Thursday, October 15, 2009

New York Film Festival Wrap Up

I've been back in Michigan a few days now, and I think it's high time for an update on my New York trip. In my time in the city, I logged a lot of hours at the New York Film Festival, none of them disappointing ones. I caught four films, which considering everything else I managed to do, is quite respectable. I should probably jump into this chronologically, yet I've got some bragging to do, so I think I'll jump around as it pleases me. Great films attract great talent, and I did see a handful of notable directors, at least ones notable to an arthouse whore like myself. But closing night (Sunday) was the showing of Pedro Almodovar's latest, Broken Embraces, and with the film came not only Pedro, but his favorite muse, (sometimes my favorite too) Penelope Cruz. It's difficult to put her elegance to words. She's lovely, and her arrival with Almodovar was one of several moments over the weekend that had me 100 percent certain that I don't want to be living anywhere but New York.

But the film! Broken Embraces. My perspective on Almodovar's canon comes from having seen all his biggest hits (specifically, Women on the Verge..., All About My Mother, Talk to Her, Bad Education and Volver) and nothing more, mostly for availability. Needless to say, those five set a pretty high bar, so my expectations for this were nigh unreachable. For my unfairness, however, I was punished by not being disappointed so much as taken by surprise. I'd never imagined that the film would be funny, much less as hilarious as this often was. A surprise, an a pleasant one, but it did leave the mystery of it all hurting a bit. That ended up being my only complaint. The intrigue that drives the story on doesn't set itself up quick enough, only to resolve itself too soon. The film jumps back and forth in chronology frequently, and it's in the editing of these otherwise fine scenes that something goes awry. Beyond that, the film doesn't falter. Much as I'd love to single Penelope out, the entire ensemble does a wonderful job, but she does look the best of the bunch. And not just because she's gorgeous: her costumes are marvelous. Between this and Brothers Bloom, I don't know which I'd rather see get in for best costume design at the Oscars (and neither will).

Now allow me to jump around in time Broken Embraces style. We cut to Wednesday night. Tristan has arrived in New York mere hours ago, and currently wanders the streets aimlessly, suitcase still in tow. Come 8:30, I jut on over to Lincoln Center, knowing I'll be able to catch a certain film at the festival while I wait for my friend to get out of class. I knew I'd be catching Jacques Rivette's new film, Around a Small Mountain, but I didn't realize until then how fitting it seemed to be. Not to spoil things to come on my top 100 list, but Rivette's become quite a favorite of mine in the past year and given how extraordinarily difficult it is to find his films, the opportunity to see one in the theater on my first night in New York was too great to pass up. The film was quite good, and shockingly for Rivette, under ninety minutes. Funny enough, that may have been what kept me from thinking it on the level with his best work. Few directors work as well with so much time given, and the story of a struggling circus he presents goes by too quickly. Still, it was worthwhile, and a joy to see on the big screen.

Time jump again! Only because I'm building slowly up to my favorite film of the bunch. It's Saturday at noon. I met up with Sanny and Dr.Ciski, two of the other posters over at Culturish for a screening of Bong Joon-ho's film, Mother. Like his previous film, The Host, it's a terrific mingling of genres that seamlessly moves from laugh-out-loud hilarious to levels of intensity that'll make your blood run cold. Bookended by two surreal dancing sequences (I was reminded of Beau Travail, but I doubt he had that in mind) the rest of the film moves at a much faster pace. The story centers on a young man, a literal village idiot type, and his ever present mother. It seems typical enough at first, but once a murder investigation enters the picture, oh the places this goes! Kim Hye-ja's portrayal of the mother ranks among the finest turns of the year, but the whole thing is just spectacular. I can't recommend it highly enough, and hopefully it'll see some sort of limited release around the States. South Korea wisely selected it as its contender for Best Foreign Film, and I'd love to see it make the lineup, if only for the attention it will bring it.

And now we cut back to Thursday, when after an anxious wait in the rush tickets line, I at last got my ticket to see Michael Haneke's Palm d'Or winning The White Ribbon. I was so grateful to get in that I didn't even complain when I saw my seat, first row, one seat from the end. This had one advantage and advantage only: Haneke himself stood five feet in front of me as he introduced the film. He cut a respectable figure, and dressed in all black, precisely as I imagined he would. He also refused to give us the satisfaction of an explanation of his motives, and I'm assuming he elaborated a bit in his Q & A session, but one of the many great things about the film were the potential discussions that could crop up around interpretation. The only thing I knew going in was that this small German village in the early 20th century becomes a symptom for the impending Great War. The best elements of all Haneke films are here in spades. Performances are stellar across the board and the direction itself is easily the best I've seen all year. And unlike many of his films: both Funny Games, Benny's Video and even Caché, this doesn't seem designed to provoke the audience (a trait which I don't personally mind) and as such I can see this becoming his most mainstream effort, despite even the 2 and a half hour run time. Of course, there's still moments of sadistic violence, more even than in most of his films, but there's also a surprising amount of humor and even a touch of romance. Thanks to that, and he strikes a perfect tonal balance I feel, the violence wrought upon the town doesn't bear down on the film like in many of his previous works. Behind everything though, despite the best efforts of the townsfolk to ignore it, the violence seethes, and the impending conflict of war is brilliantly set up. The film is gorgeous and I'll file it right behind Caché as my favorite from Haneke.

Ah, there, all set! I can get back to that top 100 project, I suppose.

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