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    New York Film Festival 2013




    OSCAR ISAAC IN THE COEN BROTHERS' INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS

    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)



    NYFF51 SIGNAGE FRONTING RENOVATED ALICE TULLY HALL (photo by CK)

    These reviews also appear on the website Flickfeast.co.uk here.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-02-2015 at 06:00 PM.

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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
    NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE
    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
    U.S. PREMIERE
    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
    NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE
    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
    U.S. PREMEIRE
    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
    OPENING NIGHT GALA SELECTION, WORLD PREMIERE
    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
    U.S. PREMIERE
    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
    CLOSING NIGHT GALA SELECTION, WORLD PREMIERE
    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
    NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE
    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
    NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE
    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.

    JIMMY P: PSYCHOTHERAPY OF A PLAINS INDIAN (2013) 114min
    Director: Arnaud Desplechin
    Country: France
    NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE
    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
    U.S. PREMEIRE
    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
    NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE
    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
    U.S. PREMIERE
    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
    U.S. PREMIERE
    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
    U.S. PREMIERE
    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
    U.S. PREMIERE
    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.

    THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY (2013)
    Director: Ben Stiller
    Country: USA
    CENTERPIECE SELECTION, WORLD PREMIERE
    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
    U.S. PREMIERE
    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
    U.S. PREMIERE
    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
    U.S. PREMIERE
    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
    U.S. PREMIERE
    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
    U.S. PREMIERE
    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.

    WHEN EVENING FALLS ON BUCHAREST OR METABOLISM (2013) 89min
    Director: Corneliu Porumboiu
    Countries: Romania/France
    U.S. PREMIERE
    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
    U.S. PREMIERE
    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.)

    MONDAY SEPTEMBER 16
    P&I OFFICE OPEN FROM 9AM – 5PM
    10AM AT BERKELEY (244m)
    *Press conference to follow via SKYPE
    3PM LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON 120m)

    TUESDAY SEPTEMBER 17
    P&I OFFICE OPEN FROM 8AM – 5PM
    9AM CHILD OF GOD (104m)
    *Press conference to follow via SKYPE
    11:45AM A TOUCH OF SIN (TIAN ZHU DING) (125min)
    2:15PM NOBODY’S DAUGHTER HAEWON (90m)
    4:15PM MANAKAMANA (118m)
    SPOTLIGHT ON DOCUMENTARY: MOTION PORTRAITS

    WEDNESDAY SEPTEMBER 18
    P&I OFFICE OPEN FROM 8AM – 5PM
    9AM AFTERNOON OF A FAUN: TANAQUIL LE CLERCQ (93m)
    SPOTLIGHT ON DOCUMENTARY: MOTION PORTRAITS
    11AM LE WEEK-END (93m)
    1PM THE LAST OF THE UNJUST (218m)
    5PM THE WIND RISES (KAZE TACHINU) (126m)

    THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 19
    P&I OFFICE OPEN FROM 8AM – 5PM
    9AM NORTE, THE END OF HISTORY (250m)
    *Press conference to follow with director Lav Diaz.
    2PM STRANGER BY THE LAKE (97m)
    4PM Views from the Avant-Garde
    FALLING NOTES UNLEAVING (12m)
    SONG (18.5m)
    SPRING (23m)
    * PLEASE NOTE LOCATION: ELINOR BUNIN MUNROE FILM CENTER, 144 West 65th Street

    FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 20
    P&I OFFICE OPEN FROM 8AM – 5PM
    9AM Views from the Avant-Garde
    DIVE: APPROACH AND EXIT (12m)
    SIGNS OF STILLNESS OUT OF MEANINGLESS THINGS (28m)
    MERCURIO (MERCURY) (18m)
    ARQUIVO (ARCHIVE) (19m)
    10:45AM WHAT NOW? REMIND ME (E AGORA? LEMBRA-ME) (164m)
    SPOTLIGHT ON DOCUMENTARY: MOTION PORTRAITS
    2PM THE MISSING PICTURE (92m)
    *Press conference to follow with director Rithy Panh via SKYPE.
    4:30PM ABOUT TIME (123m)

    MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 23
    P&I OFFICE OPEN FROM 8AM – 5PM
    9AM CLUB SANDWICH (82m)
    EMERGING ARTISTS
    * PLEASE NOTE LOCATION: ELINOR BUNIN MUNROE FILM CENTER, 144 West 65th Street
    10:45AM THE DOG (101m)
    SPOTLIGHT ON DOCUMENTARY: MOTION PORTRAITS
    * PLEASE NOTE LOCATION: ELINOR BUNIN MUNROE FILM CENTER, 144 West 65th Street
    1PM JIMMY P: PSYCHOTHERAPY OF A PLAINS INDIAN (114m)
    *Press conference to follow with director Arnaud Desplechin via SKYPE.
    4:00PM WHEN EVENING FALLS ON BUCHAREST OR METABOLISM (89m)

    TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 24
    P&I OFFICE OPEN FROM 8AM – 5PM
    9AM EXHIBITION (105m)
    EMERGING ARTISTS
    11:15AM JEALOUSY (77m)
    1PM THE SQUARE (104m)
    *Press conference to follow with director Jehane Noujaim
    3:45PM STRAY DOGS (138m)

    WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 25
    P&I OFFICE OPEN FROM 8AM – 5PM
    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)
    SPOTLIGHT ON DOCUMENTARY: APPLIED SCIENCE

    THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 26
    P&I OFFICE OPEN FROM 9AM – 5PM
    10AM INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS (105m)
    *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)

    FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 27
    P&I OFFICE OPEN FROM 9AM – 5PM
    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
    LOIS PATIÑO: COSTA DA MORTE (83m)
    * PLEASE NOTE LOCATION: ELINOR BUNIN MUNROE FILM CENTER, 144 West 65th Street

    MONDAY SEPTEMBER 30
    P&I OFFICE OPEN FROM 9AM – 5PM
    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)

    TUESDAY OCTOBER 1
    P&I OFFICE OPEN FROM 9AM – 5PM
    10AM OMAR (96m)
    *Press conference to follow with director Hany Abu-Assad via SKYPE.
    12:30PM SAM IN THE SNOW (93m)
    SPOTLIGHT ON DOCUMENTARY: HOW DEMOCRACY WORKS NOW
    2:30PM SHORTS PROGRAM #3 (61m)

    WEDNESDAY OCTOBER 2
    P&I OFFICE OPEN FROM 9AM – 5PM
    10AM HAIL MARY, screening with THE BOOK OF MARY and NOTES ON HAIL MARY (107m)
    RETROSPECTIVE: JEAN-LUC GODARD – THE SPIRIT OF THE FORMS
    12:15PM THE CHASE (86m), preceded by IT’S THE CAT/SOME OTHER CAT (7m)
    REVIVALS
    2:15PM PROVIDENCE (110m)
    REVIVALS

    THURSDAY OCTOBER 3
    P&I OFFICE OPEN FROM 9AM – 5PM
    10AM SHORTS PROGRAM #4 (89m)
    12:30PM. REAL [RESCHEDULED FROM SEPT. 30]

    FRIDAY OCTOBER 4
    P&I OFFICE OPEN FROM 8AM – 5PM

    FRIDAY OCTOBER 4
    P&I OFFICE OPEN FROM 8AM – 5PM
    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.

    SATURDAY, OCTOBER 5
    P&I OFFICE OPEN FROM 9AM – 5PM
    1:00PM THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY
    *Press Conference to follow AMC LINCOLN SQUARE

    MONDAY OCTOBER 7
    P&I OFFICE OPEN FROM 9AM – 5PM
    10AM 12 YEARS A SLAVE (134m)
    *Press conference to follow

    TUESDAY OCTOBER 8
    P&I OFFICE OPEN FROM 9AM – 5PM
    10AM ALL IS LOST (107m)
    *Press Conference to follow with director J.C. Chandor and Robert Redford.
    1PM NEBRASKA (115m)
    *Press conference to follow

    WEDNESDAY OCTOBER 9
    P&I OFFICE OPEN FROM 9AM – 5PM
    10AM THE INVISIBLE WOMAN (111m)
    *Press conference to follow with director and star, Ralph Fiennes, and Joanna Scanlan.

    THURSDAY OCTOBER 10
    P&I OFFICE OPEN FROM 9AM – 5PM
    10AM PENDING: ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE (123m)
    *Press conference to follow

    FRIDAY OCTOBER 11
    P&I OFFICE OPEN FROM 12PM – 5PM
    1PM – 4PM BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR (LA VIE D’ADÈLE) (179m)
    *Press conference to follow

    SATURDAY OCTOBER 12
    P&I OFFICE OPEN FROM 12PM – 5PM
    10AM HER
    *Press conference to follow

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-02-2015 at 06:07 PM.

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    Frederick Wiseman: AT BERKELEY (2013)

    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 06:08 PM.

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    Hirakazu Koreeda: LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON (2013)

    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 06:10 PM.

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    James Franco: CHILD OF GODJ (2013)

    JAMES FRANCO: CHILD OF GOD (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 06:12 PM.

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

    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 06:15 PM.

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