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Film Comment Selects Program 2006

A smorgasbord of provocative and under-appreciated films from around the world including Mexico, Iran, China, Japan, Kyrgyzstan, Austria, Greece, Thailand and Sri Lanka. From new filmmakers Vimukthi Jayasundara and Michael Glawogger to auteurs Stanley Kwan and Raul Ruiz this series runs the gamut from uber-cult to ultra-cool. 

On Wednesday February 15 at 6:30pm, the opening night of the series, photographer William Eggleston will make a rare appearance at the NY premiere of his film Stranded in Canton. Eggleston and co-director Robert Gordon will participate in a Q&A immediately following the screening. At a reception following the Q&A, Eggleston will be signing two of his books, 2 1/4 and the perennial classic, William Eggleston’s Guide, made available for purchase by the International Center of Photography. Stella Artois® beer, Gourmet Garage hors d’oeuvres, and other goodies will be served at the reception. 

The series concludes with a retrospective sidebar of one of America's greatest filmmakers, Elaine May. And on Sunday, February 26 at 7pm May will appear on stage at the Walter Reade Theater.

Film Comment Selects is sponsored by Stella Artois®

SPOTLIGHT ON RAUL RUIZ: Ce Jour-là / That Day
Raul Ruiz, Switzerland, 2003; 105m
"Take an Agatha Christie-esque Ten Little Indians premise, turn it on its head, and then shake it very hard, up, down, and sideways. Facing financial difficulties, industrialist and family patriarch Michel Piccoli conspires to bump off his guileless, harmlessly mad daughter (Elsa Zylberstein), heir to his wife's vast fortune, by arranging for the escape of a psychotic killer (Bernard Giraudeau) confined in a nearby asylum. The predominant tone is pure farce, with the bodies piling up while the heroine remains blissfully oblivious, and the film turns on Zylberstein and Giraudeau's truly hyperbolic performances as two insane innocents. The narrative may take place 'in the near future' but its premise revisits Ruiz's political primal scene, replaying the Chilean coup d'etat as slapstick." —Gavin Smith, Film Comment Jul/Aug 03


SPOTLIGHT ON RAUL RUIZ: Le Domaine perdu / The Lost Domain
Raul Ruiz, France, 2004; 106m
Ruiz's follow-up rumination on time, mortality and longing for wholeness. Chilean Max (played, beautifully, at 18, 20 and 71 by Grégoire Colin, and at 51 by his father, Christian Colin) retains a lifelong vision of his hero, a French aviator named Antoine (François Cluzet, who gives Ruiz exactly the right tone of dazed wonderment), who keeps finding himself behind the controls of an airplane without remembering how to operate it—and who is also, in some way, the hero of the classic French novel Les Grandes Meaulnes. This sad, mysterious and somewhat noble film, which shifts between 1930s and 1970s Chile and England during WWII, is a triumph of makeshift invention, and it sustains its delicately sad tone from beginning to end. And it was all shot in Romania. —Kent Jones


Spotlight on Raul Ruiz: Diás de Campo / Days in the Country
Raul Ruiz, Chile, 2004; 89m
Ruiz's first Chilean feature in 30 years offers a kind of crystallization of his preoccupation with time "as a dimension... of the cinematic medium itself" (Maxime Renaudin). Time not as a succession but an accumulation of sensations, events, memories, feelings. Don Federico (Marcial Edwards) is trying to write his novel and finally seeing it written for him in his country estate, where he hears news reports from the radio of his own death, crosses paths with his younger and older self, and re-experiences the death and resurrection of his mother. Everything in this amber-toned environment is aged, worn by time, and eternally present. Diás de campo is a fugue composition, offering a melancholy interaction with time itself. —Kent Jones


Everlasting Regret
Stanley Kwan, China/Hong Kong, 2005; 108m
"A discreet saga unfolding over some 30 years, Everlasting Regret is another of Kwan's takes on the 'women's picture,' following the romantic fortunes of a Shanghai beauty queen (Sammi Cheng) from the postwar era to the advent of communism to the Cultural Revolution and drawing to a close at the dawn of China's economic modernization in the early Eighties. Kwan avoids melodrama and sentimentality as he focuses in, ever more tightly, on the unfolding predicament of his heroine. As ever, he's aided by the exquisite stylization of William Chang's production design, which reinforces the sense of claustrophobia and entrapment." —Gavin Smith, Film Comment Nov/Dec 05


Stranded in Canton
William Eggleston, U.S., 1974/2005; 76m
More than 30 years ago, America's greatest living photographer, William Eggleston, shot 30 hours of video in and around Memphis, using a modified Sony Porta-pak, a cumbersome black-and-white camera that recorded on reel-to-reel half-inch videotape. Eggleston and Robert Gordon recently distilled this footage into a 77-minute time capsule. It is an extraordinary and deeply personal vision of the Memphis demimonde, filmed in the city's bars and streets. "Stranded in Canton makes us aware of the chaos outside the frame of every Eggleston photograph. One might venture, on the evidence of this swerving, lurching, ghostly video diary that, for Eggleston, time is chaos, against which still images and the rhythms of music are two forms of defense... As the ethnographer of that mysterious region called the South, he homes in on art and artifacts, on family gatherings where familiarity and hostility are inseparable, on geeks biting the heads off chickens, on juke-joint philosophers and drag queens, on musicians amateur and professional, black and white—all of them grooving on their own sounds." —Amy Taubin, Film Comment online exclusive, Sept 05


Battle in Heaven
Carlos Reygadas, Mexico, 2005; 120m
"Or more to the point: battle in Cannes. Opening with a scene not suitable for recapitulation in this calendar, Carlos Reygadas's follow-up to Japon was the designated scandal of last year's all-important French film festival. Marcos, a general's chauffeur, has a très-bizarre relationship with his employer's daughter, who gets her kicks working as high-class prostitute. Marcos and his wife are also up to their necks in trouble after their child-abduction scheme goes horribly wrong. This grotesque and increasingly surreal vision of contemporary Mexico, with its extremes of poverty and wealth, is like a Bosch painting come to life. Voyeuristic provocation or compassionate portrait of fallen humanity? You decide. "Reygadas exercises a consciously popular lyricism, ultimately closer to Sergio Leone than Andrei Tarkovsky. The resulting beauty approaches bad taste... but is real beauty ever pure?" —Frédéric Bonnaud, Film Comment Jan/Feb 06


Shanghai Dreams
Wang Xiaoshuai, China, 2005; 119m
"This quietly devastating coming-of-age story set in a steel town in Eighties rural China deservedly won the Cannes Film Festival Jury Prize and marks a return to form for Wang, whose 1993 The Days helped kick off the Sixth Generation movement. The protagonist of Dreams is high-school student Qinghong (newcomer Gao Yuanyuan in an amazing performance). Her embittered Shanghai-born parents relocated to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution, to aid China's march of industrial progress. Now disillusioned, they yearn to return to the city. Qinghong's authoritarian father therefore forbids her budding romance with a shy young factory-worker, wanting a better life for his daughter via university entrance. But times are changing, youthful rebellion is in the air, and the stage is set for tragedy. Wang gives us fascinating glimpses of Chinese youth culture back in the day and tacit class divisions between the proletarian locals and the town's discontented urban exiles. His delicate handling and visual intelligence neatly sidestep both melodrama and the clichés of Sixth Generation dingy realism, while retaining a vivid sense of milieu and landscape." —Gavin Smith, Film Comment Jul/Aug 05


One Night
Niki Karimi, Iran, 2005; 99m
"A young Tehran office worker arrives home one evening only to have her mother insist that she sleep elsewhere that night. She leaves. Iranian bus service being at best infrequent, she starts to walk, but eventually accepts a ride from a passing motorist. A woman alone on the streets after dark in this country is by definition suspicious, so the driver subjects her to an interrogation. The rest of the film is made up of a series of rides with different men. The "car film" is a staple of Iranian cinema, yet in actress-turned-director Karimi's film it takes on new life.One Night begins as a story with a well-defined goal and trajectory, but gradually the plot gets overwhelmed by the experience of the journey. After all we've seen and heard, the city will never be the same." —Richard Peña, Film CommentJul/Aug 05


Eli, Eli, Lema Sabachtani?
Shinji Aoyama, Japan, 2005; 107m
"For those who have never read the New Testament in Aramaic, the title of the film allegedly reiterates Jesus' final words as he hung upon the cross. The latest film from the director of 2000's Eureka is an offbeat, playful riff on viral-apocalypse sci-fi. It's 2015, and Japan is in the grip of a 'the lemming syndrome,' a disease that induces suicidal impulses in its victims. Two experimental musicians (Tadanobu Asano and Masaya Nakahara) may be have found the key to a cure. They believe that the ambient location sounds they record and process into ear-filling feedback loops destroy the virus—or do they feed it? The film has a soundtrack that rivals my memories of early Glenn Branca symphonies, and Aoyama's vast, desolate landscape imagery is open enough to accommodate the din. —Amy Taubin, Film Comment Jul/Aug 05 


SARATAN
Ernest Abdyshaparov, Kyrgyzstan, 2005; 102m

"In a remote Kyrgyzstan village nothing is quite right. An oppressive sense of ennui fills the air as the locals, about a decade into their Central Asian independence, are having trouble coming to grips with their post-Soviet condition. The bureaucracy has become localized, money has evaporated, and the resident mullah can't seem to get it together to make it to morning prayer. But guess what? This one's a comedy. Very funny, very poignant, and at times filled with an ethereal spirit, it's the kind of genuine artistic anomaly that could have easily slipped beneath the radar. Saratan was the grand-prize winner at the 5th annual Marrakech Film Festival." —Chris Chang, Film Comment Jan/Feb 06


WORKINGMAN'S DEATH
Michael Glawogger, Austria, 2005; 122m
When you see what the workers in this globetrotting documentary have to do to make a living, you'll think twice next time you start complaining about your lousy job. Consisting of "Five Pictures of Work in the 21st Century," plus a final coda in Germany, Glawogger's stunning filmmaking feat grapples up close with the reality (and surreality) of manual labor. Glawogger descends into the abyss of an abandoned Ukrainian mine with unemployed miners scavenging for coal; tags along with Indonesian bearers hauling loads of sulphur on foot down the slopes of a volcano in East Java; takes in the frenzied cyclic activity of an open-air slaughterhouse in Nigeria; spends time with Pakistani ship breakers tearing apart a beached oil tanker for scrap metal; and interviews steelworkers in China. Mesmerizing, humbling, and guaranteed to make Werner Herzog green with envy. 


ISOLATION
Billy O'Brien, U.K./Ireland, 2005; 95m
Horror is so rarely played straight these days—or made suitable for thinking adults—that it's bracing to get such a direct dose of the dark stuff. First-time director Billy O'Brien doesn't waste any time making his intentions clear, setting us up for what's to come from the first scene. While trying to birth a calf, farmer John Lynch discovers that there's something 'weird and pissed off' inside his cow. From this ominous opening O'Brien loses all kinds of unpleasantness upon the desolate Irish countryside, mixing strains of science fiction and Cronenberg-style biological panic in a relentless horror film that never gets distracted from the business at hand. —David Cox 

KINETTA
Yorgos Lanthimos, Greece, 2005; 95m
"Following a spate of murders in an off-season resort town, a plainclothes cop, a photo-store clerk, and a hotel maid come together to stage a series of outlandish murder re-enactments. Their attention to detail is exhaustive, their efforts are obsessive, but the scientific purpose is... questionable. And a distinct air of perversity hangs over this nameless trio's cryptic "performances." Imagine a minimalist anti-CSI with almost no dialogue, an elliptical narrative and the most vertiginous, twitchy handheld camerawork since the Dardenne Brothers' Rosetta and you're in the right ballpark. Lanthimos is a talent to watch." —Gavin Smith, Film Comment Nov/Dec 05 


Bashing
Masahiro Kobayashi, Japan, 2005; 82m
"In this bracing, relentless portrait of social persecution, a young female humanitarian aid worker returns to Japan after being held hostage in Iraq. But instead of being celebrated for her bravery, she is excoriated for embarrassing her country. Her boyfriend deserts her, her father and mother lose their jobs, and that's not the end of it. Kobayashi's style is as obdurate as his heroine, played by the impressively defiant Fusako Urabe" —Amy Taubin, Film Comment Jul/Aug 05 


Digital Short Films by Three Filmmakers
Masahiro Kobayashi, Japan, 2005; 82m
For the past five years the Jeonju International Film Festival in Korea has financed a unique ongoing project in which a trio of notable up-and-coming Asian filmmakers are invited to make a short film with digital technology and total creative freedom. The completed films are then assembled in an omnibus format. The latest edition features Japanese cult filmmaker Tsukamoto's Haze, an experiment in uncanny claustrophobia; Magician(s) by Korea's Song, in which the boundary between past and present dissolves during a reunion of the former members of a rock band; and Wordly Desires, in which Tropical Malady director Apichatpong Weerasethakul returns to the jungle for a film within a film about the shooting of a love story by day and a music video by night. 


The Forsaken Land
Vimukthi Jayasundara, Sri Lanka, 2005; 108m 
"From its opening images of a bare landscape and a dilapidated house, The Forsaken Land is unmistakably the work of someone in complete control of his material. This Cannes prizewinner for first feature is a spare, poetically fragmented, and haunting look at life in the Sri Lankan hinterlands in the aftermath of decades of brutal civil war, where the specter of violence still stalks the land. The central trio—a home guardsman, his disaffected young wife and his older sister—live uneasily together at a lonely outpost, frozen in a state of post-traumatic limbo that mirrors their nation's shattered psyche. The film's pervasive sense of hopelessness and disconnection, with its pointless brutality, desperate sexual interludes, and unarticulated domestic tensions, unforgettably conveys the way in which war blights the lives of all involved long after the fighting ends." —Gavin Smith, Film Comment Jul/Aug 05 

Loft
Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Japan, 2005; 115m
The cult director of Pulse and Cure returns to the horror genre for this quietly creepy ghost story. After a bout of vomiting up mud in her agent's office, successful novelist Reiko (Miki Nakatani) moves into a remote country house to overcome writer's block and make the deadline for her next book. Traces of the house's previous occupant are all around—including the manuscript for a novel. But Reiko is soon distracted by the goings-on in the house next door, where a university research scientist (Etsushi Toyokawa) is studying a thousand-year-old mummified corpse exhumed from a nearby swamp. After agreeing to store the mummy in her house overnight so that the researcher can conceal his activities from visiting colleagues, Reiko is visited by an apparition—is it the house's previous occupant, the mummy's spirit, or both? Seemingly more straightforward than Kurosawa's previous genre outings, Loft is strong on atmosphere and mounting unease, but as usual Kurosawa has a few improbable twists up his sleeve. 


Mountain Patrol: Kekexili
Lu Chuan, China/U.S., 2004; 90m
This China/U.S. co-production is based on a true story about a band of volunteer environmentalists desperately trying to defend the lives (and commercially lucrative pelts) of the endangered Himalayan antelope. "The narrative tension hinges upon the arrival of a journalist who has come to meet the leader of the animal activists. He then follows him and his band of sometimes merry men as they track the poacher's elusive ringleader—an Ahab-like quest that has been going on for years. This nature-versus-man-versus-everything story, rendered in jaw-dropping 'scope, reaches a climax as savage (and ineffable) as the landscape itself." —Chris Chang, Film Comment Jan/Feb 06 


FOCUS ON ELAINE MAY
She was one half of a legendary 60s comedy team. She's a brilliant comic actress (California SuiteSmall Time Crooks). She's a playwright and a screenwriter (Heaven Can WaitThe Birdcage). Most mysteriously, she's a member of that exclusive secret society of script doctors (TootsieReds). But the multitalented Elaine May is above all the director of four masterpieces: A New Leaf, in which she also starred opposite Walter Matthau; the devastatingly funny Neil Simon adaptation The Heartbreak Kid; the legendary Mikey and Nicky, starring John Cassavetes and Peter Falk; and the wondrous and unfairly maligned Ishtar, co-starring Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman. Join us to meet a genius of modern American comedy, here in person to talk about her career.

SPECIAL EVENT: An Evening with Elaine May
An intimate conversation between Mike Nichols and Elaine May about May's directorial career preceded by a screening of Ishtar. Read the transcript.

Please Note: There is a limit of TWO [2] tickets per customer to this special event. Ticket prices: $75 FSLC members, $85 non-members.

ISHTAR
1987; 107m
Judged a debacle of world-historical dimensions and called "a lifeless, massive, lumbering exercise in failed comedy" by Roger Ebert, Elaine May's satire was so rarefied that it went all but unnoticed. Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty are Rogers and Clarke, a transcendentally awful musical comedy team who find inspiration in the unlikeliest sources. Their stalwart manager (Jack Weston) secures them a hotel gig in the fictional nation of Ishtar, where they are quickly embroiled in the local revolution when they fall for a local revolutionary (Isabelle Adjani). Every comic moment, from the musical numbers to the blind camel to the vultures arriving "on spec," is perfectly realized. With Charles Grodin as the CIA agent who enlists one of the boys, and rationalizes the low salary with this upbeat qualification: "You can't really put a price on democracy, can you?


A NEW LEAF
1971; 102m
A New Leaf is one of the finest and funniest directorial debuts in Hollywood history. Walter Matthau, perceptively cast against type, is old-money WASP Henry Graham, who finds himself bankrupt and laments: "All I am—or was—is rich. It's all I wanted to be." May herself is Henrietta Lowell, a ditzy heiress with a passion for botany and a fondness for Mogen David Extra Heavy Malaga, in whom Henry sees his financial salvation. "Miss May's film, though contemporary, belongs oddly to what I think of as Depression Comedy," wrote Vincent Canby, who rejoiced at May's expert mixture of two of that earlier era's best comic traditions, screwball and slow burn. The film is blessed with many brilliantly funny scenes, such as the moment when Henry skewers some party guests by asking if they are "by any chance related to the Boston Hitlers," but its comic peak is a peerless bit of slapstick: the writer/director/star trying to get into and out of a nightgown on her wedding night. 


THE HEARTBREAK KID
1972; 106m 
NEW PRINT! Courtesy of Academy Film Archive

This gut-wrenching tale, about an upwardly (or outwardly) mobile New York Jewish boy (Charles Grodin) who marries within the faith only to meet the shiksa of his dreams on his Miami honeymoon, is told in the coolest manner imaginable—every perfectly observed and appointed interaction plays out so smoothly and quietly that the full impact of the story is that much more devastating when it hits you during the film's final plaintive moments. Few movies are better cast. Grodin's brilliant performance in the lead was career defining, and it was with this movie that Cybill Shepherd became the iconic 70s golden girl. And if Walter Matthau's slow burns in A New Leaf are things of rare beauty, Eddie Albert's in this movie belong in a museum. But The Heartbreak Kid wouldn't have been possible without May's daughter, Jeannie Berlin, as the haplessly gauche, grating and pitiful Lila. Few directors would dare to cast their own child in such a role, and few actresses could bring so much life to a character that is, in the end, the embodiment of bad luck. 


MIKEY AND NICKY
1976; 119m
The saga behind Mikey and Nicky is legendary—a lengthy production on the streets of Philadelphia during which a million feet of film was shot in the pursuit of spontaneously generated raw drama; 18 months in the editing room; May and Peter Falk kidnapping the footage to keep it away from prying studio execs; a botched and desultory 1976 release; and May's preferred version finally seeing the light of day a decade later. The film itself is utterly without precedent: red-hot and behaviorally alive in a way that few films can match, yet dramatically drum-tight (it's one of the few great American films that observes the unity of time principle), with a shattering, genuinely tragic conclusion. There's not a wasted moment—every exchange, every reaction, is pure gold. John Cassavetes, giving a performance that's alternately ferocious and touching and quite unlike anything he did in his own work, is Nicky, the small-timer who's embezzled money from the mob and who has a contract out on him. Falk is Mikey, his buddy of 30 years, shepherding him all the way down to the end of the road. And Ned Beatty, in one of his best roles, is the hit man. Look out for cameo appearances by legendary acting teachers Sanford Meisner and William Hickey as two Mafia bosses. 

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