Friday, February 18, 2011

FILM COMMENTS SELECTS - 2011 opens; get ready for the raw--and the unreleased

Film Comment, the magazine of the Film Society of Lincoln Center, is selecting again. It editors and writers do this yearly, and their choices -- often movies seen at festivals that have so far received no theatrical release here in the USA and/or, due to their content, style, experimental or sometimes even blood-letting factors, may never see the dark of the inside of a movie theater -- hit the FSLC's Walter Reade Theater each February in a series titled Film Comment Selects.

This singular series -- anticipated greatly by us film buffs who can't easily travel the festival circuit but who would dearly love to play catch-up -- opens today, and, as usual, looks fabulous on paper (or computer) and if history acts as guide, should offer at least fifty percent or better of movies worth viewing. According to the press materials, this year's program features French actor-filmmaker Isild Le Besco, who was to have appeared in person, but at the last minute had to cancel her plans and so will not be in attendance to present her work, including her latest, Bas-fonds (one of the opening-night selections); Viva Radio events with Warhol's Velvet Underground films and Alex Cox's Straight to Hell remix; three works by Shoah director Claude Lanzmann, and the extraordinary Wundkanal and Our Nazi dyptych from the late Thomas Harlan and Robert Kramer; sneak previews of John Landis's Burke and Hare; Lu Chuan's City of Life and Death; Kim Ji-woon's I Saw the Devil; Jia Zhangke's I Wish I Knew; Sion Sono's Cold Fish; and much more. Plus: Klaus Kinski as Jesus; Domaine - John Waters's favorite movie of 2010; rare Fassbinder; and a real-life Mexican hit man (courtesy of El Sicario Room 164).

While the press materials also promise "16 films you will not see in U.S. theaters," surely this is jumping the gun a bit, as, more and more of late, films made a year, two or three previous can end up getting a theatrical, albeit highly limited, release. TrustMovies caught only two of the four films screened for the press, and both proved, with caveats, worth seeing.

The aforemen-tioned BAS-FONDS (which might translate as low-lifes or gutter-snipes) is the third film from the exoti-cally beautiful French actress Isild Le Besco, who, I think we can now safely say, has a keen interest in society's "outsiders," and has now outdone even herself.  The actress has often played the role of outsider, sometimes turning what might look initially like an insider to the status of "other."  As filmmaker, she is clearly drawn to these people. In her latest she tosses us into the ugly, ragged lives of three anti-social young women (see photo at top) -- two sisters and the elder's lover -- who share a beyond-seedy flat in an apartment building in the provinces. The single piece of home decor I detected was a very large black dildo, and most of  the rancid dialog is screamed and shouted. How the three could have become this joint catastrophe is barely hinted at, and when -- midway -- they do something beyond repair and yet no attempt at retribution from the authorities is shown, we know we are in the hands of a somewhat naive filmmaker. (This is not the first of their outside-the-law moments, though it is their worst.) When that retribution finally comes, the film quiets down and we're allowed to muse on these young women, society, and impediments to self-actualization and growth such as religion, prison and poor parenting. Performances are relatively real and ugly, and Le Besco seems to be learning her way around and with a camera, so it will be interesting to see what she comes up with next.

Le Besco's second film, Charly, is also being screened in the FCS series.  I first saw it, with very mixed feelings, during the Tribeca Film Festival two years ago -- click the link for my review of the film and interview with the actress/filmmaker (done for GreenCine).

According to the press materials for this year's FCS, the favorite film from 2010 of our own John Waters is part of the series: DOMAINE from Patric Chiha and starring the still-gorgeous star of Betty Blue, the ever-exotic Béatrice Dalle (on poster and above, right). This quiet and much less transgressive movie that you'd imagine (given Waters' history, though perhaps not his taste in film) tracks the evolving and devolving relationship between an older woman (a mathematician with an alcohol problem) and her young nephew (played by an interesting newcomer Isaïe Sultan, below), who is probably gay and definitely attracted to the "otherness," as well as the sophistication, of his aunt's circle of friends. The film is particularly smart about the manner in which youth and age perceive the world and how callous the former can sometimes be about the latter, perhaps simply for purposes of its own survival.

At times, the film may remind you of a very French Auntie Mame, were Auntie losing it and Patrick old enough (and with taste enough) to choose her clothes for an evening out. As often happens in French film, there is so much going on -- philosophically, emotionally, even family-wise (the boy's mother and her sister are not close) -- that little can come to fruition in the mere course of time frame the movie offers us. Nonetheless, the writer/director shows us the seasons as beautifully and subtly as he captures character, and if the film is somewhat slow-paced and typically French in its insistence on little exposition, it still offers mature audiences much to mull over, post-viewing.

You can peruse the entire Film Comment Selects series, which plays today through March 4, here.

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