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quarta-feira, 16 de março de 2016

At New Directors/New Films, a Glimpse of the Otherworldly

As it does every year, New Directors/New Films is offering a globe-trotting sampler of more than two dozen features as well as miscellaneous short takes aimed at highlighting the work of emerging artists. This year’s package, which begins on Wednesday and includes 27 features — selected by programmers from the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art — leans toward the somber and includes assorted spirits, a number of slaughtered animals and a variety of environmental disasters, along with an occasional welcome flicker of joy. The following are our favorites from Week 1, in the order in which they are first screened.
UNDER THE SHADOW The opening-night selection gets New Directors off to a strong, eerie, accessible start. Set in Tehran in 1988, toward the end of the Iran-Iraq war, this delectable, increasingly unnerving shiver-fest opens with Shideh (Narges Rashidi), modestly swathed in revolutionary-mandated headdress, vainly pleading with a university official to be allowed to return to medical school. As she sits across from this imperious man, Shideh looks out the window framing her and her interlocutor and sees a bomb falling on the city. The man’s apparent indifference speaks volumes about the enveloping violence as well as the writer-director Babak Anvari’s filmmaking skills.
The story slides into unnerving gear after Shideh’s impatient husband is called to the front, leaving her alone with their daughter, Dorsa. In between air raids and nosy neighbors, Shideh struggles to keep a sense of normality, which includes practicing aerobics to her banned Jane Fonda workout tape. As the building shudders and cracks so does Shideh, especially when Dorsa begins communing with an invisible force. Making the most of a limited budget and two strong female leads, Mr. Anvari turns the everyday into the otherworldly using a medley of genre tricks, though mostly through the bracing idea that the Iranian revolution is itself a horror tale haunting one and all. (Manohla Dargis)
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A gaggle of girls from “The Fits,” with Royalty Hightower as a girl who discovers the power of dance. CreditYes, Ma’am!
KILL ME PLEASE A serial killer is stalking young women in a high-rise Rio suburb, and some of the teenage girls seem more titillated than afraid. In her debut feature, Anita Rocha da Silveira blends lurid horror with high school sex comedy, tapping into the dread, lust and alienation of adolescence. The result is icky, funny and unexpectedly touching. (A. O. Scott)
NAKOM Shortly after he hears of his father’s death, Iddrisu (Jacob Ayanaba), a Ghanaian medical student, returns home to the sleepy, dusty village of Nakom. There, he buries his father — he digs the grave, labor that’s emblematic of the ties that bind — and rapidly becomes embroiled in a succession of family crises that include an unwanted pregnancy, a burdensome debt and, most urgently, a potentially disastrous crop. Caught at the crossroads of personal need and familial duty, modernism and tradition, Iddrisu at first comes across as a man very much alone, partly because he straddles two worlds. His struggle seems familiar, but it’s one that’s made memorable through the graceful visuals, gentle pacing and deep feeling that the directors T. W. Pittman and Kelly Daniela Norris bring to this story. (M. D.)
NEITHER HEAVEN NOR EARTH At first, this film, directed by Clément Cogitore, looks like yet another naturalistic visit to wartime Afghanistan, with the requisite slaughter of sheep. A French platoon, its tough, sympathetic commander played by Jérémie Renier, holds down a base overlooking a dusty valley. Relations with villagers are tense, and the Taliban is active in the area. But when soldiers start to disappear, the war story turns into a ghost story. “Neither Heaven Nor Earth” is one of several movies at this year’s festival that use the supernatural as an allegorical window into real-world crises. It’s effectively spooky, and moves beyond the clichés of combat into troubling political and metaphysical territory. (A. O. S.)
MOUNTAIN In recent years, the place of very religious Jews in secular Israeli society has become a focus of Israeli filmmaking. Yaelle Kayam’s debut feature focuses on the spiritual and psychological torment of a young housewife who lives at the edge of a Jerusalem cemetery. The graveyard is also a meeting place for prostitutes and their clients, and the proximity of sin to sacredness — along with the growing frustration in the unnamed protagonist’s marriage — sets up a crisis that is explored with brilliant clarity and rigorous ambiguity. (A. O. S.)
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A scene from “Suite Armoricaine,” directed by Pascale Breton. CreditZadig Productions
LIFE AFTER LIFE Further evidence of the supernatural turn in world cinema. A pre-teenage boy, walking the rural hillsides with his father, is possessed by the spirit of his dead mother, who has unfinished business with the living. The main narrative is simple and haunting, like a fragment of local folklore. But the director Zhang Hanyi’s camera, observing human figures from a distance, takes in details that testify to the social dislocation that has defined modern China and to the influence of Jia Zhangke, a producer of the film and the reigning maestro of the cinema of modern Chinese social dislocation. (A. O. S.)
THE FITS This visually lush and uncommon coming-of-age story pivots on Toni (Royalty Hightower), an 11-year-old who tags after her older brother during his trips to the boxing gym of a neighborhood rec center. One day, Toni spies young female dancers practicing a routine that’s fiercer than any slugfest, and is wholly transfixed. She signs up, joining a sorority that initiates her into a surprisingly, satisfyingly complex femininity. Beat by beat, thrilling move by move, the director Anna Rose Holmer — making an impressively assured feature debut — proves that the his-and-her spaces of the boxing ring and dance floor are more multilayered than they seem. (M. D.)
SUITE ARMORICAINE Destinies cross at the University of Rennes, a modern French institution set in a Breton landscape faintly haunted by ancient Celtic mysteries. An art historian, who has left Paris in search of solitude and freedom, finds herself drawn back into a network of old friends, ’80s punk rockers now sliding into middle age. Meanwhile, a young geography student tries to find love and stability after a chaotic childhood. Structured less by the mechanics of plot than by feelings and ideas that hover in the air, Pascale Breton’s lovely film is both sprawling and subtle, a tableau of complicated lives in motion. (A. O. S.)
KAILI BLUES Bi Gan’s debut feature, the meandering tale of a broken family and a man’s quixotic search for a vanishing cultural past in China, is also marked by the influence of Mr. Jia Zhangke. Traditional ways of life, including the traditions of Communism, seem to dissolve into a rootless, melancholy modern existence. But there are still hints of beauty and pleasure to be found. Mr. Bi is a virtuoso of the mobile camera, following his characters as they travel restlessly (and sometimes pointlessly) by foot, pickup truck and motorbike. (A. O. S.)

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