On the eve of the NYFF, Director of Programming and Selection Committee Chair Kent Jones and I spoke about three extraordinary filmmakers - Catherine Breillat, Claire Denis, Agnieszka Holland who are screening their latest work, and a very personal debut from designer agnès b, who has been a champion of cinema for decades.
Anne-Katrin Titze: After her take on Bluebeard and Sleeping Beauty, Catherine Breillat's new film is based on her personal story after she suffered her stroke. Can you talk a bit about Abuse of Weakness (Abus de faiblesse)?
Kent Jones: It's a well documented case that she had. She saw Christophe Roconcourt on television and said I must have that guy for my movie, you know, kind of like her Rocco Siffredi experience [Anatomy of Hell, 2004], I guess. He took her for a lot of money. When she took him to court, she was able to prove that there had been 'abus de faiblesse' which is a genuine legal term. What she does in the movie is she looks at it in a very straight forward way. She looks at the dynamics of her relationship with Roconcourt, obviously everyone is given different names. It's a film about the question of agency and responsibility because she is left wondering. Was that me? I think it is actually one of her greatest endings, I have to say. Isabelle [Huppert] is great.
AKT: I am very much looking forward to it. Also to Claire Denis' Bastards (Les salauds).
KJ: Talk about angry! Very very tough movie, motivated by anger at the DSK [Dominique Strauss-Kahn] case because in the press it was, "Oh, he's a Lothario, he's a man. He's a libertine, he makes no apologies for it. He's just savaging young women." That's what the film is about, really. And she's also taking Sanctuary by Faulkner. Faulkner is really a constant for Claire. You know that there are traces of Faulkner in a lot of her films, in L'intrus (The Intruder, 2004) for instance. You can see it in her other movies, too. She thought about Faulkner for a long time.
AKT: In a very different way from James Franco [Child of God].
KJ: Yeah, in a very different way from James Franco. You know, there was a plan a few years ago to make a group of Faulkner adaptations for HBO. Then I heard that David Milch bought every Faulkner novel ever written. Although, I guess, he couldn't have because James Franco made As I Lay Dying and he is supposedly going to make...
AKT: The Sound and The Fury.
KJ: Yes. A lot of people who love Claire's work were saying to me "gee, can't you call somebody at HBO and see if they can have Claire do Light in August? That would never work. Oh, it would be great, just not within that framework.
AKT: Another angry film I saw last week was Roger Michell's Le Week-end.
KJ: Hmm. Le Week-end you could say is emotionally violent. I'm also thinking of A Touch Of Sin by Jia Zhangke and Norte [The End Of History], by Lav Diaz. I mean, if you're thinking of anger, Inside Llewyn Davis by the Coen Brothers is a very unusual film in that sense, because it's about someone who's perpetually angry and resentful. And then whenever he is starting to play music he's an angel. And when the music stops he's angry and resentful and pissed off again. In Burning Bush by Agnieszka Holland, it begins with an act of violence that someone commits against themselves. Who knows why would those films converge at the same time? Sometimes it can be valid, sometimes it could be more of an habitual way of thinking.
AKT: You are right. Especially when you talk about something as vast as violence.
Getting personal with agnès b -
AKT: The first feature directed by agnès b My Name Is Hmmm… (Je m’appelle Hmmm…) is a film I am really curious about. She has been so active in many other areas of cinema and provided for me and many others the uniform of our teenage years. Is this the world premiere?
KJ: No. It was in Venice. It's a film that came to my attention through Amy Taubin [NYFF Selection Committee member]. She was in touch with agnès and she sent her the film. You know, whenever a celebrity decides that they're going to make a movie…
AKT: The first name that came to my head when you were going in this direction was Anthony Hopkins… [I was referring to the "experimental" Slipstream in 2007]
KJ: Right. There are three films in the festival. There's the James Franco film and there's the Ralph Fiennes film - The Invisible Woman. agnès b's film is different in the sense that it's extremely, challengingly personal for her. It's also made personally so that you get the impression that she made it a little bit at a time. She made it with her friends. You get the impression of a family atmosphere behind the film. But you also get the powerful impression, for me at least, of someone who not only loves cinema, but who has watched it so closely, that she has absorbed some kind of way of approaching the problem of making a film that thrives with her own personal life and desire. We can re-visit the class issue. Her film has a very keen sense of class in the family scenes. Part of it has to do with the acting. Jacques Bonnaffé is an actor I've always liked very much. He is great in Prénom Carmen (First Name: Carmen,1983) by Jean-Luc Godard. He is great in a completely different way in Va Savoir (Who Knows? 2001) by Jacques Rivette. [Recently, Bonnaffé acted in Guy Maddin's ongoing international Spiritismes project at the Centre Pompidou of resurrecting the ghosts of lost movies] In this film he is an abusive father. He is magnificent. Then so is Douglas Gordon, the visual artist, who did 24 Hour Psycho [his 1993 art installation that slowed down Hitchcock's Psycho to approximately two frames per second], who plays a Scottish truck driver. So the film has a magical lyrical side to it married to an undertone of real terror.
Public screenings at the New York Film Festival:
Abuse of Weakness - Sunday, October 6, 6:15pm & Wednesday, October 9, 6:00pm
Bastards - Sunday, October 6, 9:00pm & Wednesday, October 9, 3:00pm
Burning Bush - Friday, October 4, 6:15pm & Wednesday, October 9, 1:00pm
My Name Is Hmmm… - Monday, October 7, 8:15pm & Thursday, October 10, 12:00pm
Anne-Katrin Titze is the New York Critic for Eye For Film. She is a lecturer on fiction, film, fashion, and fairy tales and curates conversations and panels with filmmakers at Universities and various cultural venues. Anne-Katrin is also a New York State Department of Environmental Conservation licensed Wildlife Rehabilitator.