Saturday, March 26, 2011

New Directors/New Films 2011


Kevin Spacey in Margin Call

New Directors/New Films

March 23-April 3, 2011

Walter Reade Theater, 165 West 65th Street

Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53rd Street

Since beginning in 1972, New Directors/New Films—an ongoing collaboration between the Film Department of the Museum of Modern Art and the Film Society of Lincoln Center—does just what its name says: showing films by emerging filmmakers from all over the world.

This year’s edition—the 40th—is no different. Of the 28 features on the 2011 program, I caught five, all from different countries, providing a brief snapshot of the global cinematic climate. From the U.S., the opening night selection, Margin Call, is a tense look at the 2008 financial meltdown through the eyes of a group of traders and their bosses, all trying to figure out a way to weather what they already know will be a damaging storm once the bottom drops out.

Writer-director J. C. Chandor (whose father worked for an investment firm) obviously knows the milieu; his characters, which run the gamut from the firm’s CEO to the young trader who deciphers complex numbers to arrive at the foregone (and ominous) conclusion, are rendered with precision and even sympathy. Of course, it helps when the cast includes Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Paul Bettany, Stanley Tucci and Zachary Quinto.

A nominee for this year’s Best Foreign Film Oscar, French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve’ Incendies tackles a provocative subject with intelligence but an egregious lack of subtlety. Two siblings, upon hearing about shocking revelations in their mother’s will, travel to the Middle East to discover what happened to her before they were born. We get to watch these awful happenings, which are piled on so oppressively that they cease to be horrific, instead becoming parodic. Unfortunately, good acting can only hide the story’s melodramatic turns for so long.

Another film that’s part of the New Romanian Cinema, Bogdan George Apetri’s Outbound follows a woman during her 24-hour funeral furlough from prison in which she attempts to tie up loose ends before taking her beloved son out of the country. Alternately tense and tedious, Apetri’s drama is the latest filmic demonstration that things might not be going so well in Romania.

Peruvian brothers Daniel and Diego Vega made Octubre, a brooding look at a small-time loan shark with a penchant for prostitutes who must raise the baby mysteriously left on his doorstep. Soon his neighbor helps him with everyday chores and looking after the infant, and the man discovers that the word “family” has many meanings. Although the movie is far too literal in depicting this unconventional family unit, its lack of nuance also helps it become a rather wry character study.

In the opening minutes of actor Paddy Considine’s writing and directing debut Tyrannosaur, the hero kicks a dog to death: how does Considine get us to sympathize with such a monster? By casting the great Peter Mullan, who has one of the craggiest and well-worn faces in film history, that’s how. Without ever stooping to caricature or overacting, Mullan creates a credible portrait of a lonely man flailing out at a world that has left him behind. The incremental steps he takes toward connecting with others allow viewers to, if not forgive, at least understand why he acts out as he does. Although Mullan is the chief reason to see the film, there’s estimable support from Olivia Colman as a religious woman who enters his life and changes him forever.

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