Friday, February 17, 2012

FILM COMMENT SELECTS, 12th edition, opens with a schedule of 32 films, old and new, known and not-so -- & plenty of PA's

It's one of the best movie "catch-up" festivals on the planet: The Film Society of Lincoln Center's annual edition of FILM COMMENT SELECTS, beginning today, February 17 and continuing thrugh March 1. Comprised of Film Comment magazine’s handpicked lineup of new movies, alternately previewing prior to their theatrical runs or quite possibly never coming back to the big screen here in the U.S., as well as the old: rare, rediscovered, unclassifiable or maybe just underrated, the 32-film schedule -- which includes Aleksandr Sokurov's new version of Faust (shown above) -- will also feature several personal appearances by filmmakers and cast, including Eric Atlan, Sara Driver, James Franco, Jim Hoberman, Kerri Kenney, Kenneth Lonergan, Joshua Marston, Paul Rudd, and David Wain. You can discover the entire series, with listings, descriptions and screening times here.

After perusing the schedule, you of course will have your own list of "musts," but according to the FCS Powers-that-be, highlights -- in addition to the films themselves (always the first and best reason for attending) will include J. Hoberman (at right), on hand with LAND PASSION WAR OF THE CHRIST WORLDS, his film pastiche, based on 25 years of stunt projections and class presentations at NYU and Cooper Union, which stars Asia Argento, Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning, Dennis Hopper, and the mind of Mel “Mad Max” Gibson.

James Franco will also attend with My Own Private River, his personal re-edited version of Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho, utilizing unused footage of River Phoenix from that film classic. In conjunction with the screening, the Furman Gallery will play host to Memories of Idaho, an installation by Franco and Van Sant that recreates an AA meeting hall featuring three related single-channel films: Idaho, Franco’s 62-minute Super-8 film based on one of the three original drafts Van Sant wrote and eventually combined into My Own Private Idaho; Narcolepsy (which consists of dailies); and the recently completed My Blue Funk.

Finally, Film Comment Selects will present two special screenings “In Memoriam.” The late Ken Russell will be honored with a screening of his classic Altered States (1980). The festival will also make a nod to the recently departed Bingham Ray by screening Mike Leigh’s beloved Life Is Sweet (1990), which was the first release by Ray’s legendary October Films.

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TrustMovies managed to catch only three of the new films in this series prior to its opening -- two from France and one from Germany. Here, briefly, are his descriptions:

The new German genre film TRANSFER is smart, humane science-fiction -- given a very glossy look and fine performances from a couple of actors gorgeous enough to die for. Or at least switch bodies with -- which is what, in a rather convoluted transaction, two couples, one old, the other young, agree to do. For money, of course. This is a new style of "colonialism," in which young healthy Africans agree to loan out their bodies for use by old western Europeans, and the latter will then compensate the formers' needy families.

The four characters (as well as the actors who play them: that's the jaw-droppingly beautiful B.J. Britt, above, as the male half of the younger couple) are splendidly created. And the co-writing and direction by Damir Lukacevic is swift, gleaming and reasonably believable and "felt" so that we can identify with all concerned. If the movie becomes a little too convoluted by the finale, it still packs a good punch and is quite worth seeing. No distributor has yet come aboard, so FCS may be your best and only chance to view this one. Transfer plays Friday, Feb 17, at 4:00 pm, and twice Monday, Feb 20, at 4:15 and 8:45 pm.

I have noted elsewhere (but feel it bears repeating) that when the French get pretentious, none -- and I mean no one -- can outdo them. A particularly grand example of that pretension can be found in FCS film MORTEM, directed and co-written (with Marie-Claude Dazun) by Eric Atlan. TM is guessing that M. Atlan is a young filmmaker. Why else would he waste our time with such a silly and obvious story about a pretty woman on a motorcycle whose sort-of doppelgänger/double begins interacting with her at a very odd hotel in the provinces where the staff is weird and the guests even weirder.

Did I ask why? Well, for the hot lesbian sex scene that grounds the middle of the movie, of course. Otherwise, this is a Philosophy/
Religion/Psychology 101 crash-course that plays its hand far too soon and then has really nowhere to go. However, young film audiences may very well groove on this "new" idea about the "other" that they've not yet seen (as have we older folk) many times before. They might also love the fact that, like The Artist, this movie has been filmed in that exciting new process known as black-and-white cinematography (by M. Atlan himself, and the photography is indeed quite beautiful). Ah, youth! Mortem plays Saturday, February 18, at 5 and Tuesday, February 21, at 1:15 pm.

Of the three film TM has so far viewed, the best from this year's series is most definitely REBELLION. (L'Ordre et la morale). Co-written and directed by Mathieu Kassovitz, the movie is a narrative version of an event that happened almost a quarter-century ago in one of France's "colonies" on the Pacific island of New Caledonia. The natives have gotten restless and rebelled, it seems, killing several gendarmes and taking others hostage. A squad of elite counter-terrorism hostage-negotiators is called is, led by the character played by M. Kassovitz.

The job ought to be a relatively easy one,  except that, back in France, an election is fast approaching and those in power want a quick and "winning" end to this incident, and so the military is called in, and things move from bad to worse. Trust and betrayal go hand in hand, and as we learn more about the rebels (below) and what's really going on in those corridors of power (above), a dank feeling begins to surround us and those negotiators (some of whom who are themselves hostages at this point).

Kassovitz captures the urgency at the heart of the event, as well as the spider-web of intrigue, and his "action scene" when it happens at last is grueling but very well done. (The film actually opens as the action comes to a close; the rest is flashback trying to make sense of the slaughterthat has just happened.) There's a fascinating bit of actual television footage inserted into the film and watched by the Kassovitz character in which Chirac and Mitterrand spar over the event, using it a political football to score their points. At bottom the film is resolutely anti-French government (at least as that government is shown operating here). You'll leave the film with the most bitter of tastes in your mouth, even as you appreciate the filmmaker's impressive achievement (which sadly, has no U.S. distribution lined up as yet). Rebellion plays Thursday, February 23, at 8:45pm and Wednesday, February 29, at 1:45pm.

Tickets are on sale now both at the box office and on-line forthese and the other films in the fest -- with discounts available for students, seniors and Film Society members. Click here for further info.