Mining the emotional sense memories of their own fractured childhoods, Josh and Benny Safdie craft a by turns empathetic and disquieting portrait of parental dysfunction poised between fierce love and terrifying irresponsibility. Manic Manhattan movie theater projectionist Lenny (cowriter and longtime Safdie collaborator Ronald Bronstein) is perhaps the last person who should be raising kids, yet here he is, trying (and failing) to keep it together as his life unravels over the two whirlwind weeks that he has custody of his young boys (real-life brothers Sage and Frey Ranaldo), with an impromptu road trip, a sleeping-pill mishap, and a night in jail all part of the chaos. Vérité New York naturalism gives way to flights of surreal lyricism in Daddy Longlegs, a blearily impressionistic anti–fairy tale that finds unexpected humanity in the seemingly most irredeemable of fathers.
A nightmare transmission from the grungiest depths of the New York indie underground, the visceral, darkly funny, and totally sui generis debut feature from Ronald Bronstein is a dread-inducing vision of misfit alienation at its unhinged extreme. In a maniacal performance of almost frightening commitment, Dore Mann plays Keith, a disturbingly maladjusted social outcast and self-described “troll” whose neuroses plunge him into an unstoppable spiral of self-obliteration as his crummy coupon-selling job, pitiful living situation (featuring the roommate from hipster Brooklyn hell), and last remaining human relationships disintegrate around him. As captured in the grimy expressionist grain of Sean Price Williams’s claustrophobic camera work, Frownland is DIY cinema at its most fearless, uncompromising, and unforgettable.
Anguished young lovers, fallen women, wanted criminals, and all manner of social castoffs: these are the disreputable denizens of the Hôtel du Nord, an atmospherically seedy boardinghouse on the bustling banks of the Canal Saint-Martin in Paris, whose lives collide in Marcel Carné’s bittersweet rhapsody of romance, betrayal, revelry, and violence. Featuring evocative production design by the famed Alexandre Trauner and a colorful ensemble cast of some of classical French cinema’s most illustrious stars—including Annabella, Louis Jouvet, and a divinely dissolute Arletty in one of her most iconic roles—poetic-realist jewel Hôtel du Nord is a sublime exemplar of Carné’s celebrated poetic realism, imbuing working-class lives and dramas with a touching nobility.
With his rousingly entertaining directorial debut, Sidney Poitier helped rewrite the history of the western, bringing Black heroes to a genre in which they had always been sorely underrepresented. Combining boisterous buddy comedy with blistering, Black Power–era political fury, Poitier and a marvelously mischievous Harry Belafonte star as a tough and taciturn wagon master and an unscrupulous, pistol-packing “preacher,” who join forces in order to take on the white bounty hunters threatening a westward-bound caravan of recently freed enslaved people. A superbly crafted revisionist landmark, Buck and the Preacher subverts Hollywood conventions at every turn and reclaims the western genre in the name of Black liberation.
A sublime work of personal vision, the debut feature by the Mexican Ethiopian filmmaker Jessica Beshir is a hypnotic documentary immersion in the world of Ethiopia’s Oromo community, a place where one commodity—khat, a euphoria-inducing plant once prized for its supposedly mystical properties—holds sway over the rituals and rhythms of everyday life. As if under the influence of the drug itself, Faya dayi unfurls as intoxicating, trance state cinema, capturing intimate moments in the existence of everyone from the harvesters of the crop to people lost in its narcotic haze to a desperate but determined younger generation searching for an escape from the region’s political strife. The director’s exquisite monochrome cinematography—each frame a masterpiece sculpted from light and shadow—and the film’s time-bending, elliptical editing create a ravishing sensory experience that hovers between consciousness and dreaming.
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