Sunday, October 26, 2014

The New York Film Festival ended on Sunday, October 12th, and i must say that it proved to be an exceptionally good festival. Not only that, but i have to say that it might be considered a defining festival, because this is the second festival under the directorship of Kent Jones, and it definitely established itself as distinct from the festivals under the fist director, Richard Roud, and the second director, Richard Pena; most specifically, it ended on a high note, one which (i think) proved to be historically significant.

During the first week of press screenings, there were indications that there might be special events which were not being revealed at the time. Last year, the "sneak preview" screening which had been introduced three years ago (the film was Martin Scorsese's "Hugo") was not included. The problem has been the brouhaha over the sneak preview of Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln"; the critical acclaim for that film (and for Daniel Day-Lewis' performance) drowned out whatever critical reaction attended such films as Robert Zemeckis's "Flight" (with its performance by Denzel Washington) which had been the closing night selection. So the distributors and studios which had their films booked as part of the Main Slate of the festival felt duped, and there were complaints. This year, the sneak preview turned out to be Noah Baumbach's "While We're Young" which, though it got a solid critical response, did not swamp the hype around David Fincher's "Gone Girl" (opening night) or Paul Thomas Anderson's "Inherent Vice" (centerpiece) or Alejandro G. Inarritu's "Birdman" (closing night).

But the film which trumped every film in the festival was the surprise film that had its press screening and its public screening on Friday, October 10th: Laura Poitras's "Citizenfour"! By this point, the film has opened in several major cities, including New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. There's a lot to say about this film, but i should like to say that the screenings on October 10th were galvanizing: it felt historic! The New York Film Festival was taking a bold stand, and the focus on documentaries which is becoming a defining characteristic of the current artistic direction of the Film Society of Lincoln Center had premiered a documentary which was truly a part of history. And in this, Kent Jones was making a bold statement about his stewardship of the New York Film Festival. I can only say that this documentary about Edward Snowden was extraordinary, truly thought-provoking and brilliantly structured so that it was informative and politically volatile. What a coup!

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Spent the past three weeks at the press screenings of the New York Film Festival, and was all set for this week's final lap when i wound up waking up all achy with a stuffy nose and sore throat. I usually wind up getting one cold a year, but each time, it's a real knockout.

I'm hoping to get to the last of the screenings, but i'll see how i feel in the morning.

The screenings were very pleasant, but i was rather disturbed by the fact that there weren't many people at most of them. Of course, for Mike Leigh's "Mr. Turner", the place was packed (and that's where i'm pretty sure i got my cold, since there were people hacking all over the place). In fact, that was the last screening i attended, before waking up after the weekend and feeling like i'd been hit with a ton of bricks. But for Eugene Green's "La Sapienza" or Abderrahmane Sissako's "Timbuktu" (two of the best movies at this year's festival), you couldn't give seats away. And there weren't many people for the Dardenne Brothers' "Two Days, One Night" or Pedro Costa's "Horse Money" or even Godard's "Goodbye to Language". (Aside from the full house for "Mr. Turner", the only other screening that was filled was for Mathieu Amalric's "The Blue Room".) And i thought i was being very careful, and avoiding the big ticket items on the program (Fincher's "Gone Girl", Damien Chazelle's "Whiplash", Paul Thomas Anderson's "Inherent Vice").

But this has been a very strong year. There were only a few films which i thought were egregious. Even those films had some merits.

Last year, the festival introduced a sidebar about the work of emerging filmmakers. Last year, there were two: the Mexican Fernando Eimbcke (who had made three features: "Duck Season", "Lake Tahoe" and "Club Sandwich") and the British Joanna Hogg (also three features: "Unrelated", "Archipelago" and "Exhibition"). This year, there isn't an emerging filmmaker sidebar; instead, there is a "filmmaker-in-residence", the Argentine Lisandro Alonso (represented by his latest film, "Jauja"). Now, i've seen three of his previous features ("La Libertad", "Los Muertos" and "Liverpool"), and found him to be a genuinely accomplished filmmaker. "Liverpool" was an extraordinary movie: a film of long takes, often in longshot, of a sailor returning home to a remote village in Argentina, and the snowy wintery landscapes which seemed to express his alienation from his home, as he sought to reconnect, only to find nothing there.

"Jauja" is his attempt at a "big" film: a cast of professional actors (including Viggo Mortensen and Ghita Norby) and a period setting. Something was off from the very beginning: the movie never seemed to find its center, and it dragged fearfully. For a filmmaker whose work is predicated on the precision of his visuals (since his work often features long sequences without dialogue), the attempt at a visual conceit (to create within a square frame, like the old apertures) seemed rather paltry. In a way, this was an example of the Film Society of Lincoln Center playing catch-up: Alonso's films had been shown at Anthology Film Archives, and i actually caught up with his films when they were shown at the Arsenal in Berlin four years ago. So "Jauja" should have been a work which pointed to a major filmmaker, but it was the wrong film. In this, it reminded me of the situation of Edward Yang: his work was ignored by every "major" film festival in North America, so his early films ("That Day, on the Beach", "Taipei Story", "The Terrorizers") were all shown at the Asian-American International Film Festival. When the New York Film Festival finally caught up with Yang, it was with a lesser film, "A Confucian Confusion." But those are the breaks, and so it is with Lisandro Alonso.