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Directed by Pou-Soi Cheang and produced by Hong Kong genre maestro Johnnie To, Motorway strips the car chase film down to its bare essentials. Sure, there’s a plot involving a hotshot cop (Shawn Yue) and his grizzled mentor (Anthony Wong) tracking down a pair of veteran criminals, but Cheang whittles his characterization down to the barest of archetypes, focusing instead on the material pleasures of wheels hitting pavement. The film’s high-speed chases are thrilling, but it’s the intense physicality of the way the camera treats the vehicles themselves that separates Motorway from the fast and furious pack of chase thrillers. Two chases hinge on the characters’ ability to maneuver their cars around tight corners at low speeds, a technique that resembles parallel parking more than it does any kind of speed demon fantasy. Cheang’s emphasis on the unwieldy bodies of the cars is mirrored in the film’s 35mm tactility. What might have once seemed an accomplished but standard visual style, often consisting of swaths of blue and yellow illuminated by pools of light, now seems boldly anachronistic and sensually voluptuous in the digital age.

Uruguayan director Pablo Stoll’s 3 is an extremely difficult film to get a handle on. Its official website describes it as “a comedy about three people condemned to the same, absurd fate: being a family,” but for much of its runtime the movie threatens to erupt into a Haneke-esque thriller. Seemingly mundane scenes in the lives of divorced couple Graciela (Sara Bessio) and Rodolfo (Humberto de Vargas), as well as their teenage daughter Ana (Anaclara Ferreyra Palfy) unfold in environments that seem strangely lit, often pulsing with an unsettling sterility, punctuated with a horror movie sound design that alternates between pop songs and industrial noise. Stoll’s formal approach seems to undermine the relatively banal action onscreen, constantly suggesting an imminent outbreak of violence. Yet when the film reaches its end, it reveals itself to be a family drama in the Cassavetes vein, in which relations are maintained equally by love and bitter tension. In this context, however, Stoll’s unsettling effects come off as cheap devices used to heighten suspense and distract from the imbalance of the scenario, whose characters are sometimes believable and sometimes compelling, but rarely pull off the feat of being both at once.

Similarly baffling, but also more enjoyable, is Sébastien Betbeder’s Nights With Theodore. A love story that doubles as a fictionalized essay on its principal location, the Buttes Chaumont Park in Paris, Nights splits the difference between a discursive meditation on a public space and a random sampling of pages from a Byronic adolescent’s diary. The film begins with a history of the park, hinting at some kind of supernatural element, before segueing into a love story between Beautiful French People. Devotees of BFP romance will find plenty to love in the film’s 67 minutes, but those expecting a richer integration of the essay film elements may be disappointed. Nights fitfully finds ways to deploy documentary footage, archival and current, to impressive effect, but often these aspects seem like window dressing for a charming but slight narrative that doesn’t have much idea where to go beyond its basic premise. The movie’s stylistic quirks begin to feel like empty posturing, its occult trappings and too-hip soundtrack failing to cohere into any kind of whole. Still, with such a short runtime the film’s shortcomings don’t feel quite as crippling as they might. Nights With Theodore might not hang together as a whole, but it suggests that Betbeder may be a talent to watch in the future, provided he learns to flesh out his inspired concepts more thoroughly.