The newly renovated Film Forum reopened earlier this week, good new for New York-area film folk. I won’t claim that this event inspired me to get back on the blogging horse – do you know how hard it is to type with hooves? – but here I go again. There are plenty of films to discuss and plenty of film news and so on. Will I be able to sustain this thing? No promises, since I can’t be sure of keeping them, but Id like to think this blog fills a niche of some sort.
So what is on offer at Film Forum, since that is the ostensible news peg for this entry? Two very pleasant surprises on the first-run screens. (They now have two of them.)
Nico 1988. New film by writer-director Susanna Nicchiaerlli, recounts the last few years of the Warhol-backed ex-model-turned-singer-songwriter as she makes a final futile attempt to revive her sagging musical career. She’s still a heroin addict, still mourning her separation from her now adult son, working with a semi-amateur band that includes a brilliant violinist (Anamaria Marinca, splendid if under-utilized) and a bunch of wannabees, and her new manager Richard (John Gordon Sinclair) is a diehard punk and longtime fan.
Nico 1988: Trine Dyrholm gets ready to rock
Nico 1988 is a delightful box of unexpected pleasures. Trine Dyrholm is impressive in the title role, a woman who wants to be remembered for something other than her brief moment of stardom reluctantly fronting the Velvet Underground, an aging beauty trying hard just to maintain. It’s a wry, spiky, often poignant performance (and she sings better than the real Nico). Nicchiarelli makes clever use of excerpts from Jonas Mekas’s diary films from the ‘60s, catching the zeitgeist without embalming it, and she genuinely loves her characters, the whole scruffy lot of them. When the band fetches up in an iron-curtained Czechoslovakia, for one brief moment they catch lightning in a bottle and you sense that this Nico still has an electric charge of charisma. Over all the film is funny, energetic and surprisingly moving.
No Date, No Signature. A second feature by Iranian filmmaker Vahid Jalilvand, this one has the sturdy virtues one associates with Iranian film: solid, unflashy performances, strong roots in a complex social reality, determined, intelligent camerawork. The story is a nourish tale of a respected forensic doctor who has a minor fender-bender with a working-class family on a motor bike late one evening. Unexpectedly, it apparently results in the death a few days later of their eight-year-old son, who ends up being autopsied at the doctor’s hospital. He becomes aware of that and, although the findings of the post mortem are death from botulism, his conscience gnaws at him. In the meantime the child’s father seeks out the guy who sold him the tainted chickens that seem to have been the cause of death and beats him into a coma.
No Date, No Signature: Showdown at the chicken plant
Jalilvand sets the film in a series of distinctly undramatic, unpicturesque locations in (I assume) Tehran, playing subtle variations on class differences and gently bringing out the character of his protagonist, a sternly conscientious medico with a somewhat short fuse. Interestingly, much of the drama focuses on his testy relationships with colleagues, counterposed artfully with the disintegration of the family’s marriage. The result is a low-key but tense film that suggests that Jalilvand may be another Asghar Farhadi in the making.
Meanwhile, away from Film Forum, other good things are happening. Anthology Film Archive is giving a theatrical run to Milla, an oddly subdued second feature from Valérie Massadian, which played new Directors/New Films earlier this year. The title character, charmingly portrayed by Severine Jonckeere, is a 17-year-old who is living rough with her boyfriend Leo (Luc Chessel). They squat in abandoned houses and lead a rather aimless life until she becomes pregnant. At that point the film shifts rather surprisingly into a more first-person mode, centered on Milla’s interaction with her new son as Leo essentially disappears from the narrative.
Milla: Milla and Leo share a tender moment
Massadian draws on the global neo-realist model so dominant in contemporary independent film these days, getting nicely natural performances out of her young leads, putting them in understated situations that veer carefully away from any melodramatic potential. Visually, the film has a nice off-the-cuff feeling and the result, if you’re not put off by its languid tempo and fairly uneventful narrative, is quite pleasing.
The 41st annual Asian-American International FilmFestival is drawing to a close at Asia Societ (725 Park Avenue at near 71st St., NYC) this weekend and the closing night film, showing at 7 p.m. Saturday, August 4, is a frequently delightful if slightly baggy food documentary, Ulam: Main Dish, written and directed by Alexandra Cuerdo. It offers a loving profile of several young Phillipino and Phillipino-American chefs who are storming gates of US cuisine with their inventive reimaginings of this complex food tradition (well, actually traditions, as the film repeatedly reminds). The chefs and entrepreneurs are engaging and very funny, and the food looks gorgeous. Don’t go on an empty stomach.