Jesse Eisenberg and Mia Wasikowska in Rochard Ayoade's The Double

A sign that spring is (almost) on the horizon came today with the announcement of the first round of films that will screen in the 2014 New Directors/New Films, slated for March 19 – 30. Co-presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art, the festival is dedicated to “the discovery of new works by emerging and dynamic filmmaking talent.”

The initial seven titles set to screen at ND/NF's 43rd edition include Richard Ayoade's The Double (U.K.), Benedikt Erlingsson's Of Horses and Men (Iceland), Abdellah Taïa’s Salvation Army (L'Armée du salut, France/Morocco/Switzerland), Ben Rivers and Ben Russell's A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness (Estonia/France), Roberto Minervini's Stop the Pounding Heart (Belgium/Italy/USA), Albert Serra's Story of My Death (Història de la meva mort, Spain/France) and Vivian Qu's Trap Street (Shuiyin Jie, China).

Albert Serra's Story Of My Death

The Double will screen at the Sundance Film Festival, which kicks off this week. It is Avoade's follow-up to his indie comedy Submarine and is a early stylistic take on Dostoevsky's novella about a worker drone who is suddenly confronted with a more aggressive and popular version of himself. Albert Serra's Story of My Death won a Golden Leopard at the Locarno Film Festival. It follows a struggle between Casanova and Dracula in a “philosophical and cinematic tussle.” Serra's film appeared on Film Comment magazine's list of the 20 Best Undistributed Films of 2013.

Chinese producer Vivian Qu (Night Train, Knitting) will have her directorial debut with Trap Street, a noir-like story about a naïve young man whose “pursuit of a mysterious, beautiful woman leads him down a dark road.” The film received a Dragons & Tigers Award Special Mention at the Vancouver International Film Festival. Also joining ND/NF 2014 with directorial debuts are Abdellah Taïa, with the screen adaptation of his own novel about a young gay man’s awakening in the world in Salvation Army, while Icelandic stage director Benedikt Erlingsson's Of Horses and Men is a humorous and mythical story of the “integral relationship between the two species.” The latter won director's prizes at both the San Sebastian and Tokyo international film festivals.

Ben Rivers and Ben Russell's A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness

Stop the Pounding Heart by Roberto Minervini centers on a “young girl who upsets the calm status quo when she begins to question the traditional path laid out for her by her rural community.” It is the third in Minervini's series of films set in Texas. The narrative/documentary hybrid screened in Cannes and will have its U.S. premiere at ND/NF. Filmmakers Ben Rivers and Ben Russell have screened their work at NYFF's Views from the Avant-Garde in recent years and have joined for the first time on the second feature film for both directors, A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness, which follows a “quixotic journey by Robert A.A. Lowe, the celebrated musician behind Lichens and Om.” Their collaboration also made Film Comment's undistributed list.

New Directors/New Films has spotlighted the early work of a number of filmmakers who have made their mark on contemporary cinema, introducing filmmakers including Chantal Akerman, Pedro Almodóvar, Darren Aronofsky, Ken Burns, Agnieszka Holland, Wong Kar Wai, Spike Lee, Christopher Nolan, and Steven Spielberg. The past few years have featured the work of J.C. Chandor (Margin Call), Shane Carruth (Upstream Color), Gareth Huw Evans (The Raid), David France (How To Survive a Plague), Terence Nance (An Oversimplification of Her Beauty), Joshua Oppenheimer (The Act of Killing), Sarah Polley (Stories We Tell), Dee Rees (Pariah), Denis Villeneuve (Incendies), and others.

Tickets go on sale to members of the Film Society of Lincoln Center and The Museum of Modern Art on March 3. Tickets go on sale to the general public on March 10.

Benedikt Erlingsson's Of Horses and Men

The initial seven films set for New Directors/New Films 2014:

The Double (2013) 93 min
Director: Richard Ayoade
Country: UK
Richard Ayoade has built a loyal following with his hilariously off characters, notably the one he plays in the TV series The IT Crowd and those that inhabit his 2010 directorial debut, Submarine. His cerebral, visually arresting follow-up, The Double, based on Dostoevsky’s 1846 novella, enters slightly darker territory, and recalls the stylizations of Terry Gilliam. Starring Jesse Eisenberg as both Simon James, a humdrum worker drone, and James Simon, his gregarious doppelgänger, the film is set within both the claustrophobic confines of Simon’s bureaucratic workplace and his paranoid mind. Aided by a stellar supporting cast (including Wallace Shawn, Mia Wasikowska, Sally Hawkins, Paddy Considine, and Chris O’Dowd), The Double firmly establishes Ayoade as a leading voice in contemporary cinematic comedy. A Magnolia Pictures release.

Of Horses and Men (2013) 80 min
Director: Benedikt Erlingsson
Country: Iceland
The debut feature by celebrated stage director Benedikt Erlingsson announces the arrival of an innovative new cinematic voice. Set almost exclusively outdoors amid stunning Icelandic landscapes, the film features in equal parts a cast of exquisite short-legged Icelandic horses and human characters—including the terrific Ingvar E. Sigurdsson and Charlotte Bøving as meant-for-each-other but put-upon lovers—illuminating with great inventive flair the relationship between man and beast. Several narrative strands defined by the way each character relates to their horse recount a variety of situations according to the particulars of the seasons, resulting in a surprising and sometimes humorous symbiosis between horses, humans, and nature.

Abdellah Taïa's Salvation Army

Salvation Army (L'Armée du salut) (2013) 81 min
Director: Abdellah Taïa
Countries: France/Morocco/Switzerland
Like the book it’s based on—Abdellah Taïa’s own 2006 landmark novel—the Moroccan author’s directorial debut is a bracing, deeply personal account of a young gay man’s awakening that avoids both cliché and the trappings of autobiography. First seen as a 15-year-old, Abdellah (Saïd Mrini) habitually sneaks away from his family’s crowded Casablanca home to engage in sexual trysts with random men in abandoned buildings. A decade later, we find Abdellah (now played by Karim Ait M’hand) on scholarship in Geneva, involved with an older Swiss professor (Frédéric Landenberg). With a clear-eyed approach, devoid of sentimentality, this wholly surprising bildungsfilm explores what it means to be an outsider, and with the help of renowned cinematographer Agnès Godard, Taïa finds a film language all his own: at once rigorous and poetic, and worthy of Robert Bresson in its concreteness and lucidity.

A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness (2013) 98 min
Directors: Ben Rivers and Ben Russell
Country: Estonia/France
As collaborators, Ben Rivers and Ben Russell, two intrepid and nomadic talents of experimental film and art, have created one of the most bewitching cinematic experiences to come along in a great while. In A Spell To Ward Off The Darkness, Robert A.A. Lowe, the celebrated musician behind Lichens and Om, gives a strangely affecting, perhaps even trance-inducing performance as the film’s Parsifal figure, a quixotic man who embarks on a quest for utopia—the holy grail of infinite truth, self-knowledge, and spiritual connectedness. He finds some measure of it in three seemingly disparate contexts: in a small collective community on a remote Estonian island, in isolation in the northern Finnish wilderness, and onstage fronting a black metal band in Norway. While his experience seems to be a perpetual one of home, exile, and return, for us, it is purely magical.

Roberto Minervini's Stop the Pounding Heart

Stop the Pounding Heart (2013) 100 min
Director: Roberto Minervini
Countries: Belgium/Italy/USA
Sara (Sara Carlson, playing herself) is part of a devout Christian goat-farming family with 12 children, all home-schooled and raised with strict moral guidance from the Scriptures. Set in a rural community that has remained isolated from technological advances and lifestyle influence—no phones, TVs, computers, or drunken teen brawls—the subtly narrative film follows Sara and Colby, two 14-year-olds with vastly different backgrounds who are quietly drawn to each other. In Minervini’s intimate documentary-style portrait—the third in the Italian-born filmmaker’s Texas trilogy—Sara’s commitment to her faith is never questioned. It’s the power of the director’s nonintrusive handheld-camera style that reveals his protagonist’s spiritual and emotional inner turmoil about her place in a faith that requires women to be subservient to their fathers before becoming their husbands’ helpers. By also presenting an authentic, impartial portrayal of the Texas Bible Belt, Minervini allows for the humanity and complexity behind the stereotypes to show through.

Story of My Death (Història de la meva mort) (2013) 148 min
Director: Albert Serra
Countries: Spain/France
No one else working in movies today makes anything remotely like the films of Catalan maverick Albert Serra, a cerebral oddball and improbable master of cinematic antiquity. Known for his unconventional adaptations of Cervantes’s Don Quixote (Honor of the Knights) and the Biblical parable of the Three Kings (Birdsong), Serra here stages the 18th-century passage from rationalism to romanticism as a tussle between two figures of legend, Casanova and Dracula. Against a backdrop of candlelit conversation and earthy carnality, Serra sets in motion contrasting ideas about pleasure and desire, alternating between winding philosophical dialogue and wordless passages of savage beauty. Winner of the top prize at the 2013 Locarno Film Festival, the film is both a painterly feast for the eyes, abounding with art-historical allusions, and an idiosyncratic, self-aware revamping of the costume melodrama.

Vivian Qu's Trap Street

Trap Street (Shuiyin Jie) (2013) 94 min
Director: Vivian Qu
Country: China
Notions of surveillance and observation are turned inside out in Trap Street, producer Vivian Qu’s first turn as a director. While surveying city streets for a digital-mapping company, engineer Qiuming catches sight of Lifen, a beautiful young woman. Immediately smitten, he follows her to a street that doesn’t appear on any map or even a GPS. In between his other gigs—installing security cameras, sweeping hotel rooms for electronic bugs—he tries to get to know this alluring stranger. And he does—sort of. But as he tries to learn more about her, events take on disturbing overtones, and the mystery, as well as the paranoia, deepens from there. Noir in tone, and a great representation of the newest generation of Chinese filmmakers, Trap Street is a bold story about who is really watching whom that, while firmly embedded in the current cultural context of China, could happen to any one of us.