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2006 New York Film Festival Reviewed

The 2006 New York Film Festival opened with The Queen, by Stephen Frears, which was notable for its excellent performances — especially that of Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth II — but also confirms the view that this director can be a subtle stylist with a real command of visual rhetoric.

Alberto Lattuada's interesting and entertatining Mafioso, from 1962, was revived in a gorgeous new print.

Tian Zhuangzhuang's sumptuously photographed The Go Master seemed to me curiously opaque even after a second viewing — although less so, the second time — but I recommend this to anyone who has followed the career of this remarkable filmmaker.

Woman on the Beach is an engaging new film by the director of the extraordinary The Turning Gate; the film is notable for its peculiar use of zooms for which the director offered, interestingly, little justification in his press conference.

Todd Field's Little Children is a well-made film with some strong acting and a somewhat offbeat, though not unimpressive, visual style.

I didn't see Marc Recha's Autumn Days, but Abderrahmane Sissako's Bamako is an intelligent examination of the economic contradictions of the Third World; its use of video transferred to film is a liability, however.

Otar Iosseliani's humorous Garden in Autumn was more effectively transferred from video and is a delightful work if, probably, not among the director's very finest.

I was unable to see the new print of Warren Beatty's Reds, nor did I see Michael Apted's latest, 49 Up,  but Manoël de Oliveira's Belle Toujours, a kind of sequel to Luis Buñuel's  classic, Belle de Jour, is another elusive but satisfying late work from this great master.

I was not pleased with the video-to-film transfer in the newest opus of the legendary Alain Resnais, Private Fears in Public Places — for which reason I did not stay to the end — and the use of video in Jafar Panahi's Offside was no more acceptable, but this was a charming, if possibly minor, further excursion into feminist territory, this time with a kind of boisterous comedy.

I did not see Satoshi Kon's anime film, Paprika, but Syndromes and a Century, by Apichatpong Weerisethakul, is another exquisite puzzle from this fascinating talent; it featured glorious photography and is notable, again, for its unusual narrative structure.

The festival centerpiece was Pedro Almodovar's very enjoyable Volver but it confirmed me in my view that this director has never truly been a major artist despite his evident and abundant merits.

The Host, by Bong Joon Ho, has, it seems to me, been slightly overpraised and, to my mind, is something of a disappointment as a follow-up to the director's Memories of Murder, one of the greatest of all Korean films but this is certainly worth a look.

I could not accept the video-to-film transfer of The Journals of Knud Rasmussen, by Zacharias Kunuk and Norman Cohn, for which reason I did not stay to the end; nor was I pleased with the use of video in David Lynch's Inland Empire either, but I must confesses that viewing this was a powerful and memorable experience.

Falling by Barbara Albert, partly a meditation on the collapses of radical political aspirations, is a quite fine generational study and should further cement the director's growing reputation.

Triad Election by the amazing Johnny To evinced the usual craftsmanship we have come to expect from this brilliant filmmaker but the film did not have quite the impact of several others among his recent works.

I did not see Our Daily Bread, by Nikolaus Geyrhalter, another disappointing video-to-film transfer, nor These Girls by Tahani Rached, however, I did rather appreciate Climates, by Nuri Bilge Ceylan, another film shot on video — partly a portrait of romantic alienation — but one conceived with considerably subtlety and sophistication.

Emmanuel Bourdieu's Poison Friends was also shot on video, but it benefitted from a very clever and original screenplay and was sensitively and creatively executed.

Sophia Coppola's Marie Antoinette was certainly, visually handsome and was notable for its interesting, paratactic approach to storytelling; I don't yet have a strong view on its ultimate merits but, again, I think it deserves to be seen.

Lino Brocka's powerful, indeed shocking, Insiang, from 1976, a melodrama with a certain political acuity, was revived in a very good print and this was especially welcome since the film has been so difficult to see here for so many years.

Guillermo del Toro's magnificent Pan's Labyrinth was the closing night film; this breathtaking fantasy was perhaps slightly limited in its achievement by a certain simplicity in its dramatization of fascism but this approach has a generic justification in the film's debt to melodramatic forms.

Special events included, among others, a screening (on video) of Alejandro Jodorowsky's El Topo and also of a beautiful print of the same director's The Holy Mountain, which seemed to me to be mainly a historical curiosity despite its considerable cult reputation.

I attended an excellent Directors Dialogue with Stephen Frears on The Queen.

This year's Views from the Avant-Garde included, among many other impressive works: an excellent Saul Levine program of 8mm films in new 16mm restorations; the landmark films Cat's Cradle and The Riddle of Lumen by Stan Brakhage, presented in disappointing restoration prints, as well as the beautiful, Nodes; a gorgeous new film by Nathaniel Dorsky, Song and Solitude; a program of 35-millimeter Kenneth Anger restorations which varied in visual quality; a beautiful new film by Jim Jennings, Silk Ties; a fascinating retrospective program of the work of the Italian filmmaker and artist, Paolo Gioli; and a very strong Ernie Gehr program with a magnificent new 35-millimeter restoration of Serene Velocity.

This year's retrospective sidebar was a tribute to fifty years of Janus Films, a wonderful series present almost entirely in amazing, newly struck prints.

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