meta whatsit, Romance Joe, a filmmaker named Lee arrives at a rural inn to start work on his new script," writes Andrew Schenker in Slant. "When, taking a break, he orders coffee from a local café, an attractive young woman shows up with the drinks, and he ends up paying her three hundred dollars to keep him company for the night. When the woman realizes who her client is, she exclaims excitedly about her fondness for his films, citing the reason for her enthusiasm as his 'critical approach to narrative.' … [I]n many ways Romance Joe is a virtuoso work, weaving together different strands of story that cohere — at least to a degree — into a graspable narrative…. But in fracturing the tale of a doomed, suicidal romance and its subsequent transmutation from life to art, Lee seems to be playing games with narrative simply for the sake of the exercise."
"The influence of fellow Korean filmmaker Hong Sang-soo in both theme and structure is undeniable," notes Melissa Anderson in the Voice. "Lee previously worked as an assistant on Hong's Hahaha and Tale of Cinema. Yet Romance Joe impresses not only with its complex stories nesting within stories — labyrinthine plotting that eventually makes sense — but also an emotional heft that's never diminished by the narrative gambit."
And the FSLC has its questions.
Back in Slant, R Kurt Osenlund: "In Omar Killed Me, a straightforward indictment of the French justice system by actor turned director Roschdy Zem, lead star Sami Bouajila has the look of an eternally sad Sacha Baron Cohen, a tall, dark-featured man who might have been jubilant once, but will likely never laugh again. Bouajila is Omar Raddad, a real-life Moroccan-born Frenchman who, while working as a gardener in Marseilles in the mid '90s, was accused of murdering his rich employer. No sooner were the fingers pointed than Omar was shuffled off to prison. A kindred film to so many that just battled it out for Oscar, Omar Killed Me is at best a very watchable performance showcase, cementing Bouajila as a formidable and highly affecting on-screen presence."
For David Nusair (Reel Film), it's a "a well-intentioned misfire," while Serena Whitney (exclaim) finds it "well-directed, expertly paced, mildly enthralling."
Melissa Anderson in the Voice on How to Survive a Plague: "In his filmmaking debut, journalist David France, who wrote the first story about ACT UP for this publication, assembles a thoroughly reported chronicle of that direct-action advocacy group's most vital era, from its founding in 1987 (six years into the AIDS epidemic) through 1995. Expertly compiled from hundreds of hours of archival footage… France's documentary searingly captures the fury and unflagging commitment of ACT UP to target those in power who did nothing to stop the disease. Present-day interviews with members who in 1987 doubted they'd live to see their 30th birthday deepen the film's impact as an essential document of queer history."
For R Kurt Osenlund (Slant), "the most telling detail about this from-the-front-lines AIDS-crisis doc is that camcorders just happened to hit the market right when the disease began to spread. With video equipment available to all, 1982 marked the dawn of insta-media, and with members of the activist group ACT UP able to film their every move, their revolution wouldn't just be televised, it would be fully documented too."
More from David D'Arcy (Artinfo) and Joshua Rothkopf (Time Out New York). Earlier: Tom Hall for Filmmaker.
Update, 3/27: "After a standing ovation," notes B Ruby Rich in Film Quarterly, "the Sundance audience chanted its tribute: 'Act Up! Fight Back! Fight AIDS!' For anybody who doubts that individuals can combat giant governmental and corporate forces and win, this is a great how-to manual. The Occupy folks could take notes."
Once again, Melissa Anderson in the Voice, here on Neighboring Sounds: "Set in a well-off, oceanfront neighborhood in Recife, in northeastern Brazil, Kleber Mendonça Filho's stunning first fiction film, the revelation of this year's festival, keeps the viewer slightly off balance — much like the bourgeois characters in Neighboring Sounds, who are gripped by an unarticulated though ever-present sense of dread about invasion and assault. After the elder statesman of the block gives the approval to hire a small security detail to patrol the streets, class resentments simmer while paranoia haunts a prosperous young girl's dreams."
"Filho emphasizes sound the way most directors focus on visuals," notes Howard Feinstein, writing for Filmmaker. "He uses it for segues, for continuity…. The plot, which deviates from the usual linearity, contains wonderful twists and surprises, yet Filho has amazing control over the subject and structure of the film. As luxurious as the buildings are, they can not mask the atmosphere of dread and despair that hangs over the block."
"For all its sly pleasures, I found myself wishing that Neighboring Sounds could shed some of its determinism, and give us a vision of not only where Brazilian society has come from, but also where it's going," writes Ela Bittencourt in Slant.
The FSLC sends its questions to Filho. Earlier: Aaron Cutler at the House Next Door.
Update, 4/8: "Filho's cinephilic nods are the opposite of Quentin Tarantino's wholesale pillaging," writes Vadim Rizov at GreenCine Daily. "He acknowledges restaging-as-homage with a Jackie Brown poster, but his own tributes are more oblique. After a leisurely immersion in condo life, a countryside sequence introduces the first scares, upending the usual cliché of rural life being more soothing than urban routine. João [Gustavo Jahn] and his fiancé Sofia (Irma Brown) pass by a school named after 'João Carpenterio' (aka John Carpenter, an admitted inspiration) and check out a former movie theater overrun with tall grass, soundtracked by screams from Plan 9 from Outer Space."