States of Grace

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)

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

Details

40TH New York Film Festival
Lincoln Center
September 27 through October 13

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)


SHORT FILMS: This year's curtain-raisers hail from 10 countries, and a couple of national traumas loom large. Alexis Mital Toledo's moody, dispassionate Tango de Olvido follows the son of an Argentine refugee on a quasi-noir pilgrimage to the land he never knew, where inconvenient knowledge hemorrhages into deadly denial. (It screens with Friday Night but might well have been called The Man Without a Past.) Spike Lee's rat-a-tat montage We Wuz Robbed (part of the Ten Minutes Older series, aired last summer on Showtime, and paired here with Divine Intervention) revisits (S)election 2000 via testimony from Gore aides and campaign workers; perhaps surprisingly, there's more bitter nostalgia than outright indignation. Equally steeped in salesmanship and public relations, Julian M. Kheel's Exceed (with Unknown Pleasures) drolly tracks the evolution of a TV commercial, from chaotic beach set to media-studies seminar and beyond.

The most eloquent shorts tend to be wordless. Jonathan Romney's wry, economical A Social Call (with The Magdalene Sisters) fashions an absurdist loop from a day in the life of a hit man. Esther Rots's Play With Me (with Talk to Her) infuses a lazy downstream drift with literal and metaphoric undercurrents of menace. Having previously envisioned waterlogged domesticity in The Drowning Room, Patrick Jolley and Reynold Reynolds turn firestarters in the mesmerizing Burn (with Bloody Sunday): A family of pyromaniacs sits around absently swatting flames, peacefully engulfed in an eerie inferno. And in Lifeline (with My Mother's Smile), shot in sublime black-and-white, Victor Erice scrutinizes the siesta rhythms on a Spanish farm. It's June 1940, Nazi troops have just crossed the border from France, and as a bloodstain widens on a baby's blanket, time slows down, stands still, resumes its oblivious march. (DL)


Unavailable for preview: Monday Morning and Love and Diane.

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