Now in its 12th edition, the Museum of the Moving Image’s First Look festival brings together a varied, eclectic lineup of cinema from all corners of the world––including a number of films still seeking distribution, making the series perhaps one of your only chances to see these works on the big screen. With the five-day festival kicking off Wednesday, March 15, we’re delighted to exclusively premiere the festival trailer and we’ve also gathered eight essential films to check out. Watch and read on below.

Fremont (Babak Jalali)

In Fremont, Donya (Anaita Wali Zada) is often alone. She lives in a small apartment in Fremont, California, commuting each day to her job in a fortune cookie factory in San Francisco. She has a single friend that works there with her. Donya splits time between her apartment, the factory, and a therapist’s office, in hopes of receiving sleeping pills. Donya is an Afghan refugee, once a translator for the U.S. Army and now living among a community of other Afghans in the Bay Area. She’s reserved, and Zada plays this isolation with a shy smile easily formed on her face. The government discarded Donya, left without much money, insurance, or the necessary means to make any sort of meaningful change to a somewhat limited, isolated existence. Director Babak Jalali’s fourth feature is sly, droll, finding humor in the darkness surrounding Donya. When she meets with her therapist – a curious, sad Gregg Turkington – he spends the majority of their sessions talking about his favorite immigrant story, White Fang, a book which only grows in their shared estimation by the film’s end. When Donya is given a promotion as a fortune writer, she takes this as an opportunity to meet someone new, to possibly give more of herself to another person. – Michael F. (full review)

Fremont opens the festival on March 15 at 7pm.

It’s What Each Person Needs (Sophy Romvari)

With her latest short, Canadian filmmaker Sophy Romvari examines the fulfillment of human desires through a digital connection. Whether it’s sexual in nature or simply wanting someone to talk (or sing) to, Becca Willow Moss’ clients have a range of wants. In her affecting portrait of work that can often be overlooked, Romvari elegantly assembles the various aspects of her artist subject’s moonlighting with striking intimacy and importance. – Jordan R.

It’s What Each Person Needs plays on March 18 at 8pm.

A Little Love Package (Gastón Solnicki)

In A Little Love Package, Vienna’s institutions, people, buildings, and overlapping epochs make for a stiff drink: a bright, effervescent, lightly intoxicating film easily downed in one. The director is Gastón Solnicki, a nicely ruminative Buenos Aires filmmaker whose make-it-up-as-you-go approach (often shooting without a script, the plot revealing itself organically) allows his films to meander. Solnicki’s work has a playful spirit: it’s episodic both in form and content, though never amorphous; and he moves between narrative, documentary, still imagery, and immersive sound with seamless élan. Forged in lockdown, A Little Love Package is a breezy collage of meteorites and cigarettes; cheese and boiled eggs, and how best to make them. But at heart it’s about how eras end, what they leave behind, and how new ones begin. – Rory O. (full review)

A Little Love Package plays on March 19 at 1:15pm.

Love Life (Koji Fukada)

Love Life is one of those films that really wears its screenplay. The plot follows a mother’s attempts to come to terms with the death of a child, but it’s more about unusual paths the journey takes for her to get there. The director is Koji Fukada, a filmmaker who studied under Kiyoshi Kurosawa and cites Rohmer as a key influence. The first of Fukada’s films to complete for one of the grand festival awards, it premiered this week in what has been if not the best then at least the glitziest Venice lineup in recent memory. Amongst the stars, Love Life (named for an Akiko Yano song of the same name) is jarringly everyday in color palette and setting, but has just the right amount of scope, filmmaking nous, and unusual choices to hold its own and even stand out. – Rory O. (full review)

Love Life plays on March 19 at 12:45pm.

Maid (Camarera de Piso) (Lucrecia Martel)

As wonderfully elliptical as her finest work, Lucrecia Martel’s new short explores the travails of a freshly hired maid who, while being informed of the strict rules, starts receiving mysteriously ominous calls from home, distracting her from work. While issues of class division and labor dangle on the periphery, Martel once again stretches her formal skills, crafting a portrait of a body in motion with a fair share of surprises. If there’s only one quibble it’s that in the six years since Zama, this all-too-brief return already leaves us hungry for her next work. – Jordan R.

Maid plays on March 19 at 5:30pm.

New Strains (Prashanth Kamalakanthan and Artemis Shaw)

While most films about the pandemic have either tried to find a genre bent to reflect our universal anxieties or provide a more anodyne look at everyday struggles in navigating our new way of life, Prashanth Kamalakanthan and Artemis Shaw’s New Strains is a refreshingly lo-fi, emotionally naked, dryly humorous look at forced confinement. From releasing sexual tension to crafting the least-appetizing meals possible to journeys venturing out in our strange new world, there is both a familiarity and a freshness in its droll view of quarantine life. Winner of a Special Jury Award at International Film Festival Rotterdam and shot on Hi8 video, the film has a threadbare aesthetic that only adds to its relatability factor, stripping down mandatory monotony to bare essentials. – Jordan R.

New Strains plays on March 18 at 8pm.

The Taste of Mango (Chloe Abrahams)

One of the strongest debut features in this early year, Chloe Abrahams’ documentary The Taste of Mango unweaves a tangled web of familial strife as it relates to the filmmaker’s mother and grandmother. In unpacking these traumas that festered under the surface for decades, Abrahams conveys a surprisingly ethereal and poetic tone aided by Suren Seneviratne’s score. For examining such difficult issues of violence and assault, The Taste of Mango finds the hopeful outcome in picking up the pieces to form stronger bonds with those you cherish. – Jordan R.

The Taste of Mango plays on March 17 at 7pm.

Tori and Lokita (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne)

Tori and Lokita, the latest from the eerily consistent Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, pulls you in opposite directions when assessing it. It is as consummately-made and passionately-intended as anything they’ve done, but the filmmakers – as is apparent in their less-successful films – can really undermine themselves with choices in plotting. I’ll never forget viewing my first, The Son, as a student in undergrad, both marveling and being almost perturbed at what a simple, elemental conflict—a man forgiving the murderer of his child—drove the entire film and generated all its tension. As in Lorna’s Silence and The Unknown Girl, this story can’t move without plot streaming out of every corner, contrivances piling upon contrivances, the way the tape could peel out of an old analog cassette or VHS. – David K. (full review)

Tori and Lokita plays on March 19 at 5:30pm.

First Look 2023 takes place March 15-19. See our exclusive trailer above.

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