Flash of the Titans

Previewing the 36th New York Film Festival

Impressively solid, the 36th edition of the New York Film Festival is stocked with proven favorites. There's Woody Allen and his idol, Ingmar Bergman, as well as the surprise return of two French vets, Alain Resnais and Eric Rohmer, plus films by the world's only two-time Cannes laureates, madmen Emir Kusturica and Shohei Imamura. Even the retrospectives are by classroom titans: Sergei Eisenstein and G.W. Pabst.

Its edge honed by the cruel comedy of Todd Solondz's Happiness and the murderous rant of Gaspar Noé's I Stand Alone, this is not the world's most p.c. lineup. There are no documentaries and only one feature is by a woman (Samira Makhmalbaf, teenage daughter of the Iranian director)—but, hey, the NYFF is generally our only chance to see anything by Hou Hsiao-Hsien, let alone Alexei Guerman's first movie in 15 years. —J. Hoberman

The Joyless Street Restored to its full length, Austrian master G.W. Pabst's 1925 portrait of social collapse amid rampant hyperinflation is ruthlessly to the point: Prostitution is universal. Pabst, who has a full retro next month at MOMA, gave Greta Garbo her break and it's still amazing to see how that plump young flapper attracts the camera. September 26. —J.H.

Gods and Monsters More history. Bill Condon imagines the last days of gay director James Whale, best known for the first two Frankenstein films. The film's sunshine gothic atmosphere is more effective than its increasingly maudlin tone but, as the dapper, acerbic "has-been," Ian McKellen puts on a remarkable one-man show. Lions Gate Releasing. September 26 and 27. —J.H.

I Stand Alone Gaspar Noé packs a one-two punch to the head and solar plexus in this brilliant and brutal portrait of lumpen proletariat rage and despair. Noé's minimalist aesthetic functions like a pressure cooker. It's as if the film itself causes the protagonist to explode. And then, after the horror, an ending as redemptive as that of Bresson's Pickpocket. Kudos to the festival for having the guts to show the most disturbing film of the decade. September 27 and 29. —Amy Taubin

Dr. Akagi Shohei Imamura's sprawling, manic account of a Japanese general practitioner's obsessive struggle against hepatitis on the home front during the last days of World War II is an even stronger return than The Eel to the earthy and eccentric black comedies that made Imamura's reputation in the 1960s. Kino plans a January opening. September 28 and 29. —J.H.

Khroustaliov, My Car! Alexei Guerman's sequel to his great 1981 film, My Friend Ivan Lapsin, is an insanely baroque and claustrophobic epic set during the final days of Stalin's regime. The protagonist is both a former alcoholic Red Army general and a celebrated brain surgeon (which is not the only thing that makes the plot impossible to follow) who's sent to the Gulag during the infamous "doctors purge," and released in a last-minute attempt to save the dying dictator. Shot in high-contrast black-and-white, the film is desperately inventive and amazing to look at from beginning to end. September 28. —A.T.

The Apple Imprisoned in their home for over a decade, Tehran twin girls emerge, blinking and giggling, into the world. Samira Makhmalbaf's debut is quintessential Iranian filmmaking—a low-key documentary reconstruction with a strong, if ambiguous, ruling metaphor and a number of enormously appealing child performances. September 30 and October 4. —J.H.

My Name Is Joe Ken Loach returns to domestic realism with a suprisingly high-tension tale of an ex-alcoholic struggling to break free of the thugs who are bleeding his low-rent Glasgow neighborhood. Peter Mullan, who won best actor in Cannes, is a solid addition to Loach's acting company. Artisan will release the film next year. September 30 and October 1. —A.T.

Strike The Soviet sensation of 1924, Sergei Eisenstein's feature debut has as many visual ideas as Citizen Kane, and I look forward to hearing how the Alloy Orchestra is going to accompany it. October 1. —J.H.

Velvet Goldmine Todd Haynes's postmodern musical extravaganza pierces the romantic heart beneath glam rock's diamond-hard, transvestite masquerade. Form and feeling, pop history and personal fantasy bump and grind in a gay manifesto bursting with aesthetic thrills. There's enough stuff here for six movies, all of them about the ecstatic power of music and performance. Miramax. October 1 and 3. —A.T.

The General John Boorman does the Irish troubles from the perspective of a Dublin heist-meister who navigates among the IRA, the loyalists, and the cops, managing for a time to keep his first priority, his family, afloat. Ponderous and pointless, it's also one of the most self-congratulatory films ("Look, Ma, it's black-and-white") in the Boorman oeuvre. Sony Classics releases the film in December. October 2 and 3. —A.T.

Point Blank We really thought John Boorman had something back in 1967 when he unleashed this stunning, if pretentious, gangster thriller fondly known as "Last Year at Alcatraz." Lee Marvin gives his definitive performance as an implacable killer, taking his vengeance from beyond the grave. October 3. —J.H.

Slam A young D.C. black poet is arrested on a petty drug charge and winds up saving himself and ending the drug wars in the hood through the power of his words. People at festivals all over the world seem to be extremely moved by this fairy tale. I can't get past director Marc Levin's clumsy filmmaking and limp liberal politics. The score by DJ Spooky is more elegant than the film deserves. Trimark. October 3 and 4. —A.T.

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.

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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