Parting Shots


Time regained: Lincoln Center sends out the celluloid century with a sophisticated mix of the old and the new, the hot and the unreleasable, the familiar, the outré, and the apocalyptic. Kicking off with an Almodóvar opening night, the party’s enlivened (at least in theory) by the inclusion of rude boys Kevin Smith and Harmony Korine, and graced by Claire Denis’s belated festival debut. The documentaries evoke some distinctively 20th-century nightmares, but there’s another sort of living history in the inclusion of Manoel de Oliveira, the last working filmmaker to have begun his career before sound. -J. Hoberman

All About My Mother Pedro Almodóvar’s life-
affirming, pop-surrealist, every-which-way gender-bender is guaranteed to start the festival off on a euphoric note. Cecilia Roth is back in the director’s fold as a former actress, who, when her son is killed, returns to the scene of her mad youth in order to find his father-a hot number named Lola. That death does not take a holiday only makes it imperative to love without reservation. A Sony Pictures Classics release. September 24. (Amy Taubin)

The Edge of the World After years of apprenticeship spent shooting studio-bound “quota quickie” thrillers, Michael Powell made his first personal film in 1937 with this remarkable account of the harshness of life on a rugged Scottish isle. Although hailed as a semi-doc in the Flaherty tradition when first released, the mystical aspects of the story and its almost supernatural feeling for landscape mark The Edge of the World as the work of British cinema’s greatest misfit romantic. September 25. (Elliott Stein)

The Color of Heaven NYFF blurbists went overboard to sell this small semi-doc by Iranian director Majid Majidi as evidence of a “great talent” and an “ever-astonishing” film industry. The tale of an adorable blind boy raises its stakes in the closing moments (or “extraordinary final sequence”) but the movie is at once diluted and overwhelmed by crass nature close-ups and the overwrought performances of fake happy children. Miramax released Majidi’s Children of Heaven, passed on this one. September 25 and 26. (JH)

Rien Sur Robert As a result of publishing a review of a controversial Balkan movie that he’s never seen, a ridiculously self-involved postmodern critic (Fabrice Luchini) begins to be tortured by that old-fashioned problem-authenticity-and not merely in his intellectual life. Sandrine Kiberlain steals Pascal Bonitzer’s slight, brittle comedy as an assured young woman who chooses inappropriate places to describe, matter-of-factly, every detail of what she does in bed. September 25 and 27. (AT)

License To Live Now, here’s a discovery. A 24-year-old youth wakes up after a decade in a coma to find that his friends have grown and his family’s dispersed. Written and directed by the newly festivalized Japanese director Kiyoshi Kurosawa (no relation to the late Akira), the movie evolves unpredictably from deadpan disorientation to low-key slapstick comedy to something far more haunting. Attempting to realize the dreams of his 14-year-old self, the hero is left with the question, “Did I really exist?” September 26 and 27. (JH)

Sicilia! Jean-Marie Straub and Daniele Huillet’s adaptation of Elio Vittorini’s pre?World War II novel is so spare and unassuming as to seem a throwaway. But the film, which is structured as a series of conversations between a man returning to Sicily after 15 years in America and various locals, builds to a meeting with his mother who reveals a past history no one would have suspected. A New Yorker Films release. September 26. (AT)

Princess Mononoke Said to be the most popular movie in Japanese history, this ambitious, impressively detailed anime is set in a world of lava-lamp deities and medieval marketplaces, positing an apocalyptic pantheism in which endangered species turn demonic. Miramax, which dubbed the original into English with stars ranging from Minnie Driver to Billy Bob Thornton, plans a late October release. September 26. (JH)

The Letter Manoel de Oliveira’s most straightforward film in many years is an adaptation of the French 17th-century classic The Princess of Clèves. Pouty, languorous Chiara Mastroianni is beautifully dressed but miscast as the intellectual heroine tempted by passion. As the object of her desire, Portuguese rock star Pedro Abrunhosa is even more, but perhaps intentionally, absurd. September 28. (AT)

Beau Travail Against a harshly beautiful East African landscape, Claire Denis paints a picture of male meltdown that has the inevitability and intensity of Greek tragedy. Denis Lavant plays a French foreign legionnaire who’s driven mad with jealousy when he suspects that the commanding officer he adores is giving preference to a new recruit (Gregoire Colin). A spare but emotionally brutal film, it brings to mind Full Metal Jacket and Denis’s own extraordinary No Fear, No Die. No distributor. September 28 and 29. (AT)

Julien Donkey-Boy Harmony Korine, the glue-sniffer’s Jean-Luc Godard, returns-enfant no more but terrible still. Worse than Gummo, Julien lacks even the courage of its gross-out aesthetic. Although it’s insulting to have this digital-video geek-show in the festival’s main program while a group of more talented, less pampered avant-gardists are shunted off to the side, the big heehaw is likely to be on Fine Line, which plans to trot out this laughable camera-flail in October. September 29 and 30. (JH)

Time Regained On his deathbed, Marcel Proust recollects a life that is inseparable from his autobiographical novel Remembrance of Things Past. Raul Ruiz negotiates this tricky conceit with intelligence and aplomb. It helps enormously that the drawing rooms where Proust hangs out are populated by such charismatic actors as John Malkovich (surprisingly discreet as Charlus), Pascal Greggory, Catherine Deneuve, Emmanuele Béart, and Vincent Perez. September 30 and October 2. (AT)

Boys Don’t Cry One from the heartland, Kimberly Peirce’s very accomplished first feature sets the taboo-breaking, gender-confounding Brandon Teena story in a near-magical realm of rich, saturated colors and velvet honky-tonk nights. The movie is a real roman candle-the writing is so adroit, the performances so nuanced, and the material so compelling that one barely notices the tendentious flags that start to wave as the movie approaches its horrifying denouement. October 1 and 2. A Fox Searchlight release, opening October 8. (JH)

Being John Malkovich A greasy-looking John Cusack, married to an unrecognizably dowdy Cameron Diaz, plays a put-upon puppeteer who tunnels into the head of John Malkovich (the man himself, gamely deconstructing his own freak-icon appeal). Spike Jonze’s insane, ingenious first feature more than delivers on the promise of his whacked-out music videos; think of it as a pomo pop parody of a Czech surrealist allegory. USA Films releases it next month. October 1 and 2. (Dennis Lim)

Topsy Turvy Just about the least likely project imaginable, gritty populist Mike Leigh’s 160-minute celebration of Gilbert and Sullivan is an unexpected triumph. Shot without a single exterior, this is a superbly entertaining analysis of theatrical artifice. Not just Leigh’s best movie since Naked, it’s enough to make you rethink his whole career. USA will be releasing it for Christmas. October 2 and 3. (JH)

Juha Turning back the hands of time, Aki Kaurismäki makes the third movie version of a classic Finnish novel-as it might have been shot in 1925. The stark tale of a peasant girl betrayed is too broadly acted to evoke fully the lost world of silent cinema but, thanks in good measure to Anssi Tikanmäki’s lyrical score, this experiment is far from a disaster. October 2. (JH)

Pripyat Premillennial but postapocalyptic, this beautifully shot and eerily restrained documentary takes its title from the long-evacuated town closest to Chernobyl. Austrian filmmaker Nikolaus Geyrhalter explores the contaminated zone, interviewing the “autonomous returnees,” inspecting the radioactive junkyards, and touring the overgrown ruins of this modern Pompeii. The movie’s artfulness and pervasive bleak humor make the experience all the more disconcerting. October 3. (JH)

Rosetta Surprise winner at Cannes, the Dardenne brothers’ follow-up to their 1997 La Promesse is an even more rough-and-tumble meditation on the Belgian lower depths. Given its ellipses and repetitions, this tale of a teenage girl’s desire for a real job in a rejecting world could be described as a Marxist remake of Robert Bresson’s Mouchette. USA will be releasing it this fall. October 3 and 4. (JH)

Dogma Kevin Smith was paying attention in parochial school. This cheerfully vulgar, intermittently visionary, and too characteristically garrulous mix of low comedy and high concept manages to travesty the angelic flights of Wings of Desire as well as the comic-book cosmology of The Matrix. Dogma is one of the most devoutly Catholic movies this side of paradise-and one of the funniest. Having taken the film off Disney’s hands, Lions Gate plans a November release. October 4 and 5. (JH)

Pola X The hero’s publisher labels his new novel “a raging morass” and the same could be said of Leos Carax’s update of Herman Melville’s metaphysical novel Pierre, or the Ambiguities. Eric Gauthier’s cinematography is wildly romantic except when it lapses into perfume-ad clichés. Not to be missed is one of the most rapturous bedroom scenes ever committed to celluloid-it’s all the more effective because it’s so dark you have to imagine most of what’s happening. October 5 and 6. (AT)

Set Me Free The family in Lea Pool’s autobiographical account of a Montreal girl’s coming of age is distinguished by a blend of working-class deprivation and bohemian disorder. The movie isn’t tragic so much as mysteriously sad. Buffetted by her emotionally unstable, unmarried parents, Pool’s 13-year-old alter ego takes her cues from the movies. The setup suggests The 400 Blows, although the nouvelle vague movie that Set Me Free fetishizes is My Life To Live. October 6 and 7. (JH)

A Visitor From the Living In a 65-minute outtake from Shoah, Claude Lanzmann interviews a former International Red Cross official who filed a crucial report on Theresienstadt-it failed to question the Nazi line that this was a “model ghetto.” Lanzmann’s probing questions reveal this seemingly admirable man’s class and anti-Semitic bias against “privileged Jews” that caused him to deny to himself and the world what he saw with his own eyes. As an investigative journalist, Lanzmann is peerless. October 6 and 7, at the Walter Reade Theater. (AT)

The Other The opening scene features Professor Edward Said, the title credits are scored to George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” and the nuttiness just continues. Youssef Chahine, Egypt’s prince of political pop, offers his fans a sweeping melodrama with a startlingly ecumenical vision-not to mention the usual panoply of cosmic zooms, thunderbolt gazes, and histrionic musical numbers. October 7 and 9. (JH)

The Man Who Laughs This effective 1927 piece of macabre Gothic, made by the brilliant director and set designer Paul Leni, is a beauty-and-the-beast tale based on Victor Hugo. Set in 17th-century England, it concerns a blind girl and a rebel peer’s son (Conrad Veidt,Dr. Caligari‘ssomnambulist) whose face has been mutated into a permanent hideous grin at the orders of the king. This special presentation will be accompanied by a lush new score composed by Gabriel Thibaudeau and performed by the Octuor de France. October 8, at the Walter Reade Theater. (ES)

Holy Smoke Not since Woman Under the Influence or Warhol’s Blue Movie has there been a heterosexual mano-a-mano like this one between Kate Winslet as a novice member of a mystical cult and Harvey Keitel as a sleazebag deprogrammer. Pondering the connection between sex and spirituality and the terrifying possibility of love, Jane Campion mixes Bollywood extravaganza, outback surrealism, and crawl-in-the-mud Actor’s Studio naturalism to cosmically hilarious and heart-wrenching effect. A Miramax release. October 8 and 9. (AT)

Felicia’s Journey The festival ends on a down note with Atom Egoyan’s fusty follow-up to The Sweet Hereafter. Fate, editing, and the implacable past contrive to involve an innocently lovely-if glazed-Irish colleen (Elaine Cassidy) and an obnoxious psychopath (Bob Hoskins). Less creepy than oppressive, the movie is tiresome even in its revelations. Artisan plans a November release. October 10, at Avery Fisher Hall. (JH)

Short Films Once upon a time Robert Breer’s ultrakinetic Fistfight had NYFF viewers on their feet throwing punches at one another. Today, Breer leaves aggression to the Hollywood boys, which is why his delicate memory piece, Time Flies (playing with Rien sur Robert), is no less a countercurrent to the millennial tide. Breer’s subject-how images and sounds live in the mind’s eye and ear-and his handcrafted 16mm animation have always been in perfect sync. In his latest tour de force, snapshots, drawings, and bits of film from a lifetime of art-making and domesticity dance across the screen. It’s not a summation (that’s not Breer’s style), more of a backward glance before moving forward again.

If none of the other short films are in a class with Breer’s, Laurence Attali’s lively Even the Wind (in which a French female saxophone player and an African male cabdriver chatter nonstop as they drive through Senegal) and Jean-Marie Straub’s old warhorse Machorka-Muff are very fine indeed. (AT)

Unavailable for screening: The Carriers Are Waiting; The Woman Chaser; Mobutu, King
of Zaire