March 27, 2007

ND/NF Dispatch. 1.

David D'Arcy recommends three films in the series running through April 1.

New Directors / New Films Rather than scrounge for a theme running through this year's New Directors / New Films Series, a festival that includes films from Brazil to Ireland, from China to Canada, I'll let others make those connections. There's enough to say about the films which I've liked so far.

Padre Nuestro, which premiered at Sundance, is the immigrant drama which gives the contemporary American immigration story, or at least this story, the cinematic power of the immigration tales that were told by the Italian neo-realists. Think of Sicilians coming north to work in Milan. At least Sicilians were citizens of the country where they were working.

Padre Nuestro

Christopher Zalla's film is built around the crudest kind of identity theft. A Mexican youth, Pedro, who never knew his father, is heading in the back of a truck to New York when Juan jumps in, fleeing from a gang in Juarez. We never learn why, but he's anything but innocent. He steals a knapsack from the trusting Pedro, and with that he heads off to find the father, a bearish dishwasher, and to exploit the prospect of someone else to rob. The New York that both young men encounter, which is really Brooklyn, is a place of foul streets, crowded apartments, restaurant kitchens and shadows in which underpaid illegals live. It's a world that many in the film's audience might not know.

The mistrusting father is first scornful toward the youth who claims to be his son, and scorned by his co-workers in the kitchen where he's toiled for years, but eventually the paternal instinct kicks in, just in time to be betrayed.

Zalla's film tells two stories by following its two characters, an innocent looking for a parent and a petty criminal looking from a higher level of prey. Both fit into the immigrant food chain of New York, shot with a tactile elegance by Igor Martinovic in shadowy tones that make you think of neo-realism once again.

In Once, which I've missed at a few festivals, a busker (Glenn Hansard) sings his heart out at night about the girl he still loves, but sings familiar songs during the grey Dublin day so passersby will stand around for a few minutes and leave some money. By chance, a Czech immigrant (Marketa Irglova) who somehow found her way to Dublin, listens to one of his originals on the street. If she's not hooked, she's at least curious, in part because he can fix vacuum cleaners, and she has a broken one, which he fixes. The sight of her walking down the Dublin streets with him (we never learn their names), holding the hose of her vacuum as if it were the leash of a wheeled dog that was rolling behind her, is something you could imagine in a production of a play by Beckett. Here it's more innocent than absurd.


Soon there's love between the frustrated busker and woman who, with her daughter and mother, is part of the army of immigrants serving the newly-prosperous gentry of Dublin. Immigrants to Ireland? What sounds improbable to Americans (especially Irish-Americans) has been a fact there for more than decade now.

This film is all about sound. The sound of two very different voices getting to know each other, first on the wet streets, and then in the studio. There's also the sound of the busker's songs as they metamorphose from street songs into something more refined. There's no sex here. Love becomes friendship.

Once has been described by many critics as a musical, but it really isn't. The story is not told through songs, and the film is more about love and hope than it is about the creation of a band, if you're thinking of The Commitments, the group in which director John Carney was a member. Carney has turned out to be a sensitive director, who can make a touching kind of cinema out of basic ingredients in the surroundings and the script. Once is a genuinely tender story.

I suppose that borders and migration could be themes of this year's ND/NF, even though the US immigration debate seems to have slid off the front pages, now that there's another scandal for the Bush administration to defend. In Padre Nuestro, the story is obvious. In Once, the busker's plan is to leave his immigrant friend to make a career for himself in London - another Irish immigrant in search of a new life.

Love for Sale

In Love for Sale, directed by Karim Ainouz, sexy and headstrong Hermila leaves Sao Paolo with her young son for the northeastern town of Iguatu, a place with great beaches but no economy. To raise money to go somewhere else, she turns to selling herself. On an economic level, it doesn't seem like such a bad idea. She's one of the prettiest girls in town. It all catches up with her as Ainouz tells the story as a mix of hard-edged realism (with bitter doses of family life) and lyrical shots of the landscape and the radiant blue sky. He can also show the boredom of provincial life without boring us.

In Madame Sata, Ainouz gave us a good look at sexual manipulation. Here he's introduced us to a new actress, Hermila Guedes. I hope we see more of her.

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Posted by dwhudson at March 27, 2007 12:03 PM