Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sun Oct 09, 2005 9:18 am 
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The Lincoln Center selections for 2005: a lesson in taste

Selectivity can pay off. The 2005 NYFF showed the Lincoln Center festival's traditional bias toward quality over quantity. Only 25 films, no prizes. Being an official selection in the jury's view is award enough. And the promise of great filmmaking was fulfilled. If you are going to rely on a film festival to make your decisions for you about what new films are really good this year, the NYFF may be your best bet. Let's take a quick look at the choices.

At the absolute top of the list Sokurov's The Sun, the Dardennes' L'Enfant and Puiu's Death of Mr. Lăzărescu are stunning, powerfully moving works. Haneke's Caché (directing prize at Cannes) is another of this major director's brilliant, disturbing, thought-provoking films.

The inclusion of almost a third of selections in English didn't lower the value of offerings. Clooney's elegant, high serious opening night offering Good Night and Good Luck, Miller's Capote with its amazing star performance and Soderbergh's Bubble using non-actors and regional settings freshly and skillfully, are all films not to be missed. Baumbach's The Squid and the Whale is being overrated by critics and perhaps by audiences, but it's still a genial and specific coming-of-age drama. On the UK side Winterbottom's Tristram Shandy is a bold and fiendishly clever appropriately free adaptation of an unfilmable book and Jordan's Breakfast on Pluto is giddily accomplished storytelling featuring the new Irish star, Cillian Murphy.

Three Times (Hou), Gabrielle (Chéreau) and Mandalay (von Trier) show a trio of the world's most admired directors at work and any serious film fan would want to see these distinctive new works, though it may take multiple viewings to assess them and their role in the various directors' oeuvre.

On the other hand one can see why some other selections have no US distributor. American viewers may lack the patience for Kedzierawska's lovely-to-look at study of a runaway boy, I Am; Garrel's long, rambling, equally beautiful Sixties youth story, Regular Lovers; or Slama's unruly, soulful working-class drama, Something Like Happiness. Distributors have other interests, like easy box office appeal, which on a grand scale these may lack for the American market. But more importantly, each of these is engaging in its own special, very original way and rewards patient attention. This is what the NYFF jurors look for.

The new importance of Asian and especially Korean cinema was acknowledged in the selections. There was Yanagimachi's Who's Camus Anyway? about young Japanese film buffs making a film. Hou's Three Times scores best with its opening segment, but typically all three parts are visually stunning. Im's The President's Last Bang, about a Korean coup in 1979, is an odd thing, a serious historical film that's a violent thriller. Hong's Tale of Cinema in contrast is quiet, wistful and sad, another film about filmmaking, where the filmmaking seems to be consuming the lives of people on its edges. Park's Lady Vengeance, the last of his revenge trilogy, confirms that he's one of the world's most dazzling film technicians. His brand of gory violence, no matter how much philosophizing accompanies it, begins to pall, but the troubling appeal of such work requires consideration.

The HBO drug addiction chronicle Methadonia was one of the festival's few real missteps: surely there are better documentaries we haven't seen. But to err is human.

Two revivals (or rediscoveries) were strong and stronger. Wood's previously lost silent Beyond the Rocks isn't a great movie, but it's amazing to see Valentino and Swanson together in a big budget Hollywood production of the silent era. Antonioni's The Passenger (in the European cut distributed as Professione: Reporter) looks better than 31 years ago. By Zabriskie Point it was seeming as if Antonioni might have lost it, but he absolutely hadn't and this is one of his best and most assured statements. Again, two very good choices.

Yes, the NYFF jurors indeed showed us quality -- and taught us some lessons. Let's hope Hou's and Sokurov's new work gets US distribution. Not to see The Sun on a big screen is a huge loss. This study of Emperor Hirohito just before the August 1945 surrender, with its incredible performance by Issey Ogata, is a miraculously touching and beautiful movie. The Film Society of Lincoln Center knows what it's doing.

Cinescene comments on the NYFF.

Reviews posted on Filmleaf:

Good Night, and Good Luck
Regular Lovers
The Death of Mr. Lăzărescu
L'Enfant (The Child)
The Squid and the Whale
I Am
Something Like Happiness
Sympathy for Lady Vengeance
Tale of Cinema
Breakfast on Pluto
Through the Forest
The President's Last Bang
Who's Camus Anyway?
Three Times
Paradise Now
Tristram Shandy
The Sun
The Passenger
Cache (Hidden)

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