Monday, March 14, 2022

Preview: First Look at MoMI 2022

First Look, a Museum of Moving Image's annual showcase, scoping new innovative films from around the world, is back and I'm happy to announce that it's a real treasure trove this year.

This year's lineup includes Murina, a Cannes Camera d'Or (Best First Feature) winner from Croatia, two documentaries by Ukrainian master filmmaker Sergei Loznitsa, Valentyn Vasyanovych's all-too-precient realization of the Russian invasion in Reflection, Chinese artist Qiu Jiongjiong's spectacularly cinematic display of history and art, A New Old Play, Tsai Ming-liang's love letter to flourescent light soaked Hong Kong's afterhours in The Night, Adèle Excharpoulos starring satire on capitalism, Zero Fucks Given, just to name a few. The festival runs 3/16-3/20. For tickets and info, please visit MoMI's website.

Murina - Antoneta Alamat Kusijanovic *Opening Night Film Murina Julija is a teenage girl living in the small fishing island off the rugged, picturesque coast of Croatia with her overbearing father, Ante, and a former beauty queen mother, Nela. Antoneta Alamat Kusijanovic's debut film strongly develops into a fraught father-daughter relationship out in the open, or under the surface in this case with the striking opening sequence- they are spearfishing for an illusive sea eel together. As they come out of the water, you can see there is a cut in Julija's upper thigh near her groin. She was manhandled in the water for something she shouldn't have done. The tension rises when Ante's old friend, millionaire developer Javier (suave Cliff Curtis) visits the island for a land developing deal that Ante is cooking up. They are hoping to move to Zagreb and get an apartment if the deal goes through, possibly leaving behind the fisherman existence. Sexual tension, jealousy clash with controlling nature of patriarchal society. With lush cinematography and great feature acting debut by Gracija Filipovic, Murina stands above the usual coming of age film.

The Night - Tsai Ming-liang *screens with Murina as Opening Night Film The Night Shot in November of 2019 while making Days in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, this 20 minute short, The Night, is an amalgam of all Tsai's films in a small package - urban loneliness. Long static shots of night exterior with a cold fluorescent lights with ordinary people walking, waiting at the bus stops, eating in tiny stalls, with occasional cars passing by, play out like a Hong Kong version of Edward Hopper painting in motion in a concrete jungle, where human beings seem tiny and insignificant. A melancholic old song "The Night is Too Beautiful to Last" by Pei Ni kicks in around 15 minute mark. The film is Tsai's love letter to the night and melancholy it brings.

Babi Yar. Context - Sergei Loznitsa Babi Yar Babi Yar is a ravine near Kiev where execution of 33,771 Ukrainian Jews took place when the city fell to invading German troops in 1941. They were rounded up by German SS soldiers and the Ukrainian Police Force. In this all archival footage documentary, Ukrainian filmmaker, Sergei Loznitsa, approaches the subject in his typical, non-authorial way, without any narration and spares no one in the process. The holocaust memorial wasn't built until 2016. Now with the Russian invasion with Putin's shrewd campaign to 'denazifying Ukraine' and Svoboda - ultra-nationalist/neo-nazi element in Ukraine and also having a Jewish head of the state Zelenskyy emerging as the national hero during war time, Babi Yar. Context provides Ukraine's complex history and counters what is termed as chronocide, or erasing history, in our modern society full of misinformation and propaganda.

Feathers - Omar El Zohairy Feathers When her husband turns into a chicken during the magic trick at their son's birthday party, our unnamed female protagonist has to deal with 3 young children and crippling poverty and absurd amount of bureaucracy.

Feathers is an Kafka-esque absurdist social satire of the patriarchal, sexist Egyptian society. Director Omar El Zohairy, assistant director for fantastic 2016 film Last Day of the City, making his feature film debut, prefers tight, off-centered framing to accentuate the cramped interiors, physical dominance over the female heroine. Part surrealist comedy and part neo-realist drama, Feathers illustrates that there are very limited options for women living in a men's world.

A New Old Play - Qiu Jiongjiong A New Old Play Impeccably crafted, Chinese artist Qiu Jiongjiong's epic A New Old Play is seen through the eyes of Qiu Fu (Yi Shicheng), a gifted Chinese opera singer through the tumultuous modern history of China from 1920s to Mao's Cultural Revolution and beyond.

Qiu, with a white patch around his nose permanently because of wearing his clown makeup all his life, is summoned by two demons (Bullhead and Horsehead) to report to hell, because he is dead. We are then taken back to Qiu's early years as a street urchin being picked up by the Sichuan theater troupe headed by Chinese opera enthusiast and army commander Pocky. Spectacular handpainted sets and backdrops (production design done also by Qiu) and with simple but clever camera staging - slow dolly tracking and playing with deep focus, A New Old Play has in common with Roy Andersson's and Wes Anderson's cinema, if only aesthetically. Through its 3 hour runtime as these carefully orchestrated sets and movements settle you in to lived-in, comfortable feeling. And its Qiu's unbiased approach to Chinese history that gives melancholic resonance and wisdom being a witness to history on a personal level. Qiu hits home the idea of life being a stage, where we live and die on it

Reflection - Valentyn Vasyanovych Screen Shot 2021-09-13 at 10.36.22 AM If Valentyn Vasyanovych's previous filmAtlantis was dealing with fictional scenario of the future ecological devastation and human toll from the prolonged war, Reflection, using gray landscapes and claustrophobic interiors, delves into the psychological damage of on-going conflict and threat from the neighboring ominous superpower. Sly metaphors, like dead pigeon, makeshift pyre, ravenous stray dogs are all present. But as with Atlantis, there is a glimmer of hope in Reflection. This time, it's not the love between a man and a woman, but that of father and daughter. Known to use non-actors in his films, Vasyanovych uses his own daughter to play Polina. She in turn, gives a great performance in long takes, engaging in religious and spiritual discussion with Lutskyi who plays her father. Her innocence shines through in a dreadful industrial, monochrome winter Ukraine landscape. Daring in its cinematic language, and unflinching in its presentation of the present, the film makes you impossible to ignore the state of the on-going conflict in that part of the world.

Read my full review from Venice 2021:

Zero Fucks Given - Emmanuel Marre, Julie Lecoustre Zero Fucks Given Sharp observations on the service industry in the 21st century capitalism is at the center of Zero Fucks Given. Adèle Exarchopoulos is Cassandra, a flight attendant at a small European airline company, Wing. The film devotes most of its running time to the banal day to day life of young flight attendants who dream of one day working for Emirates Air, the creme de la creme of the industry and hard to get into. But Cassandra seems to have no directions or ambitions, other than going through, repeating her daily routines of work, dealing with constant micro-management, partying off-hours, being lazy by the pool side in sunny Lanzarote where the company hub is located and countless one night stands through online apps.

Things take a drastic turn when she is reprimanded for buying a distraught customer a wine out of compassion and sent home to Brussels. Staying with her younger sister and her sad widowed father, it is revealed she was running away from her mother's sudden death.

With verité style candid cinematography by Olivier Boonjing and Exarchopoulos's committed performance, Zero Fucks Given comments on hyper capitalist society where work and personal life exist like oil and vinegar, yet one dictates another whether we like it or not.