Perhaps the premier free-for-all on the NYC moviegoing calendar, the Museum of the Moving Image’s annual “First Look” series brings together formal experiments, political provocations, and demi-legendary auteur films from the current festival circuit. It runs on weekends, January 9-18; a selection of titles are discussed below.
Directed By Jeremie Brugidou, Fabien Clouette
These first-timers’ impressionistic study of the Fulton Fish Market in Hunts Point is peppered with the recollections of old salts. The directors aim to examine the history accreted from decades of daily life—for instance, why the forklift operators zipping back and forth across the bustling complex are called “journeymen”—and to shine a spotlight on an otherwise unnoticed bit of the city’s infrastructure. Featuring short tangents on the market’s original Financial District location and its current neighbors in the Bronx, a prison-barge and a waste-treatment plant, the film’s greatest asset may be its resolute humility, its unspoken insistence on the primacy of the day-to-day.
Eli Goldfarb (Jan 17, 2pm)
Directed By Jesica Hausner
A melancholic poet (Christian Friedel) with a hypochondriac heart seeks a mentally stricken housewife (Birte Schoenink) for a very special murder/suicide. Hausner’s sublime Amour Fou feels like a lonely-hearts ad directed by Manoel de Olivera; static, layered shots and stagy lighting amplify the details and textures of an austere mise-enscene. The unlikely couple fawns over shared death rather than romance, drolly sashaying through red velvet interiors flanked by intricate wall patterns and bouquets of flowers. Theirs is a powder-blue world operating at a lower decibel, quietly suffocating in its organic sadness and intimate finality.
Glenn Heath, Jr. (Jan 9, 7pm)
Directed By Rolf De Heer
This humanist Australian work screened last year in Cannes’s Un Certain Regard section, whose jury awarded the film’s leading actor, David Gulpilil, for his great performance. There has never been another presence in films quite like that of Gulpilil, a trained dancer who made his screen debut with 1971’s Walkabout—a wiry imp, both mischievous and mournful, risking breaking the screen each time he laughs. He and de Heer co-wrote their third film collaboration, a present day-set tale in which Gulpilil plays Charlie, an aging, urbanized Northern Territory Aboriginal man whose white government is forcing him to give up his preferred indigenous ways of life. As Charlie pleads with the police that confiscate his hunting tools for being supposed weaponry, Gulpilil shows us a person getting stripped of his pride and livelihood. In scenes when the actor’s alone, the camera often rests on his dented, reflective face, which moves through anger and sadness as Charlie considers whether to live homeless and marginalized in the city or outside its law in the bush.
Aaron Cutler (Jan 11, 2pm)
Directed By Yuki Kawamura
Treating the exceedingly short lifecycle of the firefly as both rigidly circumscribed narrative and as raw formal material, Japanese/French filmmaker Kawamura’s experimental short finds itself in a brilliantly liminal space between noise music (and what might be termed “noise film”) and purely descriptive nature doc. A series of locked-off shots teeming with infinite restless movement of larvae-cum-fireflies and flooded with their constant buzzing, the film is as aurally and visually dense as it is poised and contained, its teeming insects embodying a seething anarchy charged with lucid purpose.
Jeffrey Dunn Rovinelli (Jan 18, 2pm, preceding Coming to Terms, directed by Jon Jost)
Everything That Rises Must Converge
Directed By Omer Fast
Before the hardcore coda comes a four-way effort: Fast’s Frieze installation has been translated into a quartered screen, and in each corner one adult-film actor wakes up, showers, and goes about his or her day on the set—which at some point must have involved shooting scenes for Omer Fast. Quadrupling the ambiguity is the presence of non-pornographers: other actors, playing out their own scripted scenarios of an LA story that begins with human trafficking, loops back to cultish child abuse, and looks, at one point, like it may end with violent martial discord. The core of all our fantasies may just be the quotidian in disguise, or some unstaunchable wound. Over on Mulholland Drive I recall hearing a similar
Elina Mishuris (Jan 10, 7:30pm)
I For Iran
Directed By Sanaz Azari
In this medium-length feature, a young Iranian-Belgian woman (played by the director, who stays mostly unseen) takes Farsi lessons from a middle aged man (Behrouz Majidi). These start off simply but quickly turn into rants on the history and present day state of post-revolutionary Iran. The premise could’ve turned preachy very easily, but Azari sticks to a minimalist framework, while keeping things lively through the use of drawings and YouTube footage. The film is more complex than it initially appears, as Azari and her teacher confront the politics of language implicit in their Khomenei-era textbook. Score another point for Iranian-diaspora cinema!
Steve Erickson (Jan 17, 4:30pm)
Joy Of Man’s Desiring
Directed By Denis Côté
After last year’s Vic + Flo Saw a Bear Bear, in which there were no titular animals, only cruel punch lines, Quebecois filmmaker Côté returns to First Look with a pastiche of industrial workplaces and the otherwise backwards desire of a peculiar interloper. With its frequent stationary portraits and study of the observed and observer, the film in part makes for a nice companion to Côté’s 2012’s breakthrough, Bestiaire. Where that film derived an improbable narrative tension through deliberate framing, however, The Joy of Man’s Desiring weaves its machinery-interrupted, monologue-heavy vignettes into a late-breaking rumination on naturally selective conveniences amongst the factory routine.
Sarah Salovaara (Jan 10, 5pm)
Our Terrible Country
Directed By Mohammad Ali Atassi and Ziad Homsi
Despite its violent opening, this Syrian documentary doesn’t include any grisly images of corpses. Instead, it offers a firstperson perspective on the pain of exile from the views of two men who become refugees in Turkey. One is co-director Homsi, who was captured by ISIS halfway through the shoot. The other is the film’s main subject, middle-aged writer Yassin Saleh, who served sixteen years in jail in the 80s and 90s. Atassi and Homsi film their journey through bombed-out cities, where seemingly every single object has turned to rubble, and inhospitable deserts. Despite some structural awkwardness—the film seems unsure how to deal with Saleh’s backstory or explain Homsi’s absences—it’s an eloquent chronicle that never succumbs to
Steve Erickson (Jan 17, 7pm)
Directed By Heinz Emigholz
Crisply photographed, meditatively paced, simply yet captivatingly composed, and ever-so-slightly scored with anonymous murmurs, backdropped traffic, rustling leaves and ambient whirs, the 18-minute Two Museums / Zwei Museen is a digital duo of meta-architectural haikus whose all but silent, all but static subjects are The Menil Collection, in Houston, Texas, and the Museum of Art Ein Harod, in Ein Harod, Israel. Emigholz’s shots take viewers from the interior to the exterior and general environs of one institution to, in reverse order, the same glimpses of the other in a manner so stoically harmonious that those hushed, pensive glimpses begin to seem, before long, rushed. You’ll wish this duo were at least a trio.
Paul D’Agostino (Jan 18, 4:30pm, preceding Alone with My Horse in the Snow, Axel Bogousslavsky, directed by Alexandre Berry)