New Directors/New Films

I managed to miss all but one film from last year's New Directors/New Films program, as I struggled to finish my new book. Now the book is done -- just returned the first half to my editor with all the corrections and changes necessary -- and I managed a bit better turnout for the 2006 edition. (As if you care.)

Just my luck, this year's lineup, which looked so promising before the screenings started, turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. Of the 25 features on offer, I've seen 14 and expect to catch up with a few more in the next week or so. And I can heartily recommend . . . 3 enthusiastically. It's not quite as bad as all that, because a couple of others are worth a look and one or two more are interesting if not fully realized. But this year's ND/NF includes some of the worst films I've seen this year. Given the large number of films, I'll be brief.

The keepers:
L'Iceberg -- Dominique Abel, Fiona Gordon, Bruno Romy. A deliciously Tati-esque comedy with genuine visual wit and grace and hilarious performances from Abel and Gordon as a gawky married couple whose household is riven when she locks herself in a deepfreeze at the fast-food restaurant she manages. Once she emerges and is thawed out, Gordon becomes obsessed with heading for the Arctic and throws herself -- almost literally -- at a not-overly-bright fishing boat owner (Philippe Martz), while her no less maladroit hubby tries to decipher what has happened. A crisp 84 minutes, the film makes great use of widescreen for comic value and is a complete delight. The short that accompanies it, "Terra Incognito" by Peter Volkart, is also a wry, drily witty farago, a sort of Chris Marker joke documentary about arctic exploration that includes such stopping points as Nanopol and Nova Suburbia (where I grew up).

Twelve and Holding -- Michael Cuesta. I haven't seen Cuesta's debut film, L.I.E., but his second feature is smart and dark, alternately funny and very sad, and easily the most astute portrait of life in Nova Suburbia since Hartley's Trust. In a year in which seemingly every American indie is about kids on the cusp of adolescence, this one is the by far the most intelligent, deeply felt, funny and fully realized of the lot. Although the cast that seems like a reunion of Law and Order alumni (Annabella Sciorra, Bruce Altman, Tony Roberts, Adam Lefever, Mark Linn-Baker, Jayne Atkinson), it is the kids, unsurprisingly, who score the biggest points, especially Zoe Weizenbaum as a lovesick preteen with designs on a traumatized ex-fireman. Really intelligent, graceful filmmaking by Cuesta.

October 17, 1961 -- Alain Tasma. This political drama, based on historical events leading up to and on the eponymous date, when Paris police commissioner Maurice Papon essentially authorized a bloody round-up of peaceful demonstrators, Algerians who were supporters or members of the FLN, has the subtlety of blunt force trauma, but it is just as effective. As historical recreation and drama, it is reminiscent of Bloody Sunday, which it resembles structurally, but visually it has a sternness that is impressive. The film's pacing is a bit lugubrious, but its deliberateness also gives it much of its force. Tasma makes fewer concessions to audience sensibilities than Costa-Gavras and Pontecorvo -- the most obvious cross-references for the film -- and the result is grave but impressive.

Those are the three must-see films from the baker's-dozen-plus-one that I've seen so far. I'll continue with the not-quite offerings and absolute duds tomorrow.

The New Directors/New Films series is co-presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art from Wednesday, March 22 through Sunday, April 2. For information on schedules of screening times and venues, click on the links for either organization on the right-hand side of the page.

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