Apollo’s Girl

Coming Soon to (or in) a Theater Near You

New Directors/New Films

Maybe it was just coincidence, but some of us were convinced that the Festival management (in this case, Film Society Lincoln Center and MoMA) were doing their bit for the Year of the Woman (2011); Women’s History Month (March); and International Women’s Day (March 8th). If so, they were keeping their stealth agenda to themselves but, after several press screenings, it was hard to ignore the thread that seemed to weave through many of the entries – films mostly by women, mostly about women. (Guys: you could have told us!) 

There were many to recommend, and one that really blew me out of the water: Incendies, by Canadian Denis Villeneuve, now in theaters. With three previous features under his belt, he’s not really a new director, but no matter: Villeneuve is a very big talent who makes big pictures with big themes; in the case of Incendies, like a modern Greek tragedy. Adapted from a play (Scorched) by Wajdi Mouawad, the story is set in the Middle East (nominally Lebanon) and probes the conflict between Christians and Muslims. It far transcends its theatrical roots by opening out cinematically and emotionally on the grand scale. Its heroine’s life bookends the fate of the brother and sister who are her children; her death sends them on a quest to find their missing father and brother. The rest, as they say, is best valued in the seeing. 

Incendies was an Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Film this year, and Villeneuve’s future is definitely worth watching—recently reported to include Prisoners, a thriller set in Boston. In the meantime, MoMA is doing us the favor of screening his previous scorcher, Polytechnique, from June 29July 5th. Be sure you see it this time around! 

Margin Call won’t be out til this fall, but for those who can’t resist rubbing salt into the wounds of our national economic meltdown and continuing lack of justice for its perpetrators, Margin Call (can it be about Goldman Sachs?) is worth seeing, both for its twisty script, by director J.C. Chandor, and its starry cast (Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Demi Moore, and a truly reptilian Jeremy Irons). There may be no justice in the real world, and no heroes or heroines in the film, but there is scandal laid bare here–and regret for those unlucky enough to hold a sub-prime mortgage.

In full possession of a woman’s unerring eye for mischief, sly fun and epic folly, director Anne Sewitsky has created Happy, Happy. Its two couples frolic in bed, and in the snow, knitting together an ultimately satisfying domestic comedy-drama with tears and insights. Although nominally Norwegian, the cast is multi-Nordic, and skilled enough to warm you when the darts of married life and parenthood land close to home. (Winner of the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize at Sundance; out to be enjoyed this summer.) 

Another winner (Audience Award for Drama at Sundance) about, and by, women, is Maryam KeshavarzCircumstance. Set in an Iran very much struggling with traditions and rebellion, Circumstance plays out the conflicts reflected in a forbidden relationship between two young woman students and their families. Acting and directing are assured, and the script has some genuine surprises–mixing politics (real and social) and passion into an unsettling, but ultimately satisfying experience. (Out this summer.)

Finally, I want to strongly recommend Periferic (Outbound). Bearing in mind that its story and co-written script are by the writer of 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (Cristian Mungiu), you will rightly expect to be moved far out of your comfort zone for a sizzling 87 minutes. Direction (by Bogdan Apetri) is devoid of bells and whistles, but long on atmosphere and emotion. And its heroine (if she can be called one), Ana Ularu, has a face that the camera loves, even when it’s grimacing in fury and anguish. This is a breakout performance, and deserves the attention of filmmakers everywhere bearing scripts with challenging roles for her outsize talent. Although Periferic (more accurately translated as periphery, or outside) exposes a wretched life with little hope of redemption, Ularu’s grim radiance is such that you cannot help but be completely drawn into it—even, against all the odds, hope that somehow she will escape. There is currently no hard information on the film’s release here, yet I hope that somehow—even against all the odds—it will appear. 

And one more thing…

The Festival’s shorts inevitably get less attention than its full-length features, but they are (and have been for some years) of extraordinary quality. This year’s Night Hunter, by Stacey Steers, from Boulder, CO, is high art, in every sense of the word. With snippets of archival film of Lilian Gish (black-and-white, save for blood-red painted rosebud lips), and collages of antique wallpaper, graphics, fabrics, and memorabilia vying for attention with drawn images of snakes and nightmare critters, Steers imagines a mythic world—the child of the Brothers Grimm and the crones of Macbeth—that, even in the sensory overload of a major festival, remains stubbornly in your imagination; and like the blood spot in Macbeth, it won’t be washed out. Sound design by Larry Polansky enhances the story: a woman lives in an old house deep in the woods in increasing peril with no saviour in sight. Simple, but thrillingly told by an artist whose gifts can pack it all into 16 minutes. See for yourself at http://staceysteers.com/ 

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