2006 – 44th Festival

The just-concluded 2006 NYFF was surprisingly wonderful:  for whatever reason, the lineup had not sounded all that spectacular; but what we actually encountered was one wonderful film after another!  As always, the incredible joy of the NYFF is always that it provides the opportunity to view films about which you know absolutely nothing and which you can have the joy of discovering for yourself.  This year’s Festival was extraordinary in this regard.  The NYFF is unique among film festivals in that it is not a commercial or industry event:  there are no prizes except the honor of being selected to be part of the Festival; and it is not a marketplace for selling films, so there is no requirement that films screened in it have any particular commercial potential—although some of the films do find distributors after having been screened in the Festival, as did this year’s Woman on the Beach.  Consequently, there are films in the Festival that you will see nowhere else.  There are also films that have significant commercial potential, like Stephen Frears’ The Queen or Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette.

Before the 2006 NYFF began, the New York Times ran a series of articles singing the praises of the NYFF and the films in it  In one of them, Tony Scott wrote that,

the New York Film Festival might be compared to an established, somewhat exclusive boutique holding its own in a world of big box superstores, oversize shopping malls and Internet retailers.

If you want quantity — racks and shelves full of stuff to sort through in the hope of finding something that might fit your taste — wait for Tribeca, with its grab-bag programs and crowd-pleasing extras. The New York Film Festival, in contrast, prides itself on quality, refinement and selectivity. It is not so much programmed as curated. This selection is a form of criticism — it involves applying aesthetic standards and deciding that some films are better than others.

(I include here a link to that piece.)  I also thought I might mention, for those of you who may never have been to a NYFF screening, that the main features at the Festival are screened in Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall—which has to be one of the most comfortable places imaginable to see a film. (The only exceptions to this are Opening and Closing Nights, which are screened in Avery Fisher Hall, which is almost as wonderful, and far grander.)  So, not only are the films great,  the physical experience of viewing them is a treat.  Finally, an added treat of most screenings is the presence of the directors from the films, and often the actors as well, who then stay after the screening for question-and-answer sessions.

I once again strongly urge all of you in the NYC area to join the  Film Society of Lincoln Center and attend the NYFF next fall.  As some of you may know from personal experience, getting tickets for this incredibly popular NYC event can be extremely difficult—and, once one has realized how wonderful the Festival is, it can be extremely frustrating not be able to obtain tickets.  I have therefore put together a short Primer on Membership in the Film Society of Lincoln Center and Obtaining Tickets for the New York Film Festival that discusses strategies of how successfully to get tickets for the NYFF.  The short story is this:  you either take your chances on being able to get scalped tickets (often available during the NYFF from people selling them outside Alice Tully Hall) or returned tickets (at the Alice Tully Box office) at the last minute, or you improve your chances by becoming a member of the Film Society.  But N.B.:  membership only gives one a relative advantage (in that you get to put in your requests before it is opened to the general public—which means you are likely but not guaranteed to be able to get tickets to all but the most sought-after films);  the only way to guarantee you will get tickets to all of the films you want—particularly immensely popular ones—is to become a donor.  Being a member does not guarantee anything!

We saw 14 of the 28 featured presentations in this year’s NYFF, and those I have reviewed below.  (For those who are interested, the entire 2006 NYFF program and the Film Society descriptions of each film can be found at  But we also saw “Looking at Jazz” (q.v., below),one of the special events of the NYFF, and six of the marvelous films that were part of the “50 Years of Janus Films,” another special event accompanying this year’s Festival (q.v., below)  My reviews of past years of the NYFF can be found at 

[For films whose release dates have been set, the dates are given underlined and in bold after identifying information.]




Woman on the Beach

Private Fears in Public Places

Pan’s Labyrinth

49 U

Inland Empire


The Queen

Marie Antoinette

These Girls

Belle Toujours

Gardens in Autumn


 Mafioso   (Italy, Rialto Pictures, 1962, to be released in Mid-January 2007 at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas)  This movie—one of the two retrospectives of this year’s Festival—has to have been its biggest surprise.  It was fantastic!  It is the story of an obsessive, fastidious manager in an automobile factory in Milan who takes his blonde, northern Italian wife and two blonde children to meet his family in Sicily for the first time.  Directed by Alberto Lattuada, Mafioso is hard to classify:  it is outrageously funny (we all spent a large part of the movie laughing out loud), while at other times movingly tragic;  it is a hilarious look at domestic life in Sicily, while at times a deeply troubling, suspenseful adventure.  The main character is played to perfection by the great Alberto Sordi, who turns in one of the best performances ever captured on film.  This film has been completely unavailable for decades:  it is not on tape or DVD, although I suspect that this will change after its limited commercial release, and it  is quite simply a film you must see!  Do not miss it!

Volver   (Centerpiece, Spain, Sony Classics Pictures, 2006, to be released 3 November)  Pedro Almodóvar has done it again!  Volver is a fabulous film.  While it may not be quite the profoundly sublime creation that All About My Mother or Talk to Her was, with Volver  Almodóvar has created a completely successful, funny, moving, and totally entrancing work of art.  The acting is superb:  the jury at the Cannes Film Festival decided to bestow the Best Actress Award to "a family of actresses", to all six of the women in the film: Penélope Cruz, Carmen Maura, Lola Dueñas, Chus Lampreave, Yohana Cobo and Blanca Portillo.  As Almodóvar put it after winning prize for Best Screenplay at Cannes,

Volver is the story of family, a family of women. Before, I used to write on my own, but this time I was surrounded by my sisters who reminded me of all those childhood memories of La Mancha that I had forgotten. … I don't have the impression of being the director of these tremendous actresses but rather a relative of the family. Each of them wrote half the script without realizing it...

It is the story of three generations of women.  Penelope Cruz is as effective as she is beautiful in the starring role of Raimunda, who is trying to cope with the many problems and tensions in her life—including those relating to her teenage daughter, Paula (played by Yohana Cobo); Carmen Maura plays to perfection the role of her dead mother, who returns to work out some of the issues that remained unresolved in her life.  In his inimitable way, Almodóvar weaves a fabric of plot and emotional texture into which we readily immerse ourselves, despite the dark elements and weirdness that we find therein—and from which we emerge entertained, moved, and uplifted.  Viva Pedro!

Woman on the Beach   (Haebyonui yoin, S. Korea, New Yorker Films, 2006)  I have thoroughly enjoyed all of  the films written and directed by Hong Sang-soo (this is the fourth to be shown in the NYFF), last year’s Tale of Cinema having been completely wonderful and a particular favorite.  As in Tale of Cinema, Hong has created in Woman on the Beach a complex, multi-layered film, full of his characteristic twists and layers, and repetitions and reversals.  The subject is a director, Chang, who is struggling to finish the script for his film, and who invites a friend to come to an almost deserted seaside resort with him.  The friend invites his girlfriend to come along, and the threesome engenders an interaction that is subsequently re-enacted between Chang and another woman.  As with many of Hong’s films, this one offers profound—and sometimes comical—insights into the psyche of the Korean male, with all of its willfulness, anger, and self-contempt; but, in this film, he also offers a much richer exploration of the female characters as well.  It is a delight for its psychological sophistication and refined sensitivity.  The film is a totally satisfying and enjoyable film experience on every level.

Private Fears in Public Places  (Coeurs, France, IFC, 2006)  This new gem from the New Wave master, Alain Resnais, is based on a play by Alan Ayckbourn.  In it we follow the lives of the six main characters, as they converge and diverge in a movement that eventually circles back upon itself:  André Dussollier is the earnest but retiring real estate agent smitten with his religious and apparently repressed assistant (Sabine Azéma), who selflessly moonlights as a home-care attendant for the abusive, demented, bedridden  father (the off-screen voice of Claude Rich) of a quiet, widowed bartender (Pierre Arditi), who dutifully works at a stylish modern hotel bar frequented by an embittered army vet (Lambert Wilson), who, with his fiancée (Laura Morante), is using the real-estate agent to buy an apartment, and who meets and courts a shy, desperate young woman (Isabel Carré), who lives with her brother, the real-estate agent.  It is an delicate dance of loneliness and longing, repression and wild excess, connection and disconnection—all against the cold, snowy backdrop of the Parisian winter.  It is funny and sad, poignant and surprising, and it makes for an extremely rich and absorbing film experience.

Pan’s Labyrinth  (Closing Night.  Spain/Mexico, 2006, Picturehouse, to be released 29 December)  Now this was a very difficult film for me:  I have an intense dislike for violence in the movies I see, and Pan’s Labyrinth is very explicitly violent—so much so that I was tempted at moments to walk out of the movie.  On the other hand, it is a profoundly wonderful film—and the violence in it is, for the most part, justified by the point it is making, and I was very glad that I stayed.  Guillermo del Toro has written and directed an intense, powerful, and important story set in 1944 in the post Civil War world of Franco’s Spain.  In it, the wonderful 12 year old actor, Ivana Banquero, plays a young girl, Ofelia, who is traveling with her mother to live in a military outpost with the mother’s new husband, the monstrously cruel and sadistic Captain Vidal, played to horrible perfection by Sergi López.  The mother is pregnant with Captain Vidal’s child, and the film seems to be addressing the question of what sort of world this child will be born into.  Ofelia goes off into the world of fairies, fauns, and monsters, while the heroes and monsters of the real world contend with each other and with her in the external world of fascist Spain.  The themes raised by the movie are profound:  the violence of the fairytale world of childhood inner processes is juxtaposed with the violence of human cruelty in the adult world; the heroic feats of children trying to do the right thing in fantasy are juxtaposed to the heroics of individuals trying to advance the cause of humanity in political reality; and throughout, there is the question of obedience and following orders, which is contrasted with individual acts of righteousness and personal responsibility.  Did it have to be this violent?  Certainly Philippe de Broca’s marvelous The King of Hearts was an exploration of similar issues that succeeded spectacularly in exploring these questions of insane violence and cruelty without directly being so graphically violent on screen.  In its defense, this is a different movie—set, as it is, against the intense violence so common in the world of fairytales.  But, in the end, I don’t think it had to be as graphically violent as it was.  It is a cinematographic tour de force, beautifully filmed, effectively directed, and marvelously well-acted.  (In this last regard, I have to mention one other actor who turned in a fabulous performance—the beautiful and talented Maribel Verdú [Luisa, in Cuarón’s 2001 Y tu mamá también], who here plays Mercedes, who is, among other things, Captain Vidal’s housekeeper, but, more importantly, the one who is most there for Ofelia in an emotional way.)  I left the theater at the end of the movie feeling shaken and depleted; but the themes of the film just kept becoming more meaningful and profound for me as the time has past since watching it.  It is an important film.

49 Up  (UK, 2006, First Run Features, released 6 October)  I had never seen any of Michael Apted’s “UP” series,  and from its description, I probably would not have bothered to see this seventh installment, either.  But Kent Jones told me I had to see it—and I am ecstatic that I followed his directive:  it was terrific!  For those of you who are, as I was, unfamiliar with the project, allow me to explain:  beginning with a documentary done in the 60s for British television that interviewed several seven year old children from different classes of British society, Apted subsequently decided to follow up by interviewing these same individuals throughout their lives, at seven year intervals.  There is a 14 Up, 21 UP, 28 UP, etc.  What is so surprisingly wonderful, however, is the way these people come alive, in all the richness of their individuality.  49 UP presents a retrospective overview of where each person’s life has been over the previous six installments (so it is in no way necessary to have seen the earlier ones in order to appreciate the current one), and interweaves these retrospectives with interviews of where each one is now at age 49.  The film is funny, insightful, engaging, moving, full of vitality, and a delight to watch.

Inland Empire  (France/USA, 2006)  David Lynch’s latest creation is a marvelous layering of multiple realities and multiple story lines, which at times seem inter-related or understandably embedded within each other, but which in general defy any such logic.  There is a lonely, tearful woman watching television—and some of the other story lines and realities sometimes seem to be part of what she is watching, although at times clearly are not;  there are the multiply played versions of the story of an actress—brilliantly portrayed by Laura Dern—who is being cast for the lead in a movie—and at times it is very specifically unclear as to what is within the world of the movie, what is part of the making of it, and what belongs to the off-screen lives of the actors;  there is a dark, snowy world in Poland in which multiple story lines are also taking place—and some of the characters seem to interpenetrate the world of Hollywood and the realities within the film relating to it;  and there is a sort of sitcom world of a rabbit-headed family—stiffly and solemnly acting on a stage set, replete with an eerily out of place, canned laugh track;  and, ultimately, there are subtle and not-so-subtle interpenetrations of these worlds—intrusions from one into another, recursive replayings of  scenes and themes from the one in another, or just reworkings of scenes within the same world using different characters.  Inland Empire has an intensity and complexity that is completely riveting throughout the entirety of its almost three hour length.  In addition to the unbelievable one by Laura Dern, there are wonderful performances turned in by Jeremy Irons, Justin Theroux, and Harry Dean Stanton.  I could not help feeling, however, that it would be a more satisfying experience—for me, at least—were one able to find a defining reality or idea within this complex array;  but it is completely clear that Lynch felt otherwise, and that he quite purposely chose not to work with any such restraint or goal.

Offside  (Iran, Sony Classics Pictures, 2006, to be released 2 March ‘07)   One of the joys of attending the NYFF over the years is getting to know the work of filmmakers like Jafar Panahi (Crimson Gold, ’03; The Circle, 2000; The White Balloon, ’95).  His current entry in the Festival, Offside, is a delightful look at some girls who sneak in to a soccer stadium in Teheran to see a game and cheer Iran’s team on to qualify for the World Cup.  They are promptly arrested, since women are banned from such “profane” male activities.  (The reason given by the soldiers that are holding them in a detention are at the stadium is that if things go badly for the team, they may be forced to hear cursing and other bad language from the male fans.)  The interactions between these young women and the young soldiers assigned to guard them are as amusing as they are revealing—and the whole of it is very illustrative of the tensions that exist in Iranian society between the modernity and western affinities of much of the population on the one hand and, on the other hand, the repressive and fundamentalist beliefs of other segments of the country.  The very existence of a film industry in Iran that can produce such films (and Panahi is not the only representative of such filmmakers whose works repeatedly appear in the NYFF) ought to serve as an important reminder that this is a country that has an extremely significant, educated, and successful middle class, which makes Iran potentially the best candidate in the region for a Western-style democracy—a reality and an opportunity that have been consistently overlooked and trampled on by our consistently wrong-headed foreign policy toward Iran.  It is very disheartening to realize that our actions actually end up allowing the government of Iran to be more repressive and fundamentalist than otherwise would be possible, given the internal balance of forces between the country’s modern middle class and its proponents of radical political Islam.   Offside is a small film, but an excellent and thoroughly enjoyable one.

The Queen  (Opening Night.  USA, Warner Independent Pictures, 2006, released in NYC and LA on 13 October, with an increasingly broad general release to follow)  Before the screening, I was grousing to the Film Society’s Nancy Kelly about how I was totally uninterested in the characters and subject matter of this film—how I could not care less about Queen Elizabeth, did not like Tony Blair, and, by the way, “Is Princess Diana still dead?”  She looked me in the eye and said, “Get over it!”  And I did.  (I always listen to Nancy Kelly!)  I ended up enjoying this incredibly well made and well acted film by Stephen Frears, even though I could not care less about its subject matter.  It is an in-depth look at the week following the death of Diana, during which the new prime minister attempts to cajole the Queen into responding reasonably to Diana’s death, when that is obviously the last thing she wishes to do.  The royal family is resoundingly lampooned—especially Prince Phillip, who comes off like a contestant in Monty Python’s “Upper Class Twit of the Year Competition.”  It is not a great film by any stretch of the imagination, but Helen Mirren’s portrayal of Elizabeth alone more than suffices to make the film worth seeing.  And it was a good choice for an Opening Night film, as it was engaging, entertaining, and a crowd-pleaser.

Marie Antoinette  (USA, Columbia Pictures, 2006, to be released 20 October)  Sofia Coppola may be as effective as any filmmaker in creating a beautiful aesthetic experience.  The magnificence and depth of the moods she visually creates are truly masterful.  In Lost in Translation, she made a completely successful film, because the mood she created was satisfyingly to the point of the story of the film—assisted, of course, by the fact that she was able to direct an incredible performance from Bill Murray.  In Marie Antoinette, she has also produced a rich tapestry of images and moods—but unfortunately none that is able to support the entirety of the film.  The juxtaposing of the grandeur of 18th century costumes and the Court of Versailles with 80s rock and roll music was an interesting, bold,  and at times successful decision—particularly in the opening sequence; but it ultimately wears thin, as do many of the decisions behind the film.  Kirsten Dunst is appealing and beautiful, and she manages successfully to evoke an image of the beautiful young queen in her opulent world; but her ability to deal with the few moments of more serious dialogue later in the film leave us painfully aware of her acting limitations.  Jason Schwartzman (so wonderful in Rushmore), is very successful in portraying the empty, vacuous young Louis;  but, as in repeatedly watching the scenes of the royal couple in their totally lifeless breakfast ritual, his emptiness is not enough to satisfy the needs of the story.  I mostly enjoyed the first hour of Marie Antoinette; but I had trouble with the second hour.  It is possible that this was simply because the aesthetics could not sustain me for that long;  but I really suspect that it was because those aesthetics were not up to the task of the rest of the story.  It was almost as though the intrusion of history overwhelmed the director’s ability to make the film:  it seemed like she did not know what to do with it—and what she did do was woefully inadequate to the task.  As a slice of life, impressionistic exploration of the young queen’s experience, played off against the anachronistic modernity of music, dialogue, and world view that allude to modern-day parallels, the film was resoundingly successful (whether one agrees with Coppola’s conception of it or not);  but the second half of the film unavoidably began to deal with other issues relating to this figure as she actually existed in the real world, and that simply was not what the film was about or what it was successful in treating.  Would that it had confined itself to the former…

These Girls  (El-Banate dol, Egypt, 2006)  Egyptian director Tahani Rached filmed this documentary about a band of teenage girls living on the streets in Cairo.  The girls are fleeing poverty and abusive homes, but the troubles they encounter living on the street—rape, drug addiction, prostitution, and pregnancy, in addition to the poverty and abuse—seem at least as daunting.  It is an interesting look into this world.  At its best, it presents a sympathetic view of the bravado and posturing as well as of the underlying fears and pain of these sad young women.  I was left wondering, however, how much the filmmaker herself realized the shallowness and fragility of their toughness and apparent self-confidence.  In fact, in listening to her speak at the Q&A afterwards, it became disappointingly clear that she had completely bought into their posturing and was dangerously unrealistic in her level of romanticizing of their lives.  The film is far better if one can view it as a more sophisticated look at the unfortunate young women—and the fact that the filmmaker actually lacks this sophistication ultimately diminishes its value.  Fortunately, the power and complexity of the underlying realities is there anyway for the sophisticated viewer.

Belle Toujours  (France, New Yorker Films, 2006)   In  Belle Toujours, the 98 year old Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira revisits Buñuel’s 1967 classic, Belle du Jour.  Decades after the time of the Buñuel film, Séverine is spotted in Paris by Henri Husson, her now dead husband’s close friend, who had been the witness to the sexual goings on of the original film.  Still entranced by her, he pursues her across the city.  In a cat and mouse ballet, the two see and are seen by each other, as we the audience are treated to a lingering, elegant montage of scenes of Paris at various times of day.  The two finally meet to discuss what each wants.  This very slow-paced but equally brief film (it running time is only 70 minutes) is full of scenes from and references to the Buñuel original; and the incomparable M. Husson (among his many memorable roles have been that of  Michel in La Grande Bouffe, and Lord Ariel Chatwick-West in Rien sur Robert) is played by Michel Piccoli, who created the role in the original.  Séverine, on the other hand, is played by Bulle Ogier in this film instead of by Catherine Denueve—which diminishes considerably the wonderful nostalgic value of this revisiting of the original.  It is a lovely tone piece, but, unfortunately, not much more.

Gardens in Autumn  (Jardins en automne, France, 2006)  The Georgian (Russia) filmmaker Otar Iosseliani is a very accomplished craftsman:  using effective visual images, he is able to evoke a wonderful array of nuanced emotions.  In Gardens In Autumn,  Iosseliani’s palate is primarily in the comic range, although tinged with the sadness of autumn.  The main character, Vincent, is a government minister in Paris.  In perhaps the film’s funniest sequence, we are introduced to his haughty wife—who is so devoid of taste that everything she does is off, whether it be her atrociously off-key singing, her extravagant purchases of bad art, or even her bad taste in the expensive clothing she buys.  When Vincent is abruptly forced to resign his post, he begins in earnest to chase women, drink with his buddies, and receive advice from his elderly mother, hilariously played by Michel Piccoli (see Belle Toujours) in drag.  There is also a very funny—if uncomfortably racist—scene in which he returns to a building in which he owns an apartment, only to find it completely occupied by African squatters.  The slow, humorous mood of the film is elegantly created and at times quite absorbing; but it does not adequately sustain the two hour length of the movie, and the film ultimately seems to drag unpleasantly.

Insiang  (The Philippines, 1976)   The Late Lino Bocka is thought of as the giant of Filipino cinema, and his 1976 film Insiang, the second retrospective of this year’s NYFF, was the first Filipino film ever to receive international recognition at Cannes.  As a period piece and a snapshot of the hard life in the slums of Manila, Insiang is a worthwhile film.  As a work of art, it treads far too close to melodrama to be completely successful.  The young woman Insiang, played by the beautiful Hilda Koronel, lives with her mother, Tonia—who is depicted as the most vile and self-centered person ever to be one.  Tonia is angry and hateful toward her daughter, apparently because Insiang reminds her of the husband who deserted them;   Tonia throws her sister and her family out of her home, primarily to make room for her young ruffian of a lover, Dado, to move in;  Dado proceeds to rape Insiang;  when her mother discovers the sexual connection, she is easily talked into blaming and punishing Insiang for having seduced Dado;  Insiang, meanwhile, has a no-good boyfriend who is using her and taking advantage of her—something obvious to everyone except Insiang.  For a while, one feels like one is watching The Perils of Pauline.  But this film is much darker and more disturbing than that;  and what little apparent redemption there appears to be at the end seems to ring hollow and untrue.  This is an interesting film, but its pace is ponderous and slow, its tone moralistic and heavy.  And it is no accident that it feels overly long, even though in actuality it is just an hour and a half.




Every year the NYFF has a rich array of Special Events.  This year there was a truly extraordinary one, “50 Years of Janus Films,” a fabulous series of films, chosen by our good friend, Kent Jones, from the awe-inspiring Janus collection.  Just seeing the Janus logo has always sent chills of excitement through me—and set up enormous anticipation of excellence.  (See Kent’s piece on Janus Films, below)  All of the films were screened using pristine, new prints—some recently re-mastered.  Jean Renoir's Rules of the Game and Truffaut’s 400 Blows were shown using brand new digital restorations.  In addition to those two, we saw Roman Polanski’s magnificent first feature, Knife in the Water, Makavejev’s wonderfully bizarre film, WR: Mysteries of the Organism, Fellini’s 1954 masterpiece, La Strada, and Hitchcock’s delightful film from 1938, The Lady Vanishes.

There was a series of three Directors Dialogues sponsored by HBO Films at the Kaplan Penthouse, although we were unable to attend any:  Stephen Frears, who directed The Queen, Michael Apted, the creator of 49 UP, and Guillermo del Toro, who wrote and directed Pan’s Labyrinth.

There was also one thoroughly unsuccessful event—the only time we regretted spending at this year’s Festival.  “Looking at Jazz” was supposed to include film clips of performances by a whole list of legendary jazz greats, but ended up showing disappointingly little of what it had promised, and replacing that with painfully uninteresting and irrelevant chatter.  (There was one 12 minute segment of Louis Armstrong and Martha Rae—in which almost all of it was Martha Rae’s banal vocalizing, with exactly 23 seconds [I counted] of Armstrong actually playing jazz!)

The only other negative about this year’s NYFF was the inclusion of what many of us considered to be totally inappropriate short films before the main ones.  To be fair, some were OK, and two that we saw—Elisabeth Subrin’s The Caretakers and Dentz Gamze Erguven’s A Drop of Water—were quite wonderful.  But there were three—Jimmy Blue, In the Tradition of My Family, and Lump—that were cruel, violent, and disturbing in ways which seemed pointless and gratuitous—and the fact that they were technically well done almost exacerbated how bad their content was.  They are not up to the high standards of the NYFF feature films, and they are not worthy of having been included in the Festival.

We were also unable to attend any of the annual Views from the Avant-Garde series, which is always so wonderful.

Kent Jones piece on “50 Years of Janus Films”:

Janus Films: An Incomparable Collection

After the war, many of the American films that had been forbidden in France throughout the occupation flooded into the country. This torrent of “foreign cinema” was one of the major factors contributing to the birth of the French New Wave. By the same token, the films from Europe and Asia that were unveiled to curious American eyes in the 50s and 60s had an incalculable effect on our movies. At the moment that the studio system was dissolving and lighter equipment was making genuinely independent filmmaking a reality, artists like Ingmar Bergman, Akira Kurosawa, Michelangelo Antonioni and François Truffaut were committing art in the first degree, without shame or qualification, and inspiring a new generation of future directors in the process. And filmgoers, too. The Seventh Seal, The 400 Blows, Viridiana, L’Avventura, The Seven Samurai — epochal events all, from what is now considered the Golden Age of art cinema. They were the building blocks of a new American film culture, and they changed the way movies were seen, the way they were discussed and, most certainly, the way they were made.

When the bulk of these films debuted in this country, they were accompanied by a curious logo, a coin of the two-faced Janus: Roman god of open doors and transitions, celebrated at harvests, weddings and births, and, appropriately, herald of the coming of the Golden Age. Janus Films was founded in 1956 by Bryant Haliday and Cyrus Harvey, owners of Cambridge’s Brattle Theater and the 55th Street Playhouse in Manhattan. When they founded their new distribution company, they were already building on a solid foundation laid by curators like Ed Landberg (and his wife Pauline Kael) on the West Coast, Amos and Marcia Vogel in the East, and distributors like Walter Reade, Thomas Brandon and Charles Cooper. But Haliday and Harvey’s company quickly became synonomous with the best in foreign cinema. In 1965, after the filmmakers Janus made famous in America had become too rich for their blood, Haliday and Harvey sold to their friends William Becker and Saul Turrell. Who had a brilliant idea. Instead of acquiring new films, they decided to concentrate on old ones, consolidating a library of the finest in international cinema and booking titles on the repertory and college circuits. Becker and Turrell did something extraordinary: they merged past and present, giving film history an ongoing life and presence in the cultural life of America. Their successors, Peter Becker and Jonathan Turrell, have maintained tradition by continuing to acquire the very best films available from around the world and providing the best prints available to the repertory houses still standing. They have also brought Janus into the future and created, with The Criterion Collection, the finest line of DVDs on the market.

American film culture without Janus Films is unthinkable. We’re celebrating their 50th birthday with a selection of titles from their extraordinary collection, all in brand-new or pristine 35mm prints. Janus Films is truly one of our national treasures. Here’s your chance to celebrate their achievements, and to be dazzled all over again by highlights from their incomparable collection.

                             – Kent Jones

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