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Wild Grassdirected by Alain ResnaisThe 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.Antichristdirected by Lars von TrierAntichrist 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 Stealdirected by Don ArgottThis 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 Elsedirected by Maren AdeHaving 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.
Motherdirected by Bong Joon-HoThis new Korean film concerns a woman whose simple-minded son is accused of murder. Bong, famous above all for "the Host", notably directed the extraordinary Memories of Murder, one of the strongest of all Korean films, which was characterized by a brilliantly controlled style deployed in the service of a complex, but eccentric, screenplay. These singular qualities can also be seen to good, if lesser, effect in Mother, which is not without its moving moments even if it didn't seem to me to quite fulfill the promise of the earlier film and may not be entirely absent of overblown elements. Mother is anchored by an outstanding naturalistic performance by Kim Hye-Ja -- who manages to efface all self-consciousness -- but all the performances here are excellent.White Materialdirected by Claire DenisDenis' recent films have maintained a certain consistency of style even as she has sought, seemingly, to challenge herself by approaching a wide range of subject-matter. Although she has filmed in Africa before -- and dealt with the subject of colonialism -- in White Material she engages more directly with politics in this study of a coffee plantation in the midst of of civil war. Isabelle Huppert's characteristically nuanced performance occupies the film's center but Denis has always been interested in viewing her characters in wider contexts, and Huppert is supported effectively here by Christopher Lambert and Michel Subor, among others.
The films of Claire Denis always have an powerful sense of place, although her reliance on a digital intermediate here attenuates the textural intensity found in her earlier work even if her control of camera-movement and editing remains as assured as ever.Life During Wartimedirected by Todd SolondzRevisiting several characters from his earlier chef-d'oeuvre, Happiness, Solondz employs different actors in his new, Life During Wartime. The achievement of Happiness was grounded in the sheer ambitiousness of its long, complex, and multilayered screenplay; the subsequent films of Solondz have seemed slight in comparison and this goes also for "Life During Wartime", which, like the other films, has several effective scenes. One scene between Ciaran Hinds and Charlotte Rampling is a tour de force of outrageous dialogue and perfectly-timed acting.Solondz has elected here to shoot in a digital format -- although he was immeasurably aided in this endeavor by the wonderful cinematographer, Ed Lachmann, who finds an effective visual correlate for the director's perverse vision of a New Jersey Jewish family. Of course, Solondz is a very talented writer of dialogue and he is well-served by a marvelous cast, including the unheralded Shirley Henderson as well as Michael Lerner, Paul Rubens, Ally Sheedy -- in a hilarious turn -- and several others.Bluebearddirected by Catherine BreillatMy own view is that Breillat became a major filmmaker with her devastating Fat Girl and has upheld a remarkable consistency of achievement across several subsequent films of surprisingly varied material; however, her newest work to date, Bluebeard, seemed to me to be a significant miscalculation. The film, partly an adaptation of the Perrault fairy-tale, here framed by a modern story, seems nothing so much as pointless. Breillat seems to take a certain pleasure in the sheer physical reality of her young cast but this fascination is unable to entirely offset a not infrequent, but discomfiting, stiltedness often seen in child-actors.
However, it would be easy to overlook these weaknesses in performance if there were a compelling vision of the tale at the center of Breillat's film, but the director's approach is fatally literalist. There is some beautiful digital photography here and Breillat's interest in these young actors is not without its justifications but the film's charms are suspended in a tedious void.Broken Embracesdirected by Pedro AlmodovarBroken Embraces is a typically convoluted story -- it recounts the tragic events in the life of a blind screenwriter -- which blends disparate generic elements after the fashion of the director's other recent works. Here film noir, high melodrama, romance, and farce intertwine, held together by Alomodovar's oddly distanced, postmodern style, characterized by careful art direction and excellent deployment of color.
The film garners considerable intensity from the sensual presence of his star, the gorgeous Penelope Cruz. The film is enjoyable and well-crafted but does not settle the question of whether Almodovar is really a major artist or not; however, one has to admire the consistency with which he can generate such sophisticated fare.
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