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Thread: New York Film Festival 2014

  1. #1
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    New York Film Festival 2014

    Click here for Filmleaf NYFF 2014 comments thread.

    NYFF signage outside Alice Tully Hall, September 2014 [Photo: Chris Knipp]

    Links to reviews:

    '71 (Jann Demange 2014)
    Beloved Sisters/Die geliebten Schwestern (Dominik Graf 2014)
    Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtues of Ignorance) (Alejandro G. Iñárritu 2014)
    Blue Room, The/La Chambre bleue (Mathieu Amalric 2014)
    Citizenfour (Laura Poitras 2014)
    Clouds of Sils Maria (Olivier Assayas 2014)
    Eden (Mia Hansen-Løve 2014)
    Foxcatcher (Bennett Miller 2014)
    Gone Girl (David Fincher 2014)
    Goodbye to Language/Adieu au langage (Jean-Luc Godard 2014)
    Heaven Knows What (Josh & Benny Safdie 2014)
    Hill of Freedom 자유의 언덕/Jayuui Eondeok (Hong Sang-soo 2014)
    Horse Money/Cavalo Dinheiro (Pedro Costa 2014)
    Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson 2014)
    Iris (Albert Maysles 2014)--Spotlight on Documentary
    Jauja (Lisandro Alonso 2014)
    Life of Riley/Aimer, boire et chanter (Alain Resnais 2014)
    Listen Up Philip (Alex Ross Perry 2014)
    Maps to the Stars (David Cronenberg 2014)
    Merchants of Doubt (Robert Kenner-Spotlight on Documentary
    Misunderstood/Incompresa (Asia Argento 2014)
    Mr. Turner (Mike Leigh 2014)
    National Gallery (Frederick Wiseman 2014)--Spotlight on Documentary
    Pasolini (Abel Ferrara 2014)
    Princess of France, The/La principessa de Francia (Matías Piñeiro 2014)
    Red Army (Gabe Polsky 2014)--Spotlight on Documentary
    Saint Laurent (Bertrand Bonello 2014)
    La Sapienza (Eugène Green 2014)
    Seymour: An Introduction (Ethan Hawke 2014)--Spotlight on Documentary
    Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait/ماء الفضة/maa' al-fiḍḍa (Ossama Mohammed, Wiam Simav Bedirxan 2014)
    Tales of the Grim Sleeper (Nick Broomfield 2014)
    Timbuktu (Abderrahmane Sissako 2014)
    Time Out of Mind (Owen Moverman 2014)
    Two Days, One Night/Deux jours, une nuit (Jean-Pierre, Luc Dardenne 2014)
    Two Shots Fired/Dos disparos (Martin Rejtman 2014)
    Whiplash (Damien Chazelle 2014)
    Wonders, The/Le meraviglie (Alice Rohrwacher 2014)


    The opening, closing, and centerpiece films for the fall festival:

    OPENING NIGHT: Gone Girl (David Fincher)
    CENTERPIECE: Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson)
    CLOSING NIGHT: Birdman or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance (Alejandro G. Iñárritu)


    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-04-2015 at 11:02 PM.

  2. #2
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    All of the 2014 NYFF Main Slate list has now been announced. See below; with the FSLC's blurbs. For the FSLC's filmlinc
    site for further info on NYFF52 click on the image above.

    The 52nd New York Film Festival (2014) Main Slate.

    (See also Noel Murray's fuller, richer individual summaries of the films for The Dissolve.)

    Director: David Fincher
    Opening Night - 145 mins.
    World Premiere
    David Fincher’s film version of Gillian Flynn’s best seller (adapted by the author) is one wild cinematic ride, an intensely compressed portrait of a recession-era marriage contained within a depiction of celebrity/media culture.

    World Premiere 148 mins.
    Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
    The first adaptation of a Thomas Pynchon novel, is a time machine placing viewers in the world of the paranoid, hazy L.A. dope culture of the early ’70s.

    Closing Night Gala Selection
    Director: Alejandro G. Iñarritu
    Closing Night 119 mins.
    One-time action hero Riggan Thomson (a jaw-dropping Michael Keaton) stages his own adaptation of Raymond Carver’s "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love" while contending with a scene-hogging narcissist, a vulnerable actress, and an unhinged girlfriend for co-stars; a resentful daughter; a manager who’s about to come undone... and his ego, the inner demon of the superhero that made him famous, Birdman.

    BELOVED SISTERS (Die geliebten Schwestern)
    Director: Dominik Graf
    North Armerican Premiere 170 mins.
    Romantic sentiment runs high but aristocratic decorum holds sway in this beautiful and thoroughly modern rendering of the real-life 18th-century love triangle involving German poet Friedrich Schiller and two sisters of noble birth, Charlotte and Caroline, whose strikingly intense relationship and profound mutual devotion verge on symbiosis.

    Amalric shows Georges Simenon crime novel La Chambre bleue

    THE BLUE ROOM (La chambre bleue)
    Director: Mathieu Amalric
    North American Premiere 76 mins.
    A perfectly twisted, timeless adaptation of a Georges Simenon domestic crime novel in which an adulterous man (Mathieu Amalric) and woman (Stéphanie Cléau) meet in a country hotel’s blue room... but have very different visions of their future.

    Director: Olivier Assayas
    U.S. Premiere 124 mins.
    Juliette Binoche plays an aging actress and Kristen Stewart her personal assistant in Olivier Assayas’s brilliant new film, a close meditation on the passage of time.

    Director: Mia Hansen-Løve
    U.S. Premiere 131 mins.
    Mia Hansen-Løve’s fourth feature is based on the experiences of her brother (and co-writer) Sven—one of the pioneering DJs of the French rave scene in the early 1990s—and plays in the mind as a swirl of beautiful faces and bodies, impulsive movements, rushes of cascading light and color, and music, music, and more music.

    Director: Bennett Miller 133 mins.
    'A vivid portrait of a side of American life that has never been touched in movies, Bennett Miller’s meticulously crafted new film deals with the tragic story of the the fatally dissociated billionaire John E. du Pont (Steve Carell) and the brothers and championship wrestlers (played by Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum) recruited by du Pont to create a national wrestling team on his family’s sprawling property in Pennsylvania.

    GOODBYE TO LANGUAGE (Adieu au langage)
    Director: Jean-Luc Godard 70 ins.
    Jean-Luc Godard’s 43rd feature, shot in 3-D and "starring" his beloved dog Roxy, is a work of the greatest freedom and joy, as impossible to summarize as a poem by Wallace Stevens or a Messiaen quartet.

    Directors: Josh & Benny Safdie
    U.S. Premiere 94 mins.
    Harley is madly in love with Ilya. She’s sure he loves her just as much, if only he could express it. Both of them are heroin addicts, kids who wander around New York trying to scare up money for a fix. The Safdie Brothers’ toughest movie, it’s not romantic but it will break your heart.

    HILL OF FREEDOM (Jayuui Eondeok)
    Director: Hong Sang-soo
    U.S. Premiere 66 mins.
    Kwon is given a packet of undated letters from Mori, who has come to Seoul to propose to her. As she walks down a flight of stairs, they are dropped and scattered. While reading them, she must make sense of the chronology… and so must we, in Hong Sang-soo’s daring new film, made up of a series of disordered scenes based on the letters.

    HORSE MONEY (Cavalo Dinheiro)
    Director: Pedro Costa
    U.S. Premiere 103 mins.
    Pedro Costa’s astonishing new film, which "takes place" in the soul-space of Costa regular Ventura, is a self-reckoning, a moving memorialization of lives in danger of being forgotten, and a great and piercingly beautiful work of cinema.

    Lisandro Alonso at Cannes

    Director: Lisandro Alonso
    U.S. Premiere 108 mins.
    A work of tremendous beauty and a source of continual surprise, Alonso’s first period piece stars Viggo Mortensen as a Danish military engineer who traverses a visually stunning variety of Patagonian shrub, rock, grass, and desert on horseback and on foot in search of his teenage daughter.

    LIFE OF RILEY(Aimer, boire et chanter)
    Director: Alain Resnais
    U.S. Premiere 108 mins.
    The final work from Alain Resnais, based on British playwright Alan Ayckbourn’s Relatively Speaking, is a moving, graceful, and surprisingly affirmative farewell to life from a truly great artist.

    Director: Alex Ross Perry 108 mins.
    For his sly, very funny portrait of artistic egomania, Alex Ross Perry draws on literary models (mainly Philip Roth and William Gaddis) to achieve a brazen mixture of bitter humor and unexpected pathos.

    Director: David Cronenberg
    U.S. Premiere 111 mins.
    Cronenberg takes Bruce Wagner’s script—a pitch-black Hollywood satire—chills it down, and gives it a near-tragic spin. The terrible loneliness of narcissism afflicts every character from the fading star Havana (Julianne Moore) to the available-for-anything chauffeur (Robert Pattinson) to the entire Weiss family, played by John Cusack, Olivia Williams, Evan Bird, and Mia Wasikowska.

    Asia Argento at Cannes

    MISUNDERSTOOD (Incompresa)
    Director: Asia Argento
    North American Premiere 103 mins.
    As preteen Aria shuttles between the well-appointed homes of her divorced showbiz parents, a large affectionate cat her only companion, she elaborates her walks into sometimes life-threatening adventures. Blurring the line between imagination and actuality, Asia Argento’s irrepressible projection of young female subjectivity is ingenious, direct, and utterly real

    Director: Mike Leigh 149 mins.
    A portrait of the great painter J.M.W. Turner and his time, but also an extremely clear-eyed film about art and its creation, and the great human problem of sharing a life with other people. Featuring a remarkable performance from director Mike Leigh’s frequent collaborator, Timothy Spall.
    Read more

    Director: Abel Ferrara 87 mins.
    U.S. Premiere 87 mins
    Abel Ferrara’s new film compresses the many contradictory aspects of his subject’s life and work into a distilled, prismatic portrait, with a brilliant Willem Dafoe in the title role.

    THE PRINCESS OF FRANCE (La Princesa de Francia)
    Director: Matías Piñeiro
    U.S. Premiere 70 mins.
    Matías Piñeiro’s dazzling fifth feature, which follows a group of young people involved in a radio production of Love’s Labour’s Lost, doesn’t transplant Shakespeare to the present day so much as summon the spirit of his polymorphous comedies.

    Director: Bertrand Bonello
    North American Premiere 146 mins.
    Focusing on a dark, hedonistic, wildly creative decade in Yves Saint Laurent’s life and career, Bertrand Bonello toys deliriously with biopic rules and limitations.

    Director: Eugène Green
    U.S. Premiere 100 mins.
    In Eugène Green’s exquisite new film, an unhappy married couple travel to Italy so that the husband can research the Baroque architect Francesco Borromini. There they encounter a brother and sister, whose friendship helps to restore their own sense of inner balance.

    Director: Yann Demange
    A riveting thriller set in the mean streets of Belfast over the course of 24 hours, ’71 brings the grim reality of the Troubles to vivid, shocking life as a squaddie (Jack O’Connell) finds himself trapped and unarmed in hostile territory and the lines between friend and foe become increasingly blurred.

    Director: Nick Broomfield 105 mins.
    Four years after the arrest of the Grim Sleeper serial killer in South Central Los Angeles, filmmaker Nick Broomfield interviews friends, neighbors, and community activists to unravel the chilling story, while giving voice to his victims and illuminating the racial divide that still exists.

    Director: Abderrahmane Sissako
    U.S. Premiere 97 mins.
    A serenely composed vision of the humiliation and terror wrought by foreign Islamic jihadists who occupy the ancient Malian city of Timbuktu. A film by turns wondrous and terrifying.

    Richard Gere playing a homeless person

    Director: Oren Moverman
    U.S. Premiere 117 mins.
    As George, a man forced onto the streets, Richard Gere may be the "star" of Oren Moverman’s haunting new film, but he allows the world around him to take center stage, and himself to simply be.

    TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT (Deux jours, une nuit)
    Directors: Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne 95 mins.
    A factory worker on the verge of being laid off (Marion Cotillard) has 48 hours to convince her co-workers to forego their bonuses so that she might keep her job. At once an unforgettable drama and a tough ethical inquiry, from Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne.

    TWO SHOTS FIRED (Dos Disparos)
    Director: Martn Rejtman
    U.S. Premiere 105 mins.
    Martín Rejtman’s seventh feature, about a family’s curious methods of coping with their 16-year-old son’s inexplicable suicide attempt, is an engrossing, digressive comedy with the weight of an existentialist novel.

    Director: Damien Chazelle 106 mins.
    A pedagogical thriller and an emotional S&M two-hander, Whiplash is brilliantly acted by Miles Teller as an eager jazz drummer at an unnamed New York music academy and J.K. Simmons as the teacher whose method of terrorizing his students is beyond questionable, even when it gets results.

    THE WONDERS (Le meraviglie)
    Director: Alice Rohrwacher
    North American Premiere 110 mins.
    Alice Rohrwacher’s sophomore feature, a vivid yet mysterious story of teenage yearning and confusion, conjures a richly concrete world that is subject to the magical thinking of adolescence

    52nd NYFF SELECTION COMMITTEE: Kent Jones, chair, with Dennis Lim (FSLC Director of Programming), Marian Masone (FSLC Senior Programming Advisor), Gavin Smith (Film Comment Editor), and Amy Taubin (Film Comment and Sight & Sound Contributing Editor).

    PRESS & INDUSTRY SCREENINGS. These run from September 15th through October 11trh 2014. Reviews will be appearing in this thread regularly during this time.

    NYFF52 REVIVALS « Main Series Listings

    Burroughs: The Movie
    HOWARD BROOKNER | 1983 | 86 MINS
    An evocative and one-of-a-kind portrait of William Burroughs, built around a series of encounters with the great American writer himself and interviews with many friends, including Allen Ginsberg, Terry Southern, John Giorno. and Brion Gysin. A true New York movie.

    The Color of Pomegranates
    A cine-poem of the life of the 18th-century Armenian/Georgian poet and singer Sayat-Nova by Sergei Parajanov, which Michelangelo Antonioni once called a film of “stunningly perfect beauty,” now impeccably restored.

    Hiroshima Mon Amour
    ALAIN RESNAIS | 1959 | 90 MINS
    This debut feature from Alain Resnais, written by Marguerite Duras, a story told in two tenses about the aftereffect of the atomic bomb as experienced by two lovers in Hiroshima, is one of the great masterworks of modernist cinema, now fully restored.

    Once Upon a Time in America
    SERGIO LEONE | 1984 | 251 MINS
    Sergio Leone’s final and perhaps greatest film, a New York gangster saga housed within an intricate construction that shuttles through time, with Robert De Niro, James Woods leading a remarkable cast. This restoration, including material previously unseen in the U.S., preserves the director’s original structure.

    Click here for festival news.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-06-2014 at 07:29 PM.

  3. #3
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    Asia Argento: MISUNDERSTOOD (2014)


    Charlotte Gainsbourg, Giulia Salerno in Misunderstood

    Growing up ignored and mistreated, with rich and famous parents: Asia Argento's boisterous, loud, semi-autobiographical effort is endlessly vivid but lacks real substance

    Asia Argento, daughter of Dario, was seen on the screen in person in the 2007 New York Film Festival's colorful and amusing Main Slate selection, Catherine Breillat's costume drama The Last Mistress, where she played the lead role. This is a semi-autobiographical piece by Asia (the lead character, a young girl, only has one letter different in her name), where she has only a brief cameo. It's a more convincing directorial effort than her first two pictures, which have been characterized as "punk melodrama" (Lee Marshall, Screen Daily). Actually, though Misunderstood certainly has trappings unique to itself, in doing a tumultuous Italian language period coming-of-ager (set in the early 1980's), Asia Argento is competing with an entertaining and accomplished, if not radically original, spate of such films in recent Italian cinema including Giovanni Veronesi's The Fifth Wheel (starting in the Sixties), Daniele Lucchetti's Those Happy Years (about the Seventies), and Pierfrancesco Diliberto's The Mafia Only Killes in Summer, about growing up on Sicily in the past few decades. These films included in the FSLC Open Roads: New Italian Cinema series of June 2014, are just as entertaining and contain more historical context.

    But the choice of Misunderstood as a New York Film Festival Main Slate film has the logic of a pedigree in cinematic history. Dario Argento, Asia's father, is the master of the Seventies horror film subgenre known as giallo, and she is his colorful offspring. Perhaps it's not any one thing Asia does, but how all her efforts, as actress, personality, model, singer, director, feed into a vivid and defiant life, fulfilling the supposed Italian renaissance concept of la vita come opera d'arte, of life itself as a work of art. Misunderstood is a vivid gesture, even if as autobiography or as cinema it may be a little more gesture than substance.

    After seeing the film one wants to suggest Abused and Neglected as a better title than Misunderstood. The spectacularly egocentric and dysfunctional father and mother played by mostly-TV-actor and "heartthrob" Gabriel Garko and French icon (and herself daughter of a dysfunctional famous artistic person) Charlotte Gainsbourg take time out from their self-absorption mostly only to be mean to sweet, durable young Aria (Giulia Salerno) to the extent of frequently kicking her out or forcing her to leave their very soon separate households. The signature image this loud, punk, boisterous and colorful (but also sometimes underlit) movie leaves you with is the often-seen one of nine-year-old Aria dragging suitcase and cat-carrying cage as she tramps from one household to the other, or is temporarily homeless, hanging out with druggie street people and learning to smoke.

    As Aria, Giulia Salerno is appealing enough, making for a lonely center of humanity amid the parents, their hangers-on, and Aria's unhelpful sisters, notably the chubby pink-obsessed Lucrezia (Carolina Poccioni), who goes to live with daddy when the parents split and lounges endlessly in her pink bedroom like an odalisque. Salerno's stand-in for Asia herself however lacks more emphatic qualities she has exhibited in real life as a feisty jack-of-all-trades with tons of attitude. Acquisition of that attitude is something that apparently hasn't happened yet; or maybe Asia has simply chosen the somewhat confused aim in this movie of choosing to make rejection and lovelessness cute. This girl may have a childhood like the director's was, but she's not the same person. The director posed at Cannes just recently defiantly flexing her biceps and showing off unusual tattoos. Nine-year-old Aria is a long way from such gestures.

    These unappealing parents are a bit one-note, to say the least. Daddy, with his bleach-highlighted hair and fancy outfits, is merely an actor, not a notorious director, and we rarely hear anything about his work. Mommy is confusingly conceived. She is a classical pianist who annoys the neighbors with Rachmaninoff (you'd think the neighbors would be used to that, if she ever practices); later, she consorts with riotous punk musicians (a step too far from Rachmaninoff). Asia Argento's real life mother, Daria Nicolodi, was an actress.

    This beleaguered girl in the film is skinny, short-haired, noncommittal, and always bounces back, sort of like the little boy in The Mafia Only Kills in Summer. The filmmaker's legendary feistiness and ambition lie on the cutting room floor. The "miserablism" of Asia's first two directorial efforts may have been turned to comedy here, but this ain't no bildingsroman. The young protagonist has survived, but you don't know where she is going. All we're left with is those dreadful parents, those useless sisters, and mom's fun and simpatico American punk boyfriend, the too-soon-discarded Ricky (Justin Pearson). Much better biopic: Joann Sfar's rolicking, phantasmagoric 2010 Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life. Eric Elmosnino is a perfect adult Serge Gainsbourg; Kacey Motet Klein is a hilarious boy Serge. Why didn't Asia try to be more accurate? But while Sfar might not have been a filmmaker, he's more of one than Asia.

    Misunderstood/Incompresa, 103 mins., debuted at Cannes in May 2014, and was screened for this review as part of the 52nd New York Film Festival.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-19-2014 at 11:42 PM.

  4. #4
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    Yann Demange: '71


    Demange's incredible Irish Troubles film gives new meaning to the phrase, "caught in the crossfire"

    Yann Demange's incredibly intense Troubles film gives us twenty-four hours in the life of English squad member Gary Hook (Jack O'Connell), suddenly stationed in Belfast (he thought he was going to be sent to Germany) and thrown into a violet, Intifada-like fray his green, patrician commanding officer and sergeant are not prepared for. A teenaged orphan with a kid brother (Harry Verity) whom we meet at the outset, Hook finds himself on the run and wounded after a comrade is killed by his side in a street clash and his unit bolts, accidentally abandoning him. He is rescued and treated by Irish allies. But he's in hostile territory -- everyone is. This non-stop historical action movie is an authentic recreation of a hot, lethal slice of the Troubles. It doesn't break things down or make them easy for us (some subtitles might have helped). From the Ulster Protestant side are the Unionists and loyalists, and on the mostly Catholic side are the Irish nationalists and republicans, and there are the Privisional IRA, and those originally on their side who have turned against them because of their brutality. And to complicate matters there are the undercover Brits of the MRF, whose officers regard themselves as outranking the English soldiers. Caught in between, Hook is told he is "just meat" -- to his government, to the Army, and to his Irish enemies.

    An initial chase scene with Hook running break-neck along back alleys and in tiny spaces behind tight houses pursued by two enemies is breathtaking, intense filmmaking. The sense of Hook's abandonment as he sits panting in a tiny space is real and vivid. From there on the film settles down into some of the machinations and mood of James Marsh's 2012 Shadow Dancer, which deals with the Troubles but in the Nineties. Except where Marsh's film stagnates at times, Damange's maintains a world-class actioner clip that never cease to impress you, grip you, and horrify you as you watch, always with the spotlight on Gary Hook to keep the action centered, despite its constant ambiguity and danger. No film has better shown how dangerous Northern Ireland at this period was or how bitter and lethal the hostilities among people were.

    And the hostility even includes those ostensibly setting out to save Hook, because there is dissension between the regular army and the intelligence officers who consider themselves and their undefined mission more important than Hook or his comrades. And what betrayals lie in wait on the Irish side? In fact while the physical suffering and danger are clearly defined, the politics and the loyalties remain lurking and ambiguous, all this amplified for an American viewer by the sometimes hard-to-decipher accents. For its sense of everything gone wrong, of war as no good for anybody (a point written into the dialogue but succinctly enough to avoid didacticism), the succinctly named '71 almost deserves comparison with a stunning anti-war film like Bernhard Wicki's 1959 The Bridge/Die Brücke ("In 1945, Germany is being overrun, and nobody is left to fight but teenagers"), which also has a long devastating action sequence.

    Yann Damange is a French-born filmaker in England who has worked largely in TV, gaining admiration and awards. In 2011 he was directing the flavorful BBC drama miniseries "Top Boy" about inner-city London estate teenagers involved in risky drug dealing. '71, his first feature, has mostly gotten deserved raves; it establishes its director as a master of understated technique and muscular, riveting action. He falters in a few lesser respects. Some might think a final shootout far-fetched or overly drawn-out; and the concluding moments are a nice enough calm-down but fairly routine. But these are minor quibbles. In his Variety review Guy Lodge describes Jack McConnell as a "rapidly rising star," and indeed intense as his role is here, one easily imagines him capable of more. He is also seen in the much-talked-about new prison drama Starred Up (which I have not seen). Guy Lodge compares this film with Paul Greengrass' benchmark 2002 docudrama of the Troubles set in '72, Bloody Sunday, which indeed it brings to mind. Tat Radcliffe’s fine widescreen cinematography shifts from 16mm. for daytime and digital for razor sharp night images. All the tech aspects are aces as are all the performances. See for yourself; this is a film not to be missed.

    '71 debuted at Berlin, and showed at Telluride and Toronto. It was screened for this review as part of the 52nd New York Film Festival, where its excellence clearly merited its inclusion in the Main Slate. It opens theatrically in the UK 10 October and in France 5 November 2014. Roadside Attractions owns its US distribution rights.

    US theatrical release begins 27 February 2015. Metacritic rating now 80% (26 Feb.).
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-26-2015 at 06:48 AM.

  5. #5
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    Jean-Luc Godard: GOODBYE TO LANGUAGE (2014)



    Godard touches on old themes and does some neat tricks with 3D

    To call a post-Nineties Jean-Luc Godard's film "accessible" would be a stretch. But his new one, Goodbye to Language, is discernibly more appealing and less of a slog (70 minuets instead of 104) than his Film Socialisme (NYFF 2010). The latter occasioned Todd McCarthy's angry-sounding assertion that Godard is mean-spirited and exhibits "the most spurious sort of anti-Americanism or genuinely profound anti-humanism, something that puts Godard in the same misguided camp as those errant geniuses of an earlier era, Pound and Céline." This is less visible in Goodbye to Language, which spends a lot of time with a naked middle-class white couple in an apartment, and with Godard's own dog, Roxy, and is playful enough to be shot in 3D, of which it makes some good use. I do not see that use as "revolutionary," as Mike D'Angelo did in a Cannes bulletin for The Dissolve. I think in the face of a rote-acknowledged "master" (and Godard really did seem exciting and revolutionary back in the days of Breathless and La Chinoise) whom one can't make head nor tail of, it's natural to pick out elements one enjoys and blow them up into something important. Thus one notes that the distorted color in Goodbye to Language is sometimes gorgeous. And one wishes that more mainstream films dared to do such things more often, with one excuse or another.

    Goodbye to Language, like Film Socialisme, is divided up into parts with portentous titles, which one would remember if they seemed to illustrate their titles in any relatable way. The NYFF festival blurb calls this "a work of the greatest freedom and joy," but it's not. It's didactic, full of general nouns (like "freedom" and "joy") thrown out with the verve of a French university student. It cites fifteen or twenty famous authors whose names were dropped or lines quoted; and ten or twelve classical composers, snippets of whose compositions are folded in to add flavor and importance. But when Mike D'Angelo says "it doesn’t constantly seem as if he’s primarily interested in demonstrating his own erudition," he's saying this because other Godard films have constantly seemed to be primarily interested in that, and this one just barely avoids it.

    Here's what D'Angelo observes in the film's 3D that he thinks revolutionary (and this one moment is indeed remarkable): "Turns out he’d had the camera pan to follow an actor walking away from another actor, then superimposed the pan onto the stationary shot, creating (via 3-D) a surreal loop that, when completed, inspired the audience to burst into spontaneous applause. " It's hard to describe, and strange, and indeed original. I'd very much like to have watched this sequence -- which you do have to take off your 3D glasses to appreciate the transformative nature of -- with an audience keen enough to have noted its cleverness and applauded it. The audience I was with applauded at the end, but that just felt like an obligatory gesture, not the "olé" of connoisseurs noting a visual coup.

    As D'Angelo says, since the Nineties Godard has been "a full-bore avant-garde filmmaker." This means his films are the kind of thing you might see showing in a loop in a darkened room of a museum. When any film makes no rational sense I remember my museum experiences of that kind of art film and am calmed. Such films have their place. They are like complex decorative objects. Yes, and Godard's references to Nietzsche (pronounced "NEETCH" by French-speakers) or Solzenitzen are like gilding on a frame. And offhand gibes like the man in the hat who says Solzenitzen didn't need Google (which also sounds funny in French) to make up the subtitle for a book, as D'Angelo puts it, "ranks high among the dumbest things a smart person has ever said." Godard is a smart person who in a long career has said plenty of dumb things. He would have been a lot better as a filmmaker if he'd done more showing and less telling, from a long way back.

    But parts of Farewell to Language are bold and visually stimulating, and ought to be studied by conventional filmmakers, editors, or cinematographers to get some more original visual ideas. I also like another D'Angelo's Dissolve note (and he himself says this is his favorite Godard film since Weekend): "According to my Twitter feed, Goodbye To Language has reinvented cinema again—one dude went full Pauline Kael and compared it to Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon." Unfortunately, some after the screening I saw, with bunch of ostensible film writers, out in the lobby some were pronouncing that this was "the future of cinema." Not Marvel Comics?

    Goodbye to Language/Adieu au langage, 70 mins., debuted at Cannes, where Godard was given a special prize. It's his 43rd feature. And he's 83.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-19-2014 at 11:45 PM.

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    Martin Rejtman: TWO SHOTS FIRED (2014)


    Still from an early sigment of Two Shots Fired

    One inexplicable thing after another, in and around Buenos Aires

    In his recent Toronto coverage for The Dissolve, "Day 3: Men, Women, Children," Mike D'Angelo lists the Frenchman Laurent Cantet and the Argentinian Martin Rejtman as "two auteurist favorites" who "haven't done their best work this year." He describes Cantet's Return to Ithica (which I haven't seen) as " a laborious Havana-set Big Chill" he sees as a string of repetitious conversations dwelling on good old days. He goes on: "Rejtman’s Two Shots Fired, by contrast, serves up a placid series of largely unrelated vignettes, indulging in drollery for drollery’s sake. Two shots do in fact get fired, into a head and a stomach at point-blank range; it’s typical of the film’s ultra-low-key approach that the bullets do no real damage." In his running Twitter "reviews" D'Angelo gave the film a 48 rating, ranking it 23rd out of the 36 he saw at Toronto. Even so, his description seems kindly, but this may be explained by the fact he gives in his Tweet that he previously "really liked" Rejtman's The Magic Gloves.

    Without any prior experience of Rejtman's apparently admired previous work, Two Shots Fired seems first flat, then absurdist, finally simply pointless in its succession of one studiously bland narrative moment after another. Rejtman, as Jay Weissberg puts it in Variety, "picks up on various family members and their extended circles, dropping storylines and characters with studied disregard for narrative arcs," but "doesn’t really go anywhere with the concept, yet there’s enough skill and amusement to hold fest audiences." This conclusion of festival-friendliness seems a little generous: the "skill and amusement" are difficult to discern.

    Festival-friendly, no; auteurist-friendly, perhaps. It's often the case that one work by a filmmaker makes much more sense within his or her whole oeuvre; even unsuccessful efforts may be an interesting variation or shed light on other work that's more worth our attention. This makes the interest of Two Shots Fired restricted to those who know -- and like -- its maker's work. Weissberg also points out that Two Shots Fired is a return to feature filmmaking after a ten-year hiatus. Perhaps Rejman is having trouble getting back up to speed.

    For a while the conversations in Two Shots Fired have the bright, neutral banality and lack of affect of Fifties absurdist drama, a touch of the idiotic logic Eugene Ionesco discovered in English language textbooks and translated into his play La Cantatrice Chauve. But nothing Rejtman provides here has the brilliance or ringing absurdity of Ionesco. Instead, his movie begins to feel like some inexplicable instructional film or the work of a deranged amateur. One can see from Leslie Felperin's review for Variety of Rejtman's 2003 The Magic Gloves that the director employed a similar series of interlocking absurd plots, but they seem to have gained unity and point in the earlier film from a focus on economic problems. Felperin describes Rejtman as "Laconic and deadpan in the tradition of Aki Kaurismaki or early Jim Jarmusch." That quality is lacking here, but one might also note Felperin's warning, "Some of the patter will play better to auds fluent in Spanish." And Argentinian Spanish, to boot.

    Two Shots Fired/Dos disparos, 104 min., debuted at Lucarno. It was screened for this review as part of the Main Slate of the 52nd New York Film Festival, 2014. US theatrical release Wed. 13 May 2015.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-14-2015 at 04:18 PM.

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    Hong Sang-soo: HILL OF FREEDOM (2014)


    More play with narrative and personal themes in a little charmer from Hong

    A cinematic bagatelle just over an hour long, Hont Sang-soo's Hill of Freedom may be among the most amusing and accessible of the Korean auteur's many treatments of his familiar themes. The action focuses on Mori (assured Japanese star Ryô Kase), who has returned to Seoul to look for Kwon (Seo Young-hwa), a Korean woman he's in love with. His conversations with everybody are perforce in English since he speaks no Korean. The foreign language makes their conversations come out as disarmingly frank, sometimes a bit gauche, and often quite funny.

    Mori taught at a language institute during a stint in the country a couple of years ago, and his life was miserable but he's back now because he realizes Kwon, whom he met at the institute, is who he wants to spend his life with. He stays at a guest house located very near where he knows Kwon to have lived, and leaves notes for her, hoping to connect. Along the way there is time to protect a girl from a rude, abusive man, for a drunken friendship established with the broken nephew Sang-won (Kim Ui-seong) of the guest house owner Gu-ok (Yun Yeo-jeong), as well as an unexpected romance with cafe owner Yeong-seon (Mun So-ri), also fueled by alcohol, that proves too tempting to cut off immediately.

    But before we get to all this, it's necessary to explain the framework. Kwon turns out to have been out of town, and when she returns she's given a packet of letters (all from Mori) sent while she was away. Recovering from an illness, she stumbles on a stairway, dropping the letters, and when she picks them up they're out of order. She reads the shuffled letters while sitting at a cafe, and as she reads them one by one, we see the adventures of Mori recounted, out of order, in each. We have to guess what the correct order is. Clues include his checking into the guest house; meeting Yeong-seon, the owner of a cafe called "Jayuui Eondeok" (Hill of Freedom), to which he returns; restoring her lost dog and becoming her lover; various conversations about why he's in Korea, "politeness" and "cleanliness" as dominant traits of the Japanese; and characteristics of Korean women ("Big and strong").

    A running theme is "time," which Mori is reading a little book about. It's an illusion, the book argues, though one that humans abandon at their peril. Does the order of the events matter? Anyway, they end happily. Perhaps as in other recent Hong films the confused time-frame is not only to play with themes of time and memory, but simply to keep viewers on their toes. The disarming, and sometimes quite funny, directness of the English dialogue remains this by some accounts "slight" and "fluffy" Hong effort's most enduring charm. He has rarely put together anything so cute and sweet; but in its minimalist way, it's as profound as anything he's done.

    Derek Elley has a point when he says in his review on Film Business Asia that Hill of Freedom has "a marginally fresher feel than his past three titles — In In Another Country 다른 나라에서 (2012), Nobody's Daughter Haewon 누구의 딸도 아닌 해원 and Our Sunhi 우리 선희</a> — without actually reinventing himself in any way." One can grant that the pared-down format and English dialogue spoken by Asians have led to unusual freshness and vividness here, without sharing Elley's opinion that Hong was growing stale in those three previous films.

    Hill of Freedom/자유의 언덕/Jayuui Eondeok, 66 mins., Hong Sang-soo's sixteenth feature, debuted at Toronto 9 September 2014. Ir was screened for this review as part of the Main Slate of the 52nd New York Film Festival. This is the eighth Hong Sang-soo film to be a NYFF Main Slate selection. The other seven were Turning Gate (NYFF 2002), Woman is the Future of Man (NYFF 2004), Tale of Cinema (NYFF 2005), Woman on the Beach (NYFF 2006), Night and Day (NYFF 2008), Oki's Movie (NYFF 2010), and Nobody's Daughter Haewon (NYFF 2013). Hong's Like You Know It All and Our Sunhi were included respectively in the 2010 and 2014 Film Society of Lincoln Center Film Comment Selects series. I've reviewed all these from 2005 on. Hong's work is consistently enjoyable and enjoyably consistent: he may be the ideal Asian auteur to study and compare the tightly interrelated works of. He has become even more prolific recently, his films have become more witty and subtly self-referential and narratively playful, and they have also happily begun to get US releases.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-19-2014 at 11:43 PM.

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    Dominik Graf: BELOVED SISTERS (2014)



    A love trio at a turning point in European cultural and political history

    Caroline von Lengefeld (Hannah Herzsprung) and her younger sister Charoltte (Henriette Confurius) were beautiful, elegant, free-spirited sisters living from the late 18th into the early 19th century whose well-born mother was a widow of diminished fortune and they were pledged to be intimate and loyal forever. When they met the poet and revolutionary Friedrich Schiller (Florian Stetter), he fell in love with both of them. This made for a complicated but very interesting life about which Dominik Graf, filmmaker returning to features from television after a ten-year hiatus, has made a beautiful, action-packed, unusually lively historical film that is so rich and lush and smart it's hard to get your head around, especially since the full version is 170 minutes and could almost have been a mini-series. The time passes quickly. The storytelling, full of cultural and social history and psychology and specifics about publishing and printing and contemporary politics (naturally including the French Revolution), is breathless as Joyce Cary's in his narrative tour-de-force A Fearful Joy, which skips through years in a paragraph. Look away or blow your nose and you risk missing a whole series or incidents and reversals of fortune, many of which were made up within the historical context by Dominik Graf for his screenplay, because specifics of the relationships are not fully known.

    This is still the golden age of letter-writing and in a way Beloved Sisters is an unusually richly elaborated and dramatized and "opened up" epistolary novel (the sound of quills scratching across paper and the images of distinctly different and real-looking 18th-century handwritings are constants), and at first the trio's exchanges are written in elaborate code. There is also a breathless serial novel written anonymously by Caroline and supervised by Friedrich and published in cliff-hanger segments, like Dickens, using new mass printing techniques suitable for a growing audience. Schiller tells Caroline, his real soul-mate (despite his marrying Charlotte), that the French Revolution wouldn't have happened without new faster typesetting methods. allowing pages to be set up in blocks.

    This is the birth of German romanticism, with Goethe still around and he and Schiller facing off awkwardly. (Goethe and Charlotte's lively godmother, played by Maja Maranow, were intimates.) It's a time when the picturesque was big news and the Force of Nature was a huge discovery and intellectuals are national celebrities. When Schiller is given a lectureship at the University of Jena, and the topic is a blend of history, philosophy, and poetry, he is greeted by a packed house like a rock star. This is a scene so profusely realized that it was painful to have to be distracted from all the detail by reading subtitles, but that's what happens when you forgot to learn German. Ultimately the two sisters are at each other's throats. Being married and always involved with Schiller and having children and not perhaps knowing whose they are is too complicated for even the most symbiotic of relationships. But Graf, despite being a visually showy filmmaker (and the landscapes, interiors, and architecture -- mostly using real locations -- shot by Michael Wieswig are a consistent pleasure Scott Foundas has compared to Barry Lyndon), manages to bypass melodrama and conventional tragic interludes in his modern and relaxed approach to history.

    As Charlotte, Henriette Confurius at first seems the purer beauty, with her blooming skin, but then, by God, as time goes on you realize that Hannah Herzsprung, who has the more important role, is equally beautiful and has a more complex face. Both give powerful performances, and as Schiller Florian Stetter has all the authority and dreamy romantic glamor you could want, though this is an unusually smart and rich amalgam of lots besides swooniness. Once seen, it seems one film it would have been a crime not to include in the choosy New York Film Festival.

    The Beloved Sisters/Die geliebten Schwestern, 170 mins., written and directed by Dominik Graf, debuted at Berlin 2014. It was screened for this review as part of the 52nd New York Film Festival. Opening in NY on December 24, 2014 at Lincoln Plaza Cinema (Music Box Films).
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-19-2014 at 11:45 PM.

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    Alice Rohrwacher: THE WONDERS (2014)



    Italian fantasies and Italian realities in Liguria

    For her second film Italian, part-German filmmaker Alice Rohrwacher has rooted her story more deeply in a specific milieu, that of an impoverished family of beekeepers but again as in her debut Corpo Celeste (NYFF 2011) focuses on young girls and refers to a Felliniesque fascination with folk mysticism, kitsch, and media distortion. The "Wonders" is a low-budget TV regional publicity scheme called "Il paese delle Meraviglie" (Land of Wonders) designed to improve bee-keeping while providing touristic publicity for the Etruscan background of Etruria, where the depicted family lives. There's a whisper of Matteo Garrone's Reality here (a recent big prize winner for Italian cinema: it, like The Wonders, won the Grand Prix at Cannes) only this time the dreamer isn't a naive man but a young teenage girl, Gelsomina (Maria Alexandra Lungu). There's a whisper of neorealism in the multicultural, mostly non-actor cast (which Rohrwacher wrangles excellently). And there's more than a whisper of autobiography in the sisterly rivalries, the German father, the beekeeping. The parents speak French when they want the kids not to know what's being said. All this creates an air of disorienting, slightly miraculous disorder, enhanced by the strangeness of the beekeeping itself, and certain borderline magic realist moments, like the one when Gelsomina lets bees walk over her face and a German boy whistles to make them drop off.

    Rohrwacher plunges viewers at once into the intense life of the beekeeper family. They are dominated by bossy, borderline boorish babbo Wolfgang (Belgian actor Sam Louwyck), who rejects modern, commercial life (he thinks the world "is going to end") and vaunts the organic simplicity of the family's product, cursing local hunters at the outset, driving the four sisters and another female relative (Swiss actress Sabine Timoteo) to help with the livestock and the beekeeping, with Gelsomina, the first-born, his chief protege. The honey is always being collected into a bucket that might overflow, and "avete cambiato il secchio?" ("Have you changed the bucket?") is the constant worrying question. One gets a sense that Wolfgang is better at throwing his weight around than conducting practical business; the family can barely make ends meet, and mamma Angelica (Alice Rohrbacher's sister Alba) is the one who puts food on the table and tends to practical matters. Wolfgang's impracticality is signaled by his giving the girls the present of a circus camel. Such goofs lead Angelica to threaten to separate from Wolfgang.

    The accomplishment, but for some perhaps the annoyance, of Rohrwacher's film is its amiable, hippieish chaos, which blends into the cheesy publicity scheme speerheaded by a white-wigged TV "fata bianca" or fairy godmother played by Monica Bellucci. A very young German juvenile delinquent called Martin delivered to the family for "reeducation" is the catalyst for Gelsomina's final coming-of-age. All he can do is spectacularly whistle. A beautiful, slightly odd little boy, he does not speak. Odd casting, because he looks more Italian than anyone else in the cast; but even this adds to the special feel of this sui generis effort, whose Felliniesque climax is the "paese delle Meraviglie" awards show in an Etruscan grotto offshore, with local peasant farmers, including Gelsomina's family and a tamed Wolfgang, in tacky pseudo-historical costumes, and a disappearance and a search.

    This is a more realistic (as well as pseudo-miraculous) movie than Rohrwacher's debut, and its achievement of a world seemingly too complicated to be merely imagined and all the success with the young actors (who learned beekeeping techniques) must explain the enthusiasm of the Cannes reception leading to the Grand Prize. But while others liked Corpo Celeste far less, I liked it more, and await Rohrwacher's number three.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 12-28-2018 at 09:15 AM.

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    Eugène Green: LA SAPIENZA (2014)



    Green's beautiful but stilted Italian travelogue about couples and architecture is weighed down by its lugubrious dialogue

    An American who has adopted France as his country, Eugène Green (the accent grave evidently part of his acclimatization) is an accolyte of the venerable Portuguese auteur Manoel de Oliveira; he's even gone so far as to shoot a film (his 2009 The Portuguese Nun) on Oliveira's home turf. La Sapienza, which has a lot about space, light, and baroque architecture, particularly that of Francesco Borromini, has plenty to offer if you're looking for handsome photography of seventeenth-century Italian buildings. But the people, simpering sourpusses who stare at the camera and slowly mouth lugubrious inanities at each other, have considerably less to offer. Green also owes debts to Rivette and Resnais, and this film could be taken as a variation on Resnais's Last Year at Marienbad -- only one where instead of remembered trysts at a haunting chateau, the focus is on couples therapy for a Swiss architect and his wife, which comes about through meeting young Italian siblings near Lago Maggiore, where Alexandre (Fabrizio Rongione) and Aliénor (Christelle Prot Landman) go so Alexandre can study the aforesaid Borromini.

    The couple meets 19-year-old Goffredo (Ludovico Succio), coincidentally himself an aspiring architecture student, as he's holding up his sister Lavinia (Arianna Nastro), who's just collapsed from one of her periodic fits of weakness. Aliénor befriends Lavinia and has daily chats with her in French while the girl recuperates, and Alexandre takes Goffredo for a day or two on an architectural study trip to Turin. Goffredo winds up being Alexandre's teacher, explaining to him that architecture is all about space and light. And light has something to do with love: it sounds like Green has dipped into Dante's Paradiso. Reference is also made to the idea of "sapienza," which in theology is an attribute of God that manifests itself in the creation and governing of the world. The name also refers to one of Borromini's masterpieces, the Church of Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza in Rome.

    The film offers hints throughout about how architecture might be better integrated with society and readapted for humane use. When Eliénor is by herself one evening a ruddy-faced man with long gray hair (Green himself) appears on a bench speaking French with an odd accent (and the same lugubrious tongue in slo-mo of everyone else) with a monologue about how he is a Chaldean from Iraq who speaks Aramaic and whose people and culture are disappearing. At the beginning and end of the film in its only music an a capella choir sings some lovely baroque compositions. The promise to reveal mysteries behind the couple's failed marriage is fulfilled, and it's hinted that the hitherto symbiotic Goffredo and Lavinia will fare better apart. In an Italian essay online Roberta Scorranese explains that this process refers to an idea of Nietzsche's about how one must not remain too attached to another person, even whom one loves. Obviously the intellectual underpinnings of Green's new film are elaborate. It's too bad the film itself is so stilted, slow, and irritating. Despite the architectural travelogue Green overwhelmingly tells rather than shows; he often seems outright to be delivering a lecture. Despite its stylistic homages to those masters, La Sapienzal lacks the elegance of Resnais and Rivette, or Oliveira's ability to bemuse and enchant. One can apply to this new film what Jay Weissberg said of The Portuguese Nun in Variety: it "uses a distended artificiality likely to produce far more giggles than intended."

    La Sapienza, 100 mins., debuted at Locarno 9 August 2014, and is also included at Rio, Toronto, Vancouver, and London, represented at Toronto by Kino Lorber. It was screened for this review as part of the 52nd New York Film Festival.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-28-2017 at 04:27 PM.

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    Josh & Benny Safdie: HEAVEN KNOWS WHAT (2014)


    Caleb Landry Jones and Arielle Holmes in Heaven Knows What

    Druggie street kids' New York romance realistically dramatizes the mess, lacks depth or context

    Judging by their semi-autobiographical Daddy Longlegs, the New York indie filmmakers Josh and Benny Safdie just don't do "calm." In their new feature Heaven Knows What the young street heroin addicts live hour-by-hour, not day-by-day, and never take a break. They always have "a lot to do." All this energy: they could be working on Wall Street. And high stakes stock brokers do lots of drugs too! There is intensity and a lot of accomplishment observable in Heaven Knows What. The lingo is right, the milieus are real, many of the "actors," including Arielle Holmes, whose serial Apple Store outpourings of jotted memoirs this is based on, are playing grimly accurate versions of themselves. The grayish cinematography with extensive use of long lenses creates a vérité intimacy that sucks you in. Yet compared to work like Martin Bell's '84 documentary classic Streetwise, this docudrama feels like a blitz tour, a drug variation on poverty porn, a choppy collection of riffs that follow its street addict crew, Harley, Ilya, Mike, Skully, Isaac and a few others, around and around -- without penetrating deeply into personalities or lives. The film drags our noses in the dirt, but we are not enlightened or touched.

    Streetwise grew out of more than a year's work by Bell's wife Mary Ellen Mark getting to know the Seattle street kids. Those black and white images stay etched on one's mind; the documentary brought them to life. The result may fill you with sadness but there is no sense of an effort to shock. Watching Heaven Knows What, one feels this is an artifact that, if not purposely designed, nonetheless is ideally suited, to épater la bourgeoisie, but not shock them with poetry like the French 19th-century decadents. To shock them with mess, with lives carelessly thrown away. This is voyeuristic stuff Larry Clark would have made sexier, KIds with less plot and colder weather. Heightening the harshness, it all happens in a few days in the dead of winter.

    The film came from a chance encounter the Safdie brothers tell of with a pretty girl named Arielle Holmes working as a temp in the New York diamond district. They talked to her, tried to get her a job in a video, thenn learned she was homeless and a heroin addict. They got her to write about her life and decided to make a movie out of it with their collaborator Ronald Bronstein, with Arielle playing herself. The center of the story was her romance with Ilya, a self-centered, mean loner whose provocations and rejections apparently only fueled her devotion. The film begins with a reenactment of Harley's (Arielle's) suicide attempt. She slashes her wrist in a kind of protest at Ilya's indifference. The opening scene is shot in the New York Public Library using long lenses. Instead of being pushed to care, Ilya only dares Harley to do it. So she does, and goes to the psychiatric hospital.

    To play Ilya, because the Safdies thought he was a self-dramatizing character, they found a professional actor, Caleb Landry Jones, who took on the job with potentially dangerous risk-taking commitment to authenticity. Another character, Skully, who goes around with Haley after she's released with her wrist stitched, is played by an underground rapper, Neecro. Most of the others are non-actors.

    There is a kind of shape that emerges: the doomed love story. Harley (Arielle) even writes long poetical declarations of eternal devoction to Ilya. The real Ilya was around as the shooting went on and OD'ed and had to be revived in a fast food restaurant; Caleb Landry Jones's Ilya OD's too, and is revived by Harley. She goes around with him again, and he hides her duffle bag for laughs. They kiss, and they take a bus to go south, but he abandons her. She has taken up with drug dealer Mike (Buddy Duress, a real street person, and the most articulate character), and after all the shooting up, the begging for money ("spanging"), pilfering and reselling stuff from drugstores, sleeping in shared apartments, and all the rest, Harley winds up back with Mike, and the togetherness of the street addicts, who fight but hug and call each other "bro."

    Apart from the committed performances, in Arielle's case reenactments, there are certainly things that work: the Safdie brothers may be being more misguided or superficial than in the case of their richer, more complex and autobiographical Daddy Longlegs, but they are still strongly committed to honing their craft. Even if it would have been better to step back to take a breath and provide perspectives, Heaven Knows What does have a clean, tight structure, the "miracle of economy" in editing and storytelling noted by Noel Murray in The Dissolve. The first great thing you notice about the film is Sean Price Williams’s cinematography, with its cloudy pale ugly-beautiful capturing of the street that is very consistent and very limber. What is not so great is the much-admired-by-some and sometimes -- even from the first minutes -- extremely obtrusive electronic synthesizer Debussy by Isao Tomita, sub-Philip Glass at best.

    Heaven Knows What, 93 mins., debuted at Venice. It was screened for this review as part of the 52nd New York Film Festival. US theatrical release 29 May 2015 (Landmark Sunshine NYC). Metacritic rating 76% (based on only 7 reviews).
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-28-2015 at 10:51 PM.

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    Ethan Hawke: SEYMOUR: AN INTRODUCTION (2014)



    Seymour Bernstein in recital at 85 in Seymour: An Introduction

    A film that fell into Ethan Hqwke's lap turns out to be a master class in classical piano and living an integrated life

    Actor, director, and writer Ethan Hawke's debut as a documentary filmmaker focuses on a classical pianist turned teacher, the preturnaturally calm and highly articulate 85-year-old Seymour Bernstein, who played piano as a little boy, and began teaching it at fifteen, then after a successful career of touring and playing as a classical pianist, in disaffection with the pressures and commercialism, retired at fifty to devote himself to teaching and composing. He has also poured his wisdom into two books, With Your Own Two Hands: Self-Discovery Through Music (1981), and Twenty Lessons in Keyboard Choreography (1991).

    Hawke chose Bernstein as an exemplary man, one with balance in his life, and seeks to show this in his loving portrait. This film portrait lays out aspects of Bernstein's present and past life, his working methods, memories of studying piano with Clara Husserl, serving in the US Army during the Korean War; richly informative moments with piano students. Hawke even persuaded him to play a private concert, which he took very seriously, practicing for many hours in preparation. The film is meant as a tribute, but as Justin Chang put it in his admiring Telluride review for Variety, "happily sidesteps any vanity-project pitfalls." It does, because it is cannily edited.

    Hawke's project grew out of meeting him at a private dinner party. He was struck by the older man's instant grasp of his career anxieties and painful stage fright, and getting to know him better, knew a film should be made about him. Bernstein, who had suffered from performance nerves himself, helped coach Hawke on how to deal with them and at the same time come to understand them as an inevitable part of the seriously committed performer's life. Seymour isn't very much in favor of the high-speed classical solo touring life. He thinks it warps people. Somewhat illogically, since Glenn Gould retired early from concertizing himself, he comments that Gould was a total neurotic -- but a genius of enormous technical skill. But he thinks it odd Gould is famous for Bach because when he hears Gould play Bach he hears Gould, not Bach (others would differ).

    Most importantly, Seymour speaks for, and emerges as an example of, music as a part of an integrated emotional life.

    While Hawke admits he had no desire to make a documentary, and this topic just fell into his lap, and while superficially it is much like many another New York music and arts film that might be shown on PBS, it's a classical piano fan's delight. Watching Seymour coach numerous students, and particularly doing a master class at NYU, one learns far more than usual about the art of piano -- the way Seymour coaches students to craft a musical line shows he is a splendid teacher. When he consents to play a recital for Ethan Hawke's LAByrinth Theater Company, it's given at the rotunda of Steinway Hall and we see Seymour chose the right piano. (This may recall a long-ago film about the young Gould doing the same thing.), and the film climaxes with excerpts of the recital, cunningly edited to show Seymour practicing for the performance and commenting in detail on several passages.

    Reminiscences by Seymour fill in background about his studies with Sir Clifford Curzen (whose knighthood he may have helped bring about); his early life in a musicless home, with a father who did not understand his becoming a pianist; and moving recollections of his stint as a soldier (and performer) in the Korean War. Conversations with special friends like New York Times writer and pianist Michael Kimmelman help to dot the i's and cross the t's about Seymour's ideas about performing, music, and life. Justin Chang: "The great classical pianist ... is as graceful a speaker as he is a musician, and his voice rings out with wondrous depth and clarity."

    The title is an unacknowledged reference to J.D. Salinger's late Glass family short story of the same name.

    Seymour: An Introduction, 81 mins., debuted at Telluride last month, and showed shortly thereafter at Toronto. Sundance Selects acquired the US distribution rights. Screened for this review as part of the 52nd New York Film Festival, where it shows 27 Sept. 2014.

    Opens in theaters starting 13 March 2015 in NYC (Lincoln Plaza and IFC Center) and in LA..


    Seymour: An Introduction is presented as part of the NYFF's accompanying "Spotlight on Documentary" sidebar series, which also includes Scorsese and David Tedeschi's The 50-Year Argument, about The New York Review of Books; recent MacArthur Foundation Award winner Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Look of Silence (a sequel to his The Act of Killing); the Maysle brothers' Iris, about a fashion maven; and Frederick Wiseman’s first film about a museum, National Gallery. The NYFF is strong on documentaries this year, including additionally in its Main Slate both Nick Broomfeld's Tales of the Grim Sleeper; and, as a late addition, the world premiere of Laura Poitras' Citizenfour, an inside account of Edward Snowden's NSA spying revelations. Seymour: An Introduction holds its own very well among these titles.

    (At the Q&A after the press screenin the film's subject, now 87, proved to be as calm, wise and articulate as he was on screen.)
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-13-2015 at 02:42 PM.

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    Abel Ferrara: PASOLINI (2014)



    Tragedy by the beach: Ferrara films the genius, politics, and tragedy of Pasolini

    Legendary Italo-American indie rebel Abel Ferrara and his career, some think, slipped into in a black hole some years ago. His dubious end-of-the-world film 4:44 Last Day on Earth (NYFF 2011) might have stood as his only decent effort in a decade. His 2004 Go Go Tales (NYFF 2007), the same blasphemous Italian critic holds, is be remembered chiefly for featuring Asia Argento French-kissing a rottweiler. Welcome to New York, Ferrara's very recent straight-to-Internet reenactment of the DSK scandal by Gérard Depardieu, scarcely gets mentioned. Given all that, Ferrara's Pasolini is a surprisingly class act. It comes with high level government sponsorship from Italy, France, and Belgium. Its tech credts are quality, its look spare and formally elegant. It's both thought-provoking and touching. Its tragedy creeps up on you, through an uneven, more conceptual first half to a more conventional but still haunting conclusion. Ferrara avoids biopic conventions, but he provides the ritual depiction of the last days and death, and Pasolini's murder is an essential moment, brutal, sudden, premature, and perhaps inevitable, as well as long investigated, debated and puzzled over, a death that is more than usually part of the life.

    "Prismatic portrait," the festival blurb calls this short "non-linear" film about Pier Paolo Pasolini's last days. That is one way of explaining the somewhat disjointed and puzzling jumble of early sequences, requireing intimate knowledge of the biography and history to decode. Particularly puzzling to non-initiates might be scenes of Pasolini's fictional double from a novel, the “Carlo” character (Roberto Zibetti). But this is also a film which settles down into a fairly powerful finale of the writer/poet/filmmaker's doomed, violent end and those who mourn it whose elegiac final moments, enhanced by a soaring rendition of Rossini's "Una voce poco fa" by Maria Callas in her prime, take one seamlessly from squalor to grandeur. (Pasolini had filmed Callas in his not wholly successful Media. This film does not mention his brilliantly innovative late triumphs, the storytelling trilogy of The Canturbury Tales, Decameron, and Thousand and One Nights, preferring to refer straight off with clips of his last cinematic work, the shocking (and horrifying) Salo. Willem Dafoe, speaking mostly English (in scenes where others speak Italian) is restrained and convincing, given that it's hard to play a genius and a cultural icon. With many references to Pasolni's unfinished novel Petrolio, we also get a (partly) dignified and touching appearance from Pasolini's friend and star, Ninetto Davoli, and a current actor he'd probably have liked to film, the ice-blue-eyed heartthrob Riccardo Scamarcio. Davoli plays Epifanio, character in a dreamed-of film Pasolini never got to make. Scarmarcio plays the young Davoli. They appear in a visionary finale combining a gay and lesbian "Sodom" and a fruitless climb to Paradise.

    Meanwhile, Pasolini, depicted by the equally craggy-faced and darkly spectacled Dafoe, lives with his mother (the extraordinary and legendary Adriana Asti), and gives interviews. Outside, Ferrara frames Rome with striking (if heavyhandedly repeated) images of sky and Fascist architectural monuments and heroic sculptures, while providing hints of lurking fascist and homophobic street toughs. Pasolini spent the last hours of his life with an angel-faced apprentice mechanic he picked up among "ragazzi di vita" on the street. He takes him to dinner (spaghetti and chicken) in a favorite trattoria where he is known and welcomed at all hours, then he drives him in his Alfa Veloce to the beach at Ostia, where he performs fellatio and then they walk to the beach for more sex and then the toughs come and beat the poet and beleaguered cultural hero to death, with the boy he picked up joining in. It has been debated whether this was a spontaneous act of brutish homophobia or a paid-for execution by right-wing elements made to look like that.

    If fellatio and a brutal murder can be tasteful this film is tasteful, but there is much to question too, particularly the dubious sub-Caligula Sodom sequence with sex to the chant of “Cazzo! Figa! Vaffanculo!” and departures from accurate representation of Pasolini's actual biographical details. Italian viewers have difficulty accepting the shifts back and forth between English and Italian and the American actor in the key role. And not just Italians: Peter Debruge (who much admires the orgy scene) wrote in Variety that "The brilliance of stunt casting Willem Dafoe as the controversial Italian director backfires when he opens his mouth to speak." But open-minded Italian viewers can appreciate the Italo-American Ferrara's having the boldness to tread where an Italian could not even in representing Pasolini -- as well as his focusing much, as Federico Gironi noted in a recent review, not on Pasolini and the past but Pasolini as he would view the future, and us. (Pasolini opens in Italy 25 September 2014. It debuted at Venice, and was screened for this review as part of the 52nd New York Film Festival.)

    Pasolini, 86 mins., will also be shown at Toronto, Deauville, San Sebastián, Busan, and London.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-14-2022 at 08:16 PM.

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    Matías Piñeiro: THE PRINCESS OF FRANCE (2014)


    The Shakespeare game

    Young Argentinian filmmaker Matías Piñeiro is fond of stories with multiple young women and plots in which events in a Shakespeare play and everyday cast interact. This is his third; the first was Rosalinda. In The Princess of France, his typically short fifth feature, he continues to work the same themes and gestures with proto-auteurist intensity (and even greater repetitiveness). Alas, the "jolt" I spoke of in reviewing his last film, Viola (ND/NF 2013), hasn't come -- that a writing fellowship at NYU might jar him out of his hermetic, self-indulgent -- if unquestionably smart and internally consistent -- world; that he would stop being (as Mike D'Angelo put it speaking of Viola) "content to merely float a few intriguing ideas rather than diligently follow through on any aspect in particular"; that he might produce something with appeal outside the cozy limits of festival admiration.

    Alas, this doesn't appear to have happened. If anything The Princess of France may be even harder to follow and to like than Viola. It revolves around Victor (Julián Larquier Tellarini), a young director (he still looks pimply, and his deep voice sounds like it recently changed) who comes back to Buenos Aires after a year away following his father's death and some time in Mexico. A bevy of young woman, conveniently all actresses, are both linked with Victor through theater work and personally interested in him; and there's one poor underused male actor, and perhaps rival for the women, Guillermo (Pablo Sigal). Given Victor's very unappealing looks, it's puzzling how fascinating all the women find him, and how often they let him kiss them on the mouth. Bu then they, members of Piñeiro's regular company of players, are no great beauties themselves. Anyway meet Victor's girlfriend Paula (Agustina Muñoz), who's pledged to be loyal; his sometime lover Ana (María Villar), who's not convinced he loves her; his ex, Natalia (Romina Paula), who thinks he still loves her; his friend Lorena (Laura Paredes), who hopes he will come back to her; and newly hired Carla (Elisa Carricajo), a complete stranger who might be his real next love. Victor has gotten a commission to do a radio version of Love's Labor Lost. Everyone is involved.

    The dialogue is loud and rapid-fire, particularly when Victor is on screen, which is mostly. Piñeiro likes several things going on at once, as when in this film and Viola, the line between the action in a Shakespeare play and the interaction of the players is blurred. The film begins with a loud rendition of a composition by Felix Mendelssohn while we are made to watch a football match on a cement court from high above, so it looks like a diagram or a computer game. Piñeiro is also fond of alternate takes, where, for instance, Victor and one of the women treat each other quite differently the second time than they did in the first. He also provides a short alternate ending, in which Victor tells a woman "I love you," and they have a long kiss. This kind of thing can be amusing in the right context, but it can also make one think the filmmaker is only playing with his characters, and with us.

    The repetitions can simply seem annoying and pointless, as when Victor has his only male actor for the radio play repeat the same short passage of Shakespeare (translated into Spanish, of course, and read with an Argentinian accent) five times, and each reading sounds exactly the same as the last. And the extremely verbose rapid-fire dialogue, requiring non-Spanish speakers to spend most of their time struggling to keep up with the subtitles, many of them translating Spanish translations of Shakespeare back into English, adds to the challenge but not to the pleasure. An oddity in the radio play, fruit no doubt of the director's tendency to work from a small casting pool, is that the women's voices all sound rather alike.

    Piñeiro is enormously clever and academy-friendly: the scenes are readymade for film students armed with DVDs to pour over and write analyses of. But his work seems increasingly repetitious -- overall, as well as in part -- and ultimately cold. It begins to feel mechanical, self-satisfied, and unappealing. The reward is puzzlement rather than delight. This is not very solid stuff; Piñeiro provides themes, echoes, and tropes, but his plot line is a will-o-the-wisp. Yet this is also material that, with a few alterations, in the hands of a director with a gift for comedy like Frank Capra or George Cukor could be light, charming and accessible. It doesn't look like that's going to happen with this filmmaker, however.

    The Princess of France/La Princessa de Francia, 70 mins., debuted at Locarno and has played or is scheduled for Rio, Toronto, Vancouver, Chicago, and it was screened for this review as part of the 52nd New York Film Festival where it plays on 5 and 6 October 2014. Cast list. Dp: Fernando Lockett.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-19-2014 at 11:49 PM.

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    Alain Resnais: LIFE OF RILEY (2014)



    Farcical intrigue pursued right up to a lighthearted death

    Alain Resnais' last film -- the prolific French director died six months ago at 92 -- is adapted from a British comedy by the equally prolific Alan Ayckbourn called Relatively Speaking. This is Resnais' third adaptation of an Ayckbourn play, after the 1993 Smoking/No smoking and the 2006 Private Fears in Public Places (Coeurs), and seems the most sparkling and accessible and enjoyable of the three. It is not a final testament or film farewell, even though it revolves around an unseen main character, George Riley, who has cancer and has been given six months to live. Even if the director knew he would soon die, as he well might, at 91, this is simply light entertainment; and Resnais was working on another film before he passed away. If may seem mildly avant-garde to shoot a play so it looks so much like a play; Resnais courted artificiality and spliced avant-garde formalism onto popular culture in much of his work. He does so particularly entertainingly here. As adapted, the play feels like a French boulevard comedy (but as theTélérama critic points out, without the slammed doors), with its farcical confusion of wives of friends and ex-wife and girlfriend all of whom Riley convinces he's inviting on a vacation to the Canary Islands, when he actually goes with a sixteen-year-old girl, Tilly. That action is kept simple but it's offset by the wit of the other situation: everyone is rehearsing the amateur production of a play, which George is enlisted to play in too -- they calculate that he will live to perform in it. In the first scene, the breakfast conversation between Colin and his wife Kathryn is bizarrely artificial, and we learn they are actually rehearsing their lines in the play.

    The cast consists of Resnais regulars, all actors with a lot of experience on the French stage as well as in films. The emphasis is on their skillful work. This is really just a filming of rudimentary sets. Jerry-built houses are fronted by draped cloth in place of windows and doorways. Films of English landscape near York, the play's setting, are shown, with dissolves into clever and more complete drawings of the houses of the various characters, which then dissolve into closeups of the simple sets with two or four actors speaking. Sabine Azéma (Resnais' wife) is married to doctor Hippolyte Girardot; Caroline Sihol is married to George's childhood friend Michel Vuillermoz, who has become rich; Sandrine Kiberlain has left George and gone to live with a farmer, André Dussollier (underused here). Sandrine Kiberlain and Caroline Silhol are experienced thespians but welcome new faces in the Resnais "troupe," the rest are longtime regulars.

    Life of Riley/Aimer, boire et chanter, 107 mins., debuted at Berlin in February 2014 and opened in France in March (AlloCiné press rating: 3.7), playing at many international festivals. It was screened fort this review as part of the 52nd New York Film Festival. Showing at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas NYC from 24 October 2014.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-19-2014 at 11:50 PM.

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