Although its current edition straddles the final days of the SXSW industrial monolith, the Museum of the Moving Image’s annual international showcase First look originally was really the first to see. Just days into the new year, New Yorkers had the opportunity to sample the United States premieres of often hazy selections from the global festival circuit, kicking off the next round of the same before Sundance, which he could hardly look less like.
The schedule has changed since the festival launched in 2011, under the direction of Dennis Lim, now artistic director of the New York Film Festival, but the mission has become more ambitious, a search for ruthless and risky visions of the world we now live in. , an edgy, edgy place and time, clouded by authoritarian historical forces, but disorientingly fragmented into rapid bursts of pixelated debris. The festival, which continues through Sunday evening at the museum in Astoria, Queens, also marks its return to “normal” programming, following the COVID-19 disruption, following the extended “20/21” session of last summer. As such, it’s a killer affair, with no filler, full of surprises: inventive non-fiction from Madagascar (Tovoniaina Rasoanaivo and Luck Razanajaona’s Faritra); whirligig kind antics from Indonesia (Edwin’s Vengeance is mine, everyone else pays cash); and a series of shorts and in-betweens, including A man and a camera, Guido Hendrikx’s direct affront to COVID-era insularity, which shows what happens when the filmmaker goes door-to-door in a placid neighborhood in the Netherlands, greeting residents with a live camera. walking and his own complete silence, the subjects’ reactions a full range of possible outcomes (from calling the cops to an invitation to dinner). Ultimately affirming the goodness of humanity, the film has its opposite in the painful opportunity Semiotic plasticin which Romanian filmmaker Radu Jude subjects toy dolls to a brutal (bitingly funny) stop-motion history lesson.
While some of Jude’s worst-case scenarios now appear to be playing out in news wires from Ukraine, Ukrainian director Valentyn Vasyanovych takes us into the moment with Reflection. The sequel to 2019’s bizarre post-apocalyptic foreknowledge Atlantis, which was filmed in the now-bombed port city of Mariupol, the drama unfolds around the 2014 war with Russian forces in the Donbass – a precursor to the heinous events of today. The story documents the trauma of Serhiy (Roman Lutskiy), a surgeon from kyiv, who is captured almost as soon as he arrives in the combat zone to provide medical aid. His time as a Russian prisoner is gruesome, as he is brought to witness the torture and murder of other prisoners – a scene with a power drill, however harsh, would be torture porn without the sustained visual strategy of the filmmaker, framing scenes remotely with a locked camera – and forced to verify their deaths. Returning home in a prisoner swap, Serhiy struggles with his relationship with his daughter and ex-wife, including new mate Andriy (Andriy Rymaruk from Atlantis) disappeared in the conflict.
The plot connects a series of moments that the camera quietly observes, only occasionally breaking with its static posture and successive symmetries. Throughout the film, the middle of the frame is a shifting and deep site for resonant images. At the start, he holds the transparent glass splattered with paintball balls as Serhiy watches his daughter (played by the filmmaker’s daughter Nika) engage in mock non-lethal combat; then, it’s an operating theater; then a torture chamber; then a slab of death, an incinerator, a dark road at night and, finally, the window of Serhiy’s apartment, where his daughter’s efforts in sofa yoga are interrupted when a bird smashes against the glass, leaving more splashes. The formality gives way to further trauma, as the camera follows Serhiy along on a recreational run through a dark park, where he is attacked by a pack of wild dogs. There’s seemingly no respite from the pain, whether existential, emotional, or physical, so when the film’s final moments offer evidence of healing, the feelings radiate from the gut. The apparent detachment from the camera shields the audience from what might be unbearable, but in the end the effect is fully felt.
A completely different film about alienation that also anchors its character in a process of recovery, Zero fuck given stars Adèle Exarchopoulos (nearly a decade after Blue is the hottest colorr) like another in the current line of professionally unstable young women in film, but she’s not sprinting through Oslo or Encino. She commands the aisles of the self-consciously named Wing, a low-cost European airline whose near-truth portrayal by screenwriter-directors Emmanuel Marre and Julie Lecoustre is both too painfully familiar for frequent fliers, and also oddly nostalgic, given that many of us have not been on board for some time. Chef’s Cassandra seems to be paddling through some sort of personal crisis/stasis, partying during off-peak hours with an uninspiring array of Tinder hookups and resort nightclub visits, all while hosting a shaky game in the face of selling on board cosmetics and cocktails that boost the airline’s profits – and expand its career options. Oddly enough, it wasn’t the hangover (or the alcohol on board) that endangered Cassandra’s work, but an act of compassion. It’s a twist that allows the filmmakers to comment on the canine nature of what we now call essential work, but it also provides a break from the white, flashing world of international airport terminals and functional boredom with which Cassandra meets him, and back to the warmth of his family, where kisses are given and peace must be made with tragedy. The film’s design leaves significant space for Exarchopoulos to annex his character’s inner psychic space, a Mona Lisa of eurozone multilingual homogeneity in transit, a blur of seaside nightclubs, Starbucks, baggage claims and AirBnB.
Like Vasyanovych, who at 50 is of fighting age and remains in Ukraine, Russian dissident filmmaker Kirill Serebrennikov was unable to attend First Look. In 2020 he was hit with a three-year travel ban which prohibited him from leaving Russia, although he was allowed to travel to Hamburg, Germany to direct a production of his play. The black monk. His movie of 2021 Petrov flu, made after the director was released from 20 months of house arrest, is based on the novel by Russian writer Alexei Salnikov, and is 2.5 hours of surreal delirium, with the titular respiratory affliction sending a unfortunate shlump named Petrov, a comic book artist, in an absurd, boozy, bloodthirsty and sexual landscape, perhaps indistinguishable from contemporary urban Russia. I’ve lost track of things a few times, as the characters, which include Petrov’s female librarian (prone to dark-eyed seizures and murderous fantasies that may not all be fantasies) and her child, along with various nefarious acolytes, pass through Yekaterinburg, adrift between the mad and the commonplace. The festering portrait of an ordinary man barely hanging on in the midst of a public health disaster that appears to be a symptom of a much larger breakdown in social order is hard to combat, but also registers as a sign too relevant of the times.