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The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
by Greg Muskewitz

[A review of the New York Film Festival.]The selection committee has gone with what can be called “bankable” as expected, because with what finger-full of obscurities that have been placed, there is no risk factor involved

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The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
The selection committee has gone with what can be called “bankable” as expected, because with what finger-full of obscurities that have been placed, there is no risk factor involved.

As I pointed out last week, the 39th New York Film Festival kicked off on September 28th and concluded this past Sunday. The festival was stamped with the imprimatur of Grand Marnier—the official sponsor for the past six years now. In one of the press releases from the Film Society of Lincoln Center, they referred to the festival as being unparalleled in context to their selection of “inspiring and provocative cinema by emerging talents and first-rank international artists whose films are often recognized as contemporary classics.” Now aside from the short films on display, the overwhelming majority of films showcased are all from established and esteemed directors—Eric Rohmer, Majid Majidi, Jacques Rivette, David Lynch, Jean-Luc Godard, Todd Solondz, Richard Linklater, Wes Anderson (more or less) so on and so forth. There are very few “risks” taken with new filmmakers, but even with those who are considered recognizable, by seeking out names rather than products (to give it a crude label), there are surely to be any number that fall into being good, bad and ugly. It is only natural that any number of the names will guarantee some sort of hit—and if not that, at least a packed audience for the nights that the films are being shown. I think it’s wrong to look at it from the perspective that the festival-coordinators and the festival-goers all want hits, but quality is a key. Any number of the films on display here come from respectable or dependable sources (Lynch, Rohmer, Majidi, Rivette, Godard, Manoel de Oliveira, Tsai Ming-liang, even Solondz), but what the selection committee has pronounced as being a dare (Damien Odoul, Sunji Iwai, Alain Guiraudie, Lisandro Alonso, etc.) is like an airball: it can land almost anywhere. This is all but a small elaboration on my comments last week, and my semi-denouncement of these above-mentioned filmmakers is a bit of a contradiction to what I had said. I felt that the majority of the films showcased should be without distributor and in hopes of picking one up along the way. I gave the statistics last week. In the meantime, one of the films without a backer—All About Lily Chou-Chou—was picked up by Cowboy Booking somewhere along the timeline, and mentioned to the press right before the screening began. The selection committee has gone with what can be called “bankable” as expected, because with what finger-full of obscurities that have been placed, there is no risk factor involved. The five distributor-less films are placed inconsequentially into the mix and shadowed by the luminousness of The Royal Tenenbaums, Mulholland Drive, Va Savoir. Considering, these are all pretty big films, the latter two already in their normal theatrical run. I would have much preferred that their space go to something more unknown and unproved. Just by glancing at the offerings of the 37th Chicago Film Festival, that appeared much more palatable to me. For one thing, the festival is far more abundant with choices—a notable 48 films compared to 22 of New York’s (not counting shorts from either ‘fest). Not to mention that both festivals share eight of the same films in common, two of which are those without a distributor backing. Despite that Chicago doesn’t have any Lynches or Solondzes or Andersons or Godards or Rivettes (which will be on their way soon enough over the next calendar year), they have their own noteworthy names—Kiarostami, Jeunet, Wiseman, Lahti, Schroeder—and plenty, plenty of other new and newer filmmakers from all over the world. Films that, otherwise, might never again have the opportunity to be shown or available in the United States. As for my own biggest regret about the New York Film Festival, it is that I ended up missing 92-year-old Manoel de Oliveira’s I’m Going Home. I can only keep my fingers crossed that it either picks up a distributor along the way, or surfaces at another localized festival.

The short films: Nearly each feature shown at the festival was preceded with a short film that varied in length anywhere from five-minutes to twenty. I caught about eight of them, ranging from student projects to professional pieces. The best one that I saw was Fred Louf’s Just Little Birds, a 14-minute project from France about two prepubescent outcasts that do a little ‘experimenting’ of their own. The short was better than any number of the feature-length films I saw, and wished that there would have been more to follow. There were any number of situations and developments that could have preceded and followed the main event to bring it to full-length without padding or dulling the film down. Geoff Dunbar’s Tuesday was a silly 13-minute animated short following a band of frogs that magically and unexpectedly zoom into flight on their lilypads. Some of the animation was pretty, but most was sloppy, and the John Lennon-financed short doesn’t have enough magic to spread through the whole 13-minutes. Santi Trullenque’s Saturday Morning, a Spanish 8-minute import, fares better as a cinematic interpretation of a painting called “The Kuerner’s” (I think). Done all in one long take, it’s beautiful and stirring to look at, but still is empty aside from the surface. (And the camera can be spotted very easily in a shadow reflection at one point—a major gaffe.) Jason Bolling’s 19-minute Asylum about a young women who is forced to look after her God-quoting but bed-riddenly obese father and give her son over to her mother is very amateur in feel and technique (and in acting) and although it brings up some interesting subject matter, it doesn’t have the development to give the story its due treatment. Golden Gate (Palace) is probably the most professional looking short, clocking in a 20-minutes from Brazilian filmmakers Fernando Meirlles and Katia Lund. It’s about two young boys looking for money to buy concert tickets, but resort to scams and drug deliveries to fund their hopes. Unfortunately, the film is annoyingly and overly stylized, but that still doesn’t take precedence over the two boys’ wonderful and natural performances. Janet Merewether’s Australian 14-minute Contemporary Case Studies is a very irritating ‘examination’ of couples, dating and love. Filled with uninterpretable accents, poor visual quality (always changing color tints) and contrived concepts and executions. The Swedish 8-minute Music for One Apartment and Six Drummers by Ola Simsonsson and Johannes Stjärne Nilsson is an ingenious and clever joy about six people who break into an apartment to tattoo: to make rhythmic and beat-inducing music out of household items and gadgets. “Electronic music” they call it, but the music is foot-tappingly good and the film is very humorous. Lastly is the 15-minute short from Antonia San Juan—transvestite actor in Almodóvar’s All About My Mother—also originating from Spain, with San Juan serving as ‘actress’ in the film, too. It’s called V.O. for version originale, but called “o.v.” in the film itself. San Juan covers similar wacky and too-funny-for-words territory as Almodóvar, as a blind-date couple argues and wriggles their way uncomfortably through an after-movie dinner.

‘Views from the Avant-Garde’ program. Asking for self-made avant-garde is like an automatic call for pre-made pretension. For the critics they screened three different “montages,” two from one series, and one from another, lasting about 50-minutes. (There were different five series in total.) The first, Love’s Refrain by Nathaniel Dorsky is a compilation of a boatload of images, edited together in a slapdash manner with little to no connection. There are some images which are beautifully captured on film, but there are even more that are plain, banal and uninteresting. The film played like Dorsky’s whole reel of footage, and rather than editing what was poor to leave the best, he kept it all. (I’m afraid to think of what the random shots consisted of, for what didn’t make it into the finished product.) You can imbed as much imagery into it as you want, but it’s not really there! The second, which had no title to identify it during the showing, and which there are several film descriptions in the press kit that it may belong to, was the best of the three, but still overlong for whatever its purpose was. I believe it was Jennifer Reeves’ Fear of Blushing, in which the whole running-time is only a montage of abstracted paintings busy with many designs and colors. For the first few minutes, it remains a pretty thing to look at, but as it continues and forges on, indistinguishably melding the paintings together, it becomes a bore. The worst was Robert Beavers’ The Ground, a repetitively tedious and frustrating piece on a stonemason who beats the heck out of rocks and his hairy chest. All three “projects” are something I would expect to see coming from high school or college students—exactly who I thought was responsible for these pieces, not 50 and 60-somethings (at least Dorsky and Beaver, who attended a press conference, were). Of the two, Dorsky invested much less importance and value into his, which I appreciate his position and understanding. Dorsky reinforced that his film was simply image over concept, and that he enjoys the “hunter/gatherer” method over agricultural—“I’m sure you don’t relate to people the same way as you do your MetroCard,” he said. On the other hand, Beavers was everything as much as I could have feared—wrapped up and uni-pleasured by his feat alone, a strong claim to his ‘work’ and its importance, and always using pompous answers that had no relevance to whatever the journalists asked him. Self-righteousness is such a drag.

In no particular order:

Silence…We’re Rolling. I wish I were a little more familiar with the 39 other films director Youssef Chahine has amassed over his extensive career, but it should serve as no surprise that most of his work has not been distributed throughout the U.S., and that when the New York Film Festival held a retrospective for him in 1998, I wasn’t here to see it. (One small but easily accessible piece is his one-minute contribution to Lumière et compagnie.) The Egyptian filmmaker has written and directed an homage to the fantastical world of musicals, but his film is not as revolutionary as Lars von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark and it is not as magical and giddy as Alain Resnais’ Same Old Song. But Silence…We’re Rolling does have its sparks. An aging (but not noticeably) singer and actress is having a midlife crisis as her husband has left her for her best friend, her screenwriter is stumped for new projects, the current director is more irascible that ever, and her daughter is experiencing the love she wishes she could have again. Then along comes a scam artist who convinces her of his love, when it is actually her money that he loves and readily mulcts. The family and friends catch on quickly, but Malak doesn’t want to believe it, so it has to be elaborately proved, which then serves as a perfect concept for the screenwriter’s new story. What Chahine proves is that Egyptian filmmaking can be just as silly and commercial (also conventional) as films originating in the U.S. or anywhere for that matter. There are typical (surprising maybe considering where the criticism is coming from) digs at technology—computers, cameras, mostly cell phones and their ringers—the twisty, convoluted nature of deception and love, the insight into the film industry, etc. The fantasy sequences are the flattest parts of the film and actually weigh it down, but the rest is seemingly buoyant enough to prevent much virulence. In the long-run, the film goes on longer than it needs to and keeps on drawing out the inevitable, but it isn’t overly annoying for that matter. The love plot is a tired one, but the cast is excellent and staunch. Tunisian singer Latifa plays Malak, and she is wonderfully energetic, beautiful, and fresh. I assume that she performed all of the songs herself, even if they were redubbed, but Latifa has a powerful and exciting voice. Her supporting cast—Ahmed Bedeir, the pretty Rubi, Mustapha Chaaban, Ahmed Mehrez, and especially Magda El Khatib as the grandmother—are also up to Latifa’s level of excellence. As the deceptive lover, Ahmed Wafik does well at playing a smug prick, but it’s the most simple role out of all of them, and it is also the least likable.

With Zaki Abdel Wahab.

Fat Girl. The problem with Fat Girl says it all on its poster: “A new provocation from the director of Romance,” which happens to be Catherine Breillat. Breillat makes films for the scandal and controversy that they stir up, not for the art of filmmaking. Romance put her on the map in the United States with its flaunting sexuality—a skin flick with a story—almost a Madame Bovary porno. And deep within her films, there is an intrigue and a toughness, but she clouds up her surfaces so much to get people talking, that she often buries the best stuff down too deep. Breillat bookends her film between two reality-based elements: a scene in Tarabina in which a girl goes back-and-forth between her two lovers (here mocked by the fat girl swimming back-and-forth between poles in the pool) and a brutal murder and rape at the end, which was inspired by a newspaper article she had read years ago. Sex and sexuality are just as much the center of Fat Girl, though often the act or visuals are replaced by the distraction and curiosity for the fat girl, Anaïs (Anaïs Reboux), a corpulent 12-year-old girl who is a ball-and-chain to her 15-year-old sexpot sister Elena (Roxanne Mesquida) during their family vacation. (When they fight and Anaïs becomes upset, Elena feeds her to assuage the arguments: “It can’t be too bad,” her mother says, “she’s still got her appetite.”) Elena is interested in exploring and experimenting with her adjuring sexuality, and quickly hooks an Italian college student. He pressures her into sex, witnessed by Anaïs of course, who disagrees with her sister’s idea that when she loses her virginity, it should be with someone she loves. Anaïs is convinced that it would be better to ‘lose’ or ‘give’ it to someone she could care less about once it was over with, since it wouldn’t stop there. Breillat again returns to issues of sex, morally and emotionally—is it a demonstration of love, a pleasure?—and she has no problem capturing our interest, but she goes about it the wrong way. She thinks that by provoking us, whether it be by the fact that a 12-year-old already has notions and theories of what sex should and will be like, or the image of nubile young female bodies or erect penises, it’s the only way to prove the point or tell the tale she has created. Breillat ends up coming off as something of a feminine version of Larry Clark: an exploiter at heart. She would say that she wants to break taboos and that men would try to make sexuality illegal, but sometimes it is that Breillat doesn’t realize how to use such elements and acts in modicum. In the press conference after the screening, Breillat spoke (or should I say, spoke through a translator) about how she has dealt with sexuality since her first novel in 1968, ridding of puritanical obsessions, she was interested in extremes, expressions of desire and emotions. But sometimes she doesn’t draw a clear enough line, and her work gets objectified as pornographic. To some degree it is a fair assumption, but the motivations are usually lucid enough, too; she labels Fat Girl as a cruel fairy tale, and the ending is most certainly startling and disturbing. There is less a lesson to be learned than there is a provocateur trying to raise brows. What’s probably most disturbing are the demands on Reboux. 13-years-old during the filming, she was placed in the position of performing (simulated) sex/rape, doing nudity, and being subjected to a lot of frank sexual matters that really aren’t necessary to put a child through. There has to be a lot of understanding for someone of her age to accept and take in what her character is about, but that means that she has to be totally conscious and cognitive to that character’s personality, and that’s just something that youth really don’t need to be exposed to before their ‘time.’ I got in an argument with a young woman about a child’s role in sex (because they are a child at that age) where she said if a 13-year-old is ready to have sex then, they should. However, while physically they might be prepared, I refuse to believe that a 13-year-old is emotionally ready or capable of dealing with what sex brings. There are still far too many adults who aren’t ready for it. It might seem like the prudish stance to take, something I don’t find myself being, but while establishments like the MPAA nickel-and-dime it over petty issues like in American Pie or even L.I.E., France (and other countries) are to quick to disregard and walk over anything. Major gravitas to Breillat for casting Arsinée Khanjian (Atom Egoyan’s wife) as the girls’ mother (though the character herself is completely hollow and undeveloped)!

With Libero de Rienzo and Romain Goupil.

Deep Breath. Damien Odoul’s debut picture was one of the trial basis entries, and its failure places it within the bad and ugly category. A pointless portrait of a callow, unsupervised 15-year-old delinquent flaneur, the black-and-white movie does nothing but follow him through unmotivated and random occurrences throughout the day, including household chores, drinking donnybrooks with the adults, masturbating, listening to rock-n-roll, an act of dendrophilia, and even murder. There are some segregated dream and hallucination scenes, placing the boy with wolves in mud, and usually nude or semi-nude, but like the rest of the movie, it fails to take us anywhere or tell us anything. It’s a lazy feature, depending on the grotesque images of animal slaughter and animal cruelty, and heavy homoerotic overtones. (The butchering scenes caused far more walkouts than did the more graphic depictions of sex in Fat Girl and Intimacy combined.) Odoul explores no traits other than the superfluous and the scabrous. All it amounts to is a very immature and inauspicious debut about the ennui of adolescence, which has been done often enough, and yet still much better.

With Pierre-Louis Bonnetblanc, Dominique Chevallier and Maxime Dalbrut.

Intimacy. Another frank look at sexuality. Patrice Chéreau’s first English-language movie (though the accents are sometimes difficult to decipher), shot in London, is about a man and a woman who meet weekly for sex. No strings attached, no words exchanged. After a while Jay (Mark Rylance) needs more understanding, more of a connection, so he sets out to learn something about her—Claire’s (Kerry Fox)—life. She moonlights as an acting coach and an actress (currently performing “The Glass Menagerie” at a local pub), is married with a young son, for he too was married, recently left his wife and their child. Intimacy is something of the middle-aged obsession with prurience, much like I am Curious (Yellow), but that obsession is something that is admittedly over my head, particularly due to age. I can’t begin to identify or interpret his quest, his desire for more from her. In this case I do blame a lot of my non-comprehension on my young age, but the arcane nature of the sexuality and the human element is not something that should be adumbrated. And still there is plenty confusion surrounding his inexplicable disconnection from everyone else around him, and the crises his friends are facing. (I’m still wondering if there was any point whatsoever to the gay bartender or the friend who stayed at Jay’s flat.) Based on Hanif Kureishi’s “Intimacy” and “Night Life,” the movie itself, wrapped and trapped by the emotional fluctuations of the story, is a frazzled and haywire experience, and the loose and herky-jerky, spinning nature of the camerawork don’t help; it makes everything feel that much more unstable. The madness that Jay drives himself to, thereby forcing the viewer to endure it as well, is a heavy frustration and an unwelcome one. Catherine Breillat’s examination in Romance is a more profound and developed one; the motivations and frustrations are understood, well-examined, but not necessarily felt. Chéreau isn’t shy about nudity either, featuring shots of an erect penis (belonging to Rylance, it should be no new challenge to do frontal nudity after collaborating with Peter Greenaway on several occasions), but the sex is actually a lot tamer than they want you to think. It isn’t very explicit—no penetration is ever seen—and it’s mostly a lot of heavy grunting and grabbing. As for the sex in the movie, Chéreau addressed it during the press conference. Although he didn’t think it was too much, he noted that when it comes to ratings, it isn’t something you think about when you are filming, and that he was always waiting for the production company (Empire) to ask him to edit, but it never happened. In France, Intimacy’s rating specified that it wasn’t for anyone under 12, whereas here in the United States, if it had been submitted for a rating, it would definitely had received an NC-17. According to Chéreau the actors weren’t overly shy about their nude scenes, as opposed to the actors of Fat Girl, which Breillat had said the sex was something unrehearsed and tried to get done in one shot so that the actors couldn’t complain. Breillat had said the actors she worked with wanted to convince themselves that it wasn’t going to happen, even though it was apparent from the start what was required. Chéreau shielded any labels of pornography by saying that all of the actors knew it wasn’t a porno; everything was clear and written out from the start, and while sex was an important part of the story, it was only part, not all of it. (Though he said that he wouldn’t have done it himself, and because of that, he understood refusals.) One of the journalists asked Chéreau about a comment that Damien Odoul made about Intimacy, saying that heterosexuals wouldn’t act like they did in his film. (“Really?!” Chéreau laughed in disbelief.) He disagreed with Odoul’s ridiculous assessment (after all, look at the source it was coming from), but he said his job is to cross the line in relation to being voyeuristic, and that anytime you make a film, regardless of the subject matter, you are always being a voyeur.

With Timothy Spall and Alastair Galbraith.

Waking Life. A philosophizing wannabe innovative animated movie from Richard Linklater that chats up a multitude of pretentious and bloviated speeches on dreams, nature, humans, existentialism, alienation, etc. The shifting and sifting “new style” of animation was achieved by filming everything in live-action on digital videocameras, transferring it all into the computer, and assigning about 30 animators to draw and color on top of the images. (Linklater joked around during the press conference that the unanimated version won’t be on the DVD—it’s poorly lit and hand-held, he said.) Regardless of the new technology and the creative idea, the execution isn’t nearly as favorable. As the animation styles are experimented with, they are excessively distracting and sloppy, and it varies in degrees of quality continually throughout. (“I say color outside of the lines,” voices a character at one point.) Distracting is like an understatement; much of everything has a disagreeable dizzying feeling, and the differing and vacillating styles and tricks of the animation to assist different levels of dreams perhaps, are all slipshod and inconsistent. None of the characters have names, all of them sort of show up and disappear in Wiley Wiggins’ dreams-within-dreams, unable to wake up. People just show up—some of the characters or actors from Linklater’s previous movies (“The characters had to have something to say, and it had to be crucial”; according to him, one-third of what the characters said were the actors’ own ideas) pop up, drop some heavy philosophies and theories, and just as suddenly drop out, or fly away, or even turn into clouds. There’s no shortage of ideas, opinions, philosophies or theories at all, but there are far too many, tossed out for no other reason that to say them, and make our heads spin as much as Wiley’s. Linklater, as the writer and director (though obviously he isn’t responsible for all the writing) interlards his “dream” with vocabulary like “transient,” “confluence,” “participatory,” “probabilistic,” “deterministic,” etc., surely nothing unheard of or unused, but out-of-place and awkward in this situation. It’s obvious to see where Kevin Smith drew his initial influence from, but Smith has adapted the better usage and style. His dialogue is much richer, resonant, and applicable to the situations surrounding him. Linklater just sounds pompous, though he knows how to be funny when he tries (“It’s bad enough they get your fuckin’ life for minimum wage, but now they get your dreams for free”). For every one thing or idea that is interesting and creative, there are five that are big-headed, tumid and pretentious. Waking Life works too hard rodomontade than to share its ideas, and once you get lecture after lecture, it quickly begins to feel like a nightmare you may never get out of, either. Another entry into the ugly division. Notable Linklater comments: The movie was inspired by a similar unending dream of his own. The concept interested him and prompted lots of researched related to the phenomenon, but he never conceptualized the movie as being live-action. By first filming and then animating, it was like doing the movie twice, and in regard to the slovenly hand-held shot method of filming—the inflations and deflations of bodily parts, walls, rooms, etc.—he said, “I don’t think our dreams are perfectly shot.” Unfortunately, that’s a poor excuse for purposely making something look like crap; that’s not enough to fuel his argument.

With Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke, Timothy “Speed” Levitch, Adam Goldberg, Nicky Katt, Steven Soderbergh (using an anecdote about Louis Malle and Billy Wilder), and many, many others (approximately 60) including Linklater himself.

The Son’s Room. This is something of a treat. It won the Palme d’Or this year at the Cannes Film Festival, though many had said there were more deserving films, after seeing this I am assured that the jury made a good choice. Director, co-writer and star Nanni Moretti is Giovanni, an Italian psychoanalyst with patients ranging from obsessive-compulsive to sexual perversion. He has a picturesque family life, a lovely wife, and two attractive teenagers—one girl, one boy. Giovanni has the feeling of his son slipping away, especially after he is suspended for possibly stealing a school-owned fossil, something the son wholeheartedly denies doing. In an attempt to reach out, Giovanni tries to connect deeper with his son; one morning when they plan for a jog, one of Giovanni’s patients calls, and some of the son’s friends invite him to go diving, which comes to a tragic end. The emotions that the family experiences upon finding out of the boy’s death are raw and real. There is nothing artificial or put-on about their remorse, their grief, their despondency, their guilt. It hit me as it hit them—even though I wasn’t as concerned about the son as they were, the feeling of loss and sorrow was catholic. (The scene where Giovanni comes to get his daughter from the middle of a basketball game was perfect.) All in all, the film stood well as being austere and emotionally based. Later on when the son’s “girl”friend comes, and the family goes through a transitional journey, it’s clear that it is a vicariously reasoned choice; their closure comes from the witnessed and willing departure they gather for the friend. Not all of the characters are distinctly defined, or at least not to the extent that they could have been, such as the wife and even to a point the son, but the observation is a keen one. Moretti and the other writers Linda Ferri and Heidrun Schleef’s foreshadowing of Giovanni’s suspicions and the way he analyzes situations are strong blocks in their construction, and yet they are subtly utilized to the highest extent. The Son’s Room is also stocked (stored, maybe?) with poignant symbolism—like of what had already been cracked (in the family), what Giovanni cracks and what cracks on its own, all shown through the tea kettle—but more than what can be identified in only one viewing. Moretti assembles a magnificent cast, particularly Jasmine Trinca as his daughter. She is a marvelous actress with a broad range of talent and emotion and is searing by turning a minimal role into an unforgettable one. Giuseppe Sanfelice ends up coming off a little colder than he should be, but since he isn’t around for long, it is not too handicapping. Next to Mulholland Drive, this was the best film that I saw at the festival. However, due to the state of affairs currently, Moretti canceled his plans to appear at the festival.

With Laura Morante, Sofia Vigliar and Silvio Orlando.

All About Lily Chou-Chou. Even more random and undefined in its daily vignettes than Deep Breath, the mistitled All About Lily Chou-Chou should be named All About Lily Who-Who. A deranged and jigsaw tale about a subservient young teenage Japanese boy who is bullied and disoriented in school, and finds solace only in the music of the fictional Lily Chou-Chou. We never learn anything about her except for faux chatroom conversations concerning her Ether (who has it—Björk, the Beatles—who doesn’t—next to no one else), where “Lilyholics” can gather to revel in their fanfaronade of “Lilyphilia.” The gimmick of using chats to develop much of the internal workings of the protagonist is an interesting idea, but it is by far over-employed, to a point of nimiety, much like what director Shunji Iwai does with the rest of his movie. A two-and-a-half-hour movie is a long time to be reading subtitles, and then to additionally bog oneself down with reading the chat conversations is mighty tiresome. Lily Chou-Chou is terribly strung together, with rough and jagged segues that are as directionless and maundering as the transitions are confusing. Iwai has lots of ideas and episodes that add up to nothing and lead nowhere, especially when put together and in no orderly fashion. There are any number of appropriate ending places and ending points that would have left some form of clarity and termination, but it drags on and on to incessantly piledrive the parergies into the ground, before the actual end numbingly arrives. I guess that’s what happens when you turn an internet project into a feature-length movie. Iwai is too fascinated by modern technology (the hand-held camera in Okinawa and that whole chapter are hair-pullingly vexatious and irksome) and how to fit it within the confinelessness of his homage and obsession rather than using it in an effective way. His actors frequently look just as lost, confused and distressed by the mess of affairs. A serious-minded social commentary on teenagers in Japan would have overcome the desire for such modernities and told the important story of the characters tribulations. Iwai ends up tackling next-door to nothing.

With Hayato Ichihara, Ayumi Ito, Shugo Oshinari and Yu Aoi.

In Praise of Love. Jean-Luc Godard is not a specialty or task I have yet to take head-on. He, like Rivette and Rohmer, is one of the founding fathers of the New Wave. I’ve never been sure where to start with Godard and have never had the necessary sources close or available to me in order to begin. (The extent of my Godard education was his short in Aria.) But since I was at the festival and his new film was, there was an obvious interest to see it. Right before it began, one of the critics near me said In Praise of Love was one of those films you needed to see about three times before you got it. And after the screening, I had no interest in seeing it again. Now that time has passed, even though things haven’t necessarily settled in, I do feel compelled to see it in February once it hits its theatrical release. Godard’s film is partially about finding the definition (and specimen) of being an adult. He says that it is easy to define a child and an old person, but that adults are inscrutable. The first half the film is witnessing the preparations and begins of that project. It’s the present, and the film is shot in black-and-white. The second half of the film (which is merely 40-minutes, following the first 60) is a flashback, in saturated color, filmed on the incapable convention of video. The bigger purpose of this segment seems to be a heated argument about an American/Hollywood representative who has come to complete legal matters towards optioning an aging French couple’s tale from during the Resistance, and how America has no history, no meaning, “no name,” and therefore must resort to buying off the stories of others. (One character comments: “Pain-in-the-ass-Americans.”) Through that, there is also a heavy bashing of Spielberg and Schindler’s List, clearly a mouthpiece of Godard to flippantly sound-off on a filmmaker he has been known to publicly ostracize and censure. (At Cannes, he was ready to import a print of Schindler’s List and show scene-by-scene what he claimed was wrong, and this was an open-fire attack on Spielberg.) I can always hope there was more to get in In Praise of Love and am willing to try when it comes by again, but Godard’s narrative feels arrantly thin and wobbly. For all the concinnity that he has invested into giving his film such a noble and pretentious birthright, there is a gaping privation in what he is trying to prove and examine. The fragmented narrative along with card-marked scenes (de quelque chose/de l’amour, etc.) and the experimentation with sounds and words vs. images are messy and kitschy. It’s hard to tell where and to what Godard wants you to pay attention to when he constantly has images moving autonomously against the multiplicity of sounds and voices. When I left the screening, I didn’t feel as though I had seen a film by someone with a passion for filmmaking, or by someone who was a founder of such a cinematic movement as the New Wave. Instead, it was as though I had witnessed a crude production and a venomous attack on Americans and American cinema. Name-calling is something children do, and here Godard was supposed to be investigating adults. My position is not to stand up for everything American, or a gross portion of what is put out from the U.S. (cinematically), but more than anything, In Praise of Love amounted to be a criticism and finger-pointing condemnation and accusation of our failure in filmmaking and his success. Godard’s career began because he wrote so importantly about American films (Hitchcock, Ford, Hawks, etc.) and led to his cinematic career. Things might not be the same anymore, but it is irresponsible for him to lump everything into one (disdainful) category. Godard’s application of digital video is like a calculated act of desperation to trailblaze with the newest filmic function in the style he did during the New Wave. However, it’s a big step backwards; the video footage is too saturated, too gritty and greasy and it is but another argument for the opposition to the wannabe revolution of digital video. Whereas at least the black-and-white cinematography by Christophe Pollock and Julien Hirsch looked nice, the their digi-vision is ugly and disgusting. It wasn’t a surprise to find out that Godard canceled his plans to attend the festival since his abhorrence towards Americans is the wrong position to dig yourself into after the tragedy of September 11.

With Bruno Putzulu, Cécile Camp, Jean Davy, Françoise Verny, Audrey Klebaner and Mark Hunter.

As for the other films showcased:

Va Savoir: Nouvelle Vague relic Jacques Rivette’s new film is something of a romantic comedy of mismatched partners in an artistic milieu. Complications run awry. Think Serendipity or Sidewalks of New York, but in French with a 150-minute running time.

What Time is it There?: Tsai Ming-liang’s “giddy” and “elliptical” comedy about a Taipei street vendor and a would-be Paris immigrant and their weird encounters along the way.

I’m Going Home: A sobering drama by 92-year-old Manoel de Oliveira about an aging actor whose whole family is killed except a young grandson in which the actor is left entrusted to.

Warm Water Under a Red Bridge: A man in search of a stolen golden Buddha is abandoned by his wife, but winds up finding a kleptomaniac instead. Directed by Shohei Imamura.

Storytelling: Todd Solondz’s two-part film (Fiction and Non-Fiction) that skewers political correctness and independent filmmaking—or what it has become.

La Ciénaga: Two families are forced to shack up during a “stifling” summer, which has promises of plenty of unexpected events. Directed by Lucrecia Martel.

Italian for Beginners: Dogma-related comedy revolving around several thritysomethings originating from Copenhagen and trying to work their way to Venice. Directed by Lone Scherfig.

Time Out: A recently fired businessman meanders through daily life trying to find not only a new job, but himself. From the director of Human Resources, Laurent Cantet.

The Royal Tenenbaums: Highly anticipated comedy about a family of freakishly young prodigies. Wes Anderson already has his thumb out to hitch a ride to the Oscars with Disney.

The Lady and the Duke: Eric Rohmer’s new companion piece to the older Marquise of O…, and also his first foray into digital film, and using bluescreens to implement the background usage of 18th-century painting and other hand-painted sets.

Y Tu Mama Tambien: Mexican screwball comedy-cum-romance with strokes of satire by director Alfonso Cuarón.

Baran: Survival story of a young man during the turmoil of war and its effects in modern day Iran. Written and directed by Majid Majidi.

The festival also featured a restored print of Charles Laughton’s classic The Night of the Hunter, and a retrospective of the works of Leonardo Favio.


link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=438
originally posted: 10/20/01 01:26:17
last updated: 01/29/04 21:58:56
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