Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Preview: First Look Film Festival at MoMI

Once again, First Look Festival at the Museum of Moving Image in Queens, New York, is upon us, showcasing new, adventurous films from around the world. Encompassing features, shorts, narratives and non narratives, this year's wide ranging selections feature Tori and Lokita, a new film from the Dardennes, this year's Sundance favorite, Fremont and Mami Wata (Opening Night and Closing Night film respectively), a new Koji Fukada (Love Life), plus films from Argentina, China, Czech Republic, Ukraine, Senegal and whole lot more.

First Look has been and remains to be the unmissable go-to New York film event for surveying the exciting current filmmaking from around the world and discover new talents. I am very privileged to sample the following:

First Look runs 3/15 - 3/19 at Museum of Moving Image. Please visit their website for tickets and more info.

A Little Love Package - Gaston Solnicki A Little Love Package It's 2019. Vienna, the last bastion among the European cities where smoking in cafe has been allowed, bans smoking indoors. It's the end of an era. Two women, played by Angeliki Papoulia (Dogtooth) and Carmen Chaplin are looking for a house to buy. One is rich and very picky about her choices and the other, her interior designer is getting frustrated as her suggestions get rejected one after another. The rich woman's child wants private music lessons from a Korean pianist in Vienna, because she doesn't like the strictness of the music conservatory. After the rich woman finds an apartment, Carmen, the interior designer, travels back to her home in Malaga to visit her aging parents and argue with her sisters about the future of their home and parents.

Shot beautifully by Rui Poças (Tabu, Zama, The Ornithologist), A Little Love Package is loosely associated ideas and images with free-flowing narrative. Argentine Gastón Solnicki's experiments with improvisation using, for the first time, professional actors and also their real family, bear interesting results that are oddly engaging and liberating.

Rodeo - Lola Quivoron Rodeo Street smart misfit Julia (Julie Ledru) is passionate about the underground dirt bike culture. She wants to ride like those boys doing dangerous bike tricks on social media. Her specialty is seeing bikes for sale online, meeting the owner and asking for a test ride and just taking off. She falls in with the B-More, one of the bike gangs on the street at night showing off their skills. The gang is headed by Domino who runs the group from a prison cell with a mobile phone. Because Julia has skills for hustling off the bikes from the rich, Julia gets recruited to work for him. But because she is a girl and rising the ranks in the gang, there are some jealous members trying to shake her down.

Lola Quivoron's verité style energetic direction takes us to the dirt bike subculture with some stunning riding scenes. Ledru is a revelation as a tough as a nail Julia, who hails from Guadeloupe, the tiny French colonial island in the Caribbean, rides bikes and does her tricks, not for money but for the adrenaline rush. The film climaxes to her big idea of doing a heist of a truck full of high-end dirt bikes while on the road. Rodeo plays out if Cassavetes’s directed Fast & Furious.

Huahua's Dazzling World and Its Myriad Temptations - Daphne Xu Huahua Huahua lives in Xiongan, one of the designated 'new areas' in rapidly developing rural China, south of Beijing. She makes a living livestreaming her life, putting on colorful costumes and beautifying filters. She dances and sings, and chats online with her fans. Director Daphne Xu follows Huahua from her most mundane life: cooking, doing household chores, chiding her grandkids in her squalid home, to her internet persona. With her gambling, physically abusive husband, she goes through life's hardships, just like many of the illiterate, working class women. She faces censorship; there are certain words she can't use, and frequently has her channel taken down for a week or two as punishment. She is constantly angry at the realities of life, but she puts on a happy face and an upbeat attitude on the internet for her viewers. She understands that she gets laughed at for her videos, but she takes the live streaming as a means of making a living for her children. She also gets a new husband doing it.

Huahua's Dazzling World reflects the digitally infused world, where there's little distinction between reality and fantasy, commerce and art, exploitation and self-promotion all melding together into one. It's frightening and beautiful at the same time.

Herbaria - Leandro Listorti HERBARIA_15 Leandro Listorti, an Argentine filmmaker with background as a film archivist, investigates the sinewy connections between disappearing plant life and disintegrating old films. And he has a wealth of archival footage to draw from. And it is a beauty: early, discarded films with decaying marks from fungus and other elements, plants filmed in 1912, as well as 16mm and 8mm shot footage of painstaking fieldwork of plants being collected, dried and pressed, then archived. Narration from botanists, scientists, archivists and film projectionists are woven together to create fascinating layers of ephemera that are disappearing.

Herbaria recalls part Bill Morrison, part scientific documentary and part tone poem for everything physical and its eventual disintegration.

The Taste of Mango - Chloe Abrahams TheTasteOfMango How do you reconcile generational trauma that puts cracks in a mother/daughter relationship? Chloe Abrahams' documentary about her mother Rozana and grandmother Jean is a delicate family portrait about unconditional love, resolve and hope. Capturing candid moments with prodding questions, Abrahams tries to understand her mom's traumas stemming from sexual assaults she endured in the hands of her male relatives while Jean remained silent back home in Sri Lanka 40 years ago. It all makes sense to the 27-year-old filmmaker now why her mom never allowed sleepovers when she was a child. All her decisions throughout her life in England, was to protect her daughter from harm with her trauma playing out in her mind. Rozana is a radiant, intelligent woman who constantly sings American Country music songs all intimately captured in Abrahams' handicam. When Jean visits them in England, it's an uneasy stay. It's Abrahams being a mediator, loving two women unconditionally, being the bridge to the two women living in island nations.

Lyrical and heartbreaking, The Taste of Mango is a home movie about three generations of women and how they deal with sexual trauma.