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January 31, 2011 4:31 AM
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Film Comment Selects Arrives with 16 Undistributed Features for U.S. Audiences

The 11th edition of the Film Society of Lincoln Center's Film Comment Selects series will screen 16 films currently without U.S. distribution. The annual showcase of rare and hard-to-find films selected by Film Comment editors will open with screenings of Jia Zhangke's "I Wish I Knew" and Islid Le Besco's "Bas-fonds," and closes with John Landis' "Burke and Hare" and James Wan's "Insidious." The main program will be made up of 13 films, including works by directors Werner Herzog and Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Among the special programs, filmmaker Islid Le Besco will be appearing in person to present three of her films.

Below is the full slate of the Film Comment Selects program, with synopses provided by the Film Society of Lincoln Center:


OPENING NIGHT FILMS


"I Wish I Knew," Jia Zhangke, 2010, China
“Jia Zhangke’s undervalued I Wish I Knew charts history through actual emigrations, physical and cultural displacements. Jia uses a World Expo commission as an occasion to dig deeper into the vein he discovered in Useless and 24 City, and Shanghai becomes an epicenter of historical change.... Far more than 24 City, Jia’s film is a delicate web of associations between interviews and clips.... For instance, Jia shoots an interview with Hou Hsiao-hsien on a train moving through the mountains, an evocation of one of his finest films,Goodbye South, Goodbye. It is also an evocation of flight, one of the central preoccupations of this film, and of a fellow artist’s particular cinematic language, another side of which is revealed with the clip from Flowers of Shanghai, which prompts Hou to reflect on the eary 20th-century ‘innovation’ of falling in love, which in turn evokes the many tender romances alluded to throughout I Wish I Knew and the secrecy prompted by a century of political tumult. Jia’s cinematic language is always polyvalent, and his juxtapositions flower gradually across the span of the entire film.”—Kent Jones, Film Comment, July/August 2010

"Bas-fonds," Isild Le Besco, 2010, France
“Premiered at last year’s Locarno Film Festival, Le Besco’s latest, Bas-fonds, observes three women living, per the Locarno program note, ‘on the outskirts of civilization’ (in reality, somewhere in the French provinces). Le Besco shows less interest in the how and why of her setting than in the here and now—the carefully observed, moment-by-moment realities of a group of people who seem to be devising their own reality as they go along. Nor does she exploit the material for its superficial lurid qualities. And as in Le Besco’s other work, Bas-fonds extends to the viewer a feeling of being pulled so deeply inside this alternate universe that we ourselves lose all sense of which way is up. Indeed, somehow this frequently startling and profoundly unpleasant film ends up in a place of odd tenderness and beauty.”—Scott Foundas, Film Comment


CLOSING NIGHT FILMS

"Burke and Hare," John Landis, 2010, UK
Thirty years after An American Werewolf in London, John Landis returns to the UK with a black comedy set in 19th-century Edinburgh. After discovering a booming market for medical cadavers, two bumbling Irish hucksters (Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis) turn to grave-robbing and, before long, murder. Grisly, farcical fun, featuring a who’s who of British comedians and appearances from Tim Curry and Christopher Lee.


"Insidious," James Wan, 2010, USA
“In this super-scary reinvention of the haunted-house genre, Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne play a couple who move into a new house; soon enough things go bump in the night, apparitions appear, and their son falls into a mysterious coma. Finally the family decamps—but it’s only once they move into their new home that things get really frightening. One of the rules Wan (director of the original Saw) and writer Leigh Whannell set for themselves was that there would be no false scares. They never break that rule, and if that’s music to your ears, this is a must-see.”—Gavin Smith, Film Comment


SPECIAL PROGRAMS

Three by Isild Le Besco - Isild Le Besco in person!

"Bas-fonds," Isild Le Besco, 2010, France
“Premiered at last year’s Locarno Film Festival, Le Besco’s latest, Bas-fonds, observes three women living, per the Locarno program note, ‘on the outskirts of civilization’ (in reality, somewhere in the French provinces). Le Besco shows less interest in the how and why of her setting than in the here and now—the carefully observed, moment-by-moment realities of a group of people who seem to be devising their own reality as they go along. Nor does she exploit the material for its superficial lurid qualities. And as in Le Besco’s other work, Bas-fonds extends to the viewer a feeling of being pulled so deeply inside this alternate universe that we ourselves lose all sense of which way is up. Indeed, somehow this frequently startling and profoundly unpleasant film ends up in a place of odd tenderness and beauty.”—Scott Foundas, Film Comment

"Charly," Isild Le Besco, 2007, France
“Topsy-turvy dynamics are at work in Le Besco’s second film, Charly, an oddball coming-of-age story about a sullen, semi-literate 14-year-old (played by Demi-tarif’s Kolia Litscher, Le Besco’s brother) who runs away from the farm where he lives with his grandparents and eventually shacks up for a few days with the charismatic, slightly OCD title character (the excellent Julie-Marie Parmentier), who, though it’s never directly stated, makes her living as a prostitute. Together, the duo pantomime a kind of marriage (with him staying at home doing the chores while she brings home the bacon) and, in the film’s unexpected centerpiece, act out an impromptu scene from Frank Wedekind’s Spring Awakening, which the boy is reading on the suggestion of a teacher. Which is precisely the sort of scene Le Besco deploys effortlessly, without our ever questioning its plausibility.”—Scott Foundas, Film Comment

"Demi-tarif," Isild Le Banco, 2003, France
“If Chris Marker wasn’t exactly prophetic when he declared in the pages of Libération that Demi-tarif, the 2003 directorial debut of actress Isild Le Besco, heralded a new Nouvelle Vague of which Le Besco’s film would come to be seen as the Breathless, his enthusiasm was hardly unwarranted (even if Demi-tarif is arguably closer in tone to The 400 Blows). Released when Le Besco was all of 21—and already well-known as the on- and off-screen muse of Benoît Jacquot—the incredibly assured film covers an unspecified amount of time in the lives of three Parisian children, ages 7 to 9, left to their own devices by an absentee mother who periodically pops in on them and then just as quickly disappears. So the City of Lights becomes their private playground—one that they navigate with artful dodging (sliding under subway turnstiles, shoplifting, sneaking into movies) and little interference from the adult world. The wild invention of childhood make-believe disguises, but never fully obscures, the underlying despair of the situation, while Le Besco’s discreet digital video camerawork is like a pencil jotting down recollections in a journal.”—Scott Foundas, Film Comment, January/February 2011


Three by Claude Lanzmann

"The Karski Report," Claude Lanzmann, 2010, France
The Shoah director’s powerful new film about Jan Karski — the Polish resistance figure who attempted to expose the Warsaw Ghetto and Belzec, and met with President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter.
“Karski figures in the concluding section of Shoah, in which he describes his visit to the Warsaw Ghetto... But he doesn’t mention the officials he reported to, what he told them, and what their response was... The Karski Report is made almost entirely of footage of the interviews on these subjects. The descriptions that, 34 years after the meetings, Karski summons are of a novelistic level of precision and insight that are, in themselves, literary acts of the first order.
The decisive moment that he describes with an astonishment that still arouses his deepest and most troubled emotions concerns his narration, to Frankfurter (who, as Karski knew, was Jewish), about the Warsaw Ghetto and the extermination camp Belzec. Frankfurter’s response, Karski said, was, ‘I do not believe you.’ When the Polish ambassador, who was present at the meeting, vouched for Karski’s irreproachable honesty, Frankfurter responded, ‘I did not say that he is lying; I said that I don’t believe him.’ After describing his own shattered inward reaction to Frankfurter’s declaration, Karski makes a philosophical point of an extraordinary profundity. He explains that he considers the Holocaust both a unique and an unprecedented historical phenomenon, and one that, precisely for that reason, defies comprehension.”—Richard Brody, The New Yorker

"A Visitor from the Living," Claude Lanzmann, 1997, France/Germany
“In 1979, while making his epochal Holocaust film, Shoah, Claude Lanzmann filmed this interview with Maurice Rossel, a Red Cross doctor from Switzerland who, having visited Auschwitz and Theresienstadt in 1944, gave the latter a highly favorable report...Rossel is easy to despise and easier to mock, but the cold light of his detachment serves as a reminder of the tyrannical deceits that, even now, conceal atrocities.”—Richard Brody, The New Yorker

"Sobibor, Oct. 14, 1943, 4 p.m." Claude Lanzmann, 2001, France
“Sobibor, Oct. 14, 1943, 4 p.m. is comprised primarily of an interview Lanzmann conducted in 1979 with a Holocaust survivor named Yehuda Lerner about the uprising at the Polish extermination camp Sobibor, the only successful Jewish-prisoner insurrection of the war. This film isn’t just an epilogue to Shoah, it’s a rebuttal to the dominant mythology of Jewish acquiescence and martyrdom, and as such, a critique of turning history into the comforts of fiction. It’s historiography with a vengeance.”—Manohla Dargis, Film Comment,July/August 2001

Wundkanal + Our Nazi
Two extremely rare and controversial films that delve into and attempt to exorcize the legacy of Nazi guilt in modern-day Germany. The first, Wundkanal, depicts the kidnapping and interrogation of a war criminal, and was directed by Thomas Harlan, son of filmmaker Veit Harlan, the director of the notorious anti-Semitic film Jud Süss. The second, Our Nazi, is American expatriate filmmaker Robert Kramer’s behind-the-scenes documentary about the twisted psychodrama surrounding the making of Wundkanal.

"Wundkanal," Thomas Harlan, 1984, France/West Germany
“An unclassifiable hybrid of fiction and documentary, Harlan’s infamous film was suppressed almost immediately after it was first unveiled in Berlin in 1984, and is, as its maker puts it, avowedly ‘monstrous.’ An old man is kidnapped by radical terrorists. His interrogation uncovers the (auto)biography of a mass murderer, Dr. Alfred Filbert, an SS commander responsible for the killing of thousands and the development of a technique for eliminating political prisoners through manipulated suicide.
The twist? The real, now-80-year-old Filbert, a convicted war criminal, plays himself. This definitively unsentimental deconstruction and reconstruction of a war criminal applies the cruelest and most inhumane strategy imaginable in order to allow Filbert to speak the plain truth. It’s not a film about the process of reclamation, but a demonstration of it. The action unfolds in a contained, perhaps microcosmic universe in which Harlan attempts to convey a constant process of construction, deconstruction, reconstruction. The film is imbued with playacting (Filbert’s permanently stunned and quieted voice, dutifully taking orders and playing his ‘role’ under layers of makeup), debilitation (the numbing effect of being questioned, again and again, about 40-year old minutiae), and the action of being distracted and disoriented, retracing your steps, forgetting your place, staying in motion, reflected in handheld camera movements that suggest the workings of a mind in continual retreat to the same carefully crafted, selective narrative. Let Thomas Harlan have the last word: ‘The only punishment I can imagine is truth.’”—Kent Jones, Film Comment, May/June 2010

"Our Nazi," Robert Kramer, 1985, France/West Germany
“Robert Kramer’s companion film to Wundkanal documents the shooting of the film, in which Thomas Harlan entices Dr. Alfred Filbert, alias Dr. Selbert, former SS-Obersturmbannführer, head of Einsatzkommando 9 in Belarus and Lithuania to play himself, setting out ‘to use the real criminal, to deceive him and convince him it was a film about him. We were interested in the mechanism behind this average, unsurpassably terrible instrument, someone with such a murderous biography that you could compel him, in isolation, with no outside contact, to participate in a film which was fiction.’
Kramer records the misgivings of Harlan’s crew (many of them are haunted by the discrepancy between the frail, nervous, courtly old man and his murderous past), Harlan’s endless strategizing and seductively whispered directions, and the hollowed, scarred face of Filbert himself. Harlan and his crew, which included the great DP Henri Alekan, gave Filbert the royal treatment, and the strategy paid off. ‘I obeyed Harlan like I obeyed Heydrich,’ Filbert later told the German press, but he also confided to a crew member that working on the film was one of the greatest experiences of his life. Harlan’s aim was to prove that ‘you can compel someone at a specific time, under certain circumstances, to do something so marvelous that even if the work destroys him he still wants to be part of it. You can even get him to interrogate himself.’ He also wanted to show the actual face of murder: ‘A really nice granddad. That’s what murder looks like... You wouldn’t have anything against his face, but then you’d suddenly realize, ‘No, no…’”—Kent Jones, Film Comment, May/June 2010


Viva Radio & Film Comment Present


"The Velvet Underground in Boston," Andy Warhol, 1967, USA
"The Velvet Underground and Nico," Andy Warhol, 1969, USA
Essential viewing for the fan who thinks they have heard it all. Shot inside Warhol’s Factory in gritty black and white, Warhol’s The Velvet Underground and Nico documents an hour-plus jam session that gets cut short by the police. Sunglasses, leather jackets, cigarettes, endlessly cycling amp feedback, go-go boots, and Nico’s tambourine-playing son set the mood for the ultimate in ’60s New York cool. Showing with The Velvet Underground in Boston, Warhol’s eye-boggling 1967 record of a VU concert at the Boston Tea Party.

"Straight to Hell Returns," Alex Cox, USA, 1986-2011
If there’s one man who could survive on a diet of spaghetti westerns alone, that man would surely be Mr. Alex Cox. Nearly a quarter-century ago, one year after he made Sid and Nancy, Cox coughed up this extreme cinematic hairball—a spaghetti parody so far gone it was destined to return someday…Now it’s back, remixed and remastered in all its glory: meta-masterpiece or mess? You decide. The story involves manic bank robbers hiding out in a deserted town that turns out to be not deserted, and crazier than they are. The cast includes Dick Rude, Sy Richardson, Joe Strummer (!), Shane MacGowan (!!) Dennis Hopper (!!!), and Courtney Love (insert smiley face). This new version features “digitally improved violence and cruelty,” six missing scenes, a new 5.1 stereo soundtrack by Academy Award Winner Richard Beggs, and a new color design by cinematographer Tom Richmond.


Subway Cinema co-presentations
Film Comment’s editors and the programmers of the New York Asian Film Festival (returning this July to the Walter Reade Theater) team up for three thrill-packed, blood-soaked appetizers…

"Cold Fish," Sion Sono, 2010, Japan
“Cold Fish is two-and-a-half hours of full throttle hysteria, splattered in eye-gougingly garish hues. Shamoto, the mild-mannered proprietor of a tropical fish store, finds himself and his family drawn into the orbit of a jovial fellow fish dealer named Murata, a serial killer who gleefully slaughters their business competitors and disposes of their remains…Beneath the film’s copious helping of blood, bones, and innards lies a post-economic bubble ero guro parable about the ordinary fascism of contemporary Japan’s middle class.”—Olaf Möller, Film Comment, November/December 2010


"I Saw the Devil,"
Kim Ji-woon, 2010, South Korea
Giving new meaning to catch-and-release, a secret agent searches for the serial wacko who murdered his fiancée and takes a very special form of vengeance. The twisty, gruesome new thriller by the director of The Good, the Bad, the Weird was initially banned in South Korea for its meticulous attention to bloody detail. Marked by Kim’s agile set pieces, and a sustained mood of encroaching darkness, it stars Lee Byung-hun (The Good, the Bad, the Weird) and Choi Min-sik (Oldboy). Also: don’t miss the six-film Kim Ji-woon retrospective at BAMcinematek, February 25 to March 2!


"Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen," Andrew Lau, 2010, China
From the director of Infernal Affairs, this razzle-dazzle action flick set on the eve of World War II marks a new chapter in the mythology of Chen Zhen, the masked martial arts character originated by Bruce Lee in Fists of Fury. Returning to Shanghai after the death of his mentor, Chen (Donnie Yen) joins the resistance against the impending Japanese invasion––all the while unknowingly romancing a Japanese double agent. Superheroic fighting and crazed camerawork ensue.


MAIN PROGRAM


"Burke and Hare," John Landis, 2010, UK
Thirty years after An American Werewolf in London, John Landis returns to the UK with a black comedy set in 19th-century Edinburgh. After discovering a booming market for medical cadavers, two bumbling Irish hucksters (Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis) turn to grave-robbing and, before long, murder. Grisly, farcical fun, featuring a who’s who of British comedians and appearances from Tim Curry and Christopher Lee.


"Cave of Forgotten Dreams," Werner Herzog, 2010, USA/France
“In Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Werner Herzog explores the origins of figuration and abstract thought by visiting France’s Chauvet caves. Shooting in 3-D, he follows the route taken by a group of explorers who in 1994 discovered a vast cave decorated over 32,000 years ago with paintings of lions, horses, panthers, and bison... Herzog employs 3-D to record the walls’ contours and to give the viewer a greater feeling of presence. This sensation is heightened by the remarkable freshness of the images. The eyes of the painted animals, in particular, are bright, intense, and soulful. France has barred the cave to visitors not involved in the site’s study, so Herzog’s access is a coup. His small crew was restricted to minimal lighting, equipment, time, and space, but these limitations are turned to glorious advantage.”—Nicole Armour, Film Comment, November/December 2010


"City of Life and Death,"
Lu Chuan, 2009, China
“This wrenching look at the Japanese occupation of Nanking in 1937 establishes Lu as a world-class filmmaker—and one who perhaps bridges the gap between China’s Fifth and Sixth generations, fusing the rigor and commitment to harsh reality of the latter with the commercial tendencies of the former, but without selling out. With regular shifts to include somewhat sympathetic Japanese points of view, the film is loosely structured in three parts. In the truly harrowing third section, the Japanese army’s enforced recruitment of ‘comfort women’ from among the enclave’s female populace—and their subsequent abuse—is shown with an unflinching eye.”—Gavin Smith, Film Comment, November/December 2009


"Domaine,"
Patric Chiha, 2009, France/Austria
John Waters’s favorite movie of 2010 tracks the evolution of the unusually close relationship between an alcoholic mathematician (Béatrice Dalle) and her gay teenage nephew (Isaïe Sultan). Their friendship is an homage to that of Albert Einstein and Kurt Gödel, but with more white wine and visits to a shadowy discotheque. Domaine searches for the boundary between order and chaos with a formal simplicity and stylistic deliberateness, and, per Waters, “lots of walks! So many walks you’ll be left breathless by the sheer elegance of this astonishing little workout.”


"El Sicario, Room 164," Gianfranco Rosi, 2010, USA/France
“Dealing with the confessions of a Ciudad Juárez hit man, there’s something theatrical about Rosi’s documentary from the start: the killer, back to the camera, dons a mask and turns to face his audience, soon proving himself to be a master raconteur. El Sicario, Room 164’s description of Mexico’s body politic as a cadaver seething with maggots has the ring of truth and is confirmed every day by the news.”—Olaf Möller, Film Comment, November/December 201


"I Only Want You to Love Me," Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1976, West Germany
Born during Germany’s economic miracle, awkward Peter (Vitus Zeplichal) seeks his indifferent parents’ affection by building them a house. After its completion fails to engender any warmth, Peter and his wife move to Munich and are promptly sucked into an endless cycle of purchases on credit and overtime. A rarely seen TV production, Fassbinder’s Sirk-inspired indictment of capitalism is a clear follow-up to The Merchant of Four Seasons and was based on an actual case study. NOT ON DVD.


"I Wish I Knew," Jia Zhangke, 2010, China
“Jia Zhangke’s undervalued I Wish I Knew charts history through actual emigrations, physical and cultural displacements. Jia uses a World Expo commission as an occasion to dig deeper into the vein he discovered in Useless and 24 City, and Shanghai becomes an epicenter of historical change. Far more than 24 City, Jia’s film is a delicate web of associations between interviews and clips. For instance, Jia shoots an interview with Hou Hsiao-hsien on a train moving through the mountains, an evocation of one of his finest films,Goodbye South, Goodbye. It is also an evocation of flight, one of the central preoccupations of this film, and of a fellow artist’s particular cinematic language, another side of which is revealed with the clip from Flowers of Shanghai, which prompts Hou to reflect on the eary 20th-century ‘innovation’ of falling in love, which in turn evokes the many tender romances alluded to throughout I Wish I Knew and the secrecy prompted by a century of political tumult. Jia’s cinematic language is always polyvalent, and his juxtapositions flower gradually across the span of the entire film.” —Kent Jones, Film Comment, July/August 2010


"Insidious,"
James Wan, 2010, USA
“In this super-scary reinvention of the haunted-house genre, Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne play a couple who move into a new house; soon enough things go bump in the night, apparitions appear, and their son falls into a mysterious coma. Finally the family decamps—but it’s only once they move into their new home that things get really frightening. One of the rules Wan (director of the original Saw) and writer Leigh Whannell set for themselves was that there would be no false scares. They never break that rule, and if that’s music to your ears, this is a must-see.” —Gavin Smith, Film Comment, November/December 2010


"Klaus Kinski: Jesus Christ the Savior," Peter Geyer, 2008, Germany
Klaus Kinski is Jesus, working off a 30-plus page monologue based on the life of Christ that he wrote himself. But then come the hecklers, who push Kinski to a psychotic breaking point that must be seen to be believed.
“[Kinski’s] soul-baring shows were the talk of Europe: Kinski practiced theater as therapy, as trance work, as seizure, as secular exorcism, as full-bore nervous breakdown, culminating in 1971’s Jesus Tour, a scorching monologue that began, ‘I am not the Jesus of the official church.’ That’s for sure: banish all thoughts of the benevolent, soft-spoken Christ who loves the little children—Jesus the wrath of God was in the house.”—Maitland McDonagh, Film Comment, July/August 2007


"Robbery," Peter Yates, 1967, U.K.
Made a year before the late Peter Yates came to America to direct Bullitt, this rarely seen caper about the Great Train Robbery opens with an extended diamond heist and police pursuit—as thrillingly executed as anything in its more famous follow-up. Less attention-grabbing but just as integral to the film’s success is the director’s facility with actors, here a cast of British regulars (headed up by Stanley Baker, Frank Finlay, and Barry Foster) giving low-key, lived-in performances. NOT ON DVD.


"The Silence," Baran Bo Odar, 2010, Germany
Acclaimed up-and-comer Odar’s coolly shot and paced feature is at once a grisly mystery and a metaphysical investigation of grief and guilt, suspicion and friendship. A 14-year-old girl from a small town goes missing, setting the stage for a haunted man to return to the scene of an unspeakable crime. “Baran Bo Odar’s moody and magnificent crime thriller is an elegant combination of subtle chills and haunting melodrama.”—Screen Daily


"Sodankylä Forever," Peter von Bagh, 2010, Finland
An auteur-studded, time-spanning tribute to the legendary Midnight Sun Film Festival in Finland, drawing on its quarter-century of public dialogues featuring top filmmakers: Michael Powell, Abbas Kiarostami, Monte Hellman, Jean Rouch, and many more.
“Film historian Peter von Bagh carves a forceful, fast-moving, often melancholic but frequently funny essay about cinema as the essence of the 20th century. A smart work—half elegy, half rallying cry—by a master raconteur.”—Olaf Möller, Film Comment, November/December 2010


"Submarino,"
Thomas Vinterberg, 2010, Denmark/Sweden
“Submarino just might be the film fans of The Celebration have been waiting over a decade for. Vinterberg’s latest is a devastating, completely mesmerizing portrait of two brothers, victims of a neglectful, abusive alcoholic mother, who as children experience trauma so horrible that they are still battling to overcome many years later—with little success. The older brother (the terrific Jakob Cedergren) is a hard drinker just released from prison for taking a broken heart out on a complete stranger by beating him to a pulp. The inexplicably nameless younger brother (Peter Plaugborg) is a single father and heroin addict who turns to dealing. Watching their harrowing parallel struggles for survival, you can practically taste their pain. The only ray of hope in this dark world is the younger brother’s angelic son—perhaps because his corruption has only just begun.”—Laura Kern, Film Comment, November/December 2010

1 Comment

  • Tim Broun | February 1, 2011 6:17 AMReply

    Any info on tickets or scheduling?