By William Wolf

NEW DIRECTORS/NEW FILMS 2007  Send This Review to a Friend

A sure sign of spring coming is the annual New Directors/New Films series sponsored by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art. Many fine films have previewed in this series through the years. I still show repeatedly in film classes that I teach the by now classic “Sugar Caine Alley” which was showcased in the 1980s and has won an increasing following for its humanity and power as reflected in the story set in Martinique and directed by Euzhan Palcy. Each year produces at least some films of importance.

The crush of commercial openings and other events to be covered make it difficult to see all of the entries in any given year, but some of those I managed to catch at this year’s series showed merit for various reasons. One film I enjoyed was the odd and imaginative “The Inner Life of Martin Frost,” written and directed by author Paul Auster.

David Thewlis plays Frost, a writer, who wants to turn off his creative juices for a while and get a much-needed rest. He has found the ideal place, a friend’s vacant country house. Or so he thinks. A writer’s mind never stops, and before he knows it a story idea is gestating. When he awakes in the morning he is shocked to find a woman sleeping next to him. It is Claire, played by the lovely French actress Irène Jacob. Who is the interloper?

Claire has a special background and function, and Auster builds a tale around her mystique and presence, which changes Frost’s world. Michael Imperioli of “The Sopranos” fame, turns up as Jim Fortunato, who has been doing some writing of his own. Sophie Auster, the director’s daughter, also has a role.

The story, alternately kooky and bittersweet, raises questions about reality, fantasy, creativity and what constitutes a writer’s muse. The film is clever and different, with the acting a special attraction.

Another film that aroused interest was “Love for Sale,” previously known as “Suely in the Sky,” which deals with the struggle of a young woman’s strange road to self-discovery in an effort to find a brighter life. Set in a small Brazilian town, the film has been directed by Karim Aïnouz, with actress Hermila Guedes playing the lead. The character, who also is named Hermila but changes her name to Suely, is an abandoned single mom struggling to make ends meet and in need of a decent relationship.

Suely does something shocking. She decides to offer herself in a raffle for a one-time only tryst with the winner, which will net her the same money she would get for sleeping with 200 men as a prostitute. Her insistence on going through with this idea gains her notoriety and at the same time establishes her as a woman who can make such a bold decision.

Aïnouz’s film aims for realism as it tracks its heroine through this phase of her life, and acquaints us with her personality, grit, frustrations and efforts to move forward.

“Padre Nuestro” winds up being too melodramatic, but nevertheless it is often an engrossing drama pegged to the world of immigrants who get exploited as they aim to find their way. Written and directed by Chrstopher Zalla, the film follows two Mexicans, Juan and Pedro, after they meet as occupants of a trailer carrying illegal immigrants to New York.

Pedro, played by Jorge Adrian Espindola, intends to search for his father, who abandoned him and his mother years ago, and thinks his father now is a restaurant owner. En route he becomes friendly with Juan (Armando Hernandez), who steals Pedro’s belongings and the letter he has been carrying from his mother. Once in New York Juan poses as Pedro and sets out to find Pedro’s father. Meanwhile, Juan, broke and bereft of identity proof, is also searching.

When Juan and Pedro’s father Diego (Jesus Ochoa) connect, it takes some convincing for Diego to accept that Juan is his son. Diego is no restaurant owner. He is a restaurant dishwasher who lives in crummy conditions, but has been saving money under the floorboards. When he finally does accept that Juan is his son, he warms to the lad, who in turn has plans to steal Diego’s money.

During his quest Pedro meets Magda (Paola Mendoza), a surly, drug-addicted young woman who rejects him at first, but for promised payment agrees to help Pedro find his dad. Each of the actors is good, but there is much that’s not believable in the story, which turns out to be tragic. However, it succeeds in focusing on the downside of how those who come to the United States illegally must struggle in their new world.

The quest for a father is also at the core of “Cowboy Angels,” a film by Kim Masse, who is American but grew up in France and starts her film in Paris. Poor Pablo (Diego Mestaanza) is an 11-year-old whose mother abandons him. He knows his father is from Spain, and he gets Louis (Thierry Levaret) to drive him to Spain to find him.

What follows is an unintended attachment even though Louis would like to get rid of the kid en route. In a sense Louis temporarily becomes a substitute dad, and the film becomes touching as the relationship develops. Of course, there are perils in an adult traveling with a boy not his son, given what it could look like in the eyes of the law. Although some of what unfolds strains credulity, Masse’s drama is emotionally affecting.

“Red Road,” directed by Andrea Arnold, is interesting on a few counts. Set in Glasgow, it conjures a “Big Brother” image of what can happen when there are security surveillance cameras watching people throughout a city. It also suggests what can happen when someone operating such cameras can find a personal cause from what can be discovered. At the same time, the format of the film is that of a thriller.

Kate Dickie plays Jackie, who works operating such cameras from a city post. When she spots Clyde (Tony Curran), a man she recognizes, the memory of an event from the past overwhelms her and she begins observing him.The film builds tensely as we learn more about what has happened in the past and a volatile situation develops. This is the first of three films from a new project, Advance Party, a United Kingdom/Danish undertaking initiated by Lars von Trier.

  

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