2010 – 48th Festival


The 2010 NYFF ended on10 October.  It was marked by refreshing, new, positive feel, reflecting the leadership of the Film Society’s new Executive Director, Rose Kuo.  It is not clear just how this new atmosphere has communicated itself to the general public, but it clearly has:  people coming to the NYFF this year seemed to feel more included and to feel like the experience was a more welcoming, friendly one; and young people were coming in significant numbers, utilizing the last minute program of rush tickets (and, especially, the Twitter tickets).  For those of us more intimately connected to the Film Society of Lincoln Center, the fact that the Film Society is under new leadership was also wonderfully reflected in the return to the Festival of old, beloved former staff members who had been driven away by the prior regime.


There were many completely wonderful films that we saw:  Certified Copy by Abbas Kiarostami, Carlos by Olivier Assayas, and Okie’s Movie by Hong Song-soo being foremost among them. And, as always, there was the array of incredibly beautiful, moving films one would never have the opportunity to see anywhere else which we have come to expect from the NYFF—the most wonderful of these being Le Quattro Volte by Michelangelo Frammartino.  There were premieres of a number of great, more popular films, like David Fincher’s The Social Network, and Mike Leigh’s Another Year. There were some fabulous Special events, including a wonderful talk by our dear friend Kent Jones, who presented A Letter to Elia, the loving and beautiful film he and Martin Scorcese did about the life and work of Elia Kazan.  All-in-all, it was another great Festival.


We were scheduled to see 16 of the films in two weeks of this year’s NYFF and four of the Special Events.  We only got to 15 of the films, as we decided not to see Charles Ferguson’s documentary on the financial crisis, Inside Job, since I found it rather offensive, knowing what I did about the film’s perspective, that Ferguson was representing it as a “balanced treatment” of what had gone on (I don’t mind seeing strongly one-sided accounts, but I am disturbed by a denial of perspective); and we also only went to three of the Special Events, since we decided we did not wish to hear Julie Taymor after having seen her film, The Tempest (q.v., below).  Meanwhile, there was one film I very much would have liked to see but couldn’t for scheduling reasons:  Aurora, which was written and directed by Romanian Cristi Puiu (and who also plays the lead role), who did the marvelous Death of Mr. Lazarescu (which was in the 2005 NYFF).  There was also one film we knew was well-thought of and was much liked by friends who saw in the Festival, but chose not to see:  Uncle Boonmie Who Can Recall His Past Lives, which we avoided because, while we have been impressed by Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s technical skill and cinematographic vision (as in his Tropical Malady from the 2004 NYFF), I have been put off by his world view—and, in particular, the kind of mystical spirituality I greatly dislike, and which was very much in evidence even in the title of this new film.


For those who are interested, the entire 2010 NYFF program and the Film Society descriptions of each film can be found at .   My reviews of past years of the NYFF can be found at


For those of you who over the years have not noticed my subtlety in this—and who can be blamed for not looking for me to be subtle about my judgments about anything—I thought I might mention again that I have always placed my reviews of these films in approximately descending order of how much I liked them.

All films are dated 2010 unless otherwise noted.




Certified Copy. (Copie conforme)


Oki’s Movie (Ok hui ui yeonghwa)

The Social Network

Le Quattro Volte

Meek’s Cutoff

Another Year

The Robber. (Der räuber)

Robinson in Ruin

Film Socialisme

Old Cats (Gatos Viejos)


The Tempest




Certified Copy. (Copie conforme).  (France/Italy, IFC Films)  We have enjoyed the films of Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami in prior NYFFs (as writer and director, Ten  in 2002, and Taste of Cherry in 1997; as writer of films directed by another favorite Iranian director of ours, Jahar Panahi, Crimson Gold in 2003, and The White Balloon in 1995), but Certified Copy, written and directed by Kiarostami, is his first shot outside of Iran, and it is far and away my favorite of his works—and my favorite of the entire NYFF this year.  Juliette Binoche was at her wondrous best as Elle (she won Best Actress at Cannes this year for her portrayal), an antiques dealer in Florence, who brings her early adolescent son to a lecture at the Uffizi by an English writer, James Miller, effectively played by William Shimell.  There were those who felt Shimell’s performance was too stilted and unnatural; but I believe that whatever his flaws in this unaccustomed role as a film actor (Shimell’s career has been as an operatic baritone), he was perfect for this character—whose fiery (operatic?) emotionality is supposed to exist deeply covered and restrained within the confining rigidity of his obsessive intellectual personality.  In fact, I think there actually is a subtle symmetry here:  while I very much love Juliette Binoche in many roles, I actually find her acting somewhat flawed by an overly emotional—often almost cloying—quality that often creeps in; but, in this role, it is perfect for the character she is portraying, in much the same way as Shimell’s reputed shortcomings as an actor are perfectly suited to his role.  In the wonderful and amusing opening sequence of the film, James is delivering a lecture—to which Elle arrives late, and her son even later—based on his recent book, Certified Copy.  His thesis, while never fully articulated, seems to revolve around the question of what is real in art, and what the relationship might be between that reality and the assumed realities of the perceptions of art—as, for example, the status of a work that was revered for centuries as real, that turns out to have been a copy or forgery.  (A key moment later in the film involves a story about a woman talking to her young son in front of the well-known copy of Michelangelo’s David in front of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence.)  The plot reality, as introduced in an early conversation between Elle and her son, is that Elle has just met James for the first time at this lecture,  and she is accused by her son of looking to pick James up, not to interact with him professionally, and that the son has witnessed this sort of performance from her before.  Everyone who has looked carefully at marriages and other deeply personal relationships knows that each participant in a relationship has a separate view of the reality of the events of that  relationship—even to the extent of having a different sense of the facts of what has occurred between them.  Thus, a story in which a wife experiences her husband to be emotionally distant from her and an absent father to their children, while the husband experiences his wife to be overly emotional and needy and never satisfied with all that he provides demonstrates a level of divergent realities that is completely par for the course in relationships—even to the extent that the participants can have separate views of the facts of their joint history.  In this film, however, the marital relationship in question is that of Elle and James. Elle takes James for an afternoon drive outside Florence, and, early in the drive, a waitress at a café mistakes the pair for a married couple, and Elle pretends they are—with gusto and deep emotional response.  This pretense continues through a series of meetings with other people—often couples in different stages of their own marriages, but always (as was the case with the waitress) people who have something meaningful to offer in terms of what marriage means—and at times James joins in the pretense, and at times he opposes it.  The pair alternately connect and bicker as the outing progresses, certainly appearing like a married couple; and progressively it sounds like they are arguing about past events in a history they have shared—or, at very least, may have shared; and James becomes every bit as involved as Elle at times in the reality of their marriage.  [SPOILER ALERT: I liked this film so much, and it is so unclear whether you’ll have a chance to see it, that I’m going to say more about what happens than I usually like to do in my reviews.  The “plot” is not the point in this film, so it probably won’t matter in any event; but, if you like to discover how a film plays out without any foreknowledge, DO NOT READ FURTHER.  Just accept that it is a fabulous, fun film, and see it if and when you can.]  Progressively, it becomes clearer that the discrepancies in their different experiences of their relationship are not merely different perspectives, but substantially alternate realities.  The conflicting realities of Elle and James in the end are irresolvable—actually raising questions about whether there is any objective reality at all.  The film was reminiscent in the most wonderful ways of Alain Resnais’ marvelously reality-bending  Last Year at Marienbad—although Certified Copy is played, as it were, in a much lighter and more enjoyable register.  Suffice it to say, this was my favorite film of the NYFF; it was a complete joy; and it ended perfectly—something I often feel films fail to do.  In addition to everything else, the scenery of my beloved Florence and the Tuscan countryside outside it made the film an even more rewarding treat.


Carlos. (France/Germany, IFC Films; currently playing in a limited engagement at the IFC Center in Manhattan, through the beginning of November)  Directed and co-written (with Dan Franck) by Olivier Assayas  (Summer Hours, in the 2008 NYFF, and Irma Vep, in the 1996 NYFF), Carlos is the dramatization of the career of the Venezuelan, Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, who founded a worldwide terrorist organization and who, known to the public as Carlos (or, Carlos the Jackal), carried out many high profile capers, including the sensational kidnapping of all of the OPEC oil ministers from their meeting in Vienna in 1975.  The film is a masterpiece of suspense, action, sex, character study, and just plain gripping entertainment.  I, who have been known to rail at any director who makes a film over two hours in length, was totally riveted by this 5½ hour marathon of filmmaking.  (It was filmed in three parts and was originally shown on French television in three installments; but—believe it or not—I firmly believe it is best seen in a single sitting:  it is that compelling.)  Venezuelan actor Edgar Ramirez (who played Ciro Redondo Garcia in Che: Part One) does an incredible job in the title role.  Nora von Waldstätten  is terrific as Magdalena Kopp—one of Carlos’s beautiful women.  (There is a fair amount of nudity in the film:  we see several prolonged shots of Carlos completely naked, including one in which his narcissism is on full, meaningful display as he admires himself in front of a mirror; and we see a lot of the naked bodies of the multiple beautiful women in his life—including several of the best naked breasts I’ve seen on screen in a long time.)  All of the acting is powerfully effective, the cinematography is incredibly well-done, the multi-national settings add rich texture to the background of the story—but, most of all, Assayas moves the story-telling forward in a totally engaging, powerfully effective way.  This was simply one of the very best films of the NYFF.  Try to find a way to see it!


Oki’s Movie (Ok hui ui yeonghwa).  (South Korea)  Written and directed by Hong Song-soo (a favorite NYFF director:  Night and Day in 2008, Woman on the Beach in 2006, Tales of Cinema in 2005, Woman is the Future of Man in 2004, and Turning Gate in 2002), the film consists of four separate vignettes, each involving the same main characters: Moon Sung-keun as Professor Song, a teacher in a film school; Lee Sun-kyun as Jin-gu, a student and later junior faculty member at the school; and Jung Yumi as the film student, Oki, who loves both of these men.  The four segments are out of chronological order and from different perspectives, but they are interrelated in virtually every other way—including the bizarre fact that each has “Pomp and Circumstance” playing on and off throughout.  In the first segment, Jin-gu, as junior faculty member, is screening his film in a festival and appears there and does what must be the funniest Q&A session ever put on film:  the moderator begins by asking a long, intellectual question, and Jin-gu stares blankly, laughs, and says he cannot answer that question because he is very drunk—which, indeed, he is.  A young woman audience member then says she wants to ask him a personal question and proceeds to tell everyone that Jin-gu had an affair with her friend and ruined her life, and asks how he could have done that.  He denies it, and says he’s married; and the woman says, yes, he was married, but he did it anyway.  And this torment humorously continues for a hilariously unbearable length of time.  Oki’s Movie is imbued with the wonderful comic spirit of its director, and this spirit allows the film to explore the emotions and meanings of relationships and filmmaking in great depth while remaining at all times fun entertainment.  It is a real treat, and I dearly hope it finds distribution.


The Social Network.  (Opening Night, USA, Columbia Pictures; in theaters now)   The Social Network, David Fincher’s eagerly awaited and much ballyhooed fictionalized account of Mark Zuckerberg, the young man who started Facebook, had its world premiere as the Opening Night film of the NYFF.  (Fincher directed Zodiac in 2007, and Fight Club in 1999.) While I did not think it was as great as many are saying, it is  totally enjoyable, well-made, and well worth seeing.  The screenplay was written by Aaron Sorkin (who wrote The West Wing for television, and the 2007 film, Charlie Wilson’s War), and it effectively moves one though the story of the creation of Facebook, creating an understandable, reasonably nuanced version of the events and, even more, of the characters involved—from its prehistory at Harvard in the online antics of Zuckerberg, through its development there as an on-campus phenomenon, to its unparalleled success and subsequent legal entanglement.  After the initial Harvard story, the film moves back and forth from a later point in time where Zuckerberg is seen with most of the other major characters at a legal deposition    Although the film is unrealistic in many of its details (e.g., the scenes of the deposition bear little relationship to anything that would ever occur in such settings—including, of course, the fact that multiple characters from multiple legal actions are all together in the same deposition), it works to move the story along in a quite believable and successfully dramatic way.  It is not profound, but it works—which may be more important to success of a film experience..  For the most part, the acting is excellent:  Jesse Eisenberg  (perhaps best remembered for his portrayal of the elder son in Noah Baumbach’s 2005 The Squid and the Whale) turns in a spectacular performance as Mark Zuckerberg; Andrew Garfield is terrific as Eduardo Saverin; and Armie Hammer is extremely good playing both of the Winklevoss twins.  The Director of Photography, Jeff Cronenweth, does an excellent job of capturing all this visually—and actually manages to make Harvard College look like the dreary place it must have seemed to the socially awkward, interpersonally challenged misfit, Zuckerberg (not an easy feat).  The film is also quite funny at moments:  my favorite line was when one of the Winklevoss twins says in explanation of why an opponent should be intimidated, “Because I'm 6'5", 220 pounds, and there are two of me.”


Le Quattro Volte.  (Italy/Germany/France, Lorber Films)  Written and directed by Michelangelo Frammartino, this is a four part (thus the title) meditation on rural village in Calabria, in southern Italy.  There are no subtitles to this Italian film…because there are no words!  Giuseppe Fuda plays the only central human role, an aged shepherd, in obviously failing health, who never utters a word.  There are some other significant individual human characters—an old lady who sweeps up the village church and sells the shepherd the “holy” dust from the church floor, upon which he relies to deal with his horrible cough (mixing it with water as medicine he drinks each night at bedtime; and upon which he seems totally dependent); two charcoal makers, whose primitive labors bookend the film, and whose deliveries move in and out of the fabric of the whole story—but the remaining humans always appear in the film only at a distance, and usually moving in groups.  The other main characters of the film, who also speak no words, are the goats tended by the old shepherd.  The goats appear both in groups and as individuals (one of whom we follow right from the moment of its birth); and, although they speak no words, their bleating is the most expressive audible part of the film.  The two other main characters that figure in the film, both without words, are a dog that gives an incredibly riveting performance, and an amazingly stately fir tree which is also a commanding presence.  But do not be misled:  this is a totally engaging, deep, emotional, lyrical film.  It has plot, action, drama, humor, and pathos—and achieves a remarkable level of philosophical insight into the human condition.  It is unbelievably expressive and meaningful—a fact that it only heightened by the absence of language.


Meek’s Cutoff.  (USA)  Kelly Reichardt (whose Wendy and Lucy was in the 2008 NYFF) has directed this most unusual tale of the Old West.  Set in 1845, it is the story of three families who have been persuaded to leave a wagon trail heading west along the Oregon Trail in order to take their covered wagons on a shortcut through part of Oregon’s Cascade Mountains.  The story begins with our being introduced to the players at the very time they are becoming distrustful of Stephen Meek, the man who persuaded them to hire him to take them via this “cutoff.”  At very least, it has been established that Meek, a gruff, surly, unshorn, and basically brutal character of the wild west, is not nearly as familiar with this territory as he led them to believe.  It is clear they are lost, but they are beginning to worry that it may not be accidental:  some among them are fearful that Meek is one of those people trying to discourage the influx of settlers, and may actually be purposefully leading them to their deaths.  The tensions rise as they wander lost across the high desert of Oregon, running out of food, water, and eventually hope.  At one point they encounter a lone Native American, who becomes for a while a background presence in the journey—and eventually becomes an unwilling participant, in that he is captured and forced to become their guide in their desperate search to find water.  Michelle Williams is good as Emily Tetherow, the positive center of Reichardt’s complex story.  On the opposite side, there are the two figures who provide the pressing questions of the story: are they evil, or are they good? Are they to be trusted, or are they to be feared and attacked?  On this end of the spectrum, Bruce Greenwood as Meek and Rod Rondeaux as the Indian do a somewhat less good, albeit quite adequate job, with Rondeaux being the better actor of the two.  To be fair, all the characters are rather caricatures, and the actors do not have fully developed personas to inhabit.  The real drama is played out on the level of the larger movement of the storyline, rather than in the personalities of the characters—and, on that level, the film works powerfully and beautifully.  The terrain is beautifully filmed by Chris Blauvelt, with gorgeous barren daytime scenes enhancing the growing sense of arid desperation, and rich nighttime ones added a feeling of vastness and wonder.  The film certainly captures the life and death tensions of the choices and issues facing these pioneers of the country’s westward migration, and it takes up—if only in dramatic and rather oblique form—some of the moral questions facing these people.  There are those who have seen the film as an allegory about the current political climate (viz., a “cowboy” leader moving his followers onto a disastrously wrong path, and the distain for the foreign “other” [read Muslim instead of Native American] who is a danger to be viewed as not human and requiring destruction).  I hope that was not Reichardt’s intention, as I think the film would be rather stupid on that level; but I do not believe it was.  Actually, its success lies in precisely the opposite direction: as a much more general exploration of the trials and dilemmas of human strivings, against the very specific dramatic context of the strivings of these early pioneers.  The irresolvable  uncertainty of the monumental choices they had to make in their daily existence—and the moral and personal consequences of their making them— weigh most powerfully and meaningfully in a specific human context, not a politicized one.  And, on this level, the film is an enormous success.  Toward the end, I found myself thinking (apropos of my comments about film endings [q.v., in the review of Certified Copy above]), “Please let it end here.  Please let it end here!”; and it did!  Brava.


Another Year.  (UK, Sony Pictures Classics)  Written and directed by Mike Leigh (whose Happy-Go-Lucky was in the 2008 NYFF, Vera Drake in the 2004, and Topsy-Turvy in the 1999), Another Year is yet another of his wonderfully done textural slices of London life, capturing  the mood, tone, feel of the characters as well as of the city which they inhabit.  Jim Broadbent is very good as Tom, as is  Lesley Manville as Mary—a middle-aged married couple, happily sharing together a low-key, but apparently fulfilling life, including their joint gardening, socializing, cooking, vacationing, and family, as well as their separate respective professional lives.  They seem to have a good relationship with their 30 year old bachelor son, Joe,  played by Oliver Maltman.  Two friends repeatedly enter Tom and Mary’s relationship:  Gerri, a co-worker of Mary’s is very effectively portrayed by Ruth Sheen; and Tom’s very old friend Ken, played with disgusting accuracy by Peter Wight.  The relationship with Gerri is full of warmth and humor, but increasingly those elements are overshadowed by the emptiness of her life and her drunken dependence on Tom and Mary.  Ken, on the other hand, is a pitiful drunk, infantile in his needs and his actions—repulsive on most every dimension.  There is the sub-plot concerning the question of whether Joe will eventually find a mate; there is the sub-plot around Tom and his family; but, for the most part, these just function as devices to extend the story about Tom and Mary’s relationship with their two friends—and, even there, most of that is subordinated to their relationship with Gerri.  The interactions between the characters engages us in an absorbing and often humorous fashion; but, in the end, it is not clear how rewarding it has been to enter the world into which we have been drawn.  Leigh’s vision is definitely a comic one, in the classic sense of that distinction:  we look at the characters in the drama from the outside (as opposed to indentifying with them from the inside), and the movement of the story (consistent with Northrop Frye’s notion about comedy [similar to similar to that of Plato in the Philebus]) focuses on characters’ consistent lack of self-knowledge, rather than on any growth in it.  If anything rises above the empty, drunken, meaninglessness of much of what transpires, it is Tom and Mary’s relationship; but there really isn’t too much we can get inside there, either.  This is a Mike Leigh comedy, and a successful one, at that.  It is nothing more…but it is nothing less, either.  It is beautifully executed, and richly well-done.  It is entertaining, and absorbing.


The Robber. (Der räuber).  (Austria/Germany)  Directed and co-written (with Martin Prinz) by Benjamin Heisenberg, is based on a novel by Prinz, which, in turn, was based on the true story of a champion marathon runner, Johann Rettenberger (marvelously portrayed by Andrera Lust), who, in 1980s Austria, had a second career as a bank robber.  As the Film Society description put it “Johann is defined almost exclusively by his two obsessions.  He runs and he robs, therefore he is.”  The only other meaningful presences in his schizoid existence are that of his parole office and that of the woman Erika (played well by Franziska Weisz) who is rather enigmatically part of his existence. It is one of the most unusual and well-done action/thrillers you are likely to see.  I found myself almost completely and satisfyingly absorbed in the weird intensity of this film for 80% of it length; but then I started to get the uncomfortable awareness that there was really nowhere for it to go—and that progressively made me retroactively uncomfortable with where it had been.  Of course, it turned out that there was no place for it to go; and, in the end, I felt that I had watched an extremely well-made film with no point.  It was a very hollow feeling to have after what had mostly been a very engaging experience, and it very much detracted from my ultimate enjoyment of this film.


Robinson in Ruin.  (UK)  WARNING:  Patrick Keiller’s newest film is definitely not for everybody; in fact, it is for very few people—both Nancy and my mother were in complete agreement about how much they had disliked it (although Nancy had liked the visual images).  I must say up front, however, that I really liked it.  Robinson in Ruin is an extremely odd film.  It purports to be a documentary based on the “recently discovered” records of a scientist named Robinson, who had been journeying about Britain in 2008, following oil and gas pipelines, looking to discover the sites of ancient meteor strikes and signs of ancient civilizations.  The mock documentary quality is reinforced by the droning, flat, pseudo-scientific/historical narration provided by Vanessa Redgrave.  There are no people in this film, nor is there any action.  We merely are led from one beautifully photographed scene to another (it is worth mentioning that Patrick Keiller was also his own DP for the film)—sometimes flowers (which Robinson at times took to be evidence of extraterrestrial life), sometimes industrial sites (which he took to be ruins from ancient civilizations), sometimes quarries (ancient meteor strikes), often the vents from an oil or gas pipeline—with the camera lingering for extended periods of time on each.  The most repeated image was that of a road sign, with some lichen growing on it, filmed in ever increasing close-up—with the assertion that this lichen was one of Robinson’s main channels for communication (whatever that means).  One of the phenomena Robinson seemed drawn to was the opposition of capitalism and the individual assertion of public will, which he seemed mostly to focus on in the minutia of a 16th century confrontation in a small village between landowners and some local citizens who had torn down the enclosures the landowners had erected to demarcate their property rights.  This interest played out against the distantly and vaguely recognized parallel issues of the world financial collapse that was going on contemporaneously with his journeys.  I completely loved the wildly oscillating perspectival distance of Robinson’s viewpoint—intellectually varying unexpectedly from minute close-up micro-analysis to sweepingly cosmic overview, much as the visual focal length of the photography similarly was irrationally and extremely varying—and the complete confusion of scale, similar to the complete confusion of time, in which distant past and immediate present were not distinguishably different.  As I said, Robinson in Ruin is not for everyone; but I thought it was terrific.


Film Socialisme.  (Switzerland)  I have long been a fan of Jean-Luc Godard; of course I loved his old films (e.g., Contempt [1963], Breathless [1960]), but I am also someone who has enjoyed his more recent, artier films, like, In Praise of Love, from the 2004 NYFF, and, somewhat less so, Notre Musique, from the 2001.  But, I am afraid that his latest effort, Film Socialisme, rather lost me.  There were many wonderful moments, and lots of visually interesting sequences.  I suppose one could linger over its imagery, and parse it like some elaborate, visual poem.  But it just never quite worked for me:  I could sense the richness and artfulness, but I could only occasionally  let myself go with it.  And, in truth, I feared a simplistic political meaning within it that I simply did not wish to go along with.  (I have had a growing feeling that while I enjoy Godard as a visual artist, I find him shallow and tedious as a philosophical or political thinker—and I have had a sense that these intellectualized elements have been unfortunately ascendant in his own conception of himself and his work.)  Since I do believe there was much in this film that I did not resonate fully to, I am taking the unusual step of inviting a guest reviewer to step in on this one.  Our good friend Fred Utley and his wife Valerie accompanied Nancy and me to the Festival screening of Film Socialism, and afterwards Fred emailed me his reactions.  With his permission, I am including them here for your pleasure and edification, as they are quite wonderful (and, actually, I agree with his observations, even if I did not share his enthusiasm):


From its title, Jean-Luc Godard's film could be a political tract or a documentary.  As it turns out, it is a fantastic collage of rapidly cut scenes in a Fellini-esque fable about modern society and world-wide atrocities.


It starts with lush filming (vibrant, deep and hard-edged colors) from the decks and interiors of a large cruise ship in the middle of a vast sea - the camera pans to the steep glistening walls of the ship's sides, to  its night-lit rain-soaked decks, and, inside,  to the day and night partying of its easily-labeled bourgeois passengers.  We see the syncopated scenes and hear the music - they are color soaked and sound blasted riffs- a parody of cruise ship parties.   But woven through the scenes of the painted, foolish cruise ship world are intermittent sinister scenes, where carnival-like ghoulish personages try to lure their passenger companions to some undefined evil end.  Throughout the cruise ship phase of the film, we never see the whole ship - we see waves crashing into the ship's eerily white sides and their white foam, black troughs, and surging and crashing movement - truly lyrical.  We see the seas, the horizons, the waves, the decks, the clubs - but never the whole ship filmed as an entirety. The ship is the world - with no other  points of reference. 


Midway, the film shifts to a farm house, also a self contained world, where a family appears to by carrying on its life, but the parents also appear to be running for some sort of office. A set of journalists arrive and try to get interviews with the family, to be frustrated by the evasive moves of them and their children.  The children make up games to tease and distract the journalists - for many such scenes, a dirty white llama and a jet black donkey are in one side of the scene, tethered to the scene, observing it, but trying to turn away.  Here Godard is in full imagining on a large rural canvas. The journalists' attempts at interviews evoke the Sartre interview by Jean Seberg in his classic "Breathless".  The deep color filming of the farm, coupled with the childish hide and seek of the family and the journalists, evoke many visions from Godard's own "Week End", another attack on the destructive values of modern society.  The scenes become increasingly punctuated by black, brown and white documentary videos of historic carnage scenes, including the Holocaust and the Odessa steps.  Who knows the message - it is perhaps the total impossibility that the local elections and the farm house couple's attempt to join the local bureaucracy can possibly address the serious issues of the world and that journalists often flock to inane stories while ignoring or failing to comprehend the serious issues in the world.


Whether the film is a lusciously disguised political commentary or a series of visual and mental dreams can legitimately be discussed.  The film making  is a given - its scenes snap from one set of images to another with abrupt cutting.  Equally, the narrator's deadpan  monotone in French describing or commenting on each scene abruptly shifts from one focus to another.


In French one can understand the full sense of the absurdist  commentary, jolting as it may be, but the English subtitles - giving only nouns and selective adjectives - contribute to making the film incomprehensible to the non-French speaking audience.


This is a rich and evocative film. One could discuss each one of the vignettes at length and draw meaning or pretention out of each.  Its central message seems to be that the current pan American, pan European middle class and upper class societies seem incapable of dealing with - or even to try to summon the collective will to address - the presence of terrorism, famine, and other evils in the modern world. Yet we surmise these readings out of a pastiche of images and narration that is supposedly to  be profound, but is over the course of the film at best confusing and at worst annoying.  The wonderful fragments that comprise this film address so many themes and images that no central force carries it, except the sophisticated film making.  It goes from lyrical images of waves and coasts to ghoulish Expressionist figures to slapstick comedy.  The images and messages are there for all to see and hear, but there is no visual, thematic or other sustaining movement. 


The film is a kaleidoscope - with many richly colored and many gray moments - that takes us to too many places or to nowhere. Having had a visually wonderful experience, we are left with a great film maker's reveries - wondering what we have seen.


Old Cats (Gatos Viejos). (Chile)  Sebastián Silva (whose The Maid was featured in the 2009 New Directors/New Films Festival) and Pedro Peirano are two young, talented Chilean filmmakers co-wrote and co-directed this comedy about an aging family.  Enrique (convincingly played by Alejandro Sieveking), and his wife Isadora (wonderfully played by Bélgica Castro, who played the title role in Silva’s other film) live together—as the metaphoric “old cats”—in a nice apartment left to Isadora by her deceased former husband—and which is inhabited by a literal old cat, as well.  There is a warmth to their relationship and a positive sense of their caring for each other which pervades most of the film.  In a comic, but loving way, we see this couple taking their endless morning medications, and dealing with each other’s idiosyncrasies and failings.  Slowly, however we become aware that not only is Isadora’s health declining, she is becoming demented.  Meanwhile, we are introduced to Isadora’s ridiculous, conniving, cocaine snorting daughter (by her former husband) Rosario, and Rosario’s butch girlfriend “Hugo,” whom Isadora persists in calling by her given name, “Beatrice,” much to Rosario’s consternation.  These characters are such grotesque, unnatural caricatures, unfortunately, that it is impossible to know whether their acting is as bad as it seems, or whether it is just the function of bad writing.  Rosario, with Hugo’s assistance, is trying to swindle the elder couple out of the mother’s apartment.  Despite their extremely shallow characterization, the film remains reasonably good for a long time:  it is engaging, funny, and entertaining.  Nevertheless, it eventually trails off toward an extremely a trite—and I felt—unsuccessful ending, which sorely diminished my enjoyment of the movie as a whole.  But these two filmmakers are really young (Silva is 31), and it is reasonable to assume from how well they did with most of Old Cats that we can look to them for more sophisticated work in the future.


LENNONNYC.  (USA; premieres on Thirteen’s American Masters on 22 November)  I was so looking forward to this documentary film by Michael Epstein about John Lennon’s years in New York:  the promise of rarely-seen footage of his time in our city, with much of it in our neighborhood (Nancy used to run into John and Yoko on 72nd Street a lot, back in the day), was extremely promising—and John Lennon is a musician I greatly respect.  Unfortunately, it did not live up to my expectations.  It started well, and I enjoyed the footage of his early years in the City.  Nevertheless, rather than almost exclusively being focused on his time in New York, much of the film deals with his unhappy sojourn in California.  Having been caught by Yoko Ono cheating on her by having sex with another woman at a party they were both attending, his wife throws him out and places him in exile—which he chooses to serve out in California.  The focus on his miserable time there made me uncomfortably aware of things I’d just as soon not have needed to focus on:  in the first place, it made me painfully aware of how psychologically unhealthy John was—how infantile and dependent (and I am not referring primarily to his substance abuse and alcoholism at this point), not to mention depressed he was; it also reminded me of how much I always disliked Yoko Ono’s presence in his life back then—something I had ceased to focus on in later years.  Now, I cannot fault her for throwing the rascal out; but it is not exactly as if she actually ended her relationship with him:  she basically let him twist pathetically in the wind, in a way that the film made me feel was horribly sadistic and cruel—only eventually to reunite with him once his degradation and dependent surrender was complete.  Yuck.  Anyway, there was far less of the good stuff I was hoping to find, and far more stuff I’d rather not have spent my evening watching.  Nancy was disappointed, but disliked it less than I, however; and my mother, whom we brought to the screening with us, actually enjoyed it.  Go figure.  It was not a bad documentary; it was just disappointing.


The Tempest.  (Centerpiece, USA, Touchstone)   After suffering through the 1999 Titus (Taymor’s film rendition of Titus Andronicus—the choice of which alone being more than mildly off-putting), I was deeply worried about seeing Julie Taymor do more Shakespeare.  I had basically liked her 2002 film,  Frida, except where she had felt the need to indulge in what I certain she considers her signature elements—a stylized, psychedelic sort of animation.  But Shakespeare…and Shakespeare’s The Tempest, no less:  I very much like the play, and I have only ever seen one production that I thought was any good, but have suffered through many that I found to be drivel.  Well, Julie Taymor’s film was a better movie than I had feared it would be.  Helen Mirren was wonderful, as usual—and the film worked fine with the questionable, gender-crossing premise of turning the main character into her as “Prospera.”  Alan Cumming was good as Sebastian, Tom Conti was reasonable as Gonzalo, Felicity Jones OK as Miranda, and Ben Wishaw was interesting, transformed into whatever Tinkerbelle-inspired, hermaphroditic creature Taymor was thinking of Ariel as being.  (In the other direction, David Strathairn, whom I usually love, was simply flat as Alonso, Alfred Molina, whom I usually like was terrible as Stephano, Russell Brand was horrid as Trinculo, and Djimon Hounsou beyond horrid as Caliban.)  But Taymor succeeded in moving the whole thing along as an easy-to-understand story, a straight-forward narrative that worked in a coherent, linear way in this film.  Well…that is, as long as you don’t connect it to Shakespeare.  “Ah, there’s the rub”!  One of the most striking facts about Shakespeare’s The Tempest is that it is almost completely not plot driven.  The reason that there are so few good productions of this play is that it is exceedingly difficult to generate a meaningful interpretation of the nuances of its meanings.  It richness and its intensity—even its very meaning—come from the very complexities that Taymor has excised from her film.  Taymor’s The Tempest reminds me of Mel Brooks’ idea in his 1983 film To Be or Not to Be, in which the main actor does a compilation he entitles, “Highlights from Hamlet”—a very funny idea in that film, a very disturbing association here.  So, if you have no interest in Shakespeare’s play, feel free to go see this wonderful performance by Helen Mirren in whatever this story is; it is a very watchable film (although it does still suffer from Taymor’s damnable tendency to fill things with meaningless, self-indulgent animation; and the use of music is horrendous—particularly offensive in the pop-ballad version of the play’s epilogue); but please do not go and think you have witnessed even a decent Classic Comics version of Shakespeare’s play.


Revolucíon.  (Mexico)  To commemorate the centenary of the Mexican Revolution, Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna produced this compilation of short films, each done by one of Mexico’s hot young directors:  Mariana Chenillo, Patricia Riggen, Fernando Eimbcke, Amat Escalante, Gael García Bernal, Rodrigo García, Diego Luna, Gerardo Naranjo, Rodrigo Plá, and Carlos Reygadas.  There was enormous variation in the type, quality, and success of these films—half of them were quite good, and half were quite bad (and most of the six of us who saw it together were fairly consistent in our reactions as to which were which).  I wish I had access to the names of each segment and who directed each one.  I am going to make the perhaps unwarranted assumption that the list of the directors above (which I copied from the Film Society’s write-up of the film) is in the order the segments appeared—but don’t hold me to it or count on it!  My very favorite piece (it was everyone’s) was the second, so I am going to assume it was made by Patricia Riggen.  The Mexican-American female lead is first seen in a hospital, at the deathbed of her immigrant father, whose last words to her are the request to bury him in Mexico.  She is appalled by the idea, and cannot afford the cost—which she learns from a mortuary/travel agent who has an entire business providing just this service—even by pawning his most treasured possession, a pistol used by his grandfather, who had been an officer in the Revolution.  She also cannot understand why her father would have wanted this, nor why it could be meaningful in any way; but, encouraged by her Mexican aunt, she eventually decides to have him embalmed and drive him to Mexico.  The entire beginning of the piece is wonderfully funny, especially the drive with the corpse.  The emotional dénouement, however, comes with the tender caring greeting she finds in her father’s old village, where she discovers things about her father, rural loyalties, and ties to a country and a history that move her, and the audience as well.  There is a later segment (by a director I cannot begin to guess at, as it was neither at the beginning or the end of the film) in which a local politician has invited the elderly grandson of Poncho Villa to come to a series of speaking engagements; the grandson, who has nervously prepared his remarks, is repeatedly trotted out before the crowds, but never allowed to utter a word; finally, realizing that he, the descendent of the great revolutionary, has simply been being manipulated and used by the sort of politician that his ancestor might  have fought to overthrow, he asks to be sent back to his village.  It is a touching and surprisingly powerful political tale, told in such a gestural and subtle fashion.  The last sequence in the film, which I am supposing was by Carlos Reygadas, and was a parade down a Los Angeles street in slow motion photography.  Interspersed with the LA fire trucks and marchers and largely Mexican people watching the parade were Mexican rebels from the 1910 revolution—some on horseback, some walking, but all representing a past that somehow was a presence in modern day Los Angeles.  It was a surprisingly moving and effective piece.  As a whole—with some of the segments as good as they were, but also with some as bad as were—the overall effect was not all that satisfactory.


Hereafter. (Closing Night, USA, Warner Bothers)  Let me begin by saying I do not like Clint Eastwood as a director.  I thoroughly disliked Changeling, his film in the 2008 NYFF, and Mystic River, from the 2003 NYFF; and I felt the same way about his 2004 Million Dollar Baby.  In fact, he has not directed any film I’ve found even vaguely tolerable since the relatively good ones he did in the 70s (The Gauntlet in 1977, Outlaw Josey Wales in 76, and  The Eiger Sanction in 1975).  I found Hereafter, which closed the NYFF this year, similarly objectionable—albeit for somewhat different reasons.  I don’t know whether Eastwood believes the drivel upon which this piece of trash was based, or whether he is merely venally pandering to the fact that much of the American public does and is going to lap this up—and I am not sure which I think would be worse; but this film panders to exactly the kind of impoverished, flawed thinking that is causing the decline of American society.  I was struck by the fact that it makes the case that one does not have to be religious in order to be stupidly superstitious or to trust in ridiculous magical thinking.  Manipulating various maudlin melodramatic possibilities—the resuscitation of a beautiful French woman (played in a beautiful but empty way by Cécile De France, probably due to the nature of the part), swept away by the tsunami in Indonesia (while out buying gifts for the children of the man she is having an affair with, no less); the misery and anguish of an early adolescent boy whose more successful but beloved twin brother has just been hit by a truck and killed while trying to escape some older juvenile delinquents who were chasing him while he was on the London streets doing an errand for their mother—the film attempts to draw the viewer into the desire for contact with the recently dead, and a belief in an afterlife in which they are still mercifully present.  I must admit, Matt Damon does a masterful job playing George Lonegan, the blue collar worker who is a “real” psychic (as opposed to the numerous “phony” psychics we see during the desperate attempts of the bereft characters to connect with the afterlife—who are, of course, not the real thing, but help us to accept the “legitimate” item when we encounter it).  Lonegan has left the psychic biz, and he is now a worker in a sugar factory, trying to avoid making money from his “gift”—which, of course, had been a very heavy burden for him to bear.  George’s brother, meanwhile, is doing everything imaginable to coerce George into returning to the business (because he feels no compunction at all about trying to make money off his brother’s “gift”)—including sending one of his clients for a “reading” (what these mini- séances with the recently deceased are called in this film).  The client, Christos (if you’re ready for that), played extremely convincingly by Richard Kind, is completely satisfied, beyond even what he is willing to admit to George:  in one of the many tricks used to induce the audience to go along with the hocus-pocus premise, George seems to have been mistaken about a time or date which Christos’s dead wife repeatedly tried to communicate to him but which seems to have had no temporal significance; Christos later confesses to George’s brother that the “April” his wife was referring to was not a date, but actually the name of his wife’s nurse during her protracted illness, and a woman with whom Christos had had a long affair during that illness.  There is one cute theme when George begins a relationship with Melanie (played refreshingly by Bryce Dallas Howard), whom he meets in a cooking class, and which results in the one rather good, psychologically interesting scene in the film (which, expectably, does not require anything supernatural whatsoever to make it work). Although maudlin, melodramatic, and cheesy, the film is quite well-done from a visual and cinematographic point of view; but I found everything good about it technically to be even more disturbing because of its pernicious potential to serve as reinforcement for the kind of idiocy the film is selling.  I hated this film, and I found it offensive that it was in the Festival at all, no less in a position of honor.




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


We  attended three of these Special Events.  Two were talks by directors:  Cinema Inside Me: Olivier Assayas, in this dialogue with NYFF Selection Committee Chairman Richard Peña, Assayas, who is the director of Carlos (q.v., above), guided his audience on a marvelous tour through some of the history of cinema that has influenced his own filmmaking; and Mike Leigh: Shooting London, in this dialogue with Adrian Wootton, CEO of Film London (a municipal organization set up to support filmmaking in that city), Leigh, who is the director of Another Year (q.v., above),  examined the way the city of London has played an essential role in his filmmaking and gave an insightful understanding of how importantly the urban environment figures into the textural fabric of his films—even when that environment is artificially created.  The third event was the screening of A Letter to Elia, a truly wonderful film by Martin Scorcese and Kent Jones, followed by a wonderful dialogue between Kent and Todd McCarthy, and then a screening of Elia Kazan’s rarely available 1963 masterpiece, America, America.  A Letter to Elia is a loving tribute to a very controversial man who made some extremely wonderful films.  In this film, Scorcese gives a deeply personal account of why Kazan was so deeply important to him, and what is so deeply wonderful and artistically powerful about Kazan’s films.  It deals directly with the central controversy about Kazan:  the fact that in 1952 he caved in to pressure from the House Un-American Activities Committee and became a friendly witness, “naming names” in the process that created the despised blacklist of the period.  The film wishes to make the point that this event, despite its importance, does not constitute the whole of this man—and certainly does not invalidate all of the art he created.  These contentions are clearly valid; and the film successfully goes on to give deep insight into what was so special about Kazan’s cinematographic vision.  Whatever he was as a person, he created great art:  A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), On the Waterfront (1954), East of Eden (1955), Wild River (1960), Splendor in the Grass (1961), America, America (1963)—this is an impressive oeuvre!  (And I believe that a person’s art stands apart from his personality and his personal actions.  I can respect someone’s art even when I cannot respect his actions:  my love for the writing of Thomas Mann is not affected by his flirtation with the Nazi party; Wagner’s politics would not keep me away from his operas [it’s actually the fact that I do not like his music that does that! {cf., Mark Twain’s famous quip: “Wagner’s music is better than it sounds”}]; and the fact that Picasso was a womanizer and generally not a nice person does not diminish my affection for his art.)   Nevertheless, the greatness of his films does not obviate the problem of dealing with the personal implications of Kazan’s actions.  As someone whose first arena of political activism was the opposition to the HUAC—which, many people do not know continued to function long after the corresponding Senate committee which had been led by Joseph McCarthy ceased to operate (after the disastrous Army-McCarthy hearings of 1954)—I am afraid I cannot be so quick personally to exonerate Kazan for his actions.  It is not primarily that he caved into the pressure; many people did, and it is hard to condemn someone for not being able to resist the terrible pressure and personal threat that the Committee imposed.  The real problem is that Kazan, unlike many who gave in to that pressure, was never repentant.  In fact, he staunchly defended the virtuous correctness of his actions right to his death.  As A Letter to Elia suggests, we should appreciate the fabulous art Kazan made; but this does not mean we necessarily should honor the man.  I was not in favor of awarding him a life achievement Academy Award, and, I must confess, I still think it was a mistake, and I am not happy with those, like Scorcese, who supported that move.  Having seen this film, I understand and appreciate the personal importance that Kazan had for Scorcese.  That does not, however, mean I am willing to honor Kazan himself.


There are short films shown with some of the main screenings of the Festival.  Very occasionally there have been some wonderful ones; far more often there have been many simply dreadful ones; and, mostly they have just not been particularly good.  It is my strong opinion that they simply should not be part of the NYFF programming in the future:  it just does not seem worth it, and it certainly is not necessary.  This year there was nothing special, only two vaguely good ones that we saw:  Protect the Nation by Candice Reisser, and Day Trip by Zoe McIntosh; and there were a couple of distressingly bad ones:  the worst being the usurious, contrived Translating Edwin Honig: A Poet’s Alzheimer’s by Alan Berliner, followed by the somewhat less terrible All Flowers in Time, by Jonathan Caouette; and one that wasn’t too bad, but rather was just pointless:  Mary Last Seen by Sean Durkin. 


During this year’s NYFF, there was a NYFF Masterworks series, Elegant Elegies: The Films of Masahiro Shinoda.  This NYFF Masterworks series, screened at the Film Society’s Walter Reade Theater., consisted of 12 films by this Japanese master filmmaker.  As much as we should have loved to see these films, we simply did not have the time this year.


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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