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NYFF 2010. Wrap

The index will take you to roundups for nearly every film in this year's New York Film Festival main slate as well as to those for a handful of special events and Views from the Avant-Garde. This last NYFF 2010 roundup encompasses most of what's been notably said about the two Masterworks series — Elegant Elegies: The Films of Masahiro Shinoda and Fernando de Fuentes's Mexican Revolution Trilogy — plus a few outlying odds and ends.

Let's begin with Shinoda by reaching back to Aaron Cutler's expansive introduction to the man and his work for the House Next Door: "In his book Eros Plus Massacre, a study of the Japanese New Wave, David Desser argues that the Japanese filmmakers who emerged in the 1960s saw themselves as fundamentally different from their predecessors. Unlike previous Japanese filmmakers, who perceived themselves as craftsmen, these new filmmakers saw themselves as artists — a shift in thinking taking place among filmmakers worldwide. Consequently, they suffered through their early studio work, where they trained as assistant directors on forgettable comedies and family dramas. Shinoda felt particularly stifled at Shochiku, the studio that housed Ozu, whose motto, so he said, was 'Bright and cheerful films.' Their situation changed with the 1956 release of Kô Nakahira's anthem for doomed youth Crazed Fruit. Its success encouraged the studios to produce movies about young people, and to enlist young filmmakers to make them. Shinoda got his chance with 1960's One-Way Ticket for Love..., which Shochiku mandated he adapt from a Neil Sedaka song. The film bombed, but he got another chance later that year with Dry Lake..., the story of a frustrated teenage punk, and a great film." A guide to the rest of the program follows; and for the L, Cutler's reviewed Assassination (1964), a film that's "simply one of the most exhilarating that you will ever see."

"He's not as epic and sweeping and emotional as Kurosawa," writes Glenn Kenny, "not as stately and droll and profound as Ozu, not as tragedy-acute and beauty-generating as Mizoguchi, not as perverse as Imamura, as radical as Oshima, as frantic as Fukasaku, as out-and-out lunatic as Suzuki. And so on. But he is, by any number of estimations, a major Japanese director." As for Pale Flower (1964), from which the above image is taken, "its little breaks from ostensible traditional cinematic storytelling — the use of a handheld camera during a bowling-alley brawl, the 60s-cool solarization of a dream sequence, a crucial zoom — do not, and of course, can not, galvanize viewers the way they did back in the day. But the picture still packs an interesting sting in its tail, and delivers it well, before reverting to some fake-misterioso portent for the capper. Aside from its immediate entertainment value, it should be of crucial interest to those looking to pin down Shinoda in their index of Japanese directors." Update, 10/12: A roundup on the late Ryo Ikebe.

"Based on a novel by Shusaku Endo, who co-adapted the film's screenplay, Silence [1971] is a blistering, expertly conceived portrait of religious martyrdom, predestination and ultimately an indirect condemnation of Buddhism and Japanese close-mindedness," writes Simon Abrams for the New York Press. "It begins as a film about the lengths men will go to protect their ideals and reveals itself to be a blistering protest against Nipponese conservatism. 'Japan is a swamp,' a haunted priest says at film's end, making all the mundane tortures you see in the film the fault of somebody and not the province of gods. The gods in Silence, Christian and Buddhist, are absent, and all that's left for survivors is pitiless nihilism."

"Fernando de Fuentes's Mexican Revolution trilogy is ad hoc — the three films range from 1933 to 1936, and other films were made in between — but always truly about what happens when politics intrude in the lives of people who'd prefer to be left alone." Vadim Rizov for the L: "Context is helpful but inessential; Fuentes himself had been an assistant to Venustiano Carranza, a revolutionary who split with Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata before becoming president in 1917, and was assassinated in 1920. That knowledge goes a long way to explaining the films' tone, which is equally skeptical of revolutionaries and corrupt leaders, but it doesn't really matter; one film's a masterpiece [El Compadre Mendoza, 1934], another's close [Prisoner 13, 1933; image above], and the third one's far from an embarrassment [Let's Go With Pancho Villa, 1936]."

"The three films don't have common characters or a continuing storyline," notes Aaron Cutler at the House Next Door. "Each focuses on a different sector of society — Prisoner 13 on the urban military rulership, Let's Go with Pancho Villa on the rural peasant rebels, and El Compadre Mendoza, the middle film, on the bourgeois civilian class torn between the two. Yet the films' strongest commonality is sympathy for the Revolution's casualties, regardless of which side is being spotlighted. I don't know what de Fuentes's personal politics were, but the trilogy's compassion for every group's victims offers a profoundly liberal — I mean humanist — perspective."

More from Simon Abrams (New York Press), Sean Glass (Ioncinema) and James van Maanen.

Revolución is, as Andrew Schenker notes in Slant, "an anthology film in which 10 different directors reflect on the legacy of the Mexican Revolution," and its "first two segments offer a telling contrast in how the filmmakers choose to address the project's thematic parameters. Commemorating the 100th anniversary of the 1910 uprising, which began with the overthrow of longtime dictator Porfirio Díaz, and eventually led the establishment of a new constitution and the granting of significant rights to peasants, the film charges its participants with 'creat[ing] a contemporary vision of the Revolution.'... Given such a broad concept, the possibilities for treatment remain almost limitless, but it's interesting to note that the first two episodes lay out the twin poles for approaching the stated thematic." Fernando Eimbcke's The Welcome Ceremony is "a marvel of short-form filmmaking" and "deals with revolution in only the most abstract way." Patricia Riggen's Beautiful and Beloved is, "by contrast, a mess" and "puts the legacy of the Revolution front and center by making the lead character the granddaughter of one of its heroes."

More from Elise Nakhnikian (House Next Door) and James van Maanen.

Update, 10/16: "Thankfully three of the country's most famous exports, Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth — boo, hiss), Guillermo Arriaga (The Burning Plain — hahaha) and Alejandro González Iñárritu (Babel — grrr), are not involved in Revolución," writes Reverse Shot's Jeff Reichert. "Yet one almost wishes they were — at least then there'd be something risible about it."

"Spanish filmmaker Segundo de Chomón began working in the medium less than half a decade after its invention, first as a renowned colorist in the days of labor-intensive frame-by-frame tinting, then as a pioneering special-effects designer," writes Ed Halter for Artforum. "Though populated with dancing sorcerers, gypsy alchemists, and ghostly apparitions, Chomón's work now feels ironically materialist, capturing the weird essence of cinema in its primordial form: an industrial-era machine, rigged out of gears and shutters, incandescent bulbs and chemical photography, that nonetheless creates lifelike phantoms from a projected beam of moving shadows."

Aaron Cutler at the House Next Door: "Two of the best films in this year's main slate, The Strange Case of Angelica and Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, summon up ghosts and spirits with classic trick film techniques: people flying on wires, wearing fur costumes, fading in and out of view. Certified Copy and Double Suicide, the best new and repertory movies showing this year, don't even bother with feigning the supernatural; for them, the act of photographing people moving through the world is wondrous, and acknowledging the act of photographing makes it all the more so. De Chomón's techniques walk like dinosaurs compared to those of current Hollywood studio films, but the most exciting films in the world right now are lifting them whole cloth. What seemed otherworldly to 1900s audiences may seem clunky, almost pedestrian to viewers in the 2000s — and, oh sweet mystery, more magical for it."

Following the NYFF program, The Singular Segundo de Chomón, a series at Anthology Film Archives, runs from October 29 through 31.



Thrilled and proud to see my genius buddy @lucasgary kick out the jams w/ evocative and spooky Spanish DRACULA guitar score at NYFF 2nite Sun Oct 10 03:59:41 via Twitter for BlackBerry® Glenn Kenny



"Premiered over a year ago at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival and now getting a showcase at the 2010 New York Film Festival, Joe Dante's The Hole is becoming a real tale from the crypt," writes Michael Koresky at Reverse Shot. "And it's cobwebby in more ways than one. A clunky, rattling toy chest of tired horror tropes, The Hole will nevertheless win over the Gremlins and Matinee mastermind's devoted fans (I'm looking at you, Jonathan Rosenbaum!), and maybe a few brave tots in the bargain.... As a fairly archetypal kids' story of overcoming fears, The Hole has built-in thematic heft, for sure, but there's no new twist here; often it feels like Dante's just going through the motions, with little visual wit to compensate."

Updates, 10/12: For Kenji Fujishima at the House Next Door, "The Hole is a lot of fun, but like the best children's horror stories, it also manages to sneak in a good amount of real menace within its seemingly lighthearted framework."

And Ed Champion has an interview with Dante you can listen to; it comes in at just under half an hour.

Update, 10/13: "The Hole is a throwback to the 1980s, the heyday of Spielburgian, scary-fun horror, when kids played the heroes and men like Dante owned the genre," writes Henry Stewart for the L. "The psychology is facile — we each have one and only one deep, dark, conquerable fear? — but Dante handles it with compensatory aplomb. He's the consummate professional here, evident from the manipulations of creepy shadows and Javier Navarrete's anxious score to the male leads' warm fraternal rapport, or the movie's general grasp of the group and the sense of collective discovery that's particular to youth."



"There is no cinephile worth his or her salt who doesn't know the name Jack Cardiff," writes Marilyn Ferdinand. "A true artist with a camera, Cardiff was responsible for some of the most stunning films ever made, including three certified masterpieces from Michael Powell and Emeric PressburgerA Matter of Life and Death (1946), The Red Shoes (1948), and Black Narcissus (1947)."

This "trilogy," notes Aaron Cutler at the House Next Door, "called for strong lights and colors to match their strong emotions, and Cardiff supplied them. The sparkling reds, greens, yellows, and blues in these movies look crystallized, then melted and slightly smeared, so that your eyes feel like they're eating sugar candy in a flower patch. The vision was so particular to Cardiff that when Martin Scorsese first saw Pandora and the Flying Dutchman, an Ava Gardner fantasy that Cardiff shot for another director, he swore it was a Powell and Pressburger film. All this is recounted in Cardiff's witty, entertaining, extremely rambling and anecdotal autobiography Magic Hour. It's also gone over in Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff, a new documentary with ample footage of the nonagenarian Cardiff telling his stories."

"[Y]ou can almost forgive the conservative format of Craig McCall's BBC-ish biodoc once the clips start rushing in," writes David Fear in Time Out New York. "Talking heads like Kirk Douglas, Lauren Bacall and superfan Martin Scorsese offer praise (dig that side-by-side comparison of The Red Shoes and Raging Bull!), while an extensive interview with the man himself traces his beginnings in silent cinema to his final years, shooting shorts in 2005."

The doc screened on Friday with A Matter of Life and Death. Earlier: Reviews from Cannes.

"Julie Taymor is a filmmaker fascinatingly, infuriatingly at odds with herself," writes Benjamin Mercer at Reverse Shot. "Each of her four features contains an essential, somewhat patronizing, gesture toward accessibility: her debut, Titus, sexes up Shakespeare's gruesome Titus Andronicus with an all-star cast and a bright color palette; Frida puts Salma Hayek through an Oscar-friendly ornate-biopic game of dress-up, casting the voluptuous actress as the earth-mother-ish Mexican painter Frida Kahlo; Across the Universe tells a story of young love laced with Beatles tracks, proudly presenting the biggest pop-music sensation in the history of the world for those recalcitrant adolescents unwilling to take their parents' word for it; and The Tempest, her latest effort, returns to the turf of her debut, busting a flashy late-90s-esque Shakespeare-revisionism move (it's Prosper-a not Prosper-o!) amid a maelstrom of bizarre VFX." And "she again tries to reach past the medium she's using — and in the process creates something garishly uncinematic, the bombast and visual convolution of which is fundamentally out of sync with the Shakespeare-for-dummies simplification pledge that seems to have been the project's origin."

More from Simon Abrams (L), Aaron Cutler (Slant), Tony Dayoub, Peter Gutierrez (Twitch), Jenni Miller (Cinematical), Elise Nakhnikian (House Next Door) and James van Maanen.

Earlier: Reviews from Venice.

Update, 10/13: "Aaron Cutler, Kenji Fujishima, and Elise Nakhnikian, who covered this year's New York Film Festival for The House Next Door, shared some thoughts via email about the event as a whole and its highlights."

Coverage of the coverage: NYFF 2010. For news and tips throughout the day every day, follow The Daily Notebook on Twitter and/or the RSS feed.

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