Archive for August, 2011

Apollo’s Girl

August 17, 2011


Film Society of Lincoln Center: Getting It Right, Again

The slow reveal (nine years) of the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, from sketch-on-a-napkin to sleek new neighbor on 65th Street is over, and worth the wait. With two theaters, an amphitheater, a café (open as of Labor Day for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and more), and a reception space—as yet undesignated—the Center is all for film, and film for all. Cunningly carved (it is David Rockwell’s hand, after all) out of the existing garage, it gives the Film Society, limited to one theater since 1973, enviable flexibility and a hot new lease on life.

Like most projects at Lincoln Center, the exact numbers are a little mysterious, but does it matter? The point is it looks good and it works! The amphitheater and the theaters are intimate and comfortable, the bright little café looks out at the street, and the ladies’ room is sleek, clean and actually adequate for the needs of capacity houses. (If guys think that’s not important, just ask any woman you know!) Ticketing is at the front of the house, and at street level. And yes, digital sound and image are impeccable. To enjoy the newbie, catch what’s on now and buy tickets: Munroe Center

Especially recommended: Passione (see our post of June 10) and, in the near future: Circumstances (see our post of April 26), a slow-burn Persian love story, and Mozart’s Sister, a fascinating behind-the-scenes fictional glimpse of musical, and actual, 18th-century royalty.

But there’s much more: the 49th NY Film Festival is coming, and soon. There’s a big, lick-your-chops lineup to covet that will fill Walter Reade, and also program all the Munroe Center’s screens and spaces for the duration of the Festival. Just think about this: galas to celebrate new films from Polanski, Cronenberg, Almodóvar and Alexander Payne. Main-slate screenings from Scorsese, the Dardenne brothers, Kaurismäki, von Trier, Wenders et alia. Personal appearances, Q & A’s, chance encounters—on 65th Street, you never know! See it for yourself and check in early at: NYFF 2011

BTW: during the Society’s recent From Britain With Love, Emerging Pictures weighed in with a live HD broadcast of the series’ opening-night screening of Toast. What made it stand out from other HD ventures linking multiple locations was its two-way technology: viewers at remote theaters were able to participate in the post-screening Q&A, making them (literally) part of the action at Lincoln Center. This is only the latest achievement for Ira Deutchman, long-time film visionary and thinker, the company’s managing partner and, as of July 27, chairman of Columbia University’s Film Program.

Apollo’s Girl

August 1, 2011


Three To See Now:

Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow (Film Forum, August 10)

Although Anselm Kiefer was born in Germany two months before his Fatherland surrendered to the Allies, he is the foremost bard of its modern history, the unrivaled hammer of its darkness. If anyone can be said to be immersed in the depths of the Holocaust that preceded his arrival, Kiefer has to be first in line. With all that has been written, recorded, filmed or painted about those decades, encounters with what Kiefer has made of them is like the the firebombing of Dresden; you are never the same afterwards.

If this strikes you as hyperbole, spend 105 minutes in his company as he works alone, or with his crew, cranes, earth movers, torches, and every material within reach to create a massive installation in La Ribaute, a derelict silk factory in France. Sophie Fiennes’ new film reveals not only the overwhelming power of the artist’s work, but his oddly mild-mannered persona as he interacts with assistants, friends, and interviewers. The film is notable not just for what it reveals of Kiefer’s art, but for the way in which it lays his creative process bare, the physical effort of constructing the vast site, the long silences, the noise of machinery making history. It’s about scale―actual, emotional, intellectual, and the struggle to achieve a landscape of biblical resonance.

Whether you have seen the huge paintings and sculptures that Kiefer exhibits in outsize galleries, or have been able to travel to France to see La Ribaute itself, this film is a must for anyone who has grown weary of artspeak and auction fever, and who is prepared to receive what Kiefer delivers every time. At his last New York exhibition (Next Year in Jerusalem, at Gagosian) I was struck by a vitrine containing a small starched wedding dress, with shards of glass embedded in its fabric. Imbuing a symbol of joyful tradition with hard surfaces and shattered, dangerous edges is a thumbnail of what Kiefer can do on a much bigger canvas. You could say, at the very least, that it’s primal, locking a mythic past to a desolate future, and you would be right.

The Interrupters (IFC Center, now playing)

Among this film’s outstanding virtues is its proof that there is something to hope for in a world of mean streets and tough choices. The “violence interrupters” (Ameena Matthews, Cobe Williams, Eddie Bocanegra and their network of friends, families, and hard cases) have emerged from the worst that Chicago’s neighborhoods can throw at them, have made some tough personal choices, and have embraced saving the city’s most at-risk lives and futures while often risking their own.

Director Steve James (Hoop Dreams) and producer Alex Kotlowitz (There Are No Children Here) have spent one year in the life of a city grappling with violence to immerse us in unforgettable interlocking stories of real people who succeed, fail, try again and yes, keep us close, right up there in their daily balancing act, with them. The depth provided by being able to shoot so much coverage (the team won’t say just how much, and who can blame them?) and spend quality time on editing it pays off by making the viewer feel like part of the action rather than an onlookerthe same approach that made Hoop Dreams such a revelation. And the fact that the sound is pristine and HD images (grit and all) extraordinarily beautiful are unexpected, but welcome, bonuses. But in the end, it’s all about remarkable people who fear doing nothing to help far more than they fear taking big chances to do the right thing, one small gesture, one long day, at a time.

Sarah’s Key (at the Angelika)

A multi-generational best-selling novel, now a multi-generational film, Sarah’s Key may be dismissed as one more Holocaust story. But it takes place in France, somewhat under- represented in Holocaust film files and, like the recent City of Life and Death (which takes place in Nanking), the unfamiliar territory always has something to teach us.

While a dismissive note of “it’s so long ago, and we know all that” seeps into some contemporary responses, this film is absorbing from beginning to end―as human drama, as a still-shocking portrait of a nation turning on its own, and as an intricate plot with an unusually compelling cast. So, rather than being distracted by a few nay-sayers, just go to a theater to see how quickly you’re drawn into the emotional quicksand of long ago, and how strong the connection between little Sarah (a precocious Mélusine Mayance) and Kristen Scott-Thomas (grave and sympathetic) remains over four generations. Script and direction by Gilles Paquet-Brenner hit all the right notes.

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