September 29, 2006
The physical separation of the theater from its
If I may trot out another metaphor, the New York Film Festival might be compared to an established, somewhat exclusive boutique holding its own in a world of big box superstores, oversize shopping malls and Internet retailers.
If you want quantity — racks and shelves full of stuff to sort through in the hope of finding something that might fit your taste — wait for Tribeca, with its grab-bag programs and crowd-pleasing extras. The New York Film Festival, in contrast, prides itself on quality, refinement and selectivity. It is not so much programmed as curated. This selection is a form of criticism — it involves applying aesthetic standards and deciding that some films are better than others — and to understand this festival it helps to understand that its selection committee, led by Richard Peña, the festival’s program director, is made up of film critics. This year’s movies were chosen by Mr. Peña; Kent Jones, associate programmer at the Film Society and editor at large of Film Comment; Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly; John Powers of Vogue; and Phillip Lopate, editor of the recently published Library of America anthology of American movie criticism and an all-around man of letters.
These critics, like others in their profession, incline toward
material that is sometimes described as difficult or challenging, but that
requires a disciplined, active attention. In previewing the movies that will be
shown over the first week of the festival — and some that will come later — I
have been struck by how few of them conform to the conventions of genre and
narrative that dominate American commercial cinema. The split between the
domestic mainstream and the world of international “art” films has rarely
seemed so wide. As the big
Some of them veer toward abstraction, like Marc Recha’s “August Days,” in which the story is a faint shadow
cast by the images, which consist mainly of views of the mountains and rivers
The director Abderrahmane Sissako’s “Bamako,”
the most politically urgent film in the festival and also the most formally
audacious, combines a bracing indictment of the world financial system with a
subtle glimpse at daily life in
But after “Bamako” (and maybe also “The Queen,” Stephen Frears’s opening-night offering about Elizabeth II), there are not many overtly political films in the first third of the program: another difference between New York and other festivals, which frequently showcase angry, earnest denunciations of injustice and war. There are other things to think about, and other ways to feel. Complications of feeling are the subject of Hong Sang-soo’s “Woman on the Beach.” Mr. Hong, a wry, unsparing anatomist of the romantic discontent of South Korean twenty- and thirtysomethings (with special emphasis on the failings of South Korean men), has made his most coherent and emotionally accessible film yet. On the surface the story of a short, not-too-happy love affair, filmed in a clear, unassuming style, it turns out on closer examination to be full of subtle narrative symmetries and visual patterns. It’s a wicked comedy of manners in a blue key of disappointment.
Manoel de Oliveira’s “Belle Toujours” is a charming, small-scale movie that exists entirely in reference to a 40-year-old film, Luis Buñuel’s “Belle de Jour.” It’s a sequel (with Bulle Ogier in the role created by Catherine Deneuve), a homage, a parody and also a lovely meditation (by a director well into his 90’s) on the passage of time and the persistence of desire.
“Belle Toujours” is one of two films at
the festival featuring the great French actor Michel Piccoli (who also appeared in
“Belle de Jour”). The other is Otar Iosseliani’s “Gardens in Autumn,” a
delightful shaggy-dog comedy in which Mr. Piccoli
shows up in drag. The movie is surreal in a matter-of-fact, almost offhand way,
its frames pleasingly cluttered with curious objects and odd-looking people.
It’s in French, but Mr. Iosseliani, who moved to
“The Go Master,” from the Chinese director Tian
Zhuangzhuang also, in its way, honors the impulse to
turn away from politics. A restrained, elegantly photographed biopic, it traces
the life of Wu Qingyuan (Chang Chen), a renowned (and
real) Chinese Go player who lived mainly in
The festival’s main program includes a restored print of “Mafioso,” Alberto Lattuada’s 1962 film about Antonio (Alberto Sordi), a supervisor in a Milan factory who leaves his middle-class, modern life for a vacation in the Sicilian village where he grew up, bringing his very blond, very Northern wife and daughters along.
A lost forerunner of Hollywood’s endless obsession with Italian organized crime, “Mafioso” is a revealing portrait of Italian society and an utter blast, happily blending low comedy, high sentiment, neorealism and farce — almost a film festival unto itself, and evidence that the gap between popular entertainment and artistic accomplishment has not always been so wide. Surely the bridge can be rebuilt.
The 44th New York Film Festival, presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center, opens tonight at Lincoln Center and continues through Oct. 15. Most films are shown at Alice Tully Hall, except the late show tonight and the closing-night film, both at Avery Fisher Hall. Tickets range from $16 to $40 ($10 student rush tickets may be available at the box office the day of the screening) and are available at filmlinc.com or (212) 721-6500. Information: (212) 875-5050.
There are also special programs in conjunction with the festival.
At the Kaplan Penthouse: “HBO Films Directors Dialogues,” a
three-part series, begins at 4 p.m. tomorrow with a discussion with Stephen Frears, director of “The
Queen.” Other directors to appear are Michael Apted (“49
Up”) on Oct. 7 and Guillermo del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth”) on Oct. 14; $16. Two
restored films by Alejandro Jodorowsky will be shown:
Topo” (1970) on Oct. 6 and “The
Holy Mountain” (1973) on Oct. 7; tickets are $16 and $20. At the Walter
Reade Theater, “50
Years of Janus Films” will offer screenings of more than 30 films, through
Oct. 26. “Views From the Avant-Garde”
will feature screenings of new and restored films through Oct. 15. Tickets are
$10, $7 for students, $6 for members and $5 for 65 and
older at weekday matinees. “Scenes From the City: 40 Years of Filmmaking in