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John Malkovich in "Casanova Gene"
John Malkovich in "Casanova Gene" | © Luise Donschen
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11 Classy Docs to Watch at New York's Art of the Real Film Festival

Picture of Graham Fuller
Film Editor
Updated: 1 May 2018
The new edition of Art of the Real, the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s annual festival of non-fiction films, showcases some of the finest new documentaries that will be seen anywhere in 2018. Here is a selection of the best of them. The event runs April 26—May 6.

John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection

Hot on the tail of Borg vs. McEnroe, a fictionalized account of John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg’s rivalry in the early ’80s, comes Julien Faraut’s documentary about the Player We Loved to Hate. Culled mostly from 16mm footage of McEnroe competing in the 1984 French Open, in which he met Ivan Lendl in the final, the film is a study of a prodigious but embattled talent. Thursday, April 26, 7 p.m.

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“John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection” | © Oscilloscope Laboratories

Casanova Gene

“Sexuality is extremely disruptive,” wrote Robert Greene, author of The Art of Seduction. “The insecurities and emotions it stirs up can often cut short a relationship that would otherwise be deeper and longer lasting.” Luise Donschen’s first feature incorporates fact and fiction as it probes the complex nature of desire. Her subjects include finches and their mating habits, a dominatrix, monks, and John Malkovich. Helena Wittmann lushly photographed the movie on 16mm. Thursday, May 3, 9 p.m.

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“Casanova Gene” | © Luise Donschen

Empty Metal

The festival’s closing night film envisions a near future in which mass surveilance and a police-state mentality have taken hold, causing the average citizen to sink into apathy. Co-directors Adam Khalil and Bayley Sweitzer focus on a group of socially disparate insurgents struggling to find a chink of light in the darkness. Sunday, May 6, 7.30 p.m.

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“Empty Metal” | © Adam Khalil and Bayley Sweitzer

Infinite Football

Romanian New Wave director Corneliu Porumboiu (12:08 East of Bucharest; Police, Adjective) has made a film that might have been titled Sacrilege. Its subject is mid-level bureaucrat and amateur philosopher Laurentiu Ginghină, who—disappointed that his soccer career was ended by a fractured fibula some thirty years ago—is constantly redesigning the sport to eliminate injuries. In the hands of absurdist master Porumboiu, Infinite Football is an allegory about how to create—or not create—a perfectible society under authoritarian rule. Saturday, May 5, 5.00 p.m.

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Laurentiu Ginghină (left) and director Corneliu Porumboiu in “Infinite Football” | © Corneliu Porumboiu

Victory Day

The latest from the incisive Ukrainian filmmaker Sergei Loznitsa (Maidan, Austerlitz) captures the culturally anomalous annual celebration, at the Soviet war monument in Berlin’s Treptower Park, of the Red Army’s victory over the Nazis in 1945. The film is a compelling study of history and nationalistic pride out of time—except, perhaps, for the surviving victors and their offspring. Saturday, May 5, 6.45 p.m.

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“Victory Day” | © Sergei Loznitsa

Central Airport THF

Another German documentary with a strong degree of cultural dislocation, Central Airport THF follows a year in the lives of asylum seekers Ibrahim, an 18-year-old Syrian, and Qutaiba, a 35-year-old Iraqi who was forced to abandon his medical studies. The two had ended up in Berlin Tempelhof Airport, once a symbol of Nazi architectural grandiosity—“the mother of all airports”—and now a medical HQ-cum-refugee center. Sunday, May 6, 3.00 p.m.

Yours in Sisterhood

English filmmaker Irene Lusztig has described this American-made film “as a conversation between now and forty years ago about feminism.” It draws upon mostly unpublished letters sent to Ms. in the 1970s recording injustices or complaining about the magazine’s stance on women’s issues. Lustzig recorded some of the letters’ writers reading them directly to the camera. The overarching question the film asks is: What progress have women made as the decades have slipped away? Wednesday, May 2, 8.45 p.m.

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“Yours in Sisterhood” director Irene Lusztig | © Irene Lusztig

Wild Relatives

Jumana Manna’s breathtakingly filmed Wild Relatives chronicles the passage of seed distribution between Beqaa Valley in Lebanon and the Global Seed Vault in Svalbard, Norway. Threatened by global warming, war, and population upheaval, the journey of the precious seeds is made possible by an army of genealogists, depositors, and agricultural workers. Tuesday, May 1, 7 p.m.

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Field laborers in “Wild Relatives” | © Jumana Manna

Baronesa

First-time director Juliana Antunes and her mostly female crew shot Baronesa in and around the shanties of Belo Horizonte, Brazil’s sixth largest city. Its focus is life itself, as encapsulated in a conversation between friends Andreia and Leidiane. The festival’s programmers have likened the movie to the work of the Portuguese master filmmaker Pedro Costa. Sunday, April 29, 8 p.m.

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Leidiane and Andreia in “Baronesa” | © Juliana Antunes

All That Passes by Through a Window That Doesn’t Open

Martin DiCicco documents the construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway—the “Iron Silk Road” linking Asia to Europe—and the thoughts and feelings of the laborers who laid the track in Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey. An epic rail journey with a difference. Tuesday. May 1, 9 p.m.

I Remember the Crows

Shot in one night, Gustavo Vinagre’s film comprises an interview with his insomniacal friend and collaborator Julia Katharine, a passionate Japanese-Brazilian trans actress-director and movie lover with self-destructive tendencies. FSLC has likened the movie to Shirley Clarke’s Portrait of Jason and Jean Eustache’s Numero Zéro, but it may also call to mind the Scheherazade-ian spirit of Kiss of the Spider Woman. Saturday, May 5, 8.45 p.m.

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Julia Katharine in “I Remember the Crows” | © Gustavo Vinagre

Art of the Real runs April 26 through May 6. Screenings are at the Eleanor Bunin Munroe Film Center, 144 West 65th Street, New York, NY 10023. For tickets and further information visit filmlinc.org.