2015 New York Film Festival: Introduction

L-R: Christian Leus, Dominique Silverman, Adam Reece, Connor Newton

L-R: Christian Leus, Dominique Silverman, Adam Reece, Connor Newton

It rained nonstop during our October trip to the 2015 New York Film Festival. Rather than seeming dreary, the weather heightened the coziness of Film Society of Lincoln Center’s series of theaters that hosted the festival. We hurried along the wet roads, splashed through puddles, and huddled together under umbrellas as we made our way down the busy city streets. The theaters provided welcome shelter from the pouring rain and blustering wind; we left one world and, for a spell, entered others. For five days we enjoyed the opportunity to view curated films and discuss them over delicious food in this new environment where anything seemed possible.
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Arabian Nights: Volume 3, The Enchanted One (2015). Reviewed by Adam Reece

Arabian Nights: Volume 3, The Enchanted One (Miguel Gomes, 2015)

Arabian Nights: Volume 3, The Enchanted One (Miguel Gomes, 2015)

Miguel Gomes’s The Arabian Nights: Volume 3, The Enchanted One (Gomes 2015), like the collection it takes its name from, tells a shimmering frame tale of loosely interwoven stories. The heroine, Xerazade (Crista Alfaiate), who has been telling the King stories in order to indefinitely forestall his bloodthirsty nature, leaves the palace that she has stayed in most of her life. Outside, she meets bandits, a spirit of the wind, and Paddleman (Carloto Cotta), father of many children, who is beautiful but dumb. She sings “Perfidia” on a rock overlooking the sea. She meets her father (Américo Silva), the vizier, on a Ferris wheel, and he tells her to go back to the palace, reassuring her of her ability. Gomes, in the outer narrative, seems to be channeling a distinctly Portuguese yet quirkily Wes Anderson style. Not having seen the first two films, I found Xerazade’s scenes fun yet seemingly light on substance.
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Cemetery of Splendour (2015). Reviewed by Christian Leus

Cemetery of Splendor (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2015)

Cemetery of Splendor (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2015)

On a rainy night in October, in the small Francesca Beale Theatre at Lincoln Center, Cemetery of Splendour, the latest film from Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul, guided its audience through an oneiric meditation on time, compassion, and nationalism. Set and shot in the small Thai village where Apichatpong grew up, the film centers around a community struggling with a mysterious sleeping sickness that affects only its soldiers. Housed in a school-turned-hospital and hooked up to machines that radiate soft, colored light, the soldiers become the link between the waking townspeople and the invisible dream world of the past that surrounds them. As protagonist Jen (Jenjira Pongpas Widner) begins caring for solitary soldier Itt (Banlop Lomnoi), she remarks that she is sleeping less, as if the comatose man were resting for her. Simultaneously, her waking life grows stranger: goddesses join her at a picnic table, and young psychic medium Keng (Jarinpattra Rueangram) tells her that the comatose soldiers are fighting an ancient war in their sleep. Apichatpong’s camera treats all of these events matter-of-factly, his wide-angle long taking in cool sunlight and synthesizing the mystical and quotidian with the same unquestioning logic that structures our best dreams.
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Les Cowboys (2015). Reviewed by Connor Newton

Les Cowboys (Thomas Bidegain, 2015)

Les Cowboys (Thomas Bidegain, 2015)

Thomas Bidegain’s 2015 film Les Cowboys acts as a modern interpretation of John Ford’s The Searchers (1956), using an immigrant-populated and culturally shifting France as a backdrop, as opposed to the American West. At the center of Les Cowboys is an investigation of terrorism: Bidegain uses Islam as the “culprit,” whereas Ford used Native American culture. The film’s narrative revolves around the disappearance of a young girl who has supposedly run off with a radical Islamic sect, and the chase that ensues by her father and younger brother. Les Cowboys, in its pursuit of finding the missing girl, works as an interrogation of various cultures and how the decisions we make help to define us. The search is for an older culture; the search is for something human, the daughter/sister, but her disappearance functions as a microcosm for the volatility of culture as a whole.
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Don’t Blink: Robert Frank (2015). Reviewed by Christian Leus

Don’t Blink: Robert Frank (Laura Israel, 2015)

Don’t Blink: Robert Frank (Laura Israel, 2015)

In Alice Tully Hall, I got my first introduction to Robert Frank – photographer and documentarian, most noted for 1958’s The Americans, a photo book documenting subjects all over the US. Utterly unfamiliar with Frank’s work, I came into Laura Israel’s documentary Don’t Blink: Robert Frank not knowing what I would find.
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Everything Is Copy (2015). Reviewed by Dominique Silverman

Everything Is Copy Directed (Jacob Bernstein, 2015)

Everything Is Copy
Directed (Jacob Bernstein, 2015)

Jacob Bernstein’s elegiac documentary Everything Is Copy (2015) made me want to call my mom. The director lovingly composed a film about his mother, the famous journalist, author, screenwriter, and director Nora Ephron. Copy chronicles Ephron’s life, starting with photographs of her parents and home videos before moving on to her early writing successes (including her 1983 autobiographical fiction Heartburn, which became a film directed by Mike Nichols in 1986, and various essays written for publications such as Esquire and the New York Post). The film deftly highlights Ephron’s vast career by incorporating snippets of her essays read aloud by Meg Ryan, Lena Dunham, and others, as well as film clips from some of her biggest hits, such as When Harry Met Sally (Rob Reiner, 1989) and Sleepless in Seattle (Nora Ephron, 1993). The film ends with Ephron’s death in 2012 as a result of complications from leukemia. Though Ephron claimed that “everything is copy”—i.e. be an open book, and learn to laugh at yourself—she was uncharacteristically private about her illness. Rather than shy away from the details of her illness as Ephron did, Bernstein unflinchingly documents it all. In this way the documentary reaffirms the eponymous mantra as Bernstein cinematically challenges Ephron’s desire to keep a part of herself private.
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Heaven Can Wait (1943). Reviewed by Adam Reece

Heaven Can Wait (Ernst Lubitsch, 1943)

Heaven Can Wait (Ernst Lubitsch, 1943)

Ernst Lubitsch’s Heaven Can Wait (1943) is, by all appearances, a stuffy period piece—a comedy of manners. Yet, to take the film at surface value misses the ways that Lubitsch gleefully pokes holes in the era’s overblown pomp. The film focuses on Henry Van Cleve (Don Ameche), an aged philanderer who has just died. Instead of passing on, either to Heaven or, as Henry assumes, Hell, he ends up relating the story of his life and the women in it to His Excellency (Laird Cregar), the debauched Devil who lasciviously grins and leans in as Henry begins his account.
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Maggie’s Plan (2015). Reviewed by Dominique Silverman

Maggie’s Plan (Rebecca Miller, 2015)

Maggie’s Plan (Rebecca Miller, 2015)

Rebecca Miller’s Maggie’s Plan (2015) seems designed to subvert the expected structure of a typical rom-com. At the beginning of the film, the eponymous protagonist (Greta Gerwig) decides to act on her desire to start a family by getting pregnant with the assistance of a sperm donor. The film drops this potentially empowering plotline almost immediately as Maggie falls for John (Ethan Hawke), an unhappily married anthropologist-turned-writer in the middle of penning his first novel. John is married to Georgette (Julianne Moore), a brilliant academic so “frigid” (according to her husband) that the film constantly costumes her in plush faux fur from head to toe. The film focuses on the turbulent lives of these three characters as the two women haphazardly fall in and out of love with the equally fickle John.
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Microbe & Gasoline (2015). Reviewed by Dominique Silverman

Microbe & Gasoline (Michel Gondry, 2015)

Microbe & Gasoline (Michel Gondry, 2015)

Michel Gondry’s intimate film Microbe & Gasoline (Microbe et Gasoil) tells the seemingly straightforward tale of Daniel (Ange Dargent)—nicknamed Microbe because of his unusually small frame—and Théo (Théophile Baquet)—called Gasoline based on his affinity for mechanics—two friends who bond, as so often happens, in misery. The pair suffers the indignity of schoolyard taunts, the uniquely painful heartbreak of dance-floor rejection, and family members that don’t understand or respect their passions and preoccupations. This is where the film takes a delightfully offbeat turn: to cope with it all, the two young rebels build a car from parts scavenged from a scrapyard. After failing to make the contraption street legal, the pair slap on four walls and a roof and depart on a madcap road trip across France in the car, now disguised as a house, guided only by crumpled paper maps, faint sun-soaked memories, and a half-baked (ultimately unsuccessful) scheme to win over a girl.
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My Golden Days (2015). Reviewed by Christian Leus

My Golden Days (Arnaud Desplechin, 2015)

My Golden Days (Arnaud Desplechin, 2015)

My memories of New York hold light – the refraction of gold lamps in rain-slick glass doors, the flickering burn of taillights, the gentle halogen glow of the city as reflected by low-hanging clouds. I found the city easy to romanticize, and in memory even more so. Looking back, I can erase the sharp edges of my experience, the biting rain, the broken umbrellas, and dwell instead in images of light: reflected, refracted, or projected large onto the screen in Alice Tully Hall.
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