The New York Times

September 27, 2004


Around the World and Into the Psyche



In 1966, the fourth year of the New York Film Festival's existence, a correspondent for Cahiers du Cinéma wrote that the festival had "proved itself incontestably one of the cultural ornaments of this city." By bringing the French New Wave (via Jean-Luc Godard), the Czech New Wave (Milos Forman and Ivan Passer) and some Hollywood dazzle (a documentary about Marlon Brando) to New York, the festival had drawn a following, as well as the contempt of some of the city's reviewers, including the chief film critic of The New York Times.

"That a Jean-Luc Godard can at once fill Philharmonic Hall and drive Bosley Crowther into a rage is a phenomenon strange enough in the New York movie world to merit respect," the Cahiers correspondent wrote.

Thirty-eight years later the New York Film Festival still commands respect, even from The Times (now one of its sponsors), and Mr. Godard remains a festival favorite. His new film, "Notre Musique" ("Our Music''), an elegiac exploration of human catastrophe in the age of mass-produced imagery, will be shown at Lincoln Center on Sunday and next Monday, an occurrence unlikely to send any of this paper's critics into a fury. Mr. Godard has mellowed into a grand, cranky old man.

The festival, for its part, has evolved into a New York cultural institution that is less a staging ground for avant-garde provocations than a showcase for eminent filmmakers (Mr. Godard, Ousmane Sembène of Senegal, Eric Rohmer of France), magnets for controversy (Todd Solondz, who returns with "Palindromes'') and up-and-coming masters (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, whose "Tropical Malady'' fascinated audiences in Cannes).

This year there are 25 features in the main program, most accompanied by shorts, and a clutch of special screenings and events, including conversations with the filmmakers Mike Leigh, here with his period drama about a London abortionist, "Vera Drake," and Agnès Jaoui, whose astringent comedy of Parisian manners, "Look at Me," opens the festival on Friday.

The bad news: at least 90 percent of the programs are sold out, with many tickets having gone to members of the presenting Film Society of Lincoln Center. Still, a center spokesman insists that last-minute seats are available for every screening on the standby line and through people selling ( never say "scalping!") tickets in front of the theaters. The crazy-cool Hong Kong cop trilogy "Infernal Affairs" is sold out, but you may be able to score a ticket by prostrating yourself in front of the society's Walter Reade Theater with a fistful of dollars and public declarations of love for pulp crime fiction at its finest.

Whether you shoot for "Infernal Affairs" may depend on your festivalgoing philosophy, à la carte or potluck. The à la carte approach involves knowing what you like and choosing according to your taste, hoping the kitchen has not run out. But if you must be the first on your block to see Mr. Leigh's "Vera Drake," which opens on Oct. 10, you may be out of luck because all its screenings are sold out. You can try the standby line, but our advice is to seek out the less obvious fare and take a chance on a filmmaker whose name you don't recognize. The potluck approach offers some risks, but it also holds out the possibility of genuine surprise. What you see may not be to your taste, but it also may change your taste and with it your idea of what movies can do.

One thing they can do is surprise you with new perspectives on contemporary life in different parts of the world. Keren Yedaya's "Or (My Treasure),'' which won best first feature at Cannes, explores prostitution in Israel. Hong Sang-Soo's "Woman Is the Future of Man" deals with the frustrations of young men in South Korea. "The World," from Jia Zhangke, turns the lives of Beijing theme park workers into a melancholy meditation on globalization.

Tickets are also still available for some special screenings, including the tribute to the Spanish auteur and festival mainstay Pedro Almodóvar, the retrospective devoted to Hong Kong action classics from the Shaw Brothers Studios, and all eight avant-garde programs. You might exit in a rage, of course. But you might also be enthralled.


Return to Dead Parrot's Reviews of the 2004 NYFF.