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The Reeler Blog

NYFF Postscript: When the Selector Thwacks the Selection

Mathieu Amalric and Marie-Josée Croze in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Photo: Miramax Films)

By S.T. VanAirsdale

As rookie New York Film Festival selection committee member Scott Foundas wrote in an essay published this summer on The Reeler, it's not like all five people in the group see eye-to-eye on everything they choose:

I suspect what may surprise people most is that it is not fraught with compromise -- at least not this year, when the overall quality of movies was so high that our most difficult discussions centered around which titles to exclude from the final program, rather than trying to make cases (as I am assured happens in many years) for inclusion. Does that mean we all love each of the 30 films equally? Of course not. But speaking just for myself, there is not a single movie in that lineup that I feel doesn't belong there. As the artistic director of the Cannes Film Festival, Thierry Frémaux, commented to me in an interview earlier this year, "The point of this job is not to say 'I like' or 'I don't like.' My job is to say, 'Do we have to screen this film or not?' Maybe I don't like a film, but I think I have to show it. Maybe I like a film, but I'm not sure that we have to show it." Which, having now experienced a similar process first-hand, I can say is about as apt a summation of festival programming as one is likely to hear.

And now, with Foundas's review of NYFF darling The Diving Bell and the Butterfly live at The Village Voice, you can get a little clearer, more specific perspective on what that might have meant:

At this year's Cannes Film Festival, the American painter turned filmmaker Julian Schnabel won the jury's Best Director award for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, his French-language adaptation of the bestselling memoir by the late Elle magazine editor Jean-Dominique Bauby. ... If such awards were determined on the basis of quantity alone, there'd be no question that Schnabel's was deserved, for there is more directing per square inch of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly than one is likely to find in any other movie released this year. ...

It's the most sensually assaulting movie in recent memory with the possible exception of Michael Bay's Transformers, and yet many of the same people who criticized Bay for his attention-deficient aesthetics are falling over each other to praise Schnabel. Why? Because instead of ransacking the storehouse of commercial advertising for his inspiration, he steals his visual tricks from more highfalutin sources like Fellini and Stan Brakhage. ...

The inelegant yet functional name of Bauby's rare condition was "locked-in syndrome," and here, too, there's a vastly more intriguing movie existing somewhere beneath the surface of a boilerplate Hollywood weepie. It's like a butterfly with lead for wings.

I'm sure this is hardly the first case of a critic on the committee taking down one of its selections, but it's no less intriguing for its implications. If, again in Foundas's words, "there is not a single movie in that lineup that I feel doesn't belong there," you have to wonder what does qualify its inclusion under the circumstances. Cannes creds? Democracy? Other politics?

I clearly need a hobby.

Posted at November 28, 2007 9:05 AM

Comments (1)

Maybe he recognized the power of the direction, even if he didn't agree with its use. Michael Bay and I are alums of the same college, and our shared film professor has repeatedly called him an auteur and praised him for his use of directorial style. I mean, there's an argument to be made for any director who makes a film that really achieves its goal, and Diving Bell definitely pulls that off. I personally loved the movie, but I guess I can see his point about it having "arty direction" all over it.

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