Film Comment Selects: From the Source
For a complete lineup as well as showtimes and tickets, go here.
We're nearing the halfway mark of Film Comment Selects, our annual roundup—hosted by the Film Society of Lincoln Center—of festival finds, sneak previews, genre discoveries, and overlooked classics. Over the next week, we’ll be offering up a trio of striking new horror movies, from slow-burn psychological studies to gonzo, old-school creature features; a rare chance to see Jane Campion’s acclaimed Sundance miniseries Top of the Lake on the big screen in its six-hour entirety; a sneak peek at We Are the Best!, Lukas Moodysson’s wild, unruly ode to teenage rebellion; a “healthcare mayhem” double feature featuring two underseen hospital-set dramas of malpractice and medical intrigue; and a spotlight on the German filmmaker Christian Petzold, including Wolfsburg, his first collaboration with Nina Hoss, and Ghosts, his haunting portrait of loss and displacement in post-reunification Berlin. And that’s not the half of it—here’s what our writers and editors had to say about five more of the festival’s selections, which range from a breezy French family drama to Bertolucci's latest to a tough, utterly original Iranian whatsit.
Laura Kern, reporting from Sundance 2013, called Metro Manila “the most estimable [film] among all I saw [at the festival] this year. Ellis’s “small yet diverse body of film work . . . also includes the ambitious romantic comedy Cashback (06) and the existential chiller The Broken (08). His latest is a harrowing domestic/crime drama set in the Philippines. Despite the fact that he doesn’t know a word of Tagalog, Ellis managed to draw expert performances from Jake Macapagal and Althea Vega as Oscar and Mai Ramirez, poor rice farmers who, with their two young children, travel from the desolate mountains to the bustling city in the hopes of making some money, only to discover that the exploitation they faced at home is nothing compared to what greets them in Manila. From the moment they arrive everything goes into a downward spiral: Oscar takes a hazardous job as an armored truck driver, and is assigned a loose cannon (an explosive John Arcilla) for a partner; Mai is forced to dance at a sleazy strip joint, not an ideal line of work for any woman, much less an expectant mother. Viewers, at least those with a heartbeat, will not rest easy for a single moment while this family’s safety is at stake. Throughout the festival, Metro Manila seemed to fly frustratingly just under the radar. When it won the Audience Award (World Cinema Dramatic), it was finally clear that people were paying attention.”
Me and You
“Bernardo Bertolucci is back,” wrote Marco Grosoli back at Cannes 2012 on the Italian master’s new film Me and You. “It’s a clear variation on Besieged, the 1998 film (likewise set in Rome) that inaugurated a minimalist phase for the director after a series of huge international co-productions. Continuing on from The Dreamers (03), Me and You is Bertolucci’s third in a string of films mostly set in claustrophobic, very bourgeois interiors, and like Besieged, it concerns the solipsistic self-confinement of a obsessive narcissist who is “saved” and led out into the world by a woman—who may well be nothing more than a projection of his insecurities . . . Within the narrative vacuum produced by this drastic reduction of [his] source material, Bertolucci has plenty of room to indulge in the main thing that interests him: beauty. Movement is no longer at the core of his aesthetic inquiry and approach, as it was in his previous films (this may or may not be related to the incapacitating medical condition that left him confined to a wheelchair). Rather it’s cinematography: thanks to inventive and chiefly chromatic variations of lighting, the basement becomes ingeniously fragmented, labyrinth-like, as if it were brighter and more diverse and full of surprises than the so-called outside world—which is filmed in a disarmingly dull fashion. Like the Francis Bacon–inspired rooms of Last Tango in Paris, once again interior and exterior keep switching places, as do the words 'Me' and 'You' during the film’s credit sequence.”
City of Pirates
Me and You isn’t the only “labyrinth-like” FCS highlight to work in an aesthetically heightened narrative vacuum. In the May/June 1984 issue of the magazine, Jonathan Rosenbaum called Raul Ruiz’s City of Pirates—which gets a rare 35mm screening at the festival next week—“a bombshell of formal, surrealist, and narrative assault . . . This Gothic fantasy, shot in riotous color and set on a Portuguese island, runs an affective gamut from Peter Pan and Disney to Anne of the Indies (and from Poe and Lautréamont to Fritz Lang's Moonfleet and Jacques Rivette's Noroît) without ever seeming derivative—only inspired, singular, perpetually unpredictable, and terrifyingly beautiful. The film is decked out with astonishing lab effects (painterly long shots of the island, brimming with magical light), unsettling fantasy conceits (a man's face casually discovered under a pile of vegetables in a trunk), and uncanny spatial displacements. Pirates evokes some of the recollected splendors and sudden transitions of gruesome fairy tales, while enacting a maniacally inventive mise en scène around them.”
Speaking of Ruiz: Pascal Bonitzer’s “light and unapologetically mainstream comedy-dramas couldn’t be more removed from his credentials as a Rivette and Ruiz collaborator,” wrote Gavin Smith from last year’s Rotterdam Film Festival. But Bonitzer, Smith continues, “delivered his most satisfying film to date with Cherchez Hortense. Jean-Pierre Bacri plays a conflicted and ineffectual sinologist who reluctantly agrees to ask his father, a senior judge with whom he has a complicated relationship, to pull some strings on behalf of a Polish woman facing deportation (bringing us back once again to the terrain of the post-globalization genre). His marriage to a celebrated stage director (Kristin Scott Thomas) is on the skids, his son is going through growing pains, a cranky old friend is suicidal, and amidst all this he’s befriended by a girl half his age. It’s the kind of relationship movie that would now have to be termed an old-fashioned, one that just about gets away with its whopper of a plot contrivance. But Cherchez Hortense is more than carried by Bacri, who remains one of the best actors in French cinema today.”
One of Smith’s other Rotterdam highlights was “a more difficult and ambiguous object.” The action of Fat Shaker “centers on an obese con man who uses his cute deaf-mute adult son as bait to extort money from predatory young women looking for a boy toy—until the pair’s sketchy life on the social margins is (inexplicably) upended by the arrival of a mysterious woman who makes herself at home, with unexpected consequences. While the film would seem to be an allegorical attack on patriarchy, its hallucinatory interludes, its emphasis on the grotesque and the absurd, its off-kilter, unstable style (the camerawork is virtually motion-sickness-inducing), and its enigmatic refusal to completely define itself in narrative terms signal the emergence of a talent looking to break fresh ground.” It’s far from the only film in the series to signal the emergence of a new, restless, inquisitive voice.