Just when you think bold, challenging, artful filmmaking has left the Amer-indie landscape altogether, there’s always a film or two every year that comes along to re-energize your faith in domestic cinema. And I’m not talking about those film festival breakouts that cross over into the mainstream or into Academy recognition. I’m talking about films that aspire to and even attain the heights of international art film — rarefied, perhaps, but groundbreakers all the same. (Past year’s examples include “In Between Days,” “Day Night, Day Night,” “Munyurangabo,” “Chop Shop,” et. al. — all directed by filmmakers I’m happy to say have delivered or are in the process of delivering similarly uncompromising follow-ups).
Audiences now have the chance to see two additional figures of the new American art cinema; Lance Hammer, who directed the standout Sundance premiere “Ballast,” which opens at the Film Forum on Wednesday (and which I reviewed for indieWIRE), and Antonio Campos, who made “Afterschool,” a Cannes Un Certain Regard premiere that flew under the radar in France, but is now picking up steam due to its New York Film Festival selection (it shows next Monday–I inteviewed Campos for the Voice).
While completely different in style, tone, and theme, both films stand completely outside of the Sundance/Indiewood system, with associations and affiliations closer to European auteurs, whether the Dardennes, in the case of “Ballast,” or Michael Haneke, in the case of “Afterschool.” Don’t get me wrong: these are not derivative films either. They are unique to their makers’ visions. And they should give hope to cinephiles that American auteurs will keep on coming, no matter what shakedowns face the film industry, at large.