If there’s one thing that New Directors/New Films had trouble doing this year, it was generating a consensus. Out of the films that screened as part of this year’s festival, 12 received both A’s and F’s from critics who attended screenings at the MoMA/Film Society of Lincoln Center series, which concluded on Thursday.
Some of those grades at either extreme were outliers, products of critics disproportionately enthusiastic or pessimistic about this year’s offerings. Nevertheless, despite the varying levels of enthusiasm, there were a handful of films that gained serious traction during ND/NF. The aggregate scores listed at the bottom of the page reflect grades from the entirety of their festival run (or in the case of “The Raid: Redemption,” its theatrical release, as well). But for a majority of these films, ND/NF has been the greatest source of Criticwire exposure.
Five films garnered high marks primarily on the strength of ND/NF reviews:
5 Broken Cameras [B+]
A documentary compiled from over 6 years of footage, “5 Broken Cameras” follows the daily life of Emad Burnat, a resident of the West Bank. Burnat, along with filmmaker Guy Davidi, captures not only his struggles, but those of his fellow villagers. The result is a collection of images that span passionate protests and scenes of grisly violence.
Sample Criticwire Review: “The footage is astounding, both as a chronicle of an unjust and violent situation and as filmmaking. Burnat has an intuitive feel for the medium. Dividing the film into sections predicated on the destruction of five cameras is a clever structuring device, especially as it relates to the unfortunate fate of many of the protesters.“- Howard Feinstein, Filmmaker Magazine
Breathing (Atmen) [A-]
“Breathing,” the writing/directing debut of Austrian actor Karl Markovics, tells the story of Roman, a teenage boy who is forced to navigate his way through the juvenile detention system after being implicated in the death of a fellow teen. As Roman struggles with life both inside and outside of prison, the film takes its time observing the boy in his various periods of incarceration.
Sample Criticwire Review: “Under Markovics’ hand, nothing is overstated. As an actor directing and scripting his first film, Markovics debut shares the same sensibility with the Belgian neo-realists Dardennes films than something that is more hard-knuckled, say, ‘Nil by Mouth’ by Gary Oldman, or the last year’s ‘Tyrannosaur’ by Peter Mullan. But ‘Breathing’ achieves the same level of poignancy without the emotional fireworks or physical violence.” – Dustin Chang, Twitch
Continuing the twin themes of imprisonment and the fighting of injustice, “Crulic” tells the true story of Romanian political prisoner Claudiu Crulic. Ostensibly a documentary, the film finds director Anca Damian utilizing animated sequences to augment the emotional impact of Crulic’s life, from childhood to his eventual arrest for theft. Beginning with Crulic’s death, Damian also depicts the young man’s struggle for survival even before his dubious conviction.
Sample Criticwire Review: “The surprise here is that writer/director Damian has tasked five of her country’s most talented animators to weave Crulic’s tragic tale as an unfolding tapestry that’s as memorable, beguiling, and on occasion as majestic, as anything we’ve seen come out of Romania…As a film, ‘Crulic’ becomes a death trip in much the same ways that Richard Linklater’s ‘A Scanner Darkly’ fantasized author Philip K. Dick’s descent into drugged madness, or Gus Van Sant’s ‘Last Days’ imagined Kurt Cobain’s soul rising from his body after his suicide.” – Kurt Brokaw, The Independent
This film captures the major developments in the fight against AIDS, both in the medical and cultural realms. Following the two most notable activist groups, David France uses footage from the latter half of the 1980s and the early ’90s to show how members from these organizations used various methods to bring about pharmaceutical advancements in the fight against the disease.
Sample Criticwire Review: “This story has been told before, but France neatly organizes old footage to present a historical picture that is clearer than ever before and follows through to the point when medication and care were being provided to enable people to live with AIDS.” – Chris Knipp, Filmleaf
Pierre Schöller’s political drama features a French government official (in a fictionalized post) who must navigate the pitfalls of holding public office. Highlighting far more of the Minister’s life than that of his elected position, Schöller weaves together a narrative that combines his struggles to pass a new transportation initiative with his multi-faceted home life.
Sample Criticwire Review: “Writer/director Pierre Schöller has etched a bruising, swirling, supremely confident and warmly satisfying portrait of the up-close-and-personal lives of public servants who set a country’s course. Saint-Jean’s character is a complex mosaic of motives and actions, deliberately engineered by director Schöller to make our feelings about this transport chief fluid and subject to debate.” – Kurt Brokaw, The Independent
Below is a list of the feature-length films shown at New Directors/New Films and their Criticwire grades. (Note: These grades are current as of the publication of this post and are subject to change at later times.)
5 Broken Cameras: B+
Generation P: C
Gimme the Loot: B-
Huan Huan: C-
Las Acacias: B
Now, Forager: B-
Romance Joe: C+
Teddy Bear: B
The Rabbi’s Cat: C+