In a report from The Hollywood Reporter by Sam Thielman, the New York Film Festival’s organizers explain the past, present, and future of the festival. “In recent years, though, [festival programmer Richard] Pena says, ‘people got the impression that it was impossible to get a ticket to see the films — there was this idea that you had to be a donor or somehow involved with the movie to get a ticket.’ The results of that misperception have not been pretty: Empty seats abounded in recent editions…It also fostered the feeling that the fest as a whole was largely for rich people.” The article continues, “Now, to combat both the snob image and unexpected corporate poverty, the New York Film Festival, headed by new exec director (and former studio exec) Mara Manus, is getting back to its core aud: artfilm-loving New Yorkers.”
This year’s installment of the New York Film Festival began Friday with a double screening of Alain Resnais’s new film “Wild Grass,” a surefire success with the arthouse crowd. The action in “Wild Grass” stems from a lost purse. The married man who finds the purse (André Dussollier) becomes enamored with the unknown owner after sifting through its contents (Sabine Azéma). Mark Asch‘s report for The L Magazine describes the film beginning with a quote from the film’s narrator: “‘After the cinema, nothing surprises you. Everything is possible’…This line is the closest the New York Film Festival’s weirdest Opening Night selection in recent memories comes to justifying itself: this Dada comedy of impending mortality, a loop-the-looping tale of amour-foolishness, asserts cinema’s capacity for realizing the irrational hungers of the human heart.” The Village Voice‘s Scott Foundas, after expounding on Resnais’s story of adapting Christian Gailly’s novel “L’Incident,” Foundas goes onto describe the film. “Arguably Resnais’s trippiest, most freely associative experiment since 1968’s ‘Je t’aime, je t’aime’ (a critical and commercial failure in its day), Wild Grass zig-zags zanily from one genre to the next: Sometimes, it’s a screwball comedy (complete with a couple of Keystone-worthy cops played by Mathieu Amalric and Michel Vuillermoz); sometimes, it’s a thriller; sometimes, it’s an old-fashioned movie romance. All the while, the camera of cinematographer Eric Gautier swoops and glides like Marguerite’s plane, through fields of gauzy, diffuse light punctuated by neon accents.”
The newest sensation from the Romanian New Wave, Corneliu Porumboiu’s “Police, Adjective,” had its premiere yesterday. The film watches an incredibly protracted police sting operation that is attempting to arrest a high school student for dealing drugs. Henry Stewart‘s piece in The L Magazine begins by noticing Porumboiu’s unique position within the Romanian film community as one who sets his films in the present to look at the implications of the nation’s checkered past. He continues, “Porumboiu lulls the viewer into the dry routines of policework, underscoring the pointlessness of enforcing outmoded laws, to say nothing of the resources wasted. ‘Police, Adjective’ is not so much concerned with the politics of cinema as it is with simple politics.” For Slant’s Andrew Schenker, “Police, Adjective” is really two films. “For the first two-thirds of its running time, the film is a deadpan procedural with a moral undertone, sticking with a Bucharest cop through the generally monotonous process of staking out a perp. In the second and worse of the two strands, Police, Adjective becomes a semantic discussion, hashing out the implications of linguistic definition.” Damon Smith‘s review in Reverse Shot ends by saying, “Its artistry may be clear, but ‘Police, Adjective’’s fate, in today’s distribution market, is another matter entirely. With the exception of Mungiu’s riveting Palme d’or winner ‘4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days,’ the celebrated new wave of Romanian films…have hardly registered a synaptic tic in the consciousness of most Western filmgoers, even in cinephilic France (just look at the appalling box-office figures).”
Zhao Dayong’s new documentary, “Ghost Town,” the only Chinese film in the main slate also premiered this weekend. “Ghost Town” is about Zhiziluo, a remote Chinese town near the Myanmar border, and its inhabitants. In an interview with the New York Times, Zhao Dayong explained to Kirk Semple why he did not get official government approval before making the film, ““It’s like asking to be raped…The government certainly has its own agenda. They want us to stop. But at the same time we know we’re doing something meaningful.” Reverse Shot‘s Andrew Chan describes the movement that “Ghost Town” comes out of, “Much of the authority we find in recent Chinese cinema comes from its aesthetic of immersion, that documentary impulse which has been a guiding force in even the country’s apparently fictional films. Through a shared vocabulary of patient observation and extreme duration, today’s vanguard of Chinese directors have been voraciously hoarding away as much reality as they can—as if hyperaware that their landscape has never been more subject to rapid disappearance, and that there has never been greater international demand for stories of those living through this dramatic historical moment.”
Discussing his own reaction to the film, Chan says, “I have to admit that, for all my analysis of Zhao’s admirable detachment and restraint, I found myself overwhelmed, disturbed, and ultimately perplexed by the film—as if I had never before confronted this dilemma of being a privileged viewer shielded from the pain experienced on the other side of the screen, and as if my emotional response had exposed my own naïveté about both poverty and cinema. Zhao’s negotiation of our emotional proximity to his subjects makes us conscious of the screen as an impermeable divide constituting difference, delineating their entrapment from our freedom.”
Tonight at the festival, another screening of “Police, Adjective” and “The Art of the Steal,” the story of a court overriding the wishes of an eccentric art collector’s (Dr. Albert Barnes) will.