Exploring the 2024 New Directors/New Films Festival

C.J. Prince READ TIME: 10 MIN.

Now in its 53rd edition, Film at Lincoln Center and The Museum of Modern Art's New Directors/New Films festival continues to highlight filmmakers in the early stages of their careers. Running from April 3 through April14 in New York City, the festival takes a forward-thinking approach in its programming, with an emphasis on feature debuts and early works by a new generation of directors. This gives audiences a unique opportunity to discover new, major talents just as they're starting to establish themselves within the film world.

Two local filmmakers bookend this year's festival with some of the higher profile titles in the programme. Opening film "A Different Man" recently premiered to rave reviews at Sundance, along with nabbing star Sebastian Stan an award for Best Leading Performance at the Berlin Film Festival (distributor A24 will release "A Different Man" in cinemas this September). Closing out the festival on April 13 is Theda Hammell's "Stress Positions," a comedy set in the early days of COVID starring comedian John Early and Hammell herself. "Stress Positions" also premiered at Sundance earlier this year, and unlike "A Different Man" there won't be much of a wait to see it: NEON will release the film in theaters on April 19 in New York before a nationwide expansion.

Outside of these two titles, New Directors/New Films offers its usual blend of diverse works, a greatest hits of films from the international festival circuit that might have otherwise flown under the radar in North America (almost half of the features are getting their North American or U.S. premieres). And unlike some of the higher profile festivals, which tend to prioritize works by more established directors, ND/NF showcases works that, while not always fully accomplished, brim with potential and ambition in what they try to achieve. After going through some of this year's lineup, here are six highlights.

To find out more about the festival and buy tickets, visit www.newdirectors.org.

"Explanation for Everything"

Hungarian director Gábor Reisz tackles the charged, highly politicized atmosphere of his home country under Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in "Explanation for Everything." Split into multiple perspectives that hop back and forth through time, Reisz follows a high-schooler who, after failing his exam due to being distracted by a student he's fallen for, tells his parents that his liberal teacher flunked him due to a political bias. This sends the kid's reactionary, conservative father into a rage, word spreads around, and the teen's lie escalates into a full-blown national scandal once the media hears about it.

Reisz takes a loose, comedic approach for the most part, spending over an hour establishing his film's setting and ensemble before the plot kicks in. It's a risky move that pays off thanks to the strong cast and a sharp, funny screenplay, observing characters fumbling through awkward encounters in their day-to-day lives before party politics barge in and turn everything hostile. The targets of Reisz's satire – people who inject politics and ideology into apolitical issues to divide and conquer – are relevant in America just as much as it is in Hungary, and "Explanation for Everything" hits these targets with precision while never taking itself too seriously.

"Foremost by Night"

A sort of askew heist film, "Foremost by Night" stars Pedro Almodóvar regular Lola Dueñas as Vera, a woman who's spent years on the hunt for her son, who was taken from her as part of a massive, decades long scandal where the Spanish government stole thousands of newborns and put them up for adoption. For Vera, life is like a crime movie: Backroom deals, meticulous plotting, threatening phone calls, and bribes, all for the purposes of cutting through government bureaucracy in the hopes that some record of her child still exists. She eventually succeeds, finding the location of her adult son Egoz (Manuel Egozcue) and his adoptive mother Cora (Ana Torrent). Once the inevitable meeting finally happens, Vera ropes both of them into her master plan to enact revenge on a government that took away the life she should have lived.

One of the boldest feature debuts in this year's lineup, "Foremost by Night" filters the tragic, personal story at its center through its protagonist's heightened perspective. The result is a gorgeous, highly stylized genre movie, with director Victor Iriarte throwing so many inventive visual and formal ideas around it's difficult to predict what might happen on a moment to moment basis. Iriarte isn't doing stylistic quirks for its own sake, though; he contextualizes them as a means of coping for Vera's loss and, to some extent, Cora's guilt, where grief can be repurposed into something that could offer a form of closure. This tension, along with Dueñas and Torrent's excellent performances, gives "Foremost by Night" the kind of crackling energy that makes Iriarte someone to watch.

by C.J. Prince

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