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ND/NF 2011. "Summer of Goliath," "Destiny of Lesser Animals," "Gromozeka"

For Chris Cabin, writing in Slant, "Watching the near-mystical images that litter Mexican-born Nicolás Pereda's doc/narrative hybrid Summer of Goliath, it becomes far easier to pick out the innovators that have paved the way for Pereda than it is to locate the distinction between what is real and what is narratively structured. Kiarostami's translucent border between production and product can be seen everywhere; the sumptuous, often breathtaking view of nature seems clearly indebted to early Apichatpong Weerasethakul (think Mysterious Object at Noon) and, to a far lesser degree, Lisandro Alonso. Jia Zhangke surely figures in here as well, but only in theory, seeing as Pereda's film, which weaves together scattered pieces of lives lived in Huilotepec, Mexico, focuses on things more instinctual and natural on a smaller scale, rather than the forge of modernity and capitalism being played out amongst demolished factories and five-star hotels."

Howard Feinstein, writing for Filmmaker, sees "a microcosm of the Mexican social order. Rich digressions capture culturally-specific textures and help flesh out several characters. In the mix are semi-improvised documentary-style interviews and scenes providing additional information on the current state of the locality and its inhabitants, further delineating the internal tensions Pereda lays out."

"It's a grittier Mexican version of Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives," suggests Dustin Chang in Twitch. "But it lacks humor and the spirituality of the Thai film."

"If you follow festival-circuit coverage, you'll want to see this no matter what," concedes Vadim Rizov at GreenCine Daily. "Not unenjoyable but nonetheless deeply frustrating, Goliath suggests art cinema is reinforcing new clichés on a highbrow level… Nonetheless, Pereda's still shy of 30, and he's a good student of these kinds of festival films."

"Certainly, critics who have evaluated Pereda's work have noticed correspondences with other films," writes Adam Nayman for the L. "[M]any of the reviews for Summer of Goliath have cited Miguel Gomes's Our Beloved Month of August and Matthew Porterfield's Putty Hill as possible influences or analogues. These comparisons make sense insofar as Summer of Goliath feels like a collaboration between a filmmaker and his real-life subjects… What's unclear — and intriguingly so — is the extent to which the eccentricity has been captured or cultivated by the filmmaker. That Pereda describes working with professional actors in addition to the locals confirms Summer of Goliath as an example of what Robert Koehler calls 'the cinema of in-between.' 'I feel like the words "fiction" and "documentary" should not be used anymore,' says Pereda by way of describing his hybridized aesthetic. 'Maybe they serve some purpose to catalogue films, but they have connotations that do a disservice to the filmmaking community, to the films and to the audience.'"

Earlier: Daniel Kasman from Toronto. Summer of Goliath screens tonight at the Film Society of Lincoln Center and again tomorrow at MoMA.

"The foundational assumption behind The Destiny of Lesser Animals, a post-9/11 allegory for national pride in Ghana, is that some people are meant to enrich their communities," writes Simon Abrams in Slant. "Inspector Boniface (Yao B Nunoo) can't flee his homeland for the brighter prospects of New York City because he can't get a visa. Then again, according to Nunoo, the real reason why the man can't leave the country legally is because he's destined to stay in Ghana and save everyone he can. Nunoo, who wrote the film's screenplay, is an optimist and a myopic patriot, and he has no room in his world for free will or selfish, though perfectly acceptable, individual desires. If an individual can help the state in whatever capacity he can, be it as a police officer or a taxi driver, Nunoo insists that that man (because there are no strong women in the film's world) will eventually realize that he must do it."

"It's not a total loss," James van Maanen assures us. "[P]erformances are appealing, the scenery of course is exotic and new (unless you know Ghana very well), and there are historical reference points — Kwame Nkrumah is one such — around which some of us can wrap our memories. By the finale, the film seems to have changed its stripes completely — from mystery thriller to feel-good fantasy."

Howard Feinstein for Filmmaker: "Throughout this thriller there is tension between corruption — bribery, prostitution — and integrity. Well worth a see." IndieWIRE interviews director Deron Albright. The Destiny of Lesser Animals screens tonight at MoMA and tomorrow at the FSLC.

Update: Alison Willmore has "Ten Burning Questions" for Albright at the FLSC's site.

"A punishingly dreary portrait of eviscerated manhood, Gromozeka intercuts the parallel stories of three middle-aged schlubs undone by their inability to control — or even vaguely understand — female sexuality." Andrew Schenker in Slant: "Mostly, though, Vladimir Kott's network narrative is just a study in unremitting bleakness, neither particularly enlightening nor entertaining — no matter how many limp stabs the director takes at leavening humor. In fact, for a film whose mise-en-scène (one man leveling a gun at another as a train speeds by overhead), moments of outrage (a variation on the infamous Lee Marvin/Gloria Grahame encounter in The Big Heat), and plotting (virtually everything) all seem borrowed from the standard-issue cinematic playbook, the most authentic thing about the film may be the utter rancidness of Kott's vision of the universe."

"Gromozeka exudes bleakness as it follows the midlife crises of three sad sack Russian men in Moscow," writes Anna Bak-Kvapil at Not Coming to a Theater Near You. "The trio are connected by their past as members of the titular high school band, named after a well-known accident-prone Russian cartoon character. Their musical background is established in a wordless opening scene as young boys with guitars stroll through the halls of a school. Now middle-aged men, they sing drunken karaoke and huddle in a sauna together. When they ask each other how their lives are going, each responds 'fine.' But of course, being Russian, they aren't… When Gromozeka becomes sentimental in the final act, it loses the edge of black comedy that made it palatable."

Gromozeka "was made for television and shows it," notes Howard Feinstein at Filmmaker. Screens this evening at MoMA and tomorrow afternoon at the FSLC.

All we've got on Man Without a Cell Phone for the time being is indieWIRE's interview with the director, intro'd with a synopsis from ND/NF: "Sameh Zoabi's perceptive feature debut offers a window into a section of Palestinian society rarely seen on screen: Israeli citizens whose daily lives appear removed from the ongoing struggle, yet who often feel they are second-class citizens." Screens this evening at the FSLC and on Sunday afternoon at MoMA.

Coverage of the coverage: ND/NF 2011 Index. For news and tips throughout the day every day, follow @thedailyMUBI on Twitter and/or the RSS feed.

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