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Avant-Garde Reality: First Look Festival Part One

After the Storm

Adventurous and avant-garde cinema just visited my home borough of Queens at the 6th Annual First Look Festival of the Museum of the Moving Image (MoMI). Intriguing short and longer American and international films from almost 20 countries were showcased. Programmed by MoMI’s Chief Curator David Schwartz, the two weekends in wintry January brought many of the filmmakers for their New York premieres, some from the French summer film festival now known as the Festival International de Cinéma Marseille, the 27th FIDMarseille, along with the Festival Director Jean-Pierre Rehm. "The Feed" selections reflected its original focus on experimental documentaries/documentary-like, that were set off by compelling new works by masters and creative debuts.

So Real It Could Be Nonfiction

  • After the Storm (Umi yori mo Mada Fukaku)

Opening Night celebrated the New York premiere of Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s latest, and most frankly autobiographical, exploration of adult children adjusting to their parents’ mortality. Originally a documentarian, he has described: “This is a story that takes an intimate look at…people the way they really are.” All the characters are realistically flawed in emotional ways we don’t usually see in restrained Japanese art-cinema. The central son/ex-husband/father Shinoda Ryota (Abe Hiroshi) is a once promising, award-winning novelistwith severe writer’s block who now uses his storytelling talents in his day job at a detective agency to spin blackmail scenarios for his spying targets. His commissions could go to his exasperated ex-wife Shiraishi Kyoko (Maki Yoko) for child support to get visits with their young son, but he is in the grip of long scenes of a bad gambling habit, betting on dog races and almost anything when he should be working. He’s a charming, handsome louse.

While Kore-eda’s affectionate and more sentimental Still Walking (2008) faced the last years of his relationship with his father, his elderly mother is portrayed as pushy and interfering by Kiki Kilin, an award-winning actress in her fifth, clearly comfortable collaboration with the director (so it’s too bad she’s not included in any of the publicity stills). For verisimilitude to his memories, he returned to his mother’s run-down apartment development with its abandoned playground (we would call it a NORC – a Naturally Occurring Retirement Community) to film in a tiny apartment just like his hers. Shoehorned together during a typhoon into her apartment that trendy hipsters would call a “micro-unit”, in the best, extended sequences, she aggressively manipulates the estranged couple, dotes on her grandson, snares her daughter-in-law, and shocks her son with frank criticism and rejection of his late father and the annoying traits he shares, which jar oddly with her matriarchal advice: “A stew needs time for the flavors to sink in- so do people,” Though there are key artifacts common to Japanese families that will be unfamiliar to Americans, the nostalgia for childhood experiences and the personalities are universal. Film Movement will release After the Storm March 17 in NYC, March 31 in CA, with further dates around the U.S.

  • Sincerely (Atentamente)

ATT 4 550x238-detail-mainAlso shown the first Festival weekend, Colombian writer/director Camila Rodriguez Triana set a nonprofessional, elderly cast so realistically in a retirement home for the indigent that some viewers think it’s a documentary. Within this very specific setting resonant with aging and loneliness, a finely layered story gradually reveals connections around the portly Libardo. While other residents stare at telenovelas, he steadfastly makes brooms by hand to earn a few hoarded coins, with his sweetheart Alba by his side. (The actors share their characters’ first names, but I have no information if they are the inspiration in any way.)

Debut feature cinematographer Juan David Velásquez’s camerawork is key to establishing their context. Even in absence the mis en scène constantly envelopes the residents: the still camera again and again takes in a silent scene of grieving relatives watching an orderly efficiently strip another empty bed, fold up the clothes and mattress, then remove the name plate. The camera also frequently wanders through the separate men’s and women’s wards in the tropical heat that leaves the residents in languid siestas on their cots. Yet their individuality is set off by romantic sounds – each plays a different genre of past popular music pouring from their old transistor radios into their ears.

Libardo wants so much to get enough cash for a private hotel room with Alba that he interrupts these patterns to plead for money from an apprehensive younger woman in a small waiting room. In several meetings across a wide table, they haltingly reveal their connection through confessions of anger and despair during years apart that may leave you in tears. (At the FID world premiere, this was the favorite selection of the films sent to prisoners.) In fulfilling different kinds of love, each provides a touching lesson in not making assumptions about people’s experiences from appearances, and by how Libardo satisfactorily resolves his relationships with these women.

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