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From the Film Comment Selects Series: "Persecution"

directed by Patrice Chereau
starring Romain Duris, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Jean-Hughes Anglade
The new film by one of France's best contemporary directors is both a moving character study of a tormented soul and a portrait of a relationship holding its own against the sad prospect of disintegration. Duris, who has moved from strength to strength as an actor, here engages in some of his finest work to date. He inhabits the role of a volatile young man who lashes out at everyone around him but who is, paradoxically, nearly always touchingly earnest in his desire to be kind to those he meets. He encounters his psychic match when a bizarre stranger -- Chereau stalwart Anglade -- becomes obsessed with him.

Chereau consistently has been an excellent director of actors and is well-served by a first-rate cast, but superb performances and an intelligent screenplay take second place to his dynamic mise-en-scene, with unbalanced widescreen compositions stitched together by brisk editing. The one disappointment here is the cinematography, less than scintillating as seen here in a transfer from digital to 35-millimeter -- Persecution would be an even more haunting story if screened in digital.

From the Film Comment Selects Series: "The Victors"

The Victors
directed by Carl ForemanThe Victors Poster
starring George Peppard, George Hamilton, Rosanna Schiaffino, Romy Schneider, Senta Berger, and Elke Sommer
Blacklisted screenwriter Foreman placed his personal stamp upon many films he wrote and produced but he did direct one ambitious feature, the very rarely screened The Victors. Running nearly three hours in length, with an impressive all-star cast, it is beautifully photographed in widescreen black-and-white by the unsung cinematographer, Christopher Challis. The film follows the dispiriting exploits of the members of a World War II American fighting unit from Sicily through France and Belgium, and finally, in occupied Germany at the end of the war.

On a scene-by-scene basis, the direction of The Victors is not inestimable but the writing, as in other Foreman screenplays, suffers inordinately from didactic heavy-handedness. The film is also diminished by an unwieldy parataxis in the construction of the story; one doesn't experience a unified, developing narrative so much as a mere unity of theme. There is some graceful acting, sometimes surprisingly so -- Peppard has an unusually moving moment, for example -- and it is certainly a further pleasure to enjoy Ms Schiaffino, Schneider, Berger, and Sommer, all in a single movie. The Victors was presented in a handsome UCLA archival print, one that reportedly belongs to the director.

From the Film Comment Selects Series: "Over the Edge"

Over the EdgeOver The Edge
directed by Jonathan Kaplan
written by Charles S. Haas and Tim Hunter
starring Matt Dillon, Vincent Spano
The Film Comment Selects series at The Film Society of Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater opened with a special screening of the cult film, Over the Edge. Inspired by real incidents, the film is about a group of disaffected teenagers in a suburban housing development who decide to take the town's adults hostage. Kaplan, the film's director, has attracted the interest of auteurist critics as a genre specialist who began by directing exploitation movies; it is perhaps ironic that he later made a couple of prestige pictures.

The one work of Kaplan's that I had seen previously, Unlawful Entry,  was distinguished by a unity of style and an impressive command of the norms of classical Hollywood filmmaking; by contrast, Over the Edge, although not without its low-budget virtues, is not an especially impressive work of cinema. The strongest aspects of the film concern the portrayal of the teenagers themselves, both in the often hilarious dialogue and by virtue of a few of the performances -- including, most memorably, a charismatic debut by Dillon.

The film was presented in a fine print -- reportedly a director's cut -- a notable event in a film series ostensibly consisting, with very few exceptions, almost entirely of either videos or transfers from digital-intermediates. But, an additional bonus was a post-screening Q & A with several of the film's actors, the screenwriters, the producer, and the woman who discovered Dillon cutting class in a Larchmont High School.

Hunter, one of the co-writers of Over the Edge -- who later became a noted director and who emerged out of an auteurist background -- proclaimed, "Long live Nicholas Ray!" as he disavowed any direct influence from Rebel without a Cause in the script's conception; one of the actors interestingly revealed, however, that Kaplan had told her that the red shirt of the film's protagonist was the director's homage to James Dean's character in the Ray masterpiece Rebel Without A Cause.

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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