2007 – 45th Festival

The  2007 NYFF once again was wonderful.  There were several films in this year’s NYFF we were eagerly looking forward to  (Darjeeling Limited, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,  Margot at the Weeding, I’m Not There), but, as always, the special joy of the NYFF is 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 no exception.  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.  Consequently, there are films in the Festival that you will see nowhere else.  There are also films that have significant commercial potential.

This year, due to the Lincoln Center renovations, the main features at the Festival were screened in The Rose Theater, which is part of the Jazz at Lincoln Center complex in  the Time Warner Building. Although the smaller seating capacity—combined with the fact that some of the room’s existing seats do not work for viewing a film—led to an even more difficult time getting tickets for the most sought after screenings. (Opening and Closing Nights were still screened in Avery Fisher Hall.)  The Rose theater, designed—as were the other two venues at Jazz at Lincoln Center—by our friend Rafael Viñoly (see my description: Two New Works by Rafael Viñoly), is a truly beautiful space with marvelous acoustics and comfortable seating—and, it turns out, a great place to see a film  It has a huge screen and excellent projection system; but, most striking, it has an spectacular audio system—something painfully lacking at Avery Fisher Hall, and not all that good at Alice Tully Hall either.  (The renovations currently taking place are eventually supposed to remedy both of these problems.

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 therefore refer you to the short Primer on Membership in the Film Society of Lincoln Center and Obtaining Tickets for the New York Film Festival I put together to discuss 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 the theater) or returned tickets (at the 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 were scheduled to see 20 of the 28 featured presentations in this year’s NYFF, one of the Special Events, and four of the Directors Dialogues; and I have reviewed below the ones I actually got to see.  (For those who are interested, the entire 2007 NYFF program and the Film Society descriptions of each film can be found at .)  In the middle of everything, my mother ended up in the hospital, and the result was that I missed some of the films and events I had hoped to see.  My reviews of past years of the NYFF can be found at

[For films whose release dates I know, the dates are given underlined and in bold after identifying information.]


Darjeeling Limited  (Opening Night.  USA, Fox Searchlight, 2007, already in general release)  The world of movie-goers divides into very distinct groups about Wes Anderson  films:  there are those of us who adore what Wes Anderson does; there are those out there who do not particularly like what he does; and, unfortunately, there is the great majority who has no idea what his films are like.  I think that if you are in the first category, you will definitely want to run out and see this one—it is gem!  If you don’t know his films, see it anyway; although you might  want to first check out one of his earlier films; but it certainly can be seen without that—it does stand on its own. ( Personally, I think The Royal Tenenbaums (2006) is the most approachable.  But Rushmore (1998) is an equally good starting point, and earlier in his oeuvre.)    Darjeeling was written by Anderson with Jason Schwarztman and Roman Coppola.  It is a journey across India by train undertaken by three estranged brothers—played by Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, and Jason Schwarztman—whose father has died a year earlier.  The acting is fabulous, and the chemistry between these three main figures is as wonderful as it is unusual.  The film is visually beautiful, the music—as in all of Wes Anderson’s films—is amazingly effective, and the settings—both the outside scenery and the inside created environments—are carefully crafted and intensely provocative.  It is funny, it is dark; it has a unique sweetness, and it has an incredible power and intensity.  As with all of Anderson’s films, Darjeeling is a fantasy that makes many comments on reality.  It creates a mood that that draws you in, entertains you, disturbs you, and involves you.  It is marvelously successful.

There is a 13 minute short feature, Hôtel Chevalier, that Wes Anderson made as a prologue to Darjeeling—intended to be screened  before the feature.  (This was done in the festivals, and it will be included on the DVD when it is released; but, unfortunately, it is not being shown in the theatrical release.)  Starring Jason Schwartzman and Natalie Portman, it is a perfect little creation in its own right.  Anderson has put it up on iTunes, where you can download it free.  Essentially, it is the back story of where Jason Schwartzman’s character is coming to the main film from.  I strongly suggest you do so and watch it, as it is a little gem.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly  (Le scaphandre et le papillon, France, Miramax Films, 2007)  Julian Schnabel has created a masterpiece!  He has taken the moving book of the same name (and an excellent screenplay adaptation by Ronald Harwood),  and brought it to life brilliantly on the screen.  For those who do not know the book, it is the story of 43 year old Jean-Dominique Bauby, the socialite, bon vivant editor of Elle Magazine in Paris, who suffers a brain stem stroke and is left with locked-in syndrome—his mind and senses totally alert and clear, but with no control over any of his voluntary muscles except for his eye.  “Jean-Do” actually wrote this book, blinking the letters one at a time.  I could not imagine how this book could have been made into a movie, but Schnabel has done so brilliantly and effectively.  Much of the film is done through the experience of Jean-Do himself; and the opening sequence, in which we experience his slowly regaining consciousness from the coma he has been in and discovering his condition, is as visually beautiful as it is profoundly powerful.  It has humor, drama, Antonioni-esque landscapes, and beautiful women—at whom Jean-Do leers with some of his old womanizing ardor. The whole film is breathtakingly well done.  And Mathieu Amalric gives a spectacular performance as Jean-Do.

Margot at the Wedding  (USA, Paramount Vintage, 2007)  Noah Baumbach, whose wonderful The Squid and the Whale was a hit of the 2005 NYFF, has risen to new heights with this new film:  it is far more sophisticated, subtle, and successful.  Margot is a tale of two sisters:  the elder, Margot (played in extraordinary fashion by Nicole Kidman—whom I have never liked very much, but who is wonderful in this role), a nasty, sniping, competitive—we are told “borderline”—woman who is coming, with her early adolescent son to visit her family home where lives her younger sister, Pauline (played even more wonderfully by Jennifer Jason Leigh—the wife of Noah Baumbach, by the way), a more appealing, softer, but ultimately also unhealthily defensive and competitive woman, who is about to be married to Malcolm (effectively portrayed by Jack Black), an ineffectual writer/musician/nobody.  It is another psychologically focused family drama from Baumbach—but a terrific one, full of nuance and humor.  It is a very successful work.

Paranoid Park  (USA, IFC First Take, 2007) This film is basically a story about an alienated teenage boy and his skateboarding. But it is a most unusually told tale, woven back and forth across its events and memories—with the chronology moving in multiple streams and various orders.  Gus Van Sant both directed and edited this film  to achieve its surprisingly wonderful, impressionistic effect.  It is on one level a narrative about events occurring in this young man’s life, while on another it is journey through the boy’s emotional struggle. And it is all set against eerily beautiful images of skateboarders gliding and soaring through space—images themselves that are on one level gritty and threatening, and on another airy and balletic.  There is throughout an incredible sense of the adolescent aloneness and the weight of events on this young man who has neither the maturity nor the family support adequately to deal with them.  It is a totally successful film on more levels than are easily imaginable.

Alexandra  (Russia, 2007)  Written and directed by Alexander Sokurov, Alexandra is ostensibly a story of an aged grandmother visiting her grandson, who is an officer in the Russian army in Chechnya.  The grandmother, magnificently portrayed by the octogenarian opera star Galina Vishnevskaya (the widow of Rostropovich, by the way), travels with young recruits on a troop transport train, rides in a tank, and essentially ends up reviewing her grandson’s unit.  But, as she wanders the base, she is at times warm, at times darkly humorous; she sometimes is running errands for young soldiers, at times seeming to be questioning the officers in authority; she is at times a tired old woman who needs help to find her way around the base, at times an irrepressible force of unclear meaning and direction, but who knows how to load and fire a sniper rifle; she is at times personally intimate with and warmly relating to the women from the Chechnyan town nearby, and in the next minute she is spouting ethnic epithets and vicious calumnies that are chilling and shocking.  It eventually becomes clear that she embodies far more than could possibly be contained in or explained by her personal role:  she is a symbol of much of what is Russia—perhaps Mother Russia herself.  The film is gripping and captivating, in a gritty but beautiful way—much as the grim but striking monochrome of the Chechnyan landscape that forms its backdrop.

I’m Not There  (USA, Weinstein Company, 2007, to be released 21 November)  Todd Haynes magical romp through the life of Bob Dylan—treating the richness and complexity of Dylan and his journey as a montage of different lives and selves, ingeniously brought to the screen by having different actors playing six different “incarnations” of Dylan.  Each incarnation has his own name, his own setting and story, his own segment of Dylan’s career, and his own “look” of one of Dylan’s album covers, for example:  the very young black actor Marcus Carl Franklin portrays a character named “Woody [Guthrie]”—some version of the young Dylan and his relation to folk music (and to Woody Guthrie, himself), and resembling Dylan on the cover of  “Nashville Skyline”; Richard Gere portraying “Billy [the Kid]”—some more Western version of Dylan, looking like he stepped off the cover of “John Wesley Harding”; and, most wonderfully, Cate Blanchett playing “Jude”—a London-connected Dylan, looking eerily like Dylan on the cover of “Blonde on Blonde.”  (Other “incarnations” are performed by Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, and Ben Wishaw)  The characters weave in and out of the story and time sequence, in a way that is largely successful, and rather enjoyable—and all against the backdrop of Dylan’s music.   There are many wonderful moments: my favorite little aside being an appearance in the London background of “The Beatles,” à la A Hard Day’s Night.  Cate Blanchett’s performance, however, rises above the general, good level of the film and reaches a  level of greatness.  All-in-all, a totally enjoyable, creative piece of cinema.

Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project  (USA, 2007, to be shown on HBO on 2 December and released on DVD)  This documentary by John Landis about the career of Don Rickles was so funny I thought I was going to wet myself laughing.  It is full of hilarious bits from Rickles’ act, riotously funny comments from Rickles’ famous friends—including from his most unlikely best friend, Bob Newhart, and gut-splitting commentary from “Mr. Warmth” himself, being interviewed by John Landis.  Rickles was at the screening, and did the Q&A with Landis, moderated by our friend, the Film Society’s own Kent Jones—who took a comic pounding from Rickles (“Are you going to say anything, you flower pot?”  “It’s so wonderful to be up here…ALONE!”)  Although it should be  noted that Kent got in one great line about Joan River’s apartment that cracked Rickles up.  It is not going to have a theatrical release; but get your DVRs set for it in December:  it is not to be missed!

Married Life  (USA, 2007)  Ira Sachs reworks John Bingham’s dark mystery novel Five Roundabouts to Heaven, and creates from it a film noir comedy set in the Pacific Northwest.  It contains an extremely successful comic performance by Pierce Brosnan, whose best friend, played by Chris Cooper, is married to a woman, played by Patricia Clarkson, whom he wants to leave for the young Rachel McAdams—although he is wracked by guilt about the pain he fears this will cause his wife, whom he claims to care so deeply about.  The plot takes many dark, unexpected turns—full of suspense and emotion, but comic at the same time.  Brosnan narrates much of the action in the film, while he at the same time orchestrates much of the action within its plot.  It is not a great film, but it was a very enjoyable and engaging one.

Flight of the Red Balloon  (France, 2007, IFC First Take)  Hou Hsiao-hsien has created a complex homage to Albert Lamorisse’s children’s classic, which quietly weaves itself through the twists and turns of a story about modern life in Paris, as a red balloon silently drifts across the Parisian cityscape and in and out of the story.  Juliette Binoche is the head of a marionette theater/single mother, and she has hired a young Chinese au pair/film student to look after her young son.  Hou intertwines complex plot lines and strongly sketched characters with a languorous, slowly unfolding visual poem.   The result is an emotionally provocative beautiful—albeit ultimately very unsettling—combination that gives the appearance and feel of going places it does not actually go to.  I found it a very successful work, but definitely not a film for everyone—and in particular not a film for those who want a fast pace or linear storyline.

A Girl Cut in Two  (La fille coupée en deux, France, 2007)  Claude Chabrol’s film is a quintessentially French social satire, done by a master, inspired loosely by the story of the shooting of Stanford White.  An aging, jaded novelist, Charles (played by François Berléand), romantically entrances and ensnares a young, ambitious, and unstable TV weather girl (played by Ludivine Sagnier, of Swimming Pool fame) who is totally willing to dedicate and subjugate herself to this man who is significantly older than her mother (Marie Bunel) and to spurn the advances of a rich, spoiled, indolent, and insolent young man (Benôit Magimel—whose fabulously unlikable character is one that only a master like Chabrol would dare to create on the screen).  Meanwhile, the rather unattractive Charles is surrounded by beautiful women of more accomplished stature and age:  his wife (Valeria Cavalli) and his extremely sexy publisher (Maithilda May).  Perhaps I am showing my age, but the two of them, and Marie Bunel all seemed far more beautiful to me—and infinitely more sexual—than Ludivine Sagnier.  This is a good—if almost “terminally French”—film (a little disappointing that there wasn’t nudity to go with the sexuality…seemed to me like an unfortunate oversight give all the particular women involved.)

The Romance of Astrée and Céladon  (Les amours d'Astrée et de Céladon, France, 2007)   Eric Rohmer at 87 is still a master—and still capable of being strange in wonderful, beautiful, and amazing ways.  The story is based on a 17th century novel of pastoral romance among the shepherds in 5th century Gaul.  It is a mythical, bucolic stroll through the verdant French countryside, replete with nymphs and druids, and life and love among the shepherds.  Taken at face value, the storyline is silly; and if one did not know the film was made by a master filmmaker, the stylized acting and emoting would lead one to believe one was watching a bad film school project or high school play.  But it is Eric Rohmer, and the film is an unfolding visual tapestry of mood and external hints of inner life—all with a wit and self-reflective humor that makes the film quite delightful.  And, unlike his old Nouvelle Vague colleague Claude Chabrol in his NYFF film, A Girl Cut in Two, this quietly lecherous octogenarian carefully exposes one—usually the left—breast of each of his diaphanously, translucently clad beautiful young nymphs, and both breasts of his shepherdess heroine.  It is a beautiful cinematic experience—but not one for those who take too seriously the demands of plot and storyline.

Calle Santa Fe  (Chile/France/Belgium, 2007)  This documentary, presented jointly with the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival,  is a look back at the killing in 1974 of Miguel Enriquez (leader of MIR, the Movement of the Revolutionary Left) in Santiago, Chile, in the repressive aftermath of the assassination of President Salvador Allende in a CIA supported coup to overthrow his leftist government.  It was done with an eye towards effects the killing had on the country and the movement—and is a look at the state of radical movements in Chile today.  Carmen Castillo, who back in 1974 was the pregnant wife of Enriquez—and who was critically wounded in the shoot out, but whose life was improbably saved by the intervention of their neighbors, although she lost the late-term pregnancy and spent a long time in the hospital—directed this fabulous film and is one of the main participants on screen.  I was so mixed about seeing it:  it is about events that I knew well and to which I had much emotional attachment; but I knew it was nearly three hours long—almost always a deal breaker for me.  Our friend Bruni Burres, who runs the Human Rights Watch Film Festival and who is a friend of Carmen’s, insisted that we should see it, and I was extremely glad we did.  It is so gripping that I did not mind its enormous length!  It is informative, moving, and powerful.  There are things within it that raised some very difficult questions:  and the questions include some about the nature of this form of radical movements and the personalities of their adherents, as well as, of course, about the kind of repressive and vile governments that the Pinochet regime was.  It is well worth your time.  Look for it if it is shown anywhere near you—or when it becomes available on DVD.

Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead  (USA, ThinkFilm, 2007)  The venerable filmmaker Sidney Lumet at 83 has created a powerful and suspenseful film that is simultaneously a family drama and a jewelry heist.  It centers about a brilliantly acted pas de deux between two brothers, played by Ethan Hawke and Philip Seymour Hoffman, and their needs, emotions, relationships, and entanglements.  Albert Finney frighteningly plays the brothers’ father—looking so old and embittered that I at first did not recognize him (looking here less like he did in Tony Richardson’s 1963 Tom Jones than he did even as Hercule Poirot in Lumet’s 1974 Murder on the Orient Express); Marisa Tomei rather beautifully plays a complex role as the wife of Phillip Seymour Hoffman.  But I found the emotions of the film shallow despite the excellent acting, and the plot far more melodramatic than tragic.  At times I thought it was going to be more profound because it was at times quite gripping; but it never actually fulfilled its promise.

4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days  (Romania, IFC First Take, 2007)  Christian Mongiu’s powerful but bleak film—set in the grimness of the final years of the Ceausescu regime in Romania—won the Palme d’Or at Cannes last summer, and it certainly is successful for what it is.  But I just did not like it all that much.  The story centers on two young women whose lives and stories lead inexorably to a mysterious appointment in a cheap hotel.  Described as “contemplation of a morally broken universe,” there was just too much pathos and  melodrama for me to feel it as contemplative—although it certainly succeeded in conveying a disturbing and upsetting sense of moral brokenness.  The acting was basically very good, the presentation powerful.  But the unremitting harshness and ugliness did not go anywhere worthwhile for me.

Secret Sunshine  (South Korea, 2007)   I really wanted to like Secret Sunshine—and at times I really did; but this film by Lee Chang-dong ultimately did not work for me.  (The fact that it almost two and a half hours long did not help in my experience.)  Jeon Do-yeon, who won best actress at Cannes for this film, was quite wonderful as the young widow who impulsively returns with her young son to live in the small town where her husband had grown up.  The film continually whipsaws the viewer back and forth between touching and humorous domesticity and frightening and upsetting violence, between hope and despair, between comedy and tragedy (although the film does not quite rise to the heights of vision fully to be worthy of being thought of as having a truly tragic perspective) —along the way, constantly keeping the viewer always off balance about what one should believe in and what one should disdainfully reject.  It is quite sophisticated in all this, and herein lies its worth; but it just didn’t quite pull it off as far as I was concerned.

Blade Runner:  The Definitive Cut    (USA, Warner Borthers, 1982/2007)  What is there to say?  Ridley Scott’s classic is what it is—not a great movie, but an engaging adventure in a future whose dark mood is powerfully felt throughout the entirety of the film.  But what fun to see it on that huge screen, in that quality projection, with that fabulous sound system!  As for the “definitiveness” of the “cut,” it was fine, but not all that strikingly different.  Although in this one I was more aware of the answer to the question about the question of Harrison Ford’s character’s actual status—although I’m told by some that  it has been even clearer in some of the other re-cuts of the film.

Persepolis  (Closing Night.  France, Sony Pictures classics, 2007)  I had it backwards about this black and white animated cartoon by Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud about Satrapi’s life as a rebellious young woman in and out of Iran:  I thought—because of its format—that it would be a terrible choice for Closing Night, but that I would really enjoy it—as I had heard great things about it from friends who had already seen it.  In actuality, it was a crowd-pleasing, successful choice for Closing Night, but I did not like it.  There were moments that were quite wonderful; but overall, I found it to be simplistic in its world view.  The way it treated the rather important issues with which it was dealing was all too appropriate to the cartoon format, and none too satisfying to me.

Go Go Tales  (USA, 2007)  I’m not sure Abel Ferrara has made up his mind what he is supposed to be, but he certainly never made up his mind what this film was supposed to be:  it was all over the place.  There are moments that are fun, and Willem Dafoe is mostly good as its star; but the film is generally disappointing.  It is a crazy, madcap tale of a strip club and the efforts of Dafoe to keep it open; but it doesn’t have the substance or even comic vision to make it actually work—although it seemed at moments that it was going to go somewhere interesting.

And two I did not get to see:

No Country for Old Men   (Centerpiece, USA, Miramax Films, 2007, to be released)  This film by Joel and Ethan Coen, based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy, is one I did not get to see.  I am told it is extraordinary.  In general, I find that the Coen brothers films are too violent for my enjoyment; and this one is said to be more violent that any other of their films—so be forewarned.  Nevertheless, it was also said to be one of their best, which is really saying something.

Axe in the Attic  (USA, 2007)  I did not get to see this documentary by Ed Pincus and Lucia Small about their journey to New Orleans to film the aftermath of hurricane Katrina; but, judging from the reactions of Nancy and our friends who went with her to see it, it was quite wonderful.



Every year the NYFF has a rich array of Special Events. 

I attended two of the Directors Dialogues sponsored by HBO Films at the Kaplan Penthouse, and, as in the past they were fabulous.  There is something about this smaller audience, longer time format that brings out a different level of discourse from the NYFF’s usual Q&A’s:  the directors speak more seriously, and the interviewers set a better tone, so that even audience questions tend to be meaningful and interesting.  The one with Julien Schnabel (conducted by Richard Peña) was profoundly wonderful:  I have never been able to tolerate the flip, self-consciously provocative style of Schnabel’s usual schtick, but in this interview he did none of that!  He was serious, thoughtful, and deeply open in a way I had no idea he was capable of.  I was most impressed, and began to understand why it is that some of our friends who are involved with him like and respect him so much.  And the one with Wes Anderson (conducted by Kent Jones) was equally wonderful—if less surprising to me that it was, as I expect that level of depth from Anderson.  I missed the one with Todd Haynes, although I hear it was equally impressive.  I also missed the one with Sidney Lumet.

I missed Murray Lerner’s music documentary The Other Side of the Mirror: Bob Dylan Live at the Newport Folk Festival, 1963-65, but Nancy and our friends really thought it was terrific.  It will be screening at the Film Society’s Walter Reade Theater, the weekend of 23 November Friday through 26 November Monday (click for ticket online)

A big plus this year was that there were only seven short films put in along with the main screenings—far fewer and of much higher quality than the ones that were rather disastrously a part of last year’s NYFF.  My favorite was Emma Perret’s No Part of the Pig Is Wasted (Tout est bon dans le cochon), a funny 19 minute film about six backwoods construction workers who buy a piglet and fantasize about the day they can eat it.

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

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