Milton and I are continuing to attend the New York Film Festival. It concludes next Sunday, October 12. Thus far, we’ve seen a dozen films. Some have impressed us immensely, but even those that did not, we don’t regret seeing.
The Wonders, the second film directed by Italian filmmaker, Alice Rohrwacher, won the Grand Prix earlier this year at the Cannes film festival. Here in New York, getting your film screened is the award.
Even though I was well rested when we saw The Wonders, so little happens in this story about a family of rural beekeepers, I nodded out. When I woke, they had added a German boy to their family of four girls. I wondered how that happened? I had barely been comatose for a minute. Milton was fully conscious for the entirety of the film.
Me: Where did that German kid come from?
Milton: I have no idea.
Alice Rohrwacher had great enthusiasm during the q&a, but I agree with Milton:
Milton: I just hope that she’ll next make a film I like.
French film star Mathieu Amalric did a commendable job adapting a Georges Simenon novel, The Blue Room. It is a film noir that is a jigsaw puzzle of pieces but it’s major flaw is that we still were not entirely sure who did what at the end. But, it was entertaining and there was plenty of nudity. He gives spirited q&a.
We have seen several untraditional biopics at this year’s festival including Pasolini, written and directed by Abel Ferrara and starring Willem Dafoe, who Milton considered miscast, in the title role. Although the film was flawed, it was an imaginative telling about the final weeks in the life of the Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini who was murdered under mysterious circumstances in 1975. I liked how Ferrara depicted Pasolini as a guy who was so alive and full of creative energy as he grew closer to his untimely death. I also liked that Ferrara created the film that Pasolini intended to shoot next. During the q&a Ferrara got embroiled in a heated debate with an audience member who claimed that Pasolini had been assassinated. Ferrara didn’t subscribe to that idea and casually stuck his foot in his mouth when he referred to Pasolini as “a fucking filmmaker” further incensing the audience member.
Filmmaker Mike Leigh returned to the festival for the tenth time with his 149 minute biopic about the 19th Century British landscape painter J.M.W. Turner, Mr. Turner. Timothy Spall grunts his way through the title role. When he spoke, his British accent was often so garbled; I had no idea what he was saying. I told Milton that I found that film as interesting as watching paint dry. Milton said that there was not enough story to merit almost two and a half hours.
Our favorite biopic was Bertrand Bonello’s Saint Laurent about the fashion visionary Yves Saint Laurent, featuring a superb Gaspard Ulliel in the title role and Helmet Berger as Saint Laurent at the end of his life. It focused on Saint Laurent’s most creative decade, 1967-1977, and his relationship with his business and life partner, Pierre Bergé. Its 146-minute length flew. The lush tale was full of hedonistic excess, passion, romance, gay sex, drugs, anxiety, torment, beautiful clothes, people and pets; a succession of French bulldogs always named Moujik. That film completely held my attention from start to finish.
Three other films that impressed us very much were thought provoking: Timbuktu by Abderrahmane Sissako, a true story beautifully filmed about the occupation of this city in Mali by jihadists. Music is banned, absurd rules are enforced without explanation, women are pressured into marriages against their will, children are quickly orphaned, and people are tortured and terrified. During the q&a the filmmaker aptly called Timbuktu “a society in crisis.” Audience members were left wondering what we could do to help? A start is to suggest getting word out about this film. If Timbuktu appears in a theater by you: see it. Then, feel lousy like us about what’s going on over there.
Two Days, One Night is a wrenching drama by the Dardenne Brothers starring Marion Cotillard as Sandra, a factory worker out on disability, who learns that management has decided to lay her off just when she is ready to return to work. If she can persuade her sixteen colleagues to forgo their 1000-euro bonus (about $1250), she will be allowed to keep her job. Cotillard is riveting. It’s a performance that’s Academy Award nomination-worthy.
Oren Moverman’s Time Out of Mind starring Richard Gere as a homeless man named George living on the street in New York City was a film with a gimmick that works. Much of this film was shot with hidden cameras as a disheveled Gere panhandles, sleeps on park benches and rides the subway. As longtime residents of New York, Milton and I are very familiar with seeing people like George who are on the fringes of society . We thought Richard Gere was terrific and his performance is Academy Award nomination-worthy.
We also attended the centerpiece screening, the world premier of Paul Thomas Anderson’s highly anticipated adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s novel, Inherent Vice. I asked Milton if he ever read any Pynchon novels.
Milton: They’re about a thousand pages long with no punctuation.
Translation: no. This film is 148 minutes long and the plot is a convoluted detective story that is impossible to follow featuring a fun pothead private investigator played by Joaquin Phoenix (who is excellent). It’s not a comedy, it’s not a drama, it’s not a thriller, but what it is most is tedious. If we had been stoned, or at least subject to a contact high, this plotless pile would have been far more entertaining and far less pointless.