Tag Archives: new york film festival

Lame Adventure 391: Blue is the Longest Color

Au revoir 51st New York Film Festival.

Au revoir 51st New York Film Festival.

Milton and I have attended our last screening at the New York Film Festival, the highly anticipated and critically acclaimed 2 hour and 59 minute lesbian opus from France, Blue is the Warmest Color. Adapted from a graphic novel written by Julie Maroh and directed by Abdellatif Kechiche, it stars Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos. It won the prestigious Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and the jury gaveExarchopoulos and Seydoux an Honorary Palme d’Or of their own. I had originally thought they shared a Best Actress award.

This is a coming of age story about the sexual awakening of a teenage girl named Adèle who experiences love at first sight when she sees Emma, an art student with blue hair, walking arm in arm with her girlfriend on the street. The hype surrounding it is a ten minute graphic sex scene that Kechiche shot with a handheld camera. I had hoped that this film would be on par with Brokeback Mountain in depth and quality, but  now that I have seen it, I declare it a straight guy’s wet dream about pretty girls who are the Energizer Bunnies of the boudoir.

Milton’s two-word review:

Milton: Major disappointment.

Thus far, critics have been praising this film all out of proportion which is baffling. This is certainly not the lesbian Citizen Kane. Stephen Spielberg’s Lincoln ran 2 hours and 30 minutes, 29 minutes shorter than Blue. Is a slender tear-drenched and snot-soaked ode to first love on the same level as an historic epic about the man who freed the slaves Milton?

Milton: I hated most of the film. It was boring.

There just was not enough story to merit that length. A family dinner sequence showing the character, Adèle, ravenously eating spaghetti with her parents while all three are watching TV seemed shot in real time. I got the point that they were not members of the French aristocracy when Adèle licked her knife, but did I need to watch her scarf seconds to hammer home that she’s a girl with a voracious appetite?

Length aside, Kechiche took many liberties with Maroh’s story. He has used her characters as a springboard for his own version of who lesbians are, and that offended me so much. At a party sequence that made my skin crawl, men, undoubtedly representing Kechiche’s warped viewpoint about gay women, are opining about lesbianism and female orgasm. If only I had a mute button.

Sitting at left moderator Kent Jones with director Abdellatif Kechiche and actress Adèle Exarchopoulos.

Sitting at left moderator Kent Jones with director Abdellatif Kechiche and actress Adèle Exarchopoulos.

Maroh has expressed her dismay that she was excluded from the filmmaking process, but she has not condemned the film. I suspect she was paid well, so she is not going to kick a gift horse in the teeth. If the Koch Brothers want to buy my book for a chunk of change and turn it into a Tea Party manual, sold! Maroh might be anticipating a backlash from lesbians and anyone else that can see through this sham no matter their gender or which way their pendulums swing.

Maroh has spoken out about the notorious sex scene that occurs about halfway into the film. She has called that scene “unrealistic”. It was the Cirque du Soleil of scissoring and ass slapping set on a mattress. The sighs and groans the characters emitted were ear piercing. I emailed Milton:

Me: I enjoyed it voyeuristically while watching it, but at the same time, I have never in my life had sex like that. A lot of what they were doing was in these strange positions that my partners and I never do.

Milton: I’m glad you said that because, although I found the scene steamy, at times I didn’t know what the hell they were doing. That penetration without penetration thing? What the fuck was that?

As for our audience, men, presumably straight, exceeded the number of women in attendance. Milton said never before did he have to wait in a line of 500 guys to use the bathroom. He is going to monitor how this film does at the box office. It enters general release in the US, but not in Idaho where it is already banned, on October 25th. It is being released uncut and rated NC-17. I am sure that by showing it uncut that will guarantee increased box office revenue. Kechiche has announced that he wants to release a director’s cut that is forty minutes longer, presumably that will be the DVD. More go-to viewing for the undeclared target audience: drooling straight guys. Milton wonders if lesbian orgasms merit ten or fifteen million dollars at the box office over here in the land of the free, home of the bored. I anticipate that it will sell even better.

Lame Adventure 390: New York Film Festival-time

The most wonderful time of the year.

The most wonderful time of the year.

Milton and I have been going to the New York Film Festival. Thus far, we have attended four screenings, but he recently rubbernecked the red carpet arrivals without me. He took this gotcha shot of Robert Redford entering a screening of All is Lost.

"Get that iPhone out of my face."

“Get that iPhone out of my face.”

Our selections span the globe provided you are only traveling to China and France. Milton was very eager to see Jia Zhangke’s A Touch of Sin. For weeks he talked avidly about this film. He urged me not to read anything about it so I would view it with a completely open mind. I heeded his advice. Finally, the night of the screening arrives. Milton mentions for the 127th time that he’s very excited. The program begins. Out steps the moderator, Amy Taubin. Cue downbeat.

Milton (loud whisper): I hate her!

Me (barely audible whisper): No, it’s Annette Michelson that you hate. She’s the one that burped into the microphone that year.

Milton (insistent whisper): I hate her, too, and I hate this one! She was a second rate critic at the Village Voice and now she’s here!

Milton emits a groan of disgust normally reserved for seeing a rat the size of a toaster scampering across the subway platform. Fortunately, the film, four loosely interconnected stories about members of the working class in modern day China who grow increasingly enraged by the economic divide and react memorably, was riveting. Milton was so impressed he intends to see it again. We left craving noodles, but settled for nachos.

Center, Jia Zhangke with his lead actress and his wife, Tao Zhao. Amy Taubin at right.

Center, Jia Zhangke with his lead actress and his wife, Tao Zhao. Amy Taubin at right. Translator at left.

Next, we made our way to France when we saw The Stranger by the Lake, a thriller about gay male cruising that was shot entirely outdoors by a lake. It was written and directed by Alain Guiraudie and had a distinct Hitchcockian feel if Sir Alfred had ever been inclined to shoot a film showing hardcore sex between guys. The NYFF had disclaimers all over the place warning: Please be advised that this film has scenes of a sexually explicit nature. That evening’s Milton-approved moderator, Dennis Lim, again reminded the audience comprised of approximately 98% gay men, about this fact. The guys applauded and cheered the announcement.

Center, Alain Guiraudie, right, Dennis Lim and left, handsome young translator that made 98% of the guys in the audience cheer.

Center, Alain Guiraudie, right, Dennis Lim and left, handsome young translator who rated vocal gay male  audience approval.

Stranger delivered on many levels, and I agree with Dennis Lim that it’s a film about watching. All eyes were glued to the hyper masculine character Michel. Michel reminded me of Mark Spitz. Milton said Michel reminded him of every gay male porn film icon of the Seventies and Eighties. Stranger was highly entertaining until the last twenty minutes when it veered in a direction we wish it had not and no, I’m not saying that Michel announces that he’s straight and has decided to marry his long lost love, Mary Ellen Flaubert. We just wished it had gone in a different direction. A chatty chap sitting behind us kept referring to the protagonist, Franck, as “a ninny”; an opinion Milton found immensely irritating.

Over the weekend, we were joined by our friend, Lola, for a double header. First, we saw the latest from filmmaker, Catherine Breillat, Abuse of Weakness, starring screen legend, Isabelle Huppert. This is a drama based on true events in Breillat’s life after she suffered a severe stroke and when she had a relationship with a notorious conman who milked her for hundreds of thousands of Euros. Again, the moderator was Amy Taubin, but Milton practiced restraint and simply glowered at her. Huppert, now age 60, looks luminescent. She personifies that je ne sais quoi factor French women exude. I whispered to Milton:

Me: I’ve seen Isabelle Huppert in person. I can die happy!

Right, Isabelle Huppert, center Catherine Breillat, left, Amy Taubin.

Left, Isabelle Huppert, center Catherine Breillat, right, Amy Taubin.

Milton smiled warmly; he was thrilled to see her, too. About the film … did it suck! Behold, Milton’s two word review:

Milton: Pure torture.

Milton was livid that Maud, Huppert’s stroke victim character, would be eating prosciutto after a stroke.

Milton: Who the hell does that? That’s like eating straight salt!

The only way Huppert could have saved this story might have been if she uttered the French word for “rewrite”. What impressed Lola about it was a question an irate audience member sitting in the balcony bellowed during the q&a.

Irate Audience Member: Why can’t the French have subtitles in yellow? Why does it always have to be white on white? I can’t read that!

Next we saw an infinitely more engrossing film, a meticulously crafted and very clever thriller directed by Claire Denis appropriately titled Bastards. She unfolded the story in fragments. The audience never knows more than Marco the protagonist who we’re rooting for to solve the mystery about what happened to his niece. This is a film that requires full attention. When the guy sitting next to me suddenly got the hiccups that was briefly distracting, but I maintained focus.

This time the moderator was Kent Jones, the Director of Programming, and a serious Claire Denis cheerleader. Bastards was pure cinema. Milton had no complaints.

Lousy zoomed in iPhone iDistant shot of Claire Denis and Kent Jones.

Lousy zoomed in iPhone iDistant shot of Claire Denis and Kent Jones.

Responding to SOS text, Lola takes this shot of Claire and Kent from her third row seat.

Responding to my SOS text, Lola takes this shot of Claire and Kent from her third row seat.

Lame Adventure 349: Farewell 2012 New York Film Festival

Sunday night the New York Film Festival closed with several screenings of Flight starring Denzel Washington.  He is one of my favorite actors, but I refuse to shell out $20 for a film opening nationwide November 2nd that I can see at my local multiplex before noon for seven clams.  Milton did snag a ticket, but if he thought that Flight was the greatest movie ever made, he is in no hurry to sing its praises to me.  I am not feeling any suspense as I await his verdict.  It is very likely that when I see him this evening, any discussion of Flight might well be superseded by something as mundane as someone in his office misplacing the precious pizza cutter that he personally guards.

Milton and I did see two more films together – a hit and a miss.  The miss was The Last Time I Saw Macao.  We, along with our fellow audience members attending this sold out screening, chose to see this film because we were so impressed with the Portuguese director, João Pedro Rodrigues’ previous film that played the NYFF in 2009, To Die Like a Man.  That earlier film was a compelling story about a drag queen in Portugal living her life as a woman whose estranged son in the military re-enters the picture.  If this film sounds anything like La Cage aux Folles, that’s unintentional for it’s very different and ends tragically, no heartfelt singing of I Am What I Am here.

For The Last Time I Saw Macao Rodrigues collaborated with João Rui Guerra da Mata, a fellow filmmaker of Portuguese descent that was raised in Macao, a former Portuguese colony in China.

João Rui Guerra da Mata (left), João Pedro Rodrigues, and NYFF moderator Melissa Anderson.

The filmmakers original intent was to shoot a documentary about how much Macao had changed since Guerra de Mata lived there thirty years ago.  Instead, they turned it into a story with film noir-type elements about a man the audience never sees searching for an unseen friend in some sort of trouble with unseen bad guys.  If that last sentence confused you, exalt in the fact that you were not attending that screening.

The dialogue is voiceover of Guerra da Mata reading his memoir about Macao and Rodrigues reading something else I was frankly too bored to recall, but they revealed afterward that they wrote the script after they shot the film.

It showed.  We suffered.

The action is all on the soundtrack while the images are focused on various scenery including numerous stray dogs and cats, building windows, a dead rat in the gutter, a shoe, a cloth-covered bird cage, etc.  While watching these images the viewer hears the action occurring off screen throughout the entirety of the film.  Sometimes the audience hears someone terrified pleading for her life followed with the sound of a loud splash, sometimes the audience hears gunshots, sometimes there’s a fantastically loud rumble as if Armageddon is approaching.  As the ending credits rolled Milton declared:

Milton: I could have made that on my fuckin’ iPhone!

Milton’s iPhone with screensaver featuring Rita Hayworth and Glenn Ford in “Gilda”.

Afterward during the q&a, where much yawning was emanating all around us, one of the audience members volunteered:

Audience Member: I really didn’t understand who was being killed.

The filmmakers explained that they had made “an abstract film noir”:

Filmmakers: Some people get killed.  Some people survive.  Some people turn into animals.

Milton groaned deeply.  Afterward, he told me that the woman sitting next to him didn’t know whether to laugh or sleep.  He found her struggle infinitely more interesting than what was taking place onscreen.  He issued me a dictate:

Milton: If you write about this in your blog, don’t raise it a notch and call it crap!

The next day we saw No, a vastly more entertaining political thriller directed by Pablo Larraín set in Chile in 1988 when the Pinochet government announced they would hold a vote to get the people’s permission to maintain control.  The opposition was allowed 15 minutes of broadcast time each day for four weeks leading to voting day to build a case urging the citizens to vote no.  A clever  ad man played by Gael García Bernal oversees the No campaign.  Larraín intercut many of the actual campaign spots that were broadcast in 1988 within his film which he shot on U-matic videotape, the same format used in that era.  Compared to The Last Time I Saw Macao, No received our vote for the greatest movie ever made.

Pablo Larraín sitting between Antonia Zegers (left) and NYFF moderator Amy Taubin (right).

As Milton and I were leaving Alice Tully Hall for the last time until we return to the New York Film Festival in 2013 he announced:

Milton: This was a lot of fun even though I hated most of the films.

For anyone that would like to know what are Milton’s 100 personal favorite films click here.

Milton’s iPhone gotcha shot of Pablo Larraín.

Lame Adventure 347: New York Film Festival 2012

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.

Guy playing the piano with his dog outside Alice Tully Hall on Saturday.

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.

Paparazzo Milton sees Michael Haneke milling around the Alice Tully Hall lobby pre-screening of “Amour”.

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.

Milton’s iPhone gotcha shot of Christian Mungiu mingling with fans post “Beyond the Hills” screening.

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.

Milton iPhone gotcha shot of Anjelica Huston trying to slip into Alice Tully Hall through a side door.

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:

Milton: Awful.

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.

Elle Fanning sitting in the center during post “Ginger and Rosa” screening q&a. Photo taken from third row balcony seat i.e., the moon.

He added authoritatively:

Milton:  This was so bad it made Beyond the Hills seem like Gone with the Wind.

Red carpet.

Lame Adventure 241: Goodbye New York Film Festival 2011!

The final two films Milton and I saw together at this year’s New York Film Festival were excellent documentaries, Vito and Pina.

Vito, directed by Jeffrey Schwarz, is about the late gay rights activist and film historian/critic, Vito Russo.  Vito wrote the ultimate history book about gays and lesbians on film, The Celluloid Closet.  His book was also made into a fascinating documentary in 1996; required viewing for anyone interested in this aspect of film culture.  Schwarz pieces together Vito’s life story with painstakingly researched archival footage intercut with interviews Vito gave and recollections from those that knew him best, his friends and family.

Vito’s family, all highly opinionated but clearly very loving Italian Americans were resigned to the reality that Vito was different, but they were also very ahead of their time in accepting him years before Stonewall.  This strong family foundation undoubtedly contributed to his confidence as a proud gay man determined to make an impact.  Vito knew that being gay was as natural as being straight and he was going to prove it by being honest about who he was.  This included his practice of Judyism, his devotion to Judy Garland.

His early activism got underway post-Stonewall, during a difficult time when there was deep division in the ranks of gay leadership.  Vito was very accepting of all gay people including drag queens and lesbians, an unpopular stand in the early Seventies.  Following a gay pride celebration in New York in 1973 where the crowd was particularly unruly, he switched gears and focused on writing and the daunting mission of researching The Celluloid Closet.

In the early Eighties, in response to the AIDS crisis, a crisis that had a unifying effect on the LGBT community, Vito again took action fueled by the homophobic Reagan administration’s deeply unsympathetic response to the impact of this deadly disease.  Vito’s relentless AIDS activism was integral in forcing the LGBT community to realize that if they didn’t take action, cold-hearted right wing politicians would continue to ignore the severity of this disease that they foolishly assumed was just a gay plague.  Therefore, they denied funding research that could have led to the development of a cure or contain the epidemic.  Vito was outraged as he watched friends as well as his companion, Jeffrey Sevcik, die far too young from this disease.  When Vito was diagnosed with AIDS in 1985, his mother wanted him to move into her house in New Jersey so that she could nurse him.  His cousin recalled that although Vito loved his mother dearly, “He would rather die in New York than live in New Jersey.”

Overall, this poignant documentary is as much about Vito the man as it is also a history lesson about the gay rights movement and how gays and lesbians were depicted on film.  During the Q&A Schwarz said that his goal is to have Vito screened in high schools throughout the country so that today’s youth can be educated about gay history.  Frankly, I think that everyone young, not so young, gay, straight or undeclared should see this entertaining history lesson about this charismatic force.  HBO will screen Vito in June 2012.

Milton the Paparazzo iPhone shot of Lou Reed standing outside Alice Tully Hall before entering Pina screening.

Pina

Milton thinks and I agree that the documentary, Pina, about the modern dance choreographer, Pina Bausch, directed by Wim Wenders, is possibly the first film shot in 3D where 3D has enhanced the storytelling.  A documentary about dance shot in 3D now seems like a no-brainer, but it took Wenders almost twenty years to figure that out.  He and Pina had been discussing collaborating on this venture for decades, but Wenders was reluctant to take on the project because he was unsure how to effectively tackle this subject on film.  After he had his epiphany, he organized the film shoot, but tragedy struck; Pina suddenly died.  Wenders canceled the shoot.

Eventually, he reversed course and decided to proceed with the project.  With the participation of Pina’s dance company, he has created a stirring homage to his friend and fellow artist.  The dances are intercut with portraits of the dancers staring silently at the camera while they speak their thoughts about her in voiceover.  There are not many spoken words in this film, for it is the complex, athletic dances that tell the story about this woman and her unbridled enthusiasm for expressive movement.

Personally, I am not much of a fan of dance, but I realized after seeing this film, I am now a big fan of Pina Bausch’s emotionally charged choreography, especially in 3D.  Her dancers are men and women of many nationalities and ages; some had to be close to fifty (prompting Milton and I to pop Aleve and swath ourselves with Ben-Gay on the spot).  The musical choices, many by Pina, but others by Wenders, also set the tone of each piece.

Costumes are as varied as diaphanous shifts and ball gowns for the women to business suits and just trousers for the men.  Props and sets include chairs, tree branches, dirt and water.  Several of these inventive dances were staged in actual outdoor locations including a glass house, an island near a traffic intersection and a suspension railway’s floating train.

This exhilarating tribute to such an inspired artist in the 3D format makes the viewer feel like you’re present with the dancers.  Unlike choppy music videos that flit from shot to shot, Wenders editing is generous, showing the entirety of the choreography.  The trailer accurately describes this film as being for Pina Bausch by Wim Wenders.  Pina opens in New York on December 23rd at the Walter Reade Theater.

Lou Reed imploring his friend, Wim Wenders, to make Milton the Paparazzo with the iPhone go away.

Lame Adventure 239: New York Film Festival Triple Play

Milton and I have recently seen three very diverse films at the New York Film FestivalShame, The Turin Horse and the Special Work In Progress Screening.

What might this film be?

Shame is an erotically charged psychological drama directed by Steve McQueen about Brandon, an affluent, Manhattan-based sex addict in his early-30s, brilliantly played by charismatic, Michael Fassbender, who makes this relentless horndog sympathetic.  Brandon lives a successful double life earning pots of money in his high tech job, while screwing anyone he can buy or bang for free at any hour of the day or night.  When overcome with the urge in the office, he visits the men’s room for a wank.  A quiet evening at home involves pounding a beer and eating take-out Chinese while streaming his favorite porn site.  Riding the subway into work he exchanges such penetrating eye contact with a woman doling out a boatload of come-hither glances back at him, one feels like a voyeur visualizing exactly what he’s imagining he’d like to do to her.

Brandon is content with satisfying his disconnected sexual compulsion until Sissy, his emotionally needy, hot mess of a cabaret singer sister, played perfectly by Carey Mulligan, invades his well-ordered empty life.  When he watches her perform New York, New York dirge-style, he is so overcome with emotion he cannot stop a tear from rolling down his face.  Needy Sissy also invades her brother’s privacy and discovers his secret, prompting him to suffer an existential crisis in response to her cloying need for love and connection.  Following one of their battles, he takes impulsive action to cleanse himself of his habit.  He even tries dating a co-worker with conventional ideas about relationships, but that temporary fix reinforces his natural inclination for the detached and impersonal.  As Sissy craves rescue, Brandon is trapped in his desire for escape, colliding penchants that ultimately exact heavy tolls on both of them.  As the ending credits rolled I was unsure what I wanted to do more, weep or take a shower.  Milton declared:

Milton:  Compared to what we’re seeing next, this was Disney.

Star Fassbender and Director McQueen at the NYFF.

What we saw next was the Hungarian filmmaker Béla Tarr’s last film, The Turin Horse, a 146 minute black and white opus that was inspired by a horse that Friedrich Nietzsche saw being whipped.  This act of brutality upset Nietzche so much he threw his arms around the animal to protect it and then he pretty much went off his rocker until he died ten years later.  This film is ostensibly about what happened to the horse, but the narrative is so lean, it’s borderline anorexic.

It opens with a grizzled peasant with a paralyzed right arm who looks 70, but is probably 45, driving a wooden cart pulled by his weathered workhorse through a fierce windstorm.  Once home, he is wordlessly met by his adult daughter, who looks 40, but is probably 20.  They go about their routine of unharnessing the horse from her cart, putting her in her stable, and then they enter their stone house where she helps her father undress, and redress, he lies down, and she boils potatoes for their meal.  When the potatoes are cooked, she announces, “It’s ready.”  They eat wordlessly with their hands.  She clears the table and then sits at the window with her back to the camera watching the wind wreak havoc outside until her father orders offscreen, “Go to bed.”

Fetching water.

This segment is followed with the next six days of their lives, basically a repetition of the same routines in their thankless existence — fetching water from the well, dressing, undressing, boiling potatoes, eating potatoes, drinking a shot of palinka (a Hungarian fruit brandy), occasionally dealing with the horse that is looking increasingly ill, getting a visit from a gasbag neighbor, getting a second visit from an unwelcome band of gypsies that leave without incident, the well running dry for a reason that is never explained, an attempt to leave, failing to leave and finally, returning to what could be their doom — all while that windstorm of biblical proportion is blowing.  The storm stops, the lantern no longer lights, without water, the potatoes can only be eaten raw, and the screen fades to black.

How I managed to stay awake, much less find myself completely riveted to the monotonous routines of these two miserable souls essentially living the saying, “Life’s a bitch and then you die,” is a testimony to whatever it is that Béla Tarr does with the camera.  I never looked at my watch once.  In fact, it never even occurred to me to look at my watch.

As the ending credits rolled, Milton eloquently confided:

Milton: I never want to see a potato again if that shit ain’t fried.

Afterward, Dennis Lim, a member of the festival’s selection committee, conducted a q&a with Béla Tarr, who insisted on standing throughout.

Béla Tarr and Dennis Lim on stage at Alice Tully Hall

Béla Tarr succinctly explained it best why this film works so well for the viewer:

BT: The details are more important than the stupid story.

He answered the question about why this is his last film with a question:

BT:  Do you think I can say more?

He added that he felt no reason to repeat himself.  Afterward, Milton shared another confidence with me:

Milton:  I want to screw Michael Fassbender and marry Béla Tarr.

Another man blocking Milton's path to Béla's heart.

Our mystery work-in-progress screening was for Martin Scorsese’s adventure in the world of 3D, Hugo, based on the novel by Brian Selznick titled, The Invention of Hugo Cabret.  Hugo is a caper about a clever orphan boy who secretly lives in a railway station in Paris with a broken automaton he’s determined to repair.  On a narrative level, the first hour is so leaden with cliché chase scenes and contrived suspense, it made The Turin Horse seem light as a soufflé.  In the second half, it veers into an entirely unpredictable direction when it turns into a compelling film history lesson about filmmaker Georges Méliès, before reverting back to more contrived shenanigans, yet another chase, and the predictable tugging at the heartstrings ending.  I looked at my watch several times while watching this one.  Hugo is scheduled to open November 23rd in time for Thanksgiving.  Pass the turkey.

Lame Adventure 238: New York Film Festival – Melancholia

It seems perversely fitting that on the day after Steve Jobs buys his rainbow, Milton and I are attending a screening of a film at the New York Film Festival called Melancholia.  Written and directed by Lars von Trier, this is a story about the end of the world.  At this moment, many Mac devotees including myself felt that the world had ended a bit when we learned that Steve had checked out.   Milton has an iPhone, his first taste of Mac hardware but his Dell desktop has often been the bane of his existence prompting me to bark:

Me:  Get a Mac!

On cue, he will grouse about having just paid off his PC, and I will issue my usual taunt:

Me:  Once you have Mac you’ll never go back.

Milton and I had not planned on attending any NYFF screenings of films with distribution, but we both highly regretted not bending our rule for the latest from reliably controversial Lars.  When Melancholia played Cannes last spring, word spread fast that it was one of his best films thus far in his career.  Then he blew all the great press devoted to his work by suffering diarrhea of the mouth at a post-screening press conference when he went on a stream-of-consciousness tangent about Nazis, Jews, being a Nazi, etc.  This stupidity quickly got him ejected from the festival.  Do I think he’s a Nazi?  No.  Do I think he was the king of self-destruction at that press conference?  To get vomitously Sarah Palin here, “You betcha!”  Lars might be the type that recoils from admiration and approval.  Yet, I have no interest in playing Sigmund Fraud (sic) about his psychologically.  Everyone has demons, but most of us keep them under wraps in public or at least when cameras, microphones, and hundreds of reporters are present.

We knew that the Melancholia screening was sold out, but Film Society member Milton visited the box office and asked if any seats were available.  The ticket seller took pity on him and sold him a pair (at his member discount rate) of center section seats in row G; a row that Milton is now referring to as “Row Good.”

An image that probably sends chills up Vera Wang's spine.

This cosmic tale is as beautiful as it is bleak.  The story opens with a brilliant prologue depicting mini-scenes of destruction leading up to the grand kahuna of “holy crap, did we see what we just saw” moments  while music from Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde graces the soundtrack.  The prologue segues into the first part of the film called Justine.  Kirsten Dunst plays Justine, a new bride who arrives two hours late with her groom, Michael (Alexander Skarsgard), to their wedding reception held at her sister Claire’s lavish mansion.  A two-word description of the wedding reception is ‘emotional disaster’ as Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg delivering yet another pitch-perfect performance), struggles to make this toxic celebration a success.  Unfortunately, she is fighting an impossible battle with forces beyond her control including her bitter divorced mother (Charlotte Rampling) delivering a speech so withering I became infected with Milton’s giggles.  The foremost force that resists Claire’s good intentions is Justine, who grows increasingly detached from her own party to a socially suicidal degree.

The second part is called Claire, the sister that is fighting hard to maintain some semblance of normalcy in the life she shares with her husband and young son, a tall order to fill since psychopathic Justine is around.  The film unfolds with a sense of calm, but as worried Claire’s anxiety about the fate of the world as a rogue planet approaches escalates, Justine, who has a premonition of what’s to come, seems at peace.  Meanwhile, Claire grows increasingly unhinged and considering the circumsances, who the hell wouldn’t?

If there is a recurring theme throughout the entirety of the film it’s one of hopelessness.  In the world according to Lars it seems that no matter how hard we try to make things right, to play by life’s rules, to be prepared in the event of an emergency, or even if we consciously stop trying at all, either way it doesn’t matter what we do.  Forces beyond our control are out there that are going to crush us one way or another.   On the upside, this makes me feel a lot less lousy about my inability to get out of bed to get to work on time. 

As the ending credits rolled, many audience members sat in a daze.   This thought provoking highly original work is going to stick in our heads quite a while.