Three exemplary film series got kicked off this week in New York, buoyed by appearances from three exemplary personalities. On Thursday night, MoMA's Milos Forman retrospective got a jump start from the congenially baritone Czech director himself, while on Friday night, formidable French film star Jeanne Balibar helped get The Film Society of Lincoln Center's "Film Comment Selects" underway. On Saturday night, MoMA received a casual visit for its "Documentary Fortnight" series from one Mr. Robert Redford, introducing Laura Dunn's "The Unforeseen."
Forman's "Dream" at MoMA
MoMA gave a little Valentine to Milos Forman on Thursday night, launching a two-week retrospective of the lauded director's work with a screening of a new print of his 1965 Czech New Wave classic, "Loves of a Blonde" (which subsequently went on to play a week-long run at the BAM Rose cinemas, starting its new season). The comprehensive series covers his evolution from Eastern European maverick to Hollywood stalwart, noting his universal appeal to both cineastes and everyday audiences.
"He has Oscar statues and international honors en masse, and still Forman's films are recognized as a personal cinema," said MoMA curator Jytte Jenson, citing the films' concern with "the valiant struggle of the individual to remain true to him or herself in spite of social or institutional pressure and repression."
"Loves of a Blonde" is a treasure, hilarious and sweet with gentle political undercurrents, the story of a beautiful girl's bad romantic decisions in a small town where the women outnumber the men 16-1 and the unmarried ones are forced to make do with traveling musicians and middle-aged, married reservists.
Forman was introduced by the film's co-writer, Ivan Passer, and male lead, Vladimir Pucholt -- once a Czech matinee idol and now a pediatrician in Toronto -- who discussed the famous extended nude scene of Pucholt and actress Hana Brejchova. "I felt completely safe with the scene, because I thought the Czech censors would never allow it," explained Pucholt. "The censors, usually absolutely reliable, failed me... To this day, my son thinks his father is a former Czech porn star."
Forman kept his own remarks brief, explaining the conditions under which the film was made, saying "I made this for under $100,000... The star of the movie is the sister of my first wife. Vladimir's father in the film is the uncle of my cameraman. One of the three soldiers was my dentist." He praised MoMA, calling the retrospective "a dream come true" - this from a director who has won two Oscars, for directing both "One Flew Over a Cuckoo's Nest" and "Amadeus." MoMA's Milos Foreman retrospective will continue through February 28.
The "punk" Film Comment Selects"
The "Film Comment Selects" series got underway on Friday night at the Walter Reade Theater with a screening of Jacques Rivette's latest film, "The Duchess of Langeais" (more excitingly titled "Ne Touchez Pas La Hache" in French) and an appearance by the film's star, Jeanne Balibar (star of the director's 2001 film "Va Savoir").
The tone of the entire series can probably be summed up by its calendar, proudly emblazoned with Manohla Darghis' somewhat murky compliment "A self-consciously punk-kid alternative to the New York Film Festival," which is, in fact, what it is (with some emphasis on the "self-conscious"). It's a wildly eclectic line-up, from Nanouk Leopold's beautifully composed European-family-in-crisis tone poem "Wolfsbergen" to French horror film "The Inside," wherein Beatrice Dahl tortures a pregnant woman; from Fatih Akin's uneven-but-beguiling multi-story Turkish/German "The Edge of Heaven," to a retrospective screening of "Mandingo" (!); to a Valentine's Day screening of "George Romero's Diary of the Dead."
The Rivette film, then, was a fitting opener, an almost conventional period piece from one of the French New Wave's most experimental directors, filled with ironic touches. The performances by Balibar and Guillame Depardieu are straightforward, and the content is traditional. Based on the Balzac novel, the plot concerns a coy society flirt who first frustrates and then falls in love with a humorless, vengeful soldier. Yet this is offset by the ridiculously emphatic intertitles and the strange sonic design, which plays up the incidental noises like footsteps and throat clearings, all to an effect that is as inexplicable as it is inexplicably lovely.
"I was shocked when I saw the film for the first time," said Balibar. "I found it very peculiar, those sounds of feet, the shuffling, the sounds, we weren't aware of that while making it."
"Film Comment Selects" continues through February 28, featuring a special appearance on the 28th by once-hotshot director Alex Cox with his widely-derided (but perhaps up for reconsideration?) 1987 epic "Walker" as well as his latest film "Searchers 2.0."
An "Unforeseen" Redford at MoMA
Bystanders in MoMA's lobby on Saturday night were treated to the site of a smaller-than-expected man wandering in, unaccompanied and with no fanfare, and checking in at the registration desk with a quick "Hi, I'm Robert Redford." The actor was present to introduce a screening of Laura Dunn's beautiful documentary "The Unforeseen," one of the numerous documentaries with an environmental concern playing at MoMA's "Documentary Fortnight," currently underway.
The annual series is exceedingly well-programmed by assistant curator Sally Berger, with such double bills one that might have been titled "Horrific Women's Justice Night" featuring Mohammed Ali Naqvi's "Shame," about a Pakistani woman judicially sentenced to be gang-raped and Anna Broinowski's "Forbidden Lie$," about an honor killing in Jordan that may or may not have happened. The description for Heidrun Holzfeind's story of chemical sensitivies, "Exposed," tellingly requests audiences refrain from wearing perfume for the screening.
Dunn's film, a standout from the 2007 Sundance Film Festival which is finally making its way to theaters this month, is a beautiful, heartbreaking documentary about the struggles between developers and preservationists around a popular spring outside of Austin, Texas, which shares an outlook with executive producer Terrence Malick.
"There is a slow burning clash between two sides, representing what it is we're going to be developing for our survival and what we're going to be preserving," explained Redford in his introduction, placing his finger on what makes this film so special. "This is a film that gets down into the core of this struggle, and you see the emotions of both sides, both the developers and the people."
The Fortnight continues through March 3, with a special tribute to master filmmaker/cinematographer Joan Churchill on Friday, 2/22.