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ND/NF 2012. Ginzburg, Nikonova, Cortlund + Julia Halperin, Brügger, Landes

A roundup for the closing weekend.
The Daily

First, indieWIRE's Eric Kohn hosted a "Meet the New Directors" panel at the Film Society of Lincoln Center earlier this week and you can watch it here. It runs 63'12" and the guests are Jason Cortlund and Julia Halperin (Now, Forager); Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi (5 Broken Cameras); Adam Leon (Gimme the Loot); Kleber Mendonça Filho (Neighboring Sounds); Terence Nance (An Oversimplification of Her Beauty); Joann Sfar (The Rabbi's Cat); Joachim Trier (Oslo, August 31st); and Clarissa Knoll (Street Vendor Cinema).

And the FSLC has posted separate Q&A sessions with Leon (Gimme), Pablo Giorgelli (Las Acacias) and Gareth Evans (The Raid: Redemption), all on one page.

Meantime, we've entered the home stretch. New Directors/New Films rolls on through the weekend and closes on Sunday night with a surprise — whatever it may be, it'll probably rank a roundup of its own. That aside, here's where we wrap it up.

Generation P

"Generation P offers the same pessimistic depiction of Russian life as recent films from the country, such as Twilight Portrait, My Joy, and Cargo 200," writes Kenji Fujishima in Slant. "But Victor Ginzburg shuns their chilly austerity for a brassy aesthetic that's alternately thrilling and frustrating. The film is still incredibly cynical, but the experience of watching it is occasionally joyful in its sense of freedom. And while the filmmaker's visible passion isn't quite enough to make Generation P a great work, there's still enough here to ultimately make it one worth taking seriously."

"Adapted from Viktor Pelevin's satirical novel about the rise of the advertising industry in post-Soviet Russia," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir, "Ginzburg's delirious head-trip movie has already garnered comparisons to Terry Gilliam and David Fincher, at their most unhinged. Whether this bizarre swirl of ideas and images is simply too bewildering for non-Russians remains to be seen (and the Russians do bewildering like nobody else). But with Putin's apparently permanent presidency having pushed the country's fundamental strangeness back into the headlines, this cracked chronicle may help illustrate how Russians went from one form of dictatorship to another, with 10 years or so of total madness in between."

David D'Arcy at Artinfo: "Ginzburg's odyssey among oligarchs, autocrats and consumer serfdom won't induce you to book a vacation in Russia — where more than 500 prints of Generation P were released in April [2011] — but you'll be struck by its visual energy and imagination. You don't see many Russia comedies, and this is one that's not holding back. Who said that cutthroat capitalism couldn't be funny?"

The Film Society of Lincoln Center has a couple of questions for Ginzburg.

Twilight Portrait

Joshua Rothkopf in Time Out New York on Twilight Portrait: "After a bored Moscow social worker finds herself unexpectedly stranded in a sketchy neighborhood (with a broken heel, no less), menace builds considerably; the appearance of a trio of cops is actually a turn for the worse. But it's what happens after her sexual assault — and provocative return to the scene of the crime — that will have you arguing about this unflinching movie for hours."

"Directed by Angelina Nikonova, this despairing, occasionally absurdist portrait of a country devouring itself stars the very good Olga Dihovichnaya as a young professional who enters into an inexplicable affair with one of her rapists," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "I didn't believe this noxious setup for a single minute, but it's a testament to Ms Nikonova's eye for startling, plangent detail and Ms. Dihovichnaya's tough, complex performance, with its suggestions of self-loathing and misanthropy, that I kept watching, and arguing with the movie long after it had ended."

"Does Marina genuinely have some kind of masochistic affection for this cop who raped her?" asks Kenji Fujishima in Slant. "Is this all part of some audacious revenge scheme on her part — a scheme more about asserting her sexual dominance and power over this brutish man's man than about physical eye-for-an-eye violence? How much of this was predetermined and how much improvised in the moment on her part? Nikonova and Dihovichnaya — the latter giving a lead performance that is remarkable in its opacity, hardness, and stoicism — refuses to offer any easy answers, trusting her audience to draw their own conclusions and make of it all what they will. Twilight Portrait, as infuriating as it sometimes is in the moment, is ultimately haunting in its ambiguities."

"The excellent cinematography captures the gloom of life in this unappealing urban landscape," writes Howard Feinstein for Filmmaker. "People are ugly to each other; women show no special kindness to other women. I don't think there is a smile in the film."

Update, 4/8: The FSLC has a few questions for Nikonova.

Now, Forager

"The story of two foragers who subsist, if just barely, by collecting mushrooms from tri-state area woodlands and selling them to NYC restaurants, Now, Forager boasts an evocative sense of environment and the feel of working with one's hands, but otherwise rummages around in search of substance and subtlety." For Nick Schager, writing in Slant, one turn in the story in particular "leads to an easy-target political critique, and one that, despite the film's superficial resemblance to Kelly Reichardt's Old Joy and Wendy and Lucy (nomads traversing forests, quiet personal drama, naturalistic cutaways to the environment), feels underlined as if in black crayon."

"Even though the plot is novel and filmmaking good, the actors present more of a problem than range," finds Howard Feinstein in Filmmaker. "After seeing so many New Directors films from other countries and cultures, I feel like the American indie actors often seem unreal, actors performing in an often imaginative fictional space."

But Dustin Chang recommends it at Twitch. The FSLC's Jonathan Robbins interviews co-directors Jason Cortlund and his Julia Halperin.

Update, 4/8: At the Playlist, Gabe Toro gives Forager a C.

The Ambassador

"Directed or perhaps more rightly orchestrated by Mads Brügger (The Red Chapel), The Ambassador exists in that politically and ethically murky space between documentary fact and fancifully self-serving fiction," writes the NYT's Manohla Dargis. "In very brief — an exact précis of the tale’s freaky turns would take paragraphs — Mr Brügger decided that he wanted to expose the uglier, dirtier side of white diplomacy in Africa. To that ostensible end, he claims, he bought a Liberian ambassadorship to the Central African Republic, and then he put on a power suit and dark shades and tried to buy blood diamonds, an exercise that quickly turns into a circus with Mr Brügger as ringmaster and clown. Alternately entertaining and exasperating, The Ambassador plays with the limits of documentary conventions. (Mr Brügger, maybe facetiously, calls what he does 'performative journalism.') But while it provides plenty to rail against, including some perversely obtuse or just unconscious representations of black Africans, the movie solicits your engagement."

"Employing a number of hidden cameras and an imagined persona that owes more to Graham Greene than Sacha Baron Cohen," explains Chris Cabin in Slant, "Brügger successfully documents a country that, bereft of any sort of caring central democracy, has become a bazaar for murderers, militants, thieves, and power brokers on both sides of the economic spectrum." But: "Brügger offers no full sense of context as to why, say, the title of diplomat allows for such unfettered, indulgent privilege or, for that matter, how governments choose those to receive such appointments. Simply put, there's no fire in Brügger's belly, or at least any perceivable fire. It tempers the politics down, for better or worse, and makes The Ambassador more of a lopsided, if irrefutably involving, act of gonzo reportage, part absurdist how-to guide on becoming a diamond smuggler, part outsider tour of a truly lawless land infested with poverty and incessant corruption."

More from David D'Arcy; and the FSLC has a few questions for Brügger.

Update, 4/8: At the Playlist, Gabe Toro gives The Ambassador a B+. More from Vadim Rizov at GreenCine Daily.


Melissa Anderson in the Voice on Porfirio: "A droll, empathic doc-fiction-reenactment hybrid, Alejandro Landes's second film recounts the frustration that led Colombian rancher Porfirio Ramirez Aldana, paralyzed by a stray police bullet — and fearlessly played by Aldana himself — to hijack a plane to Bogotá."

"Porfirio is an ugly movie to watch," writes Andrew Schenker in Slant, "but it's not without purpose. For as unpleasant as this man's actions are, as disagreeable as it is watching his son bathe him or a lover ride him, they're a muddied reflection of the rottenness of a society that presumably left this man both physically and emotionally broken and which refuses to provide sufficient compensatory monetary aid…. As Porfirio fills the screen, sometimes quite literally, it's his body we respond to, and it's his torso, at once oversize and unmovable, more than any word or action that explains him."

Earlier: Notes from Cannes 2011 and a review from Dan Sallitt.

There'll also be a second program of shorts this weekend and the FSLC sends its questions to the maker of one of them, Didier Barcelo, whose The End tells "the story of a very well known actress (Charlotte Rampling) who discovers one day watching TV that she's not in her films anymore — she's been replaced by a young actress."

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http://bruggertheambassador.blogspot.com/ explains why THE AMBASSADOR is not a documentary nor a mockumentary
From the Film Society blog comes news that the surprise closing night film was Beasts of the Southern Wild. http://www.filmlinc.com/blog/entry/surprise-closing.-new-directors-new-films

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