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New Directors/New Films Festival’s First Phase of Lineup: ‘The Double,’ Iceland’s Oscar Entry, Feature Debuts and More

New Directors/New Films Festival's First Phase of Lineup: 'The Double,' Iceland's Oscar Entry, Feature Debuts and More

The Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern
Art have unveiled the seven official selections for their 2014 New Directors/New
Films Festival, running March 19–30. The 2014 edition marks the 43rd year of
the fest.

Included in the lineup are Richard Ayoade’s “The Double,” starring Jesse Eisenberg and Mia Wasikowska, also heading to Sundance following its premiere on the fall fest circuit; Icelandic comedy and the country’s official Oscar entry “Of Horses and Men”; and debut features from China (Vivien Qu’s “Trap Street”) and France (Abdellah Taia’s “Salvation Army”).

Film Society and MoMA Members may purchase tickets starting
at Noon on Sunday, March 2. Tickets will be available for purchase by the
General Public on Monday, March 10.

Representing eleven countries from around the world, these
initial seven selections are:

THE DOUBLE (2013) 93 min

Director: Richard Ayoade

Country: UK

Richard Ayoade has built a loyal following with his
hilariously off characters, notably the one he plays in the TV series The IT
Crowd and those that inhabit his 2010 directorial debut, SUBMARINE. His
cerebral, visually arresting follow-up, THE DOUBLE, based on Dostoevsky’s 1846
novella, enters slightly darker territory, and recalls the stylizations of
Terry Gilliam. Starring Jesse Eisenberg as both Simon James, a humdrum worker
drone, and James Simon, his gregarious doppelgänger, the film is set within
both the claustrophobic confines of Simon’s bureaucratic workplace and his
paranoid mind. Aided by a stellar supporting cast (including Wallace Shawn, Mia
Wasikowska, Sally Hawkins, Paddy Considine, and Chris O’Dowd), THE DOUBLE
firmly establishes Ayoade as a leading voice in contemporary cinematic comedy.
A Magnolia Pictures release.

 

OF HORSES AND MEN (2013) 80 min

Director: Benedikt Erlingsson

Country: Iceland

The debut feature by celebrated stage director Benedikt
Erlingsson announces the arrival of an innovative new cinematic voice. Set
almost exclusively outdoors amid stunning Icelandic landscapes, the film
features in equal parts a cast of exquisite short-legged Icelandic horses and
human characters—including the terrific Ingvar E. Sigurdsson and Charlotte
Bøving as meant-for-each-other but put-upon lovers—illuminating with great
inventive flair the relationship between man and beast. Several narrative
strands defined by the way each character relates to their horse recount a
variety of situations according to the particulars of the seasons, resulting in
a surprising and sometimes humorous symbiosis between horses, humans, and
nature.

 

SALVATION ARMY (L’Armée du salut) (2013) 81 min

Director: Abdellah Taïa

Countries: France/Morocco/Switzerland

Like the book it’s based on—Abdellah Taïa’s own 2006
landmark novel—the Moroccan author’s directorial debut is a bracing, deeply
personal account of a young gay man’s awakening that avoids both cliché and the
trappings of autobiography. First seen as a 15-year-old, Abdellah (Saïd Mrini)
habitually sneaks away from his family’s crowded Casablanca home to engage in
sexual trysts with random men in abandoned buildings. A decade later, we find
Abdellah (now played by Karim Ait M’hand) on scholarship in Geneva, involved
with an older Swiss professor (Frédéric Landenberg). With a clear-eyed
approach, devoid of sentimentality, this wholly surprising bildungsfilm
explores what it means to be an outsider, and with the help of renowned
cinematographer Agnès Godard, Taïa finds a film language all his own: at once
rigorous and poetic, and worthy of Robert Bresson in its concreteness and
lucidity.

A SPELL TO WARD OFF THE DARKNESS (2013) 98 min

Directors: Ben Rivers and Ben Russell

Country: Estonia/France

As collaborators, Ben Rivers and Ben Russell, two intrepid
and nomadic talents of experimental film and art, have created one of the most
bewitching cinematic experiences to come along in a great while. In A SPELL TO
WARD OFF THE DARKNESS, Robert A.A. Lowe, the celebrated musician behind Lichens
and Om, gives a strangely affecting, perhaps even trance-inducing performance
as the film’s Parsifal figure, a quixotic man who embarks on a quest for
utopia—the holy grail of infinite truth, self-knowledge, and spiritual connectedness.
He finds some measure of it in three seemingly disparate contexts: in a small
collective community on a remote Estonian island, in isolation in the northern
Finnish wilderness, and onstage fronting a black metal band in Norway. While
his experience seems to be a perpetual one of home, exile, and return, for us,
it is purely magical.

 

STOP THE POUNDING HEART (2013) 100 min

Director: Roberto Minervini

Countries: Belgium/Italy/USA

Sara (Sara Carlson, playing herself) is part of a devout
Christian goat-farming family with 12 children, all home-schooled and raised
with strict moral guidance from the Scriptures. Set in a rural community that
has remained isolated from technological advances and lifestyle influence—no
phones, TVs, computers, or drunken teen brawls—the subtly narrative film
follows Sara and Colby, two 14-year-olds with vastly different backgrounds who
are quietly drawn to each other. In Minervini’s intimate documentary-style
portrait—the third in the Italian-born filmmaker’s Texas trilogy—Sara’s
commitment to her faith is never questioned. It’s the power of the director’s
nonintrusive handheld-camera style that reveals his protagonist’s spiritual and
emotional inner turmoil about her place in a faith that requires women to be
subservient to their fathers before becoming their husbands’ helpers. By also
presenting an authentic, impartial portrayal of the Texas Bible Belt, Minervini
allows for the humanity and complexity behind the stereotypes to show through.

STORY OF MY DEATH (Història de la meva mort) (2013) 148 min

Director: Albert Serra

Countries: Spain/France

No one else working in movies today makes anything remotely
like the films of Catalan maverick Albert Serra, a cerebral oddball and
improbable master of cinematic antiquity. Known for his unconventional
adaptations of Cervantes’s Don Quixote (HONOR OF THE KNIGHTS) and the Biblical
parable of the Three Kings (BIRDSONG), Serra here stages the 18th-century
passage from rationalism to romanticism as a tussle between two figures of
legend, Casanova and Dracula. Against a backdrop of candlelit conversation and
earthy carnality, Serra sets in motion contrasting ideas about pleasure and
desire, alternating between winding philosophical dialogue and wordless
passages of savage beauty. Winner of the top prize at the 2013 Locarno Film
Festival, the film is both a painterly feast for the eyes, abounding with
art-historical allusions, and an idiosyncratic, self-aware revamping of the
costume melodrama.

 

TRAP STREET (Shuiyin Jie) (2013) 94 min

Director: Vivian Qu

Country: China

Notions of surveillance and observation are turned inside
out in TRAP STREET, producer Vivian Qu’s first turn as a director. While
surveying city streets for a digital-mapping company, engineer Qiuming catches
sight of Lifen, a beautiful young woman. Immediately smitten, he follows her to
a street that doesn’t appear on any map or even a GPS. In between his other
gigs—installing security cameras, sweeping hotel rooms for electronic bugs—he
tries to get to know this alluring stranger. And he does—sort of. But things
take a disturbing turn when Qiuming is accused of stealing secrets from the lab
where Lifen works, and the mystery, as well as the paranoia, deepens from
there. Noir in tone, and a great representation of the newest generation of
Chinese filmmakers, TRAP STREET is a bold story about who is really watching
whom that, while firmly embedded in the current cultural context of China,
could happen to any one of us.

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