By J. Hoberman
The 47th New York Film Festival (September 25 through October 11) features some things old, some things new, and some new things by directors who are really, really old. Opening night's Wild Grass is by Alain Resnais—an alum of the very first NYFF—who, at 87, is not even this year's senior filmmaker.
There are movies you'd expect to find at Lincoln Center, such as the last Cannes Film Festival's critical favorite (Wild Grass), Palm d'Or laureate (Michael Haneke's The White Ribbon), and most notorious film (Lars von Trier's Antichrist). Also, the Sundance Audience and Grand Prize winner, directed by Lee Daniels and contractually known as Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire. And, perhaps, there are a few movies conspicuous by their absence, like the Coen Brothers' A Serious Man or Spike Jonze's Where the Wild Things Are. Let the wild rumpus start . . .
It's all about the mix. I was in the kitchen, so I know. The other chefs on the NYFF selection committee were my colleagues Scott Foundas and Melissa Anderson, former Voice film editor Dennis Lim, and, of course, festival director Richard Peña. No lack of continuity: Returning to the fest are Marco Bellocchio (Vincere), Bong Joon-ho (Mother), Catherine Breillat (Bluebeard), Claire Denis (White Material), Bruno Dumont (Hadewijch), Harmony Korine (Trash Humpers), Todd Solondz (Life During Wartime), and, after 22 years, Malien director Souleymane Cissé (Min Ye . . . )—not to mention Resnais, 81-year-old class of '68er Jacques Rivette (Around a Small Mountain), 83-year-old '70s regular Andrzej Wajda (Sweet Rush), and the 100-plus but ageless Manoel de Oliveira (Eccentricities of a Blond-Haired Girl). Comrade Foundas offered to moderate a panel entitled "80 and Loving It." (For his take on all the old guys, see page 18.)
On the other hand, there are a dozen or more filmmakers who have never had movies in the NYFF, including the 25-year-old Philippino prodigy Raya Martin (Independencia), 32-year-old Maren Ade (Everyone Else), 34-year-old Corneliu Porumboiu (Police, Adjective), the notorious minimalizer Pedro Costa (Ne Change Rien), and Israeli Samuel Maoz, who brings his first film, Lebanon, which he made on the cusp of 50.
Lebanon, which won the Golden Lion a few weeks ago at Venice, was—along with Police, Adjective—the closest thing to a unanimous favorite for the amiably fractious committee. Yeah, right, I thought, when told it had been hyped as another Waltz With Bashir. Actually, Maoz's recollection of his wartime experience, set entirely inside a tank heading north on the first day of the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, should be compared to No Exit, as directed by Sam Fuller. For this jaded committee member, the NYFF slate provided a number of other surprises (including the presence of Michael Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story as the festival's first-ever pre–opening night opener). Here are five more unlikely-sounding items that proved to be unexpected pleasures. None, as of this writing, have distributors. Some are showing only once; all are movies I'm looking forward to seeing again.
Ghost Town A three-hour Chinese doc—filmed by a director so new that he isn't even listed on IMBD, over a period of months (years?) in a near-deserted village in the mountains of southwest China—arrives over the transom. Give Ghost Town 15 minutes, and you won't be able to shut it off—the assortment of religious evangelists, hardcore drunks, and abandoned children that Zhao Dayong finds living their lives provide a drama (and a look) as compelling as any in the festival. September 27
Henri-Georges Clouzot's Inferno Who cares about a lost movie by the half-forgotten "French Hitchcock"? But the title of Serge Bromberg's documentary, Henri-Georges Clouzot's Inferno, has a double meaning. A rigid, audience-manipulating control freak, Clouzot attempted to go all nouveau vague in the early '60s with a hallucinatory psychological thriller. Inferno's protagonist is pathologically jealous of his hot, young wife (Romy Schneider), but the real head case was the director—unable to finish the movie and, as both survivors and surviving footage indicate, driven half-mad in the attempt. (See page 22.) October 4
To Die Like a Man Fado-singing, pooch-pampering trannie grows old: Sounds like a yawn, but João Pedro Rodrigues's To Die Like a Man is a deep and fabulously sad fable, as well as an example of lyrical, playful, unpredictable filmmaking from this Portuguese festival star. (It's this year's I'm Gonna Explode.) September 30, October 1
Kanikosen While we're talking kabuki: Kanikosen, by the Japanese provo-punk who calls himself Sabu. If a manic manga-style, two-dimensional adaptation of a once-famous Japanese-Communist agitprop novel sounds like your cup of tea, trust me: It is. September 27, 28
Trash Humpers The fest doesn't lack for provocations, although von Trier's Antichrist strains, Breillat's Bluebeard is over-subtle, and Solondz's Life During Wartime waxes too philosophical. Bruno Dumont's humorless Hadewijch deserves to be rated PFC (pretty fucking crazy), but the wackiest transgression is Harmony Korine's Trash Humpers. I've always considered Korine an untalented poseur, but, as the poet said, a fool persists in his folly until he becomes wise. October 1, 2