Okay, at long last, the New York Film Festival. Sometimes it feels like every year I see fewer and fewer films despite my best intentions. This year, with only three more days of screenings, I’ve seen ten films so far, about a third of the new films on offer. It’s too small a sample to make any definitive statement about the state of the art – as if any one festival could give you enough data for that purpose – but it feels like it has been a good festival. At any rate, I’ve liked a lot of what I’ve seen. In quick brushstrokes, here are the films I’ve seen (with the exceptions of the stuff I’m reviewing for Jewish Week), in the order in which I saw them.
Fados (Carlos Saura). For his latest excursion into dance-on-film, Saura pays tribute to his Portuguese neighbors and their most important musical gift to the world, the fado, a plaintive song of longing. The film itself is essentially a series of rather unconnected musical and dance performances, linked primarily by share physical space and projected images, mostly of
The Man From
What hasn’t changed about Tarr, and what I love about his films, is the slow unfolding of screen space and the extraordinary care with which he uses camera movement to explore his visual universe. The opening shot of The Man From London is a masterpiece of slow disclosure, encapsulating the entire plot in a seven- or eight-minute take that links a ship at the docks, a control tower, two little jutting pieces of land and the city of Bastia, a desolate harbor town. We see a man toss a bag of smuggled money off the ship and two men fight over the loot, all from the point of view of Maloin (Miroslav Krobut0, a shabby, exhausted railroad worker. Once he inserts himself into this drama, things can only go from bad to worse in typical noir fashion, but Tarr works out this tale of retribution and redemption with the pitiless inevitability of Fritz Lang, tempered by the compassion of Jean Renoir and illustrated by his own trademark gliding camera movements and well-concealed sense of humor. This may be Tarr’s most accomplished film to date, not an omnium-gatherum with the power of Satantango perhaps, but a shrewd usurping of genre prerogatives for his own purposes. An undeniably great film by one of the best working filmmakers in the world today.
I’m Not There (Todd Haynes), The Other Side of the Mirror: Bob Dylan,
Alexandra (Alexander Sokurov). After his last couple of films, I began to fear that Sokurov had lost his way. I have a sense that Russian Ark represented more of an epistemological break than even he had intended and films like Father and Son feel distinctly like the work of someone treading water until he figures out his next move. (I, for one, wouldn’t be heartbroken if he never completed that trilogy.) In fact, Alexandra feels like a deliberate and refreshing throwback to the political films that Sokurov made around the time the
Sokurov deliberately avoids every temptation of melodrama and the film’s palette (it was shot by Alexander Burov) is similarly muted, seemingly coated with a patina of brown dust. Vishnevskaya is commanding as the old woman, bringing all her diva-ness to bear with a delicious show of dignity and self-assurance. Although nothing much happens during the film’s 92 minutes, there is an air of impending violence hanging over events and the town itself is seen as a dilapidated, bullet-riddled wreck, punctuated by a bedraggled open-air market filled with Russian military gear that soldiers have bartered away. With their omnipresent cellphones, the Russians are apparently seldom out of contact with home, but the result is not solace but a sullen dissatisfaction. Like the violence that never happens, the Sokurov’s deep distaste for Vladimir Putin’s imperial venture in
Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project (John Landis). This has been a big year for