It’s only been around for five years, but The Art of the Real has already established itself as one of the world’s most essential showcases for game-changing, rule-breaking, genre-busting new cinema. Dedicated to films that blur the line between fact and fiction — or reveal to us how blurred that line is and always will be — this annual Film Society of Lincoln Center series is the kind of thing that makes you want to put quotation marks around reductive terms like “documentary” and “non-fiction.” These are unclassifiable works of freeform cinematic innovation, movies that are more accurately defined by their inclusion in this program than they are by any of the words we often use to describe them.
The 2018 edition of The Art of the Real is predictably stacked with strong work, from a movie about a tennis player that reimagines how we think about sports, to a movie about a sport that reimagines how we think about how it’s played; from the particulars of seed distribution across Lebanon to the pages of Ms. magazine. All of these films take a wholly unexpected approach to their subjects, and all of these films reshape not only what we know of the world, but how we see it as well.
The full lineup can be found over here, but these are our top five highlights from The Art of the Real 2018.
Romanian director Corneliu Porumboiu (“The Treasure,” “12:08 East of Bucharest”) knows a guy — a bureaucrat named Laurențiu Ginghină — who’s convinced that the most popular sport on planet Earth isn’t being played right. (“The rules of football are wrong,” he states outright.) For starters, Ginghină believes that the pitch should be octagonal, so as to get rid of all those game-deadening right angles. Beyond that, he thinks that each team should be divided into sub-teams, the players restricted to certain parts of the field so that the scrums are smaller and the games are faster. These aren’t the drunken ramblings of a guy who’s had a few too many pints — these are the ideas of a man who’s spent his entire life dreaming of a revolution that has yet to come.
Smirking and mirthful (if not laugh-out-loud funny), Poromboiu’s doc might present itself as a Herzogian portrait of a self-possessed dreamer, but every laugh in “Infinite Football” is followed by a bitter political backwash. Watching Ginghină suffer through the futility of his government job — where he works to expedite his own obsolescence — we hit upon the poignancy of trying to make the world a better place, and how even the slightest effort to create a brighter tomorrow can seem like tilting at windmills. — DE
“I Remember the Crows”
For his second feature, Brazilian filmmaker Gustavo Vinagre turns the camera on his friend and collaborator Julia Katharine, a Japanese-Brazilian trans actress-filmmaker. She suffers from insomnia, and Vinagre shot the film during one sleepless night as she recounts stories of her childhood, family, romances, self-destructive impulses, and deep love of cinema. Katharine’s cinematic influences are eclectic; from “Terms of Endearment” to “The Birds” to “Querelle.” With echoes of Shirley Clarke’s “Portrait of Jason” and Jean Eustache’s “Numéro zéro,” “I Remember the Crows” promises an intimate conversation between filmmaker and subject with a contemporary edge. —JD
“John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection”
John McEnroe is having a bit of a moment, at least on movie screens. You might assume that it doesn’t get any better than being played by Shia LaBeouf in a biopic, but the notoriously loud tennis legend has no — by little virtue of his own — become the subject of an even cooler tribute. Exhuming the reels upon reels of 16mm footage that Gil de Kermadec shot of McEnroe during the champion’s prime, and coating them with a fresh layer of narration by Mathieu Amalric, filmmaker Julien Faraut cuts together a dazzling testament to Jean-Luc Godard’s idea that “Cinema lies, sports doesn’t.”
Accessible to tennis fans but targeted squarely at cinephiles, “In the Realm of Perfection” looks at sports through the lens of film theory, recasting one of the sports world’s most exuberant personalities as something of an auteur. In between hilarious footage of McEnroe yelling at umpires, spectators, and anyone else within his line of sight, Faraut makes a compelling bid to complicate the line between athletes and artists. It isn’t long before you start to see McEnroe as a director, editor, and star all in on, the player stretching time like a filmmaker and calling “cut!” with the conclusion of each rally. You’ll never think of tennis — or of John McEnroe — the same way again. —DE