Spike Lee, Bi Gan, Steven Spielberg, Kelly Reichardt, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Mia Hansen-Løve, Terence Davies, Jia Zhangke, Pedro Almodóvar, Lynne Ramsay, Tsai Ming-liang, Hirokazu Kore-eda, Guillermo del Toro, Lee Chang-dong, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, and Christopher Nolan. Those are just a few of the filmmakers who brought their early work to New Directors/New Films. Now in its 48th edition, the New York City-based film festival continues to spotlight emerging directors representing the future of filmmaking and this year’s edition is particularly eclectic.
We’ve covered all twenty-four of the features playing at the festival, taking place March 27 through April 7 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art. Along with gems hailing from Berlinale, Cannes, Locarno, Rotterdam, TIFF, Sundance, and beyond, the festival also features one world premiere (End of the Century) as well as two shorts programs.
Check out our comprehensive coverage below along with links to full reviews.
All Good (Eva Trobisch)
What immense health German cinema has found itself in lately. Since the turn of the decade, audiences of a certain ilk have grown accustomed to seeing names like Ade, Petzold, Grisebach, Schanelec, and Köhler show up on art-house and festival screens. We may soon need to add Eva Trobisch to that list. Yes, if All Good (Alles ist gut)–her snare drum taut and timely feature debut–is anything to go by, the East Berlin-born writer-director should provide that rich vein of deutsche Regisseure will its latest transfusion. – Rory O. (full review)
Angelo (Markus Schleinzer)
There is no question that white people are and have historically been capable of racism. The value of Angelo resides in its ability to convey those prejudices that are generally ignored or made invisible within the film medium and the art industry as a whole. Director Markus Schleinzer depicts the true story of Angelo Soliman, a kidnapped African child—sold into the 18th century Austrian upper-class as the surrogate son/ pet of a grieving Countess—who futilely becomes a part of upper-class society but not quite an equal member as a “royal moor,” performing for the enjoyment of his court. With a dry sense of humor Schleinzer—who notably worked as Michael Haneke’s casting director—expands on the direct sort of racism generally understood by arthouse audiences by further identifying the unethical ways which art has flourished under that colonial moralist framework which congratulated white aristocrats for their perceived righteous aim of “civilizing” colonized people. – Jason O. (full review)
Bait (Mark Jenkin)
For his debut feature, writer-director-cinematographer Mark Jenkin takes a parable about a contemporary fishing community under threat from wealthy outsiders and presents it in a style reminiscent of documentaries of the early 20th century, namely Robert J. Flaherty’s 1934 film Man of Aran. The result is titled Bait, a punky, pastoral little movie that draws from the mysticism and iconography of documentaries like Flaherty’s but with a narrative and ironic wit that is inescapably of the here and now. Put it this way: the director may have had those films in mind when he chose to shoot Bait on 16mm and have it processed by hand–for purposes of wear and tear–but perhaps less so when he wrote the scene in which a man on a stag party boards a boat dressed in a large penis costume. – Rory O. (full review)
Belonging (Burak Çevik)
The nature of promise displayed by a new filmmaker can sometimes be an inherently risky proposition. For every Orson Welles or Jacques Rivette, who burst out of the gate and kept making revelatory film after revelatory film, there are countless others who showed an early mastery before all but disappearing. This, of course, makes institutions like New Directors/New Films all the more important for cataloging these talents, but it can occasionally make one wonder if a real discovery will continue to bear fruit in the films and years to come. However, it is important not to let these concerns color the film at hand, and to continue to keep an eye out for such bolts from the blue. Burak Çevik’s Belonging, which premiered in this year’s Berlinale Forum and will play at ND/NF, is an almost ideal example of this phenomenon. – Ryan S. (full review)
The Chambermaid (Lila Aviles)
Set entirely within the confines of a luxurious Mexico City hotel, mostly in rooms and service corridors, The Chambermaid is a fascinating observational drama and occasional allegory for the haves and have-nots. Gabriela Cartol stars as Evelina, a 24-year old single mother working on her GED in a program provided (and later canceled) by the hotel’s union. Like Blue Crush, another film that contained explicit scenes of hotel maids cleaning up after guests, The Chambermaid doesn’t shy away from the usual demands of the job, from a guest who insists on having his room stocked with five times the amenities he needs to a wealthy Argentina woman who calls Eveline to her room to essentially babysit. When her son takes to Eveline, she’s given a tentative offer to leave the hotel behind for a new life in Argentina. – John F. (full review)
Clemency (Chinonye Chukwu)
From Escape from Alcatraz to Cool Hand Luke to The Shawshank Redemption, cinema is rich with not only prison films focused on the plight of the prisoner, but also depicting wardens in an evil light. Clemency, winner of the Dramatic Grand Jury Prize at Sundance Film Festival, flips the script in both ways, both turning the spotlight on a warden and painting her in an empathetic, complicated light. Led by Alfre Woodard, she gives a riveting, emotional performance as the Bernadine Williams, a woman who is stuck between the demands of her grueling job and a disintegrating marriage, and can’t give her all to both. – Jordan R. (full review)
End of the Century (Lucio Castro)
Two travelers—Ocho, an aspiring poet from New York, and Javi, a Spanish director from Germany—spend a single day together in Barcelona in the opening act of Lucio Castro’s debut feature End of the Century. Though they converse as if they had just met and hook up with the awkward nervousness of first-time lovers, it is clear that there is nothing casual or chance about their encounter. Their chemistry gives it away. Each layer added to the story—a second act prologue of their first meeting and a third act finale of their future—provides no answers and further complicates things, expanding the boundaries and limitations of time and space in order to properly represent their enigmatic relationship to one another. End of the Century is a love story drenched in a nostalgic magical realism that constantly shifts its own logic, as if recognizing the futility of containing its uncontainable romance. – Jason O. (full review)
A Family Submerged (María Alche)
Grieving takes on a disquietingly beautiful tone in Argentinian actress-turned-cineaste María Alche’s directorial debut A Family Submerged (Familia Sumergida). After her sister’s untimely death, Marcela (Mercedes Moran), grapples with a middle life crisis, a moribund marriage, and a strained relationship with her three children. Dream-like memories of late relatives and loved ones offer a tenuous solace to loneliness, and cinematographer Hélène Louvart (of Beach Rats, Happy as Lazzaro and Maya’s fame, to name but three of her most recent works) perceptively paints Marcela’s apartment in a hazy light and dusty colors, an aquarium-like universe submerged in recollections and family rituals. Lucrecia Martel aficionados will no doubt spot familiar names in Alche’s debut, starting with Alche herself, who had taken the title role in Martel’s 2004 The Holy Girl, and Mercedes Moran, whose first collaboration with Martel dates back to the auteur’s 2001 feature debut, La Ciénaga. But the connections between Alche’s cinematic universe and Martel’s, here credited as a creative consultant, cut a lot deeper. A sense of physical and spiritual decay permeates Familia Sumergida, the same that served as a leitmotiv for Martel’s excursions into bourgeois solitude – yet the world Alche conjures speaks its own language: one of oneiric choreographies and mesmeric apparitions. – Leo G.
Fausto (Andrea Bussmann)
A perturbing reimagination of Goethe’s fable of human hubris, Fausto, Andrea Bussmann’s follow-up to her 2016 Tales of Two Who Dreamt (co-directed with Nicolás Pereda) unfurls as an ethnography of an idyllic stretch of Mexico’s Oaxacan coast and its inhabitants–humans and animals, dead or otherwise. It is a clash of irreconcilable worldviews and epistemologies: echoes of the land’s ancestral myths and otherworldly entities teem with the frustrated quest of total knowledge that animated Goethe’s work as much as the beach-stranded men Bussmann trails behind. They are foreign guests in a world that resists all attempts at subjugation–a universe that constantly seesaws between present and past until the distinction ceases to hold any meaning, and the ethnography ascends to a timeless terrain. Late at night, Bussmann listens to her characters recount anecdotes that draw from a supernatural milieu. There’s the story of the dead who must pay their dues before leaving for the hereafter; magical houses that pop up in the jungle promising travelers endless if ephemeral riches; and psychics who can communicate with animals. Shot in digital but transferred to 16mm, Fausto exists as a site of resistance, a search into dark territories that simultaneously expands and exposes the limits of what can be known–and how knowledge can be passed on to others. – Leo G.
Genesis (Philippe Lesage)
In the grand scheme of things, teenage love affairs–together with all the raptures, jitters, devastations associated with them–probably don’t count that much. But then again probably everyone can relate to the sheer groundbreaking force of that first quickening of the heart, of that blinding rush of hormones that compels us to act with a recklessness that we’ll later learn to forever suppress. Quebecois filmmaker Philippe Lesage’s Genesis is an ode to that time in our lives when we still paid more attention to impulses than consequences. Trifling perhaps in terms of subject matter and scope, but it absolutely mesmerizes. – Zhuo-Ning S. (full review)
Honeyland (Ljubomir Stefanov and Tamara Kotevska)
The need for fidelity characterizes Honeyland, a documentary co-directed by Ljubomir Stefanov and Tamara Kotevska (in their feature debut) which premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and won the festival’s documentary World Cinema Grand Jury prize. For more or less the entirety of the film, its focus rests upon Hatidze, a Macedonian woman in her fifties who lives with her ailing mother in a deserted mountain village and makes both her living and passion out of harvesting honey. The various synopses describe her as the last traditional female beekeeper in Europe, but this is never laid out in text or voiceover, as the images and moments are presented without any overt intervention by the documentarians. – Ryan S. (full review)
Joy (Sudabeh Mortezai)
One need not take a class on the cinema of Todd Solondz to suspect that there may not be a great deal of joyfulness in a film called Joy (unless, of course, someone like Jennifer Lawrence is involved.) Indeed, the second narrative feature of Sudabeh Mortezai–an Austrian filmmaker of Iranian extraction–shows us a world with little time for life’s lighter emotions. The Joy of the title is Mortezai’s protagonist, a Nigerian woman (played by impressive newcomer Anwulika Alphonsus), who made her way to Europe to find a better life but instead found the world of forced prostitution, horrifically trapped in a spiral of debt to the very people who brought her over. – Rory O. (full review)
A Land Imagined (Yeo Siew Hua)
Cooked with a broth of a few too many ideas, A Land Imagined is a so-close-to-being-great Singapore neo-noir that does all the right things, but simply does too many of them in its snappy 95-minute running time. Only his second feature, Singapore-born writer-director Yeo Siew Hua was awarded the Gold Leopard in Locarno for his enigmatic new film. His story tells of a detective who arrives on a land reclamation site to investigate how and why one of the workers disappeared. What Yeo presents is remarkable for its style and ambition but also for its scattered folly, a world of Lynchian dreams and techno-surrealism that somehow echoes both Chinatown and Wong Kar-wai. It’s also a tale buckling at the knees under all that symbolism and with at least one too many loose ends left dangling. – Rory O. (full review
The Load (Ognjen Glavonić)
The Load is about a man and a van. We’re in Yugoslavia in 1999, where the rumble of NATO bombers can be heard in the distance. The man’s name is Vlada (Leon Luvec) and his job is to drive a container full of who-knows-what from Kosovo to Belgrade, no questions asked. His consignment and consignors are not divulged. Even he sits uneasily in his driver’s seat as worrying clanks emit from his cargo. In times of war what is out of sight can so easily slip out of mind. The film was written and directed by Ognjen Glavonić, a 33-year-old Serb who grew up close to Belgrade and would have been in his mid-teens when NATO launched their non-UN-security-council-approved campaign to pressure the country into withdrawing its troops from Kosovo. His first feature is an ambitious piece of filmmaking, as thrilling as it is both politically and emotionally serious, and delivered with an injection of genre flourishes that save the thrust of the story from ever getting too bogged down. – Rory O. (full review)
Long Way Home (André Novais Oliveira)
Representing the rhythms of everyday life is, generally speaking, a particular concern of films situated outside the mainstream. Relatively free from the strictures of standard narratives dictated (for good and ill) by audience expectations and genres, a large portion of these filmmakers focus on the quotidian, attempting to find significance in the mundane. Naturally, this base idea leads to its own constellation of possibilities, caused by both social milieu and aesthetic predilection, but the same impulse can be seen throughout many films coming from many fundamentally separate filmmaking practices. One such example is Long Way Home, a Brazilian film directed by André Novais Oliveira, in his second feature and narrative feature debut. – Ryan S. (full review)
Manta Ray (Phuttiphong Aroonpheng)
Halfway through Phuttiphong Aroonpheng’s hypnotic feature debut, Manta Ray, two men put up Christmas lights around an unadorned riverside shack. They’ve known each other for a while, but seldom speak: one (Wanlop Rungkumjad) is an unnamed Thai fisherman with dyed blonde hair; the other (Aphisit Hama) is a mute man whom the fisherman has found agonizing in a remote stretch of mangroves by the border with Myanmar, and has taken home to look after. The lights are to serve as decoration for a party the two are throwing that same night, but the sun is still high on the horizon; smiling ecstatically at the makeshift disco, the fisherman suggests the two should nap to make the day go by faster. And so they do. – Leonardo G. (full review)
Midnight Family (Luke Lorentzen)
The startling fact that there are only 45 official ambulances amongst Mexico City’s 9 million-plus population sets the intense, harrowing stage for Midnight Family. Following one family that runs their own operation, Luke Lorentzen takes an intimate look at the dedication required for such a task with a keen eye on the economic toll. With patients not requiring to pay, even if they may have died if not for this medical help, it creates a complicated situation when asking for the bill–and that’s only if they can beat out all the other private ambulances racing towards the scene of an accident. While one wishes this portrait was a little more fleshed out, the snapshot we get certainly sends a jolt, particularly in an unforgettable scene involving familial neglect. – Jordan R.
Monos (Alejandro Landes)
There’s a preternatural feel to the opening sequences of Monos, the brutal, unflinching third film from Colombian-Ecuadorian filmmaker Alejandro Landes (Cocalero, Porfirio). As if we’re floating through clouds at the edge of the world, we witness a group of children, blindfolded, playing soccer, the fear instilled that a misaimed kick could send the ball hurling into the unknown oblivion below. With information patiently, sparingly doled out–even up until the final moments–we learn this tight-knit clan is, in fact, a rebel group in the mountains of Latin America, sporadically visited by a commander but mostly given orders through a radio. Left to their own devices, the two most crucial responsibilities they are given are to care for a cow named Shakira and oversee a kidnapped American engineer, only referred to as Doctora (Julianne Nicholson). – Jordan R. (full review)
MS Slavic 7 (Sofia Bohdanowicz & Deragh Campbell)
Director Sofia Bohdanowicz found a series of letters written between 1957 and 1964 by her great-grandmother Zofia Bohdanowiczowa (a poet) to the Nobel Prize-nominated author Józef Wittlin at Harvard’s Houghton Library. Both literary figures were forced to leave Poland during World War II with the former heading to Wales and the latter New York City. Zofia would eventually cross the Atlantic into Toronto, the newfound proximity allowing them to finally meet after so much correspondence. You truly get an insight into their minds after being victimized by such a horrible genocide as well as the unwitting loss of freedom their being driven from their homes created. Beyond that priceless personal content, however, Bohdanowicz and filmmaking partner Deragh Campbell also saw the letters’ objective tactility and subjective potential. – Jared M. (full review)
The Plagiarists (Peter Parlow)
In the new feature film The Plagiarists a young, white, highly educated couple on their way home from a weekend getaway have car trouble and find themselves stranded on the side of a snowy, secluded road. They are soon discovered by an enigmatic and charming stranger, who is black. He offers to call a friend who can fix their car. He then invites them to stay the night. The Plagiarists was directed by Peter Parlow and was co-written by James N. Kienitz Wilkins and Robin Schavoir, who each seem to have taken great pleasure in concocting this slippery set-up. The opening of their film suggests a horror movie but it soon becomes apparent that Parlow is more interested in putting their characters’ progressive, middle-class sensibilities under the microscope, at least for the first while. – Rory O. (full review)
Present.Perfect. (Zhu Shengze)
In 2017, by the time the Chinese government began to furiously clamp down on the country’s live-broadcasting frenzy, a whopping 422 million Chinese regularly tuned in to stream their everyday lives, and watch other people broadcast theirs. Think of the whole phenomenon as a cross between video games and reality TV. Live streamers, otherwise known as anchors, sit before the camera to perform all sorts of routines, from the most uber-eccentric dance to the most ostensibly banal stroll; audiences reward them with gifts, which the streamers can exchange for cash. Zhu Shengze’s poignant Present.Perfect. follows a dozen anchors over a period of ten months. It distills some 800 hours of live footage into a 124-minute documentary–a black-and-white collage stirring questions that far transcend the country and the zeitgeist it captures. – Leonardo G. (full review)
Share (Pippa Bianco)
The aftermath of a sexual assault—the cell phone footage of which goes viral—is the subject of Share, writer-director Pippa Bianco’s debut feature film that deftly mines morose, intelligent drama from its entirely real scenario. Waking up on her front lawn, high school student Mandy (Rhianne Barreto) isn’t sure what went down after last night’s party, but she’s about to (partially) find out: texts alerting her to footage of what happened soon come flooding in from concerned friends, and it’s bad enough for her parents to take her out of school and launch a police investigation into what is considered video evidence of disgusting criminality. – Jake H. (full review)
Sauvage/Wild (Camille Vidal-Naquet)
Sauvage/Wild opens with a gay hustler in a doctor’s office. As he discusses his ill health—his cough, his odd stomach pains—the camera, like the examiner’s hands, passes carefully over the bruises on his ribcage, his abdomen, down over his groin. Such frank corporeality is familiar from other gay films which seek to expose and honor the wounds society inscribes onto vulnerable bodies—Sauvage’s star, Félix Maritaud, played one of the ACT UP members in 120 BPM—but then the scene shifts gears, becoming not quite a parody, but certainly an affectionate meta-joke on the ways in which the serious-minded and erotic prerogatives of queer cinema elide into each other. – Mark A. (full review)
Suburban Birds (Qiu Sheng)
Something is causing the ground to shift underneath a new Chinese suburb in writer-director Qiu Sheng’s intriguing, adept debut feature. High-rise towers are listing to the side, and residents are being evacuated. As Suburban Birds begins, a team of engineers is on-site to investigate the cause—ideally quickly, without disrupting the planned subway tunneling, so that this little part of China’s development boom can proceed. Make way for tomorrow! It’s left to Qiu to survey the restless earth around the foundations of the future, via a subtle structural gambit that marks his voice as one worth listening to. – Mark A. (full review)
New Directors/New Films 2019 runs March 27-April 7 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art.