“In Person Only”: The 2022 New Directors/New Films Festival

crystallized memory

After an online-only edition in 2020 and a hybrid Golden Jubilee last year, New Directors/New Films is once again “in-person-only”, a phrase whose very existence reveals just how much the COVID- 19 has profoundly changed industry and public expectations. . While the desirability of our “return to normal” (mask is now optional at both venues) is questionable, the festival’s gender equity is more commendable: 21 of the 39 directors whose films are included in this year’s list are women, even though the disparity between feature and short films demonstrates the political and social barriers to making feature films that women continue to face.

Most of the shorts on the slate are narrative rather than avant-garde, which is to be expected given the number of feature films debuting there, but it was the most experimental of the bunch that impressed me the most ( which reflects at least as much my personal sensibility as the relative quality of the films). The Two Stars – Chonchanok Thanatteepwong crystallized memory and Niranjen Raj Bhetwal Eternal Melody– follow one another in the second of two short programs, and their subjects even overlap a little. The former follows a monk’s son as he mourns his father’s demise, while the latter sees a widow and her son ease the deceased patriarch’s passage into the afterlife. crystallized memory is a marvel to behold, whether it’s the flesh tones of the exteriors, the close-ups of fire, or the picaresque views of the temple. Bird and insect sounds are audible in every scene, which, along with the vaguely otherworldly plot, might bring to mind compatriot Apichatpong Weerasethakul, but the film’s best sequences, namely two that use a handheld camera deliberately moving over the ground, are entirely of Thanatteepwong. clean. The eternal melody, meanwhile, shines with his ethnographic patience. It depicts a simple ritual – the two survivors lighting a lamp during an eclipse – but conveys its meaning in its still shots, through which the figures move slowly but deliberately. The sweeping landscape shots are impressive, as is the attention to aural detail, most notably the sound of the river, which fills the film for the most part without dialogue.

The Opening Night selection, winner of the Golden Lion by Audrey Diwan Eventis an ideal entry point for discussing feature films, as it shares a problem with most of the films made available for the press (a large but far from exhaustive selection). Event is based on the autobiographical novel of the same name by Annie Ernaux about the author’s abortion in 1963, when the procedure was illegal in France in all circumstances and heavily prosecuted. Its opening scenes herald its style as the competent but mundane naturalism common to arthouse films, and it quickly establishes its protagonist, Anne, as a good student. In a scene that also doubles as a clever foreshadowing, Anne watches a pregnant peer who refuses to attempt to perform Louis Aragon’s poem “Elsa at the Mirror” before Anne takes her own shot:”[Aragon] uses the drama of a lover to evoke a national one,” Anne begins, before further impressing the teacher with quick answers to her questions.

Whether this scene is simply intended to demonstrate Anne’s scholarship, to note the contrast between Aragon’s work on looking at a woman and Diwan’s own film by and about women, or to guide the interpretation of the viewer – “this personal story of a woman fighting against unjust abortion laws is also an allegory,” you might say, with varying degrees of literalness depending on the state or country you live in – it puts nevertheless highlights the film’s aesthetic limitations. It’s much more literal and asks a lot less of you than “Elsa in the Mirror”. The first student asked to perform the poem can’t even guess; it’s hard for a viewer of this film to be so oblivious to matters of intent or, according to the teacher, “hidden meaning”. Event has a few notable sequences, namely the single take in which Anne has an abortion, but by this point the viewer will have already determined whether this is a remarkable way to normalize something that shouldn’t be seen as shameful or as an asymmetric exploitation and attempt to create discomfort parallel to Anne’s, and nothing in the film challenges or complicates either view.

Much bolder are a pair of films from Mexico. A, Dos Estaciones, has already been amply discussed in these pages (online and also in the last printed issue); the other, Natalia López Gallardo Dress of Gems, offers reason to pay attention on its first hit. Over the course of a few minutes, the sun appears behind a cloud and bathes a few bare trees in light as a man with a machete emerges from the back of the frame and begins to cut weeds. We hear the buzzing of insects, but also, more and more, and at the very moment when the light allows us to see their fictitious reflection in the window from which the camera is looking, the moans of two people making love mechanically with humor. When the camera pans back, the woman in the foreground stares at the field we just saw (whose reflection we can still see) while the man settles in the background and, for reasons unknown to us, throws a wooden chair on the floor.

If this sounds like something out of a Carlos Reygadas movie, it’s worth noting that López Gallardo starred in Our time and edited both silent light and Post Darkness Lux (as well as that of Lisandro Alonso Jauja), and she has both the patience and the sense of surprise of her collaborators.

The next move is just as impressive. The camera starts near a group at the edge of a swimming pool as a maid (a maid who will become one of the central figures of the film) talks with an adult and a few children, then switches to two other characters , whose relationship to the band is unknown. but which nonetheless become the visual focus even as the conversation, now happening just out of focus in the background, audibly continues. This shot teases the film’s network of characters in a story about a missing person and the cartel whose specter looms over every interaction. It’s no less urgent or political a story than any other in a festival, but here the politics of character relationships are distributed here through spatial relationships, camera placement and sound rather than narrative drive.

The temptation to which I indulged two paragraphs above, to compare a new director to an international authority, often risks erasing idiosyncrasies and reducing a work to something more understandable and consumable. Sometimes, however, the film invites comparison: that of Kavich Neang white building was co-produced by Jia Zhangke, and its story of residents of Phnom Penh’s actual eponymous development being effectively driven out by property developers evokes Jia’s story Still life. Jia’s work on the 2000s is notable for its keen understanding of the costs of industrialization, but it is mostly marked by uncertainty, not pessimism; white building, on the other hand, is resigned. The events he ominously portrays have already happened in real life; the building (where Neang grew up) has already been demolished and will be replaced by a 21-story multi-use development. Neang’s protagonist can never take a break, whether it’s with his dance crew, chasing girls, or convincing his father to go to the hospital. Change is not accompanied by hope or even uncertainty but by disaffection: it is the new cinema of the developing world, that of those who see in “development” an entry not in the promises of a globalized world, but in the particular misery which is now ours. The West’s Greatest Export.

There are fewer easy comparisons, given the small footprint of his home country, for pilgrims, the feature debut of Lithuanian filmmaker Laurynas Bareiša. It follows Paulius and Indra retracing the steps taken by Matas, his brother and his boyfriend, just before his murder. There’s a political allegory here for those who want it – the atrocities of war are explicitly mentioned on one occasion – and anyone still inclined to see it all through the prism of trauma will be pleased too, but pilgrims succeeds because its disaffected aesthetic demonstrates an authorial vision palpable on screen and hard to reduce to a quote or a viral tweet. Words like “observation” or “minimalist” are appropriate, but it’s the punctuations that come in the form of an unnerving slow zoom, unexpected panning, expressionistic burst of lighting, or character moving across the screen to make you realize you’re looking in a mirror rather than the hallway that elevates the film above arthouse conventions.

Documentaries are rare at New Directors/New Films, but they represent a pair of highlights with divergent approaches to form. fire of lovewhose virtues and faults have been analyzed by Abby Sun in these pages, is largely archival, while the IDFA Best Direction winner Children of the mist consists of footage that Diễm Hà Lệ captured while living intermittently with a Hmong family beginning in 2017. The film succeeds as both a character portrait and an ethnographic study, perhaps because its subject matter de facto, bride kidnapping (a common and traditionally sanctioned but controversial practice in Hmong culture in which a man kidnaps a girl he hopes to marry), naturally lends itself to both.

Diễm initially sought to capture the carefree childhood of the film’s protagonist, Di, but the formal contrast between the ethnographic scenes of the family mining indigo and the more personal moments of Di talking with his friends and playing with his smartphone foreshadows the conflict between tradition and modernity. Di’s mother warns her to avoid a kidnapping, and Di herself says she won’t end up like her older sister, unfortunately married after her own kidnapping, but when the New Year comes she seems to accept it when it happens, only to resist the consequences (the boy is also confused, admitting he did it largely because it’s common practice).

The ensuing family disputes often see Di appeal directly to Diễm (or, conversely, see her family attempt to talk her out of filming), creating the film’s most gripping moments. It’s easy for a viewer to castigate a filmmaker for not stepping in, even though, paradoxically, our understanding of the gravity of a situation is only possible through the decision not to put the camera down, and that’s to Diễm’s credit as both a filmmaker and a journalist (because she was trained) that she, first, realizes that her camera is powerful enough to constrain or deter certain behaviors from those who are before us, and secondly, asks us to consider the often contradictory attitudes and changing points of view of all those involved. A lesser documentary might attempt to maximize our sympathy. Rather than soothing us with the assurance that we can feel good from feeling bad, Children of the mist challenges us to negotiate our relationship to its images.

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