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First Look 2012. Supplementary Roundup

Overviews of the Museum of the Moving Image series: 13 features and seven shorts, nearly all of them New York premieres.

As a followup to Jesse Cataldo's guide to the inaugural edition of the Museum of the Moving Image series First Look, which runs through January 15, when it closes with Raya Martin's Buenas Noches, España (he'll be there — and that's the trailer above, of course), I thought I'd round up a few supplementary items, starting with Eric Hynes's overview in the Voice, where he notes that First Look "already has a discernible identity":

In each their own way, the invited filmmakers approach film as a terrain for formal dexterity. They hail from all over the world—representing 11 countries and four continents — but nationality seems well beside the point. These are films in which borders are crossed as a matter of course: An Italian filmmaker tails a hero of the Armenian avant-garde (The Silence of Peleshian), while a Belgian master conjures Malaysia in the Cambodian jungle (Almayer's Folly); dramas resemble documentaries (Nana), and documentaries become objets d'art (Ocaso and It May Be That Beauty Has Strengthened Our Resolve: Masao Adachi); a closely observed American indie erupts into a woozy thriller (Without), while a multigenerational home movie refuses to put an orienting frame around its loose family portrait (Papirosen). These are films that approach form as flexible and responsive, not as a genre to fulfill or a narrative shape to emulate.

"On the adventurous, if surreal, side, there is Palácios de pena (Palaces of Pity), a Portuguese tidbit codirected by Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt, any summary of which is bound to impose more coherence than I suspect the filmmakers intended," writes Tony Pipolo for Artforum. He also previews It May Be That Beauty…, "an affecting video documentary portrait of Japanese filmmaker Masao Adachi. Once a screenwriter for directors Koji Wakamatsu and Nagisa Oshima before making his own revolutionary films, Adachi joined the militant Japanese Red Army in the early 1970s, then lived in exile for thirty years. Now in Japan, he is interviewed by Philippe Grandrieux and photographed in that director's characteristically dusky, low-key visual style."

For R Emmet Sweeney, writing at TCM's Movie Morlocks, the "standout title" is Gonçalo Tocha's It's the Earth, Not the Moon (2011), "an absorbingly inventive three-hour documentary about the smallest island in the Azores archipelago, Corvo, population 440. Tocha spent parts of two years on the island, and attempted to film everything he could: knitting, cheese curdling, lock-making, accordion-playing, sitting, standing and dancing. Tocha is a restless social historian, trying to capture every tradition and personality on the island before they disappear — lending the film its joyous and elegiac qualities."

In Philippe Garrel's That Summer, "an aspiring actor recalls how he and his girlfriend spent a summer with an intimate but occluded view of Frédéric [Louis Garrel] and Angèle's [Monica Bellucci] imploding marriage," writes the L's Mark Asch. "John Cale did the score, which conjures a mood of instant elegy with Satie-lite slow piano and gypsy guitar; Garrel also stages a Britpop dance sequence that tensely echoes the one in his Regular Lovers. There are ghostly shimmers across surfaces as bare as the plastered white walls of a cold-water flat: Frédéric and Angèle haunt each other between takes at Rome's massive Cinecittà studio, and Paul appears in a WWII movie uncannily recalled in a monologue delivered by Garrel grand-père Maurice, an apparition in multiple senses — he died last June — in his last, deeply moving film appearance."

"Christoph Hochhäusler's The City Below nods toward yuppie erotic thrillers, as Svenja, the alluring wife of an upstanding new employee at a Frankfurt business firm catches the eye of the boss, Roland, instigating a dangerous affair," writes Anna Bak-Kvapil in an overview for the Brooklyn Rail. The film "closes with an upending of everything the plot has built, questioning the eventual importance of affairs and bad business deals alike."

Moving Image Source has posted a series of essays on films in the series:

  • Andréa Picard: "Chantal Akerman's latest film and majestic return to fiction, Almayer's Folly (La folie Almayer), is a cunning mash-up of two sources, one literary opera prima, the other a cinematic swan song from one of the greatest filmmakers who ever lived. While the title explicitly evokes Joseph Conrad's first and rarely read novel, the film is, as its credits acknowledge, a liberal adaptation, and owes just as much to FW Murnau's final film, Tabu."

  • Andrei Zvyagintsev "has indubitably made a step in a new direction," writes Michael Sicinski, "but it remains difficult to avoid processing Elena through many of the conceptual templates more suitable for Zvyagintsev's previous films, The Return (2003) and The Banishment (2007)."

  • Scott MacDonald interviews Armenian filmmaker Artavazd Peleshian, the subject of Pietro Marcello's The Silence of Peleshian.

  • In Palaces of Pity, Abrantes and Schmidt "take history as a kind of occult knowledge that can only be revealed by a willfully perverse manipulation of symbols — something set loose by the spectacular collision of beautiful surfaces," writes Colin Beckett.

  • "Cinematic re-creations of the 1970s radical left are very much en vogue nowadays," writes Leo Goldsmith, "but rather than offer up the stylish, gossipy pleasures of Olivier Assayas's Carlos, Uli Edel's The Baader-Meinhof Complex, or even Wakamatsu's own United Red Army, Grandrieux opts for something more mysterious [in It May Be That Beauty…], an almost ghostly mood piece that privileges impressionism and doubt over the forced coherence of history."

  • "Mark Jackson's Without, which triangulates Persona, Repulsion, and Antichrist into a vision of desperate youth, not only reflects on its medium, it turns that reflection into the basis of its entire conceptual project," writes Phil Coldiron.

  • R Emmet Sweeney: "It's the Earth Not the Moon is an absorbingly inventive three-hour ramble that is both an elegiac act of remembrance and a bulletin of the way things are now."

IndieWIRE's Eric Kohn recommends five must-sees and Time Out New York's David Fear has short reviews of four more. As more reviews appear, I'll make note of them here.

Updates, 1/15: On this, the last day of the festival, I'm finally catching up with a second round of new articles appearing at Moving Image Source:

  • Théo Court's Ocaso "is a fiction, but also a non-fiction, a blend of both, an in-between film," writes Robert Koehler at Moving Image Source. "If this is your first in-between film, you're about to have a good introduction."

  • Also: "The negotiation of a critical cinematic intelligence, which is felt in every moment of [Valérie Massadian's debut feature] Nana, with an emotional underbelly deeply concerned with the care and loving of an innocent amidst a state of nature, is the most impressive aspect of a film that, once seen, is hard to shake off."

  • "Un Eté brûlant is one of the most theoretical of Garrel's films, yet theory for Garrel is never used as a weapon or a refuge," writes Eugenio Renzi. "It is a naked and fragile film."

  • Mark Peranson: "Part of the home-movie genre but superseding it, [Gastón Solnicki's] Papirosen exposes the ghosts haunting the four generations of the Solnicki clan every day."

  • "Life Without Principle looks like an intensification of [Johnnie] To's experiments in balancing form and structure, taking Election as a departure," writes Shelly Kraicer. "To here swings his formalist guns to point at the damage post-capitalist neo-liberalism is doing to society. And he is now making vital, engaged cinema out of the underlying moral structures he unearths."

  • Michael Sicinski "would submit that [Christoph Hochhäusler's] The City Below is a stronger, more relevant, altogether more seductive film today than when it first appeared, and that in itself is saying something. What had, in May of 2010, been a sharp, summative, and rather surreal response to the 2008 financial crisis reads even more today like a prescient response to 2011's global Occupy movement, along with the numerous European and North American economic and political machinations that have precipitated its rise."

  • Phil Coldiron on Raya Martin's Buenas Noches, España: "Overcoming time and space must remain cinema's victory for now, but the blueprint for throwing off the shackles of narrative to redeem love and revolution in the present is available to anyone with eyes. This, it seems to me, is the future of political cinema."

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