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Film Comment Selects Program 2004

The 2004 installment of our annual Film Comment Selects series offers a lively collection of films from the last year championed by our writers, many of them either overlooked or underrated, from all around the globe, all of them New York premieres. The second week of the series is a near-complete retrospective of the work of the defiantly unclassifiable French filmmaker Jean-Claude Brisseau, whose unique body of work is celebrated by Frédéric Bonnaud in our Jan/Feb issue. We are also including a special screening of THE WORLD'S GREATEST SINNER, the only movie ever directed by the late, great Timothy Carey, one of the most talented and truly iconoclastic actors ever to walk in front of a camera.

Thanks to Ryan Werner, Richard Abramowitz, Wendy Lidell, Romeo Carey, Richard Lorber & Karen Cooper. 

Special thanks to HBO Films for hosting the opening night reception.

SPECIAL PREVIEW: GREENDALE
Bernard Shakey (aka Neil Young), U.S., 2003; 83m
Part family saga, part political protest and every inch an idiosyncratic labor of love, rock musician Neil Young's sui generis adaptation of his latest album centers on three generations of a small-town family whose lives are changed forever when one of them kills a cop in a moment of weakness (the Devil made him do it). Young, directing under his usual cinematic nom de guerre "Bernard Shakey," employs the most simple of means for this "musical novel": made in his own backyard on the northern California coastline with a cast of friends, family, and local nonprofessionals, it's shot (by Young himself) on Super 8, producing a soft, diffuse visual texture that gives everything a personal, handcrafted touch. Unfashionably sincere and heartfelt, it's a film of contradictions: a post-9/11 celebration of simple American values (the idealism of youth, the everyday heroism of cops and firefighters) that takes aim at the corporate and media excesses and police-state paranoia of the Bush era, weaving images of John Ashcroft and Osama Bin Laden into its montage. Rough-hewn, plain-spoken and direct, it was nevertheless inspired by the example of Lars von Trier's Dancer in the Dark—and might just be the antidote to his forthcoming Dogville—Gavin Smith
Thurs Feb 12: 8:30; Fri Feb 13 : 8*.
*Neil Young will be present for intro and Q & A for the Feb 13th screening only.

ALL TOMORROW'S PARTIES
Yu Lik-wai, China, 2003; 95m
Director Yu Lik-wai (better known as Jia Zhang-ke's cameraman) follows up his Love Will Tear Us Apart with this just as visually entrancing but far bolder film. Parties is basically a series of extended vignettes of life in a dystopian near-future, in which some kind of totalitarian government has returned to China. Digitally shot on the grimmest post-industrial landscapes imaginable, it's filled with one electrifying composition after another, some digitally altered with painterly precision. Note to Yu: how about calling your third film "Virginia Plain," or maybe "At Home He's a Tourist"? —Kent Jones 
Fri Feb 13: 1:30; Thurs Feb 19: 2

NO REST FOR THE BRAVE
Alain Guiraudie, France, 2003; 104m
"An eccentric, gorgeous coming-of-age film that looks like late-Sixties Godard crossed with Vermeer. Terrified that his dreams will kill him, the sleep-deprived adolescent hero enters a fugue state where narratives collide and break off, and characters who are massacred in one scene turn up hale and hearty in the next. But the film is more than a surreal romp through the liminal. Having tested his manhood in fantasy, the hero must come to terms with the dilemma of the working class in a collapsing economy that offers little hope for a better life. Guiraudie is a daredevil filmmaker, and his film was the find of Cannes 2003." —Amy Taubin, Film Comment, July/Aug 2003 Fri Feb 13: 3:30; Mon Feb 16: 8:15

THE GRUDGE / JU-ON
Takashi Shimizu, Japan, 2002; 92m
"The latest J-horror sensation, THE GRUDGE is a amazingly sustained structural exercise in the organization of tension and release, and like Ring, its scares build out of an atmosphere of creeping dread rather than gross-out/splatter tactics. A house, haunted by a woman, her child, and the husband who murdered them before killing himself, is the primary locus for a dozen interconnected but essentially self-contained chapters in which an assortment of people (the house's latest occupants, their relatives and friends, social workers, police) come to harrowing ends. The film's peculiar genius is that it relentlessly mines every possibility of scaring the audience that its confined settings and circumscribed scenario can yield, running multiple variations on a single idea with unbelievably terrifying results." Gavin Smith, Film Comment, Nov/Dec 2003
Fri Feb 13: 6

LOS ANGELES PLAYS ITSELF
Thom Andersen, U.S., 2003, digital; 169m "Thom Andersen's epic essay on Los Angeles starts out as a poignant account of the intertwined histories of the city and Hollywood, gracefully debunking certain myths and misunderstandings as it proceeds. But, via ruminations on Californian modernist architecture and its weird misuse by the La-la-land establishment, it develops into a reflection on post-New Hollywood political defeatism and ultimately a paean to cinematic realism, realpolitik, and a sense of collective humanism. For me the most dignified film of 2003, and a true work of the Left." Olaf Möller 
Sat Feb 14: 1:30

LOS ANGELES PLAYS ITSELF will open at Film Forum in the summer of 2004.

THE WORLD'S GREATEST SINNER
Timothy Carey, U.S., 1962; 75m
Remember the spastic guy who assassinates the racehorse in Kubrick's The Killing? Or the doomed soldier who kills the cockroach in Paths of Glory? That would be the late, great Tim Carey, one of the most feared—and fired—character actors of all time. What most people don't know is that he also wrote, produced, and directed this psychotic treatise on power, corruption, and the infinity that lies within a communion wafer. After legally changing his name to God—and amassing a small army of deluded devotees—Carey's antihero derails into a morass of existential dread. A primitive but authentic American indie—the missing link between Ed Wood and John Cassavetes? "Possibly the most bizarre vanity-cum-auteur vehicle on record." Grover Lewis, Film Comment, Jan/Feb 2004 
Sat Feb 14: 5

SPECIAL PREVIEW: BRIGHT FUTURE
Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Japan, 2003; 92m
Japanese cinema leading light Kiyoshi Kurosawa's improbably tender and hopeful story of alter egos, alienation, and anarchic acts of social defiance could almost be a reply to Fight Club. Charting a course away from genre and into the deceptive waters of psychodrama, Kurosawa's first digital film, and his most cryptic and pared down work to date, is about an aimless twentysomething, Yuji (Joe Odagiri), who is drawn into the orbit of enigmatic factory co-worker Mamoru (Todanabu Asano). When his self-appointed mentor inexplicably murders their boss and his family and commits suicide in prison, Yuji inherits not only his friend's lethal pet jellyfish but also his relationship with his estranged father. Kurosawa's trademark opaque minimalist visuals and unique attunement to social disconnect and urban periphery become the ideal setting for a meditation on the need to adapt to the new environment of the 21st-century. 
Sat Feb 14: 7

SPECIAL PREVIEW: STRAYED / LES ÉGARÉS 
André Téchiné, France, 2003; 95m
"Seeking refuge from the Germans at the beginning of the Occupation, Odile (Emmanuelle Béart), a Parisian bourgeoise with two children in tow, reluctantly falls in love with Yvan (Gaspard Ulliel), a delinquent, illiterate youth whose well-developed survival skills soon make him indispensable. They travel into the back country and break into an empty house, and become a makeshift, uneasy family unit, sequestered in a kind of desert island paradise, cut off from the outside world. Having set up this self-contained world, Téchiné plays out the dynamics of class and sexuality, with an economy and delicacy that have by now become second nature." Gavin Smith, Film Comment , July/August 2003
Sat Feb 14: 9

THE STORY OF MARIE AND JULIEN / L'HISTOIRE DE MARIE ET JULIEN
Jacques Rivette, France, 2003; 150m
"Rivette's film transforms the romance between an elusive, enigmatic femme and her solitary, stolid beau into a circuitous pas de deux of redemption and second chances for two lost souls in search of 'deliverance'. Constructed from MacGuffins (chance encounters, 'clues,' an undermotivated blackmail subplot), the narrative is at once simple (a man and a woman) and opaque (things are not what they seem). Rivette appears to be revisiting the 'trance' mode of Céline and Julie Go Boating and Le Pont du Nord, but what's most remarkable about the film is how moving it is finally, and how much is at stake after all." Gavin Smith, Film Comment, Nov/Dec 2003
Sun Feb 15: 1:30; Wed Feb 18: 8; Fri Feb 20: 3:10

THE MAGIC GLOVES
Martin Rejtman, Argentina, 2003; 90m

"The film spins the tale of a 35-year-old gypsy cab driver confronting loss, crisis, and separation while remaining ever faithful to his beloved car and sole object of desire. Rejtman's keen eye for the absurd focuses on addiction and depression, on the crisis of middle age, on connections made and missed—all permeated by deep melancholia. The tight script and outstanding ensemble acting draw a wonderously poignant portrait of paralysis and miscommunication in present-day Buenos Aires. Its unflinching view of the state of things there—here and now—is subversively funny. It is a near masterpiece." Pablo Suárez, Film Comment, Sept/Oct 2003
Sun Feb 15: 4:30; Wed Feb 18: 1:30 & 6

PLAYING IN THE COMPANY OF MEN / EN JOUANT DANS LA COMPAGNIE DES HOMMES
Arnaud Desplechin, France, 2003; 118m
In many ways a departure, Arnaud Desplechin's latest is based on a play by British writer Edward Bond about a family business dynasty coming undone. Bond writes on a vast, Shakespearean scale, putting racism, Oedipal and class conflicts into the mix. Rather than simplify this tough, thorny material, Desplechin dives in headfirst, working in quick, bold strokes: his handheld camera seems to be scuttling everywhere, picking up the smallest nuance of every violent exchange and every backroom power shift. Inspired by Al Pacino's Looking for Richard, the director also takes us in and out of his own story, filming his actors in rehearsal and even throwing in a scene from Hamlet to broaden the women's roles. This is one rough, tough movie, with moments you will never forget. Kent Jones
Sun Feb 15: 6:30; Tue Feb 17: 1; Wed Feb 18: 3:30

RIPLEY'S GAME
Liliana Cavani, Italy, 2002; 110m
"Numerous directors have taken on Highsmith's enigmatic and contrary antihero, Tom Ripley. Liliana Cavani has crafted the most enjoyable and subtly textured Ripley film sincePurple Noon. From the sudden grisly anarchy of its opening sequence, RIPLEY'S GAME yanks the viewer into the queasy, hyperkinetic ambience that Highsmith so uniquely evoked in literature, that quality of hungover propulsion through progressively uglier complications, involving endless trains and airports and implacable adversaries, alternating with a silken, strangely nauseating comfort zone of connoisseurship and high culture accoutrements. John Malkovich plays Ripley a good deal weirder than his predecessors; what has always been absent from other attempts at the character—the element of abrupt, obscene, psychotic violence experienced as pleasure—Malkovich incarnates to stupefying perfection." Gary Indiana, Film Comment, Nov/Dec 2003
Sun Feb 15: 9; Thurs Feb 19: 4; Fri Feb 20: 1

GAMBLING, GODS AND LSD
Peter Mettler, Switzerland/Canada, 2002; 180m
Peter Mettler's epic, meditative essay-cum-documentary-cum-unclassifiable whatsit takes on a vast subject: the search for transcendence, from North America to Switzerland to India. As you watch Mettler find the mystical/visual link between a desert drive glimpsed through a rain-flecked windshield, excited spectators eagerly awaiting the destruction of a Las Vegas hotel, an old friend with a drug-softened brain talking about being "slain in the spirit," an ethereal climb through the Swiss Alps, a camera-shy boy running through a grove of trees by the Ganges, you get the sense that Mettler could teach the Dalai Lama a thing or two about patience. He took years to edit his material, and there's not a minute of this serene, intense movie that doesn't feel organic, arrived at rather than assumed.- Kent Jones 
Mon Feb 16: 1; Fri Feb 20: 8

SHANGHAI PANIC
Andrew Cheng, China, 2001, digital; 87m
This first feature from new Sixth Generation sensation Andrew Cheng, a low-budget, underground DV docu-drama about alienated Shanghai youth, was inspired by the writings of banned bad-girl novelist Mian Mian, who appears in the film with several of her cohorts, more or less playing themselves. "The film strikes a fine balance between loose improvisation and fidelity to the original stories." Bérénice Reynaud, Film Comment, Sept/Oct 2003
Mon Feb 16: 4:30

WELCOME TO DESTINATION SHANGHAI
Andrew Cheng, China, 2003, 86m
With his second film, "Cheng takes a giant leap forward. Visually, he reworks his digital images to create a dark, oneiric, haunting universe of lonely lives on the margins…. The narrative consists of small, loosely connected vignettes, filmed in minimalist style and in extremely long takes…. Young people with neither talent nor prospects sell their bodies, winding up dead on the waterfront or running naked through a public park…. Far removed from the romantic vision of the Shanghai underworld offered by Suzhou River, Cheng's film reveals a new, original vision of China's urban nightmare." —Bérénice Reynaud, Film Comment, Sept/Oct 2003.
Mon Feb 16: 6:30; Fri Feb 20: 6

THE FIVE OBSTRUCTIONS
Lars von Trier & Jorgen Leth, Denmark, 2003; 90m
In an act of playful intellectual torture, Lars von Trier has his hero, the great Danish filmmaker Jorgen Leth, remake his classic 1967 short, The Perfect Human, five times with five different imposed rules. What emerges is a unique form of dual biography—two ornery artists dissecting each other. Over the years, The Perfect Human "has become an ur-form or koan from which Trier has worked on several occasions, and The Five Obstructions is the latest step in its development. It refracts the original film, and, at the same time, represents a five-step program of Trierian self-annihilation." Olaf Möller, Film Comment, Nov/Dec 2003
Thurs Feb 19: 9
THE FIVE OBSTRUCTIONS will open at Film Forum in 2004. 

JEAN-CLAUDE BRISSEAU: ANTI SOCIAL REALIST
A former schoolteacher, Jean-Claude Brisseau is the most atypical of great French filmmakers. His themes, his career, his influences, his personality all conspire to make him truly marginal. He belongs to none of French cinema's "families." He's a lone wolf, and pays a high price for his independence. His integrity and meticulousness scare off producers, and each of his 10 films was the result of a fierce struggle. Frederic Bonnaud, Film Comment, Jan/Feb 2004 

SPECIAL PREVIEW: SECRET THINGS / CHOSES SECRETES
France, 2002; 115m
A certain tendency in Gallic cinema follows the following formula: Beautiful women, rampant male misogyny, and then a hyperbolic resolution often involving mythological source material. Jean-Claude Brisseau's latest affront to sense and sensibility is currently the dominant case study. (Cahiers du Cinéma proclaimed it 2002's Film of the Year.) Two lubricious women climb the corporate ladder wielding sex as a weapon. They eventually collide with a man more depraved than they are. Everything goes baroque. "A brilliant reflection upon the degraded state of the contemporary imagination." —Frédéric Bonnaud, Film Comment, Jan/Feb 2004
Tue Feb 17: 9 

WHITE WEDDING / NOCHE BLANCHE 
1989; 92m
Vanessa Paradis made her memorable debut in this dark and pessimistic account of the vacuous relationship between Mathilde (Paradis), an intelligent yet troubled 17-year-old, and François (Bruno Crémer), a 50-year-old philosophy teacher. To ensure that the girl doesn't continue to fall under the influence of her suicidal mother, her father has sent her away to live alone—as a result, she habitually plays truant. François takes her side and defends her to the school board, so that she will not be expelled. Soon, the two are involved in a passionate affair, much to the chagrin of François's suspicious wife, Catherine (Ludmila Mikael). Ultimately Brisseau's film is "another pure melodrama dealing with the difficulty of communication and the impossibility of achieving true romantic fusion between a man and a woman." —Frédéric Bonnaud
Sat Feb 21: 5 & 9:15; Wed Feb 25: 5:10

THE BLACK ANGEL / L'ANGE NOIR
1994; 99m
A French noir brimming with high style and featuring singer Sylvie Vartan as the archetypal blond femme fatale. Married to a respectable magistrate (Michel Piccoli), she murders a gangster she claims tried to rape her. As her lawyer, Tcheky Karyo doesn't have a chance against this dark angel's wiles even as he uncovers her sordid past as an ex-hooker, porn-movie queen, and mistress of the deceased hood. "This explosive cocktail produces a unique and proud film, a grand slam from a filmmaker still holding onto the cinema of his masters and his own fantasies on the one hand and his anger toward an all-too-well-established social order on the other, the former shaping and illuminating the latter." Frédéric Bonnaud
Sat Feb 21: 7; Tue Feb 24: 3

A BRUTAL GAME / UN JEU BRUTAL
1983; 89m
Brisseau focuses on the fascinating juxtaposition between a serial child killer descending into madness and the young handicapped daughter he is attempting to raise. Tessier (Bruno Crémer), a renowned biologist, decides to stop work to take care of his rebellious offspring Isabelle (Emmanuelle Debever). Formerly institutionalized, Isabelle is finally coming out of her shell, while her father is simultaneously retreating from all reality. The disturbing parallel narrative is aided in no small part by Brisseau's rich and stylized mise-en-scène, which helps to create a deeply unsettling atmosphere through a heightened awareness of both the concrete and the metaphysical.
Sun Feb 22: 2; Thurs Feb 26: 5 & 9

CÉLINE
1992; 90m
Saturated in a kind of strangely supernatural light, this lovely and provocative film seems to break loose from time entirely to fall into dream. On the heels of a family crisis, 20-year-old Céline (Isabelle Pasco) is cast out to find her own way. Nearly suicidal, sitting on a sidewalk in the pouring rain, this lost soul is rescued by Geneviève (Lisa Hérédia), a nurse. Eventually, the two take up residence in the country, where Céline loses herself in intense sessions of meditation—that's when strange phenomena begin to affect her. Brisseau's calm camera-eye captures a mysterious transfer of energy between the two women, healer and visionary, who may be aspects of the same mystical force.
Sun Feb 22: 4; Tue Feb 24: 1; Thurs Feb 26: 7

WORKERS FOR THE GOOD LORD / LES SAVATES DU BON DIEU
1994; 99m
Boosted by almost unanimously enthusiastic reviews, this unapologetically Marxist melodrama, alternately tender and visceral, is considered one of Brisseau's most daring, ambitious films. Fred (Stanislas Merhar) and Elodie (Coralie Revel), a young couple with a small daughter, live in an impoverished section of Saint-Etienne, scraping to make ends meet. Tiring of Fred's irresponsible ways, Elodie leaves, but Fred is determined to track her down. "This delirious philosophical epic fable, with its abrupt shifts in rhythm and tone, featuring an African shaman who performs miracles, enabled Brisseau to finally shake off his reputation as merely a socially themed, naturalistic filmmaker." Frédéric Bonnaud
Sun Feb 22: 6; Wed Feb 25: 3 & 9

SOUND AND FURY
1987; 95m 
Former teacher Brisseau's real-life experiences inspired this powerful film, a precursor to La Haine: tough, urgent, yet poetic, it explores the loneliness and lack of affection in the lives of two teenagers—innocents in the jungle of high-rises and savage school gangs. The film marked Brisseau as a socially conscious filmmaker, "committed to revealing the violence and exclusionary politics at work in the projects and the dead-end life of the underclass. But that perception ignored the fantasy elements, surreal touches, and strong sense of the grotesque that constantly disturb the film's apparent naturalism, much like in Buñuel's Los Olvidados." Frédéric Bonnaud 

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