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German Crime Trilogy, Dreileben, Captivates at 49th New York Film Festival

dreilebenThe 49th New York Film Festival presents a trilogy of feature-length German films set in the vicinity of a small Thuringian town and linked together by the search for an escaped convict hiding out in the area. The potential in such a project is here diminished by the decision to assign each of the features to a different director, preventing the emergence of a unified vision across the series. However, the films, unified as Dreileben, succeed in being stand-alone single features, if less resonantly so.

The first work in the trilogy is also the strongest, Beats Being Dead by Christian Petzold, who had directed the outstanding Jerichow, which also was recently given its New York premiere by the Film Society of Lincoln Center.

The story is a sad and moving one, exploring the romance between an ambitious young nurse, who works at the hospital from which the convict escapes, and a Slavic immigrant maid at the hotel where the criminal briefly takes refuge.Shot and screened in a high quality digital format, Beats Being Dead has the most rigorously accomplished visual style in the series, as well as the greatest degree of self-sufficiency as a stand-alone feature; Petzold and his director of photography display a considerable understanding of the limitations governing how to shoot in high-definition video.

The second work, Don't Follow Me Around by Dominik Graf, which looks to have been shot in a different, "grainier" format, is less satisfying and less controlled as a whole, but nonetheless absorbing. It centers on a psychologist who is employed in aiding the police to catch the convict, and her relations with an old girlfriend and her husband, with whom she is temporarily staying as the case unfolds.

The final feature, One Minute of Darkness by Christoph Hochhäusler, which looks to have been shot in the same format as Beats Being Dead, has the closest relation to generic structures, cross-cutting between the escapee and a tenacious detective pursuing the case. This film too manages to be gripping and proceeds to an effectively chilling, mournful conclusion.

Dreileben Trilogy
49th New York Film Festival

Walter Reade Theatre
165 West 65th Street
New York, NY  10023

Polanski's "Carnage" Opens 49th New York Film Festival

directed by Roman Polanski
starring Christoph WaltzJodie Foster, John C. Reilly, Kate Winslet

Yasmina Reza's play, God of Carnage, as directed by the brilliant Matthew Warchus, was a critical and popular hit on the West End and Broadway recently. The film adaptation was the opening night choice of the 49th Annual New York Film Festival.

At first sight, the interest of legendary director Roman Polanski in adapting such material would seem surprising -- he has produced few outright comedies and has rarely been drawn to plays as source material. However, God of Carnage has a dark philosophical undercurrent and revolves around an initial act of violence -- and violence, along with paranoia, has been a central thread running through Polanski's oeuvre.

So, too, a satirical gaze upon the lives of the privileged and the upwardly mobile has also been a recurrent feature of the filmmaker's work -- one might only recall, in this context, the sometimes savage comedy of titles as disparate as Knife in the Water, Rosemary's Baby, and Bitter Moon.

However, this thematic affinity has the paradoxical outcome, in Polanski's adaptation, of overlaying a certain heaviness upon the original material, where Warchus's approach had been refreshingly light, here cutting against the grain of the humor in such a way as to weaken the cumulative comic effect that Warchus appeared almost effortlessly to achieve.

Polanski is aided immeasurably by an impressive cast. Christoph Waltz, so extraordinary in Quentin Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds, is often effective but the decision to suppress his German accent for the part is somewhat misjudged. More consistent is Jodie Foster -- in the role for which Marcia Gay Harden won a Tony award -- here superbly brittle in a piece of unexpected casting. John C. Reilly is perfectly in his element as the most unpretentious member of the quartet but he still falls short of the comic exuberance marvelously attained by Jeff Daniels in the role in the second Broadway cast. Best of all is Kate Winslet in a breathtakingly naturalistic performance, although she loses some conviction when her character becomes inebriated.

Polanski's mise-en-scene is a model of economy throughout but it is regrettable that the visual qualities of his film are diminished by the limitations of its digital format -- his extraordinary previous feature, The Ghost Writer, was outstanding for the confidence with which it deployed digital.

New York Film Festival

Alice Tully Hall
1941 Broadway
New York, NY  10023

Hugo Santiago presents Invasion at the 49th New York Film Festival

directed by Hugo Santiago
starring Olga ZubarryLautaro Murúa and Juan Carlos Paz

Originally released in 1969, the Argentinean film, Invasión, was presented at the 49th New York Film Festival on October 5, 2011. An extraordinary, very rarely screened fantastical, metaphysical thriller, it was written by two literary titans, the late Jorge Luis Borges and Adolfo Bioy Casares. The 73-year-old director Hugo Santiago's mise-en-scene is a brilliant engagement with its enigmatic screenplay, with startling location shooting and mesmerizing black-and-white photography, here presented in a stunning restored print.

Invasion takes place in Buenos Aires, where a clandestine group of friends, businessmen, and charged youth have joined forces to fight off an invasion of their city by unknown forces -- men in tan suits. The story is enigmatic — this mysterious invasion by forces that seem to allude to the shadowy right-wing forces that have influenced Argentinean politics for decades. Borges was himself persecuted by the Peron regime.

The resistance to these invaders is similarly metaphoric — do they represent some remnant of an aristocracy that opposes the corruption of modern tyranny? or are they the emblem of populist aspirations? The narrative proceeds as an intricate series of episodes of move and counter-move between the opposing forces with the topography of Buenos Aires deployed as a quasi-subterranean, expressionist landscape. 

And as a highlight of the Film Festival, Santiago made appearance at a Q&A after the film where he entertained the audience with several intriguing anecdotes. He recounted that after Bioy Casares left for Europe, he worked with Borges every day on the script for a year. 

Now a grand old man of the Argentinean avant-garde, Santiago also said that even though Borges was nearly blind when he saw the film, he was still able to identify a couple of elements in the final work that weren't present in the original screenplay.

In response to a question about his approach to sound design in this film, Santiago emphasized the structured musicality of the aural landscape he created for Invasión.

So both screening and talk afterwards made this Invasion maybe less enigmatic but certainly most engaging.

To learn more go to: 

October 5, 2012

49th New York Film Festival
Walter Reade Theatre
165 West 65th Street
New York, NY  10023

"Dragon" Highlights New York Asian Film Festival

Donnie Yen in DRAGONDragon/Wu Xiadirected by Peter Chan
starring Kara HuiWu Jiang and Takeshi Kaneshiro

Running from June 29th to July 15th, the 2012 New York Asian Film Festival presents Dragon, Chinese director Peter Chan's latest feature. Chan's work has been praised by the most penetrating surveyor of this national cinema, the preëminent scholar David Bordwell.

King of the intellectual blockbuster, Chan has made a swoony musical, Perhaps Love, a tragic Jet Li vehicle, The Warlords, and his patriotic historical epic, Bodyguards & AssassinsNow he makes his first straight ahead martial arts movie.

To judge by the filmmaker's latest opus, Chan is an accomplished metteur-en-scène with a gift for orchestrating animated martial-arts display — here he is immeasurably aided by the extraordinary action choreography of star Donnie Yen, a master with few peers in the genre.

Chan tells the tale of a sinful martial arts expert who wants to start a new tranquil life, only to be hunted by a determined detective and his former master. As a storyteller, Chan is certainly very skilled but ultimately this film falters in not fully overcoming the limitations of a melodramatic script while over-indulging in expository montages.

As an actor, Yen is impressive here but his co-star, matinee idol Takeshiro Kaneshiro, gives one of the finest performances in an already illustrious career.

To be released by The Weinstein Company, this elegantly photographed film was screened in a very handsome, high-definition digital format.

Yen will be making an appearance in New York for this premiere screening. For a schedule of NYAFF films and showings, go to:

The 10th Annual New York Asian Film Festival
June 29 – July 15, 2012

Film Society of Lincoln Center
Walter Reade Theatre
165 West 65th Street
New York, NY 10023

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