New York Film Festival

NYFF 2014: ‘Whiplash’ makes music thrilling like no other film

Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash, now conquering New York after wowing audiences at film festivals all the way back to Sundance last winter, opens with a title card over black while a few taps on a snare drum build into a furious drum roll. It’s a fine way to symbolize the conflict at the center of the film, which accelerates to “furious” so quickly and easily that it’s barely perceptible. Tension builds slowly in an empathic crescendo, before snapping over and over again like the repeated pounding of a cymbal. Whatever arguments this film may inspire, it’s clear that there is no other film in existence which makes music so thrilling.

NYFF 2014: ‘Gone Girl’ – Death Scenes from a Marriage

Fincher is an expert chemist when it comes to concocting the nastiest tales of cynicism and darkness. Gone Girl may not be the culmination of his efforts to date, but it’s undoubtedly a sinister piece of work. There’s an oppressive air within the film, from its meticulously created soundscape and score (from Fincher alums Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross) to its plasticized aesthetic. The cynical attitude is evident from the first frame, as the camera looks at the top of Amy’s (Rosamund Pike) head and Nick (Ben Affleck) says he’d like to “crack [his] wife’s head” to reveal the secrets lying in her labyrinthine brain. From that kickoff, we understand this is not a happy marriage. Maybe Fincher feels no marriages are happy.

NYFF 2014: Don’t look the gifted ‘Horse Money’ in the mouth

Horse Money is an elusive entity, a picture of eerie dreamscapes and squalid urban degradation devoid of earthly logic. Our unknowing guide is a retired brick layer named Ventura, acting as a cipher for the displaced souls of the Cape Verdean immigrants, consorting us through a saprogenic world. Director Pedro Costa crafts a hallucinatory, soul-searching labyrinth out of the squalor and grime of the Lisbon slums, known to locals as Fontainhas. It’s almost soporific in its unending calmness, but it (mostly) avoids pretensions. Ventura drifts in a solipsistic daze through various scenes of displaced landscape and artifice. He does various non-activities with unvarying detachment: he meets his estranged ex-wife, and tries to make a call on a broken phone, and uses a urinal in a derelict bathroom, and visits a doctor. Each event is visually striking, yet completely uneventful (though a door does slam at one point). The lighting is hard and Costa works often in steep contrasts; Ventura moves in and out of shadows, disappearing and reappearing like the motif from a dream.

NYFF 2014: Working Lass – ‘Two Days, One Night’

The end of Sandra’s (Marion Cotillard) journey does not matter, it is the journey that does. And though that sounds entirely conventional, even cliché, it might be the brilliance of Belgian auteurs Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne; their ability to get away with plot points that would seem at home in the most Hollywood, middlebrow fare comes off as resonant, enthralling, and emotionally realistic. Thus, in Two Days, One Night, the Dardennes prove their relevancy and potency as directors once again.

NYFF 2014: Life Upon the Wicked Stage – ‘Life of Riley’

Alain Resnais is inarguably one of the most prolific directors to come out of the French New Wave, with nearly 50 films under his belt, not least of which including his masterworks Hiroshima, Mon Amour, Last Year at Marienbad, and Night and Fog. Undeterred by age, he seemed to have been working up until the day he died, with his swan song Life of Riley being presented posthumously at this year’s New York Film Festival. Those only familiar with his Nouvelle Vague work will be in for a pleasant surprise: Life of Riley is perhaps more fun that it deserves to be.

NYFF 2014: Mia Hansen-Løve’s ‘Eden’ – Just Say Techno

Few films sprawl like Hansen-Løve’s latest, which spans twenty years, surveying the landscape of garage, techno, and house music, bumping into the likes of Daft Punk. It’s a film that is packed with an incredibly energy, specifically through music, but what is critical about this idea is that the energy is attached to that music. It would be far more frivolous and forgetful were the energy to simply exist as the de facto atmosphere of the film, but Hansen-Løve understands the power of music in a singular manner. In one scene, Paul will be at a party or DJ-ing one, the music and the party’s attendants both turned up. She’ll cut to another scene after the party, and immediately there’s a sense of loss and melancholy. The energy doesn’t just dissipate, it disappears. The deflation of energy in a film is a dangerous thing to attempt and often regarded as a weakness, but since the film is very much about Paul and his connection to music, it’s crucial to understand that that is his escape. The film even names the second of its two “parts” “Lost in Music”. It understands that this escapism and submersion into one’s passion as a way to avoid life is a double-edged sword, only workable and usable up to a certain point before it becomes a risk itself.

NYFF 2014: ‘Seymour: An Introduction’ offers a fleeting, intimate look at a beloved teacher

Seymour Bernstein might very well be the sweetest man alive. I’ve never met him, but Seymour: An Introduction, Ethan Hawke’s new documentary that chronicles a recent three-year period of Bernstein’s life, radiates with vibrant life, and creates the feeling that Bernstein is in the room with you. It depicts the man as a soft-spoken, endearing, genuine person who’s as genuinely passionate about life as he is music. He looks with glistening eyes into the camera, his features gentle and faded and the edges of the frame opaque, and talks with us, not at us. There’s something inexplicably beautiful about the way he gazes longingly into the camera, his eyes at once sharp yet soft, comfortably penetrative. He speaks softly, and the room seems to grow quiet around him, adjusting to his volume.

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NYFF 2014: Artistic Differences – ‘Pasolini’

The art and the artist are undoubtedly strange bedfellows, and while there is a vast ocean to explore in terms of this relationship, the tempestuousness rarely ever seems to get its time on screen. This is no different for Abel Ferrara’s Pasolini – a biopic about the last days of Pier Paolo Pasolini – where several times the idea is talked about, even spoken about with the same kind of verve that one would use to discuss the lurid sexual details that are illustrated on-screen, but that push and pull is not actually articulated on-screen. Pasolini was certainly a complex man, a Jack-of-all-trades in the art world, and Ferrara does an excellent job talking about this – his role in politics, his poetry, his novels, and, of course, his films – but the director spends little time showing us that influence. The biopic of an artist, I believe, begs the question of that relationship and that influence. “It’s either I kill myself or I do it,” he says about making movies. Though the film is certainly honorific, it’s not completely explorative.

NYFF 2014: Joshua Oppenheimer’s ‘The Look of Silence’ is a quietly devastating achievement

For those who already have a low opinion of humanity, The Look of Silence will do little to alleviate your misanthropy. It’s a gorgeously-crafted documentary, and it will likely resonate with people of at least decent moral standing, but it depicts humanity at its worst and offers no hope at the end. A unnervingly tranquil depiction of men as monsters, Joshua Oppenheimer’s film attempts to confront the leaders of the 1960s Indonesian Genocide, a one-sided civil war that resulted in the deaths of over one million people. The killers admit to nothing, of course, and the elected officials (“elected”)write off the genocide as “politics.” Children are programmed to think that those who were murdered deserved it: they were communists, Godless heathens, sinners. Victims’ families don’t dare address the decades-long suppression of truth because subversives are still killed in Indonesia today. It’s 2014, and the populace has been lulled into a startling state of delusion. The film, beauteous and depressing in equal measure, feels like a slowly swelling minor chord sustained for 99 minutes, with no crescendo needed.

NYFF 2013: ‘A Touch of Sin’ is a violent work of brilliance that desperately needs to be seen

Oppressed and censored from its national origins, Jia
Zhangke makes his prolific USA debut of A Touch of Sin (Tian Zhu
Ding) at the New York Film Festival. Telling four overlapping
parallel stories, each inspired by real-life depictions of
violence, Zhangke shows no mercy for the four souls tormented by
the political and social weight of the film’s portrayal of a
corrupt Chinese government and fading belief system

NYFF 2013: ‘The Immigrant’ has great melodrama, superb acting, but plays way too safe

The Immigrant, set in the dusty landscape of 1920s Manhattan, focuses on young Polish immigrant Ewa (Marion Cotillard). She’s separated from her sick sister at Ellis Island. After being denied from her uncle and struggling to raise money for her sister’s medical bills, Ewa finds herself at the doorstep of shady burlesque manager Bruno Weiss (Joaquin Phoenix), who grows fond of her innocence.

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