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

New York Film Festival 50: Pi and Kubrick in the Sky

The opening night film for this year’s New York Film Festival presented the world premiere of Life of Pi, Ang Lee’s adaptation of the beloved 2001 novel by Canadian writer Yann Martell. Introducing the press screening, Lee joked that this project violated all three of the things directors are warned against working with–children, animals, water–add a fourth one, he shot it in 3D. He also noted that it was a challenge for him to make a film about faith. “Life of Pi” is about a boy (Pi, short for Piscine) from India, played by 19-year-old newcomer Suraj Sharma, who is so curious about religion he practices three of them. His father owns the animals in a zoo,  and in one harrowing scene Pi’s father teaches the young boy why he should not be sentimental about animals. Bad times force the family to sail to Canada, along with their animals (which they’ve sold to North American buyers.) A shipwreck puts Pi and a fierce Bengal tiger (named Richard Parker) into a lifeboat together.

The bulk of the film is taken up by Pi’s 200-plus days adrift, trying to keep himself and the tiger alive. The difficulty filming these scenes is what made the novel seem un-adaptable for years but Lee and crew have succeeded brilliantly. Never, for one second–for example–did I believe that the Richard Parker on screen wasn’t a real tiger. (The tiger, in fact, turns in one of the best performances you will see this year!) I’m no fan of 3D, especially since I wear glasses and two pair of lenses make it difficult to watch 3D; the 3D is as good as it gets here but I think the film would be just as visually awe-inspiring in 2D. The scenes of Pi’s inventiveness as he figures out how to keep the tiger at bay and gradually establish a mutual existence are captivating. Occasional fantasy sequences illustrating Pi’s longing for others are poetic and visually stunning. Read more

New York Film Festival: Frances Ha Ha, or Frances Weird?

Over the next few weeks I’ll be blogging about the 50th New York Film Festival, based on press screenings and films seen during the actual festival (September 28-March 14). In addition to the 33 main slate films, this year’s festival features many interesting sidebars, including a rich selection of episodes from the French TV series “Cinéastes de notre temps.” There are also gala tributes to Nicole Kidman (accompanied by the premiere of her new film “The Paperboy”) and to Richard Pena, who is leaving after 25 years as the head of the festival.

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Noah Baumbach’s exhilarating new film Frances Ha, co-written with and starring Greta Gerwig, is stylistically a love letter to the cinema of early Truffaut and Godard and even ‘70s Woody Allen. The story is ultimately about a deep friendship between two women (played by Gerwig and Mickey Sumner) in their late twenties —actually a rare subject for an American film— as Gerwig pointed out herself during the Q&A immediately following a recent press screening. Gerwig plays the titular character Frances (you don’t learn why it’s called “Frances Ha” until the end), a 27-year-old dancer in New York whose financially poor, but emotionally rich life is turned upside down when her best friend and roommate Sophie (Sumner) moves out of their apartment and in with her yuppie boyfriend. A search for work and cheaper lodging follows; she moves in with two hipster guys (one played by Adam Driver, best known as Lena Dunham’s inattentive lover in “Girls”), flies home for a Christmas trip to Sacramento (Gerwig’s real birthplace), takes a ruinously spontaneous two-day trip to Paris, and endures a stint as a dorm counselor at Barnard College. Read more