The New York Film Festival begins on Friday, with a wealth of choices from the obscure to the high-profile (like the opening night film, Ang Lee’s 3D Life of Pi, not yet press screened as I write this). We can all makes guesses about what might be worth seeing, but here’s a glimpse at some films from the first week that I’ve actually seen, festival selections that range from don’t-miss to mystifying.
FRANCES HA, Directed by Noah Baumbach
A precise, witty little black-and-white treasure, with Greta Gerwig as the appealing Frances – a role she co-wrote for herself with Baumbach – a would-be modern dancer trying to find better luck in her career and in love. She grapples with her changing friendship with her best girlfriend (Mickey Sumner), finds and loses new roommates, in a film that takes great advantage of its New York locations, with an unexpected side trip to Paris. I’ve never not liked a Baumbach film, but even if you didn’t go for Margot at the Wedding or Greenberg, you’ll probably find Frances Ha delightful.
Here’s the very interesting Q & A that Richard Pena led followed the NYFF press screening, with Baumbach’s articulate answers about how and why he made the film.
AMOUR, Directed by Michael Haneke
Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva are extraordinary as an elderly married couple dealing with the wife’s deteriorating health and memory in this exquisitely made, deeply touching and – let’s be honest, sad – film, which won the Palme D’Or at Cannes this year. Haneke tells us at the start how things will end, and draws us into the couple’s lives so richly that in no time we stop noticing how much the actors’ faces have changed over the years, and simply enter their lives.
Here’s the trailer, which suggests that Isabelle Huppert, as the couple’s daughter, has a much bigger role in the film than she actually does.
YOU AIN’T SEEN NOTHIN’ YET (VOUS N’AVEZ ENCORE RIEN VU), Directed by Alain Resnais
For Resnais completists. A group of actors – including Mathieu Amalric, Michel Piccoli, Sabine Azema and many others familiar from Resnais films – are called together after the death of a playwright to watch a video of a new production of Eurydice. They begin to act out scenes themselves, taking on the roles they played years before. Deliberately hermetic and theatrical, yet with graceful, intimate camera movements that remind us why Resnais remains a master filmmaker at 90. This is the kind of work that makes the festival so valuable – not a crowd-pleaser, but irresistible for the right cinephile audience. Here's a brief teaser-trailer.
HYDE PARK ON HUDSON, Directed by Roger Michell
One word: why? I woud love for someone to explain – there must be a reason -- why this middle-brow, spoon-fed bit of history is included in the festival. The performances by Bill Murray as FDR and Laura Linney as his distant cousin and lover, Daisy (who narrates the story of her life-changing brush with greatness) are good but hardly their best because they’re saddled with Richard Nelson’s obvious and bland screenplay. The plot’s centerpiece is a visit from the King and Queen of England -- George VI and Elizabeth, whose characters make this seem like The King’s Speech lite. The film has some rich moments, especially when Daisy learns she is not the only other woman in FDR’s life, but the film is just good enough to make you wish it were less slick and superficial.
You might argue with its choices, but the New York Film Festival still manages to create a sense of exhilarating discovery. More to come from Week 2.