This year's New York Film Festival opens with Look at Me, and that title might well be the festival's proud motto. The 42nd edition is one put-together head-turner, with no shortage of sex, violence, or weirdness. A restored version of Sam Fuller's The Big Red One jostles for attention with fellow auteur Ingmar Bergman's octogenarian comeback. The lineup features the strongest movies in years from Ousmane Sembene, 81, and Pedro Almodóvar, as well as first-rate movies by comers Arnaud Desplechin and Lucrecia Martel. There's a Middle Eastern cluster and a quartet of hotshot American indies, but the festival's foundation rests on three outstanding and altogether disparate Chinese moviesHou Hsiao-hsien visits Japan, Jia Zhangke explores a Beijing theme park, and Zhang Yimou outperforms Hero. Unclassifiable experiments include Tropical Malady, Tarnation, Godard's Notre Musique, and perhaps Eric Rohmer's Popular Front-era political thriller, Triple Agent. J. HOBERMAN
LOOK AT ME
Studio of Flying Daggers
Ornate sets, emperor-peasant action, and royal-court face-offs highlight a Shaw Bros. retro — 'Elegance, Passion, and Cold Hard Steel: A Tribute to Shaw Brothers Studios'
By Michael Atkinson
Agnès Jaoui improves on her 2000 debut, The Taste of Others, orchestrating an abrasive, bittersweet ensemble comedy in an arty haute-bourgeois Parisian milieu. More amusing than funny, the movie, which won best screenplay at Cannes, is talky, but the tone is more pop than Rohmer, lighter than Arcand, and less narcissistic than Woody Allenalthough Jaoui shows herself an accomplished comedienne, playing the unloved heroine's supremely self-absorbed music teacher. There's a niche, and Sony Classics has it scheduled for a February opening. J.H.
THE BIG RED ONE
Sam Fuller waited most of his life to tell his World War II yarn in which Lee Marvin's stoic god of war leads a platoon of callow recruits through a series of grotesque (or grotesquely corny) adventures. Now 50 minutes longer and somewhat smoother than its 1980 release cut, the movie is based on Fuller's infantry experiences. At once highly personal and wildly allegorical, it's all the more horrific for the often obvious make-believe. An influence on (and reproach to) Saving Private Ryan, The Big Red One tempers sentiment with cynicism. Fuller's stand-in concludes that surviving is war's only glory. A Warner Bros. release, at Film Forum November 12. J.H.
Thailand's international man of mystery Apichatpong Weerasethakul has garnered a growing cult for his jungle pastorale Blissfully Yours. The enchanted forest is even more pronounced in Tropical Malady. This less explicit but equally eccentric love story involves a soldier boy, a peasant lad, and a variety of spirits, both human and animal. It's unlikely to make Weerasethakul a household name, but it confirms his status as a giant of fourth-world cinema. A Strand release, 2005. J.H.
October 2 and 3
Earnest oddball regionalist David Gordon Green (George Washington, All the Real Girls) goes gothic. Set in backwoods Georgia, Undertow starts like Smokey and the Bandit but soon turns Night of the Hunter. The hillbilly kooks, flopsy-mopsy kids, and odd line readings can be tough on the nerves, but however precious, Green's fairy tale is surprisingly visceralat times almost thrilling. UA plans an October 22 release. J.H.
October 3 and 4
Too touchy-feely for some hardcore Godardians, this is scarcely the least of JLG's elegiesfor 20th-century Europe, the cinema, and himself. The adventure begins in hell with a sensationally edited found-footage montage, proceeds through the purgatory of a writers' conference in Sarajevo, and ends in the U.S. Marineoccupied heaven of an Israeli Jewish suicide bomber. Has Godard become reconciled? That is the question that underlies this serene and moving meditation on Europe's landscape after battle. Wellspring will open it at Film Forum November 24. J.H.
IN THE BATTLEFIELDS
October 3 and 4
In this Lebanese drama of culture-specific irony, set during the civil strife of 1983, a 12-year-old girl (Marianne Feghali) has more difficulty dealing with her self-cannibalizing, extended Christian-Arab familywriter-director Danielle Arbid's take on the clan borders on So-Goththan with the daily bombings. Virtually apolitical, the movie paints a compelling if somewhat customary portrait of childhood bled dry by a self-concerning and inept adult world. No distributor. MICHAEL ATKINSON
OR (MY TREASURE)
October 5 and 6
An ungainly 16-year-old Israeli girl (Dana Ivgi) works like a dray horse to keep her wretchedly egoless prostitute mother (Ronit Elkabetz) off the streets in this riveting, naturalistic urban nightmare. Keren Yedaya constructs her movie from long, motionless shots, some hold-your-breath traumatizing, many possessed of an almost unbearable intimacy. The scalding critique of masculine privilege is unarticulated but crystal clear, and Ivgy's undemonstrative yet robustly physical performance is a sight to behold. No distributor. M.A.
The word dysfunctional does not do Jonathan Caouette's family justice. This precocious memoira mad, shock therapy assemblage of Super-8 home movies, photo booth portraits, and answering machine messagesis a tale of sadness and hysteria so raw that it bleeds. Wellspring, at Film Forum next week. J.H.
KINGS AND QUEEN
October 6 and 7
Unlike Jonathan Caouette, Arnaud Desplechin plays mental illness for comedyor rather, excessive theatricality. The maker of film maudit Esther Kahn has created a movie of large gestures and outsize performances. As a single mother lumbered with her weathered stick of a dying father, Emmanuelle Devos (the deaf heroine of Read My Lips) gets to express every emotion; her all-out performance does everything but upstage Mathieu Amalric's manic turn as her lunatic ex-husband. Although this extravagant family melodrama runs two and a half hours, it's moment-to-moment enthralling. No distributor. J.H.
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