As we tick down the final days before the start of the festival, allow us to offer a gentle reminder that this year, New Directors/New Films has a five-film pass that gets you into any five screenings for $60 ($50 for MoMA or Film Society members, students and seniors), with the exception of the opening and closing night films Margin Call and Circumstance. Here are four themed mini ND/NF program suggestions for those with a pass already in hand or just considering one.
Opening night's Margin Call may be the film most overtly focused on work in this year's lineup, but plenty of others also intriguingly take on the way jobs and outside lives intersect. Inspector Boniface Koomsin (Yao B. Nunoo), the hero of The Destiny of Lesser Animals, is a cop in his native Ghana, but he's also entangled in illegally obtaining a passport in order to get to the U.S., a conflict that takes him down a complicated road. The dreams and aspirations of the melancholy trio of characters in Some Days Are Better Than Others stand in sharp contrast to the dead-end employments in which they're mired. Likewise, the lead in Majority defines himself by how little he puts into the job he's been given -- as the son of the owner of a construction company, he's guaranteed an easy life of inheriting the family business, though it's one that leaves him hopelessly under his father's thumb. Politeness and a sense of obligation prompt the owner of a small Tokyo printing business to take in and hire the son of an old family friend in Hospitalité, though the tight quarters lead to all kinds of awkward, amusing developments. The workers in El Velador are part of a standard industry -- maintaining a cemetery -- that stands against the larger, looming, more frightening one of Mexico's increasingly bloody drug trade.
You're never too far along in life for a change of heart, a change of perspective, a change of pace. In the German film At Ellen's Age, a 40-something flight attendant (Jeanne Balibar) breaks from the world in which she's been living after her husband leaves her for another woman. She walks out of her job and unexpectedly into activism. Another great French actress, Isabelle Huppert, plays a character striving in the opposite direction, toward conformity, in Copacabana. Her Babou is a free spirit whose grown offspring Esmerelda (played by Huppert's real-life daughter Lolita Chammah) is too embarrassed to invite her mother to her wedding. Babou decides to prove she can lead a "respectable" life by getting a job selling time shares in Belgium. Joseph (Peter Mullan), the hard-drinking, violent, hot-tempered widower in Tyrannosaur, has resigned himself to a life of loneliness and rage until he meets a woman who actually needs his support. Clemente (Bruno Odar), the deadpan center of Octubre, is also dwelling in solitude, though in his case by choice. Unfortunately for him, his comfortable routine of moneylending and partaking of the local prostitutes is interrupted by the arrival of the baby he didn't realize he'd fathered, forcing him to face the fact that you live in controlled stasis forever. And the three men of the Russian Gromozeka, a surgeon, a taxi driver and a cop, are childhood friends who each have to confront the ways in which their adult selves differ from the aspirations they had when they were teenagers in a high school band.
Parents and Children
This year's program is heavy in complex and often dark portrayals of parent-child relationships. The one in Pariah is defined by denial -- Audrey (Kim Wayans) simply refuses to acknowledge her daughter Alike's (Adepero Oduye) lesbianism, instead buying her girlier clothing and fixing her up with more acceptable friends. The grown twins of Incendies learn their late mother (Lubna Azabal) hid a devastating history of secrets from them about her life in the Middle East, one they must uncover. Released from prison on a day pass to attend a funeral, the fearsome protagonist of the Romanian drama Outbound tracks down estranged family and shady acquaintances in hopes of reuniting with the son she had to leave behind. The father (Emmanuel Bilodeau) in the Quebec film Curling is actually too close to his daughter (played by Philomène Bilodeau, who, as in Copacabana, is the lead's real-life child) -- he's so overprotective that he's kept her from attending school, though she's hit tweendom. And it's the absence of a parent that's the motivating spark in the French Belle Épine. Caught up in mourning her mother, unable to turn to her other family members, Prudence (Léa Seydoux) tries to lose herself in an underground world of motorcycle racers.
Small Town Stirrings
The claustrophobia and close connections of a small community are explored in different international angles in several of this year's films. Man Without a Cell Phone looks at an aimless slacker (Razi Shawahdeh) living in a small Palestinian town inside Israel and feeling constricted by his standing as an Arab living in the country and the tightness of the neighborhood. The dying Greek industrial town in which Attenberg takes place provokes its female lead to quirky self-entertainments and self-explorations as she nears adulthood. Huilotepec, the rural Mexican setting of Summer of Goliath, seems populated by the aimless members of broken families -- a woman (Teresa Sanchez) whose husband has left her, a trio of children who haven't seen their absentee father in months. Paralyzing boredom and a lack of options inform the lives of the character in Winter Vacation, who live in a small town in northern China far outside the country's economic boom. And it's the remote location in which a married couple lives in Happy, Happy that leads them to reach out to their new tenants, though opens them up to a world of problems. When you're out in the middle of nowhere, you don't have as many options when it comes to friends.
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