The BRM's 2009 Fall Festival Preview

By twhalliii | THE BACK ROW MANIFESTO by Tom Hall September 3, 2009 at 5:13AM

The BRM's 2009 Fall Festival Preview
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Bags are already being packed in my house, although they are not mine; The Mrs. has her ticket in hand and one foot out the door as she once again scoops me (and the overwhelming majority of North American audiences) with her annual trip to Telluride, CO for the Telluride Film Festival. I have always dreamed of going (never been), but family politics being what they are, I understand the concept of a “girl’s weekend” and know to let sleeping dogs lie. What happens in the cool, wealth-soaked autumnal mountains of Telluride stays there. Have fun, Telluriders. Be nice to the Mrs. as you elbow past her trying to hustle the volunteers to let you into the theater first. Because, you know, you are entitled to the best seat.

I, on the other hand, am in full fall preparation mode, getting ready for the annual month-long foray into the state of the art. This year, for the first time in forever, I am really, really excited, not just because I feel a million miles behind my friends and colleagues who went to Cannes and want to catch up (again!), but also because I made a conscious decision this summer to spend my time away from movie theaters, to re-charge my cinematic batteries and try to focus on other things. While the plan has made for an absolutely shitty film blog, it has also made me very tense, like a junkie going through the delirium tremens. Win-win, no? I need to do better as a human being (and I wish I were kidding) and I really feel that getting back to the movies will give me more focus. Clearly, I am chomping at the bit to get to Toronto and the New York Film Festival, to feel connected to my passion, to get my energy back. As such, I have some films I am dying to see. I’ll leave the Cannes and Berlin titles out of this (Audiard, Haneke, Resnais and Everyone Else, I’m talking to you— cannot wait!), but let’s get to previewing what’s on the agenda. Allez-y!

White Material by Claire Denis
In the wake of this weekend’s opening of 35 Shots Of Rum, which I think is easily one of the best movies of the year (my thoughts, from last autumn), I have goosebumps in anticipation of White Material, a movie I have been tracking for a couple of years now. Denis returns to the African continent, a place of clear inspiration for her considering Beau Travail (Djibouti) and Chocolat (Cameroon) remain among her most powerful works. This time, Isabelle Huppert and Isaach De Bankolé join Denis back in Cameroon to the tell the story of a family’s coffee plantation caught in the middle of a civil war. Most interestingly, the incredible cinematographer Agnes Godard did not work on this film; Yves Cape, who shot L’Humanité, Flanders and the new Hadjewich for Bruno Dumont shot White Material. Toronto and New York will both be featuring this film, so I plan on multiple viewings because, well, the idea of seeing Denis’ work on a dripping wet 35mm print on the big screen? Swoon.


White Material

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans by Werner Herzog and Trash Humpers by Harmony Korine
Kindred auteurs Werner Herzog and Harmony Korine each have a film in festivals this autumn, and they both have set my “what-the-fuck?-o-meter” to “holy shit!” (the highest setting on the what-the-fuck?-o-meter, obviously). Herzog’s “re-imagining” (or is it?) of Abel Ferrara’s scuzzy Bad Lieutenant looks to be a walk on the razor’s edge; I can’t tell if it will be a disaster or genius, which is exciting. Herzog may have been getting comfortable as the wild man of the documentary world, but after the terrific Rescue Dawn (loved it), it is nice to see him getting back to his roots and bringing the danger to his fiction work. Korine, on the other hand, would probably shock audiences more if he made a period piece than he will with Trash Humpers, but that doesn’t mean the film won’t be grimy, look like shit and probably end up one of the more brilliant films of the year. I’m ready to walk the highwire with these two; they’ve certainly earned my trust.

Le Refuge by François Ozon
Okay. Ricky, Ozon’s last film, played in Berlin in February, was picked up by IFC and will be released next year. I can’t wait to see it. He already has another film which, once again, cements Ozon the most prolific filmmaker in modern history; he makes Woody Allen look like Victor Erice (*rimshot*). Reading the description Le Refuge, it sounds likeRicky’s dramatic fraternal twin, but who knows; this is Ozon, a director who tackles genre and subject matter with the meticulous abandon of a true auteur. Is there any story he could not make? After so many people misunderstood the period comedy Angel (which I really liked) and with the bemused reaction to Ricky lingering in advance of the film’s public release, it will be interesting to see Le Refuge and to watch Ozon, chin up, working his way through this drama toward his next film.


Le Refuge

Life During Wartime by Todd Solondz
I was fortunate to see a rough cut of Todd Solondz’s new film a little over a month ago, and I am very, VERY interested to see what the world makes of it. Using an entirely new cast to create a sequel to Happiness, Solondz picks up the story a decade later and creates a rhyming, mirror-image of his original. The more things change, the more they stay the same, but Solondz as an artist has clearly changed; darkness abounds, often laugh out loud funny, yes, but the film has a haunted sense of longing (literally... ghosts abound in this film) that is coupled with a confidence that feels worlds away from Solondz’s (understandable) auto-critiquing strategies in Storytelling or Palindromes. The film’s original title, Forgiveness, seems perfect and despite the innumerable nods to its predecessor (will those who didn’t see Happiness get it?), the movie stands alone as one of the director’s best. Can't wait to see the final cut...


Life During Wartime

The Road by John Hillcoat
I will make a confession here; Despite living in New York City, I spend a lot of time in my car. The family drives to Michigan and Ohio on a regular basis and I enjoy driving so much, I often rent a car to make my annual trip to Florida. I rarely stop for the night as I prefer to do long drives in one go; 19 straight hours to Florida is no sweat for me. As such, I like to listen to books and podcasts on the iPhone, and in 2007, I popped in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. It began a couple of hours before sunset and I listened to it, straight through, absolutely riveted. I know, I know; the stigma of book-on-tape, but tell it to the publishing industry. Anyway, I love this book and can’t wait to see the movie, no matter what Todd McCarthy says in Variety. Anyone familiar with the book will know what I mean when I say “the basement”, and the realization of that scene alone promises to keep me up at night. Also, as a father staying home alone with his son this weekend, there is a horrible romance to the story, a “lone wolf and cub” nightmare that every father understands, somewhere deep in his psyche.


The Road

Derniers jours du monde by Arnaud and Jean-Marie Larrieu
Mathieu Amalric hits the screen in Arnaud and Jean-Marie Larrieu’s apocalyptic Derniers jours du monde (Last Days of The World, but translated/titled Happy End for English speaking audiences). The film looks to be a lot of fun, but on the heels of the domestically ignored Le voyage aux Pyrénées (never saw it) and the under-seen To Paint Or Make Love, it seems that the Larrieus are primed for a hit. The issue, of course, is their languid, sometimes under-cooked style (think early Rohmer in even more bourgeoise circumstances) and how they will adapt to the frenetic-sounding apocalyptic surrealism the description implies. The good news is that they will be deploying my favorite actor, Matthieu Amalric (again, I propose a Polanski biopic with Amalric as the lead) and, since he can do no wrong in my eyes, I am interested to see him in the service of this story; Amalric does comedy very, very well (see Kings and Queen) and, assuming this is a comedy of sorts (I hope so), I am excited to see Amalric in action again.

Soul Kitchen by Fatih Akin
I love Head On. I love The Edge Of Heaven. I know myself. I will love Soul Kitchen, Fatih Akin’s new film. His generosity as a director will be well-served when deployed in the service of comedy. I don’t know anything about the film other than the fact it is a family story built around a restaurant. Sign me up and tell me no more.


A Serious Man by The Coen Brothers
Stories of faith in crisis? Period tales of disillusionment? In the hands of the Coen Brothers? Home run. The trailer speaks for itself.

The Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould by Michèle Hozer and Peter Raymont
(A reprise of my documentary picks on Thom Powers’ blog...)

One of the artists whose playing changed the way I thought about classical music, Glenn Gould remains something of an enigmatic figure for me; his death at the much-too-young age of 50 came well before I could truly appreciate him, but his commitment to recorded music (and his decision to abandon the concert stage) left us with a rich and mysterious body of performance, radio recordings and even wildlife documentaries. I am very interested to see how Peter Raymont and Michèle Hozer handle the delicate balance between the man and his music.