This week started with festivals and film series galore, giving the New York film community a choice of several evening events, including the opening of the annual Rendez Vous with French Cinema and the closing of the Film Comment Selects. First up was the opening of the New York Arab and South Asian Film Festival, whose opening night film program included the Cannes feature “The Foresaken Land.” Though somewhat of a bizarre choice to usher in an event, “Foresaken Land” is an intelligent piece of cinema nonetheless, evoking the somber and stilted mood of post-civil war Sri Lanka and examining attempts to live amongst the aftermath. Other selections over the weekend, though not quite as complex, included “Bab’Aziz,” a disjointed fairytale that is strangely missing the magic it needs to make it work and “Vanaja,” a tiring, though thought-provoking study of a young girl who falls in love with the man who raped her.
In a week cluttered with opening nights, Monday and Tuesday were a welcome change, with two spectacular events in tow. The first was the Bong Joon-ho retrospective. Ingenious Korean director Bong has been making a name for himself at international festivals and in smaller markets since his first feature, “Barking Dogs Never Bite,” premiered in San Sabastian in 2000. A hilariously biting satire of genre, “Barking Dogs” is a light serial (canine) killer movie that is filled to the brim with creativity. Three years later, he reappeared with the massively popular true story, “Memories of Murder,” about an unsolved mystery involving a rash of killings that took place in rural South Korea.
His latest offering, the politically charged monster movie cum family drama, “The Host,” was a huge hit in the Director’s Fortnight section of the Cannes Film Festival last year. Like all of Bong’s work, “The Host” carefully walks the line between comedy and tragedy, showing us slight disturbances in every moment and packing as many ideas or incidents into each frame as possible. The IFC Center in conjunction with The Korea Society this week screened “Dogs,” “Memories” and “Host,” along with Bong’s student short, “Incoherence.” Also screened was “Twentidentity,” a tedious mishmash of shorts by Korean directors, including Bong’s mediocre “Sink & Rise” which certainly rose high above the rest. Nevertheless, Bong’s body of work is one to be celebrated. “The Host” will be released on March 9th by Magnolia Pictures–don’t miss it.
The second offbeat event and definitely the most unique piece of programming this week was a collection of Roller Derby shorts at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, introduced by representatives from the Gotham Girls Roller Derby. Featuring everything from cartoons to silent movie and exploitation clips, Roller Derby Short is a comprehensive collection of the history of roller-skating on film, the climax of which was a clip from Joshua Thompson‘s new documentary, “Gotham Girls, Beatdown in the Boogietown!” All was followed by a jovial party at Moe’s with drink specials and karaoke.
Tuesday also saw the closing of Lincoln Center‘s popular series, Film Comment Selects. The closing gala was Paul Verhoeven‘s latest film, “Black Book.” Returning to his roots, frequently praised pseudo-trash auteur Verhoeven (“Showgirls,” “Robocop“) makes the first Dutch-language film in years. A kind of Indiana Jones version of the Holocaust with plenty of crowd-pleasing sleaze thrown in for good measure, “Black Book” centers around a Jewish girl who manages to hide her identity and infiltrate the inner workings of the Nazi party in Holland. Though slightly offensive, “Black Book” is a solid throwback to classic war noirs, containing plenty of plot twists and tense moments. Also in the series this week was “Tachigui: The Amazing Lives of Tokyo Fast Food Grifters.” Innovative Japanese director Mamoru Oshii, creator of such technologically infused mind-trips as “Avalon and the Ghost in the Shell,” returns with a pseudo-documentary about the history of the post-war stand and eat freeloaders, a subject which, to Oshii, is closely tied into a huge piece of Japanese history. Though employing a large number of fresh and beautiful visual techniques, including stop motion animation with cutouts attached to digital backgrounds, Tachigui ultimately runs a little dry, like a History Channel special with a bigger budget.
Last, but definitely most, was the Opening Night of Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, an annual festival of French films screening at Lincoln Center and the IFC Center. This year’s opener was Olivier Dahan‘s “La Vie en Rose,” a powerful biopic about the life of Edith Piaf, which recently had its world premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival. At the center of this masterwork is an astounding performance from Marion Cotillard, whose portrayal of Piaf’s grandiose yet laissez-faire temperament and her battle with painful, life-threatening illness is very buzzworthy. The film was met with a terrific reception, including a lengthy standing ovation. Following the screening was a delightful party featuring appearances from many of the big names involved in the film including Cotillard, Dahan and the head of its US distributor, Bob Berney of Picturehouse. Also making an appearance were Jean Reno and a very boisterous Harvey Weinstein in what was a fitting affair to salute both Piaf and Dahan’s film and a classy opening to what promises to be an intriguing series.
Opening in Theaters this Week
“Beyond the Gates,” directed by Michael Caton-Jones. Opening March 9, distributed by IFC Films, visit the film’s website.
“The Cats of Mirikitani,” directed by Linda Hattendorf. Opening March 2, self-distributed (opening Cinema Village in NY), visit the film’s website.
“The Host,” directed by Bong Joon-ho. Opening March 9, distributed by Magnolia Pictures, visit the film’s website.
“The Namesake,” directed by Mira Nair. Opening March 9, distributed by Fox Searchlight, visit the film’s website.