1999 - 37th Festival

The 1999 NY Film Festival was more mixed than usual (an unusual number of disappointing films: for example, Kevin Smith ["Clerks"] new movie, "Dogma," was unbearably vacuous and jejune it a typically Hollywood sort of way, its 2 hr. plus running time not at all supported by the few funny moments; and "Sicilia," a new film by Jean-Marie Straub and Danielle Huilet which was SO pretentious and boring that it totally undid whatever artistic merit it had); but it was still terrific fun --as always-- and well worth it. (Those of you in or around NYC would do well to join the Lincoln Center Film Society to avail yourself of the Film Festival and other events.) There were some GREAT films, too:

"Being John Malkovich" (a first feature, wonderfully directed by Spike Jonze) was the clear winner. It is a film you should RUN out to see as soon it is released. Extremely well done, it is based on an insanely wonderful premise: an out of work puppeteer, John Cusack (how much work can one expect to find doing "The Abelard and Heloise Puppet Show"?), takes an office job where he discovers, behind a filing cabinet, a door that leads to a portal into the subjective experience of John Malkovich, where one is allowed to spend fifteen minutes and is then spit out somewhere along the New Jersey Turnpike. How the young writer, Charlie Kaufman, got Malkovich to do this film is amazing --and a credit to Malkovich; but we are extremely fortunate that he did. It is an incredibly funny film.

"All About My Mother," Pedro Almodovar's film that opened the Festival, is also a gem. It has all the wonderful, bizarre humor of his earlier films (in addition to weaving in and out of "All About Eve," the film is deeply involved with "Streetcar Named Desire" --with most of the main characters [including a marvelous transsexual] doing Blanche Dubois at some point in the film), it is also poignant and sensitive. Another must see when it is released.

"Rien Sur Robert," written and directed by Paul Bonitzer, was a hilariously dark French farce. Frabice Luchini plays a film critic who has been discovered to have written a review of a movie he didn't see (as actually happened a few years ago in France --supposedly about Emir Kusturica's "Underground"), and who is being crucified by the French literati. More central to the plot, he has a girl friend who constantly professes her love for him, while at the same time describing to him --in hilariously pornographic detail-- her sexual encounters with other men. A thoroughly enjoyable, brilliantly done work.

"Julien Donkey-Boy," written and directed by Harmony Korine ("Kids," Gummo"), and the first American film to be certified by the Dogma 95 brotherhood (the strict code of cinematographic realism set down by Danish filmmakers like von Trier and Vinterberg ["Celebration" --a film from last year's Festival which, if you haven't seen, you should!], which, for example, prohibits the use of artificial lighting, music not actually produced on camera, and most post production alterations), is an incredible look into the world and family of a schizophrenic young man (based on Korine's schizophrenic uncle). It is an impressionistic, intense, disturbing, yet amusing melange of scenes --mostly done without an actually scripted dialogue-- that works to create a powerful, evocative whole. The young man is incredibly portrayed by Scottish actor Ewan Bremner ("Trainspotting"); the pregnant sister is played by Chloe Sivigny, and wonderfully weird, director Werner Herzog does a brilliant performance as the not so wonderfully weird father. Korine's work is not for everyone, but this a great film for those who like this kind of thing. By the way, this, like all of his films, was produced by Independent Pictures --the company our son Alex is working for. (Currently in release)

In the "REALLY GOOD, but not great" category:

"Topsy-Turvy," which was written and directed by Mike Leigh ("Secrets and Lies"), is a musical about Gilbert and Sullivan. Extremely funny in parts, beautifully filmed and acted, it gives a perhaps too-Kaleidoscopic view of G&S, their work, their times, and their lives. It is full of details that go nowhere, and therefore it does not really hang together as a whole. If you like G&S, however, it is clearly worth seeing. Based primarily around their writing the "Mikado," it is fully of that particular work --and a joy to those who like it to start with.

"Pola X" by Leos Carax ia a disturbing but engrossing film based on Herman Melville's novel, "Pierre or the Ambiguities." Riveting, although very weird, it is an unusually absorbing work --and VERY sexy in spots.

And, in the "DIDN'T QUITE MAKE IT" category:

"Boys Don't Cry" is an interesting story by Kimberly Pierce, with some excellent performance by Hilary Swank and Chloe Sivigny, that just didn't quote do it for us. (Currently in release)

"Felicia's Journey," written and directed by Atom Egoyan ("Sweet Hereafter"), was a beautifully filmed, incredibly welted (with a particularly marvelous performance by Bob Hoskins), masterfully well-directed piece that, unfortunately didn't go anywhere. Egoyan managed to fritter away the magnificent platform he so wonderfully created throughout the great majority of the movie --making it ultimately quite disappointing.

"Time Regained" is Raul Ruiz's attempt to do Proust's "Remembrance of Things Past" on the screen. In over two and a half hours he does achieve some interesting things; but, "ce n'est pas Proust!" (as they say). And the distance by which he missed made it ultimately painful: Proust could spin things out slowly and luxuriously over a vast amount of time in a way most cannot.

And, some GEMS from last year's Festival that are currently playing:

"Same Old Song" ("On Connait La Chanson") is a MARVELOUS work by Alain Renais ("Last Year at Marienbad" and "Hiroshima Mon Amour"). It is an homage to Dennis Potter --and as in Potter's "The Singing Detective (a six hour BBC serial which, if you haven's seen you should), the character's often break out into song (lip-synched, in Renais' case, to French popular songs). It is very funny, enormously well-done, and totally enjoyable.

"Black Cat/White Cat" is Emir Kusturica's ("Underground") warm, funny, and very human film about Gypsies.

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