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Thread: New York Film Festival 2013

  1. #1
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    Jul 2002
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    New York Film Festival 2013


    New York Film Festival 2013
    September 27 - October 13, 2013

    Welcome to Filmleaf's Festival Coverage thread for the 50th New York Film Festival, Sept. 27 - Oct. 13, 2013. The Nyff is a presentation of the Film Society of Lincoln Center, New York. Filmleaf's General Film Forum discussion thread for the NYFF begins here.

    Links to reviews:

    12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen 2013)
    About Time (Richard Curtis 2013)
    Abuse of Weakness (Catherine Breillat 2013)
    Alan Partridge [Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa] (Declan Lowney 2013)
    All Is Lost (J.C. Chandor 2013)
    American Promise (Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson 2013)
    At Berkeley (Frederick Wiseman 2013)
    Bastards (Claire Denis 2013)
    Blue Is the Warmest Color (La vie d'Adèle; Abdelatif Kéchiche 2013)
    Burning Bush (Agnieszka Holland 2013)
    Captain Phillips (Paul Greengrass 2013)
    Child of God (James Franco 2013)
    Club Sandwich (Fernando Eimcke 2013)
    Gloria (Sebastián Lelioa 2013)
    Her (Spike Jonze 2013)
    Immigrant, The (James Gray 2013)
    Inside Llewyn Davis (Ethan Coen, Joel Coen 2013)
    Invisible Woman, The (Ralph Fiennes 2013)
    Jealousy (Philippe Garrel 2013)
    Jimmy P: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian (Arndau Desplechin 2013)
    Last of the Unjust, The (Claude Lanzmann 2013)
    Like Father, Like Son (Hirakazu Koreeda 2013)
    Missing Picture, The (Rithy Panh 2013)
    My Name Is Hmmm... (agnès b. 2013)
    Nebraska (Alexander Payne 2013)
    Nobody's Daughter (Hong Sang-soo 2013)
    North, the End of History (Lav Diaz 2013)
    Omar (Hany Abu-Assad 2013)
    Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch 2013)
    Real (Kiyoshi Kurosawa 2013)
    Secret Life of Walter Mitty, The (Ben Stiller 2013)
    Square, The (Jehane Noujaim 2013)
    Stranger by the Lake (Alain Guiraudie 2013)
    Stray Dogs (Tsai Ming-liang 2013)
    Touch of Sin, A (Jia Zhang-ke 2013)
    Week-End, Le (Roger Mitchell 2013)
    When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism (Corneliu Porumboiu 2013)
    Wind Rises, The (Hayao Miyazaki 2013)


    These reviews also appear on the website here.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-02-2015 at 05:00 PM.

  2. #2
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    Main Slate.
    Main Slate lineup for the 51st New York Film Festival (with short blurbs provided by the FSLC):

    ABOUT TIME (2013) 123min
    Director: Richard Curtiss
    Country: UK
    Richard Curtis adds a touch of time-travel to this hilarious romantic comedy, a perfect vehicle for the comic talents of Bill Nighy, Rachel McAdams, Lindsay Duncan, and emerging star Domhnall Gleeson. A Universal Pictures release.

    ABUSE OF WEAKNESS (Abus de Faiblesse) (2013) 105mi
    Director: Catherine Breillat
    Country: France
    Catherine Breillat’s haunting film about her 2004 stroke and subsequent self-destructive relationship with star swindler Christophe Rocancourt, starring Isabelle Huppert.

    ALAN PARTRIDGE (2013) 90min
    Director: Declan Lowney
    Country: UK
    In the long-awaited big-screen debut of Steve Coogan’s singular comic creation, the vain and obliviously tactless Alan Partridge must serve as an intermediary when North Norfolk Digital is seized at gunpoint by a down-sized DJ.

    ALL IS LOST (2013) 107min
    Director: J.C. Chandor
    Country: USA
    Robert Redford as you’ve never seen him before, gives a near-wordless all-action performance as a lone sailor trying to keep his yacht afloat after a collision with a discarded shipping container in the middle of the Indian Ocean. A Roadside Attractions release.

    AMERICAN PROMISE (2013) 135min
    Directors: Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson
    Country: USA
    Two Brooklyn filmmakers follow their son Idris and his friend Suen from their enrollment in the Dalton School as children through their high school graduations in this devastating, years-in-the-making documentary that takes a hard look at race and class in America.

    AT BERKELEY (2013) 244min
    Director: Frederick Wiseman
    Country: USA
    Another masterfully constructed documentary from Frederick Wiseman, examining the University of California, Berkeley from multiple angles - the administrators, the students, the surrounding community - to arrive at a portrait that is as rich in detail as it is epic in scope.

    BASTARDS (Les Salauds) (2013) 100min
    Director: Claire Denis
    Country: France
    Claire Denis’s jagged, daringly fragmented and deeply unsettling film inspired by recent French sex ring scandals is the rarest of cinematic narratives—a contemporary film noir, perfect in substance as well as style.

    BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR (La Vie d’Adèle) (2013) 179min
    Director: Abdellatif Kechiche
    Country: France
    The sensation of this year’s Cannes Film Festival is an intimate - and sexually explicit - epic of emotional transformation, featuring two astonishing performances from Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux. An Sundance Selects release.
    Please be advised that this film has scenes of a sexually explicit nature.

    BURNING BUSH (Hořicí Keř) (2013) 234min
    Director: Agnieszka Holland
    Country: Czech Republic
    A passionately brilliant Czech mini-series from Agnieska Holland about the events that followed student Jan Palach’s public self-immolation in protest against the Soviet invasion after Prague Spring.

    CAPTAIN PHILLIPS (2013) 134min
    Director: Paul Greengrass
    Country: USA
    Paul Greengrass has crafted an edge-of-your-seat thriller based on the true story of the seizure of the Maersk Alabama cargo ship in 2009 by four Somali pirates, with remarkable performances from Tom Hanks and four first-time actors, Barkhad Abdi, Faysal Ahmed, Barkhad Abdirahman and Mahet M. Ali. A Sony Pictures release.

    CHILD OF GOD (2013) 104min
    Director: James Franco
    Country: USA, 2013
    James Franco’s uncompromising excursion into American Gothic, adapted from Cormac McCarthy’s 1973 novel, about an unstable sociopath in early 60s rural Tennessee who descends into an animal-like state - not for the faint-hearted.

    GLORIA (2013) 110min
    Director: Sebastián Lelio
    Countries: Chile/Spain
    A wise, funny, liberating movie from Chile, about a middle-aged woman who finds romance but whose new partner finds it painfully difficult to abandon his old habits.

    HER (2013)
    Director: Spike Jonze
    Country: USA
    In Spike Jonze’s magical, melancholy comedy of the near future, lonely Joaquin Phoenix falls in love with his new all-purpose operating system (the voice of Scarlett Johansson), leading to romantic and existential complications. A Warner Bros. Pictures release.

    THE IMMIGRANT (2013) 120min
    Director: James Gray
    Country: USA
    In James Gray’s richly detailed period tragedy, set in a dusty, sepia-toned 1920s Manhattan, a young Polish immigrant (Marion Cotillard) is caught in a dangerous battle of wills with a shady burlesque manager (Joaquin Phoenix). A Radius release.

    INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS (2013) 105min
    Directors: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
    Country: USA
    Joel and Ethan Coen’s picaresque, panoramic and wryly funny story of a singer/songwriter is set in the New York folk scene of the early 60s and features a terrific array of larger-than-life characters and a glorious score of folk standards. A CBS Films release.

    THE INVISIBLE WOMAN (2013) 111min
    Director: Ralph Fiennes
    Country: UK
    Ralph Fiennes directs and stars as Charles Dickens in this adaptation of Claire Tomalin’s revelatory 1992 biography, which brought the upright Victorian author’s secret 13-year affair with a young actress to light. A Sony Pictures Classics Release.

    JEALOUSY (La Jalousie) (2013) 77min
    Director: Philippe Garrel
    Country: France
    Another intimate, handcrafted work of poetic autobiographical cinema from French director Philippe Garrel, in which his son Louis and Anna Mouglalis star as actors and lovers trying to reconcile their professional and personal lives.

    Director: Arnaud Desplechin
    Country: France
    In Arnaud Desplechin’s intelligent and moving depiction of a successful “Talking Cure,” the encounters between patient (Benicio del Toro) and therapist (Mathieu Amalric) are electric with discovery.

    THE LAST OF THE UNJUST (Le Dernier des injustes) (2013) 218min
    Director: Claude Lanzmann
    Countries: France/Austria
    This moral and cinematic tour de force from the creator of SHOAH will cause you to reconsider your understanding of Adolph Eichmann and of Benjamin Murmelstein, the last Jewish elder of Theresienstadt and the film’s central figure.

    LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON (Soshite Chichi ni Naru) (2013) 120min
    Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda
    Country: Japan
    Hirokazu Kore-eda’s sensitive drama takes a close look at two families’ radically different approaches to the horribly painful realization that the sons they have raised as their own were switched at birth. A Sundance Selects release.

    THE MISSING PICTURE (L’image manquante) (2013) 92min
    Director: Rithy Panh
    Country: Cambodia
    Filmmaker Rithy Panh’s brave new film revisits his memories of four years spent under the Khmer Rouge and the destruction of his family and his culture; without a single memento left behind, he creates his “missing images” with narration and painstakingly executed dioramas. A Strand release.

    MY NAME IS HMMM… (Je m’appelle Hmmm…) (2013) 121min
    Director: agnès b
    Country: France
    In this deeply personal, incandescent first feature from designer agnès B, a young girl holding her family together and bearing the weight of sexual abuse runs away from home and enjoys a carefree idyll with a kindly Scottish trucker.

    NEBRASKA (2013) 115min
    Director: Alexander Payne
    Country: USA
    This masterful film from Alexander Payne, about a quiet old man (Bruce Dern) whose mild-mannered son (Will Forte) agrees to drive him from Montana to Nebraska to claim a non-existent prize, shades from the comic to multiple hues of melancholy and regret. A Paramount Pictures release.

    NOBODY’S DAUGHTER HAEWON (Nugu-ui ttal-do anin Haewon) (2013) 90min
    Director: Hong Sang-soo
    Country: South Korea
    A young student at loose ends after her mother moves to America tries to define herself one encounter and experience at a time, in reality and in dreams, in another deceptively simple chamber-piece from South Korean master Hong Sang-soo.

    NORTE, THE END OF HISTORY (Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan) (2013) 250min
    Director: Lav Diaz
    Country: Philippines
    Filipino director Lav Diaz’s twelfth feature - at four-plus hours, one of his shortest - is a careful rethinking of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, with a tortured anti-hero who is a haunting embodiment of the dead ends of ideology.

    OMAR (2013) 96min
    Director: Hany Abu-Assad
    Country: Palestinian Territories
    A tense, gripping, ticking clock thriller about betrayal, suspected and real, in the Occupied Territories, from Hany Abu-Assad (Paradise Now).

    ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE (2013) 123min
    Director: Jim Jarmusch
    Country: USA
    Jim Jarmusch’s wry, tender and moving take on the vampire genre features Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston as a centuries-old couple who watch time go by from separate continents as they reflect on the ever-changing world around them.A Sony Pictures Classics release.

    REAL (2013) [late addition to Main Slate]
    Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
    Country: Japan
    Kiyoshi Kurosawa's first feature since the 2008 TOKYO SONATA, his most romantic movie yet, is an exquisitely crafted sci-fi fable about young love, marriage, and the merging of two psyches in the face of death.

    Director: Ben Stiller
    Country: USA
    Ben Stiller stars in and directs this sweet, globe-trotting (but New York-based) comic fable about an up-to-the-minute everyman, co-starring Kristen Wiig as the woman of his dreams, Sean Penn as a legendary photographer and Shirley MacLaine as Walter’s mother. A Twentieth Century Fox release.

    THE SQUARE (2013)
    Director: Jehane Noujaim
    Country: USA/Egypt
    Jehane Noujaim’s tense, vivid verité portrait of events as they unfolded in Tahrir Square through Arab Spring and beyond, in a newly revised, up-to-the-minute version.

    STRANGER BY THE LAKE (L’Inconnu du lac) (2013) 97min
    Director: Alain Guiraudie
    Country: France
    Alain Guiraudie’s lethally precise, sexually explicit film, which unfolds entirely in the vicinity of a gay cruising ground, is both a no-holds-barred depiction of a hedonistic subculture and a perverse and unnerving tale of amour fou. A Strand release.
    Please be advised that this film has scenes of a sexually explicit nature.

    STRAY DOGS (Jiao You) (2013) 138min
    Director: Tsai Ming-liang
    Country: Taiwan
    Tsai Ming-liang’s fable of a homeless family living the cruelest of existences on the ragged edges of the modern world is bracingly pure in its anger and its compassion, and as visually powerful as it is emotionally overwhelming.

    A TOUCH OF SIN (Tian Zhu Ding) (2013) 133min
    Director: Jia Zhangke
    Country: China
    Jia Zhangke’s bloody, bitter new film builds a portrait of modern-day China in the midst of rapid and convulsive change through four overlapping stories of marginalized and oppressed citizens pushed to murderous rage. A Kino Lorber release.

    LE WEEK-END (2013) 93min
    Director: Roger Michell
    Country: UK
    A magically buoyant, bittersweet comedy drama about a middle-aged and middle class English couple who go to Paris for a weekend holiday, starring two of Britain’s national treasures, Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan. A Music Box Films release.

    Director: Corneliu Porumboiu
    Countries: Romania/France
    A rigorously structured and fascinatingly oblique new film from Corneliu Porumboiu that examines the life of a film director during the moments on a shoot when the camera isn’t rolling.

    THE WIND RISES (Kaze Tachinu) (2013) 126min
    Director: Hayao Miyazaki
    Country: Japan
    The great Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki’s new film is based on the life of Jiro Hirokoshi, the man who designed the Zero fighter. An elliptical historical narrative, THE WIND RISES is also a visionary cinematic poem about the fragility of humanity.

    Richard Peña has retired and Kent Jones is the new NYFF
    Director of Programming and Selection Committee Chair
    photo: *Godlis

    The press & industry screening schedule

    All screenings and press conferences will take place in the Walter Reade Theater, (165 West 65th Street) unless otherwise noted. (Main slate films in bold.)

    10AM AT BERKELEY (244m)
    *Press conference to follow via SKYPE

    9AM CHILD OF GOD (104m)
    *Press conference to follow via SKYPE
    11:45AM A TOUCH OF SIN (TIAN ZHU DING) (125min)
    4:15PM MANAKAMANA (118m)

    11AM LE WEEK-END (93m)

    *Press conference to follow with director Lav Diaz.
    4PM Views from the Avant-Garde
    SONG (18.5m)
    SPRING (23m)

    9AM Views from the Avant-Garde
    *Press conference to follow with director Rithy Panh via SKYPE.
    4:30PM ABOUT TIME (123m)

    10:45AM THE DOG (101m)
    *Press conference to follow with director Arnaud Desplechin via SKYPE.

    9AM EXHIBITION (105m)
    11:15AM JEALOUSY (77m)
    1PM THE SQUARE (104m)
    *Press conference to follow with director Jehane Noujaim
    3:45PM STRAY DOGS (138m)

    9AM BURNING BUSH (234m)
    *1 intermission will be held for 15m after Part 2.
    *Press conference to follow with director Agnieszka Holland via SKYP
    2:15PM ABUSE OF WEAKNESS (105m)
    *Press conference to follow with director Catherine Breillat via SKYPE.
    5PM TIM’S VERMEER (80m)

    *Press Conference to follow with directors Joel and Ethan Coen, T-Bone Burnett and Oscar Isaac.
    12:45PM AMERICAN PROMISE (135m)
    *Press conference to follow
    4PM SHORTS PROGRAM #1 (102m)

    10AM CAPTAIN PHILLIPS (132 min)
    *Press Conference to follow
    1:15PM ALAN PARTRIDGE (90m)
    *Press Conference to follow
    3:45PM Views from the Avant-Garde

    10AM REAL (127m) CANCELLED
    12:30PM MY NAME IS HMM… (121m)
    *Press conference to follow with director agnès b via SKYPE.
    3:30PM SHORTS PROGRAM #2 (97m)

    10AM OMAR (96m)
    *Press conference to follow with director Hany Abu-Assad via SKYPE.
    12:30PM SAM IN THE SNOW (93m)
    2:30PM SHORTS PROGRAM #3 (61m)

    10AM HAIL MARY, screening with THE BOOK OF MARY and NOTES ON HAIL MARY (107m)
    12:15PM THE CHASE (86m), preceded by IT’S THE CAT/SOME OTHER CAT (7m)
    2:15PM PROVIDENCE (110m)

    10AM SHORTS PROGRAM #4 (89m)


    9AM THE IMMIGRANT (117m)
    *Press conference to follow with director James Gray.
    12PM BASTARDS (100m)
    *Press conference to follow with director Claire Denis.
    2:45PM GLORIA (110m)
    *Press Conference to follow with director Sebastián Lelio and Paulina Garcia.

    *Press Conference to follow AMC LINCOLN SQUARE

    10AM 12 YEARS A SLAVE (134m)
    *Press conference to follow

    10AM ALL IS LOST (107m)
    *Press Conference to follow with director J.C. Chandor and Robert Redford.
    1PM NEBRASKA (115m)
    *Press conference to follow

    *Press conference to follow with director and star, Ralph Fiennes, and Joanna Scanlan.

    *Press conference to follow

    *Press conference to follow

    10AM HER
    *Press conference to follow

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-02-2015 at 05:07 PM.

  3. #3
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    Frederick Wiseman: AT BERKELEY (2013)


    From At Berkeley

    Wiseman provides a reassuring picture of today's UC Berkeley

    The seemingly indefatigable American independent documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman, still productive at 83, has made a four-hour study of the University of California at Berkeley, so famous for its Free Speech Movement and its role in the anti-Vietnam War movement in the Sixties and early Seventies, as it is today. The theme that emerges is of a struggle, apparently so far successful, to remain a world-class place of learning in the face of post Great Recession budgetary restraints, cutting corners while trying to maintain the quality of teaching and research. There's no big news here. But Wiseman, editing down over 128 hours of digital footage, provides one of his best recent portraits of an institution, shifting around from classroom teaching to meetings of various administrators, in which the Canadian-born Robert J. Birgeneau, 2004-2013 chancellor and a renowned MIT physicist, features prominently.

    Nothing is happening. And then something quietly is. A student protest, mainly calling for a return to free tuition, begins with resounding speeches on the Sproul Hall steps that invoke Mario Savio of the FSM and moves on to an occupation of the Dow Library reading room. This is an event that earlier we see being in general terms planned for at a discussion of campus cops and administrators. In the event, it disperses quietly, only to be quietly mocked later by Birgerneau at yet another administrative meeting for its lack of a forceful, specific goal -- the usual criticism of the Occupy movement.

    Tellingly, perhaps (and one can always argue that Wiseman's "fly on the wall" coolness is undercut by his pointed, sometimes metaphorical, editing) there's a class in which the lively Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy and former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich talks to a mini-arena about the difficulty administrators or leaders have in "self-evaluation" since they can't get constructive criticism from their staffs even when they want it. Threaded through are sequences in classrooms. In one students discuss the growing economic squeeze on the middle class and its effect on students at UC Berkeley. At another meeting, not a class, scholarship students feeling the pinch are counseled to suck it up. There are also professors analyzing Walden and a poem by Donne, or talking about neuro-science, physics, or paleontology. In between are cool wide-angle shots of the university's buildings, in a bland style that seems to combine Spanish mission with Stalinist. An occasional shot shows a chorus of busty sorority girls singing out of doors, a skateboard or two zipping by, students studying on the lawn or crowding through the plaza.

    Wiseman seems to have had remarkable access, to all academic meetings except those on tenure, and to a variety of classes. We don't see anything lively, exciting, or brilliant happening in a classroom. Nor do we enter a dorm or see students working out at the gym, sitting in a dining hall, hanging out, or drinking beer. A decision was made to exclude footage of the city of Berkeley. The filmmaker gives us some kind of Platonic ideal of a serious, academically superior American university (Berkeley being traditionally the most elite of the many UC campuses for undergraduates, the most richly supplied with Nobel Prize winners). The result is reassuring but also a little numbing.

    Happily, perhaps, this is all in sharp contrast to the lengthy 1994 PBS Frontline documentary "School Colors," which depicted the volatile mix of violence, racial conflict, idealism and talent then prevailing at Berkeley High School. That documentary, based on a year of shooting, showed the ideal of school integration failing. In contrast black students at UC Berkeley in Wiseman's film, gathered with Asian and white students to discuss issues of race and education, express satisfaction that at the university they're no longer stared at when they speak in class or stereotyped as unintelligent as they were in high school. In a way the lack of drama at Wiseman's Berkeley is reassuring. But the financial crunch remains a threat to the school's excellence. How long can a great public university keep raising student fees and still call itself public?

    At Berkeley, 244 mins., debuted at Venice, was shown at Toronto, and was screened for this review as part of the 2013 New York Film Festival. It reportedly will later have a theatrical run in NYC at IFC Center and Lincoln Center. It airs on PBS starting Monday, January 13, 2014.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-02-2015 at 05:08 PM.

  4. #4
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    Hirakazu Koreeda: LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON (2013)


    An old theme deliberately muddled?

    Koreeda, who has dealt with children being separated from parents before, turns this time to the old theme of babies switched at birth. And he does not avoid the cliché of contrasting social levels. This isn't exactly a prince and a pauper, but two of the parents are ambitious and moneyed, and the others are humble. Along with that comes the obvious association of the wealthy with coldness and distance and the poor with more humanity. Perhaps Koreeda's greatest strength here is a weakness: he takes forever to resolve things. Neither the emotional decision about how to resolve the discovered child switch nor the question of nature vs. nurture is ever satisfactorily concluded, and this uncertainty makes for an emotionally complex and thought-provoking, if still somehow somewhat weak film. Certainly this is also a take on the theme that's both contemporary and Japanese. And to add a touch of class, Koreeda's low-keyed treatment has its main sequences delicately linked with the opening passage from the Goldberg Variations.

    Though the poor family is somewhat romanticized, the wealthy one gets more attention. Right off the focus is on the ambitious corporate architect Ryota Nonomiya (Masaharu Fukuyama) and his wife Midori (Machiko Ono), who live in a posh glass and steel apartment and are pushing their six-year-old son Keita (Keita Nonomiya) into a fancy school. Well, they think he's their son. Poor Keita is like a little doll, and his handsome father is distant and withholding toward him (and also somewhat toward his wife), forcing the boy to take piano lessons, though he isn't very good, obsessed with money and success. The main focus remains on this family. Later when the hospital contacts them about the discovered switched babies, we meet mom Yukai Saiki (Yoko Maki) and dad Yudai Saiki (Lily Franky). He has an appliance repair shop in a not-very-attractive neighborhood. Their son is Ryusei ( Hwang Sho-gen) -- or so they thought. They also have a couple of other kids.

    Because Koreeda's solution is to tease and twist his theme rather than resolve it, the film forces the viewer to linger over how wrenching and confusing it would be both for adult and child to learn parents have been raising and loving the wrong kid. But either the discomfort is most felt by the architect Ryota and his wife, or we just don't get to see how the Saikis experience it. Despite Ryota's disdain for the other parents and their lifestyle, he arranges for the two families to start meeting and socializing, and having Keita and Ryusei switch places on a temporary basis, which Ryota tells Keita is a "mission" (using the English word), to "toughen" him.

    Keita is won over by Yuda's ability to fix anything, including mechanical robot-monsters, and by his general playfulness; the boy also seems to like the togetherness of bathing with the poor family in their tiny bathtub. On the other hand, Ryusei enjoys the luxury of the architect's house. However, for the Nonomiyas, all is inner turmoil. She misses Keita terribly; he knows that his withholding nature isn't going to win Ryosei's affection. Meanwhile there is much discussion of a damage suit against the hospital, and an irrelevant subplot about a nurse who makes a confession. Meanwhile Ryota tries at first to pay off the Saikis and gain the right to raise both Keita and Ryusei, thus resolving any abandonment guilt and still gaining control of his blood offspring. But this is immediately rejected, and Ryuta simply starts believing his father's advice that the genetic link will come through in the end.

    At times it seems that nothing is really happening. In contrast to traditional rags-to-riches or prince-and-pauper tales, Koreeda's provides no dramatic incidents. He works with a series of small, delicate ones designed to bring out social and cultural differences and spotlight little emotional shifts. He also shows how quickly the boys, like most children, can adjust to changed circumstances. Meanwhile complexities in Ryota's background are added on top of his initial impression of mere chilly ambition, and the way is paved for a moral transformation that might be corny if it were not undercut by a deliberately ambiguous finale. Thus Koreeda underlines the point that to the question of who is the true parent, the blood one or the one who has raised the child, there is really no final answer.

    There are three Koreeda films about children now, the 2004 Nobody Knows, the 2011 I Wish (FCS 2012) and now this. While I Wish had charm, magic, and much more intimate focus on children, Like Father, Like Son is more troubling and complex. But neither can begin to compare with the devastating true tale Koreeda tells about the children abandoned by their irresponsible mother in Nobody Knows, which takes us into the heartbreaking, yet resilient world of children left by themselves and, afraid of being put into foster care, desperately pretending to the outside world that everything is fine. There is nothing like having a truly meaty theme to deal with. The other two films feel contrived in comparison. While it may be that as Derek Elley says Koreeda's films tend to be half an hour too long due to his insisting on doing his own editing, in the case of Nobody Knows that extra time contributes to our sense of the length of the children's ordeal; in the other two, it just seems like meandering.

    Like Father, Like Son, 120 mins., debuted at Cannes and was shown at over a dozen other international festivals before being screened for this review as part of the New York Film Festival. NYFF public screenings: MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 30, 6:00 pm, Alice Tully Hall; WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 2, 6:00 pm, Francesca Beale Theater.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-02-2015 at 05:10 PM.

  5. #5
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    James Franco: CHILD OF GODJ (2013)


    Scott Haze in Child of God

    James Franco does Cormac McCarthy, literally, with feeling

    The prolific James Franco may have arrived as a feature film director when his adaptation of William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying became an Official Selection at the 2013 Cannes festival and got US theatrical release for this September 27th. He also has an adaptation with Vince Jolivette of Cormac McCarthy's Child of God. This (which may also be said of Faulkner's novel) is a book whose prose is unique, and to turn it into moving pictures is to rob it of what makes it a work of art. You can say this about any novel-into-film, but it's more true of some than others. Child of God is one of McCarthy's early, deep-South books and it concerns a disturbing and repugnant character (not that McCarthy's books are not rife with malignant and horrific people and acts). The Tennessee novels' effect is disturbing however you approach them but they are meant to come drenched in the authorial voice and its special way of evoking a period and milieu that at the same time is really McCarthy's world, and no place else; his sensibility, and no one else's. Franco's version is a well-made film, dominated by a once-in-a-lifetime, balls-out performance by Scott Haze as Lester Ballard, the crazed outcast, the titular, protagonist "child of God" (testing the range of that concept) who in the course of the story becomes a cave-dweller, murderer, and necrophiliac. This version is also too literal, following the narrative structure and four parts of the novel closely rather than re-imagining it. Franco needs to take on more filmable books, or to film a story of his own devising.

    You have to credit Haze, Franco, and the other cast and crew members, who shot in West Virginia rather than the novel's Tennessee, for recreating very vividly a challenging series of events. Some of the encounters with a mean southern cracker sheriff, ably played by Tim Blake Nelson, even some of Lester's earlier running around and rough encounters with locals, are familiar stuff. But we've never seen a wild man find a young couple suicided in the back of a shiny Forties Pontiac and then copulate with the girl, and then lug her body to his cottage for further use. I won't forget Lester's struggle to carry the girl's body up a ladder to the loft of the cottage, or the cottage all in flames later when he accidentally sets fire to it on a cold night; or how he fills with bullets the heads of the giant stuffed pooh-bear and tiger he won at a carnival shooting gallery (a sequence Franco added); or his flight through a cave escaping from a lynch mob. These are good acting, good staging, and good storytelling. But a few voices reading narration and a few artificial large paragraphs from the book flashed on the screen do not make up for the absence of Cormac McCarthy's style, among the most unique and sonorous in contemporary American fiction.

    Lester Ballard is an extreme character and Scott Haze delivers in kind. Franco's regular collaborator Christina Voros provides handsome muted cinematography, in which the protagonist's crazed mind and adrenalin-drenched experience are evoked through shaky camera and rapid, rough-edged editing. The banjo-dominated bluegrass-style arranged by Aaron Embry is a little conventional, but it neatly links the surreal and comic aspects of the story. This film is not for everyone, to put it mildly. But for those whom it may suit it is absorbing and watchable. Only you should go and read the book, and all Cormac McCarthy's books. He is one of the great ones (see Harold Bloom). . . and this is only a glorified Cliff Notes "Child of God" (which I find is how Variety describes Franco's As I Lay Dying). James Franco is an A+ student, who uses his power, cachet, and name to good effect and doesn't waste them on soft or easy projects. We look forward to seeing what he does when he graduates.

    This is added to the list of Cormac McCarthy film adaptations, along with All the Pretty Horses, No Country for Old Men, and The Road. It's probably no coincidence that the one that works best, the Coens' No Country for Old Men, is based on the least brilliant and McCarthyian of the adapted novels. The Coens had never done a literary adaptation before, and they are the best writers in the group. Nabokov tried to do his own screen adaptation of his masterpiece, Lolita. It was not a success..

    James Franco's Child of God, 104 mins., debuted at Venice, was shown at Toronto, and was screened for this review as part of the 51st New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-02-2015 at 05:12 PM.

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    Jia Zhang-ke: A TOUCH OF SIN (2013)


    Jiang We in A Touch of Sin

    Jia takes a new genre tack, with mixed results

    Jia Zhang-ke, China's most important unconventional "sixth-generation" movie director, has hitherto restricted himself to complex, generally low-keyed portraits of his country in the throes of development. But this time in A Touch of Sin he turns to a four-chapter study of violence that is both more overtly moralistic and more "genre" than anything he's done before. Obviously Jia has been jolted by what he's learned about the drastic ill effects and inequalities of rampant capitalism in the ROC. The panorama is rich, but the results are mixed and the collection lacks coherence. If his point is that bad behavior is rife, the point's well taken. But the kinds of "sin" are so various here that the effect is scattershot, the specific relevance to contemporary events unclear. However, the individual segments are still wonderful, at least intermittently, and the evocation of the contemporary Chinese milieu in various regions is often vivid. And some will argue this film is in harmony with Jia's other work: he has just added weapons and murder to make "a martial arts film for contemporary China," as film critic Marie-Pierre Duhamel quotes Jia as putting it. In fact, except for a highway sequence and a sauna killing sequence, this claim to having made a wuxia film is far-fetched indeed.

    To begin with, there's an imbalance in the chapters. First comes a man who takes revenge on several political and social wrongdoers. Next is a guy who simply goes on a wild killing spree. Third is a woman who wrecks horrible vengeance on a man who mistreats her in a sauna-massage parlor. Finally we follow a youth whose aimless, impoverished life as a factory and sex worker and failed lover leads him to suicide. These can't be seen as at all the same kind of things, though all clearly do happen, though in different parts of the country, with similar backgrounds of rampant exploitation, graft, and inequality.

    In the first episode Dahai (Jiang Wu) comes back to Black Gold Mountain, Shanxi province to blame the village boss in person for his personally profiting from selling off the state-owned local mine and not hsaring the proceeds with the workers as he'd promissed. Dahai writes a letter of protest about this to the Discipline Commission in Beijing but can't seem to get it sent. A new fat-cat mine boss Jiao Shengli arrives by newly acquired private plane from Hong Kong and at the ceremonial arrival Dahai confronts him and Jia Shengli has him brutally beaten with a shovel, which they joke is "playing golf." After visiting his elder sister, Dahai decides to take matters into his own hands and simply kills some of the wrongdoers. Dahai is an almost comically simple and brutal character, but his moral outrage is clear.

    In part two, which is completely pointless and amoral, Zhou San (Wang Baoqiang), a migrant worker who loves guns, has already shot and killed three highway bandits from his motorcycle in the opening pre-title sequence in Shanxi (the director's home province). Zhou then visits his wife and young son in Chongqing, where his elder brother splits up the leftover money from their mother's 70th birthday celebrations. But he declines to take his share. Instead he goes on a trip that turns into a killing and robbery spree.

    Part three. Further down the Yangtze River, in Yichang, Hubei province, Zheng Xiaoyu (Jia's chief actress and muse Zhao Tao) sees off her married lover, Zhang Youliang (Zhang Jiayi), on a train to Guangzhou, where he will manage a factory. He gives her six months to decide whether to join him or not. When she returns to work, she is later cursed and physically attacked her lover's angry wife. After visiting her mother out of town, Xiaoyu returns to the sauna where she uses a fruit knife she took from her lover when the train security people wouldn't allow it on a bullying customer who wants her to perform services that have nothing to do with her job as the cashier.

    Next, in the fourth and last segment, In Guangdong province, at the factory managed by Zhang, Xiaoyu's lover, a young employee called Xiaohui (Luo Lanshan) is ordered to turn over his salary while a coworker is off work with an injury that happened while they were chatting. He instead runs off to Dongguan, where he gets a job in a luxury hotel that caters to rich sex tourists from Hong Kong and Taiwan. He bonds with a cute female coworker, Lianrong (Li Meng), who's from his home province of Hunan. The naive, pretty young man falls for Lianrong, but she tells him he knows nothing bout her: she has a 3-year-old child. When he sees her "working" at the hotel, his disenchantment causes him to flee again and go to work at another factory, where he soon commits suicide.

    All this is interesting and illustrates Jia's penchant for rapid, disjointed incident and rambling storyline at a high level of energy, but it is also too much to take in. Derek Elley is doubtless right in his review of A Touch of Sin when he comments that Zhao Tao (but not the subtle Zhang Jiayi as her lover) is, as usual, a comely blank; hence I would say her murder, though revenge for criminal and odious behavior, seems cold and amoral. But as Elley says the young man's psychology in the last section is more fully developed. Though it's not made at all clear how he could suddenly have become desperate enough to kill himself, his naivety and disillusionment of his existence and his typical lack of anything but the grimmest prospects (much like the young men much earlier in Jia's Unknown Pleasures) come through clearly and movingly, even though they are subtle. For me, Still Life remains the most magical of Jia Zhang-ke's recent films, with unity and haunting delicacy.

    There is much good stuff -- too much -- in A Touch of Sin. While the fourth, Xiaohui, episode is like a more touching segment of Jia's The World, one wishes that Jia had found a way either to expand the opening Dahai segment into a whole feature, or to have multiplied other segments in the same vein, perhaps focusing on other industries. While it's probably true as Elley says that "Most of Jia's films have been essentially episodic, with little grasp of long dramatic lines," in some of them that works more than in others. Platform, for instance, is held together by the adventures of the theater company, and becomes a rich chronicle of a decade. This time each episode is very strong in its way, but the whole suffers from the clear sense that they don't quite belong together. What is great in A Touch of Sin and makes it a delight to watch is the cinematography by d.p. Yu Lik-wai.

    A Touch of Sin, 125 mins., debuted at Cannes May 2013, where it got the best screenplay award, and has shown since at half a dozen other festivals. It was screened for this review as part of the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center and is slated for a US theatrical release by Kino Lorber 4 October. My other Jia Zhang-ke reviews are linked here.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-02-2015 at 05:15 PM.

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    Hong Sang-soo: NOBODY'S DAUGHTER HAEWON (20130


    Lee Seong-jun and Jeong Eun-chae in Nobody's Daughter Haewon

    An auteurist Korean Woody Allen?

    The blurb term "deceptively simple" indeed applies to this Hong Sang-soo iteration, in that very little seems to be going on -- but the end apparently is a dream, and that fooled me. And it also fooled my friend, who was delighted with the film, though unable (perhaps blissfully?) to remember any of the various other Hong films we've both seen before at Lincoln Center, which has presented six or seven of the Korean auteur's works at iterations of the New York Film Festival. I have enjoyed most of the others more, and therefore must side -- cautiously -- with those who consider this one a "tired retread" (Derek Elley), even though there are moments -- for some of us, anyway, such as my friend. I also agree with Mike D'Angelo in wondering if "the professor/director's (yes, again) obsession with that hideous techno rendition of Beethoven's 7th [is] meant to be funny, or weirdly poignant." What's clear is that it's hideous (he plays it on a cell phone). And why do some aspects of Hong's films, the camerawork, and the external shots, for instance, so often seem colorless and merely routine? The main characters are usually played by attractive people, with interesting or pretty faces and nice voices. The "professor/director" speaks in deep resonant tones.

    This one has a twist: it has a girl at the center of it, and a very pretty one, who's "abandoned" by her mother, who goes to Canada to be with her brother. There's also a chance meeting with Jane Birkin, which brings out that the girl, Haewon (Jeong Eun-chae) speaks good English, and also wants to become a successful movie actress. Birkin says Haewon resembles her daughter, Charlotte Gainsbourg (she does; she's meant to) -- which delights Haewon. After a farewell (tea) drinking session with her mother, Haewon walks past the Jongho public library and sees the Famous Hotel, which has memories of her brief affair with Lee Seong-jun (Lee Seon-gyun), the director and also her current teacher. She calls him because she's lonely and they meet up and drink, joining other students and pretending that they met by chance. The theme of hiding, but not hiding, an affair is repeated with them and another couple.

    A week later Haewon and Lee Seong-jun go to Namhan Fortress, in the hills south of Seoul, where they have a big argument over their affair. Lee is furious that Haewon has slept with a younger guy she's dating, and calls her a bitch. The re-connection leads Lee Seong-jun to messing up his life. He gets drunk and fights with his wife and moves out. He keeps playing the hideous techno version of Beethoven's 7th and breaking into tears, reminded of Haewon and how he pines for her.

    Another week passes and Haewon falls asleep in the college library and dreams of a boy asking if she's dating another boy. (This is seen/shot as if it were happening.) Still later Haewon is back in Seoul and runs into Jeong-won (Kim Ui-seong), and they go to a bar and chat. He is a professor in San Diego just divorced who says he is looking for a new wife just like her. This pleases and flatters her. But does she want him, or Lee Seong-jun, or one of the boys her own age, or just flattery and success?

    Hong's way of working is double-edged. On the one hand his constant reworking of themes and situations in every successive film makes for a kind of inbred pleasure, and tricky repetitions and overlappings of real and imaginary as in the recent Night and Day can be fun. On the other hand one begins to think back nostalgically to the first few Hong films one saw, when it all seemed fresh and new and original, sort of Nouvelle Vague in Korean, and they had not all begun to blur together. The question arises: is the burnout his, mine, or both? Of course Hong is far from being an auteurist Korean Woody Allen; Woody changes milieus and themes more often. But both directors make a lot of distinctively personal movies of which some work and some don't. Or all work, more or less. But afterwards some of them you don't care about.

    On the other hand, with a filmmaker whose work is all so closely interrelated and flat-out repetitions as Hong Sang-soo's, the interrelations between the films are a big part of the interest and pleasure, and so it may be that in viewing his entire œuvre, or a large slice of it, in connection with Nobody's Daughter Hawwon, this latest film may come to life.

    Actually more than Woody Allen Hong Sang-soo obviously resembles Eric Rohmer. He, like Rohmer, focuses on people who always want to be with the wrong person, or like Melvil Poupaud in Rohmer's 1996 Tale of Summer, just can't decide among several. Haewon certainly has several, but she doesn't even seem to want to decide; she's just killing time, or trying to forget that she misses her mother.

    Nobody's Daughter Haewon , 90 mins., the director's 14th feature, debuted at Berlin (February) and has shown at four or five other festivals, and was screened for this review as part of the New York Film Festival in September 2013.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-02-2015 at 05:17 PM.

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    Roger Mitchell: LE WEEK-END (2013)


    Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan in Le Week-End

    An aging English couple's wry anniversary in Paris

    Le Week-End is a rather bitter, yet safe, little comedy about sixty-somethings that will please the mature art-house audience. Mitchell, whose Hyde Park on Hudson last year (NYFF 2012), about Roosevelt's meeting with England's king and queen, was on the crude side, delivers something this time with both more tone and more bite thanks to a Paris background, discreet chamber jazz, performances by Jim Broadbent, Lindsay Duncan and Jeff Goldblum, and above all a script by Hanif Kureishi, who has collaborated with Mitchell before (with The Mother and Venus) and likes to blend laughs and home truths. His richest triumph as a screenwriter still remains My Beautiful Laundrette, done with Stephen Frears, one of the best English movies of the Eighties. Kureishi's focus seems to have narrowed and his viewpoint soured since then; a very bitter divorce and midlife crisis or crises of his own are not impossible writing influences.

    These actors are so distinguished and reliable, so able at mimicking the familiarity of a long marriage, they might put one to sleep, were it not for all the thorny issues that arise between Meg Burrows (Duncan) and fellow teacher Jack (Broadbent). The theme is late (sixty-something) midlife crisis hitting a seasoned marriage whose anniversary they are celebrating with a weekend in the Ville Lumière, where they spent their honeymoon three decades hence. They seem to delight in overspending, in ways that may strain credibility: to begin with Meg summarily rejects the modest but decent little "beige" hotel they're chosen (their original one?), and ordains a costly tour ride in an open-roofed taxi to compensate and take them to a very expensive hotel where after a wait they're given the one space available, a VIP suite whose balcony overlooks the Eiffel Tower and whose bar is well-stocked with champagne, which they drink. We also see them savor several nice restaurant meals, the second in a place so upscale they are forced to "do a runner" to avoid payment. Something like this happens at the very posh hotel, except that at that point they're really in trouble.

    Meanwhile there are the demands and complaints. Jack wants to revive their sex life; Meg says his touch is like being put under arrest. He persists, but she threatens divorce, or at least going off with the first Frenchman she meets at a party given by Morgan (Goldblum), an old and admiring Cambridge classmate of Jack's they run into who's won all the success that has eluded Jack. The climax is the party's dinner celebrating Morgan's new book -- his speech manages to be modest and boastful and all his behavior is a satire on American egocentrism -- where Jack replies to a toast to himself with a speech that becomes an aria of ironic self-pity about how he's in fact been a failure at everything. This includes, as we've already learned, that rude words to a student have led to his being forced into early retirement; a failure of a grown son they're only just gotten rid of who wants to come back with them; and being flat broke (if so, why this trip?). Goldblum has several little arias of his own, delivered with the panache that shows what a terrific stage actor he also is; I still remember his wonderful performance on Broadway in Pillow Man and on screen in Igby Goes Down. In a brief turn as Morgan's visiting son from a half-forgotten earlier American marriage Olly Alexander is excellent, and unique. He was quite unforgettable when I first encountered him, romantically involved with Greta Gerwig in a little 2011 movie by Alison Bagnall, The Dish & the Spoon (SFIFF 2011)

    In his review of Le Week-End Dennis Harvey of Variety nicely pinpoints some of its contradictions. Morgan's quality is a "generous yet completely self-absorbed joie de vivre"; and Meg and Jack are characters who are "as familiar as they are complicated." I would add that the bickering in the first half is annoying and vaguely uninteresting despite being subtle and specific. Things pick up when Jeff Goldblum, his character too both complex and a cliché, enters the scene providing a venue for the film's climax, a sort of self-abnegating encounter session so complete and brilliant (Morgan's son, come from his whiskey and marijuana in his bedroom -- briefly shared by Jack, to sit at the dinner table, calls Jack's speech "awesome") -- that it brings Meg and Jack back together again, and Morgan comes to save them from their dilemma with the posh hotel's possible legal action and the "maxing out" of Jack's one credit card. Ultimately Kureishi's "humor" has become too realistic and bitter to be very funny, and the use of Paris interiors and exteriors has been too glitzy and conventional. But this shows that Mitchell and Kureishi can still surprise us, and they know how to find impeccable actors. Olly Alexander is the icing on the cake. Some talk about love vs. sex is as profound as the dialogue gets. Ultimately this is a film with very few false steps and a number of good moments, and yet it tends to cancel itself out and end by being a fine diversion but not terribly memorable.

    Le Week-End, 93 mins., debuted at Toronto Sept. 2013, and was screened for this review as part of the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center. It opens in the UK 11 Oct. and the US 1 Nov. In France it opens on Christmas Day.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-02-2015 at 05:20 PM.

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    Claude Lanzmann: THE LAST OF THE UNJUST (2013)


    Claude Lanzmann in The Last of the Unjust

    The last Jewish elder interviewed in the Seventies, with current additions

    Lanzmann provides a coda to his monumental Holocaust documentary, Shoah, with this shorter but still very long study of the Viennese rabbi and Jewish scholar Benjamin Murmelstein, the last Jewish elder of Theresienstadt, whom he interviewed in Rome in the Seventies, when he was 70, a film that he has now reedited with the punctuation of judiciously added contemporary image and narration. Murmelstein in the Seventies interview film (which does not look dated at all) is still vigorous, feisty, and possessed of a remarkable memory. Lanzmann introduces the interview by saying Murmelstein "did not lie." But one eventually may question that familiar idea Murmelstein expresses that nobody he knew at the time or at Theresienstadt knew what was going on in the death camps, despite the fact, which he acknowledges, that Jews were being executed and cremated right there at the "model ghetto" of Theresienstadt that he helped run.

    The newsworthy item is that Murmelstein had direct knowledge of Adolph Eichmann, whom he had dealings with before Eichman's deep involvement in the "Final Solution." Murmelstein debunks Hannah Arendt's description of Eichman as exemplifying "the banality of evil." Nothing banal about Eichman's evil, in Murmelstein's view. He says Eichman, even in his personal encounters with Murmelstein, was a "devil"; that he was also guilty of graft and exploitation of Jewish exportation to other countries for his own personal profit. Furthermore while in the Jerusalem trial there was no proof offered that Eichman took part in Kristalnacht, Murmelstein recounts directly observing him doing so, participating in the destruction of the holy objects of the largest synagogue of Vienna.

    Murmelstein was viewed as a collaborator and a criminal, though he was tried and acquitted (no detail about this), and hence his book about Eichman and other testimony submitted to Israel at the time of the Eichman trial was not taken seriously by the Israelis. Murmelstein never went to Israel. The film does not explain what happened to Murmelstein's own family. He seems to have lived his life after the war in limbo, never able to go to England or America, where he says he might have had a career as a teacher and writer.

    And what are we to think of Murmelstein? First of all, Lanzmann, who addresses the camera in French but interviewed Murmelstein in German, describes in detail the twisted origins and purposes of Theresienstadt, the "model ghetto" designed to function as a showplace cover or facade for the concentration camps. It was presented as a safe haven for elderly Jews, but when they arrived there they were greeted with humiliation, as they were by the Nazis elsewhere. Murmelstein was the third Jewish elder who "ran" Theresienstadt under the Kommandant, after the first two were sent away and executed. How did Murmelstein survive? Is the fact that he survived heroic -- or despicable? It seems that in any case he survived because he was brave, forceful and tough, both to the Nazis and in administering the "ghetto."

    Murmelstein says that his aim was the survival of Theresienstadt through cooperating with the authorities in its "embellishment," the beautifying and physical improving of the facilities, and insisting that the inhabitants work 70-hour weeks. He explains how he protected their health, getting rid of typhus and lice, and asserts that his cooperation in the 1944 propaganda film about the place was an essential step, because once it had been made known as a model place, the Nazis could not eradicate it. He admits that he was of course also saving his own skin and feeding his own ego in being a strong and effective leader -- under the Nazis.

    Lanzmann's lengthy, solemn, ceremonial over-and-overing documentary process seems necessary as we eventually hang on Murmelstein's and his every word -- Murmelstsin himself a forceful, vociferous speaker who makes the viewer focus intensely on him and on the day-to-day matters of his administration and his earlier interactions with Eichman that he describes. Lanzmann's magisterial filmmaking technique today involves continual breaks showing landscapes and cityscapes of Theresienstadt and other places touched on by this document. In some of them Lanzmann stands and speaks, or reads from Murmelstein's book on Eichman, originally published in Italian, translated here into French. Unlike Shoah, which consists exclusively of talking heads, this time Lanzmann sometimes shows contemporary images from the Thirties and Forties, including a passage from the Theresienstadt propaganda film and a photo of Murmelstein in an office with Eichmann before he became the Elder at Theresienstadt.

    But just Lanzmann standing and speaking at a now clean and beautiful outdoor space around the buildings at Theresienstadt can be impressive. Particularly memorable is Lanzmann in a space, become through his art both beautiful and horrible, where dozens of young Jewish men were hanged to frighten the others, an event Lanzmann describes in detail. In his late eighties, Lanzmann today still seems forceful and monumental himself, with a sadness and moral weight the feisty, energetic, logical Murmelstein does not quite muster.

    This is the ultimate portrait of moral ambiguity. Note, however, that Murmelstein had the chance earlier of emigrating to England or America, and instead chose to remain in Austria and help other Jews to emigrate, before his final wartime job at Theresienstadt. This does not keep Murmelstein from having entered into very dubious situations, to put it mildly, in becoming the last Jewish elder of Theresienstadt. This is a role in which a man will be either compromised or dead.

    The Last of the Unjust/Le dernier des injustes, 218 mins., debuted at Cannes May 2013, and was screened for this review as part of the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center, September 2013.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-02-2015 at 05:22 PM.

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    Hayao Miyazaki: THE WIND RISES (2013)


    An romantic animated biopic of a Japanese warplane inventor

    The great Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki’s new film, his swan song, is based on the life of Jiro Hirokoshi, the man who designed the Zero fighter. This is a biopic, and one that may have an odd ring to it in part for American viewers who recall that the fighter planes built by Mitsubishi were used to fight against the Allied forces World War II, against Pearl Harbor and in kamikaze operations. Hence this film seems unlikely to win a US audience as did films like Princess Mononoke (1997), Spirited Away (2001), and Howl's Moving Castle (2004) -- at least if anyone remembers as far back as the Second World War.

    The story begins with a little boy -- Jiro Hirokoshi -- who dreams of flying planes, and as a young man heroically saves a young woman who breaks her leg after an earthquake that derails a train and causes cities to catch fire -- this is the 1923 earthquake followed by a firestorm and typhoon that devastated Tokyo and Yokohama. The girl Jiro meets is Nahoko, the girl who is to become his love. This is a story for boys, with a romantic hook for girls to catch onto. Jiro grows up to become a talented aeronautical engineer focused on making planes lighter and stronger. When he entered the field, the Germans had metal planes; the Japanese ones were of wood and fell apart at high speeds or in high winds.

    Miyazaki and his team are as good as ever at gracefully imagining whatever they want, as we see in the striking yet understated recreation of the earthquake destroying trains and houses early on, and what Scott Foundas in his hype-worthy Variety review calls "flights of incredible visual fancy, harrowing images of poverty and destruction, and touches of swooning romance." Foundas is not only Variety's current chief critic but on the selection committee of the New York Film Festival, which has chosen to include this between-two-wars aviation story as part of its Main Slate. Given that this is by Miyazaki and is reportedly his last work, this is an understandable ceremonial choice for a film festival. And I loved the beauty and lightness of the images here. However, there's no getting away from how conventional a story this is, and how mediocre, even, it would be likely to seem if the same material were all filmed as an ordinary feature with live actors and real settings. But, of course, the medium is the message. It is a pleasure to see relatively old fashioned animated images with a hint of a drawn linear quality rather than the stuffed plastic doll effects of 3D Pixar films and all the horrid American imitations that unceasingly follow in their wake.

    The film is best at capturing a sense of childish imagination, and it makes sense that it delivers several of Jiro's flying dreams early on. After those, the aerial travel sequences read at least in part like dreams -- a quality it would be hard to convey in a regular feature film. On the other hand, for even a boy interested in the aeronautical engineering part of the story, this account lacks detail. The engineering drawings in Jiro's shop look like animator's sketches, not the real thing. The early Japanese planes, which would have been no doubt impossible to recreate, as would the elaborate creations of Jiro's early inspiration the Italian aviation pioneer Giovanni Caproni, also have a dreamlike quality that is appealing, if also perhaps a bit trivializing of the actual historical events. In Miyazai's reimagining of events, Caprioni and Hirokoshi actually share aviation dreams.

    Hirokoshi e is one of the Japanese engineers who go to see the Germans, whose superior plane they want to buy and bring back to copy (this may sound vaguely familiar). The actual war is not shown. Instead there is simply an image of vapor trains futilely foundering above dark cloud masses with a kind of cemetery below them of falled fragments of planes. And Jiro simply declares, "Not a single plane came back. That's what it means to lose a war." Perhaps this straightforward declaration will keep the film from being offensive to audiences from Japan's former opponents in the war. Or it may make the film ultimately feel vaguely irrelevant.

    The film loses its momentum and its aviation focus in the second half when Jiro meets Nahoko again, now a victim of the TB epidemic, at a mountain resort that Miyazaki links to Thomas Mann's "Magic Mounntain." A structural problem? The title comes from a famous line from the French poet Paul Valéry that Jiro and Nahoo inexplicably if charmingly exchange when the first meet on that ill-starred train, "Le vent se lève, il faut tenter de vivre," "The wind is rising, one must try to live." The drawing, especially of the young man Jiro, sometimes evokes the style of Fifties French children's books. It's been pointed out that Miyazaki dealt with early aviation in his 1992 film Porco Rosso.

    The Wind Rises, 126 mins., debuted at Venice and was screened for this review as part of the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center, Sept. 2013. US Oscar-qualifying release in Nov., and again in wider (limited) release Feb. 21 2014.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-02-2015 at 05:23 PM.

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    NORTE: THE END OF HISTORY (Lav Diaz 2013)


    A meandering Filippino 'Crime and Punishment'

    Filippino director Lav Diaz is of the "slow cinema" school of art filmmaking, whose icon is said to be Theo Angeloopulos and progenitors Andrei Tarkovsky, Béla Tarr, and Michelangelo Antonioni. But judging by this ill-judged four-plus-hour meander "based on" Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment, however reportedly more polished than previous efforts and however much festival devotees regard it as a masterpiece, Diaz is far from worthy of comparison with any of the aforementioned artists. His new film is overlong, inept, amateurish, and inexplicable. Moreover rather than emphasizing "long takes, and . . .often minimalist, observational, and with little or no narrative," as slow cinema is descried on Wikipedia as being, Norte: The End of History has a story, in two main threads, but one that is simply thin in actual incident, superficial in character development and slow and repetitive in the telling.

    There are occasional nice images, moments of pastel light, or delicate panoramas; but Diaz's self-editing is random and clumsy -- even though by reports this is a "comparatively streamlined piece of storytelling" (Jonathan Romney, "Screen Daily) -- and hence four hours long instead of eight. Rather than a meditative and atmospheric film, this reads like a conventional story, however poorly told, only with a lot of empty filler in between the weepy women, suffering men, and acts of random violence.

    The protagonist is the self-centered Fabian (the chunky, undistinguished-looking Sid Lucero), a law school dropout from a well off family in the Ilocos Norte region where Ferdinand Marcos was born (the director has said Fabian is a stand-in for Marcos). Fabian is also Diaz's Raskalnikov. His pretenses as an revolutionary anarchist, or maybe an existentialist, and the setup for his future acts of violence are established in a static opening scene where he is sitting at a cafe drinking with a few colleagues. They throw clichés at each other, most in English, in a remarkably incoherent and sophomoric discussion of politics and the country's future. Fabian wants to demolish everything, ditch basic concepts like family and nation, and simply kill all people who are "bad."

    Romney suggests, rather over-kindly, that this film most resembles "Hou Hsaio-Hsien or perhaps Edward Yang’s A Brighter Summer Day, although in the final stretch, an apocalyptic turn suggests echoes of Bruno Dumont or Carlos Reygadas." Mike D'Angelo tweet-reviewed it at Cannes "Longest. Dumont movie. Ever. (If Dumont owned up to being a self-loathing intellectual." Rather than sidestepping action (as Hou and Yang to some extent do, while filling in a rich milieu, Diaz resorts to a final flurry of violent action, together when a cruel Deus ex Machina event. Fabian becomes as brutish as some of Dumont's more animalistic protagonists, though Dumont's coherent mood and style are missing.

    The secondary plot involves a poor family whose male head, Joaqin (the even more undistinguished-looking Archie Alemania), has plunged his wife and kids into worse poverty by being out of work due to a broken leg. This gets both Joaqin and his simpering wife Eliza (Angeli Bayan) into constant trouble with Magda (the unsubtle Mae Paner), a mean, fat moneylender. Tedious scenes follow in which Eliza, and then Joaqin, plead in vain for leniency from Magda. Fabian also is a client of Magda, and an hour into the movie he goes to her house and stabs her to death with a knife, also (off camera) murdering her young daughter because she's a witness. Joaqin has assaulted Magda over a pawned ring and she has reported this to the police, and so he is collected as the prime suspect and sent to jail for life for the murders.

    Fabian now fades from the picture while the film meanders back and forth between Joaqin's prison life and Eliza's efforts to take care of their two kids by selling vegetables and doing laundry. Joaquin gets into trouble for being too "good": in a Reygadas-like scene he levitates surrounded by light as if transformed into a saint.

    Fabian returns briefly to be helped by a well-meaning Christian group; this is when he begins weeping and wailing, which later becomes shouting and grunting. He comes into play more lengthily on a visit to his family's estate where he is appallingly cold to his well-meaning sister, after which he wrecks further mayhem, and Eliza is removed from the action by an accident.

    All this could be cut down to ninety minutes or so and in that form might make a clumsy but relatively watchable movie. More is indeed less here. But of course then Diaz would cease to be a slow cinema niche filmmaker and his one raison-d'être would vanish. In any case, avoid.

    Norte, the End of History/orte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan, 250 mins., debuted in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes 2013 and continued at Locarno and Toronto and other festivals, including the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center, where it was screened for this review.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-02-2015 at 05:28 PM.

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    Alain Guiraudie: STRANGER BY THE LAKE (2013)


    Paou, Deladonchamps, lake

    Tightly constructed French thriller set at a gay nude beach, with explicit sex

    L'Inconnu du lac, a movie entirely set in a nude gay cruising area by a forest lake in the south of France, first was shown safely in the separate Un Certain Regard section at Cannes May 2013, where its overt sexual content didn't have to submit to the conventional "competition" scrutiny or the mainstream press, and it won a lot of positive buzz by viewers surprised at discovering it. Upon its French release it won critical raves. This is understandable. Stranger by the Lake (the English title has a classic Forties Hollywood sound, as noted by Jérôme Momcilovic of Cronic' ) is a thriller set in a milieu straight audiences (and some gay ones) are unfamiliar with. This is a little bit as if John Retchy's bold 1967 novel of gay sexual desperation Numbers had been filmed as a murder mystery; there is a similar formal, repetitious structure. But it's a Whodunit where we know who did it. The dark, hunky, mustachioed Michel (Christophe Paou) did it. The question is what the young blond Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps), who witnesses it but then falls for Michel, is going to do, and what Michel will do to Franck if he knows he knows. Stranger by the Lake is notable for its observation of the unities, its tense excitement and its tight, economical structure. Cahiers du Cinéma says it's the best of Guiraudie's seven films, which they've seen (I haven't). It is a well-constructed thriller but it also has a mythical, fantastic dimension. As Stéphane Leblanc of 20 Minutes says, it's a fairy tale with a pretty (male) innocent ("joli Poucet") and a wicked wolf who pops out when night falls. And if it's Hitchcock, it's also Eric Rohmer's Summer's Tale, says Leblanc.

    First let's talk about the sex, and then Hitchcock. The sex is explicit. The pebbly beach is a nude beach, and the men lie on it stripped. Cruising doesn't mean dating or pickups. It means anonymous sex, there and then or back in the woods. (When it's repeated it's no longer anonymous.) There is even a shot of a man masturbating with another man and an erect penis amply ejaculating, and fellatio, and repeated fucking. There is just enough of this to show and acknowledge that it's the main thing going on. The film isn't porn, though the conservative or uninitiated may say it is. These overt moments (and only moments) are not there to turn you on (or off) but to establish what goes on in the setting. And how it goes on. In his no-nonsense treatment of sex Guiraudie may succeed in "outing" himself in a way he hasn't before. He may also desensitivize straight audiences to gay sex in a new way. The French already had the hippest most world-weary gay filmmaker, the prolific actor-auteur Jacques Nolot. They also had the most artistic of gay porn (or any porn?) filmmakers, the immortal Jean-Daniel Cadinot. So that a French filmmaker got overt gay sex into a thriller for the first time? Not so surprising.

    And yes, Hitchcock. Guiraudie has definitely created a Hitchcockian mood, which various critics have commented on. He has that Hitchcockian character, a voyeur who inadvertently witnesses a murder -- Franck watching Michel, whom he desires, and seeing him drown his partner in the lake, and who is later himself by association guilty, perhaps titillated. And there are odd onlookers, notably Henri (Patrick d'Assumçao). Henri befriends Franck and the relationship continues as they both come to the lake every day. Henri isn't thin, muscular, or cool looking. He's decidedly paunchy and bad cruising material. He also says he's straight, and is only coming here because he's broken up with his girlfriend, is on vacation, is lonely, and knows he can talk to people here without being thought weird. Henri's ambiguous presence is slightly comical and one of several light notes, the others brought chiefly by a discreet but ever-present cop, Inspector Demroder (Jérôme Chappatte), who becomes part of the scene after the body is found. Demroder's questions are insistent, sometimes telling, sometimes droll. Most Hitchcockian of all, the movie becomes progressively more and more suspenseful, almost excruciatingly so in the final moments -- then leaving us hanging. The director appears in the movie too.

    The nudity and cruising still go on, and Demroder critiques this. What kind of community, he asks Franck, says nothing when one of them disappears, his clothes and shoes and towel sitting on the grass for days unclaimed, and, after a possible murder is found, the cruising and sex continue? No community at all. Thus Guiraudie, who also scripted, himself points to the cold, anonymous aspect of his own world. Not all gay men, of course, like anonymous sex, even when they're young; I didn't. But it is a fact of gay life, even post-AiDS.

    Franck's relationship with Michel is amoral. Michel's murder adds to its excitement for him. The relationship is so obviously risky and dangerous that when they fuck, they agree to do so unprotected. Why does Franck fall in love with a murderer? Michel, who won't allow them to meet away from the lake, exemplifies a cold, pure-sex side of gay life that the movie frames as murderous. But Franck's passion is also amour fou, a kind of destructive love that is universal, not strictly homo or hetero.

    The neat, formal, repetitious construction takes the form of a succession of days at the lake. Michel disappears at first, and reappears. The friendship between Franck and the straight guy Henri, who does not cruise, does not strip and does not swim, continues. It becomes warmer too. Henri becomes a sympathetic ear for Franck. Henri has bad days too and grows to need Franck. Michel is as hot for Franck as vice versa. But when the corpse is found and the inspector arrives on the scene things change. The parking lot and the individual cars are part of the accelerating rhythm. The days end there. But Michel won't allow Franck to follow him. Franck stays on till dark. And then the parking lot comes to seem dangerous as well as a symbol of separation.

    Stranger by the Lake/L'Inconnu du lac, 97 mins., was screened for the press as part of the New York Film Festival after the third four-hour film in the first week, Lav Diaz's interminable and molasses-slow North, the End of History, and when the urbane John Wildman, communications officer of the FSLC, announced the run-time, there was applause. But there's more that's good about it than compact length. A warning. As an IMDb "user" commented, it's "extremely explicit," and "not for the squeamish or conservative." In his Cannes Tweet review Mike D'Angelo telegraphed the warning, "Might be too straight for this, as it's pretty close to being gay porn w/an unusually hefty plot." There is a Cannes Queer Palm Award and this won it. Introduced at Cannes in Un Certain Regard where it won that series' Best Director prize. The Films du Losange release will be distributed in the US by Strand Releasing. US theatrical release (limited) 24 January 2014.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-02-2015 at 05:31 PM.

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    Rithy Panh: THE MISSING PICTURE (2013)


    Still from The Missing Picture

    Carved figurines recreate a world of horror and attrition

    The filmmaker Rithy Panh, born in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in 1964, was eleven when the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot took over the country. He and his family were taken to "rehabilitation" camps for slave labor and starvation, and, as we learn in The MIssing Picture, his mother, father, and sister died and he daily buried the exterminated or dead of starvation. In 1979 at fifteen he escaped to Thailand and a year later made it to Paris, where he makes his home. After studying at the French National Cinema School he went on to produce an award winning filmography largely devoted to studying and recreating the Pol Pot period and the tough life in Cambodia since. The Missing Picture is his most personal film -- but still detached. The story he tells in a French text coauthored with Christophe Bataille and read by Randal Douc) (dubbed in English in this version) is illustrated using little carved clay figures fabricated by Sarith Mangs and shot in vignettes, small dioramas that are sometimes ingenious and sometimes strangely pretty; or occasionally overlapping to make them a part of black and white stills or insert them in archival film footage. The effect is vivid, yet detached; grim and specific, yet ironic and vague. There isn't much effort to explain the whole historical context, and those (like myself) who are ignorant of the Khmer Roue or have forgotten the details might want to do some studying up before or after.

    Rithy Panh's first film was Site 2 (1989), a documentary about a notorious torture and extermination site in Phnom Penh, and this was apparently expanded in S21: The Khmer Rouge Death Machine (2003). Rice People or Le peuple de la rizière (1994), based on a novel, is a semi-documentary, semi-dramatic tale of a Cambodian peasant family undergoing one hardship after another. Typically, Panh's focus is grim and tragic, an outlook not surprising givin his traumatic and dire youth. In 2008, by then well-known in France, Panh was given the opportunity to film a Marguerite Duras novel, The Sea Wall/Un barrage contre le pacifique, with Isabelle Huppert and Gaspard Ulliel; despite these well-known names and a decent reception in France (Allociné press rating 3.0). the low-keyed film got no US release, or international attention outside the festival circuit.

    The "missing picture" in the title refers to the fact that under Pol Pot's totalitarian dictatorship, anyone who filmed actual conditions was executed. Most of what survives are propaganda films. We see excerpts of one that shows a fake battle recreated in a comically amateurish fashion. The phrase also refers to Panh's lost family history. They lost everything. He refers to the happy days before the horror, dinners with family and friends, books, movie-going. It is all a little unreal, the good memories and the horrible ones.

    Panh shows a hand carving the clay figures as if to make clear this is a humble do-it-yourself recreation. He reminisces in detail, but also impressionistically. He tells about the hospital with wooden plank beds where he was a while and where his mother died, recreated with the little figures, like a dollhouse. The workers in the rice fields are recreated the same way, slave-laborers toiling, as he describes the starvation, the efforts to survive by eating insects, rats, and roots -- punished by the authorities. This is interwoven with propaganda films. If you look closely, he says, you can tell the small figures shown in the films working in panoramas of rice fields are moving slowly, because they are starving. Panh describes clearly enough what the life at the labor camps was like, the brainwashing -- "reeducation," eradicating of class and individual aspirations, the exhaustion, the desperation, and what the regime at the top was like, even what Pol Pot was like as observed in pubic appearances.

    Yet there is an ambiguity about all this: is Panh trying to come closer to his brief traumatic past when he lost his family and almost died or is he trying, with the clay figures, to desensitize himself to it, while keeping it at one remove? And does that work? This is also a personal film (perhaps also a very French one?) in that despite the harrowing specifics (mention of the US bombing too), Panh is poetic and impressionistic as well. Hence he says, "And then one day it all ended and the Khmer Rouge were gone," but he does not say when that was or how it came about or what followed after; nor does he fill in the outline of his own story that I gave at the start. The Missing Picture deserves good marks for its originality and the validity of its personal account can't be faulted, but something also is still missing. More of a sense of structure and more historical perspective might have made the film a more enlightening experience and less of a chore to watch. In his Variety review Justin Chang says this film encourages debate about issues of representation in historical documentary.

    The Missing Picture/L'Image manquante, 90 mins., debuted at Cannes 2013 and continued at other festivals, including the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center, where it was screened for this review.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-02-2015 at 05:33 PM.

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    Richard Curtis: ABOUT TIME (2013)


    Rachel McAdams and Domhnall Gleeson in About Time

    Second chances

    Richard Curtis writes his own screenplays, and well he might, since he got a First in English at Oxford. Oxford notwithstanding, he is a pop writer, a Brit from New Zealand originally who turns out English equivalents of Nora Ephron. And no harm in that. If Notting Hill wasn't so great, Love, Actually was pretty good, and Hugh Grant was shown to best advantage in both, as well as in several other films Curtis wrote the screenplays for. Unfortunately Curtiss turns to sentimentality and soppy life messages in this outing, but good fun is had by all and there's some fast, snappy rom-com action before the treacle begins to flow. Every cast member achieves maximum cuteness, whether 20-something or 60-something. Only one character dares to be rude and narcissistic, and that's the insufferable playwright whom the young protagonist goes to live with when he comes from his preposterously lovely, charmingly eccentric family life in Cornwall to become a lawyer in London. This is Harry, and he's played by Tom Hollander. If only there were more Harrys, and more and less one-note Tom Hollanders, this movie might seem less bland and banal. But you'd also have to ditch the basic premise, from which comes the title.

    You may not have heard of Domhnall Gleeson. Domhnall Gleeson isn't a looker like Hugh Grant, but he makes a better everyman. He's really 30, but sometimes it takes a while to become an emerging star. Domhnall is Irish, but he does the posh-ish English accent that predominates here -- no glottal stops or regionalisms --and plays Tim, son of Bill Nighy, who on Tim's 21st birthday at that Cornwall paradise, informs him that male members of the family have the gift of time-travel. Just go into a dark place, make fists, and focus hard on where you want to go back to and you're there. (This scene and the many that follow is really more enjoyable for clear enunciation and good timing than for actual content.)

    His newly discovered skill means that henceforth Tim gets second chances on all his encounters with the love of his life, as well as several almost-loves along the way. But wouldn't this ability to re-stage interactions with the female sex have benefitted Tim more during those awkward teenage years, when nothing seems to go right? Anyway, the gift of correction -- like screenplay rewrites -- allows Tim to be a success with the lady who fills that slot taken up by Julia Roberts in Notting Hill: a pretty young American woman with a rather large mouth, the better to smile at us with and draw in the Stateside audience.

    Tim's skill also enables him to save Harry's drama career, and simultaneously save an actor, played by Richard E. Grant, from ignominy. (This sequence also features the late Richard Griffiths in his final appearance.) But when Tim, now married to Mary (McAdams) and with a suitably adorable kid, tries to use time travel to save his ill-starred sister Kit Kat (Lydia Wilson) from a bad accident, he runs into a technical snarl. Sometimes going too far back will cause other things to change that you want to keep.

    Sometimes it also seems this repetitious and often pointless screenplay is simply a way to escape from the fact that Curtis hasn't come up with a very interesting or amusing story, and has to keep tweaking it with these time travel alterations. They create a kind of giddy excitement, a string of what-ifs or suppose-we-didn'ts that make Tim's young life seem like a roller coaster, one that can't go wrong. Or can go wrong at first, but then can be instantly fixed, by squeezing one's fists in a closet. This is so obviously an encouragement of fairy tale thinking that Curtis has to undercut it at the end, after a saccharine goodbye to cancer-ridden Dad Bill Nighy, with the message that all in all, it's best to play the hand life deals you. We should have seen that coming, though we wish it wouldn't. Doesn't it mean all this stuff was pointless and unnecessary?

    But, as I said, everybody is cute. That includes Nighy, a breezy Mum played by Lindsay Duncan (just seen as Jim Broadbent's dicey wife in Le Weekend), and the immaculately dressed but otherwise functionless Uncle D (Richard Cordery), whose one-note schtick is never to quite know what's going on. He gets saccharine toward the end too.

    It's a bit strange that the English, masters of irony and the sardonic world-view, should have become a source of movies notable for their silly, lightweight humor and overwhelming sentimentality. (The director seems to think he can find that in Dickins.) But then, while this takes place in England, and Curtis has that First from Oxford, he still comes from New Zealand. Small comfort perhaps for those of us who long for Jane Austen and Pinter.

    About Time, a busy 123 mins., debuted at Edinburgh June 2013 and has opened in many countries, including the UK 4 Sept. It opens in the US (limited) 1 Nov. Screened for this review as part of the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-02-2015 at 05:35 PM.

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    Fernando Eimbcke: CLUB SANDWICH (2013)


    Lucio Cacho, Maria Renée Prudencio and Danae Reynaud in Club Sandwich

    A boy and his mom, one last time

    In his nearly 20-year career the 43-year-old Mexican director Fernando Eimbcke has produced a slim but distinctive and charming body of work, usually with a focus on adolescence. There's that also in his new Club Sandwich, which shows a single mother of 35, Paloma (María Renée Prudencio) ) and her 15 year- old son Hector (Lucio Giménez Cacho) taking a cheap summer vacation at a nice seaside motel staying off season on a "promotion." But this time the attention is more on the adult, Paloma, who's lonely, adores Hector, and knows their idyll as almost-a-couple is about to end when Hector meets the busty 16-year-old Jazmin (Danae Reynaud), whose family is also staying at the motel and the two kids start hanging out. That's about all that happens: Paloma's sad realization that Hector and Jazmin are about to have sex and Hector would rather be with the girl than with her.

    It sounds simple, but Eimbcke has perfect pitch and a keen sense of pace and his minimalism means not a word, glance, twitch of the eye, or a break in tempo fails to communicate its precise meaning, whether droll or heartbraking. What may appear stylized winds up feeling highly realistic in the way each scene captures the essence of things, the heat, the boredom, the games and TV to pass the time, the dips in the pool, the sun block, the conversation that's so laconic because each situation is so familiar, or so loaded, words are barely necessary.
    And there's the elegant symmetry: at the outset, Hector and Paloma put sun block on each other. They sit next to each other waiting for the lotion to dry. After Jazmin has entered the scene she and Hector will be in the same pose, sitting side by side on a bed waiting for the sun block to dry. Only everything is different.

    Laconicism is a thread in Latin American cinema, as are vacations when kids go astray. There's no talk in Argentinian Lisandro Alonso's haunting Los Muertos, or much in Mexican Carlos Reygadas' Silent Light. (NYFF 2007). The abandoned well-off kids in Argentine Celina Murga's A Week Alone (FCS 2009) go somewhat feral, staging their own suburban gated community Lord of the Flies. Mexican Gerardo Naranjo had fun with a couple of kids who turn against society in his breakout film I'm Gonno Explode (NYFF 2008). The Brazilian Kleber Mendoça Filho's Neighboring Sounds (ND/NF 2011) works on a larger canvas but also suggests disorder around the corner and feel of unspoken menace. Eimbcke has a drier humor and works in a quieter and lighter key than these others, but his themes sometimes overlap with theirs.

    Paloma seeks to invade the little world that now threatens to capsule off Hector and Jazmin. She takes the bull by the horns by inviting herself and Hector to dine with Jazmin, her father, and her step-mother: the dinner conversation is hilariously minimal, restricted to questions like "Do you like school?" (to Jazmin) and "How long have you been married?" (to her stup-mother).

    When Jazmin and Hector are sitting next to each other staring forward (the film's neutral position), Paloma pops into the room and sits in a row next to them. With his genius for using simple means to maximum effect Eimbcke creates an emotional climax with a "punishment" game Paloma, Hector, and Jazmin play after dinner. When Jazmin loses to Paloma, she says the "punishment" is Jazmin's "leaving." Then she says it's joke. When it's Hectors turn to "punish" Jazmin, and he "condemns" her to do a "sexy dance" -- a "punishment" she carries out with panache. Finally Hector gets to "punish" Paloma and he really does -- he makes her go out to the hallways looking for a coin-dispensed bag of potato chips. She finds it, and eats the chips alone on the stairs, lonely and sad.

    Eimbcke has explained that he drives casting directors nuts, but his demands pay off. To begin with the ages themselves, 35 for the mother, 15 for the son 16 for the girlfriend, are precisely calibrated. María Renée Prudencio and Lucio Giménez Cacho at first look quite alike in the sun by the pool or enjoying their bedroom together; a bad spring in one twin bed even leads them for one night at least to sleep in the same little bed. Lucio Giménez Cacho is on the plump side, but rather pretty, and big. Hence his appearance is deceptive, and can go either way, androgynous boy or attractive young male. Which way he'll go is shown by his faint mustache and his secret masturbation sessions. Anyway, it's soon obvious that Jazmin can't wait to get her hands on him.

    Eimbcke's features include Duck Season (2004), Lake Tahoe (FCS 2009), which won the FIPRESCI Prize at the Berlin International film festival, and the new Club Sandwich (2013), 87 mins., screened for this review as part of the Emerging Artists program of the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center. Joanna Hogg of the UK, whose new film is called Exhibition, is the other featured NYFF 2013 "Emerging Artist."
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-02-2015 at 05:38 PM.

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