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Sunday, May 14, 2006

Festival films

I am privileged to live in New York City, and to have the opportunity to see many films that never play in other parts of the country. At three festivals each year, New Directors/New Films in March, the Tribeca Film Festival in April/May, and the New York Film Festival in September/October, I have seen several wonderful [and more than a few worthless or mediocre] movies long before their release elsewhere [and some are never released elsewhere]. Here are a few notes on films that I have seen, some of which have since opened.


I saw a fascinating, disturbing movie from Germany last night at the Tribeca Film Festival [I am seeing 5 movies in all, not one of them in Tribeca] called The Free Will. It's nearly 3 hours, about a sociopathic rapist's attempts to re-enter society after being in a mental institution for 10 years. I am not saying you should see it -- it is brutal [the rapes are depicted without mercy], and its final hour is I believe dreadfully wrongheaded. But it has haunted me on a very deep level all last night and this morning, and I suspect it will get some favorable attention when it opens in theaters.

I did see two films at the recent New Directors series that you should watch for:
Into Great Silence, a 3-hour documentary about monks in the French Alps. This was a surprise boxoffice hit in Germany [where the director is from] and drew an overflow crowd to the Walter Reade on a Sunday at noon. It's fascinating and moving, designed as "meditation rather than information," in the director's words. Since it already carries the Warner Bros leader [not even their independent brand, bu the actual WB shield], I assume it will be released commercially fairly soon.

Wild Tigers I Have Known will probably get the kind of semi-commercial release that Tarnation and Mysterious Skin got. About the sexual/romantic fixation of a 13 year old boy for a 17 year old boy, it will be controversial for sure. It's often wildly pretentious, more of an art project than a conventional movie, but it is obviously the work of a very, very talented young man. See it.

And festival films now playing around town:

Yet another documentary about an artist from a small town, involving mental illness, a la Tarnation. This one is biography rather than autobiography, and not nearly so daring formally....but it was deeply moving and often very funny too. It's called The Devil and Daniel Johnston. The packed house [at MoMA] and enthusiastic reception indicate it will probably get a commercial release. (Tarnation took in a grand total of less than $600,000 in theaters; I would guess the director thinks it miraculous that it found an audience at all--although his ego is rather sizable, come to think of it.) Stephen Holden in the Times did a great disservice by writing a dismissive review concentrating on Mr. Johnston's musical accomplishments or lack thereof. Many think him a genius; I'm not sure what I think, but it's beside the point in appreciating this marvelous film.

Lady Vengeance received one of the most rousing ovations I have ever witnessed at the NY Film Festival. It is too violent [and occasionally too silly] to be everyone's cuppa, but it is extraordianarily well directed/photographed/edited.

Somersault, an Australian movie about a sexually risky teenage girl [both she and her boyfriend are portrayed by beautiful and talented actors]

The Taiwanese film, Three Times, was interminable. It tells three love stories in different periods with the same two actors. The most interesting one was set in 1911 and done silent movie style. It was nicely photographed. The 1966 and 2005 sections were to me worthless, although much acclaimed in the press here and abroad.

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