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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 06:32 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; 11-15-2017 at 11:21 PM.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    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 11:24 AM.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    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 08:01 AM.


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