FIT 728x90 Film Society of Lincoln Center

Film Comment Selects Program 2003

The magazine's editors have assembled an eclectic, cutting- edge assortment of discoveries and rediscoveries. At the core are four new films by some of French cinema's most uncompromising and radical talents—Olivier Assayas, Raúl Ruíz, Philippe Grandrieux, and Catherine Breillat—alongside work by young turks and old masters from world cinema hotbeds like China, India, and Kazakhstan. (Three films, Demonlover, La Nouvelle vie and Happy Here and Now, form a loose "Underworld Trilogy": each follows a character's descent into a shadow realm on a quest that's never quite completed.) In addition, there are a number of special programs: a tribute to the late John Frankenheimer, twinning the theatrical premiere of his final film with one of his early classics and a pair of films from the vanguard of the Thai New Wave. Both are extensions of articles that have been featured in recent issues of Film Comment—or soon will be: hence two programs of new and rediscovered Chris Marker films and videos, an appetizer for our May-June issue, which will be largely devoted to an in-depth tour through the 50-year career of this pivotal yet incompletely understood filmmaker, best known as the maker of La Jetée and Sans soleil.

11'09"01
France, 2002; 135m
The unspeakable horror of 9/11 will haunt everyone forever. This film, critically scrutinized elsewhere on the planet, makes its U.S. debut. Not all of the sentiments expressed are going to sit well with the individual viewer and there has already been some controversy about alleged anti-American sentiments—but considering it's an omnibus effort in which eleven filmmakers from eleven different countries were each commissioned to make an 11-minute and nine-second film, that's no surprise. Co-directing credits go to: Samira Makmalbaf (Iran), Claude Lelouch (France), Youssef Chahine (Egypt), Danis Tanovic (Bosnia-Herzegovina), Idriisa Ouedraogo (Burkina Faso), Ken Loach (England), Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritú (Mexico), Amos Gitai (Israel), Mira Nair (India), Sean Penn (U.S.), and Shohei Imamura (Japan).

HAPPY HERE AND NOW
Michael Almereyda, U.S., 2002; 89m
Set "a few seconds into the future," this new film by the director of Hamlet and Nadja is "a narcoleptic whodunit, part detective thriller, part low-tech sci-fi, that vibes off the same thrift-store R & B version of New Orleans Jarmusch worked in Down by Law." (Mark Olsen, Film Comment, Nov/Dec 02). A young woman (Liane Baliban) investigates the disappearance of her sister, whose trail ends on the hard drive of a laptop containing traces of an Internet relationship with somebody called Eddie.... Pitting the beguiling ambiance of New Orleans and the rich individuality of its inhabitants against the melancholy poetics and seductive disembodiment of virtual reality, this unclassifiable trip-through-the-looking-glass, featuring a typically eclectic cast (Ally Sheedy, Clarence Williams III, David Arquette), is a haunting yet playful chronicle of isolated souls searching for connection in a contemporary wilderness. And yes, there's even a little Pixelvision somewhere in the mix.

THE ROAD
Darezhan Omirbaev, Kazhakstan, 2001; 85m
Darezhan Omirbaev was rightfully judged one of the world's best filmmakers by none other than Jean-Luc Godard a few years ago. Oddly, he is all but unknown here in America. His five features are all poetic/reflective wonders, and he has an extraordinarily good eye as well as a unique sensibility, pitched between serenity and restlessness. The Road is his 8 1/2, transposed to a more reflective key. The narrative is a series of episodes in the life of a director (played by fellow director Jamshed Usmanov) who is editing his new film (based on Omirbaev's previous film, Killer). He is annoyed by his wife, flirts with his editorial assistant, fantasizes about a woman he meets in a roadside bar, and returns to the village of his childhood to bury his mother. Every episode of this soulful, finally moving film is punctuated by shots from the POV of a car going down roads, streets and highways—at once literal and metaphorical. With another fellow filmmaker, Serik Aprymov, as the brother.

COMBAT D'AMOUR EN SONGE / LOVE TORN IN DREAM
Raúl Ruiz, France/Portugal/Chile, 2000; 100m
This story about stories begins with a fake "making of" sequence, as the cast and crew of the latest Ruíz oeuvre report for duty on set, to find out exactly what sort of film they'll be making (the reason for the director's own absence is the subject of a priceless gag). The new film, we learn, will consist of fragments of several stories told in permutations determined by the procedures laid down by a medieval mystic. If this isn't enough of a shaggy-dog story, the tales themselves, acted by a cast of role-swapping thespians in assorted hats, beards and accents, involve a delirious panoply of Arabian Nights mysteries. This maze of story is as playful as Italo Calvino, as structurally adventurous as vintage Resnais, and as visually fabulous as Ruiz's early-80s Welles-inflected films, such as The Three Crowns of the Sailor (Jonathan Romney).

SEAFOOD
Wen Zhu, China, 2001; 86m
Novelist Wen Zhu's debut is a deceptively simple story about a prostitute who goes to a lonely seaside resort in winter to do away with herself, only to be stopped in her tracks by a monstrous local cop. "SEAFOOD is the bullet in the head that new Chinese cinema's been waiting for, an elusive and poetic pleasure when seen once, a deeply satisfying landslide of genre connections and narrative interconnections when seen twice, and the best self-contained double bill of the year" (Chuck Stephens).

PATH TO WAR
John Frankenheimer, U.S., 2002; 165m
For what turned out to be his final film, John Frankenheimer went back to his TV roots with this brilliantly cast and staged drama about the inner workings of the Johnson administration, and the ego-driven self-deceptions that led to the Vietnam nightmare. No other filmmaker was ever able to wring more suspense out of behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing, and at the same time maintain his political focus. With Michael Gambon in a towering performance as Johnson, Donald Sutherland as Democratic stalwart Clark Clifford, Felicity Huffman as the supernaturally patient Lady Bird Johnson, an appropriately gruff Philip Baker Hall as Everett Dirksen, Whit Stillman regular Chris Eigeman as one-time Johnson advisor Bill Moyers, and, in a strange piece of casting that pays off in the end, Alec Baldwin as Robert McNamara.

SEVEN DAYS IN MAY
John Frankenheimer, U.S., 1964; 120m
Frankenheimer threw down the political/melodramatic gauntlet with The Manchurian Candidate, and then followed through in 1964 with this white-hot thriller about a possible military takeover by a rogue general (Burt Lancaster) after a dove-ish President (Fredric March) gets his nuclear disarmament treaty through the Senate. The plot is discovered by Colonel Jiggs Casey (Kirk Douglas), who races against time to head off the coup. Based on Rod Serling's tight adaptation of the novel by Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Bailey II, SEVEN DAYS IN MAY sports an incredible supporting cast operating, like the stars, at maximum intensity: Edmund O'Brien, Ava Gardner, Martin Balsam, Andrew Duggan and the great George MacReady.

Two films made by Marker and SLON

(Société pour le lancement des Oeuvres Nouvelles), the film co-operative he founded in the aftermath of May '68:

2084

THE BATTLE OF THE TEN MILLION
France/Cuba, 1970; 58m
An absorbing and clear-eyed account of the state of the Cuban revolution in 1970, focused on Fidel Castro's failed attempt to achieve a mammoth 10-million-ton sugar harvest. Culminating with Castro's astonishing admission of defeat in front of a mass rally, the film refuses easy leftist romanticism, yet still affirms solidarity with the Cuban social revolution. "A precise and unclichéd view of the implications of revolution in South America" (Time Out).

Screening with:

2084
France, 1984; 10m
The centenary of the French trade union movement imagined by Marker from a point 100 years into the future. A small gem that anticipates the technological visions of Level Five.

THE SECRET LIVES OF DENTISTS
Alan Rudolph, U.S., 2002; 105m
The prolific and grievously underrated Alan Rudolph returns with another idiosyncratic look at the pitfalls, stumbling blocks, and blind spots in relationships between men and women. The scenario is generic: husband Campbell Scott thinks he's happily married to wife Hope Davis, until he starts suspecting she's cheating on him; paranoia gradually opens a Pandora's box of infectious germs and obnoxious imps (Denis Leary starts turning up as Scott's crude macho id, in a spoof of Fight Club). But in this Rudolph film more than any other, suffering is the name of the game and hard reality is the bottom line: like his couple, who make their living as dentists, he touches unexpectedly raw nerves, exposing a deep reservoir of regret, denial, and authentic emotional pain. And his film confirms Scott and Davis as two of the most-underappreciated talents working in American movies today.

LA NOUVELLE VIE / THE NEW LIFE
Philippe Grandrieux, France, 2002; 102m 
Like a Francis Bacon painting come to life, La Nouvelle vie is not for the fainthearted. Taking Sombre's stark, liminal visuals and claustrophobic atmosphere of sexual violence to new extremes, Grandrieux's follow-up is relentlessly brutal and punishingly voyeuristic, yet pushes its minimalist narrative to the brink of visual abstraction. Set in an unspecified but seemingly lawless Eastern European country in the aftermath of a civil war, the film depicts the sexual enslavement of a young woman, and the efforts of a young American to rescue her. Inspired by the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, the film is the cinematic equivalent of a plunge into the abyss. Its radical aesthetic might best be described as "post-traumatic realism": its pulverizing soundtrack, alternately numb and histrionic performances, and shuddering, defocalized visuals befit its depiction of unshowable (or unwatchable) atrocity and abjection and its nihilistic vision of man's animalism. It's showing on  Valentine's Day, but we don't recommend it as a date movie. Note: this film will be shown in French with no subtitles. However, it has very little dialogue and a translation will be provided.

REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS TO COME
Chris Marker & Yannick Bellon, France, 2002, video; 48m
Chris Marker's essayistic films and videos call to mind montages from 30s movies of operators busily plugging in wires and making connections. In Marker's great work, associations between images and events, between public and personal history, between feelings and ideas, fly fast and furious, and weave themselves into a poignantly thrilling historical tapestry. In Remembrance of Things to Come (has there ever been a better title for a Marker project?), the filmmaker traces the exact trajectory of feeling that led up to World War II in France. He sees that period principally through the eyes of photographer Denise Bellon, and frames the most cataclysmic event of the 20th century between portraits she took of the surrealists. If we all had history teachers as excitingly unorthodox as Marker, for whom no event—from a production of Milhaud's opera "Medea" on the eve of war to a failed attempt by Spanish Republicans to topple Franco in 1944—deserves to be forgotten, the world would be a far better place.

KEN PARK
Larry Clark & Ed Lachman, U.S., 2002; 96m
Larry Clark films can occasionally rub people the wrong way. He knows how to push certain buttons. His latest, by comparison, is more like a hot fork in the eye. It begins with a teen suicide, proceeds through a tangled web of violent familial relations and painful-to-watch sexual activity, and then concludes with a mutant catharsis. Unlike Kids or Bully, the new film (a directorial collaboration with Far From Heaven cinematographer Ed Lachman) places greater emphasis—and blame—on the parents. If you were in any way offended by the previous films, stay away from this one. But if you want a confrontation with the maddening morality of Clark, and see a film that has repulsed even the most hardcore distributor, this is your ticket. (Don't even think about bringing the kids.)

BLISSFULLY YOURS
Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand, 2001; 125m
Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul's follow-up to his Mysterious Object at Noon is even more daring, a lyrical documenting of one afternoon in the lives of a Burmese illegal immigrant, his girlfriend, and the woman who puts him up, as they escape to a pastoral idyll on a mountaintop forest clearing. "Apichatpong is at the forefront of two of contemporary cinema's most important movements: the collapsing barriers between documentary and fiction, and between art and porn.... BLISSFULLY YOURS flowers into a contemplative experience of terrific breadth and mystery" (Kent Jones, Film Comment, Jul/Aug 02).

MONRAK TRANSISTOR
Pen-ek Ratanaruang, Thailand, 2001; 115m
This affectionately cynical musical comedy is so bright with homespun emotion, barnyard profanity, spontaneous eruptions into song, and poisonous twists of fate that it might have you wondering if Billy Wilder has somehow been reborn in Bangkok. As a wedding present, Pan—a young man from a rural village who aspires to become a popular singer—gives his new wife, Sadaw, a transistor radio. Shortly thereafter he is drafted into military service, and in his absence the pregnant Sadaw listens to the radio at night, dreaming of her dulcet-voiced partner. Meanwhile Pan has gone AWOL to pursue a singing career. His big break arrives, but fate intervenes, preventing the reunion of husband and wife. A scythe to flay the body politic of modern Thailand, from its simple rural roots to its rotten urban core, Pen-ek's film is anchored by a pair of sparkling performances by Suppakorn Kitsuwan and Siriyakorn "Oom" Pukkavesa as Pan and Sadow (Chuck Stephens, Film Comment, Nov/Dec 02).

BRIEF CROSSING / BREVE TRAVERSÉE
Catherine Breillat, France, 2001; 84m
Catherine Breillat revisits the familiar territory of sex as power in this story of a teenage French boy and a middle-aged English woman who meet on an overnight ferry crossing from France to England. Gilles Guillain's performance as 16-year-old Thomas, caught between showy precociousness and open-hearted innocence, carries a film that is as awkwardly tender as it is brutal. After premiering at Venice in 2001, BRIEF CROSSING mysteriously disappeared off the radar—a must-see for all Breillat fans.

SHADOW KILL
Adoor Gopalakrishnan, India, 2002; 90m
Life can be rough when you hate your job. And the main character in Adoor Gopalakrishnan's latest film can tell you all about it. He's the town executioner in a small Indian village in the 1940s, and he doesn't have the stomach for his work. As he prepares his rope for its next victim his mind unravels in psychic turmoil. The director, influenced by the great Satyajit Ray, explores this tale of psychic pain and guilt with a multivalent array of narrative layers and sumptuous naturalist photography.

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