PARADISE NOW ***
Here’s another one that worked quite well for me at the time, but has drifted into the ether at this point. It must be stated for all the skeptics out there that Hany Abu-Assad is clearly not out to cash in on the controversy of his subject matter (humanizing suicide bombers, for those of you who don’t know what this is about--actually, with these 'reviews' I’m kind of assuming that you know the plots of these films already; how presumptuous of me; but that’s the kind of asshole I am). He’s trying to explore a much more human issue. What could possibly drive someone to even consider such a terrible action? If we don’t ask this question, and simply lash out at suicide bombers and call them evil monsters, we won’t ever be able to understand them and come up with a solution to the problem (as if that will actually happen, but whatever). And while I do think PARADISE NOW makes headway to that end, ultimately it didn’t massage my loins. (Note: It’s not just you, I don’t understand me either.)
TRISTRAM SHANDY: A COCK AND BULL STORY ****
BARRY LYNDON meets 24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE. Nuff said. Though I guess I’ll say more. Like Michael Winterbottom is probably my greatest inspiration when it comes to modern directors. The man is an insanely gifted machine. Part of his brilliance is his casting--which is why the Tim Robbins fiasco in CODE 46 was such a disappointment--but here he bats one thousand once again. Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are hilarious, whether in character as Tristram Shandy and Uncle Toby, or whether in character as “Steve Coogan” and “Rob Brydon.” Naomie Harris deserves a mention for her performance as the pretentious P.A. that permeates every film set. And then, of course, there’s Kelly Macdonald. A suggestion, if I may: Kelly Macdonald should be in every single movie that is made, no matter the genre, locale, or era. If that were the case, the world would be a much brighter place. I’m convinced of that. But yeah, this movie is funny as shit and you are a complete and utter idiot if you don’t see it when it comes out (which was supposed to be in November, but now I hear it’s been pushed to January).
Let me just say this: there is no worse feeling in the world than the burning sting of romantic jealousy. I firmly believe that. And while it’s thankfully been years since I’ve experienced that horrific pang myself (having been coasting on The Lonely Boat for the past several years), Patrice Chereau’s masterly GABRIELLE brought that ugly sensation back to me like an unexpected bitch slap to my grill. It’s funny, but in hindsight I realize that Chereau’s point is a broader one, that Jean (an Oscar-worthy Pascal Greggory) perhaps deserved what he got by being too complacent about his relationship with his icy wife Gabrielle (Isabelle Huppert), as well as his overriding air of arrogance. But at the time, I couldn’t help but connect to Jean’s visceral emotion and begin to feel that animalistic jolt myself. Not the most pleasant moviegoing experience, but I’m somewhat masochistic in my cinephilia. Perhaps that’s why I jetted downtown after the screening and caught 40 SHADES OF BLUE (which I also “loved”). Needless to say, the rest of my day after that double bill was gray, somber, and b-l-e-a-k.
THE SUN *****
WOW. Who would’ve known that Aleksandr Sokurov had a sense of humor? I sure as shit didn’t, but I do now! Featuring a toweringly affecting performance by Issey Ogata, THE SUN recounts the final days of WWII, before Emperor Hirohito conceded to General MacArthur (Richard Jenkins lookalike Robert Dawson). I can’t even describe the tone of this film, which has the sound design of a David Lynch nightmare, the cinematography of a classical painting, and a completely unexpected dash of humor. I didn’t stop once to consider if this is how it really went down, which is a good thing, obviously. I simply gave in to Sokurov’s transcendent, nostalgic dream of a film and let it take me away. (Note: THE SUN doesn’t currently have American distribution, which makes me want to hump a cactus and jump in front of a moving train, but I’m sure someone will pick it up eventually. PLEASE?!)
THE PASSENGER ***
Let me begin with two confessions. 1) I had never seen Antonioni’s film before the NYFF press screening. 2) It didn’t blow me away. There, I got that off my chest. Here’s the thing, though. I know for a fact that this is a grower, in much the same way that 8 1/2 and MCCABE & MRS. MILLER are growers. It’s a surprisingly underplayed work, which is the point. But still, watching it I couldn’t help but wonder if I was missing something. According to Roger Ebert, I’m not. But then again, according to Roger Ebert, GARFIELD: THE MOVIE was funny. Anyway, if there had been more moments like the insanely brilliant one-take of a finale, I would be playing a different piano. As it is, I’ll leave my rating at three stars and wait to watch this again when it’s finally released on DVD. (Note: do people really not care about the awful sound in this thing? I’m not even talking about the dubbing. I’m talking about the exterior scenes where Maria Schneider’s close-up has a thunderous train in the background and Nicholson’s are dead quiet. Because if that isn’t a problem, then COCAINE ANGEL is going to win an Oscar for best sound editing! Seriously, do people not notice that shit?)
From the very first shot of Michael Haneke’s unadulterated masterpiece, there is a sense of profound dread. Yet how is that possible? All we are looking at is a house from across the street, with no music, as the opening credits cleverly spread across the screen like unassuming prose. So why was there a palpable sense of tension in the audience from the very get go? That miraculous trick aside, CACHE further ups the ante by succeeding as both an entertaining thriller and a profoundly unsettling commentary on urban paranoia and personal guilt (not to mention the French-Algerian war). I have a strong hunch that they’ll be teaching this in classrooms for decades to come. And while the jarring last shot seems to explain things initially, upon further reflection it only raises more questions. I can’t wait to see this when it’s released on December 23rd, in a theatre filled with poor, unsuspecting viewers. Hahahahahaha!
(And so, my friends, thus concludes my report from the 2005 New York Film Festival. Thanks once again to the folks at Lincoln Center. You guys have really given me something to live for. And while I plan on being in Maryland shooting PING-PONG SUMMER next September, if something terrible happens, I know where I’ll be!)