Each year, the New Directors/New Films series offers a statement about the latest crop of rising filmmaker talent from around the world. A joint product of the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art for the last 42 years, New Directors/New Films showcases a wide range of first, second and in some cases third features from directors at early stages of their careers. Although always filled with intriguing work that often hints at major achievements yet to come — its lineup has included first features by everyone from Pedro Almodovar to George Lucas — the lated edition is a particularly compelling bunch notable for diverse approaches to storytelling.
The series kicks off Wednesday with French director Alexandre Moors’ chilly take on the 2003 Beltway snipers “Blue Caprice,” a movie that digs into a well-known true story and its demonized characters in an attempt to understand their motives. It’s a good fit for establishing a major theme recurrent throughout the program: the tenuous boundaries between public narratives and the finer grains of truth hidden beneath the surface. Here are five more titles worth checking out.
“The Act of Killing”
Produced by Errol Morris and Werner Herzog, Joshua Oppenheimer’s harrowing documentary finds a pair of gangsters — responsible for murdering an untold number of suspected communists in the years following the 1965 overthrow of the Indonesian government — getting the chance to recount their experiences. At first showing no visible remorse, the men boast of their achievements, and Oppenheimer capitalizes on their enthusiasm with a twisted gimmick: The men are given numerous opportunities to reenact the murders for Oppenheimer’s camera, sometimes emphasizing their brutality and occasionally delivering surreal, flamboyant takes that offer a grotesque spin on classic Hollywood musicals. Playing make believe with murderers, Oppenheimer risks the possibility of empowering them. However, by humanizing psychopathic behavior, “The Act of Killing” is unparalleled in its unsettling perspective on the dementias associated with dictatorial extremes. Read the full review here. Browse other reviews on Criticwire here.
Penny Lane’s found footage portrait of the Nixon administration brings an intimate perspective on a troubled presidency like you’ve never seen it before. While backed up by interviews conducted with Nixon’s closest aides and ample television coverage, the thrust of “Our Nixon” comes from 8mm home movies mainly shot by the President’s youthful Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman. Lane frequently pairs this behind-the-scenes color footage with the notorious Oval Office recordings that captured Nixon at his best and worst moments alike. At first a sunny portrait of the Administration during the peak of its confidence, “Our Nixon” eventually takes an ironic twist as the Watergate scandal encroaches on this seemingly close-knit family. By providing a closer look at Nixon’s circle of trust than we’ve ever seen before, “Our Nixon” shows just how much the President’s downfall took even those complicit in it by surprise. Browse reviews on Criticwire here.
“Stories We Tell”
Actress Sarah Polley’s work behind the camera has showcased tender performances attuned to nuanced fluctuations in shared screen chemistry. Both her Oscar-nominated 2006 directorial debut “Away from Her” and the recent “Take This Waltz” explore the deterioration of relationships in minute detail. While her third feature, “Stories We Tell,” marks a shift to nonfiction for the filmmaker, it similarly foregrounds the subtleties of human expression and the secrets embedded within it. A personal account of her Toronto-based family’s rocky developments, “Stories We Tell” marks the finest of Polley’s filmmaking skills by blending intimacy and intrigue to remarkable effect. Setting up interviews with her father, Michael, in addition for various family and friends, Polley embarks on an account of her actor-mother Diane, who died of cancer when Polley was still a child. While obviously heartfelt, the drama lacks an immediate hook for those unacquainted with Polley’s personal history, and she doesn’t back away from it. Yet “Stories We Tell” is a fluid, engaging memoir by virtue of its construction. Polley spent five years threading together conversations with Michael in addition to her other relatives and friends, and the effort shows. As the movie recounts her actor parents’ initial courtship and subsequent marital difficulties, Polley skillfully displays a complex mixture of sadness, humor and warmth that echoes the likeminded family portraits of Alan Berliner and Doug Block. Nevertheless, Polley is at heart a narrative filmmaker, and her account of the family’s saga contains a sneakier approach that reveals multiple surprises at it glides along. Read the full review here. Browse other reviews on Criticwire here.
More than once in the discomfiting first feature from Canadian writer-director Kazik Radwanski, 34-year-old loner Derek — memorably played by newcomer Derek Bogart — issues a dubious refrain: “I don’t want you to think I’m some sort of weirdo,” he says. Of course, that’s all anyone thinks of this squinty-eyed, cartoonishly bald and finicky bachelor as he juggles odd jobs while living with his parents. Getting uncomfortably intimate with Derek from the first scene of “Tower” until its last, Radwanski dares the audience to feel differently about him. It’s no easy task. Throughout the movie, Derek wears a distinctive frozen expression, his eyes locked in a distant gaze. Early on, after making the rounds at a nightclub and chasing a few women home, he awakes the next morning with a nasty red wound between his eyes. Never hidden from view, the injury is one of many merciless forces that turn Derek into an unseemly figure. Aided by cinematographers Daniel Voshart and Richard Williamson, Radwanski consistently frames his antihero in extreme close-up as he wanders through an empty life in which everyone fails to get a rise out of him. Radwanski never extends beyond Derek’s claustrophobic headspace. Read the full review here. Browse other reviews on Criticwire here.
Shane Carruth’s 2004 time travel drama “Primer” provoked endless scrutiny for its heavy reliance on tech speak that the director refused to dumb down. His long-awaited followup, “Upstream Color,” also maintains a seriously cryptic progression that’s nearly impossible to comprehend in precise terms, but its confounding ingredients take on more abstract dimensions. An advanced cinematic collage of ideas involving the slipperiness of human experience, Carruth’s polished, highly expressionistic work bears little comparison to his previous feature aside from the constant mental stimulation it provides for its audience. This stunningly labyrinthine assortment of murky events amount to a riddle with no firm solution. Read the full review here. Browse other reviews on Criticwire here.
The entire New Directors/New Films program can be found here.