Well, ladies and gents, the 46th New York Film Festival has been in full swing for the past two weeks for us lucky press/industry types, but tonight is when the second—some might call it actual—phase begins (that would be the festival's opening night and subsequent public screenings). So far, this year has provided us with some real treats, and we still have a ways to go. Tonight's opening night film, Laurent Cantet's The Class, is awesome-awesome-awesome. Brandon Harris is working on his Hammer to Nail review right now, which will hopefully be posted sooner-than-later today. But I would just like to say briefly that I really dug this film. It's quite different from his previous work (I consider Time Out to be one of the top films of the decade), but even though it is different, it reaffirms Cantet's extraordinary ability to make socially conscious cinema that feels intimate and personal. No preaching here.
For my money, the true revelation of the festival is Sergey Dvortsevoy's Tulpan. I am still reeling from the experience, so much so that I will be re-experiencing it at next Tuesday's second press screening to confirm that I saw what I actually saw. How Dvortsevoy coordinated some of these shots feels slightly supernatural to me. It's like he and the camera had these animals and children on a string and were able to guide them through the frame.
Brief initial reactions, but more to come...
Wendy and Lucy — Exceptional.
Night and Day — Yes!
Tony Manero — The only recent comparison I can make to Pablo Larrain's film is Ronald Bronstein's Frownland, but that's not entirely accurate. Suffice to say, it is one of the more unique works I have encountered in quite some time.
The Headless Woman — Inland Empire on European downers. No, that's not a compliment. I say this after being oddly mesmerized for many moments in the film (incredible opening). But impenetrability doesn't imply genius, so I don't know where to draw the line, really.
24 City — Up there with Up the Yangtze, although not quite all the way up there.
Gomorrah — Damn impressive, but I wonder if my soul isn't over gangsters and corruption these days. This movie is in a pissing contest with Elite Squad to see who has the more corrupt country: Italy or Brazil. Answer: both are fucked.
Afterschool — Jody Lee Lipes is the best new cinematographer working in American independent cinema.
Shuga — I can't get with the Bressonian style if it doesn't transcend. This feels like that whole symbolic genre of "pawn cinema" to me. Maybe when I was younger but not right now.
Four Nights With Anna — This year's The Man From London. Ten years ago I would have loved this thing, but now it felt a little too premeditated and artificially constructed to genuinely resonate. That said, the imagery was incredibly rich—like an oil painting—and there were some great moments, so I'm not saying I didn't like it. I'm just saying I didn't like it.
Tulpan — HOLY GOD SHIT HOW DID HE DO THAT SHOT????? AND THAT SHOT?????? AND THAT SHOT!!!!!! HOLY GOD SHIT FUCK YEAH!!!!!!!!!!
Serbis — "Cinema Pornadiso." Is every third person in the Philippines a bi-sexual, hermaphroditic tranny? It's funny that I saw this film the day before The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela finally opened in NYC, because there's a shot near the end of the little boy in lipstick and I thought how it could have been a roundabout prequel for that character.
Bullet in the Head — J. Hoberman was right. Bullet in the Head is this year's In the City of Sylvia, although not at all. For those of you who won't be seeing this movie—and I hate to say it, but that should probably be most of you—this is the story of a hitman who is on a mission to shoot two guys, but first he has the most boring day-before ever (captured in what feels like real time), at which point he meets up with his team and they drive in the direction of the targets' hide-out, where they plan to kill them at midnight, only while they're stopping off at a roadside food court, they spot the guys and decide to take care of the job in the parking lot there. Oh yeah, and either the filmmaker or everyone in the movie is deaf, because the only dialogue we ever hear is "Fucking cops!" and we've been watching their mouths move for the entire film.
Hunger — An experimental prison drama that pretty much goes in the opposite direction every single time, but remains riveting and forceful nonetheless.
Those are just some quick reactions to the films I've seen.
But the NYFF isn't the only worthwhile cinema in NYC this weekend...
Speaking of incredibly gifted cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes, Matt Wolf's gorgeous documentary, Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell opens at the IFC Center tonight. See this movie!
Also, it's the one-year anniversary of the American premiere of Carlos Reygadas' Silent Light, which is getting a one-week run at MoMA (starting yesterday).
I gave my own personal plug to these films over at Hammer to Nail, so be sure to go there to read the reviews that David Lowery and I wrote for these exceptional films. I would have said that Mr. Lowery's verbiage was the final statement on that film, but of course Ms. Manohla Dargis did some pretty special writing of her own.
So that's this weekend. But the cinematic goodness doesn't stop at midnight on Sunday. Monday night brings a verrrrry special event, a New York sneak preview of Natural Causes, a film written and directed by Alex Cannon, Michael Lerman, and Paul Cannon, and supposedly assistant directed by yours truly (I say supposedly because I was more like a P.A.). It's hard to be objective about this stuff, but when I saw the finished version of the film at SXSW I was taken aback and genuinely proud of the guys for making something so honest and true. I look forward to seeing it again. Tickets are going fast, so be sure to get yours in advance and make sure you're there on Monday night at 9:30 to experience the heartbreak of young love going oh-so-painfully bad.