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Neo-neo-realism: a true movement or one critic’s construct? In a meaty, 5,000-word feature in last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, critic A.O. Scott brought together a number of recent American independent films under the rubric “neo-neo realism,” proposing that they might serve as an answer to the question that “seems to arise almost automatically in […]

Neo-neo-realism: a true movement or one critic’s construct?

In a meaty, 5,000-word feature in last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, critic A.O. Scott brought together a number of recent American independent films under the rubric “neo-neo realism,” proposing that they might serve as an answer to the question that “seems to arise almost automatically in times of crisis” – that is, “What kind of movies do we need now?”

Besides provoking an immediate and rather, uh, spirited counter-critique from The New Yorker‘s Richard Brody – a critical clash covered on Indiewire here – it turns out that you may have recently seen – or soon will see – many of the films Scott thinks we need now, right here at the Walker. Lance Hammer’s Ballast premiered here last fall; and the “luminous, poignant” Treeless Mountain by So Yong Kim, just a few weeks ago. Coming up are Tulpan May 8-10 and a mini-retrospective Under the Radar: The Films of Ramin Bahrani; Bahrani’s films Man Push Cart, Chop Shop, and the new Goodbye Solo are a focus of Scott’s feature.

The gist of Brody’s problem with Scott’s analysis – and with cinematic realism in general, be it the neo-realism of post WWII Italy or the neo-neo genre coined by Scott, is that “the willful rejection of complexity and ambiguity; a sympathy for ciphers based on their social position and reinforced by the downbeat warmth of the performers.”

Seems like a pretty harsh assessment, but you can read his full argument yourself – and then (wait for it!) turn to Scott’s own response to Brody on the New York Times’ Carpetbagger blog, observing, among other things, that he was not attempting to define “a style or a school or a movement, but rather a cinematic ethic that has surfaced in different forms in different nations at different moments and that now seems to be flowering in some precincts of American independent cinema.”

Of course, each critic’s argument is much more complicated than what is conveyed here. But no matter which side you might take, we’re just pleased to be screening so many films that have become a part of this kind of debate, which takes place all too seldom these days.

On a related note: As part of his retrospective here, Bahrani is teaching a master class on next Friday, April 3. Whether you’re attending it or not (or for that matter, whether you’re a filmmaker or not) his just-posted Indiewire article dissecting the opening scene from his new film Goodbye Solo is invaluable-an insightful and detailed look into the art of filmmaking.