New York Film Festival 2008
By J. Hoberman
What’s the story with the 2008 New York Film Festival? I’ll cop to being co-conspirator. I helped pick the films, as did my colleague Scott Foundas. For better or worse, two of the festival’s five-member selection committee work for Village Voice Media. (For the record, the other three are Richard Peña—marking his 20th year as NYFF program director—Kent Jones, also of the Film Society of Lincoln Center, and critic Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly.)
Anybody who has ever done this sort of thing will tell you that a festival can only be as good as what’s out there and, this year, there was plenty of action. Cannes, as usual, was the prospector’s mother lode.
Sixteen NYFF features premiered on La Croisette, including a number of winners: Laurent Cantet’s opening night The Class (Palme d’Or), Matteo Garrone’s Gomorrah (Grand Prix), Steven Soderbergh’s Che (Best Actor for Benicio Del Toro), Steve McQueen’s Hunger (Caméra d’Or for best first film), and Sergey Dvortsevoy’s Tulpan (Prix Un Certain Regard).
Other festival winners include Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky, for which actress Sally Hawkins was awarded a Silver Bear at Berlin, and Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler, which won the Golden Lion at Venice and—speaking as someone who found Aronofsky’s previous film, The Fountain, ludicrous—my admiration as well.
The NYFF has an understandable interest in showcasing the highlights of the big three international festivals but, to my mind, a greater mission in showcasing those movies yet to land U.S. distribution—and this year, there are many.
Both Che and The Wrestler have been acquired since the NYFF slate was announced, but the remaining orphans include such notable auteur films as 24 City, the latest docu-fictional conundrum (showing but once) by China’s vanguard indie Jia Zhangke, and the dark comedy Four Nights With Anna, a terrific comeback by the onetime prince of the Polish new wave, Jerzy Skolimowski.
The Headless Woman, the third feature by Lucrecia Martel, leading director of the Argentine renaissance, is her strongest to date—at the very least, this brilliantly edited, purposefully disorienting comedy about a middle-aged woman’s post-car-accident confusion is the movie I’m most looking forward to revisiting.
Among the other undistributed films, this cinephile would like to direct your attention to the following: For the first time in its history, the NYFF has not one but two—and two very different—movies from Kazakhstan. Chouga, directed with characteristic precision by Central Asia’s leading Bressonian, Darezhan Omirbaev, is an austere and affecting adaptation of Anna Karenina (showing only once, for you cognoscenti); Tulpan, a first feature by the poetic ethno-documentarian Dvortsevoy, is a spectacular, unclassifiable immersion in the daily life of nomad sheepherders working the awesome emptiness of the Kazakh steppe.
Nearly as exotic and no less predictable, Chilean director Pablo Larraín’s Tony Manero is a portrait of the Pinochet dictatorship, taking one nut’s obsession with Saturday Night Fever for its ruling metaphor. Another eccentric political thriller by a director without local name recognition, Catalan filmmaker Jaime Rosales’s Bullet in the Head is the NYFF’s main section’s most experimental movie (think last year’s In the City of Sylvia—but different). It’s showing only once in the capacious Ziegfeld—and is highly unlikely to ever receive such a magnificent projection again.
On the other hand, Afterschool, a strong first feature by 25-year-old Antonio Campos unaccountably overlooked by Sundance, seems destined for distribution—the backstory is intriguing (more on that in next week’s issue), as is the movie’s exposé of privileged preppies whose truth is in the iPhone of the beholder. I have a hunch that the festival’s Mexican equivalent, Gerardo Naranjo’s self-consciously neo–new wave and triumphantly tragicomic I’m Gonna Explode, involving two dissolute high-school students on the road to nowhere, will also attract some discerning distributor. I didn’t much care for Naranjo’s previous Drama/Mex, but for my money, I’m Gonna Explode is this year’s sleeper. Let the games begin!
New York Film Festival’s 12 best bets
By Mina Hochberg | amNewYork movie critic
Last year’s New York Film Festival gave us ‘No Country For Old Men’ and ‘The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.’ This year, the festival, now in its 46th year, offers a crop of equally enticing and sobering movies. On the slate are 28 films from 18 countries, helmed by veteran and first-time directors.
Headquartered at Lincoln Center, the festival is usually an Upper West Side affair. But due to construction, most films will be playing at the venerable (and gigantic) Ziegfeld Theatre on 54th Street and Sixth Avenue. Here are a dozen picks you may want to check out.
Darren Aronofsky’s last film, ‘The Fountain,’ was a box-office bomb, but it sounds like redemption is on the horizon. ‘The Wrestler’ has been reaping all sorts of praise on the festival circuit. Much of the talk has been directed at Mickey Rourke, who stars as a pro wrestler forced to work at a deli counter after suffering a heart attack. There¹s even talk of Oscar nominations, which would be a first for Rourke.
Clint Eastwood directs and Angelina Jolie stars in this film about a mother whose son disappears from her Los Angeles home one day. A manhunt ensues until, a few months later, the police find her child and send him home. Except for one thing: The kid’s not her son. Oops. It’s based on a true story, which makes it all the more compelling.
Steven Soderbergh’s biopic of Che Guevara traces the revolutionary leader’s military career from the Cuban Revolution to his final chapter in Bolivia.
Benicio Del Toro won Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival for his portrayal of Che. Warning: You may want to skip this one if you’ve got a short attention span. The running time is four hours, plus a 30-minute intermission.
Winner of the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival, Laurent Cantet’s ‘The Class’ adapts a teacher’s autobiography about working at an inner-city school in Paris. The book’s author, François Bégaudeau, plays himself in the film, and the kids are played by non-professional actors. If you’ve been craving a good inspirational-teacher movie, this is it.
Wendy and Lucy
Wendy ( Michelle Williams) sets out from Oregon to Alaska in the hopes of finding a job at a fish cannery. With her dog, Lucy, at her side, Wendy quickly runs into hardships and relies on the generosity of strangers to get by — that is, when strangers are willing to be generous. Kelly Reichardt directs with her trademark nuance and minimalism.
In his first film, director Steve McQueen (no, not the dead actor) reenacts the hunger strike waged by IRA member Bobby Sands in 1981. Sands’ mission? Improving conditions for political prisoners like himself. McQueen is a prize-winning visual artist, so you can expect some exceptional imagery.
Ashes of Time Redux
Wong Kar Wai has given his 1994 martial arts film, ‘Ashes of Time,’ a makeover with new music, new edits and a longer running time. He has also restored the color. The story centers on a bitter man who exiles imself after his one true love rejects him. From his lonely desert outpost, he contracts out assassinations. Luckily for him, there’s hope for his broken heart.
A Christmas Tale
Holiday movies usually come out around Thanksgiving, but here’s a teaser to get you in the mood. Catherine Deneuve stars in this French comedy about a Christmas family reunion. She plays the matriarch of your typical dysfunctional brood: There’s the black sheep and his Jewish girlfriend, a sensitive son and the level-headed dad.
Based on Roberto Saviano¹s bestselling book, ‘Gomarrah’ is an epic movie about the Camorra crime family, which dominates the area around Naples. Italian director Matteo Garrone weaves five stories together, each demonstrating how deeply the Camorras are entrenched in Neapolitan life. This one made a big splash at Cannes.
Let It Rain
Agnes Jaoui explores family issues and class conflict in her third film, ‘Let It Rain.’ When a feminist author decides to run for political office, she pays a visit to her hometown, where she plans to announce her candidacy.
While there, the son of her family’s housekeeper tries to jumpstart his film career by shooting her for a documentary about successful women. What will prevail — his ineptitude or his efforts?
Three siblings living all over the world: Paris, New York and Shanghai — are brought together when their mother passes away, leaving them with a large estate and a collection of precious art from a renowned uncle. As they debate whether to put the art in a museum, the siblings come to grips with being motherless and revisiting the country they once called home. It is directed by Olivier Assayas.
Bullet in the Head
No festival would be complete without a voyeur movie. In ‘Bullet in the Head,’ the audience gets to watch a Spanish man of middle age as he goes about his normal life — listening to music, talking on the phone, going to parties, having sex. Director Jaime Rosales withholds details about our mystery man, letting viewers piece his story together.