40th Annual “New Directors/New Films” Series
From March 23 – April 3 the Museum of Modern Art and the Film Society of Lincoln Center will present the 40th annual “New Directors/New Films” series. The series will screen 28 feature length films (24 narrative, four documentary) and seven shorts. The films will represent 24 countries. The screening venues will be MOMA and the Walter Reade Theatre at Lincoln Center.
Of the “New Directors/New Films” selections that I was able to screen, my favorite, as of press time, was “Margin Call,” directed by first time feature film director J.C. Chandor. “Margin Call” will be the series’ opening night film.
“Oh Jesus, you know I can’t read these things. Just tell me.” “Speak as you would to a young child.” These two quotes from “Margin Call” encapsulate what make it a unique and fascinating film. The story is about the start of the 2008 financial collapse told from the point of view of a fictional Wall Street investment firm. As the two quotes illustrate, “Margin Call” does not deluge us with jargon, figures and financial “speak,” things which even the firm’s head, John Tuld, played by Jeremy Irons, admits he does not understand.
“Margin Call” concerns the human toll taken on a company that realizes it is on the verge of ruin and spends a night figuring out how to survive and apportion blame. The story is about the moral choices that its characters make, or do not make. As the night goes on the tension is ratcheted up as the enormity of what the company is up against becomes more and more apparent.
Chandor has written and directed what could have become, in lesser hands, a photographed play. Films like “Margin Call” are difficult to pull off. They take place in a limited number of locations and are dialogue heavy. Part of what makes the difference here is that Chandor, whose father worked for Merrill Lynch for nearly 40 years, has an intimate knowledge and deep understanding of the inhabitants of the world of finance. As a result, Chandor is able to get beyond the jargon, feeding us just enough to stay with the story, while placing his emphasis on the human element. “Margin Call” also has a first rate cast that, in addition to Irons, includes Kevin Spacey, Stanley Tucci, Demi Moore and Paul Bettany.
Although fiction, “Margin Call” may do for our current financial crises what “The Social Network” did for facebook. Each film presents the human element behind something which has become part of our culture, for better or worse.