FIT 728x90 Film Society of Lincoln Center

Film Comment Selects Program 2008

Straight from Film Comment’s pages to the Walter Reade Theater’s screen, we’ve got two weeks of previews, films without distribution and under-recognized revivals for you to discover.

As a Valentine special, the series kicks-off with a late-night preview on February 14 of George A. Romero’s Diary of the Dead. Actress Jeanne Balibar will appear at the opening night screening on February 15 of Jacques Rivette’s newest film, The Duchess of Langeais, adapted from Honoré de Balzac’s novel "Don’t Touch the Axe" about the turbulent relationship between a French army officer (Guillaume Depardieu) and the eponymous aristocrat (Balibar) in 19th-century Paris. Crispin Glover will attend the series’ screening on February 23 of the outrageous 1992 cult comedy Rubin and Ed, about two freeloaders lost in the Utah desert while searching for a burial spot for a recently deceased cat. On closing night, February 28, Film Comment columnist Alex Cox (director of Repo Man and Sid and Nancy) will join us for a screening of his golden oldie Walker and his brand new road movie Searchers 2.0—for more info head to alexcox.com.

A new print of one of the key French films of the ‘90s, Philippe Garrel’s J’entends plus la guitare, breathes new life into this cinematic meditation on love and loss, the inaugural theatrical release from the new distribution venture, The Film Desk. Other French films in the series include: Jacques Nolot’s fearless examination of age and sexuality, Before I Forget; Olivier Assayas’ woman-on-the-run thriller Boarding Gate; as well as two entries in the recent wave of exemplary French horror films, Xavier Gen’s Frontiére(s) and Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo’s Inside.

Controversial Austrian art-film director Ulrich Seidl (Import Export), cutting-edge Hong Kong martial-arts action filmmaker Wilson Yip (Flash Point), and Germany’s Heinz Emigholz, with the latest installment in his “Architecture as Autobiography” series, Schindler’s Houses round out the slate of films by well-established filmmakers. And there are a fistful of tributes to the eclectic visions of directors Richard Fleischer, Damon Packard and Alex Cox. 

Film Comment Selects also champions the works of young and rising film artists. Director Fatih Akin presents a compelling examination of German-Turkish relations in The Edge of Heaven, winner of the Best Screenplay award at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival. Cannes’ Best Actor prizewinner Konstantin Lavronenko also appears in Andrei Zvyagintsev’s dark family drama The Banishment. Filmmaker Koen Mortier creates what Film Comment editor Gavin Smith labels “A Belgian Spinal Tap” in Ex Drummer, his visually inventive, misanthropic comedy about misfit rockers, while Dutch filmmaker Nanouk Leopold may be the series’ biggest discovery with her compelling third film, the multi-generational family drama Wolfsbergen.

As always, Film Comment’s editors and writers, fresh from their travels on the international film circuit, have handpicked an adventurous showcase of challenging and complex art cinema. Now’s your chance to see movies that may never get released in the U.S., to get the jump on some of the most exciting films of the coming year ~~ as well as to discover some underrated classics.

Film Comment Selects is sponsored by Stella Artois®

The Banishment

The Banishment
Andrei Zvyagintsev, Russia, 2007; 150m
In his visually stunning second film, Russian filmmaker Andrei Zvyagintsev builds on The Return's powerful air of brooding uncertainty, implacable patriarchal force, and impending violence with a dark family drama based on William Saroyan's short story "The Laughing Matter." A married couple and their two children arrive for a summer vacation at the husband's remote pastoral childhood home. But the family's seemingly fixed order is shattered when the wife inexplicably utters a single sentence. What follows as the demands of the husband's absolute moral code wrestle with the ambiguity of the situation creates a tense, explosive scenario tinged with Old Testament intimations. 

Before I Forget

Before I Forget
Jacques Nolot, France, 2007; 108m
An unflinching rumination on queerness, age and desire, in which 58-year-old Pierre (actor-director Nolot, a master of the slow burn) takes stock of his life in the wake of a friend's death. Nolot above all puts his body on the line, going as far into himself as he can, especially in the jaw-dropping interaction he has with one of his regular hustlers. Sex literally suffocates him now—even a blow job and a rimming are mitigated by meds and time's tide. "I've stopped doing things," Pierre says. "I sublimate." Sitting on the world's worst-looking leather couch, Pierre is dapper but unbowed and Nolot retains his status (earned with 2002's Porn Theater) as a wistful and wise commentator on the urgency of human connection. 

Boarding Gate

Boarding Gate
Olivier Assayas, France, 2007; 106m
Working on a low budget and shooting fast and loose, Olivier Assayas applies his modern sensibility to a stripped-down (in all senses of the word) B-movie setup, teaming up with Asia Argento for a woman-on-the-run thriller that travels from the world of Parisian high finance to the backstreets and skyscrapers of Hong Kong.

"If Assayas' restlessly elegant back alley travelogue is closer to Feuillade than his Irma Vep, it's because Argento is a contemporary Musidora, a woman who has learned how to operate outside the law. The film would have been an exercise in style without Argento, who injects an urgency and a flesh-and-blood reality into every scene." —Amy Taubin, Film Comment, Jul/Aug 2007

Chop Shop

Chop Shop
Ramin Bahrani, USA, 2007; 84m
Man Push Cart director Ramin Bahrani presents an unforgettable portrait of life on the margins of society, rendered with a stark, unsentimental eye and a keen sense of daily hardship. Set in the Iron Triangle in Willets Point, Queens, where scrap-metal yards and auto body shops cannibalize stolen cars for spare parts and offer no-questions-asked employment with wages paid in cash, the film follows 12-year-old Alejandro (Alejandro Polanco), who does odd jobs for a car-repair garage in exchange for a place to sleep at night. With his fierce determination to find the money to build a future for himself and his 16-year-old sister whatever it takes, Alejandro's childhood is long over. Chop Shop will have a two-week run at Film Forum starting Feb. 27. 

Container

Container
Lukas Moodysson, Sweden, 2006; 72m
For those wondering what the man behind Together and Lilya 4-ever has been up to lately. This unclassifiable and completely mesmerizing whatsit, which the Swedish director describes as "a black-and-white silent movie with sound," is the astounding answer. "I am a girl in a boy's body" confides the reedy, tremulous voice of American actress Jena Malone, recorded as if she's whispering in your ear. Her nonstop voiceover takes us on a haunting and intimate journey deep into the morbid fantasies and lurid obsessions of a celebrity-fixated mind. Meanwhile, grainy, high-contrast 16mm images track the cryptic activities of a man and a woman who explore their surroundings (an apartment, the city beyond) and sift through the artifacts of daily life as if they've descended from another planet. In this radical yet always tender experimental excursion, the container of the title just might be the human body itself—but there's a final twist that suggests a completely different meaning... 

Damon Packard

Damon Packard’s Greatest Hits
Damon Packard, USA
This compilation program is Packard unpacked—his cinematic obsessions and fetishes get free reign as he cannibalizes and recreates other people's movies in the form of trailers, making-ofs and music video montages. These deranged parodies and travesties of the b-movies that time forgot implode the distinction between irony and sincerity. Tonight's program: the trailers for Packard's unreleased elf girl sword-and-sorcery adventure Apple (92-95), his anti-CGI/George Lucas broadside Untitled Star Wars Mockumentary (04), and his magnum opus, Reflections of Evil (03) plus his classic pastiche The Early 70's Horror Trailer (02). Also on the program: Rollerboogie III (99), an Exorcist-haunted reworking of the 1979 Linda Blair film Roller Boogie; Chad's Wedding Video, a parodic behind-the-scenes making-of; Chemtrails (05), a conspiracy-theory fueled investigative report about a military mind-control program; Al's Techno Bar (05), a tour of a utopian futuristic nightclub; Lost in the Thinking (05), "a commissioned project of pure meaninglessness" that charts Packard's participation in a New York MoMA art project "The Thinking"; and last but not least, his legendary 1988 super-8 horror tour-de-force Dawn of an Evil Millennium.

Dark Matter

Dark Matter
Chen Shi-Zheng, USA, 2007; 90m 
Inspired by a horrific true story about a Chinese Ph.D. candidate who ran amok on the University of Iowa campus, this elegant debut feature by the distinguished opera director Chen Shi-Zheng premiered at Sundance three months prior to an Asian student's tragic campus killing spree in April 2007. Needless to say, the events at Virginia Tech made Dark Matter a hot potato, and distribution of this critically acclaimed festival highlight became problematic. Rising Chinese star Liu Ye is moving and convincing as a humble but brilliant student of advanced physics, Liu Xing, who makes a bumpy transition into American life with the help of a wealthy university patron (Meryl Streep) who takes him under her wing. Liu becomes a protégé of his hero, famous cosmologist Professor Jacob Reiser (Aidan Quinn), but the student's original ideas put him at odds with his mentor...

The Duchess of Langeais

The Duchess of Langeais
Jacques Rivette, France, 2007; 137m 
Set in 19th-century Paris, this adaptation of Balzac's novel Don't Touch the Axe stars Guillaume Depardieu as an army officer whose fraught, hot-and-cold courtship of a society aristocrat (Jeanne Balibar) inadvertently leads to romantic catastrophe.

"An essay on courtship as theater, and eventually on theater as cruelty.... The story of a protracted 'rehearsal' for a romance that is never consummated because one of the performers decides to abandon theater altogether. With her knowing, slyly mannered style Balibar brings her full repertoire of ironic moues, pensively delayed reactions, and that feline, quizzical delivery with its deep hothouse tones. Depardieu's intensity of purpose is commanding, but when Balibar is present, it's hard to look anywhere else." —Jonathan Romney, Film Comment, Sep/Oct 2007

Dust

Dust
Hartmut Bitomsky, Germany, 2007; 90m
An unlikely but erudite documentary about the most ordinary subject imaginable. Who knew so many people deal with dust on so many different levels and in such a variety of walks of life, from housewives to artists to scientists analyzing the future of the universe through the dust of dead stars? Bitomsky’s dense, quicksilver voiceover, sense of philosophical depth, healthy good humor and wry intellectual poetry make this journey from microscopic to macrocosmic a meditation on the splendor of the futility of existence: you just can’t get rid of dust.

The Edge of Heaven

The Edge of Heaven
Fatih Akin, Germany/Turkey, 2007; 122m
The director of 2005's Head-On continues his exploration of German-Turkish cross-cultural relations with this engrossing and moving double narrative in which hidden and missed connections and intertwined lives are framed by the deaths of two of the film¡¦s six protagonists. The narrative is set in motion by the death of Yeter, who works as a prostitute in Germany until she accepts the marriage proposal of elderly regular client Ali. Following Yeter's death, Ali's German-born son Nejat travels to Istanbul to search for Yeter's grown-up daughter Ayten, the film's pivotal character. Ayten, due to her membership in an underground Kurdish separatist group, has fled the country to seek political asylum in Germany, where middle-class student Lotte takes her in. The two girls become lovers, despite the misgivings of her mother Susanne, played by Hanna Schygulla. What follows is a complex series of crisscrossing events that changes the lives of the surviving characters forever as the story shifts back to Turkey.

Ex Drummer

Ex Drummer
Koen Mortier, Belgium, 2007; 104m 
A gleeful wallow in the lower depths of Flemish trash culture, in which a hopeless garage band of freakish misfits hires the title character, a famous novelist, to beat the skins for them, but get more than they bargained for. With scatological zest and much filmic inventiveness, Koen Mortier serves up a blackly misanthropic comedy in the tradition of Gaspar Noé and Man Bites Dog. There's something to offend everyone in this smashing debut.

Flash Point
Wilson Yip, Hong Kong, 2007; 88m
While the films of Johnnie To continue to mine their rich vein of gunplay and codes of honor, new-school director Wilson Yip and actor/fight choreographer Donnie Yen represent the absolute cutting edge of the Hong Kong action genre, foregrounding hyper-kinetic mixed martial arts fight setpieces that showcase Yen's unique blend of Western boxing, Muay Thai kicking, and a Brazilian brand of jujitsu called capoeira. Flash Point, set in 1996 prior to Hong Kong's handover to mainland China, serves up the familiar yarn of cops determined to bring down crooks who always seem to be one step ahead: Yen is maverick cop Ma, whose partner Wilson (Louis Koo) has successfully infiltrated a rising Triad gang led by Tony (Collin Chou). How long before Wilson's cover is blown? How long until the Triads send in their hitmen? And how long until the final showdown between Ma and Tony? The film's only 87 minutes—you do the math.

Frontiere(s)

Frontière(s)
Xavier Gens, France, 2007, 108m 

Call it Texas Chain Saw Massacre à la francaise. A group of young Muslims with a bag of stolen cash flee riot-torn Paris for la France profonde only to fall prey to an inbred community of cannibalistic pig farmers led by an ancient, completely bonkers ex-Nazi patriarch still clinging to dreams of a Fourth Reich. Playing on current French racial anxieties and paranoia over where Sarkozy's new order may be headed, Gens' film culminates in a flabbergasting bloodbath that raises the bar on gore to new heights—or depths, depending on your point of view.

Diary of the Dead

Diary of the Dead
George A. Romero, USA, 2007; 95m
Join us for an advance preview of one of 2008’s absolute movie highlights—yes, they’re back. Romero’s flesh-eating zombies return to Day One of the director’s living dead cycle, updated and repurposed as a terrifying road movie for the DV-savvy, media-skeptical YouTube generation. As their world disintegrates under the onslaught of the undead, a student film crew documents everything on video while making a desperate cross-country dash to hoped-for safety. Tapping into the current mood in America, Diary of the Dead is a genuinely scary post-Iraq, post-Katrina nightmare. For more, read Robin Wood’s appreciation in the Jan/Feb issue of Film Comment.

Import Export

Import Export
Ulrich Seidl, Austria, 2007, 135m 
Ever controversial bad boy Ulrich Seidl is Austria's prime example of Abjection Cinema, the art-film genre of the moment. Here he tracks the fortunes of a Ukrainian nurse who comes to Austria looking for work, and an unemployed Austrian youth who travels to the Ukraine with his brutish stepfather to deliver coin-operated gumball machines to a succession of grim working-class neighborhoods. Seidl observes the struggles of his two protagonists and the bleak postindustrial landscapes and stark interiors they traverse with a clinical and unflinching eye. But though he's a connoisseur of the harsh facts of life and the reduction of human relationships to cold-blooded transactions, Seidl nevertheless finds a glimmer of humanity and hope in this world, and that's why Import Export is not just another trawl through the lower depths. That said, if moronic proles barking orders at dazed and bewildered prostitutes, the rasping breathing of dying babies, and the senile outbursts of nursing-home residents are music to your ears, this one's for you.

Inside

Inside
Julien Maury & Alexandre Bustillo, France, 2007; 83m  
One of the best examples of the new wave of French horror movies, this domestic-siege shocker offers a gruesome take on pregnancy that couldn't be further from the world of Judd Apatow and Juno. Béatrice Dalle is used to maximum effect as an implacable supernatural apparition who invades the home of a pregnant, recently widowed woman, intent on claiming her unborn child. Largely confined to a single location, Inside is relentless edge-of-the-seat stuff that wrings every possibility for spectacularly gory set pieces out of its barebones situation. Maury and Bustillo's film lays it on thick, but it’s the real thing, with a genuinely disturbing premise that bypasses the rational and hot-wires primal fears and taboos about the sanctity of motherhood.

J'entends plus la guitare

J’entends plus la guitare
Philippe Garrel, France, 1991; 98m
Arguably Philippe Garrel's masterpiece, J'entends plus la guitare is a surpassingly delicate meditation on love, loss and the passage of time. As always, Garrel and his scenarist Marc Cholodenko are working in the realm of poetically refracted autobiography, one level away from psychodrama. The incandescent Johanna Ter Steege is the Nico figure and the late Benoit Régent is the Garrel stand-in, and their scenes together play like instants plucked from the past and preserved in crystalline form, under perfectly captured natural light (thanks to the great Caroline Champetier behind the camera). The guitar that is no longer heard, except in memory, belongs to the Velvet Underground, an echo of yesterday's dreams. We're proud to be presenting a new print of this film, one of the greatest of the '90s, the inaugural theatrical release from new distribution venture The Film Desk.

joy division Grant Gee

Joy Division
Grant Gee, USA, 2007, 96m 
From the annals of rock star suicides, perhaps one of the blackest holes remains the death by hanging of Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis at age 23. His paroxysmal stage presence, seemingly fueled by the epileptic seizures that dogged him throughout his life, was one of the oddest, riveting and most painful "acts" to watch. Now, after receiving the biopic gloss from Anton Corbijn, comes Grant Gee's relatively straightforward documentary about the man—and the surviving members of his post-punk band. That anything about Curtis can be considered "straightforward" is a matter of semantics—he will forever be a brooding, spastic enigma. The rest of the Mancunian musicians, happily ensconced in middle-age comfort, merely serve to make Curtis' extreme otherness more stark. Essential viewing for fans of the band, its singer and the darker recesses of the pop life.

Mandingo

Mandingo
Richard Fleischer, USA, 1975; 127m  
Based on Kyle Onstott's bestselling 1957 novel, this incendiary and deeply disturbing melodrama about the way slavery debases and destroys both slaves and owners on a Louisiana slave breeding plantation in decline was dismissed in its day as tasteless exploitation or camp—"Like Gone with the Wind with all the characters in heat," as Leslie Halliwell put it. Only Time Out's David Pirie got it right: "The stereotype of the Deep South, with its stoical slaves and demure belles is effectively exploded here. Fleischer utilizes the real sexuality and violence behind slavery to mount a compelling slice of American Gothic, which analyzes in appropriately lurid terms, the twists and turns of a distorted society." With James Mason as the tyrannical patriarch, Perry King as the frustrated son and heir, Susan George as his flighty and less than virginal bride, and Ken Norton as the pure-bred Mandingo slave who become the center of the action.

Reflections of Evil

Reflections of Evil
Damon Packard, USA, 2002; 138m
A gross-out horror movie set in an urban Hell on Earth? The ultimate bad acid trip? A poisonous valentine to the paranoid heart of Hollywood? Hilariously freaked-out and relentlessly confrontational, Reflections of Evil regurgitates the fear and loathing of L.A.'s violence-infested streets as it follows in the stumbling footsteps of its hapless, bloated protagonist. Mixing found footage and live action, this deranged tour de force channel-surfs to its last-minute-twist denouement across a hallucinatory landscape of '70s movie and TV schlock and senseless theme-park excess. Packard's film bursts at the seams with outrageous visual and audio invention, cramming in Karen Carpenter, the Summer of Love, Homeland Security and The Omega Man plus special guest star Steven Spielberg filmed putting a grumbling crew of old pros through their paces on the Universal lot, circa 1972.

Rubin and Ed

Rubin and Ed
Trent Harris, USA, 1992, 82m 
Crispin Glover's bizarre appearance (in what would later spawn the character of Rubin Farr) on Late Night confounded many at the time, including host David Letterman. Sixteen years later, far more people have YouTubed the now-infamous Letterman-Glover segment than have actually seen the film, which remains unavailable on DVD. Here's a rare chance to check out this early-'90s gem, and Glover's Rubin in all his '70s-style glory. A cranky Mahler lover distraught over the death of his beloved pet kitty, Rubin enlists desperate salesman Ed (Howard Hesseman) to help him search for the perfect burial spot in the sweltering Utah desert, where they soon get lost. Quotable, hilarious, and, yes, even moving, writer-director Trent Harris' buddy picture like no other yearns for an audience and cult-classic status. Like, immediately.

Schindler's Houses

Schindler’s Houses
Heinz Emigholz, Germany, 2007; 99m  
The latest installment of Heinz Emigholz's series of films on "Architecture as Autobiography" consists of audiovisual measurements and cinematic sketches of 40 low-cost houses built by architect Rudolf Schindler in Los Angeles from 1921 to 1952. As always, Emigholz uses his unique eye to make the spatial uniqueness of his subjects materialize on screen. Countering the tendency in architectural photography to portray buildings in their entirety and in isolation, he shoots the grounds and interiors of the houses in sections so as to mimic the way we perceive space cumulatively and according to physical orientation. In so doing he captures Schindler's signature characteristics as they're affected by weather and light conditions. He also zeroes in on the houses' frailties—a crack here, some redecoration there. A meditation on decay, death and transformation, Schindler's Houses is a film of specters: the ghosts of hopes for a different way of life hover all around.

Searchers 2.0

Searchers 2.0
Alex Cox, USA, 2007; 90m
In this affectionate, somewhat elegiac "microfeature," has-been actors Mel (Del Zamora) and Fred (Ed Pansullo) hit the road on a revenge mission. Since neither has a car, they must invite Mel's capable daughter, Delilah (Jaclyn Jonet), to come along. Fred and Mel plan to kick the ass of one Fritz Frobisher (Sy Richardson), the screenwriter responsible for their traumatic baptism by fire on a long-forgotten western. They reminisce about the good-old bad-old days, rant about the even-worse present day and dispense inaccurate movie lore and trivia, en route to an open-air screening in Monument Valley, where Frobisher is scheduled to present one of his old films. Chock full of references to Ford, Leone and oil dependency, this is Cox at his most laid back and light hearted, clearly enjoying the reunion with two of his Repo Man veterans, not to mention Richardson, his favorite actor. "Searchers 2.0 isn't a spaghetti western, but it remembers them," says Cox.

10 Rillington Place

10 Rillington Place
Richard Fleischer, UK, 1971, 111m 
Richard Attenborough gives a truly flesh-crawling performance as notorious murderer John Christie, who, posing as a doctor and back-street abortionist, drugged, raped, and strangled eight London women between 1940 and 1953, and allowed an innocent man to be hanged for his one of his crimes. Less invested in the trappings of an investigative procedural as in his 1968 film The Boston Strangler, Fleischer instead immerses himself in the creepy, morbid and quintessentially English-lower-middle-class world of the wheedlingly genial killer. John Hurt gives a shattering performance as Christie's illiterate, simpleminded upstairs tenant Timothy Evans, who, in a distraught state, falsely confesses to his wife's killing after Christie murdered her during a feigned abortion procedure. One of the great English movies of the early '70s, it may put you off drinking tea for life.

Walker

Walker
Alex Cox, USA, 1987; 95m  
Of all Cox films maudits, this quixotic broadside at the Reagan administration efforts to overthrow Nicaragua’s Sandinista government has to be the most maudit of all. Written by Rudy Wurlitzer, it boldly (and surreally) reconstructs the true story of the 1855 invasion of Nicaragua by deranged American imperialist William Walker, played with manic intensity by Ed Harris. An unruly Peckinpah-meets-Buñuel fantasia, ripe for rediscovery. Universal, who incredibly enough bankrolled the film, buried it after a token theatrical release. Still, per Cox, Walker was the second-biggest box-office hit ever in Nicaragua, after The Sound of Music. The film's music is by Joe Strummer, and if you watch out you can see him in many scenes as one of Walker's ragtag soldiers. Unavailable for almost 20 years, the Walker soundtrack album was recently released on CD; the film itself comes out on DVD this month, from Criterion.

Wolfsbergen

Wolfsbergen
Nanouk Leopold, The Netherlands, 2007; 95m
In this utterly compelling exploration of a four-generation bourgeois family on the verge of implosion, Wolfsbergen meticulously maps out the multiple fault lines and disconnects between and among married couple Maria and Ernst and their two grown-up daughters: single, depressed Eva and hard-hearted Sabine, now on her second marriage. Once established, this emotionally glacial state of affairs, rife with denial, estrangement, infidelity and incommunication, is brought to crisis by a letter from Maria's octogenarian father Konraad, in which he announces his intention to commit suicide on the first anniversary of his wife's death. Highly composed, deliberately paced, and with a cool, unsentimental sensibility, Leopold's third film demonstrates her absolute control of her material and announces the arrival of a major new talent.

A Wonderful World

A Wonderful World
Luis Estrada, Mexico, 2007; 118m
Top Mexican actor Damián Alcázar stars in Luis Estrada's unofficial sequel to his 2001 political satire Herod's Law. Offering an equally satirical vision of Mexican political life, it's the more accomplished and sophisticated flick ¡X but altogether more dark and unsettling. With a vibe that's sort of Latino Coen Brothers it follows the strange journey of homeless Juan (Alcázar) from the slums of Mexico City to the high-tech modernist citadels of corrupt corporate and governmental power. In this comic yet twisted tale of mistaken identity and brutal class conflict, fate and politics conspire to make Juan first famous, then indispensable, then a liability and finally an enemy of the state. Alex Cox, who appears in the film, describes it as "an unremitting, despairing tragicomedy about poverty, wealth and the meaningless resilience of hope."

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