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Film

36th New Directors / New Films
March 21 through April 1, 2007

This month The Film Society of Lincoln Center and The Museum of Modern Art combine forces in presenting the thirty-sixth annual New Directors/New Films Festival...(more)

Ivan Vypypaev’s
Euphoria
New Directors/New Films
March 21 through April 1, 2007
Lincoln Center and MoMa
Lincoln Center Website

Reviewed by Corey Ann Haydu


Despite its title, Euphoria is a somber, heavy look at relationships. The film follows Vera (Polilna Agureyeva) and Pasha (Maxim Ushakov) as they give in to their passion for each other, and flee from Vera’s jealous, drunken husband, Valery (Mikhail Okunev). This is a film about love as it really is, not as we ideally imagine it to be. Vera and Pasha have fallen for each other, but their euphoria, their passion is hidden underneath the pain of their real lives. They make rash decisions and take huge risks but can never even muster a smile. In finding each other they have only caused more problems, they have not solved anything except the dilemma of what to do if you cannot imagine your life without someone else.

The acting and story are both understated and quiet. Even in the violent moments of the film, there is a serious melancholy instead of a sustained emotional climax. In the most powerful scene, Vera’s daughter gets seriously injured by a dog. Valery tries to calm his screaming daughter with vodka and soft words and eventually shoots the dog. Emotions are heightened, but the real beauty of the scene is in Valery’s depressed surrender and Vera’s confused panic which never peaks but remains always painfully repressed. The actors do lovely work in these scenes, never giving in to the impulse to get large and emotional. They are true to their downtrodden characters and the effect is powerful and unusual.

The real accomplishment in Euphoria, however, lies in the exquisite cinematography. The repetitive Russian landscape plays a central role in the story, and shed light on the isolation and misery of the characters. The shots are extensive and beautiful. Director Ivan Vypypaev takes his time with the hills, rivers and fields of the countryside. He masterfully allows the audience to see for themselves where the characters live, how they exist and where they are in relation to each other for the entire film through these beautiful shots. Although this is a film about lovers, the film is ultimately about Russia and how rural Russia affects the relationships of its citizens.

Euphoria is a thoughtful, visually stunning film. At times its grave tone slows the pace and makes the audience crave just a few moments of unfettered joy. However, Vypypaev deserves praise for making a grand choice and sticking to it so fervently. Not a film for everyone, but an important work for lovers of Russian literature and art, and audiences who like their films to be sad and sincere.


 

 

Diego Lerman's
Meanwhile
New Directors/New Films
March 21 through April 1, 2007
Lincoln Center and MoMa
Lincoln Center Website

Reviewed by Corey Ann Haydu

I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but at some point in the last five years, film makers began to make films that focused not on linear plot and related characters, but instead of disparate characters, individual lines, and the thin threads that bind us - the strange ways we intertwine with random other strangers. This genre is a difficult one to master. When it succeeds, the audience feels connected to all the characters and is in awe at the way we are all connected and the strange tendencies our struggles have to mirror everyone else’s. Unfortunately, now that this genre has become a go-to strategy for both burgeoning and established film makers, the standards are higher, and the results often less satisfying.

Set in Buenos Aires, Diego Lerman's (director and screenwriter) Meanwhile has that predictable quality of non-linear, character based storytelling. The film is frantic, moving from one inter-connected character to another, without focusing much on story. The primary couple, Mono and Violeta are taking time to figure out their relationship, and the other characters are similarly lost in their struggle to connect to each other and to find love. Lerman seems more interested in putting his complex characters into varied situations to see how they will survive. Had I not been seeing this genre of films conquering the independent film world for so many years now, I think Lerman’s work would have been compelling and gritty. However, in comparison to other films in this genre, Meanwhile is at times unoriginal and repetitive. This is unfortunate given all the things that are superbly unique about this film.

His talented cast brings dark life to their imperfect and fleshed out characters and they are compelling to watch. Unlike typical Hollywood fare, these actors looks like real people, and the effect is astounding and moving when coming from the dolled-up world of American film. Meanwhile also excels in its smaller moments. The film captures the awkward, painful, quiet moments in life with alarming accuracy. In one scene, three of the lead characters sit in a loud bar, staring uncomfortably into space, sipping these last drops of their drinks to avoid the clumsy conversation. Similarly, scenes that take place in the bedroom also have this palpable, silent discomfort, man and woman looking around the room, avoiding eye contact, trying to overcome a painful and strange situation.

The moments of the film are all honest and interesting. Violeta’s run-in with a perverted blind man and Eva’s interactions with a dog, who uses the living room as his personal toilet are all excellent examples of what Lerman is so obviously good at. Each situation is treated with gravity, just as real people take the small moments of their days seriously. Where the film comes apart is in the bigger picture. The scenes themselves are enjoyable, but the bigger picture is fuzzy. It is unclear why this film was made, or what, ultimately, Lerman is trying to convey. Meanwhile is an incredible study in character. But it does not take the leap to become more than this. It is enjoyable to watch, and impressive in its attention to detail, its heart, its depth of spirit. But it lacks the overall satisfaction that we crave when watching films. Despite this, I have interest in Lerman’s career, and hope he continues to make edgy, character oriented work that eventually has a little more to say. Meanwhile is worth seeing, if not for the film as a whole, then at least for the small moments that will disarm even the most skeptical audience members.



 

Geoffrey Enthoven’s
The Only One
New Directors/New Films
March 21 through April 1, 2007
Lincoln Center and MoMa
Lincoln Center Website

Reviewed by Corey Ann Haydu

Geoffrey Enthoven’s energetic and moving film, The Only One is a treasure in this year’s New Directors/New Films Festival. The film follows 80-something Lucien (played with magnificent humor and depth by Nand Buyl) as he navigates his life after the death of his wife. He continues his long-time adulterous relationship with his friend’s wife, Mathilde (Viviane De Muynck) , and falls for a young, smart, lonely neighbor, Sylvia (Maijke Pinoy) . As if these two complicated women weren’t enough, Lucien is also struggling in his relationship with his nagging sensible daughter, Gerda. She wants him to be checked into a nursing home after he drunkenly starts a fire in his kitchen. Lucien remains defiant, and refuses to give up his independence or his penchant for alcohol.

Enthoven’s film is fantastic, reminiscent of the recent Jack Nicholson film About Schmidt, but with a darker underside. Lucien is simultaneously despicable and sympathetic, and his journey through the aging process is engaging and so realistic it is at times difficult to watch. Lucien slowly loses everything that matters to him, but continues to persevere. He may lack the grace and dignity that others expect of him, but he is spirited and alive in his own right, and this is what ultimately makes the film so fulfilling. Lucien is deeply flawed, stubborn and sad. However his courageous tackling of old age and the tragedies of his life is triumphant.

All the actors impressively match the screenplay’s depth and precision. Their relationships are full, the characters are layered; their force on the screen is overwhelming. There is nothing showy about The Only One. Buyl, De Muynck and Pinoy capture the human condition with such accuracy it is impossible to not love each of them, and equally impossible not to judge them and bristle at their mistakes the way we would our own family members and lovers.

The Only One is an example of independent film at its best: simple storytelling, complicated characters and a fearless exploration of old age, lust, love, and family bonds. Above all, this film, its director and its actors are brutally honest, and though it is incredibly painful to witness such blatant honesty, it is also unmistakably satisfying. Manhattan is lucky that this Belgian film made its way to our city, and it is not to be missed.



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