New York Film Festival

71

War is different now. The lines between “battlefield” and “home front” have shrunk down exponentially, and “going to war” doesn’t always mean, well, actually having to go somewhere. Set during the decades-long “Troubles” in Northern Ireland, Yann Demange‘s brutal and ambitious ’71 distills war down to a microcosmic and very personal level, effectively illuminating a still-important piece of world history through one hell of a pulse-pounding adventure. Jack O’Connell stars in the film as young British solider Gary Hook, who is unexpectedly shipped off to Belfast to help combat and quell rising tensions from the Irish nationalists and republicans, regular people who have started taking their battles quite literally to the streets. Gary doesn’t really have much of a dog in this particular fight, but he also doesn’t a choice when his unit is deployed across the Irish Sea. Gary doesn’t appear to have many options, and we learn early on that he’s got a little brother who clearly loves him and counts on him (before Gary ships out, the two toss the ball around together before Gary takes the kiddo back to, what we can only assume, is a home for boys he used to live in, as well). At the mercy of his superiors and the system they’re all trapped inside, Gary goes to Belfast. It’s not so great there.

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Film Society of Lincoln Center

Misunderstood is a magnificently angry film. One can glean as much from the title, a potential evocation of everything from the Beats and Rebel Without a Cause to the sexually furious teens of Fat Girl and the New French Extremity. Asia Argento‘s third feature as director may not reference all of these different artistic moments, but it certainly fits into the larger cultural history of disaffected youth. Its adults are incompetent, acrimonious clowns whose negligence is only matched by their stupidity. Its children take after them, engaging in petty squabbles because they’ve likely never seen anyone behave any better. It is a film that sees right into the empty core of materialism and its discontents. All of this might be hard to take if it were not anchored by a defiant, cackling sense of humor and one of the most effective child protagonists of the last few years. Aria (Giulia Salerno) is a preteen trapped in the fluorescent excess of the 1980s and wedged between two sides of an incredibly unhealthy marriage. Her mother is a French expat pianist, played with a strung-out glamor by Charlotte Gainsbourg. Her father is a preening, absurdly superstitious actor struggling to be taken seriously, perfectly inhabited by Italian TV star Gabriel Garko. She also has two older half-sisters, one from each parent. No one seems to like her very much, and as the parents begin their shrieking, violent separation she is tossed back and forth like an unwanted pet.

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What Now Remind Me

What Now? Remind Me is, despite its name, an extraordinarily lucid, moving portrait of illness, artistry, and, rarest of all, time. Portuguese filmmaker Joachim Pinto lenses himself as he goes through experimental drug trials for HIV and Hepatitis-C, partially as a note-taking exercise and obliquely as a last will and testament. The drugs he takes make him forgetful and scattered, and he’s afraid they might not work, or they might poison him along the way. But before long, the elegiac quality of the film lifts to allow amused, contemplative shadings to drape themselves over Pinto’s memory, letting tenderness and humor nose their way in. The running time is over two and a half hours, though putting yourself through the entire course of treatment is more than good for you: it shows you the importance of saving your own life. The notebook of a year of rest, this movie attains the religious insights of a true Sabbath. Non-practicing Pinto gives himself over to the arms of his Christ-like husband Nuno, and illness draws out the beatitude latent in fatigue. Weakened but essentially unhurt, Pinto delivers a serene rejoinder to the unseen doctors and viruses arrayed in tandem against his life. He is alive; who is more alive than someone for whom slipping in and out of beams of light counts as a triumph? Everyone else, with their frenetic energies, their evasions and their aggrandizements, inflates their bodies with death. Pared down, Pinto is the stubborn core of vivacity. He may be […]

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Ginger and Rosa AFI FEST

Editor’s note: Daniel Walber’s review originally ran during NYFF 2012, but we’re re-running it as the film’s limited theatrical release begins this weekend. The personal is political. This adage, one of the seminal concepts to come out of the Feminist Movement in the late 1960s, began with a very specific meaning. The idea was that, given oppression on a societal level, the specific problems facing women in their daily lives necessarily took on larger significance. While it wasn’t actually written down until a 1969 essay by Carol Hanisch, it had been an unspoken truth for a long time. Seven years earlier, when the Cuban Missile Crisis rocked the world’s already fragile sense of security, it manifested in the way that revolutionary men took to the streets yet still expected nothing more of the women in their lives than a well-cooked plate of food and a prompt cup of tea. In her new film, Sally Potter takes stays true to the initial spirit of that revolutionary aphorism while simultaneously making it double. Ginger and Rosa  tells the tale of a teenage girl adrift in London during that panic-stricken summer of 1962. With a relaxed sense of style and a precisely poetic screenplay, Potter has created a film of twinned metaphors. The personal crises of her characters stand in for the anxieties of a nuclear world, while the activist Left and its political struggles against the bomb echo the deeply intimate troubles of teenage love and family strife. The personal becomes political while […]

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review beyond the hills

Editor’s note: Daniel Walber’s review originally ran during NYFF 2012, but we’re re-running it as the film’s limited theatrical release begins today. American cinema has had a recent fascination with cults, from last year’s Martha Marcy May Marlene through the recently released Scientology-inspired epic, The Master. These films primarily focus on charismatic leaders and their relationship with a single victim, regardless of whether that leader is a remote farm-dwelling mystic like John Hawkes in Martha Marcy or Philip Seymour Hoffman’s erudite and intellectual riff on L. Ron Hubbard. Perhaps this is because the United States has only had smaller-scale social control, individual religious sects rather than any national experiment with totalitarianism. It allows us to blame misguided obedience on a single man, however terrifying he may be. European films cut from the same cloth, on the other hand, are working with very different material. The legacies of 20th century Fascism and Communism have driven great filmmakers for decades, most recently in the former Soviet Bloc. The last decade’s renaissance of Romanian cinema has spent much of its thematic energy dealing with Nicolae Cauşescu’s dictatorship, but none until now have looked at it specifically in the terms of cult-like social control. Cristian Mungiu goes there with Beyond the Hills, a triumph of harrowing beauty that stands with the best films of the Romanian New Wave.

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review like someone in love

Editor’s Note: This review originally ran during the 2012 NYFF, but we’re re-running it now as the film opens in limited theatrical release. It’s impossible to understand who a person truly is upon first meeting them. Impressions can be made, based on the context of the meeting, but you can never know the true self that lies beneath the surface. In Abbas Kiarostami’s masterful Like Someone In Love, two very different people meet by chance, but within a 24-hour period, they discover more about each other and about themselves than either of them could have possibly fathomed. Kiarostami takes what would seem like a simple character study and, with his astute direction, morphs it into an incredibly well-executed work of art that is imbued with a palpable sense of unease. These two people are Akiko (Rin Takanashi) and Takashi (Tadashi Okuno). Akiko is studying biology in college and conflicted over whether or not to break up with her controlling boyfriend, Noriaki (Ryo Kase). She also works at an escort service. Takashi is an elderly man, working as a translator, who lives alone.

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review no

Editor’s Note: This review originally ran during the 2012 NYFF, but we’re re-running it now as the film opens in limited theatrical release. The revolution will not only be televised, it will have commercials. At least that’s how it happens in No, Pablo Larraín’s new chronicle of the last days of Augusto Pinochet’s rule in Chile. It is the story of a military dictatorship that fell to an ad campaign, a cheerful one at that. This causes contradictions. On the one hand, the film emphasizes the joy of mass political action. Liberation is exciting, and people get excited about it when they are shown a brighter future. However, advertising is also the great commercial and consumerist art form, here being used as a tool by socialist and other left-wing opponents of the regime. On paper this seems extremely counter-intuitive, and No doesn’t lose sight of these tensions. To turn this whirlwind of politics and confusion into a human story, Larraín builds his film around a single young man caught at the very center of the drama. René Saavedra (Gael García Bernal) is an up-and-comer in the world of advertising, making a name for himself in a particularly important firm. Yet he suddenly finds himself faced with a life-changing decision. It is 1988, and due to international pressure on the Pinochet regime Chile is going to have a national plebiscite regarding the dictatorship. It would be the first free election in almost two decades. It was a simple proposition: “Yes” to keep […]

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Not Fade Away

Editor’s note: David Chase’s feature debut hits theaters this week, so please feel free to rock out with this New York Film Festival review, originally published on October 7, 2012. Into a quiet moment between lovers, toward the end of his new film David Chase injects Plato. Introspective college student Grace Dietz (Bella Heathcote) turns to her aspiring musician boyfriend and quotes: “When the mode of the music changes, the walls of the city shake.” The line could read as an epigraph, the inspiration and core theme of the work. Yet, paradoxically, Not Fade Away rocks the boat significantly less than the 1960’s themselves, or even other movies that look back on this tumultuous period in the life of the nation. Rather, it plays like a form of American “heritage cinema,” to borrow a term from the Brits, fantasizing about a time gone by while carefully avoiding any of its real tensions. At core, Not Fade Away is a simple coming-of-age story. Douglas (John Magaro) is a skinny white kid in suburban New Jersey who, more than anything else, wants to play music. He’s a drummer with an excellent singing voice, and soon he finds himself in a band. They play covers of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones at local parties and dances but dream bigger. As he gets older, the band goes through the typical trials and tribulations: fights over love, fights over integrity, the loss of members, and on and on. And, of course, he is simultaneously […]

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Editor’s note: Hyde Park on Hudson cruises into theaters this week, so please get handsy with our New York Film Festival review of the film, originally published on September 30, 2012. Franklin Delano Roosevelt is considered to be one of our greatest presidents — a strong, charismatic leader during World War II, beloved by his nation. Roger Mitchell’s Hyde Park on Hudson reveals FDR to be all those things… and also quite the Don Juan. The film tries to reveal FDR “the man,” a history-making president who can also seduce the ladies, befriend shy kings, and possess a mean stamp collection. While Hyde Park on Hudson is consistently entertaining, its tendencies to meander in tone and to veer too far into the ridiculous prevent it from succeeding as a whole. One fortuitous day, FDR (Bill Murray) requests that his fifth cousin Daisy Suckley (Laura Linney) visit him at his country home in Hyde Park, New York. Naturally, Daisy obliges, and shortly after being dazzled by FDR’s stamp collection she becomes a fixture at his country home. Their visits turn into full days of merriment and long aimless drives on country roads. When FDR stops the car in the middle of a field of purple wildflowers one afternoon, however, there is only one direction their relationship can go in (not to reveal too much, but watching Bill Murray as FDR receive pleasure in a car is mildly disturbing and somewhat hilarious). Eventually, though, Daisy comes to realize that besides the First […]

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This year’s New York Film Festival ended on Sunday night with the world premiere of Robert Zemeckis‘s Flight, a big Hollywood movie that many saw as too mainstream a selection for the event. But it’s apparently decent enough to currently have a very high rating on Rotten Tomatoes — our own Jack Giroux gave it a “B” in his review from the fest — so it’s not like they closed things out with Alex Cross. Other big movies that some didn’t see as fitting were opening night film Life of Pi (review)and the “secretly” screened debut of Steven Spielberg‘s Lincoln (review). However, for the most part the 2012 programming was the typical New York cinephile’s dream smorgasbord of highbrow indies and foreign films. And these seemed to mainly meet the approval of our two primary critics covering them, Daniel Walber and Caitlin Hughes (both of whom are new additions to the FSR team and did an excellent job). And all together, our 22 reviews of NYFF features averaged mainly in the range of “B” to “B+” grades. And the only thing to get less than a “C” was Brian De Palma‘s Passion, to which Caitlin gave a “D.” We weren’t only interested in new works, either. Caitlin had some fun with the anniversary screening of The Princess Bride, while Daniel had requested that one of his picks of the fest be an older film: “If I can say the new (Dolce and Gabbana funded) restoration of Satyricon that made its […]

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“Bury them in Morocco.” Our Children opens with a scene of despair, a mother (Émilie Dequenne) on a hospital bed deliriously asking her nurse if the bodies of her own daughters can be laid to rest on the far side of the Mediterranean Sea. It is a moment of primal fear and desperation. It is not, however, a moment of clarity. There is no context to be had; only the image a woman on a bed and the following shot of Tahar Rahim and Niels Arestrup running down a hallway. It is director Joachim Lafosse’s opening salvo in a quietly violent film that will both assault and deeply move its audience. And then, just as quickly, there is tranquility. The film rewinds back to a simpler time in the lives of its characters, when Mounir (Rahim) and Murielle (Dequenne) had just begun their romance. She is a schoolteacher. He is a restless young Moroccan immigrant who will soon agree to a job in his adoptive father’s medical practice. Dr. André Pinget (Arestrup) not only looks out for his protégé, but lives with him. He has effectively adopted Mounir’s entire family, and is even married to Mounir’s sister so that she can legally live in Belgium. Pinget’s influence over Mounir is powerful, even a little unsettling.

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For anyone who has been clamoring for Robert Zemeckis‘s return to live-action, Flight should appease those fans of the director who haven’t embraced his recent motion-capture adventures. This isn’t exactly a triumphant comeback, but with Flight he mostly knows what buttons to push in order to please. It’s a true testament to Denzel Washington‘s performance that the blunt drama doesn’t fall on its face. Washington has major obstacles to overcome in making the character of Whip Whitaker as empathetic as he is. From frame one, Zemeckis and screenwriter John Gatins unflatteringly show us who this guy is: a bad father, an alcoholic, a coke addict. There is nothing to admire about him, not even his surface level charms, which are best showcased in scenes between Washington and John Goodman.

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Alzheimer’s is one of the most tragic diseases for a creative person. While physically painless, the dementia and memory loss are dreadful impairments that no mind should have to bear, and that seems to be especially the case for celebrated artistic minds like that of Edwin Honig. The late poet and critic is the subject of a new documentary by Alan Berliner, the renowned maker of deeply personal experimental nonfiction films. Previous works of his include An Intimate Stranger, which focuses on his maternal grandfather, and Nobody’s Business, which is about his father. His relationship to Honig is directly spelled out in the new doc’s title, First Cousin Once Removed. In addition to that familial bond, though, Berliner considers his mother’s cousin to be his mentor and friend; Honig’s estranged adopted kids meanwhile imply that the filmmaker was treated more like a son than they each were. Making the subject matter even more subjectively relevant is the fact that Berliner’s father and paternal grandfather both suffered from dementia. So, surely this film is as much to do with the director facing his own fear that he too will one day lose cognition. It’s also his second go at the subject, as First Cousin Once Removed is an expansion of his 2010 short, Translating Edwin Honig: A Poet’s Alzheimer’s.

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There is a theory that Fellini’s La Dolce Vita is structured, quite schematically, like Dante’s Inferno. The idea is that this three hour film can be broken down into nine significant episodes, one for each of the layers of Hell. It doesn’t really work without ignoring some sequences and fudging the math, but no matter. Complicated and almost conspiratorial interpretations of movies will always abound; one need look no further than Shining conspiracy documentary Room 237, also playing this installment of the New York Film Festival. Yet sometimes a movie comes along that seems to dare the audience to come up with intricate analyses, to start cranking away even before the credits have rolled. Intentionally or otherwise, Leos Carax’s Holy Motors is one of those challenges.

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There is no such thing as “pure documentary.” While classified as “non-fiction,” documentaries ultimately form narratives depending on how the director chooses to cut the footage together. In The Last Time I Saw Macao, co-directors Joao Pedro Rodrigues and Joao Rui Guerra da Mata, conversely, draw attention to a fictional framework, a man searching for his troubled friend in Macao. However, this framework opens up to an honest documentary portrait of a city. Last Time I Saw Macao does indeed find a clever fashion in which to photograph its eponymous city, but sometimes lacks a certain ability to entertain. The film begins with a rather compelling opening sequence. Transgendered woman Candy (Cindy Scrash, star of Rodrigues’ To Die Like A Man) lip-synchs to Jane Russell’s “You Kill Me” from Josef Von Sternbergh’s film Macao (1952) in a direct homage to both the film and the city (many references are made to Von Sternbergh’s film throughout). Behind her is a gate harboring orange tigers, almost neon in the dark. This sequence prefaces the film as if it is about to be a film noir, especially given the forthcoming backstory: an unseen Portuguese narrator comes to Macao after receiving an email from Candy, who tells him that she is in trouble with the wrong sort of people. Throughout the film, the narrator, remaining faceless, leaves unanswered voicemails and emails for Candy and searches for her all over the desolate city.

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There is a section of features in this year’s New York Film Festival entitled “On the Arts.” The focus is music and performance, spread across widely distant genres. Becoming Traviata, a documentary about Natalie Dessay’s first production of the opera in France, doesn’t have much of its soundtrack in common with Punk in Africa. This diversity of subject continues outside of the official “On the Arts” section and into the shorts programs, where there are a handful of truly celebratory films about artists and their work. (Perhaps they should have somehow been jointly packaged with the features.) A Brief History of John Baldessari, A Story for the Modlins, and Up the Valley and Beyond bridge the gap between cinema and the still arts of painting, sculpture, and photography. They’re a motley bunch, two of them charismatic documentaries and the third an eccentric mini-biopic. Yet they have in common a playful sense of style, with which they complement and interpret the work of their subjects rather than simply presenting and praising it. All three embrace the spirit of John Baldessari’s declaration, “I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art.”

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Every hero of mythical proportions should have his own theme song. The Greatest American Hero had one, and so did Davey Crockett. Santos (José Sacristán), the mythic hero in Javier Rebollo’s The Dead Man And Being Happy, has his own theme song indeed, which plays over the film’s end credits. Santos is a veteran hitman who has offed many, and sets out on a journey across Argentina. Does he prove to be as epic as his song makes him out to be? While The Dead Man And Being Happy remains fairly bleak in tone and doesn’t establish enough of a rapport between its characters, it is quite successful, taking filmic risks with interesting narration and sound choices. Santos is terminally ill, with three cancerous tumors in his body. He also never went through with his last hit, leaving his target alive and taking the money anyway. His bosses are after him, so armed with illegally obtained morphine, he sets off in his car to evade them. When at a gas station, a younger woman, Erika (Roxana Blanco), and a man get into his car without warning and just sit there. He kicks them out and drives away, only to notice that the woman is limping. He has a change of heart and takes her along with him. She was faking the limp to get a ride, of course, but she ends up staying with Santos for the entire course of his long, strange roadtrip.

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In America we have neither kings nor gods. Our brief experiments with any cult of personality ended badly, though they inspired some excellent movies along the way (All the Kings Men and Gabriel over the White House spring to mind). We have put our greatest presidents on mountains and given them monuments on the National Mall in Washington, but we’ve never admired them with the same spirit as the divine right of European monarchs or the fanatical devotion required of totalitarian dictatorship. Biopics of our Commanders-in-Chief are often either ambiguous critiques, like Nixon, or flippant light pieces along the lines of NYFF’s Hyde Park on Hudson. This history makes Steven Spielberg’s newest undertaking almost unprecedented. Lincoln is an earnest attempt to give Honest Abe a cinematic apotheosis, the kind of hero-making treatment rarely given one of our leaders on film. This is also a new path for Spielberg himself. Previous capital-I “Important” films have focused on a more collective triumph of the people, from Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List to the more directly applicable Amistad. Where those works take a wide look at the trials, tribulations and heroics of large and varied casts, Lincoln puts on its blinders and focuses on a very specific period in the life of a single icon. Spielberg and writer Tony Kushner are only concerned with a few short months in early 1865 — telling the story of the arduous passage of the 13th Amendment through the House of Representatives — and nothing more. […]

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When fighting their various political fights, young people oftentimes lose sight of why exactly they are fighting in the first place, getting swept up in the intrigue of dodging the police or suddenly having a tangible purpose in life. Olivier Assayas’s Something in the Air follows a group of these idealistic young people, who think that revolution is in their grasp… until disillusionment sets in. The film chronicles the lives of high schooler Gilles (Clément Métayer) and his friends’ involvement in this all-consuming revolutionary fight against the establishment in early 1970s France, in the aftermath of the General Strike and student uprising of May 1968. Assayas’s film is interesting and adeptly captures the misguided, yet well-meaning political fervor of this specific youth culture, but it sometimes falls flat in terms of delving deeper into characters and getting to the root of their passion for their various causes.

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Police burst into a beautiful Parisian apartment to discover a semi-decomposed elderly woman’s body, arranged painstakingly on her bed, surrounded by flowers. There is duck tape around her bedroom door, preventing the smell from coming into the rest of the apartment. Cut to the woman – alive – coming back home with her husband from a concert. How did this become her heartbreaking end? In Michael Haneke’s beautifully unflinching Palme d’Or winner Amour, he circles back to this opening scene as he tells the story of Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) and Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and how Anne’s debilitating illness tests the parameters of their love for each other. Amour is a great feat in filmmaking, as its near-perfect direction and performances go to emotive depths very rarely achieved onscreen. Anne and George are vibrant, retired music teachers somewhat estranged from their daughter, Eva (Isabelle Huppert), who lives in England with her philandering husband. One morning, Anne prepares Georges a boiled egg for breakfast. She serves it to him, sits at the table, and then suddenly goes blank. She is completely unresponsive to her pleading husband, but as he rushes into his bedroom to start getting help, he hears the running water turn off. When he returns to the kitchen, Anne is just like her normal self and has no recollection of the episode. All seems fine until minutes later when Anne can no longer pour a cup of tea.

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