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Claus Mueller

Claus Mueller is  Senior New York Correspondent

New York City based Claus Mueller reviews film festivals and related issues and serves as a  senior editor for Society and Diplomatic Review.

As a professor emeritus he covered at Hunter College / CUNY social and media research and is an accredited member of the US State Department's Foreign Press Center.



New York New Directors / New Films, 2024

New Directors / New Films was presented from April 3 to April 14, 2024, at Film at Lincoln Center (FLC )and the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Over more than a half century ND / NF introduced new filmmakers with striking innovative productions reflecting the future of cinema. This year the program included 25 features and 10 short films with 18 North American and US premiers and 16 first time New York screenings. As La Frances Hui, Curator of the MoMA film department and co-chair of the 2024 ND/NF edition observed “This year’s lineup is a splendid exhibition of adventure, courage, and ambition… that celebrates joy and love while also reflecting on pain, conflict, and our shared humanity”.  Funding for ND/ NF by Film at Lincoln Center was provided by national and NY State institutions. Film at MoMA grants were provided by CHANEL with additional support from Debra and Leon D. Black, the Triad Foundation, Jo Carol and Ronald S. Lauder, Karen and Gary Winnick as well as other sources.

With his third feature LA PARRA (THE RIM), Spain 2023, Alberto Gracia provides this year’s festival an unusual, compelling, and outstanding film which I would rank among the best selected in 2024.  His film is difficult to classify in standard innovative genre categories, but it is a witty, original, and surreal presentation with hallucinatory overtones of the survival of a young man, Damian, in a boarding house after the death of his father. It recounts his escapist ventures in the coastal Galician city of Ferrol, Alberto Garcia’s old home town. Damian has been absent from Ferrol for two decades and returns there when his father dies, though he had been estranged from him.


LA PARRA was written and directed by Garcia but has no traditional linear story, which may be puzzling to some viewers. Gracia opens the film with images of a group of blind people who are guided on an excursion by Cosme, played by Gracia. At the end of the sequence, Cosme seems to kill himself by jumping from the top of a mountain. The feature ends with a large ship destroying the only bridge connecting Ferrol to the outside world, a scene watched by many people from Ferrol. The city and its population are therefore isolated and inhibited from returning to former fame and prosperity.


Damian lives in the boarding house and is misidentified as Cosme who used to stay there, a designation he first rejects but slowly gets used to. As Garcia points out in an interview, in today’s society, some people find their own selves only by assuming a different identity and Cosme fits Damian. Damian is impoverished and unemployed. He survives with some support from the boarding house residents. He takes Cosme’s possessions, including his car, but gets along well with the other people living there.  They are an odd collection of absurd individuals with none conforming to the stereotypes of normality. Unemployed like Damien, they steal from residents to sell them their thefts, but are not antagonistic. Damien’s or Cosme’s car is picked up and he recuperates it. When he tries to leave Ferrol, the city has closed all exits and he is forced to join a population as underemployed as he is and the boarding house tenants are.  With great finesse, Garcia selected original characters and the antics they engage in. He hired only two professional actors.   Ferrol has an aged population and the city, birthplace of the dictator Franciso Franco and once a prominent navy base, seems to further descend into obscurity. Alberto Gracia presents its people with compassion, and not as a group in despair, though the film Rim has some strong comedy elements. Gracia’s feature offers a sympathetic yet surreal image of a declining city. 

Stephan Komandarev’s Bulgarian German 2023 coproduction BLAGA’S LESSONS tells the story of Blaga, a 70 year old retired language teacher, played in a marvelous subdued manner by Eli Skorcheva. He shows how, in this ex-communist country, there is no assistance for older people at the lower rungs of society. Blaga survives on a small pension and wants to buy a gravesite cemetery plot for her recently deceased husband, a former policeman, and saves money for it by teaching Bulgarian to foreign immigrants.  Like others in her situation, she has no social life and contacts except for a son who works as a driver in the USA. She is exploited and disregarded when needing outside help and to generate income for the plot is forced to rely on the same criminals who scammed her previously. During the first part of Blaga’s Lessons the director presents her simple existence and the telephone scam which stole her life savings. The consequences of losing her money in this corrupt society and descending into poverty include a cemetery agent constantly raising the costs for the plot, and disregard of police officers of her being defrauded because it happens so often. She comes across as destitute, faces the refusal of former colleagues to send her new students, and meets ridicule when the press reports her story. Having lost her money, she cannot meet the growing financial demands of the cemetery agent. To solve the problem, she decides to use her husband’s car to join the scammers by working as their courier.  Paid a percentage of each scam after she picks up the money victims are instructed to throw out of their apartment windows, she makes enough to pay what she owes for the plot. However, one day she realizes coming home that the scammers had invaded her apartment searching for the money they paid her.

MALU is an outstanding psycho-social 2024 Brazilian debut feature by Pedro Freire who directed and wrote the script.  He superbly depicts the fractured and dysfunctional interactions of his family in realistic terms. Here reality is the story. The center of Freire’s film is the life of his mother, an imposing character, Malu Rocha, an unemployed former actress stunningly portrayed by Yara de Novaes. Malu lives with her own very religious catholic mother Lili in a rundown house which Malu refuses to have fixed unless her distant husband pays for it. It is situated in one of Rio de Janeiro’s favellas. A black queer companion, Tibera lives there too and supplies Malu with drugs and maintains the status of an aspiring poet.  Malu is joined by her daughter Joana who just returned from living in France and wants to become an artist. Freire offers an amazing realistic presentation of the lives of these three generations of women as shaped by past experiences, phantasies, and present illusions. Apart from Tibera, there are no significant male characters but male shadows from the past leak into the plot. Grandmother Lili shares that her father had ditched her because he had sex with her sister. Malu’s invisible husband, father of Joana, becomes a point of contention since he owns part of their home. Malu’s passionate emotional actions and outbursts drive the story. She explains each day her desire to build a theatre for slum kids on the plot of her home.

Malu’s behavior is erratic and accompanied by battling with whoever surrounds her, a life characterized by chaos and tensions which does not disturb her. Conservative mother Lili believes that Malu’s unrestrained and unstable life style, drug use, sex and antagonisms reflect psychological problems and possibly a mental disorder.  For her, this may account for Malu presenting her life as a perpetual show. Lili decides to move out of the house into a shed. Her granddaughter Joana comes to the same conclusion after numerous encounters and fights with Malu. Her mother needs professional therapeutic help, which Julia will arrange or otherwise she leaves.  Malu refuses and Julia disappears to return when Malu calls claiming an emergency and admits when they meet that she is losing her mind.  Julia brings Malu to her apartment in Sao Paulo and learns during their car trip that Malu has been diagnosed with Mad Cows Disease.

La Parra, Blaga’s Lessons, and Malu are superb, ingenious films with unique approaches and interpretations, meeting the promise of the 2024 New Directors / New Films festival.

Claus Mueller,

New York, 1 347 210 6759 1 212 759 1351



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