Friday, September 25, 2009

THE NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL opens up: It's the 47th edition; I remember the first

Yes, film fans: TrustMovies saw every last movie at the very first New York Film Festival, back when. In fact, he saw every movie during the first few years of the festival because he worked for (what was then called) Philharmonic Hall box-office, part-time, as a guard. (There was no Alice Tully Hall at the time.) The powers-that-
be had hired him for his height -- and the fact that he could put his recently drama school-graduated vocal prowess to use, making announcements in the lobby, while herding the unruly crowds into line for the sellout programs. "Up against the wall, movie-lovers!" he would command, putting a "cinema spin" on a much-loved slogan of the day. During those first few fests, he fell head-over-
heels for Bo Widerberg's Elvira Madigan but wondered why the programmers had included Alexander Kluge's Yesterday Girl. Now, he suspects, he'd feel pretty much the reverse -- or at least he'd better understand the merits of both movie-makers.

Time moves on, tastes change (or grow, one hopes) but the days of seeing every film in a fest like this are long gone. Not if one wants to keep up with little -- but important -- movies like The Blue Tooth Virgin, at least -- and speak with their filmmakers and performers. This year, I'll take in maybe half a dozen of the NYFF roster; at this point I've already seen three: Vincere by Bellocchio; Corneliu Porumboiu's Police, Adjective; and La rabbia di Pasolini, reconstructed by Giuseppe Bertolucci, which is part of the fest's sidebar showcase Views from the Avant-Garde.

I'll cover those first two at length when they receive their theatrical release (both have already been picked up for US distribution); for now I'll just give a brief rundown, in case readers may want to venture out to wait on cancellation lines in the days to come. Vincere is a dark, dark tale of Il Duce and a woman who loved him, married him and fathered his child, only to see -- But you'll have to see for yourself. It's worth it, as this is Bellocchio, after all, whose skills I think have only grown as he has aged. We discover here a very different side of popular Italian actress Giovanna Mezzogiorno (above, right) and get yet another taste of the fellow who may well be the most talented, versatile and charismatic young actor in Italy, Filippo Timi (above left). The movie is strange and disturbing, most of all because it dispenses with much of the political, spinning it into the purely personal -- while forcing us to understand how the two are connected and how Italy itself seems forever devoted to fascist media moguls (I didn't realize till seeing this film that Mussolini was one such, prior to his rise to ultimate power) and the hypocrisy of the so-called "family values" of the Catholic Church.

plays Saturday, September 26, at 8:30 & Sunday, September 27 at 6. Marco Bellocchio will appear in person for a conversation with Phillip Lopate on Sunday, 9/27 at 2pm. If tickets elude you during the fest, despair not: IFC Films has picked up this one for theatrical release sometime in early-ish 2010.

I was not as taken with Corneliu Porumboiu's earlier 12:08 East of Bucharest as were some (it proved a little heavy-handed for me), but I found his new film Police, Adjective remarkable: quiet and contained but full of surprise and the steady unfolding of a view of society -- Romanian -- still trapped in/enrapt with its fascist tendencies (well, the film is set in and around a police department) and the old laziness of the Communism work ethic, despite its slowly opening up to more western "democratic" mores. A police procedural-cum-moral dilemma in which very little happens but what does counts for much, the film is exceedingly slow-moving but so beautifully photographed that viewing it puts you in an almost constant state of pleasure (the crisp cinematography by Marius Panduru makes the absolute most of color, wherever it can be found). The acting by lead Dragos Bucur, above left, and Irina Saulescu, right, as well as by Vlad Ivanov (the abortionist from 4 months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days) is terrific, and Porumpoiu's dialog is spare until it is needed. At these times you almost want to stop and hit the rewind button, so pointed and simultaneously on-target and obfuscatory the words become.

Police, Adjective, like The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, is another top-of-the-line movie from Romania. IFC Films has picked it up for distribution, and it plays at the NYFF on Monday, September 28, at 9:15 and Tuesday, September 29, at 6.

I'll have more on the Pasolini "Rage" (as well as on Sally Potter's new Rage, plus an interview with the director) in the coming week....

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