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Thread: New York Film Festival 2017

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    2017 Nyff Main Slate films described

    Some geniuses, some old names, some new names, promise of many great viwing experiences. The NYFF does not disappoint, but provides the best of the best new films the world has to offer this year. Two films by Hong Sang Soo!

    Films & Descriptions [FSLC]

    Opening Night
    Last Flag Flying
    Dir. Richard Linklater, USA, 2017, 119m

    World Premiere
    In Richard Linklater’s lyrical road movie, as funny as it is heartbreaking, three aging Vietnam-era Navy vets—soft-spoken Doc (Steve Carell), unhinged and unfiltered Sal (Bryan Cranston), and quietly measured Mueller (Laurence Fishburne)—reunite to perform a sacred task: the proper burial of Doc’s only child, who has been killed in the early days of the Iraq invasion. As this trio of old friends makes its way up the Eastern seaboard, Linklater gives us a rich rendering of friendship, a grand mosaic of common life in the USA during the Bush era, and a striking meditation on the passage of time and the nature of truth. To put it simply, Last Flag Flying is a great movie from one of America’s finest filmmakers. An Amazon Studios release.

    Dir. Todd Haynes, USA, 2017, 117m

    In 1977, following the death of his single mother, Ben (Oakes Fegley) loses his hearing in a freak accident and makes his way from Minnesota to New York, hoping to learn about the father he has never met. A half-century earlier, another deaf 12-year-old, Rose (Millicent Simmonds), flees her restrictive Hoboken home, captivated by the bustle and romance of the nearby big city. Each of these parallel adventures, unfolding largely without dialogue, is an exuberant love letter to a different bygone era of New York. The mystery of how they ultimately converge, which involves Julianne Moore in a lovely dual role, provides the film’s emotional core. Adapted from a young-adult novel by Hugo author Brian Selznick, Wonderstruck is an all-ages enchantment, entirely true to director Todd Haynes’s sensibility: an intelligent, deeply personal, and lovingly intricate tribute to the power of obsession. An Amazon Studios release.

    Closing Night
    Wonder Wheel
    Dir. Woody Allen, USA, 2017

    World Premiere
    In a career spanning 50 years and almost as many features, Woody Allen has periodically refined, reinvented, and redefined the terms of his art, and that’s exactly what he does with his daring new film. We’re in Coney Island in the 1950s. A lifeguard (Justin Timberlake) tells us a story that just might be filtered through his vivid imagination: a middle-aged carousel operator (Jim Belushi) and his beleaguered wife (Kate Winslet), who eke out a living on the boardwalk, are visited by his estranged daughter (Juno Temple)—a situation from which layer upon layer of all-too-human complications develop. Allen and his cinematographer, the great Vittorio Storaro, working with a remarkable cast led by Winslet in a startlingly brave, powerhouse performance, have created a bracing and truly surprising movie experience. An Amazon Studios release.

    Before We Vanish
    Dir. Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Japan, 2017, 129m
    The latest from master of art-horror Kiyoshi Kurosawa is perhaps his most mainstream film yet, a throwback to 1980s sci-fi. An advance crew of three aliens journey to Earth in preparation for a complete takeover of the planet. They snatch not only bodies but memories, beliefs, values—everything that defines their conquests as human—leaving only hollow shells, which are all but unrecognizable to their loved ones. This disturbing parable for our present moment, replete with stunning images—including a drone attack and a bit of Clockwork Orange–style murder and mayhem—is also a profoundly mystical affirmation of love as the only form of resistance and salvation. A Neon release.

    BPM (Beats Per Minute)/120 battements par minute
    Dir. Robin Campillo, France, 2017, 144m

    U.S. Premiere
    In the early 1990s, ACT UP—in France, as in the U.S.—was on the front lines of AIDS activism. Its members, mostly gay, HIV-positive men, stormed drug company and government offices in “Silence=Death” T-shirts, facing down complacent suits with the urgency of their struggle for life. Robin Campillo (Eastern Boys) depicts their comradeship and tenacity in waking up the world to the disease that was killing them and movingly dramatizes the persistence of passionate love affairs even in dire circumstances. All the actors, many of them unknown, are splendid in this film, which not only celebrates the courage of ACT UP but also tacitly provides a model of resistance to the forces of destruction running rampant today. A release of The Orchard.

    Bright Sunshine In/Un beau soleil intérieur
    Dir. Claire Denis, France, 2017, 95m

    North American Premiere
    Juliette Binoche is both incandescent and emotionally raw in Claire Denis’s extraordinary new film as Isabelle, a middle-aged Parisian artist in search of definitive love. The film moves elliptically, as though set to some mysterious bio-rhythm, from one romantic/emotional attachment to another: from the boorish married lover (Xavier Beauvois); to the subtly histrionic actor (Nicolas Duvauchelle), also married; to the dreamboat hairdresser (Paul Blain); to the gentle man (Alex Descas) not quite ready for commitment to . . . a mysterious fortune-teller. Appropriately enough, Bright Sunshine In (very loosely inspired by Roland Barthes’s A Lover’s Discourse) feels like it’s been lit from within; it was lit from without by Denis’s longtime cinematographer Agnès Godard. It is also very funny. A Sundance Selects release.

    Call Me by Your Name
    Dir. Luca Guadagnino, Italy/France, 2017, 132m

    A story of summer love unlike any other, the sensual new film from the director of I Am Love, set in 1983, charts the slowly ripening romance between Elio (Timothée Chalamet), an American teen on the verge of discovering himself, and Oliver (Armie Hammer), the handsome older grad student whom his professor father (Michael Stuhlbarg) has invited to their vacation home in Northern Italy. Adapted from the wistful novel by André Aciman, Call Me by Your Name is Guadagnino’s most exquisitely rendered, visually restrained film, capturing with eloquence the confusion and longing of youth, anchored by a remarkable, star-making performance by Chalamet, always a nervy bundle of swagger and insecurity, contrasting with Hammer’s stoicism. A Sony Pictures Classics release.

    The Day After
    Dir. Hong Sang-soo, South Korea, 2017, 92m

    U.S. Premiere
    Hong continues in the openly emotional register of his On the Beach at Night Alone, also showing in this year’s Main Slate. Shot in moody black and white, The Day After opens with book publisher Bongwan (Kwon Hae-hyo) fending off his wife’s heated accusations of infidelity. At the office, it’s the first day for his new assistant, Areum (Kim Min-hee), whose predecessor was Bongwan’s lover. Mistaken identity, repetition compulsion, and déjà vu figure into the narrative as the film entangles its characters across multiple timelines through an intricate geometry of desire, suspicion, and betrayal. The end result is one of Hong’s most plaintive and philosophical works.

    Faces Places/Visages villages
    Dir. Agnès Varda & JR, France, 2016, 89m

    The 88-year-old Agnès Varda teamed up with the 33-year-old visual artist JR for this tour of rural France that follows in the footsteps of Varda’s groundbreaking documentary The Gleaners and I (NYFF 2000) in its celebration of artisanal production, workers’ solidarity, and the photographic arts in the face of mortality. Varda and JR wielded cameras themselves, but they were also documented in their travels by multiple image and sound recordists. Out of this often spontaneous jumble, Varda and her editor Maxime Pozzi-Garcia created an unassuming masterpiece (the winner of this year’s L’Oeil d’or at Cannes) that is vivid, lyrical, and inspiringly humanistic. A Cohen Media Group release.

    Dir. Alain Gomis, France/Senegal/Belgium/Germany/Lebanon, 2017, 124m

    U.S. Premiere
    The new film from Alain Gomis, a French director of Guinea-Bissauan and Senegalese descent, is largely set in the roughest areas of the rough city of Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Here, a woman named Félicité (Véro Tshanda Beya Mputu) scrapes together a living as a singer in a makeshift bar (her accompanists are played by members of the Kasai Allstars band). When her son is seriously injured in an accident, she goes in search of money for his medical care and embarks on a double journey: through the punishing outer world of the city and the inner world of the soul. Félicité is tough, tender, lyrical, mysterious, funny, and terrifying, both responsive to the moment and fixed on its heroine’s spiritual progress. A Strand Releasing release.

    The Florida Project
    Dir. Sean Baker, USA, 2017, 105m

    U.S. Premiere
    A six-year-old girl (the remarkable Brooklynn Prince) and her two best friends run wild on the grounds of a week-by-week motel complex on the edge of Orlando’s Disney World. Meanwhile, her mother (talented novice Bria Vinaite) desperately tries to cajole the motel manager (an ever-surprising Willem Dafoe) to turn a blind eye to the way she pays the rent. A film about but not for kids, Baker’s depiction of childhood on the margins has fierce energy, tenderness, and great beauty. After the ingenuity of his iPhone-shot 2015 breakout Tangerine, Baker reasserts his commitment to 35mm film with sun-blasted images that evoke a young girl’s vision of adventure and endurance beyond heartbreak. An A24 release.

    Ismael’s Ghosts/Les fantômes d’Ismaël
    Dir. Arnaud Desplechin, France, 2017, 132m

    North American Premiere
    Phantoms swirl around Ismael (Mathieu Amalric), a filmmaker in the throes of writing a spy thriller based on the unlikely escapades of his brother, Ivan Dedalus (Louis Garrel). His only true source of stability, his relationship with Sylvia (Charlotte Gainsbourg), is upended, as is the life of his Jewish documentarian mentor and father-in-law (László Szabó), when Ismael’s wife Carlotta (Marion Cotillard), who disappeared twenty years earlier, returns, and, like one of Hitchcock’s fragile, delusional femmes fatales, expects that her husband and father are still in thrall to her. A brilliant shape-shifter—part farce, part melodrama—Ismael’s Ghosts is finally about the process of creating a work of art and all the madness required. A Magnolia Pictures release.

    Lady Bird
    Dir. Greta Gerwig, USA, 2017, 93m

    Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut is a portrait of an artistically inclined young woman (Saoirse Ronan) trying to define herself in the shadow of her mother (Laurie Metcalf) and searching for an escape route from her hometown of Sacramento. Moods are layered upon moods at the furious pace of late adolescence in this lovely and loving film, which shifts deftly from one emotional and comic register to the next. Lady Bird is rich in invention and incident, and it is powered by Ronan, one of the finest actors in movies. With Lucas Hedges and Timothée Chalamet as the men in Lady Bird’s life, Beanie Feldstein as her best friend, and Tracy Letts as her dad. An A24 release.

    Lover for a Day/L’Amant d’un jour
    Dir. Philippe Garrel, France, 2017, 76m

    North American Premiere
    Lover for a Day is an exquisite meditation on love and fidelity that recalls Garrel's previous NYFF selections Jealousy (NYFF 2013) and In the Shadow of Women (NYFF 2015). After a painful breakup, heartbroken Jeanne (Esther Garrel) moves back in with her university professor father, Gilles (Eric Caravaca), to discover that he is living with optimistic, life-loving student Ariane (newcomer Louise Chevillotte), who is the same age as Jeanne. An unusual triangular relationship emerges as both girls seek the favor of Gilles, as daughter or lover, while developing their own friendship, finding common ground despite their differences. Gorgeously shot in grainy black and white by Renato Berta (Au revoir les enfants), Lover for a Day perfectly illustrates Garrel's poetic exploration of relationships and desire. A MUBI release.

    The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
    Dir. Noah Baumbach, USA, 2017, 110m

    North American Premiere
    Noah Baumbach revisits the terrain of family vanities and warring attachments that he began exploring with The Squid and the Whale in this intricately plotted story of three middle-aged siblings (Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, and Elizabeth Marvel) coping with their strong-willed father (Dustin Hoffman) and the flightiness of his wife (Emma Thompson). Baumbach’s film never stops deftly changing gears, from surges of pathos to painful comedy and back again. Needless to say, this lyrical quicksilver comedy is very much a New York experience. A Netflix release.

    Mrs. Hyde/Madame Hyde
    Dir. Serge Bozon, France, 2017, 95m

    North American Premiere
    Serge Bozon’s eccentric comedic thriller is loosely based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, with many a twist. Mrs. Géquil (Isabelle Huppert), a timid and rather peculiar physics professor, teaches in a suburban technical high school. Apart from her quiet married life with her gentle stay-at-home husband, she is mocked and despised on a daily basis by pretty much everyone around her—headmaster, colleagues, students. During a dark, stormy night, she is struck by lightning and wakes up a decidedly different person, a newly powerful Mrs. Hyde with mysterious energy and uncontrollable powers. Highlighted by Bozon's brilliant mise en scène, Isabelle Huppert hypnotizes us again, securing her place as the ultimate queen of the screen.

    Dir. Dee Rees, USA, 2017, 134m

    Writer/director Dee Rees’s historical epic details daily life and social dynamics in the failing economy of Mississippi during the World War II era. Two families, one white (the landlords) and one black (the sharecroppers), work the same miserable piece of farmland. Out of need and empathy, the mothers of the two families bond as their younger male relatives go off to war and learn that there is a world beyond racial hatred and fear. The flawless ensemble cast includes Carey Mulligan, Mary J. Blige, Garrett Hedlund, Jason Mitchell, Jason Clarke, Rob Morgan, and Jonathan Banks. A Netflix release.

    On the Beach at Night Alone
    Dir. Hong Sang-soo, South Korea, 2017, 101m

    Hong Sang-soo’s movies have always invited autobiographical readings, and his 19th feature is perhaps his most achingly personal film yet, a steel-nerved, clear-eyed response to the tabloid frenzy that erupted in South Korea over his relationship with actress Kim Min-hee. The film begins in Hamburg, where actress Young-hee (played by Kim herself, who won the Best Actress prize at Berlin for this role) is hiding out after the revelation of her affair with a married filmmaker. Back in Korea, a series of encounters shed light on Young-hee’s volatile state, as she slips in and out of melancholic reflection and dreams. Centered on Kim’s astonishingly layered performance, On the Beach at Night Alone is the work of a master mining new emotional depths. A Cinema Guild release.

    The Other Side of Hope/Toivon tuolla puolen
    Dir. Aki Kaurismäki, Finland, 2017, 98m

    Leave it to Aki Kaurismäki (Le Havre, NYFF 2011), peerless master of humanist tragicomedy, to make the first great fiction film about the 21st century migrant crisis. Having escaped bombed-out Aleppo, Syrian refugee Khlaed (Sherwan Haji) seeks asylum in Finland, only to get lost in a maze of functionaries and bureaucracies. Meanwhile, shirt salesman Wikström (Sakari Kuosmanen) leaves his wife, wins big in a poker game, and takes over a restaurant whose deadpan staff he also inherits. These parallel stories dovetail to gently comic and enormously moving effect in Kaurismäki’s politically urgent fable, an object lesson on the value of compassion and hope that remains grounded in a tangible social reality. A Janus Films release.

    The Rider
    Dir. Chloé Zhao, USA, 2017, 104m

    The hardscrabble economy of America’s rodeo country, where, for some, riding and winning is the only source of pleasure and income, is depicted with exceptional compassion and truth by a filmmaker who is in no way an insider: Zhao was born in Beijing and educated at Mount Holyoke and NYU. Set on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, The Rider is a fiction film that calls on nonprofessional actors to play characters similar to themselves, incorporating their skill sets and experiences. Brady Jandreau is extraordinary as a badly injured former champion rider and horse trainer forced to give up the life he knows and loves. A Sony Pictures Classics release.

    Dir. Agnieszka Holland, in cooperation with Kasia Adamik, Poland/Germany/Czech Republic, 2017, 128m

    U.S. Premiere
    Janina Duszejko (Agnieszka Mandat) is a vigorous former engineer, part-time teacher, and animal activist, living in a near wilderness on the Polish-Czech border, where hunting is the favored year-round sport of the corrupt men who rule the region. When a series of hunters die mysteriously, Janina wonders if the animals are taking revenge, which doesn’t stop the police from coming after her. A brilliant, passionate director, Agnieszka Holland—who like Janina comes from a generation that learned to fight authoritarianism by any means necessary—forges a sprawling, wildly beautiful, emotionally enveloping film that earns its vision of utopia. It’s at once a phantasmagorical murder mystery, a tender, late-blooming love story, and a resistance and rescue thriller.

    The Square
    Dir. Ruben Östlund, Sweden, 2017, 150m

    A precisely observed, thoroughly modern comedy of manners, Ruben Östlund’s Palme d’Or–winner revolves around Christian (Claes Bang), a well-heeled contemporary art curator at a Stockholm museum. While preparing his new exhibit—a four-by-four-meter zone designated as a “sanctuary of trust and caring”—Christian falls prey to a pickpocketing scam, which triggers an overzealous response and then a crisis of conscience. Featuring several instant-classic scenes and a vivid supporting cast (Elisabeth Moss, Dominic West, and noted motion-capture actor Terry Notary), The Square is the most ambitious film yet by one of contemporary cinema’s most incisive social satirists, the rare movie to have as many laughs as ideas. A Magnolia Pictures release.

    Dir. Joachim Trier, Norway/Sweden/France, 2017, 116m

    In the new film from Joachim Trier (Reprise), an adolescent country girl (Eili Harboe) has just moved to the city to begin her university studies, with the internalized religious severity of her quietly domineering mother and father (Ellen Dorrit Petersen and Henrik Rafaelsen) always in mind. When she realizes that she is developing an attraction to her new friend Anja (Okay Kaya), she begins to manifest a terrifying and uncontrollable power that her parents have long feared. To reveal more would be a crime; let’s just say that this fluid, sharply observant, and continually surprising film begins in the key of horror and ends somewhere completely different. A release of The Orchard.

    Dir. Valeska Grisebach, Germany and Bulgaria, 2017, 119m

    U.S. Premiere
    As its title suggests, German director Valeska Grisebach’s first feature in a decade is a supremely intelligent genre update that recognizes the Western as a template on which to draw out eternal human conflicts. In remote rural Bulgaria, a group of German workers are building a water facility. Meinhard (Meinhard Neumann), the reserved newbie in this all-male company, immediately draws the ire of the boorish team leader, not least for his willingness to mingle with the wary locals. Cast with utterly convincing nonprofessional actors, Western is a gripping culture-clash drama, attuned both to old codes of masculinity and new forms of colonialism. A Cinema Guild release.

    Dir. Lucrecia Martel, Argentina/Brazil/Spain, 2017, 115m

    U.S. Premiere
    The great Lucrecia Martel ventures into the realm of historical fiction and makes the genre entirely her own in this adaptation of Antonio di Benedetto’s 1956 classic of Argentinean literature. In the late 18th century, in a far-flung corner of what seems to be Paraguay, the title character, an officer of the Spanish crown (Daniel Giménez Cacho) born in the Americas, waits in vain for a transfer to a more prestigious location. Martel renders Zama’s world—his daily regimen of small humiliations and petty politicking—as both absurd and mysterious, and as he increasingly succumbs to lust and paranoia, subject to a creeping disorientation. Precise yet dreamlike, and thick with atmosphere, Zama is a singular and intoxicating experience, a welcome return from one of contemporary cinema’s truly brilliant minds.

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    L'ENFANT SECRET (Philippe Garrel 1979) - REVIVALS



    Sad couple, lost child, cinematic poetry

    L'Enfant secret/The Secret Child is a late Seventies example of Philippe Garrel's typically moody autobiographical explorations of the depredations of artistic life. Though it's one of the most famous of them, winner of the 1982 Prix Jean Vigo, it was long impossible to find. Except for a DVD produced in Japan, it was available only in a copy in the hands of Garrel himself. Now a handsome, restored print has been made, with clear images and sharp sound, and it's being shown at the Metrograph Theater in New York and as part of the Revivals section of the 2017 New York Film Festival.

    L'Enfant secret concerns a man, a woman, and a gradually abandoned child named "Swann." Like Garrel's other films that I've seen, it's stark, harsh, and poetic, this quality emphasized by contrasty black-and-white images further heightened (or restored to original intent) in the remastered print, along with (also intentional) complete fall-outs of sound, alternating with spotty dialogue and a warm keyboard score. This is vintage Garrel, stoical, arbitrary, moody. It's like a telegraphic diary, not very good storytelling, not very good entertainment, rudimentary in style, but capable of leaving a viewer feeling devastated with its ruthless depiction of life full of promise and life thrown away.

    A summary supplied on IMDb describes L'Enfant secret as "four chapters based on the birth of a 'secret child', or a film, with chapter titles: 'La séction Césarienne' (Caesarian section: a descriptive detail introducing the mother); 'Le dernier guerrier' (the last warrior: how the father sees himself); 'Le cercle ophydique' (the serpent's closed circle: the couple reunites at the psychiatric ward); 'Les forêts désenchantées (unfairy [sic] forests: the film in the making)."

    But if this is indeed what this cryptic, stoical film is actually about, it's not what an unprepared viewer sees, which isn't filmmaking and career development but moments in the lives of Élie (Anne Wiazemsky) a young woman who has a child by an actor who doesn't show up to be the father, and who later begins to use IV drugs. She becomes involved with Jean-Baptiste (Henri de Maublanc). He is a filmmaker, or a man who wishes to make films. In scenes of him, or Élie, or the two of them, Jean-Baptiste suffers depression, or brain damage from on overdose of LSD, or both, and he winds up in a sanatorium, where he suffers the damaging effects of shock treatments those close to him learn about only later.

    Perhaps one can't or oughtn't be an "unprepared viewer" of Garrel's films, because they are heavily autobiographical, so some rudimentary knowledge of his life is a necessary subtext, and Jean-Baptiste can be understood as a version of himself. Note that Maurice Garrel, Philippe's father, was an actor, who appears in his 2005 Sixties epic of a doomed poet, Les amants réguliers/Regular Lovers (NYFF 2005) starring Philippe's son, Louis Garrel, uniting three generations of this French cinematic dynasty. I was struck in L'Enfant secret by how much Henri de Maublanc, with his big stylish mop of dark hair, resembled Philippe's now 34-year-old son. It's as if Philippe brought up his son to take over the key role in his endless autobiographical sagas - except that Louis has developed quite a varied career on his own, apart from playing in no less than seven of his father's films. He has played in more of Christophe Honoré's, besides co-starring in his own debut aa director a couple of years ago and playing in films by a number of other directors. Louis's fame has become more mainstream than his father's. But his father, whose greatest recognition always has come at the Venice Film Festival, retains an unspoiled avant-garde cachet.

    At the point when he made L'Enfant secret, however, Garrel had made a conscious decision to turn away from the focus in his films on his great love, the German singer-songwriter Nico, with whom he had been involved for ten years, ending in 1979, and if not to cease being autobiographical in his movies, at least to approach his life in them in a new way, aided by a new collaboration with the Belgian-born scenarist Annette Wademant. This was Garrel's fifteenth film, and he's made seventeen since.

    L'enfant secret begins with Élie and a young man, and the implied conception of her child, whom she names Swann, evidently after Proust's character. It's only later that Jean-Baptiste enters the scene when he and Élie exchange their first kiss in a villa outside Paris. She goes on tour as an actress, and Jean-Baptiste has his depression. She reappears, and so does the now grown up Swann, a toddler who can walk fast, and Jean-Baptiste has regained hope and struggles to regain his memories. But she gives up the child, who she doesn't want and she says doesn't "doesn't love me anymore." Now, it seems it's she who needs help, as we see her brandishing a needle and suggesting to Jean-Baptiste that the drug is "good," and that he may like to try it.

    In the center of the film, Jean-Baptiste may seem to take over. But the egocentrism of Garrel's films may be countered by his collaboration with Annette Wademant on the writing. Anne Wiazemsky arguably continues to affect the viewer more than de Maublac, with her sad, soulful face: she is pure emotion, while he, even when he's smashing a window and cutting his hand, is a little more like a fashion model.

    But that's okay, because one of the things that makes you want to go back to Garrel's films is their link with the powerful rudiments of film, with early movie history. The impressionistic - and favorable - 1982 review of L'Enfant secret in Cahiers du Cinéma by Serge Daney doesn't translate very well - it reduces to a network of jottings and allusions - but one thing holds true: his comment that at some moments, like the one when Jean-Baptiste struggles to light a butt he's found under a bench, this film reminds us of Griffith or Chaplin.

    L'Enfant secret, 92 mins., premiered in France 1979 but had French theatrical release 2 Dec. 1982 and showed at the Berlinale 26 Feb. 1983. A few other later festival showings. Now digitally remastered version begins theatrical premiere at the Metrograph (NYC) 18 Oct. 2017, also showing in NYFF Revivals section 10 Oct. at 6:00pm, with Garrel in person at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center (Lincoln Center). Screened for this review at the Metrograph 23 Sept. 2017. The Metrograph is staging a two-part retrospective of Philippe Garrel's films; Garrel will be on hand for part of that too. For the program of Part 1 (13 films) go here. Philippe Garrel's new film, L'amant d'un jour/Lover for a Day, is part of the Main Slate of the 2017 NYFF. Anne Wiazemsky died 5 Oct. 2017 in Paris at 70 (Garrel is 69).
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-11-2017 at 07:32 PM.

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    THE SQUARE ( Ruben Östlund 2017)



    Östlund's new film is a prizewinning dazzler, but lacks clear focus

    Östlund'S The Square is a crisp and thrilling festival film, full of drama, shock, and hilarity, and with a terrific soundtrack - but contents one has some difficulty imagining a mainstream audience putting up with or having the patience for, since it's weird and two hours and twenty-two minutes long. Nonetheless it has a US distributor, Magnolia. It's a good-looking film, notable for a powerful use of music and ambient sound. It was great to watch it at the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center, surely the best place to watch, but also particularly to hear, a movie in New York City, if not the whole country (even if it could use some new seats).

    How did this film win the Palme d'Or at Cannes? Perhaps first of all for being intense, entertaining, and unclassifiable. It's like a performance piece and also about a performance piece. Its main character, Christian (the suavely awkward and watchable Claes Bang), is the director of the hippest major art museum in Stockholm. Not wholly unintentionally, the movie confuses him with an artist and he - and the public - confuses art with attention-getting PR.

    The Square is cool, but too diffuse to deserve being called the best of Cannes. Östlund crams miscellaneous anecdotes into the film from here and there. It's an omnibus film, curiously scattershot after the intense focus of the director's previous one, Force Majeure, though it's got a morally weak protagonist, like that one, as well as a malevolent child, like in Östlund's more clinical and troubling Play (NYFF 2011). It's got too much going on. In that, it's just the opposite of Force Majeure, which focussed relentlessly on one man's moment of cowardice and its drawn-out consequences. Christian is a morally weak man too, like Force Majeure's Tomas, but he's high-profile, powerful, and experienced at putting on an elegant, sophisticated front, which is very different from Tomas.

    Force Majeure had one dramatic natural set piece, but just one. The Square has several, and Östlund winds things up with a spectacular set piece, of a motion capture artist (Tarry Notary) as a wild man terrorizing a glittering crowd of the rich in a gilded, palatial hall. This is more and even better performance art, dazzling and rather scary - but it doesn't tie things together. It's just one more impressive, stylish attention-getter. The Square sure is strange stuff coming from a Swede. It does vaguely remind one of Michael Haneke. Some of its barbs at the expense of contemporary (earthworks, conceptual, and performance) art are well deserved, but in their blanket quality there's an air of philistinism about them, too, a weakness of the scattershot methods.

    In the first set piece, Christian gets cleverly mugged in a big public square in initially scary, disorienting circumstances. There is some kind of big fracas in a crowd and Christian thinks he's helping a guy who seems terrified and menaced by persons unknown. When they separate, he finds his wallet, phone, and even cufflinks have been deftly lifted. It's actually a conventual ploy, but it's staged dramatically - with Östlund's good use of loud sound effects and mockingly soothing music throughout - so it fools us, because we're not clued in on what's happening. Anything could have been going on, including performance art. Is robbery a kid of performance art: performance art a form of robbery?

    This experience of being robbed while thinking he's being helpful is why later Christian commissions a public artwork called "The Square," to be a space, in a public place, that's guaranteed to be honest and safe and free, for those who choose to make it so. This is a symbolic reference to the social contract, also a reference to the world of Östlund's father's or grandfather's times when you could leave a child in a public square and know he'd be safe. Ironically, that's now reduced to an art concept.

    Christian also has two young men who seem journalists, but apparently are hired to do PR for the museum. If they're a comedy team, they're a dangerous one, since they later create a promotional video online to attract interest in "The Square" that is so violent and tasteless it causes public outcry. The two young men are shock artists themselves, and Christian's mistake is to let them act without supervision.

    Claes Bang is great doing a combination of clumsy foolishness and experienced coverup, but the editor needed to cut out some of this stuff. And why is there all this running up and down the parallel stairs of two apartment buildings, Christian's posh one and the poor banlieue one? Why must Christian drag his two young daughters back there? After a while the humor wears thin and the mockery of contemporary art is, as mentioned, far too heavy-handed. The send-up of today's art in the age of Banksy and Ai Weiwei as hard to distinguish from advertising or propaganda is valid, but there's no distinction made between frauds and authentic artists of the last fifty years.

    One of the major episodes is Christian's effort, with his museum assistant Michael (Christopher Læssø), to scam the robber into coming forward and returning his wallet, phone, and cufflinks: they go in Christian's Tesla to a ghetto-ish development on the edge of town he's tracked his phone to, where Christian distributes threatening letters to all the apartments in the building. (This apparently is something that once worked, in Östlund's hometown of Göthenberg:* it might work less well a town that's 50% bigger. The episode isn't helped by being implausible. ) This shows up Christian's fear of the poor, one supposes. Only isn't that perfectly normal, to be uncomfortable doing this? Naturally, Michael, who is black, finds a Tesla not a very comfortable place to sit and wait in a ghetto area. Christian winds up having an aggressive kid, aggrieved by the letter, on his case - one of his endless problems.

    The film ends with Christian's resignation, due to the offensive publicity video he shouldn't have let happen. Only it doesn't end, because it drags on and on. Bang's manipulation of art world bureaucratese is convincing, but enough is enough.

    The humor is at the expense of the privileged, like Christian, who cater to the hyper-rich. But men are also a target, and Östlund can't resist working in Elizabeth Moss as an American journalist, who does a short interview with Christian and later has sex with him, then gets on his case about it. All good fun? But also a bit embarrassing. Östlund uses threats of, or actual, violence and loud noises skillfully to keep us viewers on our toes, and various well-staged scenes have theatrical panache, but in the end they begin to seem like an enjoyable smokescreen to cover up the lack of unity and focus of this overlong but otherwise enjoyable and original film. One knows Östlund will go on making interesting and increasingly ambitious films, hopefully leaving out the kitchen sink next time.

    The Square, 2 hrs. 22 mins., debuted at Cannes 20 May 2017, winning the Palme d'Or. Nearly two dozen other international festivals. Screened for this review as part of the New York Film Festival, showing 19 Sept. 2017. Limited US release by Magnolia Pictures to begin 27 Oct. 2017.
    *He said so in a festival Q&A.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-16-2017 at 12:21 AM.

  5. #5
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    SPOO/POKOT ( Agnieszka Holland, Kasia Adamik 2017)



    Admiration for a crazy lady

    From a novel, this new movie by Agnieszka Holland and her daughter expresses an intense, boisterous, and rather disturbing admiration for a vigorous nut case of a lady in late middle age, Janina Duszejko (Agnieszka Mandat) - she has to tell people not to put an "n" in the name and insists they just call her "Duszejko," never "Janina" or "Ms." A great admirer of the doctrines of William Blake, she lives in Kotlina Kłodzka, a virtual nature preserve on the Polish-Czech border that's not a preserve at all: its bristling with birds, wild boar, deer and other wildlife, but the macho local culture involves constant hunting and poaching - killing out of season that "Duszejko" abhors. Correspondingly, the story is punctuated by hunting rules, with title cards showing what animals are in season month by month and what ones aren't, through winter to summer and back to winter again.

    This looks like the chronicle of an eccentric woman in her sixties who becomes the suspect/ad hoc investigator of a crime story as a series of murders occur, but it turns into an animal activist drama whose hero gets away with murder. It's suggested, in passing, that astrology, a big hobby of Duszejko's, is a good thing too. This is impressive, boisterous filmmaking, full of noise, action, and life. It's also sprawling and troubling in its apparent advocacy of questionable strategies. Spoor is an oddball work by a famous director, a curiosity, a genre-bender, that may find and hold its own niche.

    The key apparently lies in the source novel by Olga Tokarczuk, her 2009 Drive Your Plough Over the Bones of the Dead. Tokarczuk is a both critically acclaimed and commercially successful writer who seems to have a strong bent for provocation. Speaking of her more recent 2014 The Books of Jacob, bluntly depicting Polish treatment of the Jews, the Economist reports how she has had abuse heaped upon her by the country's new conservative patriots. Drvive Your Plough is likewise described in a Polish lit website in English as having caused a good deal of "consternation among Polish readers" for "turning to popular literature" with a novel in the "crime genre," focusing on a "central character" who's hard to take, and by the additional claim that the book is a "metaphysical thriller" and therefore somehow resonant with prfound meaning. Judging by this film, there's kookiness where that profundity should be.

    One reviewer of the film pointedly claims that the lead actress, Agnieszka Mandat, looks like Aileen Wuornos. But she may as much resemble the director herself, as her daughter rather resembles her. Duszejko admits she's unqualified to teach but is a part-time instructor to school kids in English to keep busy. She lives off by herself in a rough but rangey cottage with two big female dogs. She starts breaking the rules when the dogs disappear by bringing out her class in the middle of the night to hunt for the dogs. She is bereaved, and doesn't get over it, and rails against all the men in authority and power around town - the richest man, the mayor, the chief of police, the local priest. We get the message pretty bluntly when the priest condemns Duszejko's pet cemetery, firmly declaring that animals have no souls.

    Killings are dotted through the year. When the hot weather comes, Duszejko meets up with an entomologist doing research in the woods(Miroslav Krobot) and they have a lively and vigorously physical late-blooming affair that's also a union of activists against the world. The entomologist rails against the loggers who are killing off the larvae of insects that are essential to the ecology of the region - of the planet.

    Mandat is impressive, alternately scary and beautiful, and carries the action well. Spoor's energy and flow are fun and impressive. At its best moments, the film effortlessly conveys a sense of burgeoning nature and human events out of control. But it feels out of control too, its police procedural element never providing the pace and backbone it might. Filmmaking skills come to feel wasted in the repetitiousness and excessive length. Spoor frequently harangues the viewer with its - or Tokarczuk's - feminism and ecological activism. The score by Antoni Komasa-Lazarkiewicz, typically, is hard-driving and energetic but a bit monotonous too. Peter Bradshaw is on target when he calls Spoor "watchable in its quirky and wayward way, with some funny moments – [but] shallower than it thinks." Its provocations only weaken its arguments and one wonders if in their enthusiasm Holland and her daughter-collaborator have lost whatever subtlety the novel source may have had.(Metacritic rating: 61%/)

    Spoor/Pokot, 128 mins, debuted at the Berlinale; a dozen-plus other festivals. Screened for this review as part of the New York Film Festival, 30 Sept. 2017, with a Q&A by the filmmakers afterwards.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-01-2017 at 12:24 PM.

  6. #6
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    WESTERN (Valeska Grisebach 2017)



    Portrait of an estranged loner

    One should be wary of a filmmaker's expressed intentions when watching her film: so with Valeska Grisebach's Western, whose title, both explicit and playful, it's best to ignore. The main character looks a bit like a cowboy hero, and there's macho competition, even a horse, but different things are going on from what you'll find in the Hollywood genre. These are Germans working on a water system construction project in a rural part of Bulgaria. The "newbie" in the group is Meinhard (Meinhard Neumann), a tall, grizzled non-actor with a moustache somewhat resembling Sam Elliott, who, despite little knowledge of Bulgarian spends a lot of his time connecting with the locals, with complicated consequences that have more to do with the European Union than with the Wild West.

    In the end the genre aspects do come to life, but in a highly original, contemporary way, and without the satisfying resolutions of the traditional genre - a difference that has both good and bad aspects. There are many specific, interesting scenes here, but it might have helped to locate them within a more focused dramatic structure. Despite its several interesting characters, Western winds up feeling patchy and diffuse. It's hard to say what this is all about - it's left unresolved, but the fascination is with the joys and shortcomings of communicating without language and stuff that happens when strangers are planted in a place like this.

    Meinhard is the main focus, along with several Bulgarian women he connects with (Veneta Fragnova, Viara Borisova); Adrian (Syuleyman Alilov Letifov), the Bulgarian male who becomes his local "best friend;" and the boorish German crew boss Vincent (Reinhardt Wetrek). Meinhard is wordlessly repelled by Vincent and his coworkers at the outset and seems to spend much of his time exploring: in fact a weakness of the film is that it conveys little sense of the actual work done by the Germans or for Meinhard's part in it.

    A white horse wanders wild and free, and Meinhard manages to ride it bareback. As a sign of local conflicts and implied "colonialism" or at least condescension and economic nationalism, Vincent plants a German flag on top of a tall pole at the work site - which quickly disappears. Some of the Bulgarians harbor old resentments, while the Germans talk about finally being back "after seventy years." Meinhard emerges as a "legionnaire" who did unexplained stints in Afghanistan or Iraq, with no home to be homesick about, no family, no wife, no kids, lonely, longing for connection, his estrangement from his fellow Germans on the work crew a sign he may not be good at really connecting for long. He puts on nice shirts in the evening and goes into town, spruced up, ready to charm and make nice - for a while. In the end, Adrian gives back the knife he's gifted to his son, Wanko (Kevin Bashev) saying "He doesn't need this," and asks pointedly, "What do you want here?" (Subtitles translate both languages for us, somewhat blurring the effect of the non-verbal communications.)

    The film has a documentary realism and often seems real, disturbingly so in an incident that occurs with a horse. Mostly this reads as an unusual study of how people communicate when they have hardly any language in common; or long-held national prejudices; of conflicts between outsiders and locals. And it's a somewhat enigmatic study of Meinhard, a loner searching for connection - who makes remarkable progress in making local friends that comes in handy when the Germans encounter hostilities, but winds up still a stranger to everyone, though we share with interest in his bold and intriguing little adventures.

    Western 120 mins., debuted in the Un Certain Regard series of Cannes 2017. Screened for this review as part of the New York Film Festival shown at 8:30 pm 1 Oct. 2017 at Elinor Bunin Theater, Lincoln Center. The director and actor Syuleyman Alilov Letifov were on hand for a Q&A with Programming Director Dennis Lim. The film will be released later by Cinema Guild.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-18-2017 at 09:01 AM.

  7. #7
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    ZAMA (Lucrecia Martel 2017)



    A strange and inventive slow burner, long awaited and long delayed

    Based on a 1956 novel by Antonio Di Benedetto, which in her country is a cult classic, this is Argentinian director Lucrecia Martel's first feature in nine years, since The Headless Woman (NYFF 2008), which had followed the much admired 2001 La Ciénaga and 2004 The Holy Girl. The story set in the late eighteenth century focuses on a petty official of the Spanish crown, Diego de Zama (Daniel Giménez Cacho), living in a remote outpost on the Paraguay river, endlessly awaiting transfer to Buenos Aires that never comes. "While not much happens (star Daniel Giménez Cacho largely wanders around, perplexed, under a three-cornered hat), when it finally does, it’s violently unsettling. This hallucinatory work vaguely suggests a stoned, swampy relative of 1970s Werner Herzog, but invents its own cinematic language," wrote Jonathan Romney in the Guardian from Venice when the film debuted. And that's an understatement. The ending is apocalyptic and deeply ironic, a sort of "don't ever go to live where there are natives" message. The film is slow going much of the way, but nobody can complain it lacks drama at the end. It's jazzed up with periodic popular music that reminded me of Wong Kar-wai's Happy Together.

    Zama is full of enigmatic and inconclusive scenes and colorful, made-up period details and it revels in exoticism; the cinematography is handsome, the color gorgeous. Martel has explained that since the novel source supplies little physical detail, she immersed herself in a lengthy book by an eighteenth-century writer, but would up making much of the detail up. Much is made of wigs, and men are constantly seen taking them off and putting them back on. A governor has red painted nails and wears, supposedly, the ears of an executed wrongdoer on strings around his neck; a tall black slave wears a long blue dress coat and a loin cloth. In the opening scene, richly conveying a sense of strangeness, Zama lies in the bushes watching a group of naked white women by the water covered with mud who yell "voyeur" at him. When he beats a retreat one runs up and grabs his leg. He smacks her away, very hard This is intended to convey that he is not a nice man. Though he's a victim, it's not certain he doesn't deserve his fate. He has a wife, and kids who are growing up without him, in Buenos Aires, but maybe they're better off without him. Maybe colonialism and macho sexism deserve purgatorial sufferings.

    An English translation of the book by Di Benedetto was recently published by The New York Review of Books, and there is a 5,000-word review of it by J.M Coetzee in the 19 Jan. 2017 issue of the magazine. From Coetzee's summary I learned details that weren't clear in the film, notably why Zama has been demoted and is always longing for the earlier days when he was a corregidor addressed as "Doctor" with his own district to run. It's because Spain has instituted a new, tighter and more centralized administrative system requiring that officials be Spanish-born, and Zama is an americano, born in the New World, so he is now doomed to be forever second in command.

    A long conversation between Zama and a bewigged, dressed up and luridly made up lady focuses on their longing to be somewhere European, where people don't sweat all the time. This is a flirtation, but a useless one. He has a native woman and squalling child. Now he refuses to go to a brothel because he'll only have sex with a white woman; or at least so he says. His dream of a love life is unfulfilled like his dream of escape to a more civilized place - in the film, anyway.

    Martel's adaptation of the book leaves out sexual details, while adding attractive visuals like a superb palm-strewn swampland and llamas around the corner in doorways. The novel is a first-person narrative, which has been dropped. In the Q&A Martel said everything that happens and all the dialogue is the first person narration of the film. But despite an impressive mise-en-scène and editing that flows with confidence, the self-conscious complexity of the central character has been subsumed into something more stoical and stolid, just as narrative action has to some extent been subsumed into exotic scene-staging in which the somewhat tricky chronology becomes only harder to follow.

    At one point clearly the action jumps forward to some years later when Zama is bearded and older looking. Zama is transferred to a worse outpost, but some of the same people are sent to be with him. He has a widow as a lover now, who lives apart, and has born him a sickly son. Much is made of a young man, Manuel Fernández (Nahuel Cano) who's writing a book on, as it were, company time, and the gobernador wants Zama to read the book, and get rid of Manuel Fernández, but he's uncooperative. Much is made, in Di Benedetto's book (according to Coetzee) of the riddle of a woman, or two women, in a house where Zama takes up residence because he's low on money. But, Coetzee reports, the novel, though long in gestation (which fits with Lucrecia Martel's experience with this film), was hastily written, and this means details are confusing, especially in the third part.

    It would remiss not to mention the story's mysterious, recurrent villain, Vicuã Porto (Matheus Nachtergaele), Zama's nemesis, who's mentioned early on but never appears in person - or appears to - until the final scenes. He's not just Zama's nemesis but "a bandit of mythical status—no one is even sure what he looks like—on whom all the colony’s woes are blamed." His story is somewhat simplified from the novel's version, but he's constantly referred to, and enters, in one incarnation, for a decisive encounter with Zama and others sent to combat him, at the end.

    Zama is an exotic, delicious to look at, slow-moving but fast-ending film that isn't fully satisfying the first time and might require repeated viewings, preferably in combination with study of Di Benedetto's novel, now finally available to Anglophone readers and clearly requiring careful study in its own right. It's not certain that Zama the film can ever be fully satisfying, but one can revel in its imagery and ponder its meanings.

    Zama, 115 mins., debuted at Venice Sept. 2017 and is Argentina's Best Foreign Oscar entry. A half dozen international festivals including Toronto, Haifa, London, Busan and the New York Film Festival, as part of which it was screened for this review in Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center 2 Oct. 2017 followed by a Q&A with Martel and NYFF programmer Dennis Lim.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-18-2017 at 09:13 AM.

  8. #8
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    CALL ME BY YOUR NAME (Luca Guadagnino 2017)



    Summer love

    Many lovers of André Aciman's intense 2007 gay romance (plus coming out and coming of age) novel set in 1983, Call Me by Your Name, are embracing James Ivory's screen adaptation, directed by Luca Guadagnino. And one can see why. The combination, along with Armie Hammer as Oliver, the 23-year-old visiting research assistant, and Timothée Chalamet as his professorial host's bright, ripe teenage son Elio, seems just about perfect - especially since the Ivory-Guadagnino adapting team have wisely chosen to keep the novel's sometimes overwrought, over-analyzing first-person intensity more on the light and "frothy" side - without tempering the sensuality. Chalamet in particular is a revelation, but his young-guy role is ably anchored in the gay love story by the 6'5", deep-voiced Hammer. Both throw themselves into the brief but intense summer romance set in northern Italy, providing the core of what turns out to be a beautiful film, Guadagnino's most straightforward effort and greatest success so far.

    The romance, with its strong (yet somewhat vague) physical, sexual side, is the thing, a sort of youthful explosion both sudden and long-awaited. The delay, filled with Elio's endless questioning and self-doubt about whether he likes Oliver or Oliver likes him, when the mutual attraction turns out to have been there from the first - this is deftly conveyed by Ivory's dialogue in a single conversation, making up for all those agonizing and teasing inner monologues in the book, though in the movie as in the book it's halfway through before the two guys even kiss.

    What's lost is the emotional richness and sadness of the novel's years- and even decades-later followups that show this affair was the love of Elio's life, while Oliver moved on and (clear in the film) got married very soon after, not that the affair didn't mean a lot to Oliver too. This is where a novel - especially by an avowed Proustian, indeed Proust scholar - can provide intellectual subtlety a film lacks. But what Guadagnino can provide, as he showed in his impressive feature debut I Am Love/Io sono l'amore, is pulsating physicality. Every soft boiled egg, every cup of coffee, every dip in the lake and boyish erection is savored, while many moments are heightened by a background of Elio's intensified keyboard playing.

    Chalamet arrives with a delicate beauty plus a dash of bravado, and quite a skill set. Elio, and so Chalamet, is fluent in English, French and Italian, dances with abandon, smokes with panache, makes love to a young woman, Marzia (Esther Garrel), plays piano and guitar, and has sex with a (large, ripe) peach. That last act may be his greatest challenge, but the actor is also, impressively, closeup on camera for the long final shot where he smiles and weeps and turns away, his face alone conveying the novel's last chapters' messages. Early on, he plays a Bach air on guitar and when Oliver requests a keyboard version, improvises it in three different styles. But Hammer as Oliver too is an impressive mix, hunk as smart as ephebe, casual with his trendy salutation, "Later," physically relaxed and friendly, but dazzling in his etymological knowhow.

    It's an Italian but also international setting, a splendid summer and holiday house with a cook and gardener-driver, the nearby towns vague in the novel but apparently shot around Lucca for the movie, the place inherited, one gathers, by Elio's mother (Amira Casar). This is where Guadagnino comes through especially, since he is assured with the local people and atmosphere, including a comical couple arguing over politics in Italian at an alfresco home dinner party (in the novel these are nightly).

    It isn't forgotten that both Oliver and Elio's family are Jewish, though Elio says his mother (for local consumption in this Italian town without minorities) - and this is 1983, after all, a fact subtly conveyed throughout - are "Jews of discretion": they don't broadcast it. A nice detail is that when the relationship gets going Elio breaks out a little gold Star of David he has like Oliver's and wears it around his neck as a token. Not that in the movie some details from Aciman's novel don't become a bit fuzzy, including the two young men's relationships with young women, Oliver's poker-playing in town, the identities of the cook, Mafalda (Vanda Capriolo) and gardener-driver, Anchise (Antonio Rimoldi) - while Oliver's scholarly accomplishments come across early on as a stunt, like Elio's keyboard acumen.

    What to me seemed over-emphasized in the film's shortened context is the almost sermonizingly "understanding" speech of Elio's father (Michael Stuhlbarg) after Oliver is gone, about the relationship he and Oliver have had. It seems also unnecessary on the two guy's short final trip together to inject sequences of spectacular nature, when the novel has them in Rome. But these flaws don't keep the movie from feeling like a success that touches us and leaves one with much to ponder. This is a rather ideal novel adaptation that makes one feel why such things are worth doing.

    And this one has a special resonance. I can find no better way to end than the conclusion of Jordan Hoffman's own admirably specific Guardian review: "Call Me By Your Name is a masterful work because of the specificity of its details. This is not a love story that 'just happens to be gay'. The level of trust and strength these characters share brings a richness that is not necessarily known to a universal audience. But the craft on display from all involved is an example, yet again, of how movies can create empathy in an almost spiritual way. This is a major entry in the canon of queer cinema."

    Call Me by Your Name, 132 mins., debuted at Sundance and Berlin Jan. 2017, showing in at least two dozen festivals. Screened for this review at the New York Film Festival Tues. 3 Oct. 2017 at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, with a Q&A involving Luca Guadagnino, Armie Hammer, and Timothée Chalamet and a typically enthusiastic audience. People love this movie. And so do critics: Metacritic rating 97% [4 Oct. 2017; now 93% [11 Jan. 2018). US theatrical release 24 Nov. 2017.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-11-2018 at 08:24 PM.

  9. #9
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    JR and Agnès Varda in Faces Places


    French cinematic icon Agnès Varda, as I noted about her beautiful 2008 documentary self-portrait, The Beaches of Agnès (Rendez-Vous 2009) , likes to be told what she wants to hear. So rather than a "documentary" her new film made with 33-year-old photo installation artist (or photographer/muralist) JR is best seen as aa beautifully staged presentation. It is a showcase for her and JR. In fact they work out a duo act, and a very smooth one it is. They join up to travel around France doing what he does. He has a Mercedes van painted to look like a giant camera, in which he can quickly process photographs and make very large prints suitable to be plastered on walls, which is what they do.

    Along the way the 88-year-old but very vigorous (if fragile) Varda calls the shots. And in any case, she is the star, the little stocky woman draped in scarves with the casque of hair, half white, half dyed (this time) a reddish brown. If anyone objects to this plastering of big photos on walls for legal or personal reasons, it's not shown. If this sounds like objections to Varda or JR or their film, they're not. Visages, Villages is a charming, rather magical little film, and a portrait of French niceness. Everyone in this film is polite, good tempered, and friendly. Vive la France! This Tour de France has some of the childlike charm of Michel Gondry's films and is admirable for its purity and simplicity, a celebration of the transitory, of faces and places, of photography and the amiable and attractive defacement of property by artistic people.

    The narration of Visages, Village is a running dialogue of JR and Agnès. They too are unfailingly nice - in one conversation he explains why he likes older people, and so, her - she's a little feisty, objecting to a compliment on her wrinkles (when her eyes and her hands get the giant-photo treatment, pasted on freight cars), and to a friend being called "an old friend." They visit JR's 100-year-old grandparent (she hasn't that much to say). Old age is a topic: Varda says she is ready to go and thinks a lot about death (but there's nothing gloomy about this indomitable femme).

    JR has a team of assistants, but on the trip we don't get to meet them, only JR, in his hipster hat and highschooler clothes and perpetual shades, which Varda keeps nagging him to take off (eventually he does, but we see his eyes as a blur, because her vision is blurry). We see the pair traveling in the van. They may not be alone in it and surely don't sleep in it, but where they sleep isn't shown. How JR makes his prints and what kind of prints they are also isn't shown or explained. They go around pasting large photos on façades of (usually old) buildings, in the country, in "villages." Once the face of a woman who's the sole remaining inhabitant of a row of devastated houses is pasted on the façade of that house where she remains. (She is moved.)The photographic paper seems thin and it fits between the cracks of a brickwork front.

    They meet a farmer who talks about how agriculture has changed. He enjoys helming a tractor with lots of computer gadgets, but misses the other farm hands, who now aren't needed. JR does his portrait, and puts it on a barn-like structure. Later JR and Agnès visit and photograph goats and goat farmers. The trend is to burn off their (the goats') horns at an early age. This means they don't fight and promotes milk production. But they find a lady who keeps the horns on her goats. They're meant to have them, she thinks. So what if they fight? JR does a giant photo of a goat with horns that goes on a wall, to remind folks goats have horns. The goat farming lady also used to use milking equipment but got rid of it. She didn't like the noise it made, and realized that hand milking was a peaceful time, not to be lost. Varda likes this independent lady. She also likes three dockers's wives met at Le Havre. One drives big rig trucks. Their giant photo portraits get pasted on tall networks of boxes and then the three women are posed up in spaces where boxes were.

    These are art pieces, sometimes temporary ones, like Christo and Jean-Claude's. Such is the photo portrait Varda took of artist and photographer Guy Burdin, his full length, bent in a sitting or lying pose, blown up by JR and mounted on a fallen-down German bunker on a beach. But this time the tide, after one day, washes away the photo portrait. So this is a sign these pasted-on photos, though they look monumental, may wash away in strong weather, like so many interesting pasted-on graffiti on the walls of Paris - for JR's methodology is not unique, though his works are accomplished and impressive. Varda chose well, or they chose each other well, for her fame enhances his through this film.

    This is a photographic tour, so it is fitting that the duo makes a visit to a small cemetery at Montjustin to pay homage to the greatest of French photographers, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and his second wife, Martine Franck. The finale, a surprise to JR (supposedly, anyway: some of their conversations may be staged), is a train trip to Switzerland to see Jean-Luc Godard. He gives them the cold shoulder, leaving a note but not answering the door. Agnès, who was close to him once, and saw him five years before, is angry but still says she is fond of him and recognizes his eminence as a cinematic innovator. This also becomes a ritual, because they leave a bag of pastries on the door and write a message. They pay another homage to Godard, recalling the race-through-the-Louvre scene of his Bande à part by racing through with JR pushing Agnès in a wheelchair. How it all ends I don't remember: it just ends. So it is with road trips, one thing after another, and then the end. But JR and Varda are still around and came to the NYFF to talk about their work, as they have at other festivals.

    Visages, villages/Faces, Places, 89 mins., debuted at Cannes May 2017 Out of Competition and had French theatrical release 28 June to rave reviews (AlloCiné press rating 4.2); in at least 17 other international festivals including Telluride, Toronto, and Vancouver and the New York Film Festival. Theatrical release in New York 6 Oct. 2017. Screened for this review at Quad Cinema 7 Oct.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-08-2017 at 05:18 AM.

  10. #10
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    THE FLORIDA PROJECT (Sean Baker 2017)




    A harsh way to say it is that Baker humanizes sleaze, but this is what artists have been doing since the nineteenth century, inviting the educated classes to enter as fascinated tourists into the lives of classless, powerless, marginal people. Baker made a name by creating a gemlike first film, Tangerine, out of minimal materials in every sense, using an iPhone5 in 2015 with an anamorphic lens attachment and heightening the color (the images still glow in my memory). This time he has in every way gone bigger, shifting to 35mm film and from the world of a transgender prostitute and the fringes of Hollywood to, well, a prostitute and a big purple motel on the edge of Orlando, Florida's Disney World.

    But a lot of the time - and this is its key feature - the extraordinary, marginal beings Baker focuses on in The Florida Project are six-year-olds. They are especially Moonee (Brooklynn Kimberly Prince) and her two friends, Scooty (Christopher Rivera), who lives just one floor down, and Jancey (Valeria Cotto), a new girl from a nearby inn called Futureland. The three-storey purple palace of last resort is called the Magic Castle. Its kindly but exasperated manager, who paid $20,000 to have the purple coating applied, is Bobby (Willem Dafoe). (Purple they call it, but as Anthony Lane points out, it's really mauve.)

    For many at the Magic Castle this is a place of last resort. Bobby is always yelling "you're outta here" to Moonee's mom, Halley (Bria Vinaite), who is a childish, irresponsible, down-on-her-luck 22-year-old unemployed stripper with big tattoos on her breasts and piercings. She sells perfume illegally with Moonee in tow at nice nearby hotels but, though it's left vague, she's turning to prostitution to make the $38 a day rent at the motel. She also gets free food from behind the Waffle House where Scooty's mom (Mela Murder) works as a waitress. She's understandably hostile to Halley and her son's association with Moonee.

    The three kids run wild, while Moonee is allowed with the other two, scamming tourists to get ice cream they haven't the money to pay for, spilling it in the lobby, entering into the rooms that are forbidden and once shutting down the power throughout the motel. They also explore an abandoned building, commenting on how they would redecorate the rooms, and then set fire to it. Moonie often goes back to a stately pleasure dome called Orange World, a gift shop topped off by the head of a giant wizard, and a cone-shaped Twistee Treat. In a world where a kid is lucky not to have fully grasped what the adults are doing (but Moonee is catching on fast), there is much to stimulate the fantasy of a child, despite the tawdriness hovering around the edges. And Moonee acts like a queen, showing off the place to her two pals: she knows her way around. It's summer. No school. Or did she ever go to school? Moonee reigns, anyway.

    The Florida Project has a series of crises and incidents rather than a plot. It oscillates between Bobby, Halley, and Moonee, but it enters more into the kids' world than into the adults'. But while the word "adult" is used, when Moonee tells her pals "I can always tell when an adult is going to cry," there are no adults, though Bobby is, maybe, a kindly mother hen. With his images and his entry into foul language of the underclass so far it turns into some kind of rough poetry - but it can still make you wince. Sean Baker is a maker of magic - but not one who beautifies the ugly. The ugliness is all there. But toward the end when the three kids run off to a field of grazing cattle and stare at it, magic and poetry happen.

    In the defiance of Moonee and her mother there's a sense of hope but also anger at their situation. Both are young enough not to have given up. In the dramatic final sequence that in a sense pulls all the scattered narrative together, that's even more clear. What Baker is selling us is sympathy and hope, in a region where our first reaction would be to see none. In other words, he is a humanist. Perhaps also a dreamer and fantasist.

    What he's also doing is something like the Italian neorealists - but not entirely. They used dubbing: the non-actors who starred didn't have to understand what they were saying. This time it's likely that Bria Vinaite, whose tattoos and piercings are real, may be close in sensibility if not experience to the character and situations she plays in The Florida Project. But she is also acting, and so is the feisty Brooklynn Kimberly Prince. Baker is practicing a particularly artful kind of wrangling with his inexperienced actors and making knowledgeable use of his locations. This has an energy and a shape: more will linger than the color and this gift for marginalia will be known.

    The Florida Project, 115 mins., debuted at Cannes May 2017 in Directors Fortnight, listed in 18 international festivals on IMDb, including New York. In theaters starting 6 Oct. 2017. Screened at Angelika Film Center 7 Oct. An A24 release. (Metacritic rating 94%.)
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-08-2017 at 05:12 AM.

  11. #11
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    LOVER FOR A DAY/L'AMANT D'UN JOUR (Philipppe Garrel 2017)



    Daddy issues

    Philippe Garrel's new film, Lover for a Day/L'amant d'un jour, looks like a lot of his other work. It's filmed in stark but elegant 'scope black and white and focused on a middle-aged man and two young women. His numerous autobiographical films are much like this. And yet, like the other two in the trilogy this concludes, Jealousy (NYFF 2013) and In the Shadow of Women (NYFF 2015), this seeks to go in a new direction. Oddly enough, it's in a sense filmmaking by committee, with four screenwriting credits, notably two female. The screenwriters were Garrel; his wife the young writer-director Caroline Deruas (L'Indomptée); Maurice Pialat's former partner Arlette Langmann (À nous amours); and Luis Buñuel's prolific writing collaborator Jean-Claude Carrière - a distinguished crew indeed.

    Garrel has said the woman's point of view was sought at every point for this film. He remains very much in charge stylistically, but the girls do take center stage. Far from Garrel's dreamy, epic evocation of 1967-68 Regular Lovers (NYFF 2005), this is certainly a relatively slight piece of work, yet the collective writing may conceal layers of complexity. But on the other hand Boyd van Hoeij, in Hollywood Reporter in one of the most perceptive reviews, points out it's the film's "problems with structure" that "keep it from greatness." And that's because it's not clear whose point of view it is.

    The movie starts off with a bang, pun intended, a quick connection between a man and a woman in a hallway that concludes in a restroom - with a loud female orgasm. Such realistic lovemaking, and emphasis on the woman's pleasure, is unusual for this director, however sensual his films. Next we see a dark young woman, Jeanne (Garrel's daughter, Esther Garrel, better here than previously, though trying too hard) turn up at the small apartment of her philosophy prof dad, Gilles (Éric Caravaca,) exploding in a hysterical, unstoppable, body-shaking rush of tears. Feeling rejected by her boyfriend, Matéo (Paul Toucang), the first great love of her life, Jeanne has abruptly left him with nowhere else to go. But Jeanne finds out there's somebody else living chez papa, Ariane (Louise Chevillotte, a fresh face), one of her father's students, who's been his live-in lover for three months and is Jeanne's same age, 23.

    Jeanne says this is okay. There's not much she could do about it anyway. In fact Ariane and Jeanne bond - sort of, Ariane providing Jeanne first with comfort, later with advice to try lightening up and having a quick affair or two.

    Actually, there's something Electra complex-ish going on here, ultimately. The "lover for a day" is Ariane's, a pretty young man called Stéphane (Félix Kysyl), who she has quick stand-up sex with, and Jeanne engineers this relationship by introducing Ariane to him. Gilles immediately finds out about it and is horrified. He tells Ariane she has now turned out not to be the kind of person he had had in mind, though he acknowledges that he used to be like her, and had earlier said the relationship could be open-ended. He calls her now "a female Don Juan." Maybe he should have chosen somebody older? Gilles tells Ariane she has to move out, and Jeanne has the place, and her father, to herself.

    Along the way, Garrel finds time in this very brief movie for several group scenes. There's one of dancing, which more briefly achieves some of the magic of the longer, signature sequence of Regular Lovers, along with a discussion by students and older men of the French-Algerian war. Both these show the atemporal quality of Garrel's movies. This one has contemporary notes, but a lot of it could be from the Sixties, the Seventies (the latter in a sense Garrel's heyday) or some other era. A timelessness is contributed by Renato Berta's cinematography. The images of kitchen, bedroom, and sidewalk are familiar ones from previous Garrel films. The notable use of an iPhone, and its context, temselves seem anachronistic.

    The movie can be taken various ways, too. Most of the audience was respectful at the big New York Festival screening. Yet there was also constant tittering, not explainable by a the film's moments of intentional self-mockery. There is a certain elegance in Garrel's faithfulness to his resolutely small, personal, obsessive, almost zen focus on love triangles. Still they risk seeming indistinguishable and dispensable. And yet, despite missteps - a suicide attempt, a wrong turn toward porn photos, minor male actors who lack authority - Lover for a Day winds up charming the viewer, as its male anti-heroes do their young women.

    Garrel rehearsed the film one day a week for a year, he explained, making the final actual, low-budget shoot fast and smooth. This is a method of more rigor that may also have conveyed more dryness. Was there room left for spontaneity? Sometimes hard not to think, while watching Lover for a Day, of Éric Rohmer's similarly themed yet so very different films, so bright and full of charm and light, technicolor being as essential to them as black and white seems to be to Garrel. Once Garrel had hardly any dialogue, but that distinction is no longer present. Not only do Jeanne and Ariane do plenty of chatting, but voiceovers kept explaining things. However, here the emphasis is on manipulation, though foolish choices, a Rohmer favorite, also feature. You can't claim either director's world is more real, but Garrel's feels harsher.

    And yet this time not so much, because there is a happy ending, which happens almost by magic, through a chance meeting on the street.

    Lover for a Day/L'amant d'un jour, 76 mins., debuted at Cannes May 2017's Directors Fortnight, where it won the SACD Prize ex aequo with Claire Denis for Let the Sun Shine In. It entered French theaters 31 May (AlloCiné press rating 3.5), also playing in at least eight festivals. Screened for this review at Alice Tully Hall 10 Oct. 2017 as part of the New York Film Festival. Acquired by MUBI for US release coming 19 Jan. 2018. Metascore 76%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-11-2017 at 10:31 PM.

  12. #12
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    THE RIDER (Chloé Zhao 2017)



    A young cowboy

    The Rider, a sad and beautiful little film using real people and dramatizing their lives, shows us the vanishing life of cowboys, especially the bronco buster, rodeo rider kind. The focus is Brady Blackburn (Brady Jandreau), a young cowboy who's had a severe head injury in a rodeo and has to come to terms with how it alters his life. He doesn't want it to, and we see why. Young Chinese-American filmmaker and NYU Film School grad Chloe Zhao and cinematographer Joshua James Richards show as few films can the beauty of the western lands of America, the clear skies, the glowing horizons, the grace of horses, their spirit, and the gentle, patient bond between them and the men who train and ride them.

    It's painful and also deeply touching to watch Brady try to do what it's now dangerous for him to do. He was in a coma; he has a metal plate in his head. He has had seizures. There is a syndrome that makes his hands clutch up tight unable to open. He was a champion rodeo rider. If he goes out and does that again, it could be fatal. Even breaking horses is probably too violent, too physical. Yet he tries the latter. See how Zhao shoots Brady taming and eventually mounting a horse that's never been ridden before. This sequence says more about the bond between men and horses than any Western and captures a magical patience and harmony.

    The Rider risks becoming becalmed as Brady sits with his differently enabled sister Lily and becomes almost too much to bear when he's playing with severely handicapped young rodeo rider Lane Scott at a rehabilitation center, paralyzed and rendered speechless. In a sense this film isn't exactly going anywhere. It swings back and forth; it's about a situation; about a process, not an event. There are no narrative subtleties or clever twists. The best moments, and they make it all worthwhile, are when Brady hangs out with best buddies Cat, Terry, Tanner and James, or with his father, Wayne Blackburn (Tim Jandreau), who drinks and plays the slots too much and neglects payments on their trailer and chides Brady for his stubbornness. This is where Zhao makes best use of the extraordinary access she has gained with these special people. They live in a world apart, not specifically mentioned, but of the Lakota Sioux in South Dakota's Pine Ridge Indian Reservation (and Brady Lower Brule Sioux heritage) - hence the quiet, the wild, isolated beauty of the land.

    Maybe, as some might argue, the details of this world could be better delineated in a straight documentary. But not the emotion. And as Brady Jandreau said in a Q&A, the old Westerns showed cowboys who had no emotions at all. These guys have a lot of emotion, especially Brady. The Rider isn't so much about his way with horses, the adrenalin rush and fulfilment or rodeo riding, but about the emotions he's dealing with, which, under the stoicism and style - and these young cowboys sure are stylish - are painful and intense. Style, and a gentle disposition, are almost all Brady has left without access to the eight minutes of rodeo fame any more. He has virtually no education and no other skill set. But as Guy Lodge notes in his Cannes Variety review, Brady has what it takes to play himself and make it elegantly, touchingly watchable because he's equal to the film's emotional demands and is a "natural, laconic brooder, with the steady stance and gaze of a scragglier Heath Ledger." There's emotion, but the whole game is to steer clear of sentimentality.

    Bravado and risk - the bronco-training, a hard wrestle with a pal, promises to the disabled Lane - alternate with hard knocks. Brady has to work in a local supermarket doing this and that, a humiliating scene for a cowboy. His favorite horse must be sold. Brady keeps telling everybody his time off from rodeos is only temporary till he Heals, but the film trajectory is of his gradual unspoken admission that the macho toughing-it-out, the "Say I won’t, and I will" tattoo on Lane Scott's back, must be relinquished. But this is a surrender that's never signed, except to acknowledge, in a final scene, that love and family outrank ego.

    The Rider, 104 mins., debuted at Cannes Directors Fortnight, winning the Art Cinema Award; ten other international festivals including Telluride, Toronto, London and New York, screened at the latter 12 Oct. 2017 at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, for this review, followed by a Q&A with Chloe Zhao, Brady Jandreau and Tim Jandreau moderated by Kent Jones, Director of the Festival. The film will be distributed by Sony Pictures Classics in 2018. Metascore 84%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-13-2017 at 09:23 AM.

  13. #13
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    ISMAEL'S GHOSTS (Arnaud Desplechin 2017)



    Like Daedalus, Desplechin shoots high and crashes

    This new film by Desplechin has some similar elements, going back and forth in time, exotic locations, Russians, with his last one, My Golden Days. But while that one was charming and came together, this one is annoying and makes no sense. It seems the English-language critics agree with me, because the Metascore is a miserable 58%. The French public also seems to have hated it (AlloCiné 2.2, terrible), but the French critics, on the other hand, were pleased (4.0). There is a great deal of sound and fury here - and shouting by the lead actor, Mathieu Amalric, who's at his shrill, excessive worst (and other cast members don't look their best either). But all the complexity seems more imaginary than real.

    Nothing comes together, and nothing resonates either emotionally or aesthetically. This is a curiously drab looking film, a jumble of scenes and incidents, full of sound and fury, signifying not as much as they seem to want us to think. Those who admire it all are seduced by the air of complexity and stick with it. The rest of us go away disappointed. At his best, which is a lot of the time, this original and passionate director produces films that are rich and lovely and significant, like Kings and Queen, A Christmas Tale or My Golden Days. But he's capable of duds, as is shown by Jimmy P, and this is one of them. No doubt a necessary stepping stone, as Robert Motherwell said about his unsuccessful artwork, to the films that sing and charm us.

    The movie actually doesn't begin the way the trailer makes you think, and I admit I saw the trailer several times a while ago: in it, the protagonist, Ismaël, played by Matthieu Amalric (Desplechin's longtime alter ego), a filmmaker (though we don't see him making any films, and only rarely writing) is living with a new woman, Sylvia, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, when suddenly on the beach there appears to her a woman, Carlotta Bloom, played by Marion Cotillard, who declares herself to be the wife who disappeared 22 years ago, a shock that disturbs and infuriates them. She has been alive, and didn't tell them. Well, that's a somewhat contrived subject, perhaps worthy of someone like Hitchcock. But actually Desplechin has a whole lot else going on and it's not clear what part this shocker plays or where the center lies. The trailer is more conventional, and Hitchcockian, and it provides a structure that you could make an interesting film about - that revelation of the reappearing wife missing for 22 years. Claude Chabrol might have made a murder mystery out of it.

    The film actually begins somewhere else, with scenes from a movie about a character called Ivan Daedalus (Desplechin seems to have been reading James Joyce - but he's also referring back obliquely to his first film), played by Louis Garrel, based on Ismaël's supposedly ne-er-do-well brother, a minor diplomat, whom he thinks was a spy. And these scenes of Daedalus recur. But what the point of them is, isn't so clear. Nor is the crisis of Carlotta-Sylvia resolved in a satisfying way. Though definite things happen, it's blurred by some shifts back several years that seem confusing.

    The action here gets lost in useless drama, Ismaël looking like a bum and having fits of hysteria, everybody slurping from glasses of wine or whisky. The biggest disappointment is that things aren't resolved, either in Ismaël's artistic life or his personal one. But the characters also just don't engage us the way they do in My Golden Days or A Christmas Tale. Much use is made of swirling music, which reminds one of Gabriele Mucino's films, where the main characters are all having an adolescent, or thirty-something, or mid-life crisis, all at once. Mucino's films may be conventional, but they make sense and their issues are resolved. The swirling leads somewhere.

    Carlota explains what she was doing in her years in the void, but her revelations are a huge letdown. There's still no motivation, and not much detail. She's not really interesting. But then, of course, perhaps she's Ismaël's fantasy, his "ghost" (fantôme in French). Yet she can't be, because Sylvia is the one who sees her first.

    It's not satisfying to watch a film where the plot is a mystery, or the key elements are dropped for other ones along the way for no clear reason. Desplechin is original and gives his imagination free reign, but that allows for self-indulgence, which this time was fatal.

    At first I was intrigued. But as time went on, my attention was not rewarded. The Guardian's film critic, Peter Bradshaw, has a knack for putting things in sharp, clear terms, and his conclusion about Ismaël's Ghosts at Cannes stands up today. He wrote: "This is an unfinished doodle of a film, a madly self-indulgent jeu d’esprit without substance: a sketch, or jumble of sketches, a ragbag of half-cooked ideas for other movie projects, I suspect, that the director has attempted to salvage and jam together." The version reviewed here was presented five months later as the 20 minutes longer "director's cut." It would require more than the addition of additional footage to bring Ismaël's Dreams into a form that made sense and had true artistic merit.

    Ismaël's Ghosts/Les fantômes d'Ismaël,[/I] 134 mins., debuted at Cannes in Competition 17 May 2017 and simultaneously in French cinemas; ten or so other international festivals, including the New York Film Festival, where it was screened for this review (as the "director's cut") at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, 14 Oct. 2017.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-15-2017 at 07:19 PM.

  14. #14
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    FÉLICITÉ (Alain Gomis 2017)



    Rough music

    Events take place in Kinshasha, the big city and capital of the Congo, one of the poorest countries in Africa. and focus on the hard-knock existence of the title character, a singer in a bar (Véro Tshanda Beya Mputu). Her fourteen-year-old son gets in a motorcycle accident and is badly hurt (and he gets worse). When she asks for money from her husband for her son's operation, he chases her out; her father threatens to kill her, but gives her the money. The actress has a raw, down-to-earth intensity that fits the character's hardscrabble existence. As it must.

    The severe injury of Félicité's son is a bad blow for her, and the actress said that the character was half alive and half dead. But the vigor of the music is invigorating. Moreover Kinshasha is a rare African town that has a symphony orchestra and when we see and hear it playing Fratres” by Arvo Pärt, it raises us to a higher livel. The filmmaker, Alain Gomis, a Senegalese born in Paris, whose his previous features were Aujourd'hui (2012) and L'afrance (2001), folds the music in sparingly but effectively with the scenes, weaving a sense of the vernacular cheek by jowel with the sublime. Gomis has a real feel for cinema. Somehow wordlessly, more with Beya's worldly wise, knowing, ironic and sensuous face than anything else, conveys a sense that under the right conditions hardships and compromises can absorbed and made to play in one's favor, if one has what it takes. And you never doubt that she's got it. However, one must confirm as various critics, such as Jordan Melzer of Hollywood Reporter, have, that "The storytelling is a bit wobbly, and, especially in the latter scenes, drawn-out almost to the point of exhaustion," but also as he says, that this is compensated for by "moments of poetry" scattered through the film, particularly in the form of music.
    Félicité, 129 mins., debuted at the Berlinale winning the Silver Bear and nominated for the Golden Bear. other awards including Chicago, Istanbul, Jerusalem, Sydney and Mill Valley. Included in the Main Slate of the New York Film FEstival. Reduced 29 Mar. 2017 in France, very well reviewed (AlloCiné press rating 4.2). Acquired by Strand Releasing, it comes to The Quad Cinema on Friday Oct. 27, 2017. Metacritic rating 75%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-15-2024 at 03:48 PM.

  15. #15
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    BPM/120 BATTEMENTS PAR MINUTED (Robin Campillo 2017)



    Love and AIDS activism in gay Paris

    Love and AIDS activism in gay Paris

    In his film, Robin Campillo depicts the life of French ACTU-UP in the early Nineties, fighting against government and Big Pharma indifference to gay AIDS suffering in France as the original New York ACT-UP had done to American straight mainstream non-cooparation starting in 1987. Campillo's stirring film is both universal and personal. It evokes many communities' struggles against an indifferent world, or youth against hostile elders. It's also a personal, individual homage to a time when Campillo himself was an activist, and it's a moving portrait of love heightened by closeness to tragedy.

    As I watched BPM, I often thought of David France's documentary about ACT-UP in New York How to Survive a Plague ( ND/NF). I also remembered living in San Francisco in the early Eighties, when I'd open the two gay weekly newspapers every Monday and page through one photo after another of young men cut down in their prime by the terrible new disease. Campillo vividly evokes the heightened atmosphere of those times. Bdyond anything that happens here, I value the atmosphere it creates and the times and emotions it leaves one to muse upon.

    As I wrote of France's film, "People were dying left and right, life was tragic, but people had a palpable sense of the need to go for broke, and the leaders were heroes who were the best they could be." BPM effectively captures this feeling with a vivid, well-chosen cast and a fluid, emotionally intense movement, slipping from one sequence into another to show how the same spirit inspired them all. At the center are Sean Dalmazo (Buenos Aires-born Nahuel Pérez Biscayart, The Aura]

    , Glue) and Nathan (Arnaud Valois), two activists, from the original core of French ACT-UP who become lovers. The memorial for one of them at the end, bringing together all the original activists, serves as a ritual representing the innumerable losses.

    BPM isn't about the horror of AIDS and doesn't emphasize gruesome symptoms but it does have a bit of realistic anal sex. However, it's primarily about activism. Its core is debate, conducted by rules to keep unnecessary talk minimal. The group applauds by finger-snapping to interrupt talk less: this finger-snapping approbation gives the gatherings their unique flavor - and also Campillo's habit of shifting seamlessly to another scene and another debate to move things forward. The film is staunchly improvisational, its speeches passionate and off-the-cuff, and the whole inspired by a team spirit that fits the action. Debate is the essence, but it's stripped down so as to find the most effective strategies.

    Alternating with debate, and eventually love story, are the shock tactics, notably the throwing of fake blood at establishment objects. These passages make explosions of energy releasing what's pent up in the tedious arguments and laborious bureaucratic dealings, and the alternation gives the film a vigorous rhythm. But while it has energy and movement, BPM is deliberately "untidy," flaunting rough edges, though still full of articulate writing, with Campillo and Laurent Cantet collaborating here as they did for Cantet's The Class.

    The title, the average heart rate, may evoke Larry Kramer's classic autobiographical play and New York HIV-AIDS account[i]The Normal Heart[/I, but Campillo's film is more understated than American accounts, and in particular isn't out to provide indoctrination or instruction, to feed us dates and names and lines of demarcation. This I found refreshing and also, moving. It allows us to enter more freely into the mood.

    BPM/120 battements par minute, 140 mins., debuted at Cannes 20 May 2017, winning the Grand Prix, Queer Prize and FIPRESCI Prize, also showing in two dozen other international festivals, including the Main Slate of the New York Film Festival.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-15-2024 at 03:46 PM.

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