2001 - 39th Festival

The New York Film Festival has just ended, and, once again, it was a wonderfully enjoyable event. (I really do urge all of you in the NYC area to join the Lincoln Center Film Society and attend the NYFF next Fall. In the meantime, the Film Society will be honoring Francis Ford Coppola at its Gala on 7 May 2002. You can check out the web site at There was the usual array of great films --US and foreign, some that will be released and some that will not; and there were the at times wonderful sessions with the directors and actors discussing their work. Here is a description of some of the highlights, and films to be on the lookout for:

THE BIG WINNERS, MY HANDS-DOWN FAVORITES (totally wonderful, well-made, enjoyable films):

ITALIAN FOR BEGINNERS. (Denmark) The most unusual thing about this "Dogme" film (cf., the two wonderful Dogme movement films, Thomas Vinterberg's "Celebration" and Harmony Korine's "Julien Donkey-Boy"), is how wonderfully warm, funny, and entertaining it is. A newly ordained, recently widowed minister takes over a parish in a Copenhagen suburb that is as dark and strange as the settings of many Dogme films-and, indeed, the incessant presence of death and loss in the lives of the main characters, seems completely in keeping with the feel of other films from this movement. Nevertheless, in a wonderfully uplifting way, something quite different occurs, growing out of what seems to be the main social activity in the town-the Italian language class offered in the adult education program. This is a superb, entertaining, and moving film. Don't miss it. (It has been picked up for distribution by Miramax, and should be out eventually. It certainly will not have a wide release, however.)

THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS. (USA) This new film by Wes Anderson ("Bottle Rocket" and "Rushmore") had its premier at the NYFF, and it was the festival's hottest ticket. If you are one of those people who didn't get "Rushmore," you may not like this film either (although its star-studded cast-Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Danny Glover, Ben Stiller, and Gwyneth Paltrow, in addition to Wes Anderson regulars Bill Murray, and Luke and Owen Wilson [the latter being the co-author with Anderson]-give such terrific performances that you may like it anyway. If, like us, you LOVED "Rushmore," you are going to go wild over this madcap romp through Wes Anderson's incredible imagination. If you haven't seen "Rushmore," for God's sake, go out and rent it! (It is easier than explaining what Wes Anderson is about. The FF describes it as, "[a mingling of] romance, tragedy, social observation, and unforgettable characters in this dense but buoyant film about a family of eccentric geniuses living in a parallel New York (where Helvetia is the only typeface and all cabs are Gypsies)." ) This film will be released by Touchstone Pictures, and should be in a theater near you in December.

And a side note about Question and Answer sessions at the NYFF: While it is often a treat to hear the directors discuss their work, the experience is all too frequently marred by people asking stupid and narcissistic questions. At the Q&A following "The Royal Tenenbaums," someone asked Anderson. "In the scene about the accident…I was just wondering: where did the fire truck come from?" Bill Murray jumped in to ask the questioner, "Are you asking where fire engines come from? Isn't that something you should talk to your parents about?" He then got up and walked out [for a few minutes]. I want Murray to be present at all future NYFF Q&As!

MULHOLLAND DRIVE. (USA) This new film from David Lynch ("Blue Velvet") was the Centerpiece of this year's NYFF, and it was a tremendous success. It is a masterfully done, unsettling thriller, thoroughly imbued with the dark, brooding sense of danger that Lynch is so famous for. But it is so much more than that: it manifests a sensibility that plays with reality and meaning in a way that very properly can be termed surrealism. It is not an easy movie, and its one potential flaw is that it is in danger of so confusing the viewer as to make it not graspable in an immediate way-there was a moment in watching the film that I reached the point of having no idea what was going on, and of who was who; but it is worth the effort, and it definitely does work, once you reflect on it enough to realize what has happened. (I shall be happy to provide the Rubens family comprehensive reading of the film to anyone requesting it; but to do so here would risk ruining the experience of seeing it as it is meant to be confronted.) I suspect that it is a film that you will want to go back and see a second time. This film has already been released on a limited basis by Universal Focus, and I am certain you can look for a general release in the very near future. (click for Rubens family exposition of the plot of this film)

FILMS DEFINITELY WORTH SEEING (while not the complete, all-around successes of the films listed above, these films are wonderful in their own right and worthy of your attention):

VA SAVOIR. ["Who Knows?"] (France) Founder of the Nouvelle Vague (New Wave) movement of French cinema, Jacques Rivette demonstrates that he is still growing and changing as one of the world's great filmmakers with this new film which opened this year's NYFF. Although slow paced and two and a half hours long, this film is riveting in a languorous way. Steeped in all of the darkness for which Rivette has been famous, this tale of the intersecting lives and romances of its neurotic characters also has all the lightness and fun of a classic French farce. It contains what must be the most unusual and wonderful duel in all of filmmaking; and the various plot elements come together at the end, as the pace quickens, and the film draws to its great conclusion. Until this film, one would have been hard pressed to think that Jacques Rivette would even undertake-no less master-the art of physical comedy. Sony Pictures Classics has already released this film, but be on the lookout for it: it will not be around long, as it will not have too broad an appeal.

WHAT TIME IS IT THERE? (Taiwan) Another director known more for his dark side, Ming-liang Tsai has created a fabulously funny and interesting film with this latest work. Tsai's regular lead actor, Kang-sheng Lee, plays a young Tapei street vendor of watches whose father has just died. After a young woman prevails upon him to sell her his own watch (she wants one with two time zones, as she is about to leave for Paris), the young man becomes obsessed with Paris. He goes to a video store to get "whatever they have about Paris," and is sold a copy of "The 400 Blow"-from which we see him repeatedly watching scenes of the 14 year old street urchin, Jean-Pierre Léaud. (The middle-aged Léaud has a hilariously wonderful small role later in Tsai's film.) Lee then starts setting every timepiece he sees to Paris time. It is a poignant, marvelously funny film. A Winstar Cinema film, I hope it gets a release in this country, as it is most worth seeing.

STORYTELLING. (USA) A two-part film from Todd Solondz ("Welcome to the Dollhouse" and "Happiness"). I missed it; but, from Nancy and Alex, I hear it is well worth seeing: "Those of you who liked some things about "Happiness" but found it too upsetting overall will probably enjoy Todd Solondz's latest film, "Storytelling," which has all the dark comedy of "Happiness" without quite so much brutal unpleasantness. Those of you who didn't like a thing about "Happiness" probably won't find much to like in "Storytelling" either." Fine Line Features.

Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN. (Mexico) We missed this one, but all the reports on it were raves: funny, sexy, satirical, and a real winner.

BARAN. (Iran) Majid Majidi, whose films are always visually beautiful and touching ("Children of Heaven" being a totally outstanding example) if at times unbearably soppy (last year's much more commercially successful and critically acclaimed, "The Color of Paradise"-which I liked much less than its predecessor), has created a magnificent and important new movie about the plight of Afghani refugees in Iran. Told in the personal terms of low-level construction workers on the outskirts of Tehran, Majidi movingly and successfully captures the human and societal issues that stand behind the interpersonal interactions of the people in the film-all played, as usual in Majidi films, by nonprofessional actors. Even aside from how topical the subject matter, this is a film that deserves your attention. It has been picked up by Miramax, so we can hope that it will be released in the US.

GOOD, BUT (definitely things to recommend these films, but with varying degrees of hesitation):

WARM WATER UNDER A RED BRIDGE. (Japan) Shohei Imamuro ("The Eel" and "Dr. Akagi") once again has created a strange, warm, whimsical film about the odd side of life. The male lead goes off to fulfill the deathbed wish of an old, homeless philosopher, and he finds a woman with a strange case of kleptomania and an even stranger form of expressing sexual pleasure. This is a completely enjoyable, mostly satisfying film-by far the best in this category. Once again, however, as in "Dr. Akagi," Imamuro does not seem to know quite how to end his film well.

I'M GOING HOME. (Portugal/France) This film by 92 year old director Manoel de Olivieri is one we really wanted to like, and which almost made it. The wonderful Michel Piccoli ("Rien Sur Robert," "La Grande Bouffe," et al.) gives a magnificent performance as an aging actor who walks off stage after a performance of Ionesco's "Exit the King" to learn that his wife, daughter, and son-in-law have been killed in an accident, leaving him in charge of the care of his young grandson. There are wonderful moments in the film-some surrounding his attempt to play the role of Buck Mulligan, in English, in a film version of "Ulysses" being directed by John Malkovich, and others in which flashes of the main character's former vitality are seen. Unfortunately, the film as a whole never quite makes it.

THE LADY AND THE DUKE. ["L'Anglaise et Le Duc"] (France) This most recent of Eric Rohmer's films was shot in front of a blue screen, with the background of 18th century France digitally added afterwards. While the performances are interesting, the political view of the French revolution from a strange, royalist perspective was rather hard to take: the female lead, the Scottish expatriate Grace Dalrymple Elliot, basically sets the tone in which the French Revolution is condemned as of form of extreme rudeness!

IN PRAISE OF LOVE. ["Eloge de l'Amour"] (Switzerland/France) Closing night's film was a new work from Jean-Luc Godard. It is, as one might expect, a beautifully filmed, visually striking work-the first part shot in black and white, the latter part in color video. Its meaning is elusive, to say the least: there are overlays of history and perspective, broken segments, multiple sound tracks, and repetitive reworkings in a style very reminiscent of Godard's earliest work. It is unclear how literally one is to take the pretentious intellectualizations, and how seriously to take the French ethnocentrism and snobbery about American society and culture-and its film industry in particular. The exploration of the role of the Resistance in France has some suggestion that Godard was not taking the positions annunciated in the film as being completely serious; or, at least, I had a glimmer of hope that this might be the case. Because if not, the point is very tedious and shallow.


FAT GIRL. ["A Ma Soeur!"] (France) I describe Catherine Breillat's ("Romance") latest piece of misguided, pretentious, quasi-pornographic drivel only so that you'll be able to avoid it (it is already screening in art houses in NYC). I am told that this strange view of the world is somewhat in vogue in certain pseudo-intellectual French circles, but it is offensive drivel in my view. DO NOT READ ON IF YOU HAVE ANY INTENTION OF SEEING IT, as, in my anger, I intend to say more about the plot than I usually think right to do in a review. The main part of the film, in which the overweight 12 year old Anaïs is forced to witness her seductive older teenage sister being cajoled and lied to by a law student who eventually succeeds in pushing her into various sex acts and ultimately the surrender of her virginity-all while Anaïs watches and cries, serves basically as a milder foreshadowing of the climax, in which the sister is bludgeoned to death and the mother strangled by a man who then proceeds to rape Anaïs-while she tenderly embraces him.


BLUE WILD ANGEL: JIMI HENDRIX LIVE AT THE ISLE OF WIGHT. (USA) Cinematographically, this is a basically uninteresting film. (By way of contrast, one can look at Jim Jarmusch's extraordinary film about Neil Young and his band, Crazy Horse, in the superb 1997 documentary, "Year of the Horse," also once a NYFF special event.) Nevertheless, it contains a continuous, uninterrupted presentation of the 80 minute performance given by Hendrix, from the moment he walked on stage until he dropped his guitar and left-and what a performance it is! Filmed just 18 days before his death, this was Hendrix at his best; and Hendrix at his best is something to behold.

RETROSPECTIVE: THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER. (USA, 1955) This newly restored version of the one film ever directed by Charles Laughton is a masterpiece, despite its dated and melodramatic approach. The real treat, however, was a series of out takes which provided the opportunity to hear Laughton giving direction to his actors as he progressively molded their performances in the direction he wanted to achieve.

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