Beefing Up the Ten-Best List

Well, it's been a great week for new releases in New York City. (If you don't live here, my apologies and condolences). I'm pretty sure that two of the new releases playing in town will be on my ten-best list come the new year (the secular new year -- not Rosh Hashanah, although it might be amusing to do a Jewish ten-best list every fall).

The first is one of the delayed openings from last fall's New York Film Festival, Manoel de Oliveira's delicious Bunuel hommage, Belle Toujours. Back in October this is what I wrote and I see no reason to take back a word:

Of the handful of films I managed to see in the first two weeks of screenings for the New York Film Festival, Manoel de Oliveira's latest offering, Belle Toujours, a sprightly sequel to Bunuel's Belle de Jour, is by far the most satisfying. At slightly over an hour in length, the film is compact, funny and elegantly crafted by the soon-to-be 98-year-old director, at once a loving tribute to his fellow Iberian master and a slyly humorous meditation on memory and desire. Michel Piccoli reprises his role as the avuncular yet sinister Husson, while Bulle Ogier, suitably coiffed and dressed, stands in for Catherine Deneuve as the self-tortured hooker/housewife. Ogier spends most of her screen time glaring resentfully at Husson, who is downright gleeful in his wallowing in the past. Piccoli relishes this role which, paired with his more somber turn in Oliveira's I'm Going Home, must stand as one of the best double acts any actor has ever been offered so late in his career. You needn't have seen Belle de Jour recently (or, I suppose, at all) to appreciate Oliveira's delightful little jokes, but it couldn't hurt. Besides, one should revisit Don Luis at every possible opportunity.

It's playing at the Lincoln Plaza (63rd and Broadway) in Manhattan.

The other gem -- and like the Oliveira, it's a smallish film with a delightful witty edge -- is the Romanian film 12:08, East of Bucharest, by Corneliu Porumboiu, currently at Film Forum. The wit here is very dry, a little edgy and politically pointed. The set-up is simple: Jderescu (Teo Corban) is a spectacularly self-important TV presenter -- he also owns the station -- in a small city that seems to have been relatively untouched by the 1989 upheavals. He decides to commemorate the 16th anniversary of the overthrow of the Ceausescu regime with a roundtable discussion on the question, did the revolution actually reach here?

Romania is a country that seems to have changed much too little since the fall of Communism, and Porumboiu milks the timidity of his countryman for some wonderfully mean-spirited laughs. Jderescu, understandably, has trouble finding anyone foolhardy enough to appear on the show, and ends up with a hard-drinking high school teacher and a cranky retiree who plays Santa Claus for his neighbors. Of course, these two ne'er-do-wells are set on claiming credit for spearheading the revolution in town, but the viewers who phone in have a rather differnt recollection of events.

Porumboiu shows us this giddy disaster with the same deadpan wit that runs through the entire film, long takes that allow his characters to slowly strangle on their own foolishness and, in the TV studio sequences some wonderfully understated slapstick that extends into the diegetic realm when the TV cameraman struggles with his tripod. 12:08, East of Bucharest is very, very funny, and the film's mordant wit has a real sting to it. Highly recommended.

Finally, BAMCinemathek, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, is doing some very exciting programs this month. Their Sundance Institute tribute, which begins on Sunday, June 10, will include Raoul Peck's criminally underrated Lumumba, Nick Broomfield's Soldier Girls (which I haven't seen in over 20 years but have fond memories of) and a program of Maysles Brothers films that apparently includes previously unscreened footage from Gimme Shelter. On Monday, June 11, they have a program very rare Chris Marker films, including his documentary tribute to Yves Montand, The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Singer. (I'll be talking about BAM again in a few weeks when they begin a program of "Overlooked Aldrich.")