The New York Film Festival is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Milton and I have been there every day since Saturday, even though we’ve only seen three films thus far. Milton, who has been a longtime member of the Film Society of Lincoln Center, has not been wild about the location of our seats. For many screenings we seem to be sitting in the nosebleeds.
The first film we saw was Amour, written and directed by one of our favorite filmmakers working today, Michael Haneke. He won the Palme D’Or at Cannes for this very unsentimental story set in Paris about Georges and Anne, a longtime married couple coping with the ravages of old age after one suffers a stroke and the other is the caregiver. The octogenarian actors, Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, both give extraordinary performances. Veteran actress Isabelle Huppert plays Eva, their middle-aged daughter that resides in London, who feels increasingly frustrated and helpless every time she visits her parents. Although this film is depressing, Haneke is such a talented filmmaker, it is riveting and packed with brilliant moments including a chilling nightmare sequence that elicited gasps from the audience. Of course the real horror is the physical decline that likely awaits many of us as we approach our own mortality. Yee ha.
We noticed that our audience was full of senior citizens including a woman that inched toward her seat with half the energy of a sleeping snail before she settled in front of us. All the while her friend repeatedly bleated in a thick New York accent, “Fran! Over here, Fran! Fran, over here!” This agitated Milton who kept muttering fluent monosyllabic. There was also quite a lot of loud phlegmy coughing around us prompting him to mutter:
Milton: God, we’re seeing this in a tuberculosis ward.
Fortunately, the film was excellent, even though we were sitting in row U.
The next day we had tickets to Beyond the Hills, written and directed by the Romanian filmmaker Christian Mungiu.
We’re sitting in row T and Milton is fixated on the two and a half hour running time:
Milton: This better be good.
I reminded Milton about the Bela Tarr screening we attended last year for The Turin Horse, a film about the futility of existence as illustrated through an ill work horse and two peasants eating potatoes. It was 146 minutes long – but we both loved it.
Beyond the Hills, is a story set in the present about two 25-year-old women that were best friends in a Romanian orphanage after they were abandoned at a very young age by their parents. One woman is essentially an atheist, but the other has joined a monastery. When they were in the orphanage, the relationship was sexual. The secular woman, after working as a waitress in Germany, misses her friend terribly, so she visits her in the monastery. She wants to rekindle what they had before but the religious woman has decided to devote her life to God. Life in the monastery provides her with security and a sense of home. The besotted secular friend, grows increasingly unhinged. The members of the monastery, a priest and several nuns, resort to a barbaric religious ritual to control the situation. It ends miserably.
Milton declared this film:
Milton: Brokeback Mountain meets The Exorcist.
On Monday night Milton and I had tickets to a film written and directed by Sally Potter called Ginger and Rosa. We have third row balcony seats, seats he despises because they’re located a time zone away from the screen.
Ginger and Rosa is a pretentious 89-minute film with a terrific classic jazz soundtrack that seemed to run five hours as I drifted in and out of consciousness. The story is set in 1962 England during the Cuban Missile Crisis, a time when 17-year-old Ginger, a budding radical suffering extreme anxiety about a potential nuclear holocaust, worships her best friend, Rosa, a full fledged slut, who sleeps with Ginger’s cad of a father. The worship ends, the world continues and Ginger writes a poem where she forgives Rosa. Milton delivered a one-word review:
I would have almost preferred watching a black screen with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie playing on the audiotrack.
Afterward he revised it when he assessed the talent of the 63-year-old filmmaker, Sally Potter:
Milton: She’s too old to be making a film this bad.
Then, he revised his assessment a third time; he was impressed with Elle Fanning’s performance as Ginger:
Milton: I don’t know what’s in the water those Fanning sisters drink, but they all have talent. Too bad they can’t find a filmmaker that knows what to do with them.
He added authoritatively:
Milton: This was so bad it made Beyond the Hills seem like Gone with the Wind.