New Directors/New Films Review: PENDULAR

Pendular. 2017. Brazil/ Argentina/ France. Directed by Julia Murat. Courtesy of Still Moving.

Pendular. 2017. Brazil/ Argentina/ France. Directed by Julia Murat. Courtesy of Still Moving.

A dilapidated industrial space in Rio de Janeiro houses buckets, tables, carts, and more strewn between its pillars, white on top and green on bottom. A wooden, asymmetrical sculpture sits at the center of the frame. From the camera’s perspective, it appears to be a plank cutting through the center of a cube. Within seconds, we will witness another bisection. We hear it before we see it; the sound of tearing tape leads to a man and a woman working their way across the room with orange tape. He peels it, and she stamps it into the ground. Once the task is complete, they run back and forth across the line in an impromptu game of tape ball soccer.

This opening to Júlia Murat’s relationship drama “Pendular” —executed in one static shot— sets the stage for a film where its titular couple creates boundaries and transgresses them constantly. Ele (‘he’ in Portuguese) is a sculptor working in wood as well as industrial materials like wire and aluminum; Ela (‘she’) is modern dancer whose work veers into the abstract. The tape demarcates an area for each artist’s studio. Read more

New Directors/New Films Reviews: BY THE TIME IT GETS DARK, QUEST & THE FUTURE PERFECT

By The Time It Gets Dark

By the Time It Gets Dark. 2016. France/Netherlands/Qatar/Thailand. Directed by Anocha Suwichakornpong. Courtesy of KimStim.

“By the Time it Gets Dark”, the new feature from Thai director Anocha Suwichakornpong, is the narrative equivalent of a leisurely stroll through an unfamiliar landscape. Characters from all walks of life in Thailand —from chamber maids and students to film actors and revolutionaries— appear, disappear, and reappear at random in scenarios centered around a female filmmaker’s research for a script about an aging female revolutionary. While this exploration of identity and roleplaying creates a surplus of vantage points for a colorful survey of Thai culture and history, Suwichakornpong uses the same tactics as an icon of Nordic cinema in crafting this journey.

The film’s dreamy pace recalls the work of Nicolas Winding Refn. The Danish director’s films about criminals are contemplative, preferring to explore the moments when these psychopaths brood as opposed to whenever blood is shed. Think of “Drive”’s long shots of Ryan Gosling–captured from the front passenger’s seat–driving his car to the strains of pop music as neon colors bathe his face, and you will have a pretty good idea of how Suwichakornpong appropriates Refn’s pacing for a more pacifist film. In one scene, Suwichakornpong follows a lone woman as she arrives at her home. When she prepares to fry a single egg, the camera’s interest focuses on the wok more than the woman. This choice forces the viewer to follow the action of the sequence via the small breaks in the ambient noise soundtrack. The film in turn demands an understanding of a character’s surroundings in order to understand the character. This same deliberateness charmed audiences at Cannes in 2010, winning the Palme d’Or for Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s masterpiece “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives.” Just like in that classic from a countryman, slow, methodical action in “By the Time it Gets Dark” lures and eventually charms viewers into following its unpredictable turns until the screen itself gets dark. Read more

New Directors/New Films Series at Film Society of Lincoln Center Opens

christmasagainArriving soon after the Oscars, in the first two weeks of Spring, the 44th edition of the “New Directors/New Films” series remains an excellent way for New York film lovers to warm up to a fresh year of film discoveries. Co-curated by the Museum of Modern Art and the Film Society of Lincoln Center, the series of 26 international features and 16 short films is ripe with debuts, as well as new titles by promising directors. As always, the selection amounts to a expertly-informed survey of audacious world cinema today: five of the feature films are from the U.S., six from France, two from Argentina, and one each from the UK, Italy, Colombia, South Korea, China, India, Japan, Russia, Ukraine, Austria, Israel, Jordan, Belgium/Netherlands and Hungary.

The opening night film, a sensation at this year’s Sundance Festival, “The Diary of a Teenage Girl”, is based on Phoebe Gloeckner’s much-loved semi-autobiographical graphic novel about her sexual awakening in 1970s San Francisco. British actress Bel Powley delivers a remarkable performance as Minnie Goetz, an aspiring cartoonist/illustrator whose debaucheries start by sleeping with her mother’s boyfriend (Alexander Skarsgård). Writer/Director Marielle Heller, who previously adapted the book for the stage, is a perfect match for Gloeckner’s story. Never moralistic, the film is tender, funny and wise, with great period locations and gorgeous animations that perfectly adumbrate the narrative. Kristen Wiig gives a standout performance as Minnie’s free-spirited mother. Read more

NYFF52: Due Maestri Italiani

NYFFFilmwax Radio blogger Herbert Gambill’s 3rd dispatch from the New York Film Festival press & industry screenings. The Festival runs from Friday, September 26th through Sunday, October 12th.

The plot of Eugène Green’s “La Sapienza” brings to mind Rossellini’s “Voyage to Italy.” In that 1954 film an estranged couple’s visit to Pompeii provided something of a rekindling of their love. In Green’s film a successful middle-aged French architect, Alexandre (played by Fabrizio Rongione, who also stars in the Dardenne brothers’ “Two Days, One Night,” another film in this year’s NYFF main slate), depressed by changes ordered by a client, travels with his wife Alienor (Christelle Prot Landman) to view the works of one of his heroes, the Roman Baroque architect Francesco Borromini. The couple, whose relationship has been running cold for many years, first visits Borromini’s birthplace, Ticino, in the Italian-speaking southern part of Switzerland, by Lake Maggiore, where they meet two teenage siblings who make a huge impression on them. Goffredo (Ludovico Succio) wants to study architecture himself; his sister Lavinia (Arianna Nastro) suffers from dizzy spells perhaps induced by her fear of being separated from her brother. Though Alexandre gives Goffredo a chilly initial reception, his wife talks him into proceeding to Rome with him, leaving her to tend to an ailing Lavinia. Read more

NYFF52: Goodbye to Language, ’71 & Misunderstood

Filmwax Radio blogger Herbert Gambill’s 2nd dispatch from the New York Film Festival press & industry screenings. The New York Film Festival runs from Friday, September 26th through Thursday, October 2nd.


2014 NYFF poster (Artist Laurie Simmons)Jean-Luc Godard’s latest, “Goodbye to Language” is in 3D, and the iconoclast disrupts its conventions almost as brilliantly as he did two dimensionally in his first feature, “Breathless.” Turns out, for example, that a lap dissolve doesn’t quite work in a 3D film; neither does increasing the contrast of the image. But “Goodbye to Language” is much more than an essay about the relationship between a form of pictorial representation and its ideological assumptions. Godard continues using his most recent palette (even at times re-using some images from his “Histoires de Cinema” and references to images like Courbet’s painting “The Origin of Life”) which means only a Godard enthusiast–which I encourage everyone to be–will appreciate this 70-minute film. The minimal plot is the same one he has used in many films: a couple argues. Discourses multiply. Godard may be saying goodbye to language but not to parole (speech), a fact underscored by the sounds of an infant babbling and his dog Roxy’s barking which ends the film. There is also much of the unfortunate petulant comments about history (“Hitler didn’t invent anything.”) that sound less ironic when they are narrated as opposed to coming out of the mouth of a character. But when it comes to image, sound and the communicative and poetic possibilities and dangers of myriad discourses (used book customers distracted by iPhones), Godard always provokes in an interesting way. Maybe love means never having to say anything? Read more

The 52nd New York Film Festival Main Slate

NYFFKent Jones’ 2nd time at the helm of the New York Film Festival is an impressive one, with two major American world premieres opening this fall, a host of U.S. premieres of notable world auteurs, and 1st time appearances by several New York indie filmmakers. The 52nd festival runs between September 26 and October 12.

Opening the festival is “Gone Girl,” David Fincher’s adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s best-selling novel. Ben Affleck stars as a bar owner in Missouri who becomes the prime suspect after his wife goes missing on the day of their fifth anniversary. Rosamund PIke plays the wife, seen in extensive flashbacks detailing their crumbling marriage. It will be interesting to see how Fincher treats the sometimes unreliable narration that was used in the book. Some surprising choices round out the cast, including Neil Patrick Harris as the wife’s ex-boyfriend, Tyler Perry as a superstar attorney and Emily —the model made famous by the “Blurred Lines” video— plays a coed who has an affair with Affleck’s character.

Paul Thomas Anderson is the first director to adapt a Thomas Pynchon novel but he’s chosen one of the reclusive author’s more approachable creations. “Inherent Vice,” Pynchon’s 2009 book was a comical noir set in 1970 Los Angeles concerning a pothead private eye named Larry ‘Doc’ Sportello. Anderson again casts Joaquin Phoenix, this time in the role of Doc, Josh Brolin as a police detective and Katherine Waterston (daughter of Sam) as Sportello’s ex-girlfriend, Shasta Fay Hepworth. (Pynchon loves colorful names.) The Manson trial going on at the time underscores the story’s paranoid mood. The Festival’s centerpiece feature also stars Reese Witherspoon, Benicio Del Toro, Martin Short, Owen Wilson, and Jena Malone. Read more

NYFF51: The Stats

NYFF_c__130819192922The upcoming 51st New York Film Festival is the first in a quarter-century not helmed by programmer Richard Peňa, who retired last year, replaced by Film Comment critic Kent Jones. Is there any obvious shift in direction? Peňa is credited with taking a largely Eurocentric festival and making it more international, introducing the world to little known filmmakers from other continents, including the third world.

Looking at the 36 main slate films by country, there are 11 from the U.S., eight from France, four from the UK, three Japanese features and then a single film each from: the Czech Republic, Romania, Chile, the Palestinian Territories, Egypt, China, South Korea, Cambodia, the Philippines, and Taiwan. (That’s two films from Eastern Europe, two from the Middle East and eight Asian films. And only one Spanish language entry–Chile’s Gloria.)

So, geographically diverse, but still with plenty of films from France and the U.S. (including some from large studios). Twelve of the main slate titles screened at this year’s Cannes Festival, always a major source for NYFF entries. And at least ten of them are screening at the Toronto Film Festival just weeks before they come to New York. Is the New York festival losing its bidding power? It’s no secret that Toronto–also more of an industry event than the NYFF–has eclipsed New York as the fall film festival event. Indeed, only three NYFF films (all U.S. titles) are making their world premieres this year: Captain Phillips, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and Her. In defense of the New York event one needs to point out that it is part of a year-round presentation of intelligently-curated films, not a once-a-year competition.

Other facts: Norte, The End of History (from the Philippines) is the longest at 250 minutes and France’s Jealousy is the shortest (only 77 minutes). There is one animated feature (Japanese master Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises), four documentaries and no films in 3D. Read more