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Thread: New York Film Festival 2009

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    New York Film Festival 2009

    New York Film Festival 2009


    Welcome to the Festival Coverage thread for the 47th New York Film Festival, fall 2009, put on by the Film Society of Lincoln Center.


    ANDRE DUSOLLIER IN RESNAIS' WILD REEDS
    (OPENING NIGHT FILM NYFF 2009)


    The full schedule of public screenings with thumbnail descriptions of the 28 official selection films will be found on the Film Society of Lincoln Center's website here. Press and industry screenings begin September 16.

    The FilmLeaf open comments thread for the NYFF is here, starting with the list of films. Below are links to the Festival Coverage thread reviews.



    INDEX OF LINKS TO REVIEWS

    Anichrist (Lars von Trier 2009)
    Around a Small Mountain (Jacques Rivette 2009)
    Art of the Steal, The (Don Argott 2009)
    Bluebeard (Catherine Breillat 2009)
    Broken Embraces (Pedro Almodóvar 2009)
    Crossroads of Youth (An Jong-hwa 1934)
    Eccentricities of a Blond Hair Girl 2009)
    Everyone Else (Maren Ade 2009)
    Ghost Town (Zhao Dayong 2009)
    Hadewijch (Bruno Dumont 2009)
    Henri-Georges Clouzot's 'Inferno' (Bomberg, Medea 2009)
    Independencia (Raya Martin 2009)
    Kanikosen (Sabu 2009)
    Lebanon (Samuel Maoz 2009)
    Life During Wartime (Todd Solondz 2009)
    Min Ye; Tell Me... (Soulaymane Cisse 2009)
    Mother (Bong Joon-ho 2009)
    Mummy, The (Shadi Abdel Salam 1969)
    Ne Change Rien (Pedro Costa 2009)
    Pier Paolo Pasolini The Rage of Pasolinii (Pasolini, Bertolucci, 1963, 2008)
    Police, Adjective (Porumboliu (2009)
    Precious (Lee Daniels 2009)
    Room and a Half (Khrzharnovsky 2009)
    Sweetgrass (Barbash, Taylor 2009)
    Sweet Rush (Andrzej Wajda 2009)
    To Die As a Man (Rodrigues 2009)
    Trash Humpers (Harmony Korine 2009)
    Vincere (Marco Bellocchio 2009)
    White Material (Claire Denis 2009)
    White Ribbon, The (Michael Haneke 2009)
    Wild Grass (Alain Resnais 2009)






    PENELOPE CRUZ IN ALMODOVAR'S BROKEN EMBRACES
    (CLOSING NIGHT FILM NYFF 2009)
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 09-30-2012 at 09:18 AM.

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    PRESS SCREENINGS CALENDAR


    Thursday, September 24
    9:00am - 10:39am:
    Sweet Rush / Tatarak
    Andrzej Wajda, 2009, Poland, 84m
    SCREENING WITH
    The Hardest Part
    Oliver Refson, 2009, UK, 13m

    11:00am - 1:00pm:
    Everyone Else / Alle Anderen
    Maren Ade, 2009, Germany, 120m

    Thursday, September 24 (continued)
    1:30pm - 3:31pm:
    Hadewijch
    Bruno Dumont, 2009, France, 105m
    SCREENING WITH
    Lili's Paradise
    Melina Leon, XXXX, Peru, 16m

    TENTATIVE - SUBJECT TO DIRECTOR AVAILABILITY
    4:00pm - 6:09pm:
    Vincere
    Marco Bellocchio, 2009, Italy, 129m
    6:10pm - 6:30pm:
    Press Conference: Marco Bellocchio


    Friday, September 25
    10:00am - 12:01pm:
    Police, Adjective / Politist, adj.
    Corneliu Porumboiu, 2009, Romania, 115m
    SCREENING WITH
    The Funk
    Cris Jones, 2008, Australia, 6m
    12:05pm - 12:25pm:
    Press Conference: Corneliu Porumboiu

    1pm - 2:44pm:
    Wild Grass / Les herbes folles
    Alain Resnais, 2009, France, 104m
    2:45pm - 3:05pm:
    Press Conference: Alain Resnais, Andre Dussolier, Mathieu Amalric


    Monday, September 28
    11am - 12:55pm:
    White Material
    Claire Denis, 2009, France, 100m
    SCREENING WITH
    Chicken Heads / Roos Djaj
    Bassam Ali Jarbawi, 2009, Palenstine/USA, 15m

    2:00pm - 3:43pm:
    Around a Small Mountain / 36 vues du Pic Saint-Loup
    Jacques Rivette, 2009, France, 85m
    SCREENING WITH
    Plastic Bag
    Ramin Bahrani, 2009, USA, 18m


    Tuesday, September 29
    10:30am - 12:16pm:
    Life During Wartime
    Todd Solondz, 2009, USA, 96m
    SCREENING WITH
    Socarrat
    David Moreno, 2009, Spain, 10m

    1:30pm - 3:45pm:
    Min Yu... (Tell Me Who You Are)
    Souleymane Cisse, 2009, Mali/France, 135m


    Wednesday, September 30
    11:30am - 1:19pm:
    Ne Change Rien
    Pedro Costa, 2009, France/Portugal, 103m
    SCREENING WITH
    Final Cut Template #2: Hollis Frampton
    Doug Henry, 2009, USA, 6m

    TENTATIVE - SUBJECT TO DIRECTOR AVAILABILITY
    2:00pm - 3:18pm:
    Trash Humpers
    Harmony Korine, 2009, USA, 78m
    3:20pm - 3:40pm:
    Press Conference: Harmony Korine


    Thursday, October 1
    10:00am - 12:08pm:
    Mother / Maedo
    Bong Joon-Ho, 2009, South Korea, 128m

    1:00pm - 2:49pm:
    Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire
    Lee Daniels, 2009, USA, 109m
    2:50pm - 3:10pm:
    Press Conference: Lee Daniels, Gabourey Sidibe and PRODUCERTK


    Friday, October 2
    TENTATIVE - SUBJECT TO FILM AVAILABILITY
    10:30am - 11:54am:
    Bluebeard / La barbe-bleue
    Catherine Breillat, 2009, France, 78m
    SCREENING WITH
    Love Child / Karleksbarn
    Daniel Wirtberg, 2008, Sweden, 6m

    1:30pm - 3:08pm:
    Independencia
    Raya Martin, 2009, Philippines/France/Germany/Netherlands, 77m
    SCREENING WITH
    A History of Independence / Nziri Nin Kera Yeremahoronya Waati Ye
    Daouda Coulibaly, 2009, France/Mali, 21m
    3:10pm - 3:30pm:
    Press Conference: Raya Martin

    Monday, October 5
    TENTATIVE - SUBJECT TO DIRECTOR AVAILABILITY
    10:00am - 11:49pm:
    Ne Change Rien
    Pedro Costa, 2009, France/Portugal, 103m
    SCREENING WITH
    Final Cut Template #2: Hollis Frampton
    Doug Henry, 2009, USA, 6m
    11:50pm - 12:10pm
    Press Conference: Pedro Costa

    TENTATIVE - SUBJECT TO DIRECTOR AVAILABILITY
    1:00pm - 3:15pm:
    Min Ye... (Tell Me Who You Are)
    Souleymane Cisse, 2009, Mali/France, 135m
    3:15pm - 3:35pm:
    Press Conference: Souleymane Cisse

    Tuesday, October 6
    TENTATIVE - SUBJECT TO ACTOR AVAILABILITY
    11:00am - 12:43pm:
    Around a Small Mountain / 36 vues du Pic Saint-Loup
    Jacques Rivette, 2009, France, 85m
    SCREENING WITH
    Plastic Bag
    Ramin Bahrani, 2009, USA, 18m
    12:45pm - 1:05pm:
    Press Conference: Jane Birkin and Sergio Castellitto

    Wednesday, October 7
    10:30am - 12:54pm:
    The White Ribbon / Das weise band
    Michael Haneke, 2009, Germany/Austria/France/Italy, 144m
    1pm - 1:20pm:
    Press Conference: Michael Haneke

    2:30pm - 4:38pm:
    Broken Embraces / Los abrazos rotos
    Pedro Almodovar, 2009, Spain, 128m
    4:40pm - 5:00pm
    Press Conference: Pedro Almodovar and Penelope Cruz

    Thursday, October 8
    TENTATIVE - SUBJECT TO DIRECTOR AVAILABILITY
    10am - 11:55pm:
    White Material
    Claire Denis, 2009, France, 100m
    SCREENING WITH
    Chicken Heads / Roos Djaj
    Bassam Ali Jarbawi, 2009, Palenstine/USA, 15m
    12:00pm - 12:20pm:
    Press Conference: Claire Denis

    1:30pm - 3:16pm:
    TENTATIVE - SUBJECT TO DIRECTOR AVAILABILITY
    Life During Wartime
    Todd Solondz, 2009, USA, 96m
    SCREENING WITH
    Socarrat
    David Moreno, 2009, Spain, 10m
    3:20pm - 3:40pm
    Press Conference: Todd Solondz

    Friday, October 9
    TENTATIVE - SUBJECT TO DIRECTOR AVAILABILITY
    10:00am - 11:24pm:
    Bluebeard / La barbe-bleue
    Catherine Breillat, 2009, France, 78m
    SCREENING WITH
    Love Child / Karleksbarn
    Daniel Wirtberg, 2008, Sweden, 6m
    11:25pm - 11:45pm
    Press Conference: Catherine Breillat
    [/QUOTE]
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 09-25-2009 at 03:58 PM.

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    Bertolucci/pasolini: The rage of pasolini

    GIUSEPPE BERTOLUCCI, PIER PAOLO PASOLINI: THE RAGE OF PASOLINI (1963, 2008)



    Loving recreation, of great interest to students of Pasolini

    Rage/La rabbia is a 1963 film commissioned by documentarian Gastone Ferranti in which gay Italian poet, novelist, filmmaker, and leftist filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini uses found documentary and magazine images for a mournful, arbitrary, and poetic 53-minute rumination on the joys and sorrows of the postwar period. The story goes that due to Pasolini's controversial nature and his strong Marxist bent, the popular "Don Camillo" novelist Giovanni (or Giovannino) Guareschi was asked to present a "right-wing" counterpart to Pasolini's film, and this annoyed Pasolini so much, he cut out a large early segment of his own film to "make room" for the Guareschi segment. Guareschi's film was a "reply" to and debunking of the original Pasolini segment. Pasolini wrote a fiery response in the paper Il Giorno saying of the Guareschi segment: "If Eichmann were to rise from the grave to make a film, he would make a film like this."

    This augmented and restored film shown as part of the "VIEWS FROM THE AVANT GARDE" sidebar section of the NYFF is a restoration of the whole Pasolini segment (not including Guareschi's), with an effort to recreate the lost first part Pasolini cut out and to provide some context on Pasolini's thought and his difficult position in Italy. Everything Pasolini did was censored and blocked and he had to go to court to get each of his films released.

    Details are given by an Italian IMDb contributor, and more can be found in Italian on the website Cinemafrica. And there's a brief interesting note in the French Wikipedie.

    Giuseppe Bertolucci is the brother of Bernardo, and the latter worked on the crew of Pasolini's Accatone. The restoration was sponsored by the Film Archive of Bologna, Pasolini's birthplace (though he grew up with his mother in Friuli). Another Italian IMBd Commenter on the film as issued in 1963 with both the cut Pasolini and Guareschi segments writes:
    Pasolini stages such a dismal representation of the world and its sufferings, that even the liberation of Cuba from the dictatorship of Batista is represented in sadness and mourning. I would have expected a bit more depth from this brilliant director. His representation of Marxism is religious to say the least. Guareschi too is disappointing, he is way too biased - he defends the atrocities of France in Vietnam and Algeria! - and his traditional sense of humor is almost absent. Some footage is quite interesting from historical point of view, but I would suggest to watch without audio, the commentator is simply too dull and rhetorical.
    There is truth in this. The writer is not unjustified in referring to Pasolini's "dismal representation," though there are also passages that soar and are moving. His comments on Guareschi's segment are worth noting. Pasolini is particularly concerned in his film with Algeria, with the joy of the Algerians at winning independence; with Vietnam; and he celebrates the Cuban revolution even if his vision of it is sad. Where this writer is absurd is in suggesting we watch "Rage" without audio, because the chief interest of the film is in how it illuminates the mind of Pier Paolo Pasolini and displays his poetic language. The poetic passages are read by novelist Giorgio Bassani; the prose ones are read by the artist-designer Renato Guttuso. Some additional voiceover passages retain the voices of the original source documentaries or newsreels, with implied irony in the new context Pasolini creates.

    Particularly fascinating -- and non-political, and presumably unironic -- is a passage that pops up almost out of nowhere in which Pasolini poetically celebrates Marilyn Monroe, recently dead, as a sad little girl, with striking, rhythmic use of stills from magazines.

    At the end following the Pasolini "La rabbia" film there are several segments showing how cruelly the filmmaker and intellectual was attacked and lampooned for being gay, for repeatedly using sometimes some of the same people in is films who were rough-looking and not famous or pretty, and for being a leftist. Finally there is a passage from an interview in which Pasolini talks about being "arrabiato," angry, and explains why he thinks (because its bourgeoisie is too "small") that Italy has not produced a group of Angry Young Men and he stands along as a unique angry man of Italy. The greatest angry man, he says, was Socrates.

    Pasolni was always fascinating, always stimulating, always brilliant and passionate. Let's hope he is more recognized in Italy now as what the novelist Alberto Moravia called him: the greatest Italian artist-intellectual of the twentieth century.

    The film, alas, fails to speak to us very much as relevant today other than as a valuable document of its moment and of the mind and art of Pasolini as a postwar European intellectual torn between hope and pessimism. The difficulty in responding to this as a contemporary statement goes back to two main things: the overly familiar found documentary footage; and the fact that we are used to documentaries being enlightening sources of new information. In his partly lyrical, partly prose written texts to accompany Rage, Pasolini gives virtually no specific information and does not identify the footage, and some passages, such as one depicting women in scarves, are impossible to identify. This in spite of the fact that he chose the figures and events to be included in the images very carefully, as is indicated in the "case study" by film critic and curator of the Bologna Pasolini study center Roberto Chiesi. Chiesi has written a book about the history of "La rabbia" in addition to oveseeing this production. This film provides rich material for scholars. For the general viewer, it remains somewhat remote even in this excellent restoration.

    Shown as a "VIEWS FROM THE AVANT-GARDE" sidebar in the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center, September 2009.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-17-2015 at 09:37 PM.

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    Barbash, Castaing-Taylor: SWEETGRASS (2009)

    ILISA BARBASH, LUCIEN CASTAING-TAYLOR: SWEETGRASS (2009)



    Last of the American mountain shepherds

    Barbash and Taylor are Harvard ethnographers and anthropoligists; she is from New York and he's English. They are an energetic couple who have made films about the African art trade (In and Out of Africa 1992) and L.A. garment sweatshops (Made in U.S.A. 1990) and are involved in interactive media, photography exhibitions, and innovative combinations of aesthetics and ethnography. They were living in Colorado in 2001 when they learned about a Norwegian-American family that had been herding sheep long distances up into Montana public lands for summer grazing for four generations, all on the hoof, over 150 miles. Word got around that this might not be happening much longer and somebody ought to film it. Becasue the trek was too arduous to do otherwise, Barbash stayed at home with their two small children and Taylor did the DV filming and recording.

    The 101-minute film, without narration, takes the viewer deep into the land, the herd movement, and the hard, solitary life of the shepherds. The visuals are beautiful and intimate. Taylor gets close to the sheep and to the men. The pace is measured. There's slowness and monotony, but there's excitement and stress too. The filming was done mostly in 2001, some additional in 2003, and editing wasn't completed till early 2009.

    Hollywood Reporter reviewed the film in connection with the Berlin festival and notes, "Slow-paced documentary on sheep, shepherds and their environment needs further shearing." The writer remarks on one hired hand's lengthy recorded outburst up in the mountains when he's had anough, remarking that his "Frustrations are vented in an extended, entertainingly expletive-studded rant, the vehemence of which would make Christian Bale blush."

    This one long unguarded rant is possible because the sound involved wireless recording devices (they cost more than the camera) that enabled Taylor to hear conversations or monologues spoken a mile or two away. At first the emphasis is on the sheep in the herd and one by one. Later the film shows herders at the ranch shearing the sheep, helping them give birth, sorting lambs. On rare occasions when there is dialogue and not just a man talking to his horse or the sheep, it's sometimes laughably monosyllabic. A young man tells a joke about brains for sale where the cowboy's is the most expensive because it's 'never been used."

    This is indeed specialized festival material. Omitting commentary or any intertitles to structure time or identify individuals has its plusses and minuses. As I've noted, the film takes you deep into the landscape and the experience. The anguished rant of a hired hand talking on a phone to his mother about his damanged knee, intractable dogs and sheep,and lack of sleep is an excellent reality check for viewers who might want to make this a "Home on the Range" idyll in their minds.

    But if you want to find out the facts, as apart from the sights and sounds, of the world depeicted here, you have to go somewhere else. Ilisa Barbash and Lucien Castaing-Taylor were present for a Q&A with Richard Pena, FSLC director. Taylor in particular provided a lot of useful facts and figures. His data made clear that the disappearance of sheep herding isn't due to agri-business takeover so much as to environmentalists who strangely consider shepherds an alien invasion of nature, and the fact that Americans wear less wool and more artificial fiber and eat a hundred times more beef than lamb meat.

    There is some more detailed information about the filmmakers in the blog,"Cinema and Social Sciences." The film also has its own website which provides press kit information. [These are defunct but there is a 2007 book of essays on Robert Gardner collected by Barbash and Taylor.--2015]

    Sweet Grass (name of the country in Montana where the ranch was; it's now defunct after 105 years, and the family has bought land 30 times cheaper in Canada) is an official selection of the New York Film Festival 2009.

    This film had a US theatrical premiere at Film Forum in New York January 6-19, 2010. In her review of the film in the New York Times Manohla called the film "wonderful" and said it was "the first essential film of this young year."
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-17-2015 at 12:59 PM.

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    Alain resnais: Wild grass (2009)

    ALAIN RESNAIS: WILD GRASS (2009)


    ANDRE DUSOLLIER AND MATTIEU AMALRIC

    Resnais adapts novel "L'Incident" by Christian Gailly

    The 87-year-old French New Wave veteran directs his longtime star and companion Sabine Azema (27 years his junior) and regular co-star Andre Dusollier in this adaptation of an idiosyncratic novel by Christian Gailly about a man and a woman who become fascinated with each other when the man finds the woman's stolen wallet.

    The essence of the piece is that the principals are hesitant, indecisive, and a mite crazy. Their experience is the kind that falls through the cracks of well-ordered existence. Hence the new title replacing Gailly's "The Incident," to "Les herbes folles," "crazy grasses." There's a recurrent image of wild grass growing high among stones.

    The comfy suburban house of Georges (Dusollier) feels rather like that of Jean-Louis Trintignant outside Geneva, and like Kieslowski's Red, this film is about trying to connect, and has a protagonist who's both respectable and an outlaw. Georges is paranoid about being recognized by police, as if he's done something wrong or been in jail. Yet he has two charming grown children (Sara Forestier, Vladimir Consigny), and a loving and equally appealing wife, Susanne (Anne Consigny, familiar to US French film fans from Schnabel's Diving Bell and Desplechin's Christmas Tale). Georges never acquires a full back-story, but Dusollier is brilliant at depicting his mercurial temperament, and a continual pleasure to watch, as is the equally live-wire Azema.

    Marguerite Muir (Azema) is a dentist who shares an office with the offbeat French film diva Emmanuelle Devos. Another big French film actor, Matthieu Amalric, plays the cop in the station to whom Georges delivers the found wallet. Strong newcomer Nicolas Duvauchelle, a former boxer, plays Georges' daughter's boyfriend, and he invites Georges to come watch him fight, as well as to use the familiar "tu" with him, but Georges doesn't do either.

    Muir has put off till tomorrow reporting the purse-snatching that happened after she bought an expensive pair of shoes. Georges looks up Marguerite and has her phone number and address, but can't bring himself to call her.
    Georges and Marguerite wind up stalking each other, and the police become involved to call Georges off.

    One can see how this could be a quirky, amusing novel, and the innumerable missteps, oversteps, and hesitations would work well verbally. This kind of convoluted mental quirkiness is hard to translate, which is why idiosyncratic literary masterpieces like Sterne's Tristram Shandy have defied the impulse to adapt them cinematically, though Michael Winterbottom made a sporting try (shown in the 2005 NYFF and reviewed by me here). Resnais' task is to find a visual equivalent. The highly mobile camera of Eric Gautier is a considerable asset. On the other hand the jazzy music of Hollywood composer Mark Snow is sometimes merely obtrusive, as at a family gathering where the sax pointlessly overwhelms the scene. But on the other hand it's warm and enveloping in an old-fashioned way in the opening sequences when the two main characters are introduced and we're meant to be charmed and drawn in, and we are.

    Resnais and Gailly did not collaborate, at Gaillys' request; he wanted to be left alone to work on his next novel. One of the ways Resnais portrays confused intentions is to show cameos of imagined actions in frames where the character is doing something else; and anoher is that most obvious interjection of the literary into the cinematic, the use of frequent voiceovers. The production is expensive for a French art film, involving fairly lavish sets and scenes involving small airplanes. One of the links between Georges is that his father wanted to be a pilot and he loves aviation, while Marguerite actually has a pilot's license.

    Though Assistant Director Christophe Jeauffroy may have done a lot of the work for the aging master, there are many of the latter's familiar touches, including a lot of rapid cutting early on that recalls his 1963 Muriel ou Le temps d'un retour. A director but not a writer whose early fame was due to adaptations of Marguerite Duras (Hiroshima mon amour) and Alain Robbe-Grillet (Last Year at Marienbad), which represent totally opposed sensibilities Resnais here tries on yet another one. The result is far more conventional than those Sixties films, and on the glossy and mainstream side, veering between farce and melodrama. Wild Grass is full of assurance, and engages from the start. It may disappoint viewers in search of something more profound, more meditative, or funnier, but it's still a work of considerable accomplishment and doubtless may reward repeat viewings by devotees.

    Shown as an official selection of the NYFF 2009 at Lincoln Center as the opening night film. Sony Pictures Classics is the US distributor. The NYFF opening night showing is the US premiere, but it showed at Toronto two weeks earlier.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-17-2015 at 09:42 PM.

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    Sabu: Kanikosen (2009)

    SABU: KANIKOSEN (2009)


    STILL FROM KANIKOSEN

    A proletarian novel of the Twenties turned manga turns film tragi-comedy

    Mark Schilling writing in the Japan Times of July 10, 2009, asks: "Why does a novel about exploited workers on a crab cannery boat, published 80 years ago by a young communist writer, later tortured to death by the police, become a hot movie property now?" Well, he explains, last year a store poster based on a proletarian novel became a sensation in Japan -- maybe because the declining middle class arouses class war feelings? -- and somebody adapted the book into a film. Takiji Kobayashi was the author, killed for his advocacy of communism, and his book, whose title literally means "Crab Factory Ship," was originally published in 1929. More details about the book can be found in an article on "seekjapan.jp" by Matthew Ward, where the poster is also reproduced. It's a comic-book style drawing of the revolting cannery workers. There are manga versions of this book.

    The original novel, by reports, is a doctrinaire dramatization of a workers' revolt. The ship-cannery is a hellish place. The workers are anonymous, often alcoholic and violent. They have families they want to bring back money to, but the pittance they receive goes to gambling or drink. Their life is a kind of slavery. They work near Russia, and when two escape, they get onto a Russian boat and find the workers, whose foreman treats them as equals, are happy. They decide that the idea of competing like ants to outdo Russia and serve the Japanese Emperor is nonsense and they bring back the communist message to their ship. The theme may sound like simplistic agitprop, but the book's lasting importance is signaled by the fact that it has been translated into English by the great Japanese scholar Donald Keene.

    But in transforming the story to film Sabu (perhaps inspired partly by the colorful manga versions?) has produced something more tongue-in-cheek than the original, as Mark Schilling explains, making it "into a stagy, ironic postmodern statement that puts air quotes around its characters' righteous anger, while blithely tossing in anachronisms (such as present-day language, T-shirts and a battery-powered bullhorn)."

    This is true, though the anachronisms are less prominent than Schilling implies, and the ironies don't prevent the characters' plight from being touching--even as the drama ripples with comic moments. When initially the lower-depths workers attempt mass suicide by hanging, thinking they'll be reborn as whatever nice life they've thought of at the moment of death, and they merely fall on the floor choking in a heap, the tone of tragic-comedy is set. Some of the young actors are quite handsome and appealing.

    Matthew Ward actually worked on a fish-processing ship off the Alaskan coast in his younger days and points out that in his experience, which he attests was hellish, the violence was all among the workers. In Kamikosen, it is done by the brutal foreman on the workers; and the captain of the ship is a wimp who does whatever the foreman wants.

    The movie has an intricate set that in part evokes Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times with its giant wheels pushed by exhausted sweaty men, and a cave-like network of tubes in which the men sleep: that set may remind viewers of Akira Kurosawa's stark film of Maxim Gorky's The Lower Depths . The fishermen are always in long shiny mackinaws. The scene on board the Russian boat consists of a comical man explaining things in bad Japanese to the escapees, and joyous Cossack dancing in which they happily join.

    On their return the revolt turns dark and brutal, and the film blends its tragi-comedy with elements of horror. It all goes on a little too long, and Kanikosen is a cultural phenomenon of more significance in its original Japanese context than in the larger world. Nonetheless for its mixed genre, its curious blend of appealing pathos and comedy, and its surprisingly strong leftist message, this film may not make it beyond the festival circuit, but is still a pretty good watch and a fairly unique experience.

    Sabu (Hiroyuki Tanaka, according to IMDb) has already directed five or six films. The direction is competent, the staging ingenious, and the acting, especially by Ryuhei Matsuda as Shinju, the revolt leader, engaging. Hidetoshi Nishijima is suitably reptilian as the foreman, a delicate, epicene sadist rather than a rough bully.

    An official selection of the New York Film Festival 2009.

    The director So Yamamura filmed a version of 'Kanikosen' in 1953.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-17-2015 at 09:46 PM.

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    Zhao dayong: Ghost town (2009)

    ZHAO DAYONG: GHOST TOWN (2009)



    A slow ramble through a Yunnan squatter village

    This DV documentary, the Chinese entry into the NYFF, has so far flown below the radar. Scott Foundas, of the NYFF selection committee, has commented that Zhao Dayong seems like another Jia Zhang-ke.

    Jia's work, certainly outstanding for his generation of Chinese filmmakers, has not been uniformly excellent, but it's an overstatement to link this overlong, unselective filming with such perceptive auteur film-making as Jia's -- though they have a common subject: the ravages of modern Chinese "progress."

    Ghost Town is a bit of a misnomer, to begin with. A ghost town is usually empty. This one, high up in the Yunnam mountains in a region of considerably physical beauty, isn't void of people, just cut off from the mainstream of booming Chinese capitalism, and one of the people filmed predicts that in a couple of years the remaining population will probably be expelled because they live on property owned by the state.

    The website "Chinese Independent Documentary Film Archive describes Zhang's subject matter better than I can (and the whole web page sets it in the context of a general documentary project):
    Zhiziluo is a ghost town full of life. Lisu and Nu minority villagers squat in the abandoned halls of this remote former communist county seat, where Cultural Revolution slogans fade into the shadows of the old city hall, and a blank white figure of Chairman Mao gazes out silently to the wild mountain wilderness of the Salween River Valley in China's southwest Yunnan province.
    The film, which runs to nearly three hours, is divided into three parts. Their titles, "Voices," "Recollections," and "Innocence" aren't very descriptive -- a sign of the main failing of the film, that it's simply not organized or structured well enough. The first concerns a Christian minister and his father and focuses on their monologues to the camera about their experiences. The old man was imprisoned during the Cultural Revolution, he explains, under conditions that caused 90% of the prisoners' deaths. His son, who spends some time researching the issue of whether music is forbidden in the Bible, says that his father no longer treats him like a son. He thinks that may be the result of the horrors he suffered.

    The second part ostensibly focuses on a young couple whose romance is threatened by the fact that outsiders want to purchase the girl from her parents as a bride, as well as the boy's discontent with his hardscrabble existence as a driver and desire to leave to seek better work, which he eventually does. But though the boy and girl evidently do like each other, there's little evidence of romance or even much time spent together. And Zhao seems too willing to let his camera follow whatever random events come in front of it, from an recalcitrant ox to wandering roosters and dogs across the dirt main street to a town drunk whose mother hates him and whose sister runs an empty-looking restaurant.

    The third part concerns a boy who has been abandoned by his father and spends his time fantasizing and playing games.

    Clearly Zhang Dayong excels in his patience and ability to gain the confidence of his subjects. His willingness to keep in moments when they talk to him or note the presence of the camera are not unwelcome Brechtian wake-up calls. The subtitles are excellent, not only idiomatic but unusually clear and readable. If you remember the subtitles for Hong Kong movies (even Wong Kar-wai's) in the Eighties, which were ungrammatical and flickering, you will appreciate this. Zhang (not alone in this) is troubled by the way the rapacious march of economic progress in China, following upon the destruction of lives wrought by the Cultural Revolution, is causing cultures to vanish.

    The director is quoted as saying, "I wanted to explore the idea of these lost histories and ravaged cultures, and by extension my own cultural identity, by delving into the lives and spirit of the abandoned city." Hopefully he will move on to explore this subject to more effect. The division into three parts this time implies more structure and more focus than the film really has. Randomness has its place, especially in depicting aimless lives. But so does sharp editing.

    This official selection of the 2009 New York Film Festival does point into a new direction: contemporary Chinese documentaries. Of course Asian filmmaking in particularly today often involves a lot of documentary elements. Take for example the festival prize-winner, Liang Ying's 2006 Taking Father Home, which seems very overrated, but is a masterpiece of taut storytelling compared to Ghost Town Anyway, as a piece on the website of dGenerate, distributors of the film, notes about the inclusion of Zhang Dayong in the 2009 NYFF: :
    Zhao's depiction of contemporary China in Ghost Town will provide a stark counterpoint to the Festival's special showcase: a retrospective of classic Chinese films from 1949-1966 to mark the 60th anniversary of the People's Republic of China. (This is the third major retrospective of Chinese cinema to be showcased by the Film Society of Lincoln Center in the last five years, following the NYFF tribute to the Shaw Brothers Studios in 2004, and the FSLC celebration of Chinese cinema's centennial in 2005.)
    As noted, an official selection of the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center for 2009.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-17-2015 at 09:43 PM.

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    Marco bellocchio: Vincere (2009)

    MARCO BELLOCCHIO: VINCERE (2009)


    GIOVANNA MEZZOGIORNO, FILIPPO TIMI

    Mussolini's fascism as seen by a wronged woman

    Six years after his intimate reimagining of the Aldo Moro kidnapping that rocked Italy in the Seventies in Buongiorno, notte, Bellocchio has made another haunting and even more sweeping and iconic historical film. Vincere is about Benito Mussolini's secret first wife and son, who were hidden away and both died in insane asylums. Vincere depicts a strange, distorted period in Italian history, and skillfully melds stock footage with recreations, black and white with color (rich in reds, alternating with ashen grays), public tumult with private torment. Visually lush and full of chiaroscuro, Vincere is also a showcase for the talents of Giovanna Mezzogiorno as Ida Dalzer, the woman who met Benito Mussolini when he was the editor of Avanti, an ardent Socialist with strong populist, anti-monarchical, anti-clerical views, who dramatically dares God, if He exists, to strike him down.

    Opening sequences alternate between 1907 when Ida first meets Mussolini (Filippo Timi) in Trent, and 1914 in Milan. She is a respectable middle-class woman with a beauty salon. On the eve of WWI, he shifts from pacifist liberal to pro-war rightist. Deathly afraid of ending in mediocrity, he is ravenous for power. Ida intensely supports him whatever his direction, and sells all her possessions, including jewels, furniture, and her business, to support his newspaper. This leads to the founding of the paper "Il Popolo d'Italia," which becomes a fascist rallying-point. The film makes clear that she is madly in love but never mad. It also makes clear that though he declares his love of her and fathers a son named Benito, born just before he goes off to the front, whom he acknowledges, and they evidently marry, he keeps a certain distance.

    In WWI Mussolini is wounded in the army and is pleased to be congratulated by the king. When Ida finds him he is being tended in hospital by a new lover, a woman named Rachele (Michela Cescon). This is the last time Ida sees him in person.

    As Mussolini rises to power and becomes the dictator known as "Il Duce," linking himself with the ancient Roman emperors and dreaming of world domination, Ida is more and more kept away from him, and appears as a figure on the outskirts of power, at the center only of a sporadic and operatic encounters during which she pleads for recognition and attention, only to be swept aside. She has a marriage certificate but it becomes lost. All her papers are taken. Mussolini remains with Rachele, is married to her, and fathers children by her. He conceals that he was married to Ida.

    Ida, who calls herself Ida Mussolini and her son Benito or Benitino Albino Mussolini, is a woman obsessed, whom others urge to move on, but will not give up her pursuit of her idol and the man she believes to be the love of her life. For a while she is put under a kind of house arrest with her sister, then confined in one insane asylum and then another, while her son is taken away and sent to boarding school. She writes letters of protest to everyone, including the king and the pope; this of course only makes her seem crazy, but in a hearing it's evident that she is tragically obsessed, but lucid, and in fact she is never declared insane. A psychiatrist (Corrado Invernizzi) vows to help her, but she is taken elsewhere before he can do so.

    The film is rife with operatic passages featuring bright lights, dark shadows, violent storms and heavy rainfall, and yet retains its own kind of lucidity; it's clear that the country and not Ida is mad, and Il Duce is the head madman. The most haunting scene shows an actual speech by Mussolini at the height of his power in which the gestures and facial contortions are not only ugly and strange but unmistakably those of a dangerous madman. Cut to the now grown son of Ida, doing an imitation of Mussolini's speechifying and himself appearing genuinely deranged. Records show both mother and son received treatments that were akin to torture, and Ida was incarcerated for eleven years. The son died at the age of 26; Ida Dalser died at 57, 30 years after she first met Mussolini Italy's eventual fascist dictator.

    Since the film's protagonist is on the periphery, it makes sense that eventually we know Mussolini only through the newsreels she occasionally sees, which are brilliantly integrated into the film; it's hard to convey how striking and integral these images are. There are also haunting still portraits of Ida, showing her at progressive stages of suffering. The film's sense of pictorialism is augmented by a sense of the visual language of the period, heightened by a scene in which Mussolini is introduced to the Italian Futurists and their paintings, and excellent use is made of Futurist and Fascist graphic design and fonts. The sound track is powerful but muted.

    The film in fact is most satisfying visually, and despite Giovanna Mezzogiorno's dedication to her performance as the independent, yet long-suffering woman, there is a lack of three-dimensionality in the characterizations: the figures are monumental but not quite human. The focus becomes a bit distant even on Ida as her torments increase, and there is nothing about the private life of Il Duce. Finally there is not the intimacy Bellocchio achieved in Good Morning, Night, except in the first intimate scenes between the young (still hairy) Benito and Ida. Nonetheless, the effect of the whole film is both sick-making and scary.

    Though Bellocchio's style here is operatic, it's a swift-moving, elegant, contemporary kind of opera, and it works.

    An IFC film, Vincere was shown at Cannes, Toronto, Telluride, and reviewed here as part of the New York Film Festival.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-17-2015 at 09:47 PM.

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    Don argott: The art of the steal (2009)

    DON ARGOTT: THE ART OF THE STEAL (2009)


    DEMONSTRATION IN FRONT OF THE NEW VENUE FOR THE BARNES COLLECTION

    A history and a polemic

    The Art of the Steal is a documentary that chronicles the long and dramatic struggle for control of the Barnes Foundation, a private collection of Post-Impressionist and early Modern art valued at more than $25 billion.--Film publicity.

    Actually, it's $25-$35 billion. The value is really incalculable. Albert C. Barnes (1872-1951) was a Philadelphian of working-class origins who used his fortune from an antiseptic compound called Argyrol to collect: 181 Renoirs, 69 Cezannes, 59 Matisses (including his commissioned, unique, Art of the Dance murals), 46 Picassos, 21 Soutines, 18 Rousseaus, 16 Modiglianis, 11 Degas, 7 Van Goghs, 6 Seurats, 4 Manets and 4 Monets. And these are quality, not just quantity: they include some of the named artists' best works. For Renoir, Cezanne, and Matisse, this collection is unique, and there may be no other private collection of such work of this magnitude.

    Barnes was a great collector. He was also famously cranky and opinionated. He deeply and lastingly resented the fat cats of the city of Philadelphia who mocked the work in his collection when it was first shown. He chose to keep the collection away from those Philadelphian fat cats. A friend of the philosopher and educational theorist John Dewey, he built a museum in Merion, Pennsylvania (five miles from Philadelphia) on his own land, a 12-acre Arboretum, and restricted visits, running the Foundation as a teaching institution, which was his main focus in life from the Twenties till his death in a car accident in 1951. The collection was displayed as in a house, arranged with furniture and decorations, in aesthetically pleasing (if rather overly-symmetrical) groupings, rather than in the contemporary museum's open-space, white-wall style.

    Barnes' will specified that the collection must never be loaned out or sold. His will put Lincoln University, a small black college, in charge of the collection after his death.

    For a long time the Foundation was run by a close follower of the Barnes spirit, Violette de Mazia. But after she died in 1988, gradually, and recently quite rapidly, the will has abrogated, the trust broken. In the Nineties an ambitious man named Richard H. Glanton, who was then in charge of it, loaned the collection to various major venues, including the Musee d'Orsay in Paris, and ending, ironically, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, ostensibly to raise money. More recently a powerful nexus of politicians (the governor and the mayor of Philadelphia), the Annenbergs, the Philidelphia Museum, and rich charitable organizations, mainly the Pew Foundation, have worked not only to get control away from Lincoln University but to move the whole collection to a new building in the city of Philadelphia, where Barnes emphatically did not want his collection to be.

    The documentary focuses on and sides with the opposition to this development. There was a court challenge to Judge Ott's decision allowing the move, but he opted not to consider it and the opposition has not appealed this decision.

    That's the focus of the film. I confess to somewhat mixed feelings about these complex issues. I grew up in Baltimore, where the Cone sisters gave their extraordinary (if smaller) collection of similar work to the Baltimore Museum of Art in the Fifties, so anyone could look at it. But in those years, it was hard to get to see the Barnes collection, and even after it was opened up (against Barnes' will) it remained out of the way and so I've never seen it. In some sense it seems better that it may now be viewed by a lot of people in Philadelphia. Barnes shouldn't have made a collection of this magnitude so difficult of access. On the other hand, the fat cats have raped Barnes' will and ignored his intentions. It has now been stolen away from its original administrators and all Barnes' wishes have been willfully violated. Two wrongs don't make a right. There was a problem, but this is not the proper resolution.

    Emotions run high among the talking heads; most of the principals responsible for the latest, final takeover declined to be interviewed. Biased though this film is, it has law and the rights of collectors on its side. And it reveals some political funny business that would make Michael Moore salivate. It's an ugly picture of art being turned into a battle for power and money and exploited for political luster and tourist potential. Instructive and disturbing.

    Shown at the TIFF and an official selection of the NYFF, The Art of the Steal now has a distributor. It has just been picked up by IFC.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-17-2015 at 09:49 PM.

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    ANDREY KHRZHARNOVSKY: ROOM AND A HALF (2009)

    ANDREY KHRZHARNOVSKY: ROOM AND A HALF (2009)


    GRIGORY DITYATKOVSKY AS EXILED POET JOSEPH BRODSKY

    Collaged poetic portrait of the exiled poet Joseph Brodsky

    This film by 70-year-old Khrzharnovsky, an award-winning animator and documentary filmmaker, his feature debut, is an imaginative exploration of the life of exiled Russian Jewish poet and Nobel laureate Joseph Brodsky that wonderfully weaves actual footage and restagings, artfully distressed film in the manner of Guy Madden, color and black and white, animation, dramatized scenes and scenery, childhood, adulthood, and one sentimental but very touching scene between Brodsky and his parents after all have died, sitting in the cramped Soviet era room and a half where Joseph spent his youth and his parents lived out their days. We see the mature Brodsky as an exile in America, dreaming of returning to his homeland (he never actually did). It's all woven together with readings of Brodsky's poetry and prose, recollections of his development, and meditations on the journey back he took only in his imagination.

    Some of the early scenes of Brodsky trying to get to second base with girls and sampling jeans and vinyl records are reminiscent of Karen Shakhnazarov's recent film of a Sixties Moscow youth, The Vanished Empire (2008), except that here, with the setting moved to Leningrad, the sequences are more stylized. Before that we see Brodsky as a little boy coddled by parents and exploring his immediate surroundings. Throughout, Alisa Freyndlih and Sergei Yursky are excellent as Brodsky's mother and father.

    And as Brodsky grows up he becomes a confident intellectual, declaring his to be the last generation that will truly value culture and extolling the virtues of cigarettes as a wellspring of poetic creativity. He is outspokenly political, and this leads to exile to a remote village. A letter asks for a care package from home of mustard, cheese, and other delicacies, but says that he is fine. After he has been expelled from Russia and become a professor in he USA, first at the University of Michigan, later at colleges on the East Coast, he's seen drinking and partying, and recurrently calling his parents, who in turn are seen struggling with the bureaucracy to get permission to leave Russia to visit him; they never could. There's nothing about Brodsky's American family life. Focus is on his relationship with Russia.

    Though a bit long at 130 minutes, Room and a Half is an enchanting work of the imagination and remarkable for its blending of different visual and filming styles and engaging and beautiful animated sequences, often making use of blackbirds and cats. As a portrait of Brodsky, despite the rich actual Brodsky material, it's not to be taken literally, and hence stands more as a study of the theme of the artist in exile. This provides rich material that one would certainly love to show students if one were teaching a course in Brodksy's writing. (He came to the US in 1972 and was naturalize in 1977; died in 1996 at the age of 55.)

    The full title is Room and a Half, or a Sentimental Journey to the Homeland; the Russian title, transliterated, is Poltory komnaty ili sentimentalnoe puteshestvie na rodinu .

    Shown as an official selection of the New York Film Festival.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 09-25-2009 at 03:03 PM.

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    MANOEL DE OLIVEIRA: ECCENTRICITIES OF A BLOND HAIR GIRL (2009)

    MANOEL DE OLIVEIRA: ECCENTRICITIES OF A BLOND HAIR GIRL (2009)



    Old-fashioned storytelling, stylish but odd

    This measured-paced tale (Singularidades de uma Rapariga Loura) by the Portuguese master, who's now over 100 years old, is from a short story by 19th-century 'realist' Eca de Queiroz. In De Oliveira's treatment, the story gains a surreal feeling and its basic structure makes it seem rather like a fairy-tale or fable. In the frame setting, the protagonist, Macario (Ricardo Trepa) sits next to an elegant middle-aged lady (Leonor Silveira) on a train to Algarve and tells her he's unhappy, and that he'll tell her why. She's all ears, and the tale unfolds.

    In Lisbon, Macario had an orderly, somewhat pampered existence, living with his uncle Francisco (Diogo Darria) and working as the accountant upstairs above the uncle's attached textile business.

    And then one day Macario sees a beautiful blond woman in the window opposite, waving a Chinese fan, and he falls hopelessly in love with her. She is Luisa (Catarina Wallerstein), and she lives with her mother (Julia Buisel). Macario goes to some trouble to be introduced to Luisa, and is tongue-tied, but she immediately responds and takes him in tow.

    Very shortly Macario asks Tio Francisco's permission to marry. But his uncle refuses point blank. Macario says he'll marry anyway. "Then you're fired," Francisco says, "and get out of my house. Now." The hero moves to a tiny room and soon runs out of money, unable to get a job with anyone he knows, because they don't want to displease his uncle. Macario seizes an opportunity to go and work in the Cape Verde islands and comes back with a fortune. Luisa has waited for him, but his generosity to a friend causes him to be duped and he loses his whole Cape Verde nest egg. Though his uncle reverses his positions and asks him back, a desire for independence forces Macario back to the islands for another lucrative stint. But after all this he ends by discovering Luisa was not worthy of him in the first place.

    The film-making here is elegant and beautiful, and the abruptness and cruelty of events call to mind Patrice Chereau's stunning 19th-century tale Gabrielle (2005) -- which, however, has far more emotional power, richer mise-en-scene, and more three-dimensional characters.

    We are clearly in the Old Europe in Eccentricities, with its old-fashioned interiors, spacious, geometrical street scenes and big windows with well-lit views. One particularly lovely shot shows a large mirror with a stairway and rooms behind it, all suffused in a golden light. The simplicity and austerity of the film are enhanced by having no music, except for a harp played at a chamber concert at the home of a wealthy man (a scene again somewhat reminiscent of Gabrielle).

    The word "eccentricities" is ironic, but the film has its own eccentricities, since the action has a distinct 19th-century quality but prices are in euros and clothes and accoutrements are 21st-century (if not obtrusively so). Also strange is much of the behavior; motivations are never clear. Why does Macario fall in love so fast? Why is he in his uncle's charge? Why does his uncle refuse -- but later reverse himself? Nothing is revealed about Luisa, except for her superficial appeal and coquettish allure. Her perpetual Chinese fan makes her more a symbol or a motif than a real young woman. All of this might make more sense if set more distinctly in the period of the writer, but it is still stylized storytelling, rather than Zola-esque 19th-century realism. What does it mean then to say Eca de Queiroz was a 'realist' writer? Though fascinating for its composure and elegance, the film seems largely a curiosity.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 09-25-2009 at 03:06 PM.

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    Joao pedro rodrigues: To die as a man (2009)

    JOAO PEDRO RODRIGUES: TO DIE AS A MAN (2009)


    FERNANDO SANTOS AS TONIA

    Dogs, aquariums, killer sons, druggie lovers, and a sex change

    You can't help thinking there's a good movie here somewhere. But things get out of hand from the start. Two young soldiers on maneuvers in camouflage outfits have anal sex in the woods. It's too dark to see which is which, but shortly afterward one shoots the other dead, apparently in an extreme form of homosexual panic. That's before the opening titles. But it's a plotline that's largely dropped.

    Morrer Como Um Homem, a film from Portugal, is a bizarre patchwork of scenes, some of which resort to spins or whiteouts or extreme blue or red filters, and it doesn't need to do all this, because its account of a would-be transsexual who lives with a young drug addict and shelters her assassin son is quite bizarre enough. And ought to be interesting. And as the drag queen, Tonia, Fernando Santos is watchable. But the 138-minute running time makes this quite another kind of drag. You could easily excise 30 or 40 minutes; but the story line would still ramble too much.

    A drag queen who's getting too old and is asked to leave the show. Haven't we seen that before somewhere? That's Tonia. She has competition from a younger black performer, Jenny (Jenni La Rue). That sounds familiar too. The hesitating to get the sex change operation: done. The young druggie lover: done. The haughty ex-drag star met by chance who struts her stuff, reciting German poetry: done.

    But despite the familiarity of themes, there's life here. Drag queens are so camera-ready. And Rodriguez has a gift for odd or arresting moments, like the switch blade snapping into a transparent shower curtain, a chicken bone and a high-heeled shoe dropped into the aquarium, a man committing suicide on the beach seen only from behind. There is a welcome willingness to experiment and take risks. Despite the camera tricks being out-there campy, the visuals are generally very nice. Only director Rodrigues keeps killing things by stopping the action for a lengthy song or musical number, or going off on some new tangent and losing the momentum. Or sinking into subject matter that seems too derivative.

    I lied: the killer soldier theme isn't completely dropped. He lies waiting for Tonia in her house one night, and turns out to be her long-lost son Ze Maria (Chandra Malatitch). Tonia agrees to hide Ze Maria, who destroys her aquarium. But she's more interested in helping her young boyfriend Rosario (Alexander David, who's pretty convincing) stay off drugs. And more than that, she's interested in her little dog.

    One or two moments that have nothig to do with AIDS, or Christianity, or sexuality, like the time when Tonia and Rosario wander in a woods and find wild forget-me-nots, seem more natural than anything else. It is possible to care about these people. And wish they were in a better movie.

    This will play well to the some specialized LGBT cinema audiences. Jason Anderson of Eye Weekly speaks of "searing melodrama with great moments of formal audacity" and says that Rodrigues' "three features to date are throwbacks to a far more radical era for queer cinema and To Die Like a Man is no less extraordinary than its predecessors."*

    Shown as a part of the main slate of the New York Film Festival 2009. In October 2010 Strand Releasing announced that it will open in spring 2011 in US theaters. Strand also says the film is Portugal’s Official Selection for Best Foreign Language Film in the Academy Awards, 2010 (83rd).

    ___________________

    *Sympathetic Cinema Scope article on the film and Rodrigues' work by Dennis Lim and an interview with Rodrigues.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-13-2010 at 04:28 PM.

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    Lars von trier: Antichrist (2009)

    LARS VON TRIER: ANTICHRIST (2009)



    Authentic horror? Stunner from Lars

    It's been said (and he confirms) that the Danish cinematic provocateur and master always makes essentially the same film, but Von Trier's Antichrist differs from the others in various ways. It has only two characters, a husband (Willem Dafoe) and wife (Charlotte Gainsbourg). As he tells it, Antichrist was his way of finding out, in the wake of the first severe depression of his life, whether he even had the strength to make another film. If he had less control than usual, he counted himself lucky to be able to work. And he was pleased with the result, which he declares to be more instinctive and less calculated than previous efforts. Another new thing is that the cinematography by Anthony Dod Mantle has a glossy, non-Dogme look. And the whole film reads, partly anyway, as coming from a new genre he hasn't played with before: it's a very arty -- psychological and philosophical -- horror movie.

    The title "came early," but what it means other than to allude to the fact that von Trier does not believe in God, is uncertain; he insists that Nietzsche's Antichrist has been on his bedside table for 40 years but he has never read it. He points rather to his debt to Strindberg, whose combative couples fascinated him early on. And this is a combative couple, that's for sure.

    Also unusual is a Prologue in black and white and slow motion accompanied by a baroque aria, Handel's "Lascio ch'io pianga" ("Let me weep"), during which the couple has sex. Their little boy, Nic, escapes from his crib, opens the door and sees them making love, then walks over to a window and falls out and is killed. Four chapters follow, Grief, Pain (Chaos Reigns), Despair (Gynocide), and The Three Beggars; then an Epilogue. The action takes place in the Pacific Northwest (though it was shot in Europe).

    Much of the story is about dominance and submission. The man is a psychotherapist. His wife collapses at the funeral and is hospitalized and sleeps for a long time. The man can't accept the doctor's methods, his use of medications, and insists, against professional principles, on treating his own wife. He takes her through a series of "treatments" that von Trier may think of as forms of "cognitive therapy," but the methodology is fanciful and erratic. At her urging they resort to sex to ease her suffering, which he thinks a bad idea.

    Her grief continues, but turns to fear. He persuades her to pinpoint her fear, and its locus seems to be the outdoor, grassy part of a summer cottage in the woods that they call "Eden" where in the year before she was with Nic working alone on a thesis about gynocide, a history of the oppression and killing of women.

    In a discussion of this, she tells him she had started to see that women, while wronged by men, contain evil themselves, because they contain nature, and nature embodies evil. The Pain, Despair, and Three Beggars chapters take place out in the woods, where the husband takes his wife, ostensibly to work out her fear and overcome it, in a highly symbolic, beautiful, and terrifying nature in which birthing deer, ravens, a fox, hail, and falling acorns menace and signify. "Nature is Satan's church" is a line the wife speaks, and in some sense the Pacific woods become von Triers' sexual Purgatory and Inferno. Early in the approach to the woods there is a particularly haunting and scary distant shot in extreme slow motion in which the woman is seen crossing a little bridge onto the property where the cabin is, a place that terrifies her.

    Despite his persistent voice of reason, it's clear that the husband is something of a sadist and a fool; she says at one point that he was never really interested in her till now, as a patient, an object to toy with. Again they resort to sex as a grim palliative. Eventually she rebels, and takes extreme measures against both her husband and herself. This is where the film swerves toward horror and gore and the masturbation and mutilation that led to boos and walkouts at Cannes. But there were no boos at all and scant walkouts at the Lincoln Center NYFF press and industry screening I watched.

    This isn't a film I'm eager to watch again right now but it is perhaps his most beautiful, and one of his strongest, provocations. Obviously there are themes of sexuality, gender roles, dominance and submission, and nature. The apparent (and largely convincing) narrative sequence is partly a ruse. The slo-mo prologue introduces the Primal Scene, but the guilt is the couple's. And the guilt extends to unease about sex itself. The wife assumes it as hers, but may eventually shift the blame to her husband. The child's death may be a pretext for introducing the theme of melancholy, the emotion the director himself was working out of. The action in the woods may seem to result from the husband-therapist's efforts to "cure" his wife of her grief and fear, but turns into an enactment of more primal and inexplicable fears and horrors. In a Q&A conducted long distance via Skype (Lars hates flying; anyway avoids coming to the US) the director seemed extremely candid; but can one really believe him? and also sometimes wicked and playful. He is justifiably grateful to Gainsbourg and Dafoe, who do excellent work. Interestingly, he said the slickness of the images wasn't quite what he had wanted -- the dialogue scenes in particular he'd wanted to have more a "documentary" look to distinguish them from the more symbolic animal and nature scenes -- and he's somewhat apologetic about taking the old device of slow motion photography from the "toy box," but he typically pretested that he was just glad he'd been able to make a film. And so should we be.

    Typically, a viewing of a Trier film immediately leads one into lively speculations about what he's up to and how the themes dovetail or conflict. But this time they're particularly well embodied in a host of lush visuals and intense scenes with the actors that are as aesthetically satisfying as they are disturbing, like a panorama by Hieronymus Bosch. Von Trier's problem is that he's so manipulative and intellectual that even his most emotional moments feel too detached and premeditated to be convincing, but to some extent the look and feel of Antichrist allow it to escape that pitfall. In any case according to his own account his mental state made this film less calculating than previous ones and more instinctive and drawn from dreams.

    Shown at Cannes, Toronto, and other festivals, seen as part of the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center 2009. IFC will distribute it. Gainsbourg got the Best Actress prize at Cannes, and von Trier was nominated for Best Director there.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 09-22-2011 at 03:35 PM.

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    Samuel maoz: Lebanon (2009)

    SAMUEL MAOZ: LEBANON (2009)


    MICHAEL MOSHONOV

    Visceral, but not the "best" of the Israel Lebanese war films

    In the Variety review Derek Elley writes:
    Visceral, torn-from-the-memory filmmaking that packs every punch except one to the heart, "Lebanon" is the boldest and best of the recent mini-wave of Israeli pics ("Beaufort," "Waltz With Bashir") set during conflicts between the two countries. Ironically, writer-director Samuel Maoz's pic, 99.9% of which is set within an Israeli tank, actually has the least to do with Lebanon per se.
    The film is based on Maoz's own experience in the tank corps, the "proletariat" of the army, as he puts it, combined with an incident he knew about in which an Israeli tank got lost in a dangerous Syrian-controlled area.

    "Viscceral" and "torn-from-memory" Lebanon definitely is, and it does pack "every punch except one to the heart." Why is that? Perhaps because the four young men and the others whom we encounter in the tank appear as the operation begins; it all takes place in a few hours, and there is no time to provide back-stories for trigger-shy rookie gunner Shmulik (Yuav Donat), crew leader Assi (Itay Tiran), obstreperous gun loader Hertzel (Oshri Cohen) and terrified driver Yigal (Michael Moshonov), the crew; mean outside commander Jamil (Zohar Staruss); or their exhausted Syrian captive (Dudu Tassa); and the several others.

    The film presents a concentrated and specific indictment of war through presenting innocent and unwilling young men who are unquestionably brave under fire, but doomed through ill fortune and inexperience in a dicey and deteriorating situation. Such an anti-war arc is more effectively used in Bernard Wicki's extraordinary 1959 German anti-war film Die Brucke, also about a doomed squad of young men. The difference is that a large early segment of Die Brucke is devoted to exploring the lives of each young man of an underage German late-WWII squad in detail before they come together, so we know very well who they all are and where they come from as one by one they meet their tragic fate. The effect is devastating in a way that the entrapment of a group of appealing but somewhat generic young Israelis can't quite be. The young actors are vivid and believable, though some of Maoz's writing, despite his personal experience (25 years ago) in the 1982 war, falls prey to cliches of the oversensitive rookie, the brusque superior officer, the insistence of bodily needs, and so on. A lot of the dialogue seems stagy, even though this staging trumps anything you could do in a theater.

    Lebanon is nonetheless a superb piece of filmmaking and no mere tour de force, because it all takes place within a tank, but DP Giora Bejach, as Maoz puts it, was "two photographers," depicting the events inside but also shooting through the tank's sights so we see the world outside as the crew sees it, including several devastating scenes in which Lebanese civilians are ravaged, humiliated and killed -- in particular a mother (Raymonde Ansellem) keening over her dead little daughter whose dress catches fire, leaving her naked. This is far more shocking than any of the provocations in Lars von Trier's Antichrist, which seem contrived and calculated in comparison. Lebanon is very fine in its resolution of the problem of the claustrophobic setting.

    The film exposes the Israeli violation of international law. The tank crew is told that a town has been bombed, and their job is to accompany troops who are going in to wipe out anyone left alive in it. The commander repeatedly orders the bomber to use white phosphorus bombs, but says they're illegal so they will call them "flaming smoke."

    Action in the tank is specific and compelling. These guys are little more than boys. The newest member is the gunner. He admits he's shot only at "barrels" before this, and when the time comes to shoot, he can't pull the trigger, with disastrous results. What happens when you're in a tank and can't leave it, but it becomes disabled in enemy territory? In Lebanon you find out.

    Nonetheless I differ with Mr. Elley's view that this film is superior to Beaufort and Waltz with Bashir, both of which provide a larger context on the war; the "visceral" vividness of the young men's experience doesn't compensate for this lack. On the other hand, despite the events' realistic "grunt's"-eye view of war, in which mysterious orders have to be clumsily obeyed without understanding the scheme of things, it's absurd and insensitive to say the film "has the least to do with Lebanon per se," and "The story could be set in any tank, any country." Mr. Elley seems to have forgotten about the Lebanese civilians as well as Arabic-speaking "terrorists" (the IDF term for the enemy) who are very vividly seen in this film, and not in the two others, both of which, however, are excellent films. They're all good, and all have severe shortcomings as views of the Lebanese war.

    Maoz won the Golden Lion in Venice for this directorial debut. Sony will distribute the film in the US. Seen as a part of the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center 2009.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-17-2015 at 09:51 PM.

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    Andrzej wajda: Sweet rush (2009)

    ANDRZEJ WAJDA: SWEET RUSH (2009)


    WAJDA DIRECTS SZAJDA AND JANDA

    Two stories and a memory and a tribute

    Famous since the Fifties when he made Kanal and Ashes and Diamonds, 83-year-old filmmaker Andrzej Wajda has made two complex films in the past two years; the previous being the 2007 historical film Katyn, about the repressed slaughter of Polish officers by the Russians. Here he has combined four elements. "Tatarak" ("Sweet Rush") is a postwar story by Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz about a mature woman who becomes involved with a simple, sexy young man, and Wajda augments it by combining it with another story about a women whose doctor husband discovers as summer approaches that she has a terminal illness, but doesn't tell her.

    Marta, the woman (who becomes the protagonist of both stories) is played by the great Polish actress Krystina Janda. But at the time the film was to be shot, Janda was grieving over the recent death of her own husband of a sudden, terminal illness. He was Edward Klosinksi, a d.p. responsible for the cinematography of two well-known films, Man of Marble and Man of Iron," both directed by Wajda and starring Janda. Wajda weaves together fiction and real life, interspersing scenes of Marta's life with her doctor husband (Jan Englert) and her encounter with the young man, Bogus (Pawel Szajda), with Krystina Janda's actual recollections of her husband's last days, spoken dramatically in a darkened room looking away from an unmoving camera. There are also brief sequences in which the camera draws back to show a filmmaking crew, so that the line between fiction and meta-fiction blurs.

    The layered but rather slow-paced tale is mostly of value for Janda's fine performance. This is a showcase for her art, a tribute to her and her long relationship with the director, also indirectly a tribute to Janda's late husband, as well as to the notable Polish writer Jaraslaw Iwaszkiewicz, whom Wajda has long wanted to celebrate through an adaptation. "Sweet rush" (tatarat) is a tall marsh grass with several scents -- redolent of fresh life, but when pressed deeply, giving off the smell of death -- and it's used for Pentecost as a celebration of the coming of summer. To impress or please Marta, with whom he (rather too quickly, in the film) has developed a lively, warm May-December relationship, Bogus dives into the water and grabs a lot of it when a tragic accident happens. This is the most vivid and troubling moment of the film.

    Marta's husband has pointed out to her that death can come at any time, and a reminder of that is the bedroom of the couple's two young sons who died years ago during the war, which is kept locked. Marta has been living in the past, longing for the more blissful prewar period, when Bogus suddenly comes along to make her focus on the present just when, unbeknownst to her, her own days are numbered.

    The filmmaking segments don't quite work, and the monologue by Janda, however interesting in itself, isn't integral to the two intertwined short stories by Iwaszkiewicz, which would work quite well on their own. Wajda seems to be trying to do too much with this "portmanteau" film, but Sweet Rush is a fascinating document of a master filmmaker, which not only has interesting camerawork, good acting, and luminous lighting, but a few memorable scenes.

    Shown as an official selection of the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center, 2009.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-22-2010 at 11:41 PM.

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