MOMa and Film Society of Lincoln Center's annual New Directors / New Films festival wrapped up this past weekend. Their goal each year is to celebrate "a group of filmmakers who represent the present and anticipate the future of cinema: daring artists whose work pushes the envelope and is never what you’d expect" The big tickets this year were two buzzy Sundance titles: the gay drama Beach Rats (a subway misshap prevented me from making the screening - argh!) and the rap comedy Patti Cake$ which will be out in July. The latter prompted a bidding war with Fox Searchlight offering $10+ million. Beach Rats was picked up by a new distribution company called Neon so who knows when it will arrive. Colossal, that Anne Hathaway as a kaiju oddity, will be Neon's first proper release on April 7th.
Menashe will be the first ever foreign language release from A24, everyone's favorite classy arthouse distributor these days. It's in Yiddish and takes place within the insular Hasidic community. How the documentary filmmaker Joshua Weinstein managed this for his first narrative feature we do not know but its authenticity is its biggest strength; you really feel like you're witnessing this community from the inside. In fact our only hint of the secular world despite the fact that the film takes place in densely populated New York is two Hispanic stockboys at the Hasidic grocery store where Menashe works. He commiserates with them in English over drinks one night in one of the movie's best scenes. The Hasidic comic Menashe Lustig plays a thinly veiled version of himself, a widower struggling with the strict social mores of his community. Like the actor himself, Menashe refuses to remarry and becomes something of an outcast in his community, the rabbis demanding that his son be raised by Menashe's strict brother-in-law (who he happens to hate). Though Menashe is modest in both presentation and power (it's essentially a character study with a very tight narrative arc, 'one week in the life of') it's sympathetically told and occasionally funny and enraging. (Note: The latter depends on how much you're triggered by strict religiosity. In my case, that's a lot)
The Future Perfect
My favorite among the films I caught, and a must-see if you're at all fascinated with globalism and how the world is shrinking. This is a delicious deadpan debut from the German director Nele Wohaltz (lady filmmakers, yay!) about a Chinese girl who immigrates to Argentina. She only speaks Mandarin but begins to study Spanish immediately (which her parents are not happy about wishing she'd just work in their dry cleaning shop and marry a Chinese boy). As she learns the language and makes other immigrant friends her ideas about her future, however small her imagination, start expanding.
At only 65 minutes it somehow ends just perfectly on a kind of symbolic joke that is only hilarious in context. You had to be there. In fact, you really have to be there. Let's hope it gets a release because it's such an idiosyncratic pleasure. B+ / A-