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October 12, 1998 2:00 AM
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As 36th NYFF closes, New Blood Proves Real Heat

As 36th NYFF closes, New Blood Proves Real Heat

by Anthony Kaufman




While in years past, the New York Film Festival's closing night gala
have been reserved for international star-directors like Milos Foreman
and Pedro Almodovar, last night's capper was "The Dreamlife of Angels"
by unknown French filmmaker Erick Zonca. The choice is endemic of a
more powerful presence at this year's fest by relative newcomers. Early
on in the festival, veteran filmmakers like Woody Allen and Alain
Resnais were pushed aside by powerful novice works like Gasper Noe's
ground-breaking "I Stand Alone" and Bill Condon's well-crafted "Gods and
Monsters
." To be fair, Eric Rohmer, John Boorman, and Emir Kusturica
returned with vigor, but this year's 36th New York Film Festival mostly
belonged to the young. Or, at least, the new.


At 42, Zonca is hardly a kid, but "Dreamlife" bursts with a spontaneity
and freshness that captured audiences at the Cannes Film Festival where
its young stars Elodie Bouchez and Natacha Regnier shared the award for
Best Actress, and where Sony Pictures Classics grabbed it for U.S.
distribution. Zonca got his filmmaking start with short films shot in
France, where his first narratives, "Rives" and "Eternelles" garnered
him prize money to help him produce a third acclaimed short, "Seule." Now on
the road to successful feature-film making, Zonca has a new project "Les
Petits Voleurs
" which was commissioned by French-German TV station,
Arte.


In addition to Zonca's rise from obscurity, witness two
soon-to-be-household American names who took part in the festival early
in their successes: indie star of the moment, Todd Solondz ("Happiness")
and his studio counterpart, Wes Anderson ("Rushmore"). Both resembling
the gawky teenage nerds that they've come to lampoon and honor, each
represent stark new modes of filmmaking that any former bullies would be
forced to respect. But Solondz wasn't always a Times Magazine lead
story, nor was Anderson always Disney exec Joe Roth's favorite comedy
storyteller.


Before "Welcome to the Dollhouse" broke on the scene in '95, remember
that Solondz had struggled for years to get where he is today. After an
unsuccessful stint of writing, he went to NYU film school, dropped out,
and finally got his first film released in 1989, the mostly forgotten
"Fear, Anxiety and Depression." Now with the controversial and
carefully conceived "Happiness," Solondz, now in his late 30's, has
finally broken through. And although he's a new voice on the American
scene, it took him years to perfect it. Called "a very meticulous
director" by Good Machine producer Ted Hope, Solondz will get to see
whether all the years and controversy has paid off when Good Machine
releases "Happiness" in LA this Friday and in 17 other cities on the
23rd.


With a BA in Philosophy and no filmmaking experience, the 29-year-old
Wes Anderson had it a bit easier than Solondz. He made a short film for
$4,000 which lead to his quirky first feature, the $5 million "Bottle
Rocket
," which received considerable acclaim for its odd humor and comic
antics. His new film, the endearing, equally amusing "Rushmore" (a
Touchstone release) which played to packed screenings in Toronto and New
York is as original and peculiar as it is mainstream. Let's hope all
Hollywood films will take a lesson from "Rushmore" -- giving license to
a filmmaker's uniqueness, rather than squelching it.


In addition to the Americans, international beginners like Austria's
Stefan Ruzowitzky ("The Inheritors") and Denmark's Thomas Vinterberg
("Celebration") astounded critics and audience's alike with their first
trips to screens here in New York, a prize worth almost as much as any
golden laurel -- as Ruzowitzky noted, "Here in New York, it's like an
award being presented. I have been told that more than 1,400 films
apply, and you're one of those 30 films, so it's much more prestigious
than I ever would have expected."


Fortunately for Vinterberg, he got the New York Film Festival screening
and a laurel; "Celebration" won a Special Jury Prize at its Cannes
debut. Notably shot in video, the Dogma 95 production* about a
dysfunctional family reunion, now in release by October Films, reflects
a "very oppressive" ritualistic Danish society, according to the
director. "The rituals are very Danish. . . Someone says something
that's really off, and the reaction is, well, let's have a coffee. . .
It's also about the anxiety sticking to the rituals. They're afraid to
do anything else."


While the Vinterbergs and the Solondzs continue to break the rituals,
both cinematic and social, a host of experienced auteurs returned to
this year's NYFF with equally challenging, but quite inaccessible new
films. For instance, the verdict is still out on the success or failure
of Hou Hsiou Hsien's bold experiment of a film, "The Flowers of
Shanghai
." It didn't arrive in time for a proper press screening, and
when it finally played, many didn't find it worth the wait. The camera
never leaves the interior bedrooms and dining halls of its elaborate
19th century den of prostitution and each scene is one long take with a
fade to black in between. The result is emotionally distant, but the
precise formal qualities alone make the film worthy of attention.


At a question and answer session following the screening of his cosmic
fable, "River of Gold," Portuguese director Paolo Rocha, whose first
film debuted 35 years ago, spoke about his enigmatic new feature. "It
all started with memories of when I was a child." The lyrical tale, set
in a mountain village in northern Portugal is one of "magical realism,"
looking at the lives of pretty Melita, her aunt and uncle, and the
horrible fate that awaits them. Songs, poems and dance figure
prominently in Rocha's film and transport it from a tale grounded on
earth to one, sometimes incoherently, lifted into the heavens.


Although Olivier Assayas' "Late August, Early September" drew in the
crowds during its Monday night sold-out performance, the film's
intimate, and talky screenplay may feel too drawn-out for some. "I
wanted to make something quiet and simple about people's experiences.
The canvas was perfect -- before, during and after one man's death," the
French director said about his personal new film. Remembered fondly for
his last NYFF entry "Irma Vep," Assayas' latest remains without a
distributor.


A look at how this year's new talents have surpassed some of the more
established auteurs would be incomplete without mentioning some of this
year's short films. The most notable were a trio of award winners from
the Cannes Film Festival: "l'Interview" by Xavier Grannoli (Best Short
Film) and "Gasman" by Lynne Ramsay and "Horseshoe" by David Lodge (which
tied for Second Place). Grannoli's 17-minute, exquisitely shot
black-and-white short most likely got a home vote, with its performance
from France's favorite new actor, Mathieu Amalric (who also stars in
Assayas's "Late August"), as a journalist who gets the rare chance to
interview one of his favorite stars, Ava Gardner.


Far more personal, profound and uniquely envisioned was Ramsay's
15-minute "Gasman," about a young daughter who discovers her father has
children from another woman than her mother. Ramsay won a Grand Prize
at Cannes in 1996 for another short called "Small Death." A former
photographer, Ramsay's intimate and beautiful direction has
feature-potential written all over it. On the other hand, the
sepia-toned, degraded frames of Lodge's "Horseshoe," although an
excellent invoking of a Bukowski poem about an old man's visit to the
dentist, could only ever be a great experimental short.


Other acclaimed shorts in the program included the Bolex Brothers'
(Dave Borthwick and Dave Riddett) surreal animated fantasy "Keep in a
Dry Place and Away from Children
" and Serge Marcotte's Kafka-inspired
luminous doctor-noir, "The Sickroom," which played at Toronto and
received awards at the Huntington International and Ann Arbor film
festivals.


Last but not least, this year's festival trailer, which can strongly
effect one's festival experience as it precedes every screening, should
be duly noted as the best in recent years. Sponsor Grand Marnier went
to ad agency, Kirschenbaum, Bond and Partners to conceive of the
mystery-themed animated short. Art Director Julian Pugsley got the help
of Alex Weil at Charlex, an animation house/editing facility in New
York, with Duotone Audio Group recording the music.


[Aaron Krach contributed to this article.]


RELATED ARTICLES @ indieWIRE:


(Oct 05, 1998) New York Film Fest: Round 2, Distributor's Showcase


(Oct 05, 1998) Christine Vachon Shoots to Kill with "Goldmine,""Happiness,"
and a New Book -- Part I


(Oct 06, 1998) Christine Vachon Shoots to Kill with "Goldmine,""Happiness,"
and a New Book -- Part II


(Sep 28, 1998) New York Fest Opens with Celebrities Big and Small


(Aug 17, 1998) Zonca's "Angels" Closing New York Film 1998 Festival;
Event Includes Numerous Cannes Entries


(Aug 14, 1998) Complete List of 1998 NYFF Feature Films


* Read more about Dogma 95 in indieWIRE's coverage of the Cannes Film
Festival in the indieWIRE archives:


(May 21, 1998) Northern Lights Illuminate the Croisette: Cannes Offers
Denmark,Sweden and the Netherlands

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