Autumn Sonata

Young guns Jaoui and Jia mingle with old masters Bergman, Rohmer, and Godard at NYFF

October 8 and 9

Like his 2002 Turning Gate, avant-pop Korean director Hong Sang-Soo's latest film is a deadpan erotic comedy both blunt and elliptical. The movie feels like a retread, but that's its theme: A pair of thirtysomething urban intellectuals go off in search of the woman that each loved and lost. Hong is good on postcoital tristesse and caustic in representing male stupidity. No distributor. J.H.

Amalric (right) in Kings and Queen
photo: FSLC
Amalric (right) in Kings and Queen


New York Film Festival
October 1 through 17
Alice Tully Hall, Avery Fisher Hall


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

October 8 and 9

Set in post-World War II London, Mike Leigh's social drama packs a devastating wallop—this is a tea cozy designed by Sue Coe. The personification of working-class solidarity, Imelda Staunton is all pluck and bustle as a middle-aged mum who cleans houses by day and cheerfully performs the odd abortion after hours. Building up to a shattering conclusion, Vera Drake is both outrageously schematic and powerfully humanist. Fine Line, opens October 10. J.H.

October 9

Photographer-filmmaker Raymond Depardon turns his lens on the theater of the law. More ethnographic than voyeuristic, his static camera extracts a series of fragmentary dramas from a Paris courtroom presided over by a briskly efficient female judge. It's an austere pageant in which the defense attorneys are surprisingly chic and the defendants always appear guilty. No distributor. J.H.

October 9 and 10

Pedro Almodóvar's strongest film in two decades is a noirish, deftly convoluted, boldly anti-clerical melodrama that harks back to the sexual and narrative pyrotechnics of Matador and Law of Desire. Gender blur Jackie Curtis would have fit snugly into this universe; the cross-dressing star is Gael García Bernal, as a ravishing femme fatale hired to play out his filmmaker friend's childhood trauma. Sony Classics, opens November 19. J.H.

October 9 and 10

Unencumbered by narrative or nationalist politics, Zhang Yimou's follow-up to Hero is abstract and magical, an action dance musical predicated on acrobatic impossibilities and continual reversals of identity. With his intimations of grand opera, Zhang seems to have added something to the wuxia tradition. So jaw-dropping it's almost monotonous. Sony Classics opens it December 3. J.H.

October 10 and 11

Working against the grain of her potentially lurid story, talented Argentine director Lucrecia Martel uses an accumulation of small scenes, moments, and interactions to map the religious obsession that a wonderfully sullen 14-year-old girl develops when a middle-aged doctor takes advantage of a street performance to rub himself against her. As with Martel's La Ciénaga, the narrative is deduced through a densely textured welter of details, complicated family relations, and convoluted connections that are only gradually resolved. The active viewer will be splendidly entertained. HBO/Fine Line, early 2005. J.H.

October 11 and 12

Pablo Trapero's bittersweet road movie piles a willful matriarch and her sprawling Buenos Aires clan into a battered motor home for a cross-country trip; in no time, the engine is overheating, along with long-suppressed tempers and libidos. Frothier than Trapero's taciturn character portraits (Crane World, El Bonaerense), this brisk, hectic film humorously captures the claustrophobic chaos of intense familial proximity—in particular the irreparable rifts and resigned reconciliations it can provoke. No distributor. DENNIS LIM

October 11 and 12

After three underground productions, Jia Zhangke goes global. The latest dispatch from the world's greatest filmmaker under 40 revisits the themes of Unknown Pleasures and Platform: a hesitant romance, the growing pains of modernization, the urge for flight in a culture of inertia. Jia's rootless young adults are finally in the big city—and in a dizzying Baudrillardian irony, employed at a Beijing theme park that, with its replicas of global tourist attractions, promises "a new world every day." From the sensational opening tracking shot to the flurry of animated punctuation, Jia's first government-sanctioned film is his most flamboyant yet—and also his most conventional. Still, no distributor. D.L.

October 13 and 14

Up for wildly picturesque, blatantly feel-good agitprop on the subject of female circumcision? Drawing on the expressive gregariousness of a West African village, Senegalese master Ousmane Sembene makes his point through a "naturally" Brechtian combination of declamatory speech, intermittent musical numbers, and socially constructed characters—as an old-fashioned Marxist, however, his apparent folk cinema is scarcely naive. New Yorker will release it October 15. J.H.

October 13 and 14

Lodge Kerrigan revisits the almost first-person style of Clean, Shaven in his third and strongest feature to date. Introduced stalking Port Authority in search of the daughter he recently lost, the title character (viscerally embodied by Damian Lewis) replays the traumatic event obsessively, as if hoping to change its outcome. Deploying agitated handheld close-ups that force the viewer into the personal space of a troubled protagonist, Keane builds to a stunning climax, seizing a grace note of provisional redemption from a state of inconsolable grief. No distributor. D.L.

October 15 and 16

He's back. Thirty years later, Ingmar Bergman reunites the long-sundered couple—Liv Ullman and Erland Josephson—of Scenes From a Marriage as active kibitzers in another lacerating family drama. This, so the 86-year-old Bergman says, is his final film. Once it engages, this ultimate Ingmar is a story about (im)mortality—in both expected and highly unexpected ways. Score another for Sony Classics. Opening 2005. J.H.

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