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Hitchens at the 92nd St Y

Last night, at the 92nd Street Y, famed author Salman Rushdie interviewed Christopher Hitchens onstage about his new memoir, Hitch-22. Neither Rushdie nor Hitchens are especially systematic thinkers, so whenever the conversation turned to politics, one felt a wasted opportunity in not having a more probing interlocutor than one of Hitchens's best friends. That's especially true when you take into account  Hitchens' unique views.

The peculiarity of Hitchens's allegiances bears repetition: he sides with the Red Army against the Whites, the Republicans against the Loyalists, the Palestinians against the Israelis, and the Sandinistas against the Contras, but supported Margret Thatcher in the Falklands war and the US against Serbia, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

But why bother going to a talk to hear Hitchens repeat his inane views about Iraq, etc., in any case? What value Hitchens possesses as writer and speaker has less to do with the sharpness of his insight than the sharpness of his wit -- which faculty was, thankfully, on abundant display. Though Rushdie is less witty than Hitchens, he proved to be a helpful partner in bringing about a lively evening, the stage having been set by Vanity Fair editor, Graydon Carter, with an amusing introduction.

I certainly hope that the Y recorded the event and will release a podcast version so everyone might enjoy the hilarity.

From Rendezvous with French Cinema: In the Beginning

In the Beginning
written and directed by Xavier Giannoli

starring Francois Cluzet

In the Beginning tells the story of a con-man who persuades the members of a small French provincial town afflicted by industrial blight to restart an abandoned road project; things fall apart when he unwittingly becomes enmeshed in his own deceptions. One of the film's strengths is its complexity of tone, keeping in balance the comedy of hoodwinking and the pathos of the hoodwinked. 

In the Beginning presents an ironic vision of contemporary capitalism, dramatizing Marx's insight that capital is (merely) a social relation, a composite of fictions. The film is held together by Cluzet's effective performance, although he is given first-rate support by an impressive ensemble, including Emmanuelle Devos and Gerard Depardieu.

Economically shot and briskly edited, the movie was screened in a decent transfer from a digital format, but would have looked better shown on video.

A View of Rendezvous with French Cinema

The annual Rendezvous with French Cinema sponsored by the Film Society of Lincoln Center is a Love Crimeconsistent disappointment when judged against its earlier incarnation, which was co-programmed by Cahiérs du Cinema. The present version usually features only a handful of films by significant directors; this year's program is no exception.

Directors championed by Cahiérs with new films this year include François Ozon, Benoit Jacquot, and Catherine Breillat as well as two experimental film programs curated by Cahiérs critic, Nicole Brenez. The Positif (another French film journal) favorite, Bertrand Tavernier -- who, it is interesting to note, was championed too by auteurist critic, Robin Wood -- also has a new feature and will appear in person for an onstage conversation about his career.

Another director celebrated by Positif was Alain Corneau who just recently passed away and is being honored with a retrospective tribute screening of his neo-noir Série noire, adapted from a novel by the extraordinary Jim Thompson with dialogue by Oulipo legend, Georges Perec.

Corneau's last film, the entertaining and well-crafted Love Crime, a clever critique of contemporary capitalist mores, is also being screened in the series. The excellent Ludivine Sagnier gives a noteworthy performance but the greatest thrill is owed to Kristin Scott-Thomas, sensational here as an alpha-female executive.

From the Film Comment Selects Series: "Accident"

directed by Pou-Soi CheangPoster from Accident
produced by Johnnie To

starring Louis Koo, Stanley Fung, Michelle Ye, Lam Suet
In my view, To is one of the greatest living directors and his dark stylings and mordant wit seems detectable in this new film he has produced about a gang of hired assassins who cleverly disguise its killings as accidents. When a series of unexpected events intervene, the narrative and protagonist become possessed by the question: is this a conspiracy or is this mere coincidence?

The brilliance of this movie rests largely upon the formal means by which what seems to be incipient madness is conveyed by an excess of meaning rather than by its loss -- and the name of this mental disorder is paranoia. This terror is reminiscent of the Hollywood conspiracy thrillers of the 1970s, such as The Parallax View, but the narrative structure here -- predicated upon a suspension between two interpretive alternatives -- also recalls that of the fantastic genre classically analyzed by structuralist critic, Tzvetan Todorov; and director Cheang remarkably succeeds in sustaining this tension to the last moments of the film.

The screenplay of Accident is subtly and beautifully structured and transitions between reality and memory are effected elliptically, eliciting a disorientation in the viewer which reinforces the film's thematics. The film's cinematographer Yuen Man Fung displays an excellent understanding of the limitations of lighting for digital-intermediate -- thus, the transfer to 35-millimeter here is of superior quality.

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