10 Must see films at Festival du Nouveau Cinema

Many people have been asking me for recommendations at the upcoming Festival du Nouveau Cinema, which begins on October 7th. I took a little bit of time to make a list. Notable exclusions are The Assassin and Arabian Nights, which will be screened in Montreal before the end of the year.

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Cemetery of Splendour (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)

Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s quietly incandescent new feature, Cemetery of Splendour, is so serene, so perfectly meditative, that it puts the viewer in precisely the same hushed reverie to which its characters eventually submit. Moving away from the spatial and temporal bifurcations of much of his previous work, the film fixes its tender gaze on all the myriad things one specific place was, is, and yet may be, gently and often imperceptibly shifting between past and present, legend and modernity, wakefulness and reverie. Regardless of what might lie beneath, there’s a peculiar joy in peeling away the different layers.”

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Embrace of the Serpent (Ciro Guerra)

“There’s no madness like German-in-the-Amazon-rainforest madness. Go see Les Blank’s documentary Burden of Dreams for evidence of that. Colombian director Ciro Guerra’s Embrace of the Serpent, a real find at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, seems well aware of this little secret, and exploits it to great effect in his hazy, hallucinatory, and, yes, serpentine new picture. Shot in beautiful black and white, it details the trips (and, when the psychotropic horticultures get involved, I do mean trips) of two 20th century explorers. Theodor Koch-Grunberg and Richard Evans Schultes were actual scientists/ethnographers who studied indigenous people in South America. Grunberg (German) went in 1911, Schultes (an American) in the 1940s. The twin streams of their travels run in parallel in this film, surveying the same area and, we’ll soon realize, working with the same guide, Karamakate.”

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Les êtres chers (Anne Émond)

“In Zizekian logic, there are the unknown knowns, that is to say, there are things that we fail to admit to knowing. In Anne Émond’s subtly devised, multi-decade spanning family drama, there is a general and generational sentiment that the unknown is best kept secret in order to protect the next of kin. While her boldly truculent debut Nuit #1 delved into urban solitudes and wore all feelings on its sleeveless sleeves, set in a caring and loving family nucleus in a rural backdrop, the French Canadian helmer’s sophomore feature (known internationally as Our Loved Ones) is more curious about the unexplained and what is not being said. While some of the coming-of-ager sequences tucked in the denouement are a tad too overreaching, it’s with an assured, sensitive, sympathetic hand that Les êtres chers deftly explores the dark matter that are not only found on the edges of the forest, but in the shared father-daughter fusional psyche as well.”

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Green Room (Jeremy Saulnier)

“It’s an exciting time to be a genre fan in America. The last few years has seen the emergence of a throng of exciting new indie filmmakers like Ti West, Adam Wingard, David Robert Mitchell, and Jim Mickle, who’ve melded inventive horror or action/thriller elements to a smart lo-fi arthouse aesthetics, resulting in movies like “The House Of The Devil,” “You’re Next,” “It Follows,” and “Cold In July,” among others. But one of the most promising of this new batch has been Jeremy Saulnier, who followed up his ultra-low budget debut, “Murder Party,” with “Blue Ruin,” a nifty, beautifully-made twist on the revenge movie that won over not just gorehounds, but also cinephiles. His new film “Green Room” cements his promise by taking all the strengths of “Blue Ruin” and building on them, while straightening out some of the weaknesses too.”

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Heart of a Dog (Laurie Anderson)

“Dogs have clearly become an avant-gardist’s best friend. First Jean-Luc Godard delivered a funny 3D valentine to a pooch named Roxy Mieville in “Goodbye to Language,” and now the New York-based musician/performance artist Laurie Anderson has woven a tide of personal stories, insights and visual-musical riffs into a more accessible but no less singular consideration of the species in “Heart of a Dog.” While this alternately goofy, serious, lyrical and beguiling cine-essay serves primarily as a loving tribute to the memory of Anderson’s rat terrier, Lolabelle, its roving, free-associative structure brings together all manner of richly eccentric musings on the evasions of memory, the limitations of language and storytelling, the strangeness of life in a post-9/11 surveillance state, and the difficulty and necessity of coming to terms with death.”

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High Rise (Ben Wheatley)

“There’s almost nothing Ben Wheatley gets wrong in High-Rise, his coolly immaculate film of the JG Ballard science-fiction classic. In 1975, Ballard began with one of the great first lines in the genre: “Later, as he sat on his balcony eating the dog, Dr. Robert Laing reflected on the unusual events that had taken place within this huge apartment building during the previous three months.”

The tone survives – unlike the poor mutt, one of whose paws we see glazed and slowly turning on a spit-roast in the opening minutes.”

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Jafar Panahi’s Taxi (Jafar Panahi)

“One may be initially struck by the lighter-than-expected tone of Jafar Panahi’s Taxi, the third film he’s made in spite of the government-ordered limitations imposed on his filmmaking. In contrast to the poignant melancholy of This Is Not a Film and the more intellectualized meta-movie surreality of Closed Curtain, Taxi features, as one of its opening scenes, an exchange between two cab-riding passengers that verges on the comic even as it touches on deeper issues of human empathy. It doesn’t take long, though, for Panahi’s usual thematic obsessions to rear their head, as we discover that a beret-donning Panahi himself is driving this particular cab, and that those two passengers are, in fact, actors, as a new passenger—a video-store clerk/DVD pirate who recognizes the director from seeing him rent movies at his store—realizes upon recognizing one passenger’s parting lines as being lifted straight from Panahi’s Crimson Gold. Even then, though, the fourth-wall-breaking revelation is handled in a breezy manner—until the airiness is brutally interrupted when a bloodied passenger is brought into his cab and Panahi is thrust into a situation in which getting him and his terrified wife to the nearest hospital means life or death.”

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Love (Gaspar Noe)

“NSFW! NSFW! The marketing campaign for Gaspar Noé’s hotly, wetly anticipated “Love” (in 3D!) threatened to do for that acronym what early ’90s hip-hop did for the Parental Advisory sticker. But laying to rest any fears that it was all a publicity ploy and Noe was going to pull a massive bait and switch and give us “A Room with a View,” the film starts with a happy ending: the two attractive stars lie splayed on top of one another in media res of an act of vigorous mutual masturbation, that eventually comes to its predictable, sticky conclusion. You’ll be glad to know that the terrible infant’s latest film is almost wholly Not Safe For Work, unless you work at a porn store, or a sperm bank, or a film blog, in any of which cases it may seem unsatisfying for your purposes anyway, though for slightly different reasons.”

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Malgré la nuit (Philippe Grandrieux)

World Premiere

“Lenz leaves England and returns to Paris in search of his mother who disappeared in uncertain circumstances. He meets Helena, a nurse still struggling with the loss of her infant son. Thus begins a fevered love story set against a backdrop of sorrow, passion, jealousy and self-destruction. With his fourth feature film, Philippe Grandrieux (Sombre, La vie nouvelle) constructs an atypical work (radical for some), free of the usual traditional narrative patterns. One of the most experimental and intuitive French filmmakers around, he reinvents himself once again in search of new forms of visual representation, all the while paying careful attention to the sound composition. Not as dark as his previous films, the director collaborated with a former student, Rebecca Zlotowski (Grand central) on the screenplay. Nevertheless, one can feel the hand of Grandrieux who, thanks to his research, ventures into the meanderings of a tormented psyche to feed his feelings of despair. Another shock lurks in the shadows, waiting… courtesy of Philippe Grandrieux.”

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Yakuza Apocalypse (Takeshi Miike)

Japanese genre auteur Takeshi Miike has directed some pretty bizarre films in his prolific career, but his latest, the comedy gangster vampire movieYakuza Apocalypse, has got to be his most barking mad work to date: it makes Zebraman look like a documentary. A martial arts enforcer in a giant green frog suit and a mafia knitting circle are just two of the more kooky pleasures of this increasingly unhinged romp, which mixes surreal humour with loud, bone-crushing fight sequences.”

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