New York Film Festival

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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The shorts programs at the New York Film Festival are not technically curated according to any specific theme. Yet rarely does a festival put together events like this without a trend or two sneaking in, unconsciously or otherwise. There are twelve short films. Six of them are quiet, melancholy sketches of loneliness. I’m not going to psychoanalyze the programmers, of course, which would be silly. I will, however, tell you why some of these little films rank among the most beautifully articulate representations of human emotion I’ve seen this year. On the surface, this is a wildly different bunch. Curfew is about a suicidal twenty-something in New York, while Saint Pierre follows a Québécois dishwasher living in English Canada. Night Shift looks at the troubled life of a cleaning woman at an airport in New Zealand, while on the opposite side of the world Nothing Can Touch Me examines the fallout of a high school shooting in Denmark. All four of these films grant us a brief glimpse into the solitary lives of their protagonists, whose troubles seem so close in kind despite the great physical and cultural differences between them.

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Commemorating the 25th anniversary of The Princess Bride, director Rob Reiner, screenwriter William Goldman (also the author of the source novel) and stars Robin Wright (“Buttercup”), Wallace Shawn (“Vizzini”), Chris Sarandon (“Prince Humperdink”), Mandy Patinkin (“Inigo Montoya”), Carol Kane (“Valerie”), Cary Elwes (“Westley”), and Billy Crystal (“Miracle Max”) all gathered at NYC’s Alice Tully Hall on Tuesday as part of a New York Film Festival special event screening. This marked the first time in almost 26 years that they have watched the film with an audience, re-experiencing the saga of Buttercup and her Westley (and all swordsmanship and kissing involved). Throughout the film, which sold out the 1,086-seat Lincoln Center venue, attendees of all different ages loudly applauded and hooted for their favorite lines and for the first appearances of their favorite characters. They were worked up into a fervor, more closely resembling a ribald grindhouse crowd than one at a typical NYFF screening. This large-scale showing injected new life into The Princess Bride, and it is especially great that the audience was so responsive, given that the cast sat through the film and were able to witness the extreme appreciation of their work firsthand.

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Alain Resnais’ You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet bears the director’s typical rumination on memory and loss, touching the themes on his cerebral earlier offerings like Hiroshima Mon Amour, Last Year at Marienbad, or his latest, Wild Grass. In his latest work, several famous French actors gather at the home of a deceased playwright who penned a play that they all starred in at one time or another. As they watch a recent filmed version of the play, they end up getting sucked back into the their former roles. Even though the film is brimming with French talent and with Resnais’ legacy of filmmaking, it never quite adds up to a satisfying whole. The film is perhaps too self-aware and never quite makes it past the surface. The film’s plot is rather simple. Esteemed French actors Mathieu Almaric, Pierre Arditi, Sabine Azéma, Jean-Noël Brouté, Anne Consigny, Anne Duperey, Hippolyte Girardot, Gérard Lartigau, Lambert Wilson, Michel Robin, Jean-Chrétien Sibértin-Blanc, Michel Vuillermoz, and Michel Piccoli (all playing themselves) receive mysterious calls, informing them that their close friend, playwright Antoine d’Anthac (Denis Podalydès) has died. They are given specific instructions by Anthac’s butler Marcellin (Andrzej Seweryn) to arrive at one of his many estates at a certain date and time. When they arrive, they learn that he has already been buried. His last wish, as communicated through a pre-recorded video, is for them to watch a video of his latest production of his play “Eurydice” together.

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“What stutter? This goddamn polio!” – FDR, Hyde Park on Hudson “You have all of the skills in the world but you have no confidence. Now, sack up, man!” – Sydney Fife, I Love You, Man In recent years, the bromance genre has come into full fruition. Most of these films center on male relationships with similar dynamics, with one man taking the role of ribald bad influence on his more nebbish, uptight friend. Take I Love You, Man, for example – uptight, friendless Peter (Paul Rudd) meets freewheelin’ Rush enthusiast Sydney (Jason Segel) and gradually comes out of his shell over the course of their bonding. Similarly, the heart of Roger Michell’s Hyde Park on Hudson (review here) is the “special relationship” between FDR (Bill Murray) and King George VI (Samuel West). In a sense, the film connotes that the US supports Britain during WWII because of the fact that FDR and Bertie become bros. After some bonding and chatting (and presumably some deep research in foreign policy), FDR makes the decision to help his buddy out and encourages him to have confidence in himself as a leader. Thus begs the question: what if Hyde Park on Hudson was re-purposed as a bromance? And so it goes:

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Fill the Void begins with the greatest Purim sequence in the history of cinema. To be sure, there isn’t much competition. For Your Consideration and its movie-within-a-movie Home for Purim had that title up until now, and it’s perhaps the only other film ever to feature the holiday. However, I doubt Rama Burshtein had Christopher Guest in mind when she filmed the beginning of her first fiction feature. Francis Ford Coppola, on the other hand, hangs over every moment. Burshtein plays Purim like the opening wedding in The Godfather, taking the time to carefully introduce the Hasidic community of Tel Aviv and its traditions. The head of the family sits at the table, taking requests from the younger men and handing out gobs of cash as holiday gifts. Like Coppola’s masterpiece, this tells us more about the insulation of this world than any confrontation with outsiders might. The camera winds about the house to present his wife, Rivka (Irit Sheleg), and two daughters, Esther (Renana Raz) and Shira (Hadas Yaorn). Esther is married to Yochai (Yiftach Klein), and is nine months pregnant with her first child. Shira is 18, and her parents are looking to find her a husband. Brief glimpses of the tension between these women color the party, until its dramatic and tragic conclusion: Esther has taken ill in the bathroom. The baby survives, but Yochai is left a widower. It is this void, left by Shira’s elder sister, which the film seeks to fill. A dramatic beginning to a story […]

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Brian De Palma’s Passion, as alluded to in this review, teeters on a level of badness that, in turn, becomes camp. This female-vs.-female rivalry film with strong Sapphic overtones and a constant back and forth of ludicrous backstabbing can’t help but draw comparisons to Paul Verhoeven’s “epic,” Showgirls. Without revealing too many spoilers, below is a list of categories with which to pit the two films against each other in a brutal cat fight. Will the newcomer reach the near-impossible Razzie-winning, midnight screening heights of the Paul Verhoeven disaster? Let’s find out with these seven totally scientific, head-to-head category comparisons!

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Dogs are thought to be man’s best friend, at their owners’ sides in sickness and in health. But can people be selfless enough to return the favor? In writer/director Jun Robles Lana’s Bwakaw, the eponymous dog (canine star “Princess”) comes into the life of elderly, curmudgeonly loner Rene (Eddie Garcia) and thus injects him with a newfound sense of humanity. While the story is somewhat of a retread of many “inspirational dog” films, like My Dog Skip or Hachiko: A Dog’s Story, it is executed fairly well, and the man and dog have great chemistry to propel the story and draw in viewer interest despite its flaws. The recently retired Rene lives alone and without the 21st century comfort of electricity. His only friend is former stray Bwakaw, who he still keeps at arm’s length, as she only lives on his porch. Nevertheless, Bwakaw is glued to Rene’s side as he takes pedi-cabs around town and hangs out with his former co-workers at the local post office. Crusty Rene frequently gets in scrapes with many, including macho pedi-cab driver Sol (Rez Cortez), who is opposed to transporting canines, and flamboyant hair salon owners Zaldy and Tracy (Soxie Topaxio and Armida Siguion Reyna), who only put up with him because Zaldy is a childhood friend. Rene is also a homosexual, but hasn’t fully come to terms with that, despite his old age.

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Last Tuesday was the 25th anniversary of the theatrical openings of The Princess Bride, and this coming Tuesday sees the release of a 25th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray of the movie, which features a new two-part retrospective documentary. Also on Tuesday, a new print of the fantasy adventure classic will screen during the New York Film Festival, complete with a reunion of actors Robin Wright, Cary Elwes, Mandy Patinkin, Chris Sarandon, Wallace Shawn, Billy Crystal and Carol Kane and director Rob Reiner (no Fred Savage? Inconceivable!) for a post-film conversation. So, we’ve got a new Scenes We Love this week to honor the beloved comedic romance (don’t call it a rom-com), and maybe this sounds like an impossible task. After all, if you love one scene from The Princess Bride, you love them all. We could just say, we love that 100-minute-long scene in which a stable boy-turned-pirate fights a giant, a genius and a swordsman in order to rescue a princess from kidnappers and then stop her from marrying an evil prince, all as it is told by an old man to his grandson. Then just embed the film in its entirety (if it were available this way). But we can isolate a handful of favorites — that’s six scenes, if we go by Count Rugen’s hand — and if there are any others you wish to bring up, we invite you to do so.

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Good camp films know what they are doing. They manipulate the audience into feeling exaggerated sorts of emotion and possess a sort of bravura that makes them unabashedly watchable. Based on Alain Corneau’s 2010 film Love Crime, Brian De Palma’s new offering, Passion, is definitely campy, but oftentimes it borders on just plain stupid. It is aimlessly over-the-top with eye-rolling twists and turns – for nearly the last quarter of the film, De Palma wastes the audience’s time with fake out after fake out (just kidding, guys – she was dreaming… TIMES FIVE!). The director lacks the artfulness in filmmaking that he once possessed in classics like Dressed to Kill. Christine (Rachel McAdams, scenery-chewing rather excellently) is a young, high-powered ad executive working in Berlin. She wants to work in New York City again but needs the right account to bring her enough success to propel that next move. Her answer, or so she thinks, comes in the form of Isabelle James (Noomi Rapace) – a “genius” creator of ad campaigns who she calls upon to come up with a marketing concept for a new smartphone.

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Director Ang Lee was given a reported $100 million to make this trippy, gut-wrenching, and moving picture. An adaptation of Yann Martel‘s novel of the same name, Life of Pi is an epic art house film that was somehow granted big studio treatment. How could this happen, you ask? If any excuse could be made, it’s likely that Fox knew Lee had something this special up his sleeve. Pi Patel (Irrfan Khan) is given a lofty request by a visiting writer at the beginning of the film: “Tell me a story that will make me believe in God.” What follows is a story that may not make you run to church but at least will make you reach for a tissue. Pi tells this man, played by Rafe Spall, a tale full of suffering and hope. As a boy, he and his family are forced to move out of India, along with the zoo they own. Like most trips in film, their journey does not go smoothly. The ship is hit by a massive storm and the family is lost at sea, leaving the young Pi (Suraj Sharma) alone on a life boat with a few of their animals. Soon, he discovers he has a starving companion along for the ride in Richard Parker, who happens to be a Bengal tiger.

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Paolo and Vittorio Taviani went to Rebibbia Prison to cry. Years ago, the pair took a trip to an all-inmate performance of selections from Dante’s Inferno that made them weep more than any professional theater. A trip through Hell, after all, is an appropriate choice for a theatrical production conducted in a maximum security prison. One of the inmates read the tale of Paolo and Francesca, perhaps Italian literature’s greatest narrative of doomed romance. Yet in the context of the prison it was even more potent. The man paused to tell the audience his own story, asserting that no one knows the tragedy of impossible love like an inhabitant of Rebibbia, locked away from his beloved for the rest of his life. Between their tears, Paolo and Vittorio decided to shoot their next film behind those walls. The result is Caesar Must Die, Italy’s official submission this year for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. The Tavianis worked with the prison and its arts program on a production of William Shakespeare‘s “Julius Caesar,” filming the rehearsal process and final performance. More than that, however, the brothers scripted around the play itself and created a semi-documentary film that follows the internal life of the prisoners alongside their theatrical performances. The inmates not only perform as Shakespeare’s Romans but also as fictionalized versions of themselves. The result is a 76-minute tour de force that packs more punch than many a three-hour adaptation of “Hamlet” or “Henry V.”

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It feels like every year when The Weinsteins are pushing, shoving, and clambering for Oscars, everyone responds, “Really? That movie? It was good, but… really?” This year, that will not be the case. If a viewer doesn’t get a goofy smile planted on their face during Michel Hazanavicius‘ The Artist, then something is probably wrong with them. Their brains must not be ticking right, they could very well be part monster, or perhaps their hearts are missing up their cynical *expletives*. Why would that be? Because The Artist oozes with undeniable charm.

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The last time Lars von Trier explored a relationship in decay, the divisive auteur could not have been more in your face. While parts of Antichrist were labeled as pure button-pushing, it was button-pushing in the greatest way possible. The director made a 2-hour endurance test, a great one at that. His latest, Melancholia, is not an endurance test. Right from the beginning prologue, which paints a picture of events to come, von Trier sucks one into his world of emotional and cynical chaos. The whole film, despite von Trier’s bombastic filmmaking nature, is surprisingly grounded. This isn’t about the destruction of earth, but of these characters. The apocalypse is only used to symbolize all of the characters’ emotional deterioration.

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published: 12.23.2014
B+
published: 12.22.2014
C-
published: 12.19.2014
A-


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