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Thread: New York Film Festival 2010

  1. #31
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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    Raúl Ruiz: MYSTERIES OF LISBON (2010)


    João Luís Arrais in Mysteries of Lisbon

    Romantic labyrinths, from a book of serials

    Raúl Ruiz's beautiful and dauntingly complex new film, Mysteries of Lisbon (Misterios de Lisboa), which has been made up (in the manner of Olivier Assayas' current Carlos) into two versions, a four-and-a-half-hour theatrical one and a longer one of six 55-minute segments for TV, is a confounding, hypnotic series of tales-within-tales-within-tales as intricate as anything in the Arabian Nights, or a John Barth reinvention thereof. But this isn't Baghdad under Haroun al-Rashid. It's 18th- and 19th-century Portugal and France, and the original story comes from the single hand of Camilo Castelo Branco, 1st Viscount de Correia Botelho, a 19th-century Portutuese writer who penned over 260 books, and still had time to live a life as turbulent as this film, one ended by his own hand when he learned he was going blind from syphilis.

    Like the young João, AKA Pedro, around whom the narrative revolves, Castelo Branco was born out of wedlock and orphaned very young. The 1854 series of back-tracking and interlocking Gothic-cum-amour fou tales of revenge, duels, revelations, changed identities, and wild, mostly adulterous romances recap some of the writer's own experiences, rearranged to fit literary motifs and historical themes. Castelo Branco studied medicine and then for the priesthood, afterward dedicating himself to writing -- and adultery, for which he was imprisoned. He eventually settled down and wrote for a living; the title of viscount was conferred on him for his writing. There are inconsistencies in the narrative because Castel Branco wrote for serials, and lost track of what he'd said earlier. However, the film, of course, is from a screenplay, by Carlos Saboga.

    Though made (according to prominent freelance producer Paulo Branco) for only $2 million, Mysteries of Lisbon nonetheless has sumptuous production values, with lovely costumes, exquisite real interiors and landscapes that look like paintings wherein a cast is deployed whose named characters alone number over three dozen. It begins promisingly, like an unusually delicate and self-possessed bildingsroman, with the young Pedro da Silva (João Luís Arrais), a handsome 14-year-old at a boarding school under the protection of a priest. Pedro, then known as João, says in voiceover "I had no idea who I was." He soon learns that he is the son of a woman of noble birth. And then there is a story. And then another. And another. And that leads to another. All concern the themes mentioned above.

    Unfortunately, without a synopsis in hand, and a pause button to go back and review transitions so one sees the logical connectives and understands how one tale fits into the whole, the mysteries of Lisbon, alas, remain somewhat mysterious. Perhaps they are meant to. Readers of episodes in a 19th-century serial romance might well be satisfied without the sense of a grand design. The fun was in the emotion and drama of each episode. However as one watches a long film unroll -- and one thinks in this context of Ruiz's masterful 1999 adaptation of Proust, Time Regained, as the director evidently did too, for he reportedly sought to evoke his earlier film in the mise-en-scene and cinematography (the latter by newcomer André Szankowski) -- one tends to expect to make unifying, dovetailing sense of things, something difficult with the earlier film but doable if one knows one's Proust. Ruiz does tie Mysteries up at the end, with two final scenes that are, however, intentional conundrums, but return to the character one at least wants to be central, Pedro/João, the aristocratic bastard whose desire to know his true origins is what starts the whole swirling ball rolling.

    Things are clear enough at the beginning when the friar in charge of his school, Padre Diniz (Adriano Luz), introduces the 14-year-old João to Angela de Lima (Maria João Bastos). He realizes this high-born lady must be his mother. She turns out to have been imprisoned for years at his castle as punishment for her adultery by her husband, the Count of Santa Barbara (Albano Jerónimo). Padre Diniz tells the story -- in which he appears in one of three identities, because he, among others, has had a checkered career. Joáo retells the stories throughout in a puppet theater, which serves as a transitional device between tales. But it gets crazier. Another key character has multiple identities. A heavy hired to kill Angela's lover later appears as a man called Alberto de Magalhães (Ricardo Pereira) who's gotten rich in Brazil in the slave trade. Later the focus is at times on Pedro/João, (played by Alfonso Pimentel as a young adult), or on the French noblewoman Elisa de Montfort (Clotilde Hesme), or Magalhães, or Padre Diniz in another of his manifestations. Why all these shifts? Hard to say.

    Ruiz, the gifted and original 69-year-old Chilean filmmaker who rose to prominence in the 1980's and lives in France, was seriously unwell when this film was undertaken and seemed on the verge of dying of liver cancer; surgery has since saved his life. It was producer Paulo Branco who originally conceived the project of turning Castelo Branco's pulpy but absorbing three volumes into a movie. Ruiz didn't initially see how to do it, but screenwriter Carlos Saboga very quickly turned out a screenplay and the project got under way. Ruiz is clearly at home with the endless whirlwind of love tales. Whether anybody at work on the project knew how the plot fit together any better then Hawks, Faulkner, and company did when they made The Big Sleep is unknown. The beauty of the images and the constant rhythm of the action and scenes are evidently vintage Ruiz, but whether this film holds its own against the director's Time Regained is uncertain. The film is in French as well as Portuguese and some well-known French actors are invloved -- Clotilde Hesme, Malik Zidi, Melvil Poupaud, and Léa Seydoux, as well as relative newcomer Julien Alluguette.

    Mysteries of Lisbon is frustrating. It is too beautiful not to watch on a big screen, but it is likely to make more sense on DVD. In many ways it is like any classy European costume mini-series, and at the same time both more and less. It has the mark of an auteur's unique vision, his fascination for circular, swirling storytelling and enchanting tableaux, and in that sense it is special. It has the bustling scenes, handsome costumes, international cast of a RAI or Canal+ product -- but it lacks the essential chronological coherence. One can tell which century one's in, but one can't always remember why.

    If dauntingly long watches are going to be a fixture of film festivals, where do we stop? Why wasn't the first season of "The Wire" presented at a film festival? But that would be as hard to take in during a 4-and-half hour sit as this, and as in need of a good cheat-sheet to follow the first time through. Mysteries of Lisbon bears some similarity to Catherine Breillat's Last Mistress, also a story of amour fou from a novel that straddles (more clearly) the leap between the 18th and 19th centuries. Ruiz's film may be a masterpiece in festival terms, but for the ordinary art house viewer, Breillat's is more accessible and considerably more fun.

    Mysteries of Lisbon is included in the Toronto, New York, Vancouver, Vienna, Torino and London film festivals, and is scheduled for theatrical release in France and Portugal Oct. 20 and 21. Seen and reviewed as part of the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center, shown to the public there Oct. 10.

    Film website.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-14-2010 at 02:25 PM.

  2. #32
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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    Clint Eastwood: HEREAFTER (2010)


    Cécile de France (center) flees from a tsunami in Hereafter

    Here, and the beyond

    Clint Eastwood moves into new territory in several ways with Hereafter and almost fully carries it off directing a screenplay by Peter Morgan (also in a new area outside British history). It tells three tales about dialoging with the dead that connect at the end. The subject is new; so is shooting in the tropics and London and Paris as well as the US (San Francisco) and in French as well as in English. The risk is sentimentality or hokiness on the one hand and the far-fetchedness of by now clichéd multiple storyline movies on the other. But the stories are interesting, and never slighted in the interests of theme or dovetaling.

    In a flashy opening, Cécile de France is a French TV journalist caught with her coworker boyfriend Thierry Neuvic in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. He's back at the hotel but she's in the market and gets swept off in the water and almost drowns. In fact she has a near-death experience. The tsunami is neatly and swiftly recreated in special effects that convince without overwhelming. It's a superb sequence, epic yet disarmingly simple. Meanwhile in San Francisco we meet Matt Damon, a former psychic now working in a factory job because he found revisiting people's dead relatives too draining and strange a way to live his life. But his powers were effective and he keeps getting pulled back. And in London, two young twin brothers, played by newcomers Frankie and George McClaren, live with an addict mother (Niamh Cusack) whom they try to protect. When one of the twins is killed in a traffic accident the other is taken into foster care. Marcus, formerly the dependent brother, is on his own and wants both his mum and brother Jason back. He wears Jason's cap and occasionally talks to him.

    It's safe to say the little twin is a strong presence. So is the dynamic, soulful Cécile de France. She has never been in an American film, but only speaks English briefly at a London book fair, where all three principals run into each other. And Damon is good here, striking a strange but convincing balance between flustered and grounded. There is a no-nonsense quality about the way he reluctantly wields his powers.

    While de France is going through turmoil at work back in Paris due to her post-traumatic state and sense of having entered another world and not fully returned from it, Damon meets a lovely girl at a cooking class (Bryce Dallas Howard) whose jovial chef (Steven R. Schirripa) has students sample tastes blindfolded, and then loses her through being drawn into communing with her dead relatives. That brings up issues that are too intimate to share. Meanwhile Marcus, turning independent and running off temporarily from his foster parents, visits various psychics, an interlude that shows lots of them are frauds.

    The film takes an agnostic stand through Damon, whose character views his special sense as a curse but who may be the real thing -- or not. The point of the story is not to focus on the "au delà" (the beyond, title of a book de France writes when on furlough from journalistic chores) so much as to suggest that reconciling one's feelings about death and lost loved ones is a key to peace and happiness in the here-and-now. Thus the finale, where characters are reunited in a way that's hopeful without being overly optimistic.

    Morgan's screenplay obviously plays with the device of Guillermo Arriaga's Babel and other films where far-off individuals are implausibly and portentously brought together. The bringing-together here is not without clumsiness. But it is handled by Eastwood, as are even the most dramatic elements in the three stories, in such a low keyed way that one stays caught up in the characters and the subject matter and is left at the end with things to ponder rather than a sense of being put through an emotional wringer for dramatic effect. The fresh material and composed, old-fashioned filmmaking make Hereafter one of Eastwood's better recent efforts. This is not a great film but it's one that approaches potentially schlocky material in a classy manner, and that's unusual in mainstream Hollywood filmmaking.

    The mainstream-ness is still a flaw at times. The way London and Paris are introduced is ham-fisted and conventional. Some details are dubious. Damon has sworn off being a psychic for three years yet still has a website celebrating his powers so Marcus can conveniently find it. De France on furlough proposes to write a biography of Mitterand -- unlikely. When this is dropped and the French publisher won't do her book on "the beyond," she gets an English publisher -- how? Steps are at best skipped there. Glimpses of the afterlife or the dead are signaled by a booming sound and white blurry images -- clear, but not very subtle. Dickens' novels and Derk Jacobi's readings of them are used as a transparent linking device. Flaws like this in the writing and the directing will make some condemn this as far from Eastwood's best work. However the good casting and fine acting offset these flaws, and the tsunami sequence is quite memorable, as are most scenes with de France and the English twins. (There's another action sequence that's equally well handled.) Hereafter treats its complex theme -- that of facing death, our own and others' -- in a tasteful and restrained manner that makes it suggestive and quietly haunting. But for the "MTV generation," as Eastwood has called it, it's hard, as it was earlier this year with Polanski's masterful The Ghost Writer, to appreciate the quiet virtues of traditional filmmaking.

    Seen and reviewed at the 2010 New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center; scheduled as the Closing Night film, Oct. 10. Also shown earlier at Toronto, at Chicago Oct. 14; limited US theatrical release Oct. 15, more general, Oct. 22.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-04-2012 at 03:21 PM.

  3. #33
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    COMMENTS on the 2010 New York Film Festival

    Comments on the NYFF and an index of NYFF 2010 reviews

    Time hasn't allowed me to write a more formal summing up, but here are some general comments on this year's NYFF.

    THE SCREENINGS. As usual the Press & Industry screenings are a pleasure, beautifully presented in comfortable surroundings and if not the most cutting edge series, at least the classiest and nicest to watch of my movie year. They're presented separately from the public ones, at the Walter Reade Theater, a venue that's cozier than the large, handsomely renovated public screening auditorium, Alice Tully Hall, yet has superb image and sound facilities, and a stage where Q&A's are conducted. Refreshments and coffee are provided in the spacious gallery across the lobby. There is a first-rate staff headed by theater manager Glenn Raucher, who in two and a half years in the job has emerged as more and more indispensable -- as well as a pleasure to have around. Screenings are scheduled over a longer period than the festival itself, on weekdays only, spread out so that anyone with the time in mornings and afternoons to spare can watch everything in a civilized manner.

    THE FILMS. Favorites that I'd call mainstream or conventional are the brilliant, fast-paced The Social Network (David Fincher); subtle, complex Poetry (Lee Chang-dong); the thrilling biographical miniseries Carlos (Olivier Assayas); the French drama of the clash of politics and religion, Of Gods and Men (Xavier Beauvois); and an original first film, a German character study about a crook who's also a star athlete, The Robber (Benjamin Heisenberg) -- which I'd rate in about that order. These are my top picks. But not all I recommend. And highlighting them doesn't mean the festival doesn't have depth, even if there was nothing in 2010 as great as Haneke's The White Ribbon or as provocative on a grand scale as von Trier's Antichrist or on a lesser scale Precious and Trash Humpers, all included in last year's NYFF.

    Movies I liked a lot that are a edgier and demanding are the dark political portrait of Seventies Chile, Post Mortem (Pablo Larraín), and the cannibal genre film We Are What We Are (Jorge Michel Grau).

    Manoel de Oliveira's Strange Case of Angelica is in a class by itself. From what I've seen of de Oliveira's work, it's feather-light, but lovely. Likewise I'd put Clint Eastwood in a class by himself. He is an old-fashioned filmmaker. Hereafter deserves respect. It's not quite successful, but it has class, it's thought-provoking, and it has fine acting and terrific action scenes, unusual because they have both punch and restraint.

    I'm not so happy with Kiarostami's Certified Copy, which was so well received at Cannes. It's beautifully made, but it seems a put-on, posing as something profound (and melding into polished European filmmaking, after a lifetime of working in Iran), but its game-playing by a couple who may be long married or have just met seems gimmicky. I'd not have included it. Thought art house film-goers will love this film, it left me feeling empty and a little played-with.

    Another Year (Mike Leigh) is beautifully made and acted but seemed too pat and schematic. Leigh gets great performances and has a powerful working method, but his recent films seem fun yet don't leave such a strong impression. Julie Taymor's The Tempest, chosen partly to sell tickets as the Centeriece film, has some nice acting, but isn't at all an interesting interpretation of Shakespeare. Just window dressing.

    Offerings from Eastern Europe and Russia or Ukraine continued familiar veins for where they came from and were quite disappointing. Cristi Puiu's slow motiveless study of multiple murders Aurora (not up to his Death of Mr. Lazarescu) and Radu Muntean's family breakdown movie Tuesday, Before Christmas, both from Romania, are very similar, slow, flat, obsessively quotidian. They have a certain quality but don't seem very memorable, perhaps due to a lack of narrative structure. Aleksei Fedorchenko's Russian folkloric tale Silent Souls wasn't very memorable either. Sergei Loznitsa's debut My Joy may seem radical to some but impresses only for its ultraviolence--and, admittedly, some fine camerawork. It makes ultimately no narrative sense and is a series of anecdotes posing as a coherent story. Nothing outstanding. The Romanians seem overrated, the Russians not living up to past performance.

    Other disappointing features were Kelly Reichardt's attempt at a radical western, Meek's Cutooff, a lame misfire; and Korean auteur Hong Sang-soo's Oki's Movie. Hong, whose almost Nouvelle Vague-like studies of male-female relationships and vain movie directors I've loved in the past, seems to be repeating himself and running in circles. The followup of The Maid by Chiliean Sebastian Silva and his partner Pedro Peirano, Old Cats, seemed to ruin a good setup and actors with writing of the daughter's part that fell into caricature. The brilliant French-Arab director Abdellatif Kechiche's Black Venus was much too long; he seemed to want to punish the audience with his message of 19th-century white racism and this was a falling off from earlier work closer to his own experience.

    Two greats produced works I couldn't quite tune in to. Godard's Film Socialisme's provocations seem largely incomprehensible; images are intermittently ugly -- beautiful. Raúl Ruiz's Mysteries of Lisbon is gorgeous, its mise-en-scene rich, its tales fascinating. But the tales-within-tales failed to dovetail; the long film is impossible to follow. Mysteries of Lisbon is a very fine film -- almost. A masterpiece manqué.

    Festivals naturally and properly favor films that set themselves apart from mainstream fare. This means a leaning toward work that is hard to understand, glacially slow, often shot cooly, like Hou Hsiao-hsien's and some other great Asian directors', from a certain distance with a stationary camera. There's also a taste for features that merge fiction with documentary elements, especially exotic ones. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, the Thai festival darling Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Cannes 2010 top prize winner, fills the bill. He has every right to go his own way. However when all is said and done he works so far out on the margins that he connects emotionally only occasionally. This study of rural spiritualism and communication with the dead has haunting and beautiful moments, but also seems disjointed, fey, and self-indulgent.

    Documentaries of the festival kind similarly are ones that test an audience, are hard to follow (not a crime), without commentary or with mysterious commentary. Le Quattro Volte and Robinson in Ruins were of that kind, and The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceaşescu, a valid portrait of the Romanian dictator but one that could probably have been an hour shorter. Fred Wiseman's repetitive and boring Boxing Gym did not enchant me. He has covered everything but when he takes the fun out of even ballet I balk. These sometimes haphazard documentary efforts do no honor to the work of great directors included in the festival, whose jurors might rethink their documentary selecting process. On the other hand the conventional documentaries LennonNYC and Letter to Elia (a sidebar) and the handsomely mounted financial meltdown study Inside Job were very worthwhile -- especially the latter, the important (if not unique) Inside Job, which was as smart as The Social Network. Lennon, Elia, and Inside Job are of interest, but does their aesthetic merit warrant inclusion? Docs remain a moot point for the NYFF. Maybe they should include only one really fine one and let it go at that. A doc on a level with Spike Lee's When the Levees Broke, or Philibert's To Be and to Have, and other great ones. But when you consider content apart from form, you go astray.

    Unfortunately I could only see part of the Mexican short collection, but it shows Mexican filmmakers have coherence and more of a sense of commonality than directors of any other Latin American country. Latin America in general remains a source of vibrant new work, while Korea has fallen back somewhat, and Japan and Italy remain in decline from past glories.


    Another Year (Mike Leigh 2010)
    Aurora (Cristi Puiu 2010)
    Autobiography of Nicolae Ceauşescu, The (Andrei Uticǎ 2010)
    Black Venus (Abdellatif Kechiche 2010)
    Carlos (Olivier Assayas 2010)
    Certified Copy (Abbas Kiarostami 2010)
    Film Socialisme (Jean-Luc Godard 2010)
    Hereafter (Clint Eastwood 2010)
    Inside Job (Charles Ferguson 2010)
    LennonNYC (Michael Epstein 2010)
    Letter to Elia, A (Scorsese, Jones 2010)
    Meek's Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt 2010)
    My Joy (Sergei Loznitsa 2010)
    Mysteries of Lisbon (Raúl Ruiz 2010)
    Of Gods and Men (Xavier Beauvois 2010)
    Oki's Movie (Hong Sang-soo 2010)
    Old Cats (Sebastián Silva, Pedro Peirano 2010)
    Poetry (Lee Chang-dong 2010)
    Post Mortem (Pablo Larraín 2010)
    Quattro Volte, Le (Michelangelo Frammartino 2010)
    Revolución (ten short films from Mexico, 2010)
    Robber, The (Benjamin Heisenberg 2010)
    Robinson in Ruins (Patrick Keiller) 2010
    Silent Souls (Alexei Fedorchenko 2010)
    Social Network, The (David Fincher 2010)
    Strange Case of Angelica, The (Manoel de Oliveira 2010)
    Tempest, The (Julie Taymor 2010)
    Tuesday, After Christmas (Radu Muntean 2010)
    Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Apichatpong Weeresethakul 2010)
    We Are What We Are (Jorge Michel Grau 2010)

    The Social Network
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-23-2010 at 08:51 PM.

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