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Claus Mueller

Claus Mueller is  Senior New York Correspondent

He is based in New York where he covers the festival scene, professor at Hunter University, accredited member of the Foreign Press Center,  U.S. Department of State NY.


New Directors / New Films, 2015

As in past editions, the 2014 New Directors/New Films series in New York, now in its 44th year, organized by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art, offered a wide range of cinematographic and narrative approaches. From hundreds of films Dennis Lim from the Film Society and Rojendra Roy from Moma selected 24 feature and 16 shorts, mostly the filmmakers’ first or second productions. They covered superb traditional departures (Creation of Meaning), issue oriented filmmaking (The Fool), psychological investigation (The Kindergarten Teacher), enigmatic story telling (Ow), neo-realistic presentations (The Tribe), and metaphorical frames (White God), to offer a small sampling. The boundaries between genres remain fluid and a growing documentary impulse prevails.       


Creation of Meaning

This production is a superbly structured cinematic essay about how perception of the past is structured by focusing on an Italian farmer who is selling his small farm as a summer retreat to a German.  Interpretations of  the partisan struggle with the German occupiers during the second world war are woven around teaching  school  children the past, divergent recollections by the few survivors of the war years, the re-enacting  of partisans’ resistance for a home movie, and the talk between the farmer and his German client. Radio commentaries by contemporary Italian politicians and the discussion of the Italian malaise and the past complete the picture. The German wonders how Italians could get along so well with tourists and land speculators from his country in light of the massacres but learns that in this remote isolated area of Toscana the population was on good terms with ordinary German soldiers. The film has a strong documentary affinity and outstanding painterly camera work.


The Fool, Russia 2014, Yurly Bykov

Portraying the fight of Dima, an honest plumber, to save hundreds of people in an aging housing project building about to collapse is the stage for the film maker to demonstrate the pervasive corruption in a Russian city which prevents repairing the building. There is the noteworthy depiction of the grim existence of the tenants who live at the bottom of society. Dima is criticized even by his mother for being naïve, a fool, since he does not work the system to his advantage as all others do.  Most people from the building, adults and youth are shown as low lives involved with violence, drugs and alcohol. They live in crowded apartments which are filthy, run down and provoke little sympathy. At a birthday party for the deputy mayor, Dima’s reports his suspicion of the building’s imminent collapse and has his claim verified by the building inspector. Dima suggests an immediate evacuation and prompts an animated disputation among the functionaries representing the city’s departments.  No matter which department they are in charge of be it police, housing, hospitals, fire or administration   they all have been involved in bribery and theft enriching them, facts they openly admit.   Their agencies are broke, there are no funds for the evacuation, and several voice no sympathy but contempt for the impoverished residents of the building. The problem is solved by killing the building inspector and the deputy’s administrator, burning all files with evidence of the corruption. Dima is forced to leave the city with his family. In the end, despite being rejected by all except for his father DIMA returns to warn the residents but is beaten up by them for stirring up unrest.


The Kindergarten Teacher   Israel France 2014, Nadav Lapid

Lapid presents in her charming but provocative film the growing relationship between Nina, a middle aged married mother and pre-school teacher and Yoah a five-year old poet child prodigy. She is drawn to his ability to instantly create poetry about basic human emotions far beyond the comprehension his age permits. She tunes into his poetry and records it no matter what the circumstances are. Her interest turns into an obsession as she tries to protect him and his poetry from an outside world which has no space for poetry. She antagonizes his womanizing wealthy father who does not care about his son’s gift or his mother who abandoned them. After Yoah is moved by his father to a different kindergarten Nina abducts him and takes him to a hotel resort where Yoah continues to create his poems. There is no dissonance between them yet Yoah locks her into the bathroom and follows her instructions to call the police with directions to the hotel.  The performance of Sarit Larry as Nina and Avi Shnaidman as Yoah are outstanding and compelling, Avi is totally at ease and natural in his role as Yoah is in reciting poetry. Sarit brings evocative composure and sensitivity to the kindergarten teacher’s obsession.


Ow, Japan 2014, Yohei Suzuki

Suzuki presents an enigmatic film about members of a family, policemen and others transfixed and immobilized by a mysterious force who turn catatonic once released. Various strands are followed by the director including film noir, surrealism, journalism, police incompetence, dysfunctional family patterns, science fiction, etc. leaving the audience as confused  about what is happening as the reporter is who is investigating the incident.


The Tribe, Ukraine 2014, Myroslav Slaboshpytsky

Following its acclaim in Cannes this raw neo-realistic feature was probably the most unusual, fascinating, and shocking selection in this year’s New Directors / New Films edition. There are no subtitles for The Tribe because the entire cast is deaf communicating in sign language only.  The audience has to decipher the meaning of interactions embedded in the grim story of survival in a squalid state boarding school for the deaf in Kiev, Ukraine. It chronicles the newly admitted Sergey’s rise in a criminal gang of inmates terrorizing the institution – with the collaboration of its staff. No instruction appears to go on.  Beatings, robberies, prostitution, humiliation, and exploitation characterize the gang’s activities, behavior normally not associated with deaf people.  Transactions take place in an eerie silence and mostly at night time. An abortion, acts of violence, and even a rare act of making love are accompanied by gestures only. Camera work restricted to essential elements, persuasive acting, the story line, and the gritty physical context make The Tribe a demanding film one has to view.            


White God, Hungary, Sweden, 2014, Kornel Mundruczo

With equal attention at Cannes White God presents the revolt of dogs against their white masters. In this society mixed breed race dog owners have to pay a special tax and loose unfit dogs are caught by catchers to be impounded.   Lili, a young girl, has a mutt, Hagen, which is abandoned on the street by her father.  The film tracks her attempt to find Hagen and the radicalization the dog that experiences severe abuse by humans, and is trained for dog fights. Hagen escapes but winds up in the dog pound. He liberates hundreds of other mutts from the pound and leads a bloody uprising against their masters seeking revenge for the suffering imposed on them. Lilia finds Hagen and succeeds in appeasing the dogs. The film gathered much acclaim for the successful training of a large number of dogs to carry out warfare. It serves as an innovative metaphor of an oppressed minority getting revenge. Though the image of remarkable dog packs roaming the streets dominates the story and seems more persuasive.


The appealing 2015 selection offered an excellent perspective on the issues young US and foreign filmmakers are concerned with. Purely aesthetic considerations recede into the background in light of the issues presented which we are facing on all levels.


Claus Mueller

About Claus Mueller