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First Look 2022: A Review

Mr. Landsbergis
First Look 2022
March 16-20, 2022
Museum of Moving Image, 36-01 35th Avenue, Astoria, NY
I doubt it was by design, but Ukraine and Russia hover over this year’s First Look series at the Museum of Moving Image in Queens. Sergei Loznitsa, the Ukrainian director of some of the most memorably individual narrative films of the last decade—including My Joy and A Gentle Creature—is also an impressive documentarian: his two latest forays into historical non-fiction are included in the series.
Babi Yar. Context.
Mr. Landsbergis is a massive, 4-1/2 hour exploration of Lithuania’s independence movement as the Soviet Union came apart in 1989-91, centered around a new, penetrating interview with Vytautas Landsbergis, who became president of the Lithuania parliament when it declared independence. Babi Yar. Context. (opening at Film Forum on April 1) is another thing entirely, a sobering, 2-1/2 hour retelling, through voluminous archival footage, of the massacre of thousands of Ukrainian Jews at the hands of the Nazis—with the help of Ukrainian police. In both films, Loznitsa uses found film images that have rarely been seen to ghostly—and, in Babi Yar, ghastly—effect.
Another Ukrainian director, Valentyn Vasyanovych, has made Reflection, a brutally visceral recreation of how Russians treated Ukrainians during their 2014 war. With long, mainly static takes that keep the viewer off-balance by being simultaneously at a remove from, and an unblinking look at, the action—notably some extremely graphic torture sequences that are nonetheless impossible to look away from—Vasyanovych’s extraordinary drama makes for a powerful indictment of war’s inhumanity. 
Petrov's Flu
From Russia comes Petrov’s Flu, Kirill Serebrennikov’s free-flowing adaptation of a novel by Alexey Salnikov, in which reality and fantasy—both tinged with blackness and fatalism—are interwined in an unshackled, unsettling narrative, a fever dream both literally and figuratively. As Serebrennikov puts his strong cast through its difficult paces, it’s all completely and intentionally disorienting, shot by Vladislav Opelyants as if the entire film was a hallucination, jumping from bleached color to jumpy 4:3 home movies to gorgeous B&W for flashbacks to a supposedly happy childhood.
Zero Fucks Given
Two bracing character studies of young women navigating difficult lives, anchored by unforgettable performances, are series highlights. In Zero Fucks Given (streaming on MUBI starting March 30), debut directors Julie Lecoustre and Emmanuel Marre follow Cassandre, a flight attendant at a budget European airline whose life is as disconnected as the interchangeable airports and planes where she spends much of her time, punctuated by an occasional drunken party or Tinder fling. Adèle Exarchopoulos—so breathtaking in Blue Is the Warmest Color some years back—has become a formidable performer and finds the humanity and complexity in the isolated Cassandre.
Similarly, Murina (Kino Lorber, summer 2022 release)—writer-director Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović’s sensitive study of Julija, a 17-year-old who responds to friendly attention from her dad’s old friend in a way that surprises everyone, including herself—stars the remarkable Gracija Filipović (as Julija) in mature, fearless but delicate portrayal that, along with Hélène Louvart’s glistening camerawork soaking up the sunny atmosphere of coastal Croatia, help gloss over Kusijanović’s unfortunate turn toward melodrama in her movie’s final scenes. 
The Balcony Movie
In The Balcony Movie, Polish director Pawel Lozinski stands on the balcony of his Warsaw apartment and talks to passersby for 100 minutes—and that’s really the movie, folks. There are moments when it’s more than a merely self-indulgent project: for instance, when a homeless man returns a few times to discuss his predicament (he works but does not have any place to live), a young woman sings a song beautifully, or a middle-aged woman admits it’s her birthday but doesn’t feel particularly happy about it. But the overall effect is of an interesting idea with only intermittent insights into the uniqueness of the human comedy. 

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