Dog Lady / La mujer de los perros – New Directors/New Films


Dog Lady/La mujer de los perros
Directors / Screenwriters: Laura Citarella, Veronica Llinas
95 minutes, Argentina, 2015
North American Premiere
Thu 03/26/2015 6:30 PM
Walter Reade Theater, NYC

Costume designer: Carolina Sosa Loyola
Composer: Juana Molina
Cast: Veronica Llinas

“An indelible and quietly haunting study of a nameless woman (memorably played by co-director Verónica Llinás) living with a loyal pack of stray dogs in silent, self-imposed exile in the pampas on the edge of Buenos Aires…” [more at ND/NF] [Variety review] [THR review]

“I’m not even a dog person!” So he says. But this year Gavin Smith brought home not just one, but two, remarkable dog movies from last year’s deployments to Cannes and Rotterdam — White God and La Mujer de los Perros.

White God has a North American distributor for theatrical release, so I’ll focus on La Mujer.

Verónica Llinás and Four Co-Stars

Made by “five women and twelve dogs, the majority female,” La Mujer de los Perros (Dog Lady) is an assured, finely wrought character study three years in the making, chronicling four seasons of a woman living wholly in the present, outside the market economy, with a loyal pack of canine companions.

The film opens with a soundscape of birdsong and dog-panting, and transitions to an idyll of sight and sound in which every sight is a painterly composition and every sound contributes to a symphonic whole.

La Mujer steers clear of sentimentality. The nameless protagonist evokes the hunter goddess Diana in costume and action — she’s a deadeye with a slingshot — but she lives in a very real world where one must hunt, find water, and seek health care to maintain even a bare subsistence living. I haven’t seen such a primal film performance since Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone.

The pacing is masterful, and the perspective Olympian, no more evident than in the heart-wrenching, long-lens final shot.

U.S. distributors, what are you waiting for?

The Fool / Durak – New Directors/New Films


The Fool/Durak
Writer-Director-Editor-Composer: Yury Bykov
Director of Photography: Kirill Klepalov
116 minutes, Russia, 2014, DCP
Sat 03/21/2015 9:15 PM
Walter Reade Theater, NYC

Cast: Artem Bystrov, Nataliya Surkova, Boris Nevzorov, Kirill Polukhin, Darya Moroz, Yury Tsurilo, Irina Nizina, Alexander Korshunov, Maxim Pinsker

“The lives of hundreds of the dregs of society are at stake in this stark, grotesque portrait of a new Russia on the verge of catastrophe…” [more at ND/NF] [IMDb]

Today it is the honest men who are the fools.

Called at midnight to check out a pipe leak in a decrepit housing project, plumber and engineering student Dima (Artyom Bystrov) discovers that the building is going to collapse, perhaps before dawn.

Darya Moroz and Artem Bystrov in The Fool
Darya Moroz and Artem Bystrov in The Fool

Against the objections of his wife (Darya Moroz) — who realizes that exposing the crack in the building, and the corruption that caused it, will destroy any chance of a normal life for their family — Dima resolves to track down the mayor (Natalya Surkova) in the wee hours of her 50th birthday party, attended by all the city’s venal officials.

Yury Bykov’s multiple-prizewinner at Locarno channels Dostoyevsky by way of Sidney Lumet. Brutal cinematography and crackling sound design are matched by bone-chilling dialogue that survives translation:

“Why do you even care about these lowlifes?”

“If the building collapses, I don’t care. This is not a life.”

“We live like animals and die like animals because we don’t mean anything to each other.”

Dima just wants to save the lives of 840 derelict souls. In his world, and ours, that makes him a fool. The building will fall, or not, and he can do nothing to change that.

There is no excuse for The Fool not to have theatrical distribution in the U.S.  With halfway competent marketing, it will fill seats, make money, and start people talking about important issues.

K – New Directors/New Films


Directed by Darhad Erdenibulag & Emyr ap Richard
88 minutes, China, 2015
North American Premiere
Sat 03/21/2015 3:45 PM
Walter Reade Theater, NYC

K may have been conceived with no geographic/ethnographic location in mind, as the film makers state, but anyone familiar with Nicholas Roerich’s 1920s Altai-Himalaya: A Travel Diary will appreciate this film’s brilliant association of petty officialdom in China’s provinces with Franz Kafka’s lunatic bureaucracy.

Land surveyor (Bayin) in K
Land surveyor (Bayin) in K

The New Directors/New Films synopsis provides a good starting point:

“Franz Kafka’s unfinished novel The Castle is relocated to present-day Inner Mongolia, and the translation is startlingly seamless. Land surveyor K (Bayin) arrives in a frontier village, and soon discovers that his summons was a clerical error. Taking a job as a school janitor, K seeks an audience with the high-level minister he believes will resolve the situation, but cannot gain access to the castle where the local government is based. Intermittently aided by a barmaid and two hapless minions, K finds his efforts at clarification stymied by local hostility and administrative chaos alike…” [more at ND/NF] [IMDb]

Shot entirely in natural light, and with an effective soundtrack featuring Western honky-tonk music and John Adams’s The Death of Klinghoffer, K evokes the claustrophobic residences of The Shining, Barton Fink and The Tenant while introducing entirely new tropes of transient paranoia.

A selection of Berlinale’s Forum. The big mystery for me is why this movie hasn’t yet found a distributor for North American theatrical release.

The Creation of Meaning / La creazione di significato – New Directors/New Films


The Creation of Meaning/La creazione di significato
Director/Screenwriter/Producer/Editor/Director of Photography: Simone Rapisarda Casanova
95 minutes, Canada/Italy, 2014
U.S. Premiere (World Premiere, director’s cut)
Thu 03/19/2015 9:00 PM
Walter Reade Theater, NYC

Cast: Pacifico Pieruccioni, Alexander Auf der Heyde, Benjamin Auf der Heyde, Siria Battelli, Bartolomeo Puccetti, Cinzia Bertuccelli, Maria Paola Casanova, Gruppo UIEI Pietrasanta, Coro Versilia, Andrea Taccetti, Francesco Marchetti, Diego Bonuccelli, Marco Bonuccelli, Marco Bondielli, Roberto Walter Colombini, Daniele Eschini, Alessandro Elmi, Massimiliano Pisano, Nellina Pieruccioni

“Though its title arcs toward grand philosophical inquiry, the stirring power of Simone Rapisarda Casanova’s second documentary-fiction hybrid—winner of the 2014 Locarno Film Festival’s Best Emerging Director prize—lies in its intimacy of detail and wry political observation…” [more at ND/NF] [IMDb] [film website]

“Only when the past, present and future meet can the all-too human device we presumptuously call ‘meaning’ be created.” -Simone Rapisarda Casanova

The Creation of Meaning/La creazione di significato
The Creation of Meaning/La creazione di significato

The Creation of Meaning opens in alpine meadow, with a group of schoolchildren reciting events from the final months of World War II, when retreating German forces massacred hundreds of civilians in the Tuscan mountains. Also receiving this catechism, the audience learns that the film is set precisely on the Gothic Line, where blood shed seven decades ago is a living memory and a topic of daily conversation.

The film follows the formerly self-sufficient, now precarious, life of Pacifico Pieruccioni, born seven years after VE Day, tending his hens and goats through our current catastrophe. The same breathtaking mountains that once held Nazi fortifications now provide an efficient means of suicide for villagers facing absolute ruin in the wake of the global economic crisis.

As the fates would have it, Pieruccioni’s own survival depends on the sale of his property to a German land speculator who might deign to allow him to stay on as a caretaker.

Ethnographic documentary, political commentary, and dramatic narrative in equal parts, The Creation of Meaning is essential viewing for anyone who seeks to understand the devastating impact of financial crimes against humanity committed in our generation.

ND/NF selected another important film in this category (Line of Credit/Kreditis limiti), which I’ll discuss in another post.