By William Wolf

NEW DIRECTORS/NEW FILMS 2010  Send This Review to a Friend

Some especially strong and important films surfaced on the program of the 2010 New Directors/New Films series, sponsored annually by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art. There were a few forgettable ones too, but the successes definitely made the showcase worthwhile, as is usually the case at this eagerly awaited event, scheduled this year from March 24-April 4.

Among those to which I am partial is the Romanian film “The Happiest Girl in the World,” directed by Radu Jude and continuing the positive reputation films from that country have been achieving recently. There is a wonderful performance by Andreea Bosneag as a teenager who wins a contest with the reward a new car and the opportunity to star in a commercial being shot for an orange drink. She is very sullen and rebellious as her parents drive her to Bucharest for the big event, and we learn why. Apart from normal teenage discontent, she is upset because her parents want her to sign over the car to them for sale to aid plans for a boarding house business venture.

The girl sees the car as something great to have for all her own, a way of impressing her classmates, and in general, making her feel better about herself. The film is also a satire on shooting commercials, as she has to do take after take after take. Meanwhile, her parents keep pressuring her to sign away the car, while she alternately refuses and tries to negotiate a deal to keep it for a a year or so and then sell it, but by then the value will have sharply decreased. Director Jude keeps the film simple, allowing the story to unfold without frills, and we get to know and sympathize with the busy, besieged heroine.

Another favorite with appealing charm is the documentary “Bill Cunningham New York,” an intimate view of the artistry and personality of photographer Bill Cunningham, who for more than fifty years has been using his camera to record fashion and society in New York. Many are familiar with the unusual photos of what people are wearing that have appeared for years in The New York Times.

Cunnignham prowls Manhattan streets relentlessly looking for the odd photo subject of offbeat interest. He professes that when he takes pictures at society events, he is less concerned with who’s who than with what the subjects are wearing. The film, directed by Richard Press, not only has interview sessions with Cunningham, but interviews with people who know him, such as Anna Wintour and Tom Wolfe. But the best part is seeing Cunningham in action, whether it be in New York or at a fashion show in Paris. He comes across as a dear man who just loves what he does as the be-all of his life.

Another unusual personality study can be found in “Beautiful Darling: The Life and Times of Candy Darling, Andy Warhol Superstar.” The film, written and directed by James Rasin, takes us into the world of the young man who invented himself as a woman and searched for and found recognition as a star known as “Candy Darling.” There are sad notes, as there were times when Candy was severely depressed and she also died young of cancer.

The film is rich in visuals from the archives that chronicle her private life and her work, and the film is deepened by the participation of Jeremiah Newton, who was a close friend, looked after her cremation and arranged for a tombstone in her memory. The film takes a tour through this Warhol world, with comments by luminaries who took part in or observed the times.

“Women Without Men,” a film by Shirìn Neshat, takes a sharp look at the lives of women in Iran.The story harks back to 1953, when a coup backed by the CIA resulted in the overthrow of the elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh. We can trace the history of today’s mess in Iran partly to that event.

The story concentrates on four women, Fakhri (Arita Shahrzad), a woman of middle age who is in a miserable marriage and has her romantic impulses stirred by an old boyfriend. There is Zarin (Orsi Tóth), a hapless prostitute who needs desperately to escape into a better life. Munis (Shabnam Tolouel) is a woman inspired to take an interest in political opposition. Faezeh (Pegah Ferydoni), her friend, is set on marrying Munis’s brother, who typically is the type who will dominate a woman.

Actually, these women are not without men in the sense that their lives are rooted in one way another to men, as well as to the general domination by men in the country. Neshat takes us on a tour of these lives seen against the historical background and the effect is dramatic.

“The Oath,” a film by Laura Poitras, is a documentary exposing a story involving the oppressive reaction to terrorist activities. Abu Jandal of Yemen was a former bodyguard of Osama Bin Laden. He was imprisoned in Guantanamo for seven years. The film also focuses on his friend, Salim Hamdan, who worked as Bin Laden’s driver.

The documentary recounts their travels in Afghanistan and follows what happened to each of them, as well as what their attitudes became, all against the background of policies in the fight against terrorism and the civil liberties struggle in the wake of efforts to fight the enemy. It is a very timely documentary that adds to material regarding the controversial military mess.

“The Father of My Children,” written and directed by Mia Hansen-Løve, is a bleak tale that tells us about the pressures of film producers via the sad personal story of a producer whose financial world is crumbling about him and leaving him deep in debt with a collapsing company. Louis-Do de Lencquesaing plays the increasingly desperate Grégoire.

We get a portrait of his business life, his married life and that of a father, a man devoted to his family but also upsetting his wife with the overwhelming hours he must spend in business crisis after crisis. The turn the film takes comes as a jolt. This is a sad but convincing drama.

“I Am Love,” is a complicated tale of marriage, illicit love, wealth and tragedy set in Milan. Directed by Luca Guadagnino from a four-writer screenplay, the film stars Tilda Swinton as Emma, a wife and mother who lives in a bourgeois mansion.The family operates a textile business and a new generation is to take it over. Against this background, Emma is attracted to her son’s friend, with the men planning to open a restaurant.

The affair Emma and the friend then have touches off disastrous results. But for Emma the grim situation also represents an opportunity to cast off ties. But “I Am Love” reminds me somewhat of the old Hollywood movies in which a woman had to suffer retribution for doing the unconventional.

“The Evening Dress,” directed by Myriam Aziza, is fraught with suspicion and tension. Alba Gaia Bellugi as the impressionable 12-year-old Juliette develops a crush on her French teacher, Mrs. Solenska (Lio). It is one of those girlhood infatuations. But the feelings grow so intense that Juliette becomes fiercely jealous when she imagines that a boy in her class is sleeping with the teacher. The situation in the engrossing drama escalates out of control.

“My Perestroika” delves into the drastic changes that have taken place since Communism fell in Russia, and examines how they affect the lives of those put under the microscope. The documentary, directed by Robin Hessman, uses background footage as well as interview footage and clips to underscore history and the extent of change. It is fascinating to meet various Russians and get their viewpoints.

One gets a sense of the lifestyle in the current scene, from dealing with school problems to the functioning of a snazzy men’s shirt store. We see capitalism on the march, resulting in either rejoicing or longing for some of the old ways. The film could go deeper, but in its surface manner is revealing of the new order.

Two films were particularly annoying to me. The worst offender was the Belgium-France production “Amer,” directed by Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani. It is a supposedly avant-garde portrait of a woman who goes through a series of ordeals. The style is ultra impressionistic, running on mystique and unexplained events. But it is dreadfully indulgent, a decidedly minor league effort that pales when measured against surrealist films of masters.

The other thorn was “3 Backyards,” Eric Mendelsohn’s pretentious glance at three suburban residents on a fall day. Almost nobody behaves as such characters really would. There was one moving sequence when Elias Koteas in his role as a businessman acting strangely in the relationship at home becomes touchingly concerned with a young desperate black woman. Edie Falco is over the top in giving a ride to a well known actress neighbor (Embeth Davidtz), with the incident turning into more unconvincing behavior. The other focus is on a child (Rachell Resheff), who has an unlikely face-off with a potential molester.

I was especially disappointed with “3 Backyards,” as I had enjoyed and praised Mendelsohn’s 1999 film “Judy Berlin,” in which Falco also appeared. While offbeat, that venture was on solid footing.

In all there were 38 films from 20 countries scheduled, including 27 features and 11 shorts.


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