Cinephiles, it’s a film fes­ti­val feast


THE 56th New York Film Fes­ti­val, which ends to­mor­row, in­cludes some of the most in­spir­ing, con­found­ing and mad­den­ing movies of the year. A sam­pler of the pop­u­lar and the ab­struse, the fes­ti­val may be mid­dle-aged, but it re­mains surprising, if at times re­li­ably ex­as­per­at­ing.

Its se­lec­tions are eclec­tic, un­apolo­get­i­cally and rightly elit­ist, and oc­ca­sion­ally pre­dictable (Bon­jour, Olivier As­sayas.)

Pre­sented by the Film So­ci­ety of Lin­coln Cen­ter, it has carved out a dis­tinct niche partly be­cause it isn’t chasing Os­car con­tenders.

The only bor­ing thing about Roma, Al­fonso Cuarón’s mas­terly lat­est, is that it may well end up in con­tention. Don’t hold that against it.

Set in the early 1970s in the tit­u­lar Mex­ico City neigh­bour­hood where he grew up, it fol­lows Cleo (Yal­itza Apari­cio), a young nanny for a bour­geois fam­ily that is grad­u­ally fall­ing apart.

As with most of the se­lec­tions, Roma has a dis­trib­u­tor, in this case Net­flix, which plans to stream it and give it a lim­ited the­atri­cal re­lease.

Roma is the fes­ti­val’s cen­tre­piece se­lec­tion; Ju­lian Schn­abel’s At Eter­nity’s Gate, about the life of Vin­cent van Gogh, is this year’s clos­ing at­trac­tion. At once ex­pres­sion­is­tic and im­pres­sion­is­tic, this lat­ter-life por­trait fol­lows the painter – played by a raw, su­perb Willem Dafoe – pri­mar­ily dur­ing his time in Ar­les, in the south of France.

Stricken by poverty and des­per­ate, fluc­tu­at­ing moods, Van Gogh im­merses him­self in the land­scape, mak­ing its beauty his own. Os­car Isaac briefly shows up as Gau­guin, suck­ing on a pipe, but this is Dafoe’s movie.

Other high­lights from the fes­ti­val in­clude Pawel Paw­likowski’s Cold War, which tracks two lovers, a pi­anist and a singer (the erot­i­cally charged duo To­masz Kot and Joanna Kulig), across sev­eral decades and coun­tries, begin­ning in Poland in the wake of World War II.

In May at Cannes, when Cold War first screened, a few crit­ics lodged a rare fes­ti­val com­plaint, say­ing the movie’s roughly 90-minute run­ning time was too short. But Paw­likowski com­presses en­tire worlds into this exquisite blackand-white drama, which mov­ingly sets love, art and self-de­ter­mi­na­tion against tyranny.

The fes­ti­val has scooped off some ad­di­tional cream from this year’s Cannes, in­clud­ing Ja­far Panahi’s 3 Faces, Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Sho­plifters, Alice Rohrwacher’s Happy as Laz­zaro and Jia Zhangke’s Ash Is Purest White.

An­other stand­out is Chris­tian Pet­zold’s moody, beguil­ing Tran­sit, about a Ger­man refugee (an ex­cel­lent Franz Ro­gowski) who’s try­ing to flee to North Amer­ica from Nazi-oc­cu­pied France.

A num­ber of schol­ars will be present for a panel on restora­tion and the film pi­o­neer Alice Guy Blaché, the sub­ject of a re­cent doc­u­men­tary from Pamela Green. Green’s Be Nat­u­ral: The Un­told Story of Alice Guy Blaché, in the ret­ro­spec­tive pro­gramme, tracks the life, ca­reer and re­dis­cov­ery of the world’s first fe­male di­rec­tor.

It will be ac­com­pa­nied by a screen­ing of Guy Blaché’s 1912 film Fall­ing Leaves, which in 12 event­ful min­utes tells the touch­ing story of a young girl, Lit­tle Trixie, who at­tempts to keep her older, tu­ber­cu­lar sis­ter alive.

Di­rected by Guy Blaché, who had her own pro­duc­tion com­pany, So­lax, the film is fas­ci­nat­ingly perched be­tween theatre and cinema, and – like Green’s doc­u­men­tary – a re­minder of when fe­male direc­tors freely charted their own des­tinies.

Some of the older films in­cluded in this year’s event are widely avail­able, oth­ers will open in cinema’s later in the year or on Net­flix.

Ei­ther way, it’s a feast of film worth tak­ing note of. A mar­ried woman dis­cov­ers her father’s infidelity with her co-worker through a se­ries of quirky en­coun­ters. Cast in­cludes Sonam Kapoor, Anil Kapoor, and Juhi Chawla. A masked se­rial killer turns a hor­ror-themed amuse­ment park into his own per­sonal play­ground, ter­ror­is­ing a group of friends while the rest of the pa­trons be­lieve that it’s all part of the show. Cast in­cludes Bex Tay­lor-klaus, Amy Forsyth, Reign Edwards, Chris­tian James, Matt Mer­cu­rio and Roby At­tal. Sea­soned mu­si­cian Jack­son Maine dis­cov­ers – and falls in love with – strug­gling artist Ally. She has just about given up on her dream to make it big as a singer, and then Jack coaxes her into the spot­light. But, as Ally’s ca­reer takes off, the per­sonal side of their re­la­tion­ship is break­ing down. Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga and Sam El­liott.

AL­FONSO Cuarón’s mas­terly Roma.

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