States of Grace

Bloody Sunday
British soldiers open fire on unarmed demonstrators on January 30, 1972, in Derry, Northern Ireland, and you are there in this dramatic re-enactment of the unfolding catastrophe. Paul Greengrass's jagged montage—a hectic welter of jump cuts, blackouts, and overlapping everything—is a triumph of verité stylization so potent it recalls The Battle of Algiers and even Battleship Potemkin. Paramount Classics opens it next week. October 2, 3. (JH)

The Man Without a Past
The great critical favorite this year at Cannes, Aki Kaurismäki's underdog romance is lyrical, engaging, and relatively light. After Juha (NYFF '99), the last silent movie of the 20th century, Kaurismäki celebrates the Helsinki down and out. "Always ready for compromises," he explained at Cannes, he made a film "which has loads of dialogues . . . not to mention other commercial values." The movie also has passages as tense and spare as any 1950s programmer, but its One Big Union solidarity gets cheapened by an overutilized dog and overly righteous rock band. A Sony Pictures Classics release. October 2, 3. (JH)

My Mother's Smile
Returning to Lincoln Center some 30-odd years after his brooding political satire China Is Near, Marco Bellocchio uncorks a yarn about a secular artist's discovery that his mother is being considered for canonization. (That this beatification is continually presented as an economic bonanza no doubt contributed to the movie's condemnation by the Italian church.) My Mother's Smile opens like a Catholic Kafka story but, increasingly baroque and implausibly posh, deteriorates to the level of a papal thriller. No distributor. October 4, 6. (JH)

Go Midwest: Nicholson in About Schmidt.
photo: New Line Cinema
Go Midwest: Nicholson in About Schmidt.

Auto Focus
Paul Schrader proposes Bob Crane, the blandly tormented star of the '60s sitcom Hogan's Heroes, for the full Raging Bull treatment. There's plenty of bull but not much rage, although Greg Kinnear embodies Crane with a glibness as tough as tempered steel. Schrader has some fun with hyper-real reconstructions and clearly enjoys the part that compulsive videography played in Crane's joyless swinging. Auto Focus is being spun as a comedy, but it's way too punitive—a sexaholic Lost Weekend set on the celebrity Bowery. Sony Pictures Classics opens it next month. October 4, 5. (JH)

Springtime in a Small Town
In his first feature since The Blue Kite(NYFF '93), Fifth Generation director Tian Zhuangzhuang confidently remakes a 1948 Chinese classic to marvelous effect. A movie of indefinable moods and subtle emotional coloration, Springtime skews the Chekhovian triangle that develops between a sickly young landowner, his demurely provocative wife, and their childhood friend—an incongruously cheerful doctor who, having fought successfully with the Communists, lands in the couple's doleful midst. The unfulfilled longings evoke a double nostalgia. It's a must-see; there's no distributor. October 5, 6. (JH)

Punch-Drunk Love
Paul Thomas Anderson brought porn (and Burt Reynolds) to Lincoln Center with Boogie Nights(NYFF '97); introducing Adam Sandler (and phone sex) may be an even greater desecration. Placing Sandler between quotation marks is actually a less avant-garde modification of the star's persona than Little Nicky. For much of the movie, in which Sandler plays a Happy Gilmore-type nebbish prone to violent impulses, Anderson demonstrates as uncluttered a visual style as Albert Brooks's. But hampered by a weak script and a absence of chemistry between Sandler and Emily Watson, this elegant vehicle ultimately pulls up lame. Columbia opens it next month. October 5. (JH)

Turning Gate
Wistful and dryly funny, Hong Sang-Soo's mellifluous rondo of indecision and regret finds the South Korean director's customary anomie softening into bittersweet heartache. The callow yet empathetic protagonist, a romantically maladroit out-of-work actor, embarks on successive relationships with two self-possessed women, all the while obliquely plagued by the ancient legend of the Turning Gate—a tale of karmic irony, squandered second chances, and unforeseen abandonment. No distributor. October 6, 9. (DL)

Waiting for Happiness
Abderrahmane Sissako records the comings and goings in a sleepy Mauritanian port of transit with a sure eye and a rueful appreciation for human incongruity. As welcome as a cool breeze on a summer afternoon, this is a movie of understated, refreshing purity. Given the polyglot cast and the unforced, languid beauty of its elemental landscape, Sisako could have justifiably recycled the title of his earlier Life on Earth(NYFF '98). A New Yorker release. October 7, 9. (JH)

Divine Intervention
At once devastating and self-devouring, Elia Suleiman's sardonic psychodrama evokes his own situation as an Israeli Arab in a series of absurd, deadpan, and fantastic vignettes that allow him to wreak imaginative vengeance on Israeli tanks, cops, and border guards. The episodic structure may be familiar from the filmmaker's earlier Chronicle of a Disappearance, but the mood has darkened and Suleiman's riffs go even further in articulating his helpless rage. An Avatar release. October 7,8. (JH)

Safe Conduct
Set in Nazi-occupied France, Bertrand Tavernier's 18th non-documentary feature condenses the Boulogne-based, German-controlled Continental Films studio into a bustling microcosm of cold-eyed pragmatism, full-on resistance, and quite literal collaboration—icy streams that often flowed together. Tavernier barrels through Continental's daily intrigues with his characteristic antic rhythms, prowling camera, and historical acumen; resolutely unresolved in terms of both its narrative shape and moral assignations, the nearly three-hour film maintains a mode of almost improvisatory curiosity at turns infectious and exhausting. Empire will open it October 11. October 8, 10. (Jessica Winter)

Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary
Intelligent, self-aware, and mortified for life, Traudl Junge did a half-century of silent penance for her youthful experience typing memos and taking dictation from the führer. As she approached 80, the dam broke to release a torrent of banal, urgent, precise memories. More than Nazi human interest, Blind Spot is an amazing scoop—Junge died the night her testament premiered at the Berlin Film Festival. A Sony Pictures Classics release. October 10. (JH)

Friday Night
Clarie Denis's blissful waking dream wholeheartedly embraces its fantasy clichés: Stuck in a Paris traffic jam, two strangers in the night get in the mood for love. (Valérie Lemercier is the woman on the verge of cohabitation, Vincent Lindon the roguish enigma she picks up.) The movie is, above all, a sustained swoon of magnified gesture and microscopic detail, kept aloft by Dickon Hinchliffe's expectant score and the tactile caresses of Agnès Godard's camera—alive with possibility whether trained on overheating engines, wet asphalt, or the alien landscape of a naked body glimpsed for the first time. No distributor. October 11, 12. (DL)

To Be and to Have
Adhering closely but not religiously to the Wiseman verité codes for a portrait of a one-room schoolhouse in rural France, Nicolas Philibert's documentary radiates the tranquil watchfulness of an attentive pupil. As the lone, quietly heroic teacher mediates quarrels, demystifies addition, and moderates a penmanship critics' panel staffed by five-year-olds (renderings of "Maman" draw notices ranging from "It's a little bit good" to "It's lots of good"), Philibert's improbably riveting chronicle of becoming takes on an ethereal glow. A New Yorker release. October 12. (JW)

Talk to Her
Pedro Almodóvar, who opened the '99 NYFF with All About My Mother, closes this year's edition with another mature exploration of life and death and the whole damned thing. The suave promise of the first half—featuring Rosario Flores's superbly fetishized female matador—palls, despite the bad-boy insert of a memorable silent movie version of The Incredible Shrinking Man. Almodóvar's new seriousness is all too obviously telegraphed by the ponderous Pina Bausch pieces that frame the movie. Sony Pictures Classics plans a November opening. October 13. (JH)

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