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by Mark Elijah Rosenberg
January 19th, 2008
07_cityofcranes_slamdance_m.jpgSaw a great program at Slamdance today. “City of Cranes,” directed by Eva Weber, is exactly the type of film I would hope for in a documentary about construction crane operators: the images are dazzling without being showy, the interviews are lovely without being precious. It tells you things you never thought about cranes, and offers curious insights into the minds of these guys–and the crane operator world is almost exclusively male; the filmmakers were unable to get an interview with the one female operator they found–people who spend countless hours alone in a little box perched hundreds of feet in the air, moving massive objects in what is potentially a very dangerous (and therefore stressful) job. There’s a zen-like quality to some operator’s approaches, but they stay grounded (pun intended) by innocently spying on the people of the world who would never expect to be seen from that perspective. I didn’t get a chance to talk to the directors after the screening, but this could be a great film to show on the rooftops of New York City, particularly in our INDUSTRIANCE series, focusing on architecture, industry and agriculture and the ways they affect individual lives.

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00_neolounge_slamdance_m.jpgWhen I first started watching Joanna Vasquez Arong’s “Neo-Lounge,” a fascinating documentary about (mostly) European expats in Beijing, my first reaction was, “I’m so glad it’s not just Americans who make assholes of themselves abroad.” But this film is also much more rich than that. Early on in the film, watching the generic party-hardy Euro trash and the two main characters, I recognized the deep nihilism that everyone was exhibiting in the form of decadence. Drunken partying always indicates a certain amount of abandon, a willful amount of self-destruction, an escape. But in the case of the Expat, you can sense a deeper desire for self-erasure. Arong’s intricately crafted film is a passionate and intelligent exploration of that pathos.

As the film progresses, two characters come to the foreground. Leonardo Griglié is a mysteriously wealthy middle aged Italian impresario, who quite reminded me of Boris Yeltsin (including his penchants for vodka and tanks). Leo has a magnificent house stuffed to the gills with art and artifacts, and is constantly entertaining, though he constantly complain that everything is “boring.” Nothing could be worse for him than a moment of boredom, and his curious ways of filling the time are consistently hilarious. He often hires Diliana Georgieva, a young aspiring actress/model/singer from Bulgaria, to come perform at his parties. We follow the two of them as their lives twist and turn, always around the central elements of partying and performing (which both do equally with a great lack of inhibition). Slowly, the desperation and confusion in both becomes clear: that feeling of self-erasure is reified (in fascinatingly opposing ways). With Diliana, we learn of a past she ran from, secrets she’s kept, and watch as she works to settle herself down in this new, boyfriend-less, Kung Fu studying, way. Leo, however, tries to clean himself up, but to do so up and leaves China for Moscow, departing still a mystery. In the Q & A, Arong told the audience that no one ever knew where Leo’s money came from, or exactly who he really was.

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Throughout the film, Arong’s startling editing propels the characters forward in a pulsing freefall. Her sense of narrative is excellent, and her jarring edits create just the right feeling of dislocation and symbolic inevitability. Having shown Arong’s “Lao Shan, Lao Yin (Old Mountains, Old Shadows)” at Rooftop last summer, I was really pleased to see her make such an accomplished debut feature.

Also of note, it’s great to see a program of films made by women, still underrepresented among film directors.

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Rooftop Films is a New York based non-profit whose mission is to engage diverse communities by showing independent movies in outdoor locations, producing new films, coordinating youth media education, and renting equipment at low cost to artists.

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