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More New York Film Festival 2009 Reviews

Wild Grass
directed by Alain Resnais
The new film by octogenarian Resnais, the New York Film Festival opener, possesses the ebullience and playful energy of the early New Wave. Breezily edited, the film's clever script -- the director's first adaptation of a novel -- provides abundant space for the enterprising comic talents of the resourceful actors, including Resnais regulars André Dussollier and Sabine Azéma, assisted in a supporting role by the inestimable Mathieu Amalric. Dussollier's character finds the discarded stolen purse of dentist -- and aviatrix! -- Azéma and becomes unaccountably obsessed with her, engendering much mirth in the ensuing complications. But the film is no mere commercial farce -- ultimately, it is a tender metaphysical meditation upon chance, the unconscious, and the evanescence of all things.

directed by Lars von Trier
Antichrist  appears to be a film that enfant terrible von Trier had to get out of his system. The director has acknowledged suffering from severe depression and in the midst of his existential crisis conceived of the basis for what he described as a "horror film". Starring Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg -- in a brave performance -- the film portrays the violent destruction of a marriage in the aftermath of the accidental death of the couple's child. Amidst graphic sexuality, shocking violence, and bizarre phantasmagoric interludes, the film is stylistically assured but, ultimately, empty -- it is the least interesting feature of a hitherto consistently interesting provocateur. I have the hopeful impression, however, that such a failure could clear the way for an exciting new chapter in the director's oeuvre.

The Art of the Steal
directed by Don Argott
This engrossing documentary explores the twists and turns in the fortunes of the legendary Barnes Foundation art museum. Eccentric millionaire Barnes devoted his later life to compiling an extraordinary collection of modern masterpieces which the city of Philadelphia and the likes of Reader's Digest founder Walter Annenberg sought to acquire for decades.The sheer mendacity of politicians and robber barons is on vivid display and the complicated narrative unfolds with admirable economy, if without any aesthetic merit -- a persistent failing in a festival which purports to celebrate the art of cinema. Worse, nowhere does the film cast its refreshingly skeptical eye upon the pretensions of Barnes himself, an enlightened exploiter whom The Art of the Steal uncritically celebrates.

Everyone Else
directed by Maren Ade
Having not seen any of the director's previous productions, I was unprepared for the psychological acuity and scathing ironic wit of Maren Ade's portrait of the volatile relationship of a contemporary German odd couple vacationing in Sardinia, Everyone Else -- indeed the film is a triumph of quasi-verite observation of uncannily realistic acting. The visual dimension of the filmmaking, at least on a first viewing, seems unremarkable both for the unimpressive transfer of digital to film and for the work's relentless focus upon the pro-filmic, reminiscent of some works of the New American Cinema of the 1960s. However, despite this seeming limitation, Everyone Else possesses considerable comic force and fully sustains its length, even with its spare resources.

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