New York Film Fest: Round 2, Distributor's Showcase
by Anthony Kaufman
Mid-way through the New York Film Festival, distributor's logos are as
commonplace a sight as the yellow taxis that slow down outside Lincoln
Center in search of an expensive fare. Every film in this middle
section of the fest was acquired previous to its New York debut. No
doubt launching a film at the New York fest, just prior to release, is a
major marketing strategy on the minds of the power-brokers. Mark Levin's
"Slam," Stefan Ruzowitzky's "The Inheritors," and the soon to be
screened films, "Happiness" by Todd Solondz and "Celebration" by Thomas
Vinterberg will all be released within a week of their NYFF screenings.
But a couple of the films, just nabbed at Toronto, have publicists
racing to put together press materials and handle talent for their
festival screening, with little time to think about their releases next
Take October Films' two recent acquisitions, NYFF Centerpiece, "Black
Cat, White Cat" directed by acclaimed two-time, Palme d'Or winner, Emir
Kusturica and much loved French auteur, Eric Rohmer's "A Tale of
Autumn." Both were picked up after successful debuts at the Venice Film
Festival, where Kusturica won the Silver Lion for Best Director and
Rohmer won the Golden Osella for Best Original Screenplay. A U.S.
release date for the films has not been set, but it looks like early
next year. October will also release "Celebration" this Friday and
would have been doing the same with Solondz's film, had they not had to
drop the film because of pressures from corporate parents, Universal and
Seagram Co. Instead, the film's producers, Good Machine, will release
the picture this Sunday under the banner of their newly-created
distribution arm, Good Machine Releasing.
Although the loss of Solondz's exquisitely malevolent, sharply executed
second film will continue to plague the mini-studio, "Black Cat, White
Cat" and "A Tale of Autumn" are the most delightful, exuberant and
well-directed foreign pictures thus far in the NYFF. Kusturica returns
to the fast-paced, hilarious life of gypsies in "Black Cat, White Cat,"
having first tackled the subject with "Time of the Gypsies" in 1989.
This time, the farcical adventures center around a forced marriage
between two sides of a gypsy mafia family. "It's the most optimistic
film I've made in my life," said Kusturica at a press conference. "With
'Underground,' there were underlying dark tones of history and our
mentality. I wanted to give this film to the gypsies." The lively,
slapstick and apolitical approach of the movie had some of the critics
yearning for more. But, supported from a mostly positive review in the
New York Times, the film is likely to be a joy for art-house audiences.
Similarly, "A Tale of Autumn" is filled with joie-de-vivre and an
incredible affection for its ensemble cast. Rohmer ends his quartet of
seasonal tales with this Shakespearean romp about a divorced middle age
woman (Beatrice Romand) whose best friend (played by long-time Rohmer
collaborator Marie Riviere) and son's girlfriend (the attractive Alexia
Portal) plot to find her a lover with touching results. Rohmer is
renown for shooting only 1 or 2 takes on set, which keeps a freshness to
the performances (in contrast to Kusturica who claims a shooting ratio
of up to 30:1). Although sometimes Rohmer's casual filmmaking style
makes the film linger, the well-orchestrated plotline and sheer
likeablity of the characters make it a success. Whether Rohmer and
Kusturica's films reach the same popularity in the U.S. as they have in
Europe, (for instance, "Black Cat, White Cat" opened on 22 screens in
Paris this week) time will only tell.
In a different vein, Todd Haynes' hugely anticipated "Velvet Goldmine,"
being released next month by Miramax, will probably have little trouble
at the box office. "It's a terrific honor," said Haynes about his
admission in the NYFF, "I've never had a feature in the NYFF and it
means a great deal." (Haynes did appear in 1993 with his featurette,
"Dottie Gets Spanked.") "Our festival history is a lucky one," he also
noted, citing his successful debut at Cannes, and recent glitzy opening
at the Edinburgh Film Festival. NY Times critic Janet Maslin also
boosted the film's luck with a thumbs up review, likening its
story-telling style to opera: "blazing with exquisite yet abstract
passions." With Maslin's acknowledgment to this quite eccentric,
examination of glam-rock, Haynes' surreal, experimental tale should find
the audiences it requires.
Answering claims that Miramax's reputed homophobia got in the way of the
production, Christine Vachon said at a NYFF press conference, "Miramax
got involved very early on and I have to say, never at any point,
whatever horror stories we've heard aside, we were never pressured
whatsoever by Miramax to make cuts in the film around its gay content,
to cut out anything specifically because it was gay. We never
experienced that homophobia."
"'Velvet Goldmine' is probably the most affirmative film I've ever
made," confided Haynes, later in the press conference. "In that it
offers a kind of alternative, albeit one that is no longer really
available to us," he said, speaking about the sexual ambiguity, freedom,
and flamboyance of the 70's era. "But it was a time when a radical
notion of that unstable identity was affirmed and made all right and
actually made colorful and attractive."
Also expressing issues of rebellion, against style and within subject
matter was John Boorman, whose new film "The General" is screening along
with a special NYFF retrospective screening of his 1967 dazzler, "Point
Blank." "The General," filmed in black and white, and acquired
post-Cannes by Sony Pictures Classics, is a biographical tale about
legendary Irish criminal, Martin Cahill, who was murdered in 1994.
Caught in between an increasingly armed police force, envious IRA
members and militant Loyalists, Cahill, aka "The General," is a symbol
of the "opposition to established society," said Boorman.
Defending his use of black and white, Boorman said, "The first reason
for doing it is that I love black and white, and I miss it so much.
Here, we were making this picture independently. I didn't have studio
or distributors on my back, so I thought here was the chance to do what
I wanted. More importantly I think that I didn't want to romanticize.
Color tends to do that, to prettify. I wanted to, in a sense, peel away
the skin, which is what happens when you take the color away."
Ironically, "Point Blank" is all about color. Starring Lee Marvin as a
crook with a vendetta against his crooked partners, the film was a 60's
landmark and had MGM's art department writing a memo disclaiming
responsibility for the film's extravagant look.
In a rare moment at the NYFF's esteemed Lincoln Center locale, Boorman
said the projection of the film was bad. "First I'd like to say how
disappointing it is when the ratios and sound quality are not very good.
. . It was fairly disastrous. . . I haven't seen [the film] in 30 years,
and I wished that I hadn't now. . . the sides were cut off." When an
audience member asked, "What was on the sides," Boorman responded,
In this final leg of the festival, screenings include a group of films
without distribution: "Late August, Early September" by Olivier Assayas
("Irma Vep"), "The Flowers of Shanghai" by Taiwanese master Hou
Hsiao-hsien, "River of Gold" by Paulo Rocha and the
end-of-the-millennium couplet of Hal Hartley's "Book of Life" and
Abderrhmane Sissako's "Life on Earth." While these five make up the
bulk of NYFF films up-for-grabs, also included in the remaining days of
the fest is the only major studio film, Wes Anderson's comedy
"Rushmore," from Touchstone Pictures. Erick Zonca's "The Dream Life of
the Angeles", picked up at Cannes by Sony Pictures Classics, closes the
fest Sunday night.