By Peter Knegt | Indiewire August 16, 2012 at 4:19PM
Director: Rama Burshtein
With her first dramatic feature, writer-director Rama Burshtein has created a work that is very likely unprecedented: a woman's view of Tel Aviv's ultra-orthodox Hasidic community from the inside. Typically, a story about a devout 18-year-old Israeli being pressured to marry the husband of her late sister, would include the option of the woman declaring her independence in the modern fashion. Such a choice is not even on the table in this cloistered, intimately rendered world where religious law, tradition and the rabbis' word are absolute. A graduate of the Sam Spiegel Film and Television School in Jerusalem and Hassidic herself, Burshtein startlingly brings to life a world known to few in this provocative, undeniably talented debut from a most unlikely source.
FIRST COUSIN ONCE REMOVED (2012) 78min
Director: Alan Berliner
Sometime in the new millennium, Edwin Honig—the distinguished poet, translator, critic and university professor—began showing signs of Alzheimer’s disease, which gradually but inexorably brought on the loss of his memory, command of language and relation to the past. Filmmaker Alan Berliner—for whom Honig was a cousin, a friend and a mentor—documented their meetings over five years; his new film chronicles the steady decline of Honig’s mind and body, but also the strength and stamina of his spirit, as well as his innate charm and wonderfully playful way with words and sounds. Occasional moments of lucidity offer an insight as to the ways in which Honig attempts to make sense out of what is happening to him. FIRST COUSIN ONCE REMOVED is an unflinching essay on the fragility of being human, and a stark reminder of the profound role that memory plays in all of our lives. An HBO Documentary Films release.
FLIGHT (2012) 138min
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Triumphantly returning to live-action filmmaking for the first time since Cast Away 12 years ago, Robert Zemeckis teams with Denzel Washington on the tense and edgy thriller FLIGHT. In a brilliant, heart-stopping sequence, pilot Whip Whitacker (Washington), after an all-nighter of booze, sex and drugs, boldly guides a crippled airliner to a crash landing that nearly all the passengers survive. Although he is acclaimed as a hero, the legal, moral and ethical aspects of Whip’s behavior before and after the accident are much more ambiguous than initially meet the public eye. A study of addiction far more complex than the norm, FLIGHT is a compelling drama anchored by a great performance from one of our most distinguished actors. John Goodman, Don Cheadle, Melissa Leo and Kelly Reilly offer vibrant supporting turns in what is certain to be one of the most talked-about movies of the season. A Paramount Pictures release.
FRANCES HA (2012) 86min
Director: Noah Baumbach
Reminiscent of Jean-Luc Godard’s celebration of the mystery and vulnerability of his muse Anna Karina in BANDE Á PART, Noah Baumbach’s love poem to Greta Gerwig is an effervescent, seeming effortless comedy about a young woman taking the first shaky, post-Ivy League steps in what will become her real life. Gerwig, who also co-wrote the script, proves herself far more articulate and funny than any of her former Mumblecore colleagues. Her Frances arrives in New York determined to become a post-modern dancer despite the fact that she’s constantly falling over her feet or putting one of them in her mouth. The movie is lightning-in-a-bottle–deft, sophisticated, and, in its myriad shades of digital gray, radiantly beautiful in a brand new way.
THE GATEKEEPERS (Shomerei Ha’saf) (2012) 90min
Director: Dror Moreh
Since its stunning military victory in 1967, Israel has hoped to transform its battlefield success into the basis for long-lasting peace. Simply put, this hasn’t happened: 45 years later, violence continues unabated while the mistrust between both sides increases daily. In what can only be called an historic achievement, filmmaker Dror Moreh has brought together six former heads of the Shin Bet, Israel’s Secret Service, who reflect on their successes and failures to maintain security while responding to the shifting politics and imperatives of the “peace process.” Each man weighs in on topics ranging from preemptive strikes to confronting terrorists both Palestinian and Israeli; their thoughts and responses are candid, well-informed and rarely short of remarkable. An insider’s guide—and what insiders!—to five decades of Israeli history, THE GATEKEEPERS will surely be one of the most widely and hotly discussed films of the year.
A Sony Pictures Classics release.
GINGER AND ROSA (2012) 89min
Director: Sally Potter
In 1962 London, two teenage girls, best friends since they were toddlers, are driven apart by a scandalous betrayal. Making her NYFF debut, writer-director Sally Potter (ORLANDO, ND/NF 1993) has crafted an intimate, riveting coming-of-age story—one made all the more powerful by a revelatory performance by Elle Fanning as the bright, anxious Ginger, increasingly affected by both the misery of her parents (deftly played by Alessandro Nivola and Christina Hendricks) and the era’s all-too-real fears of nuclear destruction. As her private dramas unfold against the backdrop of broader historical terrors, Ginger proves to be one of cinema’s most fascinating and formidable young heroines. Talented newcomer Alice Englert, the daughter of filmmaker Jane Campion, makes her impressive feature film debut as the troubled Rosa.
Director: Antonio Mendez Esparza
Pedro returns home to a small mountain village in Guerrero, Mexico after years of working in the U.S. His daughters feel more distant that he imagined, but his wife Teresa is delighted he’s back. With the money he’s earned he can create a better life for his family, and maybe even start the band with his cousins he’s dreamed about for years. But work back home remains scarce, and the temptation of heading back north of the border remains as strong as ever. Antonio Mendez Esparza has made a most remarkable debut; rarely, if ever, has a film about US/Mexican border experience felt so fresh or authentic. Using non-professionals, Mendez Esparza gets remarkably nuanced performances that gives a richness of nuance and detail to each of his characters that goes way beyond cliché and stereotype. Winner of the Grand Prize at this year’s Critics Week in Cannes.
HOLY MOTORS (2012) 115min
Director: Leos Carax
This unclassifiable, expansive movie from Leos Carax (Lovers on the Bridge)—his first feature in 13 years—operates on the exhilarating logic of dreams and emotions. After a prologue in which Carax himself, clad in pajamas, walks through a corridor that leads to a theater full of silent spectators, HOLY MOTORS segues to actor Denis Lavant, Carax’s longtime collaborator, playing a mysterious man named Oscar who inhabits 11 different characters over the course of a single day. This shape-shifter is shuttled from appointment to appointment in Paris in a white-stretch limo driven by the soignée Edith Scob (EYES WITHOUT A FACE); not on the itinerary is an unplanned reunion with Kylie Minogue. To summarize the film any further would be to take away some of its magic; the most accurate précis comes from its own creator, who aptly described HOLY MOTORS after its world premiere in Cannes as “a film about a man and the experience of being alive.” An Indomina release.
HYDE PARK ON HUDSON (2012) 95min
Director: Roger Michell
Bill Murray provides a career-topping performance as President Franklin D. Roosevelt in this captivating, winningly acted comedy-drama that pulls back the curtain on the complicated domestic arrangements at FDR’s beautiful New York country estate. Told from the perspective of Roosevelt's little-known sixth cousin Margaret “Daisy” Suckley (Laura Linney), a member of the president's intimate inner circle of women, HYDE PARK ON HUDSON revolves around the royal visit of King George VI (yes, him again!) to the United States on the eve of World War II. In a film both buoyantly comic and inescapably serious, screenwriter Richard Nelson and director Roger Michell (NOTTING HILL, VENUS) subtly examine the tricky dynamics of the chief executive's relationships with his wife, mother and devoted female staff while also taking stock of his ego, shrewd manipulations and consummate ability to win people's favor and confidence—most notably in the case of the insecure young king. It's an entrancing peek at a time when the personal secrets of our leaders were well and truly kept. A Focus Features release.
KINSHASA KIDS (2012) 85min
Director: Marc-Henri Wajnberg
Perhaps the most ebullient “musical” you’ll see this year, Marc-Henri Wajnberg’s singular documentary/fiction hybrid follows a group of street kids—kicked out of their homes for being “witch children”—in the titular Congolese capital. These ever-resourceful youngsters decide to form a band and team up with Bebson, an eccentric impresario and one-time recording star; he’s just one of many unforgettable adults who, whether as informal instructors, fellow musicians, or menacing pursuers, impact the lives of these indefatigable tykes. Completely devoid of sentimentality and condescension, KINSASHA KIDS celebrates and honors both the resilience of its young protagonists and the chaotic city in which they live.
THE LAST TIME I SAW MACAO (A Última Vez Que Vi Macau) (2012) 82min
Director: João Pedro Rodrigues
This stunning amalgam of playful film noir and Chris Marker–like cine-essay from João Pedro Rodrigues (TO DIE LIKE A MAN, NYFF 2009) and João Rui Guerra da Mata explores the psychic pull of the titular former Portuguese colony. After a spectacular opening scene, in which actress Cindy Scrash lip-synchs, as tigers pace behind her, to Jane Russell’s “You Kill Me”—from Josef von Sternberg’s MACAO (1952), a key reference here—the film shifts to da Mata’s off-screen recollections of growing up in this gambling haven in the South China Sea. He’s come back to Macao to help a friend who later vanishes—a mystery that begets not only poetic ruminations on time, place, and memory but also magnificent compositions of flora, fauna, and cityscapes. Rodrigues will also have his work presented during NYFF’s soon-to-be-announced Views From the Avant-Garde schedule.
LEVIATHAN (2012) 87min
Directors: Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel
Having previously immersed us into the worlds of Montana sheep herding and Queens auto salvaging, respectively, NYFF alumni Lucien Castaing-Taylor (Sweetgrass) and Véréna Paravel (Foreign Parts) team for another singular anthropological excavation, this time set inside one of the world’s most dangerous professions: the commercial fishing industry. Taking to the high seas of the North Atlantic—Herman Melville territory—the filmmakers capture this harsh, unforgiving world in all of its visceral, haunting, cosmic detail, using an arsenal of cameras that pass freely from film crew to ship crew, and swoop from below sea level to literal bird’s-eye views. The result is a hallucinatory sensory experience quite unlike any other. To paraphrase Francis Coppola describing his Apocalypse Now, LEVIATHAN isn’t a movie about commercial fishing; it is commercial fishing.