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ND/NF 2012. Burnat + Davidi, Sfar + Delesvaux, Anka + Wilhelm Sasnal, Song

Four films see their first New Directors/New Films screenings on Monday and Tuesday.
The Daily5 Broken Cameras

"It doesn't take long at all for the personal and the political to merge seamlessly in 5 Broken Cameras, an immediately involving and moving portrait of the Palestinian troubles through the eyes of one of the film's co-directors, Emad Burnat," begins Chris Cabin in Slant. "A lifelong resident of the small village of Bil'in, Burnat quickly went from being a man of the soil to a man with a movie camera in 2005, just as his fourth son, Gibreel, was born in his small West Bank village and has continued to film the struggles of his village against the settlers — a word used to refer to nearly all Israeli private citizens who occupy disputed territory. Spanning from the birth of Gibreel to the end of 2010, 5 Broken Cameras is made up almost entirely of footage shot by Mr Burnat, which was then edited by Guy Davidi, an Israeli filmmaker and film professor who's credited as co-director as well as editor. What emerges through their partnership is a chronology of tragedy and endurance, at once the story of the gradual development of a village full of indivertible activists, the turmoil and horror surrounding the construction of the barrier that separates Bil'in from the settlers, and a treatise on the importance of the camera and visual documentation in modern protest."

"The footage is astounding, both as a chronicle of an unjust and violent situation and as filmmaking," writes Howard Feinstein for Filmmaker. "Burnat has an intuitive feel for the medium. Dividing the film into sections predicated on the destruction of five cameras is a clever structuring device, especially as it relates to the unfortunate fate of many of the protesters. So is the ongoing match-up of Gibreel's childhood with the intensity of the weekly clashes. We see locals being shot, sometimes at close range, Emad's best friend being killed, soldiers arresting little children, women being harassed, homes being entered illegally, and, perhaps most horrifying of all, fanatic religious settlers being given carte blanche to physically harm the Palestinians and burn their trees. I have seen nothing nastier than the way the soldiers treat the locals. 5 Broken Cameras should be used as evidence one day in an international tribunal."

More from David D'Arcy at Artinfo and Dustin Chang and Peter Gutierrez at Twitch. The Film Society of Lincoln Center has a few questions for Davidi: "When we started this film I knew we would be criticized for doing this film together. Emad would be asked why he chose to make it with an Israeli and me with a Palestinian. The actual differences were something we couldn't avoid. We had different privileges and different complications and we had to learn to use them in a constructive way, though they have a tendency to complicate things…. As this film should be focused on Emad's narrative, my role would be much more ambiguous for the audience. I was to be a kind of Cyrano de Bergerac, but I think that all storytellers actually find themselves in the same role. It's the characters that should be in the front and not the filmmakers."

Update, 3/27: "Burnat is transformed into an activist," notes B Ruby Rich in Film Quarterly, "while his newborn son grows into a five-year-old whose first word is 'wall' and who, after witnessing his godfather gunned down for no apparent reason, plaintively asks: 'Why don't you kill the soldiers with a knife?' So grows a child in a place where Kafkaesque settlements move closer and olive groves are set on fire, all captured by daddy's camera(s). This unusual collaboration should make viewers shudder when next listening to news of the region."

The Rabbi's Cat

David D'Arcy on The Rabbi's Cat: "NDNF is presenting this animated tale of a cat who eats the family parrot and battles his rabbi master with Talmudic sophistries as the first family film that the festival has ever shown. That's true, but don't let it deter you. Joann Sfar and Antoine Delesvaux evoke Algiers of the 1930's with the charm and wit from Sfar's original comic of the same name, and without too much nostalgia — even a rabbi can't drink tea at cafes for the colonial French where Arabs and Jews are banned."

"The 3D presentation vividly amplifies the handsome and perceptively drawn details of the 2D animation," writes Ed Gonzalez in Slant, "and the rambling story feels rhymed to the movements of its titular character, a kosher feline who acquires the ability to speak after scarfing down his master's parrot. Enough can't be said about the old-fashioned animation. That vine that crawls from a pot and up the sides of a building, the seemingly inch-thick gaps between the cobblestones the rabbi's cat runs across, the ornate patterns that decorate walls and floors and surround doors and fountains — this is a world of organically realized details, and one in which the characters feel completely and credibly immersed. Shadows practically have a life of their own, as does the crescent moon, which casts its distorted reflection onto water from its perch in a Van Gogh sky. Everyone, cat and human alike, regardless of race, dreams in their own wondrously unique style."

A bit more from Peter Gutierrez at Twitch and Farihah Zaman for Filmmaker.

It Looks Pretty from a Distance

Howard Feinstein for Filmmaker on It Looks Pretty from a Distance: "Polish visual artists Anka and Wilhelm Sasnal train their artists’ eyes on an attractive but depressing Polish town in the middle of a scorching summer. In this post-Socialist time people are angry but don’t always have specific objects at which to vent their rage. When a scrap metal worker named Pawel departs and doesn’t return immediately, his fellow residents lose control, tearing up his home for anything of value, and going even further, even poisoning his dog. This is obviously not just about theft. Pawel returns to nothing."

"It Looks Pretty from a Distance is gloriously bucolic in its imagery and lush with breathtaking long shots," writes Chris Cabin in Slant, but "the mud-and-piss-soaked realities of poverty are shown in glaring detail. Working with first-time cinematographer Aleksander Trafas, the filmmakers are able to light and shoot a red-velvet bed left out in the sun with a small infestation of maggots writhing around on top and make it look like a lost canvas taken out of Claude Monet's secret second apartment, which speaks to Wilhelm Sasnal's extensive work as a painter. The simple beauty of such sustained moments, at first, seems to be all that the Sasnals' are after." The central conflict "brings to mind nothing less than the spellbinding Revanche, though Götz Spielmann's intentions on class warfare, low-tier crime, and marital discord gave that film a crucial punch that left a more substantial bruise than the Sasnals' film."

Update, 4/8: More from Benjamin Mercer in the L.

Huan Huan

"Casual corruption, bossy neighbors who know everybody's business, and omnipresent loudspeakers squawking about official policies and propaganda all day long make the Chinese town depicted in Huan Huan feel pretty bleak," writes Elise Nakhnikian in Slant. "Unfortunately, the film is almost as drab and demoralizing as the place it portrays."

But for Howard Feinstein, writing for Filmmaker, director Song Chuan "has combined gorgeous, if normally languorous, compositions with a relatively rapid narrative movement. Huan Huan, the young woman at the center, is an attractive peasant living in a quiet, beautiful village near a large lake. The placidity is, however, a myth: Laws like the One-Child Policy and unbearable family pressures are as stifling for her as the provincialism of the community."

Update, 3/27: The FSLC interviews Song.

Update, 4/8: Jonathan Robbins and Ti-Kai Chang interview Song for the FSLC.

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