Flash of the Titans

Previewing the 36th New York Film Festival

Flowers of Shanghai Hou Hsiao-Hsien, my candidate for the world's greatest active narrative filmmaker, tells a story about storytelling, populated by a gaggle of late 19th-century courtesans and their wealthy, opium-addled clients. Shot completely in interiors, Flowers of Shanghai is typically dense and oblique, with unusually sumptuous visuals. These screenings could be your only opportunity to see it in New York. October 5 and 6. —J.H.

Late August, Early September The title refers to the seasons of life: a half-dozen Parisians suffer bad breakups, real-estate hassles, and intimations of mortality. Olivier Assayas assays an older cohort than previously and with considerably less urgency. The movie is by no means a debacle; amorphous as it is, it mainly feels transitional. October 5 and 6. —J.H.

The Celebration In a more spirited example of ensemble filmmaking, Lars Von Trier associate Thomas Vinterberg directs this family gathering as a demented Rules of the Game. It's pop's 60th birthday and the haute-bourgeois proprieties are shattered by intimations of madness, incest, pederasty, alcoholism, and patricide. The movie is comic although few of the japes have more than momentary impact. October will release after the festival screenings. October 7 and 8. —J.H.

Opium denizens: Michiko Hada and Tony Leung in Flowers of Shanghai
Film Society of Lincoln Center
Opium denizens: Michiko Hada and Tony Leung in Flowers of Shanghai

The Inheritors Set in deepest Austria between the world wars, Stefan Ruzowitzky's satiric heimatfilme concerns seven peasants who inherit a farm from their murdered master and establish a commune. The story of their doomed utopia has a droll backbeat and a surprisingly powerful punch. Were it not for the distancing classical music, this would be a very crazy silent film—as well as an alternative version of the Russian Revolution. October 7 and 8. Stratosphere releases October 9. —J.H.

Happiness A flabbergastingly bleak riff on Hannah and Her Sisters, Todd Solondz's unsparing, convulsive satire about desire, repression, and inappropriate object choices is fated to be remembered as the pedophilia film, but that's just the jism on the cake. October 9 and 10. —A.T.

Rushmore Max Fisher, the ultimate nerd go-getter, stumbles and schemes through his senior year at two high schools, hopelessly in love with one of the teachers. It's a comedy of loss and obsession imbued by Wes Anderson's surehanded direction with the wacky charm of a kid's picture book. I can't remember a teenage comedy this engagingly offbeat since Lord Love a Duck. Touchstone plans to open the movie next year. October 9 and 10. —J.H.

The Dreamlife of Angels French director Erick Zonca leaps into the big time with this seductive first feature about two young women who find and quickly lose each other when one of them falls for the wrong guy. Extroverted gamine Elodie Bouchez plays a runaway whose sense of feminist and working-class solidarity saves her life. Her friend, played by the more introspective Natacha Régnier, is destroyed by her infatuation with wealth and glamour. The film has a strong sense of place, thanks to the cinematography of Agnes Godard, who often shoots for Claire Denis, the one great French filmmaker this festival continues to overlook. Sony Pictures Classics. October 11. —A.T.

Unavailable for screening: Celebrity (Woody Allen), Book of Life (Hal Hartley), Life on Earth (Abderrahmane Sissako), Black Cat, White Cat (Emir Kusturica), The Presence of a Clown (Ingmar Bergman), River of Gold (Paul Rocha), Same Old Song (Alain Resnais), and A Tale of Autumn (Eric Rohmer).

Festival Shorts

Scottish filmmaker Lynne Ramsey makes a startling debut with the 14-minute Gasman (playing with The Apple). Like Jane Campion, Ramsey evokes the erotically tinged terrors of girlhood with disorienting camera angles that make you feel as if you're always too close or too far away to grasp what's happening. I'm not sure who the gasman is, but the desire to sit in his lap is the stuff that Oedipal nightmares are made of.

None of the other short films are in the same league, although David Lodge's Horseshoe (with I Stand Alone), an adaptation of a Charles Bukowski story about a horrifying trip to the dentist (with Bukowski reading on the soundtrack) comes close. Playing a cinephilic journalist obsessed with Ava Gardner, the irresistible Mathieu Almaric makes Xavier Giannoli's Interview (playing with Rushmore) a fetishist's delight. —A.T.

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