The eighth edition of Film Comment’s ever eclectic and adventurous showcase offers a wide assortment of previews, discoveries and rediscoveries, many of them New York if not U.S. premieres. Much of our lineup of movies, six of which don’t have U.S. distribution, has been cherry-picked from the international festival circuit by the magazine’s editors and contributors. Still others have been championed in our pages over the past year—or soon will be.
Join us as we span the globe, from Japan to Egypt to Germany to China, travel back to the 1970s to revisit two under-recognized modern classics, welcome back old friends like Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Aki Kaurismäki and Jean-Claude Brisseau, take a double-bill detour with avant-garde filmmaker James Benning and finally settle in on closing night for an onstage conversation with director Paul Verhoeven, following a screening of his much anticipated war-thriller Black Book.
Film Comment Selects is sponsored by Stella Artois®
Jean-Claude Brisseau, France, 2006; 100m
“A successful filmmaker auditions a number of nubile young actresses for his next project, an earnest investigation of the ‘taboos of female pleasure’ and the sensual mysteries of the female orgasm. Much graphic masturbation (but no intercourse) ensues, in a variety of settings, punctuated by brief, Orphée-style radio transmissions of cryptic free-associative poetry . . . The most bemusing and fearless film in the [Cannes 2006] festival—and one of the best.”—Gavin Smith Film Comment Jul/Aug 06
Paul Verhoeven, Netherlands, 2006; 135m
This year’s official entry for the Best Foriegn-Language Film Oscar® from the Netherlands, Verhoeven’s triumphant homecoming is a gripping and characteristically unsentimental revisionist take on the final year of the German occupation of Holland and the initial weeks after the liberation. Its heroine, played by rising star Carice van Houten, is a Jewish girl on the run, who joins the resistance movement and infiltrates Nazi headquarters by seducing a German officer (Sebastian Koch). All the familiar Verhoeven ingredients are here—sex, violence, intrigue, betrayal—but, above all Black Book demonstrates that he is a great classical storyteller.
Join us for a special screening of Dutch director Paul Verhoeven’s latest film, Black Book, followed by an onstage dialogue about the film and the director’s career between Verhoeven and Film Comment editor Gavin Smith.
Lin Tay-jou, Taiwan, 2005; 71m
The title comes from the Sanskrit term meaning “between two things.” Lin Tay-jou’s three-part film depicts the liminal stages between life, death and rebirth, restructuring religious allegory and taking a unique, often bizarre and compassionate look at the brevity of our time on earth.
“An apocalyptic, visual tone-poem, it borrows equally from the Tibetan Book of the Dead, the Biblical Judgment Day, and Dante—among other things… Nonnarrative, yet utterly engrossing, it spews forth a visceral nonstop stream of misery, bad sex, and death—yet, at its theoretical heart beats the perpetual possibility for life regained.”—Chris Chang, Film Comment online, Fall/Winter 06
Pedro Costa, France, 2006; 155m
“The film consists of a series of hieratically lit and colored encounters between a Cape Verdean immigrant named Ventura and assorted friends, family and neighbors, each more down and out than the next, shot in low-angled single takes in a near-abandoned old quarter of Lisbon and a new government-run apartment complex. The camera is usually placed low to the ground and angled up at the lost and haunted Ventura’s starkly beautiful form positioned against unforgiving sky and light. A truly incantatory experience, Colossal Youth is an impressive, often transfixing excavation of emotionally dark territory, and its duration is directly tied to its overall shape and impact. It’s a singular vision of underclass existence, simultaneously decrepit and monumental.”—Kent Jones, Film Comment, Jul/Aug 06
Johnnie To, Hong Kong, 2006; 100m
“To has an unbelievable knack for making gangster films feel fresh. A sort-of sequel to The Mission—the movie that broke the filmmaker to a wider audience—Exiled reunites that film’s main cast, who here play comparable but not exactly the same characters. It’s an odd mélange of the western and the gangster picture that explores familiar themes of loyalty, honor and friendship, and it fuses Peckinpah’s last-gang fatalism with Leone’s existential mythologizing. When a character pulls out a harmonica, it just makes total sense.”—Mark Olsen, Film Comment, Nov/Dec 06
James Benning, USA, 2004; 101m
“One of this unique filmmaker’s greatest works, and on paper, one of his most minimalist: 10 shots of the sky, each lasting 10 minutes. But the experience of watching—and hearing—it is fabulously rich and intense. The skyscapes are filled with life and change at the speed of light. The soundtrack creates an equally rich narrative space by way of 10 short stories that are ‘insinuated’ without ever being ‘explained.’ A masterpiece.”—Alexander Horwath, Film Comment, Jan/Feb 2005
James Benning, USA, 2004; 133m
A counterpart to Ten Skies, consisting of 13 10-minute shots of major lakes throughout the United States, 13 Lakes presents fixed-frame compositions in which the horizon is located in the middle of the image, producing a mesmerizing mirror effect. The filmmaker regards both films as “found paintings,” but his soundtracks are as crucial to 13 Lakes’s immersive viewing experience as the cinematic properties of time (duration) and light, drawing out the lakes’ geographical and historical relationships to the landscape. The lakes depicted are Lake Michigan (Michigan), Great Salt Lake (Utah), Hiamna Lake (Alaska), Lake Okeechobee (Florida), Lake Pontchartrain (Louisiana), Red Lake (Minnesota), Lake Champlain (New York), Salton Sea (California), Lake Powell (Arizona), Lake Winnebego (Wisconsin), Flathead Lake (Montana), Goose Lake (Oregon) and Moosehead Lake (Maine).
|Lights in the Dusk
Aki Kaurismäki, Finland, 2006; 78m
Aki Kaurismäki’s own peculiarly timeless version of a classic film noir narrative, in which the life of a lowly night watchman named Koistinen (Janne Hyytiänen) is suddenly brightened and then blighted by the stunning Mirja (Maria Jarvenhelmi).
“The third film in what Kaurismäki has dubbed his ‘loser trilogy’ refines every shot and sequence to the minimum necessary to convey character, situation and plot. The film might seem like a stunt if it weren’t so radiantly beautiful (as in the two previous films of the trilogy, Drifting Cloudsand The Man Without a Past, the lighting evokes renaissance religious painting) and if Kaurismäki’s tenderness and gallows humor weren’t so perfectly balanced. Beautifully shot, as always, by the great Timo Salminen.”—Amy Taubin, Film Comment, Jul/Aug 06
Valeska Grisebach, Germany, 2006; 87m
A welder and volunteer fireman and his wife are happy with their uneventful lives in a village outside Berlin, until the husband attends a training seminar and ends up sleeping with a waitress. In the hands of German writer-director Valeska Grisebach, this straightforward plot becomes an exceptional tale with an impressively unadorned visual style and featuring remarkable performances from a nonprofessional cast.
“The trembling of the voices and the innocence in the faces of these people make this both the simplest love story on earth and nothing less than a masterpiece.”—Olaf Möller, Film Comment, May/June 06
|Play It as It Lays
Frank Perry, USA, 1972; 99m
Adapted by Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne from Didion’s novel (which made Time magazine’s list of the 100 greatest English-language books ever written), Perry’s film stars Tuesday Weld as a model turned actress turned smoking crater of a woman, destroyed by the demands of her Hollywood lifestyle. Featuring Anthony Perkins.
“Didion’s book is extremely fragmented, with some chapters no longer than a paragraph and the point of view shifting abruptly between the third and first person. Perry’s film, edited by Sidney Katz, expertly translates this disjointed sense of time. Some shots last only a second; chronological sequences aren’t always clear; sound and image are jarringly juxtaposed.” —Melissa Anderson, Film Comment, Jan/Feb 07
Stefan Krohmer, Germany, 2006; 97m
A family vacation sets the stage for an often uncomfortable generational battle. Krohmer constructs an unpredictable love triangle between Miriam (Martina Gedeck), a still-radiant forty-something mother and wife, her son’s 12-year-old girlfriend, Livia (Svea Lohde) and Bill (Robert Seeliger), the charming American expat in his twenties to whom both women find themselves drawn. “The characters who become enmeshed in the story are all reasonable, likable, exasperating, and appalling—and you are made to sense the horrifying moral vacuum that exists underneath their progressive assumptions of what it means to ‘be a good person.’”—Phillip Lopate, Film Comment, Jul/Aug 06
Lou Ye, China, 2006; 140m
See the movie that’s “been accused of treason by the Chinese government… a sprawling, deeply moving epic spanning the period from just prior to the Tiananmen Square massacre to not quite the present day… The story follows country girl Yu Hong (played in what appears to be a continuous swoon by the marvelous Lei Hao) as she moves to Beijing to commence her university studies. Once there, liberated by the pleasures of free thought (and sex), she is soon swept up in the maelstrom of social upheaval that defined China in the late Eighties.”—Chris Chang, Film Comment, Jan/Feb 07
|Tachigui: The Amazing Lives of the Fast Food Grifters
Mamoru Oshii, Country: Japan, Release: 2006, Runtime: 104m
“Superlivemation” (aka “motion capture”) propels Oshii’s exegesis of tachigui (aka Japanese fast food). To the director, the evolution of “stand and eat” grub is somehow deeply interlinked with mainstream Japanese history from the aftermath of WWII, proceeding to the end of the Showa Era (1989)—just prior to the burst of the bubble economy.
“It fits no category… Absurdly funny, at times tragic, and continuously eye-popping, it’s an epic, voiceover-loaded social history of postwar Japan told through the eyes of a criminal clan.”—Olaf Möller, Film Comment, Nov/Dec 06
|These Encounters of Theirs
Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, Italy, 2006; 68m
An adaptation of the last five stories in Communist philosopher Cesare Pavese’s 1947 Dialoghi con Leucò (Dialogues with Leucò), this exquisitely beautiful final collaboration between the great husband-and-wife team Straub and Huillet won a special prize at the 2006 Venice Film Festival for “innovation in the language of cinema.” It depicts dialogues in mock-classical register between five pairs of gods and goddesses, who ponder humanity’s foibles and potential. Standing on hills and in groves, overlooking fields and meadows, or beside a brook, the gods are portrayed by the inhabitants of the Straubs’ favorite location, the town of Buti in Tuscany.
|Twilight’s Last Gleaming (Director's cut)
Robert Aldrich, Country: USA, Release: 1977, Runtime: 143m
“A moralist in a man’s world… His films are inevitably troubled by intimations of decadence and disorder,” wrote Andrew Sarris in The American Cinema, neatly encapsulating producer-director Robert Aldrich’s remarkable body of work. In this taut 1977 thriller, Burt Lancaster plays a renegade Air Force general who takes over a nuclear missile silo in an attempt to force the U.S. President (Charles Durning) to reveal the true motivation behind the Vietnam War. The stellar cast also features Richard Widmark, Melvyn Douglas, Roscoe Lee Browne and Joseph Cotten.
“A breathtakingly explicit indictment of Vietnam policy and how war makes a fool of democracy.”—Nicolas Rapold, Film Comment, Jan/Feb 07
We will be presenting Robert Aldrich’s personal archive print, featuring a number of scenes cut from the original release version. Special thanks to Adell Aldrich and Giulia D'Agnolo-Vallan.
|The Wedding Director
Marco Bellocchio, Italy, 2006; 100m
“In a more mellow, playful mood than in his two most recent features, Bellochio submits his own 8 1/2 about a filmmaker at the end of his rope who is saddled with one more adaptation of Manzoni’s The Betrothed. Sergio Castellito again gives a tremendously shaded performance as an edgy, obsessed Bellocchio protagonist; even as everything around him is falling apart, the actor anchors it with his sardonic, moody idealism. Full of brio and cinematic mastery, Bellocchio is having fun here, and I did too.”—Phillip Lopate, Film Comment, Jul/Aug 06
|The Yacoubian Building
Marwan Hamed, Country: Egypt, Release: 2006; 161m
“This adaptation of Alaa Al Aswany’s Arabic bes seller offers a sprawling account of the ills and enduring charms of modern Cairo through the intersecting lives of the residents of the once-ritzy Yacoubian Building, built in 1937 to house the city’s elite and feed their Paris envy. In the process the film confronts the unavoidable issues of Islam’s growing influence, political corruption, poverty, torture, terrorism and the hitherto taboo subject of homosexuality, as well as the more subtle yet most affecting theme: the vanishing of a certain culture of gentility. Hamed’s directorial debut is enchanting and riveting, and possibly the best Arab film in decades.”—Joumane Chahine, Film Comment, Jan/Feb 07