The Reeler


August 15, 2007

Margot at the NYFF

Homegrown upstarts, old guard favorites and international heavy-hitters featured in drool-worthy program

Nicole Kidman in Margot at the Wedding, one of 28 titles selected for the 45th New York Film Festival (Photo: Paramount Vantage)

The Film Society of Lincoln Center today announced a fairly mind-blowing line-up for the 45th New York Film Festival, with work by notable New Yorkers Noah Baumbach, Sidney Lumet, Brian DePalma and Abel Ferrara joining Gus Van Sant, John Landis and previously announced selections by the Coen Brothers and recent Cannes Palme D'or winner Cristian Mungiu. The festival launches Sept. 29 with the world premiere of Wes Anderson's The Darjeeling Limited, winding over two weeks and 28 films before closing Oct. 14 with Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud's animated coming-of-age story Persepolis. Featured at the festival will be promising appearances by some of the voice talent from the film, which includes Catherine Deneuve, Chiara Mastroianni and Simon Abkarian.

The biggest film on today's list -- at least in terms of star wattage -- is Baumbach's Margot at the Wedding, starring Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jack Black in a comedy/drama about the title character (Kidman) exercising her picky will in the build-up to her sister's (Leigh) nuptials. The NYFF berth is Baumbach's third in as many tries, following Kicking and Screaming (1997) and The Squid and the Whale (2005). Perhaps even buzzier is Todd Haynes' I'm Not There, making its premiere fresh from a Weinstein makeover. Other notable selections include Lumet's upstate family noir Before the Devil Knows You're Dead and Brian DePalma's Iraq war thriller,Redacted. NYFF rookies include Cannes darling Carlos Reygadas, who is delivering his distributor-less Silent Light for its North American premiere, and Spanish director Juan Antonio Bayona's The Orphanage.

More experienced international directors coming to the NYFF include Catherine Breillat with The Last Mistress, Claude Chabrol -- a month removed from his MoMA retrospective -- with A Girl Cut in Two and Eric Rohmer, who brings The Romance of Astrea and Celadon. Then there's Béla Tarr (The Man From London), Hou Hsiao-hsien (The Flight of the Red Balloon), Jia Zhang-ke (Useless)... It's kind of extraordinary, really.

The remainder of 2007's selections are listed below; check back with The Reeler for comprehensive NYFF coverage as the event approaches.


The Darjeeling Limited
Wes Anderson, US, 2007; 91m

Screening with

Hotel Chevalier
Wes Anderson, US, 2007; 12m

Wes Anderson’s latest is as exquisitely poignant and emotionally nuanced as movies get. One year after the accidental death of their father, three estranged brothers (Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman and Anderson-newcomer Adrien Brody) board the Darjeeling Limited train and travel across India on a self-proclaimed spiritual journey. They make all the appropriate stops along the way but their jealous (often hilarious) bickering and one-upmanship displace any possibility of enlightenment. And then, something happens. Anderson is, as always, surprising, prodigiously inventive, and utterly masterful in his daring modulation of tones and emotions. He has achieved something quite magical and astonishing here: a grand pageant, a vibrant portrait of a place and a people, a quietly intricate look at sibling love and rivalry. Above all, a Wes Anderson film -- and a great one at that.


Marjane Satrapi & Vincent Paronnaud, France, 2007; 95m

Marjane Satrapi’s lively and impassioned film version of her popular autobiographical graphic novels, animated by Vincent Paronnaud, about growing up in revolutionary-era Tehran.


No Country For Old Men
Joel and Ethan Coen, US, 2007; 122m

The Coen Brothers’ magisterial adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s laconic, haunting story of a Texas drug deal gone bad, with brilliant performances from Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem and Tommy Lee Jones.

4 Months, 3 weeks, 2 Days
Christian Mungiu, Romania, 2007; 113m

Winner of the Palme d’Or at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival, Christian Mungiu’s film is a harrowingly methodical and carefully detailed portrait of two girls in search of a secret abortion in Communist-era Romania.

Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi, France, 2007; 110m

A hilarious yet moving look at the life of a middle-aged actress desperate to marry and have children, directed by and starring the enchanting Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi.

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Alexander Sokurov, Russia, 92m

No living filmmaker has been more obsessed with the state of the Russian soul than Alexander Sokurov. In Alexandra, this great filmmaker ponders the cost of war. Mother Russia herself—a blunt, grimly humorous, and totally confident babushka indelibly played by octogenarian opera diva Galina Vishnevskaya—pays a solo visit to her grandson's unit in Chechnya. She rides among the young recruits in a troop transport and later, a tank; however incongruous, her tour of inspection through this dusty, sun-bleached landscape has a terrible familiarity. Alexandra is too visceral in its filmmaking to feel like allegory. Seldom has a filmmaker so directly addressed his fellow citizens.

The Axe in the Attic
Ed Pincus & Lucia Small, US, 2007; 110m

Veteran documentary filmmaker Ed Pincus and his collaborator Lucia Small look at the hardships and sorrows of the Gulf Coast Diaspora two years after Hurricane Katrina.

Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead
Sidney Lumet, USA, 117m

In this masterful crime drama from Sidney Lumet, a “perfect crime” plotted by two brothers (Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke) unravels before their eyes.

Calle Santa Fe
Carmen Castillo, France, 2007; 163m

Carmen Castillo’s melancholy epic looks back at her life as a revolutionary in Chile, before and after her exile in France.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Julian Schnabel, France/U.S., 2007; 112m

Julian Schnabel creates a bold and beautiful adaptation of Jean-Dominique Bauby’s autobiographical story of his paralyzing stroke and his fierce desire to communicate through the one unaffected part of his body: his left eye.

Carlos Saura, Spain/Portugal, 2007; 92m

Beginning with his much-loved Flamenco Trilogy and moving on through Tango and Iberia, Carlos Saura has been at the forefront of finding creative ways to blend cinema with music and dance. For his newest film, he headed west to neighboring Portugal for this beautiful celebration of the Portuguese fado. Sometimes thought of as the Portuguese blues, as so many of the songs deal with loneliness and heartache, the fado, like flamenco, remains one of Europe’s hardiest folk cultures; in recent years, fado has fused with everything from African rhythms to rock and hip-hop. Saura presents a broad panorama of fado styles, from the strictly traditional to some rather unexpected variations, and leading us through this musical journey are performers such as Carlos do Carmo, Catarina Moura, Argentina Santos, and Maria da Nazaré, along with guest appearances by Brazilian singers Chico Buarque and Caetano Veloso. Homages are included to such past greats as Lucília do Carmo, Alfredo Marceneiro and of course Amália Rodrigues. A terrific opportunity to discover a vibrant strand of contemporary world music, as well a chance to simply enjoy some wonderful singing and dancing.

The Flight of the Red Balloon
Hou Hsiao-hsien, France, 2007; 113m

Hou Hsiao-hsien’s ineffably serene film is less of a remake of Albert Lamorisse’s children’s classic than a complex homage refracted through the complications of life in contemporary Paris . Juliette Binoche is Suzanne, the proprietor of a marionette theater and the single mother of a lonely boy named Simon (Simon Iteanu) who spends his days with his Chinese au pair Song (Song Fang). Simon and Song watch as the adults around them come apart at the seams, with joy and anguish, love and hatred…while the red balloon drifts across the Parisian landscape. Hou’s film is heartbreakingly beautiful, and it is graced with a truly magnificent performance from Binoche.

A Girl Cut In Two
Claude Chabrol, France, 2007; 115m

Claude Chabrol has directed nearly 60 features and this mordant social satire filled with unforgettably nasty characters—and inspired, he’s said, by the sensational Gilded Age shooting of architect Stanford White—shows him at the top of his game. A jaded novelist (Francois Berleand) competes with the bizarrely unstable heir to a Lyons pharmaceutical fortune (Benoit Magimel) for the affections of a luscious TV weathergirl (Ludivine Sagnier). Chabrol skewers the pretensions of literati and haute bourgeois alike and, although the inevitable crime of passion is committed late in the movie, it’s evident that what we have really been watching the murder of a soul.

Go Go Tales
Abel Ferrara, Italy/US, 2007; 96m

The future of downtown strip joint Ray Ruby’s Paradise Lounge may ride on tonight’s New York lottery drawing, but there’s no question that Abel Ferrara hits the jackpot with this hilarious, outrageous and unexpectedly poignant comic fantasy about a disheveled club owner (Willem Dafoe) striving to keep his doors open in the face of potential bankruptcy and, worse, gentrification. As personal in its way as Cassavetes’ The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, Go Go Tales crackles with vaudevillian showmanship, impromptu musical numbers and live-wire performances from Dafoe, Bob Hoskins, Sylvia Miles and Asia Argento (who comes duly heralded as “the scariest, sexiest girl in the world”). Consider it Ferrara’s wistful valentine to a pre-gentrification Big Apple, and to his own unlikely longevity as a maverick of the American independent film movement.

I Just Didn’t Do It
Masayuki Suo, Japan, 2007; 143m

A terrifying, real-life crime drama and indictment of the Japanese criminal justice system from Shall We Dance director Masayuki Suo, I Just Didn’t Do It follows a young man falsely accused of groping a school girl on a crowded train—guilty until proven innocent.

I’m Not There
Todd Haynes, US, 2007; 136m

Todd Haynes’ “Dylan movie” is a singularity: a cinematic phantasmagoria built around the poetic re-invention of the self, which collapses time and leaves the linear universe of progress and cold logic in the shadows. Haynes swirls through Dylan’s life and legends and allows a series of avatars (including Richard Gere, young Marcus Carl Franklin and, most miraculously of all, Cate Blanchett) to bloom within a variety of settings and styles—black and white London out of Fellini and Don’t Look Back, a TV documentary, the “old weird America” via Peckinpah. Like Dylan’s music, with which it is suffused, I’m Not There is pure quicksilver, slipping into cracks and crevices of intuition and wonder.

In the City of Sylvia
Jose Luis Guerin, Spain/France, 2007; 90m

During a few languid summer days, a young foreigner spends his afternoons sketching in an outdoor café. Years before he had visited the same city and met a woman named Sylvia. Now he looks for her, but mainly, he sketches the many attractive young women he sees all around. Then one afternoon he thinks that he actually does see Sylvia, and he sets off to confront his memory. José Luis Guerín’s lovely, exceedingly graceful work captures the feeling of being in love with love, a youthful sense of a world filled with an almost limitless sensuality.

The Last Mistress
Catherine Breillat, France, 2007; 114m

France’s foremost provocatrice, Catherine Breillat, continues to surprise even as she pursues her career-long interest in the ramifications of female desire. Breillat’s sumptuous adaptation of Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly’s Une vieille maîtresse may be set in the reign of the “citizen king” Louis Philippe, but this dangerous liaison is recognizably modern. Disrupting cinematic as well as social conventions, Asia Argento gives another extraordinary performance in the title role as, as the film puts it, “a capricious flamenca who can outstare the sun”—not to mention outmaneuver her erotic rival Roxane Mesquida (the older sister in Breillat’s Fat Girl, NYFF 2001). A star as well as an actress, Argento holds the screen with the force of her carnality, which may be precisely Breillat’s point.

The Man From London
Béla Tarr, Hungary/France/Germany, 2007; 132m

Maloin, a switchman at a seaside railway depot, witnesses two men fight over a suitcase. One falls into the water and apparently drowns while the other escapes. Retrieving the suitcase, Maloin discovers that it’s stuffed with banknotes. After staring at his newfound fortune in awe, he hides the suitcase in his closet. Then a certain Inspector Morrison arrives, hot on the trail of two robbers. Based on a little-known work by Georges Simenon, this new film by Béla Tarr (Satantango, NYFF 1994) plunges the viewer into nameless, timeless world perpetually encased in darkness—physical, moral and spiritual. In Fred Keleman's luscious cinematography, each image looks like the cover of a long-forgotten pulp noir.

Margot at the Wedding
Noah Baumbach, US, 2007; 93m

Noah Baumbach’s follow-up to The Squid and the Whale is a very funny and very true look at sibling rivalry during a quickly deteriorating family weekend in Connecticut , with Nicole Kidman and Jennifer Jason Leigh as contentious sisters.

Married Life
Ira Sachs, USA, 2007; 90m

Ira Sachs’ wonderfully clear-eyed comedy relocates British crime novelist John Bingham’s Five Roundabouts to Heaven to the Pacific Northwest in the late 1940s. Harry (Chris Cooper) is dissatisfied with his marriage to Pat (Patricia Clarkson) and has found love with Kay (Rachel McAdams), who immediately attracts the attention of Harry’s womanizing friend Richard (Pierce Brosnan). Meanwhile, Harry, in order to spare Pat the humiliation of being left, is inspired to take drastic measures. Married Life is a beautifully rendered piece of period Americana and a perfectly acted four-hand roundelay. It is also a wisely comic and at times harrowing look at the pitfalls and pathologies of marriage.

Mr. Warmth, The Don Rickles Project
John Landis, US, 2007; 90m

John Landis’ star-filled, fittingly uproarious documentary is a terrific portrait of a bygone era and, most of all, man named Rickles, a giant who continues to stride among us mortal lowlifes at the age of 81, his deadly timing in full working order. Rickles…the mere mention of his name strikes mirth-filled terror in the hearts of actors and fellow comics, not to mention overweight men with bad toupees. When the festival committee saw this movie, they could hear us laughing all the way in Jersey . We know you’ll like it too…you hockey puck.

The Orphanage
Juan Antonio Bayona, Spain, 100m

Laura, her husband Carlos and their young son Simón move into an imposing country house surrounded by woods and just a short walk to the sea. They plan to turn it into a home for sick and disabled children—that is, until Simón starts collecting a gang of invisible friends. Produced by Guillermo Del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth), this smart, continuously surprising movie starts off as a supernatural thriller, then veers off into some much darker, more unsettling territory, navigated by Belén Rueda’s extraordinary performance as Laura. An impressive debut feature by Juan Antonio Bayona, scripted by Sergio G. Sánchez and featuring a wonderful turn by the great Geraldine Chaplin as a special kind of medium.


The Other Side of the Mirror: Bob Dylan Live at the Newport Folk Festival, 1963-1965
Murray Lerner, US, 2007; 80m

Throughout the ‘60s, the Newport Folk Festival was one of the era’s most reliable barometers of the changes beginning to rock American society. At the center of those changes was a rail-thin singer hailing from Hibbing, Minn., by way of Greenwich Village: Bob Dylan. Filmmaker Murray Lerner was there too, and he powerfully captured both the spirit of Newport as well as the extraordinary music produced there in his woefully neglected film Festival. Now Lerner has gone back to his footage from his years filming at Newport and created a revealing portrait of the young Dylan during the crucial period of 1963-65. We see the bright, chipper young Dylan—already a great crowd favorite in 1963—grow progressively darker and more withdrawn as he and his band take their first steps towards rock and roll in 1965. The film features Dylan singing stirring versions of many of his most famous songs—“Blowin’ in the Wind,” “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall,” “Maggie’s Farm,” “Only a Pawn in Their Game”—as well as some of his legendary duets with Joan Baez. A great document of an extraordinary performer, and a fascinating complement to Todd Haynes’ wonderful I’m Not There.

Paranoid Park
Gus Van Sant, US, 2007; 85m

At once a piquant, dreamlike portrait of teen alienation and a boldly experimental work of film narrative, Paranoid Park finds Gus Van Sant working at the height of his powers and very far afield from Hollywood. Made in and around the director’s native Portland, the film follows a withdrawn high-school skateboarder (Gabe Nevins) as he struggles to make sense of his involvement in an accidental murder, recalling past events across tides of unsteady memory and expressing his feelings in a diary that is, in effect, the movie we are watching. The skating scenes, filmed by Van Sant and cinematographers Christopher Doyle and Rain Kathy Li in a lyrical mixture of Super 8 and 35mm, depict their subjects flying through the air with the greatest of ease, momentarily free from the earthly troubles of adolescence.

Brian DePalma, US, 2007; 90m

Americans of a certain age may be experiencing a sense of déjà vu, but Brian DePalma hasn’t waited until the end of the war in Iraq to make his movie on the subject. Redacted is ripped from the headlines—or, more precisely, from the cable news. It is a fictionalized account of a murderous 2006 atrocity committed against a teenaged girl and her family by American troops in Mahmoudiya. In its formal invention, it harkens back to the director’s countercultural roots. Certain to inspire controversy, DePalma’s disturbing portrayal of a dazed, confused, vengeful platoon, complete with resident videomaker, is a powerful movie of technical brio and ice-cold fury.

The Romance of Astrea and Celadon
Eric Rohmer, France, 2007; 109m

Eighty-seven-year-old Eric Rohmer’s glorious new (and allegedly final) film is based on Honoré d’Urfé’s legendary 17th century novel, a pastoral romance set among the shepherds of the Forez plain in 5th century Gaul . Astrea and Celadon are young lovers, pure of heart, torn asunder by fate. They are reunited gradually by chance and time, which are coaxed forward by the magic of river nymphs and the workings of a Druid priest. Rohmer’s film is a rapturous idyll, set in the land of myth, and it ends with one of the most beautiful celebrations of carnal love the cinema has ever seen.

Secret Sunshine
Lee Chang-dong, Korea, 2007; 142m

Lee Chang-dong’s most ambitious and fully realized film to date, Secret Sunshine is that rare movie that possesses the richness and complexity of a great novel, revealing new layers to us the deeper we move into it. It begins like an Asiatic Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, as a recent widow (Jeon Do-yeon) and her young son adjust to life a small country town after relocating from Seoul. Then, abruptly and without warning, the film becomes something of a thriller, and after that a devastating, Bressonian study in human suffering. Lee navigates these switchblade reversals of comedy and despair, darkness and light, with a master’s grace, as does Jeon in the revelatory performance for which she was duly awarded the Best Actress prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

Silent Light
Carlos Reygadas, Mexico, 2007; 142m

Never predictable but always audacious, the young Mexican director Carlos Reygadas has made the world’s first talking picture in the medieval German dialect called Plautdietsch. Silent Light is set in Northern Mexico ’s ascetic, self-contained Mennonite community and cast almost entirely with Mennonite non-actors. Building in emotional intensity, this elemental tale of love and betrayal is at once an ethnographic documentary and a quasi-remake of Carl-Theodore Dreyer’s Ordet. Reygadas too makes spirituality seem material, not least in the extraordinary, wide-screen landscape shots that bracket the action. With this, his third feature, he has secured a place in the forefront of contemporary film artists.


Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Runnin’ Down a Dream
Peter Bogdanovich, US, 2007; 238m

Rarely, if ever, has the history and development of a major rock band been explored with the care and the depth with which Peter Bogdanovich approaches Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Starting out from Gainesville Florida , the band (as Mudcrutch) headed to Los Angeles in the mid-‘70s and soon attracted the attention of producer Denny Cordell. Their first singles failed to cause much of a stir in the U.S. , but in the U.K. , they were hailed as the best American band in years. After a hugely successful European tour, they headed home, this time finding a much warmer response from critics and the public alike. Liberally peppered with rare concert footage—from Florida bars to “The Top of the Pops” to major stadium appearances—the film also chronicles Petty’s epic battles with the record industry and collaborations with Bob Dylan, Stevie Nicks, Roger McGuinn and the Traveling Wilburys. Dispensing with the cynicism that usually accompanies longevity in rock music, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers have managed to remain fresh, feisty and popular for over thirty years. Peter Bogdanovich helps us understand why.

Jia Zhang-ke, Hong Kong, 2007; 80m

Jia Zhang-ke’s new documentary is one of the rare films that continually re-defines itself as it unfolds, from modern clothing factories to designer shops to a Parisian fashion installation of the work of vanguard designer Ma Ke to Northern Chinese mining country and a series of portraits of local tailors, keenly aware of their own expendable role in a world of mass-produced goods. Useless does not illustrate a thesis. Call it a conversation between Jia and the modern world, which examines what we wear and winds up addressing who we are, with the greatest eloquence.

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