Like in years past, French cinema is well represented, starting with the festival’s opening night selection, Comme une Image (Look At Me) from actress/director Agnes Jaoui (The Taste of Others). It is about an overweight girl trying to cope with the self-absorbed people around her, including her vocal teacher, played by Jaoui, and her unsupportive father, played by co-writer Jean-Pierre Bacri. Having already won a Cesar (French Oscar) for Best Film and Screenplay and awarded Best Screenplay at Cannes, it should be no surprise that Look at Me is France’s submission to the Oscars in the foreign language category.
As in years past, recurring themes can be found that link together a number of the films. This year’s theme revolves around war and its aftermath as best exemplified by The Big Red One: The Reconstruction, a restoration of Sam Fuller’s classic WWII film, which was drastically cut for its theatrical release in 1980.
The New York Film Festival’s crowning achievement may be the exclusive special program Selling Democracy: Films of the Marshall Plan. Between the years of 1947 and 1950, the Marshall Plan Film Unit made 250 short films as propaganda promoting democracy after World War II. Not allowed to be shown in the United States until now, their timely release draws parallels to the US’s current initiatives in foreign countries.
Ironically, the French are at the forefront of backing films about war, including Into the Battlefields, a different type of war movie focusing on the everyday lives of the people. Amidst the bombings of 1983 Beirut, a young girl deals with a crisis within her dysfunctional family. Filmed in Lebanon, the first full-length dramatic feature from director Danielle Arbid features a number of strong performances and powerful dramatic situations. Jean-Luc Godard’s latest film, Notre Musique, looks at different stages of war via three segments, “Heaven”, “Hell” and “Purgatory”, which includes actual war footage and scenes shot in Sarajevo and Palestine. Other films from France include Eric Roehmer’s Triple Agent. Arnaud Despechin’s Kings and Queen, picked up by Wellspring Media at the festival, and Raymond Depardon’s documentary about the French courtroom system, The 10th District.
The only nationality better represented in this year’s festival is Asia, as the festival includes a number of special programs that will delight Asian cinephiles. Shaw Brothers Studios was Hong Kong’s premier film studio from the 50’s through the 70’s, producing musicals, comedies, historical epics and the type of martial arts and action films that were a huge influence on director Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill. Elegance, Passion, and Cold Hard Steel: A Tribute to Shaw Brothers Studios presents a wide sample of the studio’s best work in different genres.
More recent Asian fare includes Infernal Affairs, the Hong Kong crime drama from directors Andrew Lau and Andy Pak. A riveting look at the war between the police and crime families by using implanted moles, the original 2002 film and its two sequels have become huge hits in Asia. While the first film is already playing in New York theatres, all three chapters will be screened on Sunday, October 10, while the second and third chapters will be reshown as part of a special Hong Kong film series after the festival’s conclusion. (Look for a special feature on the trilogy in the next few weeks.)
The New York Film Festival will also hold the U.S. premiere for Hero director Zhang Yimou’s follow-up feature, House of Flying Daggers, which opens theatrically in December. Starring the beautiful Zang Ziyi (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) and Infernal Affair‘s Andy Lau, it’s another historical martial arts film set 900 years later than Hero. The festival will also show Thai director Apichatpong Weesarethakul’s Tropical Malady, Jia Zhangke’s The World, Korea’s Woman is the Future of Man and Café Lumiere from Hou Hsiao-Hsien.
Music has always had a significant place at the festival in years past and this year’s musical showcase is Miles Davis: A Different Kind of Blue, an amazing documentary about Davis’ 38-minute instrumental jam in front of 600,000 people at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970. It includes interviews with his collaborators, discussing his concurrent move to electric instruments. (It will be released on DVD on November 16.)
In Part 2 of our festival coverage, we’ll take an advance look at some of the festival’s returning favorites including Pedro Almodovar, Mike Leigh and Alexander Payne.
The 42nd New York Film Festival begins October 1 and runs until October 17.