By William Wolf

NEW DIRECTORS/NEW FILMS 2018  Send This Review to a Friend

It’s that time of the year again when The Film Society of Lincoln center and The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) collaborate in spotlighting the works of “New Directors/New Films” (March 28-April 8). I always look forward to sampling some of them, and accordingly, I have dipped in to see some of the entries.

One of the most impressive, if overlong at nearly three hours, is “The Nothing Factory,” directed by Pedro Pinho and set in Portugal. A group of workers are astonished when in the middle of the night they see equipment being removed from the factory where they work making elevators. What’s going on?

They are visited by one of the owners and new personnel in an effort to con them into believing that their being fired with some compensation is a forward-looking idea. They are told that difficult conditions make it necessary to shift work elsewhere, which means abandoning the factory.

Although there is dissention among the workers about what to do, ultimately there is the decision to try to take over the factory and keep their jobs going. There is a section of the film in which the economy and Marxism are discussed, and although that aspect is important, it is very polemical and could be tightened. The film has its charm, including a musical number expressing the feelings of the workers.

“The Nothing Factory” excels in being about important issues and the film is dedicated to those who attempted something similar in a real-life situation in Portugal. One can become completely absorbed in the lot of the workers, including their personal as well as work relationships, thanks to the perceptive and enthusiastic direction by Pinho.

Another impressive film in the series is “Djon África,” which was written by Pedro Pinho, who, as noted above, directed “The Nothing Factory.” “Djon África” was directed by João Miller Guerra and Filipa Reis. The plot involves Miguel Moreira, also known as Djon África, who is troubled because he doesn’t know his father.

Thus Djon, with roots as a Cape Verdian in Portugal, begins a quest to find his dad, a search that involves traveling and the opportunity for the filmmakers to show us impressive scenery and involve us in the adventures that the protagonist has along the way.

Spoiler alert: There is a scene toward the end of the film when Djon is passed on the street by a man who looks back as if he recognizes something in Djon. Could that be his father?

(The film strikes a personal note for me, as I didn’t meet my father until I was in my twenties. But unlike Djon, I didn’t have to travel far and wide. I knew who and where he was and could just pick up the phone and say dramatically, “Hello, this is your long lost son.”)

If you enjoy a movie in the horror genre, there is the ironically titled “Good Manners,” directed by Marco Dutra and Juliana Rojas. It is set in São Paolo, Brazil, and--are you ready?—Ana (Marjorie Estiano), a wealthy socialite, explosively gives birth to a werewolf. Ana’s housemaid, Clara (Isabél Zuaa), who after being hired becomes sexually involved with her pregnant employer, has a commanding mystique about her as she realizes something strange is happening.

There is an amusing scene in which she mixes blood into a pasta dish she is preparing for Ana. The twist is that the little boy who is born and shown growing up is sympathetic, but must be confined at night so he doesn’t roam dangerously as the werewolf he becomes when the moon is out. If he gets loose, the result can be tragic.

The film is alternately scary and funny, but always with a sympathetic eye to the boy who is afflicted in a way that he cannot control. The performance by Zuaa as Clara, who becomes his keeper, is impressive.

For people having trouble sleeping I would recommend “Drift,” a German film directed by Helena Wittmann. If this doesn’t put an insomniac to sleep, the case is hopeless. We meet Theresa, a German, and Josefina, who is from Argentina, as they briefly vacation together at the North Sea. But there is minimal human activity.

Most of the film is given over to vivid but long, boring shots of the sea, the beaches, the country—just the camera on nature, and this goes on and on and on so that the 96-minute, soporific film seems like forever.

Although rather obtuse, a film from the Philippines directed by Shireen Seno, is nonetheless interesting. In “Nervous Translation,” eight-year-old Yael is depressingly lonely. Her mother treats her so casually that we barely see any relationship between them.

But Yael has gained access to audio cassettes that her father, who works overseas, has been sending to her mother. She plays them over and over, thus trying to establish a connection with her dad. Yael has a vivid imagination that helps her through her loneliness. However, the film is not definitive enough, and becomes more of a character study.

There is another strange film—“Our House,” from Japan and directed by Yul Kiyohara. In this one, we find Seri, an adolescent girl, living with her mother. Turning up is a young woman who claims to have amnesia. She is taken in, but the ensuing plot is very odd as two stories unfold and intersect. One is left wondering about it all.

One of the important films is “Hale County This Morning, This Evening,” written and directed by RaMell Ross. The film zeros in on African-Americans who live in Hale County, Alabama. We learn much about their lives from the observations captured by the filmmaker in great detail. One comes away with understanding of what life is like for African-Americans living in this part of the country.

There are other films that you might want to check out in this edition of the annual series. At the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) 11 West 53rd Street and the Walter Reade Theater of the Film Society of Lincoln Center, 165 West 65th Street. Tickets at NEWDIRECTORS.ORG. Posted March 26, 2018.


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