Sundance, Cannes, Venice, Locarno, and Fantastic Fest titles lead the first wave of official selections for the 2016 edition of New Directors/New Films, presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art. Now in its 45th year, the festival has in recent years brought well-deserved attention to innovative works by the likes of Shane Carruth, Marielle Heller, Jennifer Kent, Joshua Oppenheimer, Sarah Polley, Dee Rees, and Justin Simien, among others.
The eight initial selections—with the rest of the festival's slate to be announced in February—include the late Polish director Marcin Wrona's "Demon," which won Best Horror Feature at Fantastic Fest and was picked up by The Orchard after its TIFF debut. (Wrona, just 42, died one week after the world premiere.) Also on offer are Locarno prizewinners "Lost and Beautiful" (Pietro Marcello) and "Thithi" (Raam Reddy), Kino Lorber title "Neon Bull" (Gabriel Mascaro), and Sundance NEXT selection "The Fits," from first-timer Anna Rose Holmer, which was snapped up before its world premiere by Oscilloscope.
The New Directors/New Films selection committee is comprised of the Film Society's Dennis Lim, Florence Almozini, Marian Masone, and Gavin Smith, and MoMA's Rajendra Roy, Joshua Siegel, and Sophie Cavoulacos. Read the list of 2016 New Directors/New Films official selections, with synopses, below.
"Behemoth" / Beixi moshuo
Zhao Liang, China/France, 2015, 91m
Mandarin with English subtitles
Political documentarian Zhao Liang draws inspiration from The Divine Comedy for this simultaneously intoxicating and terrifying glimpse at the ravages wrought upon Inner Mongolia by its coal and iron industries. A poetic voiceover speaks of the insatiability of desire on top of stunning images of landscapes (and their decimation), machines (and their spectacular functions), and people (and the toll of their labor). Interspersed are sublime tableaux of a prone nude body—asleep? just born? dead?—posed against a refracted horizon. A wholly absorbing guided tour of exploding hillsides, dank mine shafts, cacophonous factories, and vacant cities, Behemoth builds upon Zhao’s previous exposés (2009’s Petition, 2007’s Crime and Punishment) by combining his muckraking streak with a painterly vision of a social and ecological nightmare otherwise unfolding out of sight, out of mind. Winner of the environmental Green Drop Award at the Venice Film Festival. North American Premiere
Marcin Wrona, Poland/Israel, 2015, 94m
English, Polish, and Yiddish with English subtitles
Newly arrived from England to marry his fiancée Zaneta, Peter has been given a gift of her family’s ramshackle country house in rural Poland. It’s a total fixer-upper, and while inspecting the premises on the eve of the wedding, he falls into a pile of human remains. The ceremony proceeds, but strange things begin to happen... During the wild reception, Peter begins to come undone, and a dybbuk, that iconic ancient figure from Jewish folklore, takes a toehold in this present-day celebration—for a very particular reason, as it turns out. The final work by Marcin Wrona, who died just as Demon was set to premiere in Poland, is an eerie, richly atmospheric film—part absurdist comedy, part love story—that scares, amuses, and charms in equal measure. Winner of Best Horror Feature at Fantastic Fest. An Orchard release.
Anna Rose Holmer, USA, 2015, 72m
The transition from girlhood to young womanhood is one that’s nearly invisible in cinema. Enter Anna Rose Holmer, whose complex and absorbing narrative feature debut elegantly depicts a captivating 11-year old's journey of discovery. Toni (played by the majestically named Royalty Hightower) is a budding boxer drawn to a group of dancers training at the same rec center in Cincinnati. She begins aligning herself with one of the two troupes, the Lionesses, becoming immersed in their world, which Holmer conveys with a hypnotic sense of rhythm and a rare gift for rendering physicality—evident most of all when a mysterious, convulsive condition begins to afflict a number of girls. Set entirely within the intimate confines of a few familiar settings (public school, the gym), and pulsating with bodies in motion, The Fits encourages us to recall the confused magic of entering the second decade of life. An Oscilloscope release.
"Lost and Beautiful" / Bella e perduta
Pietro Marcello, Italy/France, 2015, 87m
Italian with English subtitles
Pietro Marcello continues his intrepid work along the borderline of fiction and documentary with this beautiful and beguiling film, by turns neorealist and fabulist, worthy of Pasolini in its matter-of-fact lyricism and political conviction. Shot on expired 16mm film stock and freely incorporating archival footage and folkloric tropes, it begins as a portrait of the shepherd Tommaso, a local hero in the Campania region of southern Italy, who volunteered to look after the abandoned Bourbon palace of Carditello despite the state’s apathy and threats from the Mafia. Tommaso suffers a fatal heart attack in the course of shooting, and Marcello’s bold and generous response is to grant his subject’s dying wish: for a Pulcinella straight out of the commedia dell’arte to appear on the scene and rescue a buffalo calf from the palace. With Lost and Beautiful, a documentary that soars into the realm of myth, Marcello has crafted a uniquely multifaceted and enormously moving work of political cine-poetry. Winner of two awards at the Locarno Film Festival. U.S. Premiere
"Mountain" / Ha'har
Yaelle Kayam, Denmark/Israel, 2015, 83m
Hebrew with English subtitles
Atop Jerusalem's Mount of Olives, Zvia, a Jewish Orthodox woman, lives surrounded by an ancient cemetery with her four children and husband, a Yeshiva teacher who pays scant attention to her. Yaelle Kayam's feature debut moves beyond the symbolic landscape of a woman's isolation to offer a subtle and finely paced entryway into the character's surprising inner life. On a nighttime walk through the tombstones, Zvia encounters a group of prostitutes and their handlers and gradually becomes an unlikely bystander to their after-hours activities, trading home-cooked meals for companionship—an usual sort, perhaps, but one that upends her existence as a mother and wife. Shani Klein’s arresting lead performance challenges clichés of female subjectivity in the filmmaker's own society, culminating in Zvia’s dramatic attempt to bring change to her life; throughout, keenly observed frames, by turn luminous and moody, asserts the heroine's volition with intention and finesse.
"Neon Bull" / Boi neon
Gabriel Mascaro, Brazil/Uruguay/Netherlands, 2015, 101m
Portuguese with English subtitles
A rodeo movie unlike any other, Gabriel Mascaro’s Venice and Toronto prize-winning follow-up to his 2014 fiction debut August Winds tracks handsome cowboy Iremar (Juliano Cazarré) as he travels around to work at vaquejada rodeos, a Brazilian variation on the sport in which two men on horseback attempt to bring a bull down by its tail. Iremar dreams of becoming a fashion designer, creating flamboyant outfits for his co-worker, single mother Galega (Maeve Jinkings). Along with Galega’s daughter Cacá and a bullpen worker named Zé, these complex characters, drawn with tremendous compassion and not an ounce of condescension, make up an unorthodox family, on the move across the northeast Brazilian countryside. Sensitive to matters of gender and class, and culminating in one of the most audacious and memorable sex scenes in recent memory, Neon Bull is a quietly affirming exploration of desire and labor, a humane and sensual study of bodies at work and at play. A Kino Lorber release.
Raam Reddy, India/USA/Canada, 2015, 132m
Kannada and Hindi with English subtitles
Raam Reddy’s bold, vibrant first feature is closer to Émile Zola than it is to Bollywood. Filmed in India's southern Karnataka state with mostly nonprofessional actors, the sprawling narrative follows three generations of sons following the death of the family’s patriarch, their 101-year-old grandfather known as “Century Gowda.” The men’s respective vices—ranging from greed to womanizing to cut-and-dry escapism—bring deliciously comedic misadventures to their village in the days leading up to the thithi, a funeral celebration traditionally held 11 days after a death. This incisive portrait of a community in a time of radical change (while some are looking after their sheep, others are lost in their cell phones) yields exemplary humanist comedy. Winner of two awards at the Locarno Film Festival, the film equally affirms the advent of a new realism within Indian cinema, as well as an engaging new voice in contemporary world cinema.
"The Wakhan Front" / Ni le ciel ni la terre
Clément Cogitore, France/Belgium, 2015, 100m
French and Persian with English subtitles
The ingenious conceit of The Wakhan Front, a critical
success at Cannes, is to transform the Afghan battlefield—dust and boredom and
jolts of explosive violence—into the backdrop for a metaphysical thriller.
Jérémie Renier stars as a French army commander who begins to lose the loyalty
of his company, as well as his sanity, when soldiers start mysteriously
disappearing one by one. Rarely is the madness of war conveyed on screen with
such simmering tension and existential fear. Rarely, too, is the ignorance and
mistrust between cultures—are the shepherd villagers innocent civilians or
Taliban spies?—limned with such poetic insight. U.S. Premiere