NYFF: AROUND THE WORLD IN 17 DAYS:
THE RED CARPET STARTS HERE
With no jet lag, it’s been the most interesting and least expensive grand tour around since 1962: think 2009’s White Ribbon (Germany) and Precious. And 2010’s Social Network and Of Gods and Men (France) Well, the 2011 slate was no exception. We got The Artist (US/France), A Separation (Iran), and some memorable multi-nationals.
The Artist had scored at Cannes; since word on the festival circuit travels quickly, the press screening was packed, the air crackled. Afterwards, the Q & A featured both producer and director, and six cast members—all visibly pumped. One of the initial queries, from a senior critic, began with ”Before I ask a question, let me thank you for bringing us the best film at the festival!” It was a first, and got a huge round of applause. All subsequent hype aside, is there anybody who doesn’t actually love this film? Apart from its many pleasures, it’s got that tap dancing and a dog (yes, named Uggie). Director/writer Hazanavicius knew exactly the film he wanted to make, and he had all the technical skill necessary to make it. And to get, and keep, his cast and crew on the same page. Trust the Weinstein company to know what to do with it. Consider it done. To a turn.
A Separation. Penetrating, heartbreaking—and universal. The unresolvable conflicts between a husband and wife deeply in love, yet torn apart by their separate needs. Even the minor characters are artfully drawn, their points of view and intersections made clear. The lady-or-the-tiger ending really does damage where you least want it to.
There were, as always, many excellent films and many surprises from every corner of the world, long and short, deep and quirky, thought-provoking and entertaining, but always marked by their perspective on what life is like somewhere else, and what’s being made there that mirrors it.
Pedro Almodovar was back, too, with The Skin I Live In. A dark, complex scenario, with great performances from Antonio Banderas and Elena Anaya (who can wear a bodysuit better than anyone), it was both creepy and fascinating, and pulled together as only Almodovar could possibly do it. Brilliantly.
The Descendants. This was a rich, fascinating story, set in Hawaii. Technically, part of the United States, but so different in its culture and heritage. If only it had been made by, say, Peter Weir, or a European, it would have been even richer. Much as I’ve enjoyed George Clooney in Up in the Air, (see December, 2009 post), Michael Clayton, and especially in Syriana, I was not convinced by Alexander Payne that Clooney (or Beau Bridges) were fourth-generation Hawaiian royalty. A less Hollywood-y spotlight would have illuminated its character-driven plot to advantage. Still, it’s a contender, has that rich story, and some really serious scenery.
Le Havre (Finland/France/) A lovely, retrospective look at French films of the 1930s. Think l’Atalante, Zero de Conduite, Jean Gabin. And Aki Kaurismaki really pulled off its nostalgic look at today’s characters pretending to be in the long-ago.
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia. Slow and droll, in the same emotional key as Romania’s Police, Adjective (see October 6, 2009 post). Its deliberate pace gave us plenty of time to contemplate the vistas and small-town mindset of today’s (or really yesterday’s) Turkey, and relish the delicious flaws and virtues revealed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s script and sly direction.
The Turin Horse. Everyone has hailed this as a masterpiece. But I found it increasingly unbearable, and left after the first hour. My heart went out to the horse, and to the actors, who had to bear the wind, the rain, the cold, and a lot of hot potatoes. Did well at last year’s Berlinale, but didn’t make the final cut for this year’s Oscars.
This is Not a Film Apparently the Iranians simply cannot make a bad film. And this one really is a masterpiece. It’s cinematic stone soup, made in despair by Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, who has been forbidden to make any more movies for 20 years and has lived under house arrest for more than six; it’s as deep as it is fiendishly clever. Simply a day in his life (recorded by a filmmaker friend) as he talks into the camera, deals with his neighbors, and reproaches his iguana (yes, named Iggie), revealing his pain at being cut off from what he does best and cannot do. There are some moments of black comedy, but its scope and imagination, and Panahi’s strength are breathtaking. At film forum from February 29 – March 13; don’t miss it!
Well, you get the idea. And, if you’re smart, you’ll get tickets as far in advance as possible for the 2012 edition of NYFF. It’s the festival’s 50th anniversary, and Richard Peña’s 25th (and final) season as the festival’s director. Expect to be astonished with the slate, especially since there are now three more theaters for screening the mix.
Meantime, my heart’s pinned on Uggie for Sunday night.