Milton and I have spent much of the past two weeks at the New York Film Festival where we’ve seen quite a few low lights. Before attending a screening of Mountains May Depart, the latest film by the Chinese director and screenwriter, Jia Zhangke, we rubber necked the red carpet photo op. Here is Jia with his frequent leading lady, his wife, Zhao Tao.
Mountains is a drama set in the past, present and future about a woman who is loved by two men, one rich and the other, poor. She marries the rich guy and has a son he names Dollar. Even though Jia insists that his film is about 21st Century capitalism and the discontent felt by those that have benefitted from it, we found it trite. To quote Milton:
Milton: I didn’t buy any of it.
He also hated the q&a and grumbled:
Milton: I can’t believe I’m giving up food for this.
What I will remember most from that film is how much it made me crave dumplings.
While Milton was in the bathroom, I noticed the filmmaker, Michel Gondry, in the lobby, following a screening of his latest, Microbe & Gasoline, a whimsical tale about two French teenage boys that build a vehicle and set out on a road trip.
I found it entertaining fluff. Milton thought it had absolutely no business being in the festival and groused that that slot should have gone to MacBeth starring Michael Fassbinder and Marion Cotillard. I would have gladly argued that point with him, but I couldn’t. I was also disappointed that MacBeth wasn’t screened.
While I was busy at work, Milton emailed me that filmmaker Chantal Ackerman had died in Paris on Monday, an apparent suicide. This was quite a shock. We had tickets to her latest film, No Home Movie, and we were looking forward to hearing her speak at the post-screening q&a. As news of her death spread, our screening became a very hot ticket. I raced straight from work in Long Island City to Alice Tully Hall. I was very surprised that the lobby was not busier and that I had arrived before Milton. As I waited for him, I noticed the filmmaker, Wes Anderson. I took this terrible gotcha shot and texted it to Milton.
At about the same time, I realized that I was at the wrong theater. I rocketed to the theater I needed to be at about a block away. When I arrived, it was the mob scene I had anticipated. Fortunately, Milton had gotten there first and had secured seats. As for Ackerman’s final film, an experimental documentary about her dying, elderly mother, an Auschwitz survivor, I found it painfully dull and slept through most of the first quarter. Upon leaving, we ran into my friend, Lola, who said that she liked it. Milton asked:
Milton: What did you like about it?
This film was another misfire with us. I told Milton that it made me think about my father at the end, a difficult time in his life I never considered recording on film. Milton said:
Milton: It made me think about wanting dinner.
Even though these movies were misfires, these were all films we had wanted to see, so we don’t regret going. But the film we wanted to see most delivered. That film was Carol, a lesbian May-December romance set in the 1950s, a time when homosexuality was considered a mental illness. Phyllis Nagy brilliantly adapted Patricia Highsmith’s novel, which was essentially a road movie, for the screen. Cate Blanchett, who has never looked more alluring, plays the title character, a gorgeous but troubled cool blonde straight out of Alfred Hitchcock’s gorgeous cool blonde playbook. Rooney Mara is Therese, the shop girl and aspiring photographer, who is instantly smitten with this glamorous, charismatic, sophisticated woman twice her age. Shining just as brightly as his two perfectly cast female leads, is filmmaker, Todd Haynes. He has skillfully directed a masterpiece that is superbly shot by cinematographer, Ed Lachman, and scored by composer, Carter Burwell. Even though I had read the novel that Highsmith had published under the pseudonym, Claire Morgan, when it was originally titled The Price of Salt, almost 25 years ago, I knew the story well, but I was so elated at the film’s ending, it gave me chills. Carol is filmmaking at its finest. It is a great lesbian love story that packs an emotional wallop. It opens in the US on November 20th.