We’ve been covering the coverage of this year’s New Directors/New Films for just over a week now, and this busy weekend sees a final round of five. We begin with Kenji Fujishima at Slant: “During a surveying venture, a young man encounters a beautiful woman who works in an apparently secret building in a street that doesn’t appear on any maps, digital or otherwise. His subsequent obsession with her eventually leads him into increasingly treacherous waters, until he finds himself taken captive by a mysterious group of people accusing him of giving out state secrets. This is the basic plot outline of Trap Street—so far, so noir. But with its understated yet unmistakable emphasis on surveillance and its emotionally detached manner, Vivian Qu’s debut feature slowly reveals itself to be an eerie meditation on the increasingly thin line between technological illusion and hard reality.”
Jordan Cronk here in Keyframe: “Qu establishes a series of archetypes—the love-struck male, the conspiratorial organization he stumbles upon, and the femme fatale who potentially holds the secret to it all—only to forgo the plot contrivances which typically bring such characterizations into clearer motivational view.”
“The crisply vivid digital images form a sharp contrast to the amorphous nature of the forces controlling both Qiuming [(Lu Yulai] and Lifen [He Wenchao], which remain mysterious and undefined to the end,” writes Christopher Bourne at Twitch. “Trap Street is another great example of the impressive work currently emerging from Chinese independent cinema today.”
Update, 3/29: Xin Zhou interviews Qu for Film Comment.
“In its perpetual staccato rhythm, and in its relentless nesting of symbols within symbols, The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears [ND/NF] suggests a Matryoshka doll come to life,” writes Slant‘s Ed Gonzalez. “The story, if it can even be called that, follows a man, Dan Kristensen (Klaus Tange), looking for his missing wife, and it moves dissonantly and practically sans dialogue, as if it, too, were looking for something just beyond its reach. The threat of danger is pervasive, bloodletting a promise, but the identity of the conspirator of displeasure that Dan seeks ultimately matters less than the dream (or nightmare) logic that compulsively and propulsively informs the film’s imagery, and whether it’s rational enough to excuse this whatsit of being anything other than an empty exercise in style.”
Back to Slant and to Kenji Fujishima: “Anja Marquardt’s debut feature, She’s Lost Control [ND/NF], covers thematic and emotional terrain similar to The Sessions, Ben Lewin’s 2012 drama about the complex relationship between a man with intimacy issues and the sex surrogate who tries to help him. But whereas Lewin approached the knotty subject matter with a light touch and a hearty but never-vulgar sense of humor, Marquardt’s film takes a more clinical approach as it turns the focus mostly on the surrogate herself…. Turns out, it’s not only Ronah who eventually loses control of her emotions, but the film itself that loses control of the most interesting and provocative threads of its vision.”
Brooke Bloom “gives a truly brave performance as Ronah,” writes Dustin Chang at Twitch. “She is at once strong and vulnerable, wise and naive, plain and seductive.”
When I saw She’s Lost Control at SXSW earlier this month, I put down a few thoughts in response to a few reviews that’d come out of Berlin in February.
Update, 3/29: Hammer to Nail presents an interview with Marquardt and Marc Menchaca: “Susanna Locascio worked on the film as 2nd AD but rather than being a conflict of interest, we felt this would contribute to a more illuminating conversation here, which, after reading said conversation, we feel strongly that you will agree.”
“In Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza’s Salvo [ND/NF], Italy’s perpetual twilight reflects moral voids,” writes Wes Greene in Slant. “Even someone as purely innocent as Rita (Sara Serraiocco), whose eyesight seems to be the price she pays for retaining her humanity, can’t escape the literal and figurative encroachment of shadows. This young blind woman is one half of the quasi-love story that pumps Salvo’s cold heart; the other is the eponymous hitman/bodyguard (Saleh Bakri) who kidnaps her after a job goes south and he kills her brother in retaliation for his involvement. Rita, consistently captured in radiant light, is a beacon of decency in a world of criminals, and Salvo comes to see her as a cure for his incessant loneliness, maybe even his propensity toward violence.”
“A film about a hit man redeemed by the vitality of a beautiful blind woman will always struggle to shake off sentimentality and Salvo doesn’t struggle very hard,” finds Ryan Gilbey in the New Statesman.
“Perhaps nothing in the film can quite measure up to its bravura opening,” suggests the Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw: “the white-knuckle action followed by the eerie strangeness of Salvo‘s pacing through his would-be assassin’s house.”
Howard Feinstein for Filmmaker: “D.P. Daniele Cipri uses a Steadicam brilliantly for a languorous 20-minute survey of the premises from Salvo’s POV as he tiptoes through the place, its shutters providing noirish shadows, accompanied by Guillaume Sciama’s haunting sound design.”
Manohla Dargis in the New York Times: “A kind of love story ensues as well as a moral awakening and even something of a miracle that adds some old-time religious mojo to the genre mix for a movie that’s at once implausible, impossible, brutal and surprisingly tender.”
Update, 3/29: Erik Luers posts a few thoughts from Piazza.
“20,000 Days on Earth [ND/NF] is a highly polished, carefully constructed docu-fiction hybrid about singer-songwriter Nick Cave, an artist who’s all about construction, polish (dig those dapper suits), and self-invention,” writes John Semley at Slant of the film that closes this year’s New Directors/New Films. “Directors Jane Pollard and Iain Forsyth were previously commissioned by Cave to film 14 short making-of documentaries packaged with the recent reissue of Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds’ discography. So they have, in their way, already made their definitive-ish biographical portrait of Cave, his band, and his music. This is not that.”
“Mr. Cave himself isn’t an especially reliable narrator,” writes Manohla Dargis, “but he’s a thoroughly diverting one, whether he’s talking to his on-screen shrink or driving around Brighton, England, where much of the movie unfolds. Every so often, he chauffeurs a friend around the area: Ray Winstone rides shotgun whereas, on another trip, Kylie Minogue, as befits her pop star status, sits in the rear, while she and Mr. Cave discuss their chart-busting collaboration, ‘Where the Wild Roses Grow.’ At one point, Mr. Cave visits an archive where he and a handful of archivists pore over old mementos in a fanciful, quietly moving episode that—much like this entire movie—explores the concentric mysteries of memory.”
Jonathan Romney for Film Comment: “Shot in atmospheric, grainy ’Scope by Erik Wilson, this elegant study looks less like a documentary than like a highly staged thriller, a piece of brooding provincial noir: driving along a rainy coastline, Cave resembles a hit man off to dispatch some victim on the outskirts of suburban Hove.”
“Cave is not religious,” writes David D’Arcy at Artinfo, “but he did believe in God when he was a junkie, or so he claims, attending services and then leaving to meet dealers and score. Like the best raconteurs, he can tell a yarn without being a blowhard. Performance, he explains, is the closest thing to religious experience, in which time stands still as he shares truths about himself. In concert clips, we don’t see any disagreement from the audience.”
Earlier: A few reviews appeared when 20,000 Days on Earth won the Directing Award: World Cinema Documentary at Sundance.