By William Wolf

NEW DIRECTORS/NEW FILMS 2005  Send This Review to a Friend

The annual event that affords the critics and the public a look at new work being done from an assortment of countries included some excellent, provocative films, and, of course, some on the tedious side. I was able to sample a number of entries in the New Directors/New Films series presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art.

A few selections have already opened commercially, such as the striking, metaphorical Hungarian import “Kontroll,” which takes place entirely in the Budapest subway, and the disturbing also metaphorical Italian import, “Primo Amore,” in which a man obsessed with thin dominates a woman and makes her keep losing more and more weight in an abusive relationship. (Click on Film on the home page or click on Search to find reviews of both.)

One of the most involving films of the series was “Private,” directed by Saverio Costanzo, also a co-writer of the screenplay. At first it promises to be another rant against Israel when for security reasons Israeli soldiers occupy a Palestinian home in a disputed area. The family is divided. The father insists on staying to protest the occupation by holding his ground instead of moving out as the Israelis suggest. There is a different viewpoint on the part of his children. A particularly militant daughter wants to fight.

But soon it is clear that the film is not an anti-Israel tract but is developing into something more, a metaphor for the divided land and the problems that befall both Israelis and Palestinians. The daughter takes to spying on the Israeli soldiers in their part of the house forbidden to the Palestinians, and we see their human side. She gets an education about the opposition, and the film turns into an examination of the situation that must somehow be peacefully resolved. Tension is high throughout the film, but the director is clearly on the side of finding a way to live in harmony, yet doesn’t flinch from dramatizing the every-day confrontations.

My favorite film in the series turned out to be “The Hero,” set in Angola, with the characters expressing the trauma of life there as a result of the war that tore the post-colonial country apart and left a trail of human wreckage. It deals with people searching for loved ones who disappeared as soldiers and with others who survived the fighting at the cost of lasting wounds, physically and psychologically.

Director Zézé Gamboa has made a beautiful, emotionally involving movie that echoes stylistically the Italian neo-realist films of an earlier era. Oumar Makéna Diop can break your heart as the soldier who returns and has trouble getting a prosthetic leg, only to have it stolen. Milton Coehlo is wrenching as a street orphan. Patrícia Bull is outstanding as Joana, an idealistic but cynical schoolteacher. The portrait of Angola is penetrating and moving, and also unusual, for we are not accustomed to films taking place there. Mark this as a film to see when and if it gets the commercial release it deserves.

“Somersault,” set in Australia and written and directed by Cate Shortland, is a gritty drama focused on Heidi, a 16-year-old who is caught by her mother while making advances toward her mom’s boyfriend. The mother rages against her, fueling feelings of alienation that already exist on the part of the teenager, and she runs away, winding up in a ski resort town.

Abbie Cornish is quite striking as Heidi, and she bears watching for what she may do in the future. Heidi becomes involved with a young man (Sam Worthington), but she finds it difficult to sustain a relationship without being self-destructive. This tendency also applies to the relationship she develops with a co-worker and her mother. The story, although simply told, is emotionally overwrought, but it is always interesting, and Cornish commands attention for her looks and performance.

The Norwegian film oddly titled “Clorox, Ammonia and Coffee” takes a satirical look at an assortment of characters and their lives as concocted by writer-director Mona J. Hoel. Some of it is funny and perceptive, but the trouble is that much too much is crowded into this film that is not long time-wise (105 minutes) but seems much longer plot-wise.

A key character is Maria (Benedikte Lindbeck) who is single, pregnant and in need of money. She robs Jesus (Fares Fares), a shopkeeper, and that touches off a series of events and the intricate, expansive story as we watch the various people depicted go through their problems and find their solutions. Hoel sets herself a major task in handling everything, but to her credit, much of it is entertaining. Yet the film could use a good paring.

There’s a mystique about “Le Grande Voyage,” an unusual father-son drama written and directed by Ismaël Ferroukhi, and well acted by Nicolas Cazale and Mohamed Majd. The story involves a father’s demand that his son Reda drive him from the south of France to Mecca on a pilgrimage. That is the last thing Reda (Cazale) wants to do, but family loyalty leads him to interrupt his life and accede to what is required of him when a father orders him to comply.

The father is a royal pain along the way, and one would easily excuse Reda if he abandoned him and took off back to France. However, as one expects, the experience leads to better understanding on the part of the son and emotional feelings that surface. Thus “Le Grande Voyage” has a special quality, enhanced by the locations and the cinematography, as well as the insights supplied by Ferroukhi. It is one of the more interesting of films in the series.

“The Welts,” a film from Poland directed by Magdalena Piekorz, is a moody drama that follows the lasting effects of child abuse. Set in the mid-1980s, a 12 year-old boy, Wojtek, played by Wacek Adamczyk, is having a rough time. His mother is dead, and he lives with his father (Jan Frycz), a stern disciplinarian whose method is beating the boy with a whip for any perceived wrong behavior.

Cut to the grown Wojtek 30 years later, with Micha Zebrowski, cast as the adult. He is fearful of echoing the behavior of his father as a result of the abusive childhood he has suffered. He meets Tania (Agnieszka Grochowaska), and how their relationship develops and what she is able to bring to him may determine the extent to which he can shake the past. The film is well made and well acted, but it’s a grim one to experience.

The above survey is representative of what I was able to see among the 30 works from 32 countries in the extensive showcase. New York is a busy arts scene with tremendous opportunities in film and theater, which is yet another good reason to live here.


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