Last year’s fest was a total success in my opinion. I saw some of my favorite films of the entire year there; Buzzard, The Babadook, Fish and Cat, Dear White People, and the #1 film on my Top 10 for 2014, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night. This year’s selections were just as eclectic in subject and style. Here is my personal list of things to consider at this year’s New Directors New Film Festival.
Minnie is a 15 year old with a coked out mom and little self esteem. When she takes her childish fantasies to an adult level by sleeping with her mother’s boyfriend, emotional hell breaks loose in form of a tape recorded diary and sketches turned animated thoughts. This film jumps off the screen with a breakout performance from Bel Powley as Minnie. She is funny, insightful, and an apparent old soul, all while still just a kid trying not to lose her shit. The added element of the animation only adds to the wonder of this film. Kristen Wiig plays Minnie’s absent mother. She is a revelation in this role. You know, those rare cinematic moments when you forget who the actor is because you’re so immersed in the performance, that it’s a winner. Alexander Skarsgård is the creepy object of Minnie’s affection. This is not a coming if age tale for our lead, but truly for the adults in the film. The Diary Of A Teenage Girl will remind you of your own sexual awakening. All the awkwardness, the curiosity, and frankly, the lies you were told by everyone around you. Rediscover your own past. Go ahead.
VIOLETJesse has been through a terrible trauma. He is despondent after the murder of his good friend, just feet from him at a local mall. Violet is a look into the world of survivor’s guilt. The camera work alone should get you through the door. Breathtaking closeups coupled with soft focus and exquisite sound editing creates a barrage of sense memory moments for both for Jesse and the audience alike. The uncomfortable silence (dialogue wise) is the key to this film. At a tight 82 minutes run, Violet is about what’s not being said.
WESTERNWestern is a documentary that takes us into the world of small town politics up against very large drug cartel violence in the two bordering towns of Eagle Pass, Texas and Piedras Negras, Mexico. Mayor Chad Foster puts on a brave face as violence escalates and threatens the harmony he’s worked so hard to procure in Eagle Pass. Mayor Jose Manuel Maldonado, tries his best to ease the minds of local constituents and the mass media alike. Local cattle rancher, Martin Wall’s, smile turns hard in the wake of a temporary USDA ban on livestock trade over the border. Each of these men is doing their darnedest to maintain peace, safety and the livelihoods of so many others. Pulling the curtain back on what feels like scenarios that only happen in the movies, is eye opening. You have to remind yourself that these folks are living, breathing people with families and loved ones. This documentary is unusually educational and will certainly restore your faith in humanity.
LISTEN TO ME MARLONThis doc opens up in a jarring fashion. Reminiscent of the floating head at Disneyland’s The Haunted Mansion, there we see and hear the disembodied “Head” and voice of Marlon Brando. Director, Stevan Riley has granted the world the access he gained to mountains of audio tapes made by Brando himself. Some are self hypnosis tapes in which he recalls childhood moments once kept very close to his chest. Through archival footage and Brando’s own voice, we delve into the personal life of the reclusive star. These confessional tapes reveal a side of this legend not many people were privy to. Acting was somewhat of a spiritual outlet. His charisma was endless, as was his passion for sex and affection. Receiving little from his alcoholic parents, Brando‘s ego was lifted by his enormous talent, perhaps too far for the likes of some. Although, as you listen to him speak, you gather that he was a rather astute, observant, reflective man who struggled with real abandonment issues that never truly get resolved for him. Tragedy followed him in his personal life and the genius and attention swallowed him hole at times. Listen To Me Marlon is a gorgeous portrait. When you stop taking notes during a film and just listen, as a critic, that is the moment of pure magic.
GOODNIGHT MOMMYGive a kid an inch, so they say, and they’ll take a mile. Twins Lukas and Elias have been awaiting the return of their mother. She has just completed facial reconstructive surgery. Longing for her love and affection, the boys are thrown into detective mode when Mom returns a different person. Face completely bandaged and rage on the surface, she forces the boys to maintain quiet and changes all the rules. Something clearly amiss, Lukas and Elias must find a way to make her admit who she really is, while facing the changes themselves. Much like last year’s The Babadook, psychological torture is in the cards. Can you stomach the tactics used by children when they don’t fully understand the consequences themselves? Goodnight Mommy will scare the hell out of you and make you squirm like never before.
DOG LADYFollowing a woman surrounded by a pack of discarded dogs, this film highlights the off-grid lifestyle to the nth degree. The film’s subject, played flawlessly by co-director Verónica Llinás, chooses to live on the outskirts of Buenos Aires in a what begins as a primitive lean-to, and progresses in sound structure along with the movie itself. We follow our lady through four full seasons as she forages for food and supplies. Her ingenuity is astounding, taking what is essentially trash and making a home for herself. She has absolutely zero dialogue. The sparse dialogue that does exist comes from what little human interaction she allows; taunting children, a clinic doctor, and a brief sexual encounter with a rather verbose rancher. This film is highly engrossing, perhaps causing the viewer to reassess the amount of material objects we carelessly cast aside. Her sense of survival and her clear warm spirit guide this film along it’s year long timeline. There is definitely something to be said about the it’s wide final shot. It will force you to come to terms with your true feelings of our Dog Lady.
You can find out more about these incredible films, and so many more, at NDNF. The Diary of a Teenage Girl opens tonight! Screenings during the fest take place at MoMa and FSLC.
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