See It Now

Geopolitickin' and an East Asian invasion highlight the 43rd New York Film Festival

School is in, and this year's edition of the New York Film Festival, which runs from September 23 through October 9 at Lincoln Center, is nothing if not educational. History lessons abound, ranging from '50s America and ancient Israel to post–World War II Japan and post-'68 France. The Dardenne brothers, Hou Hsiao-hsien, and Aleksandr Sokurov are on hand to give (very different) master classes in filmmaking—although The Death of Mr. Lazarescu , by hitherto unknown Cristi Puiu, may be the most impressive tour de force.

The lineup includes several eccentric literary adaptations and more than a few movies pondering the tortured ethical relationship between art and life. Trend spotters may also note that, out of five East Asian films, three are from South Korea, and of the 16 titles that have distribution, no fewer than five belong to Sony, including the director's cut of Antonioni's The Passenger. Undistributed must-sees include Hou's Three Times, Sokurov's The Sun, and Patrice Chéreau's Gabrielle. There may even be tickets. J. HOBERMAN

photo: Christine Plenus/Sony Pictures Classics


David Strathairn as Edward R. Murrow in director George Clooney’s Good Night, And Good Luck.
photo: Melinda Sue Gordon
Good Night, and Good Luck
[September 23]
The NYFF opens with a classy, credible docudrama—George Clooney's restaging of the 1954 vid-screen prizefight in which urbane newsman Edward R. Murrow vanquished roughneck demagogue Joe McCarthy. Taking its title from Murrow's trademark sign-off, the movie is shot in crisp black-and-white, makes clever use of vintage footage, and celebrates the fraternity of the newsroom with a strong ensemble cast. David Strathairn's smartly stylized Murrow is admirably ascetic—and so, for the most part, is the movie. It's an intelligent re-creation with a lesson that has scarcely dated—one need only think back a year to the fall of Dan Rather. Warner Independent, opens October 7. J.H.

The Death of Mr. Lazarescu
[September 24 and 25]
The second feature by 38-year-old Romanian ex-painter Cristi Puiu is an ode to mortality, albeit not without a certain grim humor. An old drunk awakes with a headache and, after a day of self-medication, calls 911. The ambulance takes over 30 minutes (film time) to arrive, and from the limbo of his squalid flat, Mr. Lazarescu enters hell—transported from hospital to hospital for the movie's remaining two hours, to be variously diagnosed, browbeaten, and ignored by a harried succession of brilliantly acted doctors and nurses. As filmmaking, it's a tour de force, with Puiu simulating the institutional texture of a Frederick Wiseman vérité. Tartan, opens early 2006. J.H.

Methadonia [September 24]
Michel Negroponte continues his slow-moving career project of documenting New York's underground heartbeat with this intimate video essay, produced for HBO, about a methadone clinic and its cast of desperate clients. The filmmaker's narration is alive with moving metaphors about life under addiction and its inescapable misery, and the individuals he focuses on (many over 50 and surprisingly articulate even as they're nodding off) are stirring cases of struggle against internal monstrosities. But the surface seems only scratched, and thanks to the film's brevity (88 minutes), we remain tourists, looking in from the outside. HBO, airs October 6. MICHAEL ATKINSON

L'Enfant (The Child)
[September 24 and 25]
Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's hot streak continues. By now, the brothers have a style and set of interests as instantly recognizable as any filmmakers in the world—visceral camerawork, impeccable performances, a concern with Belgium's dispossessed, an unlikely affinity for Robert Bresson. As their first Palme d'Or winner, Rosetta, remade Mouchette, so their second, The Child, revisits Pickpocket. Typically, it's structured as a series of tasks, culminating in a chase that, both metaphoric and intensely physical, is also a descent into the depths. The remarkable thing about the Dardennes is their complex single-mindedness. Each film is an odyssey (toward grace?) in a world that could hardly seem more material. Sony Pictures Classics, opens March 2006. J.H.

Avenge but One of My Two Eyes
[September 25]
Scenes from an occupation: Israeli documentarian Avi Mograbi plays tourist, juxtaposing camcorder images of furious Palestinians queued at various checkpoints with those of expansive Israeli guides explicating the shrine of Masada (or teachers holding forth on the cult of Samson). His unstated, heretical thesis is that the Palestinians have adopted the suicidal heroism that is a cornerstone of right-wing Zionism. To add to the pathos, the action is interspersed with telephone transmissions seemingly triggered by the filmmaker's TV. Mograbi's first-person film was seemingly chosen to provide a counterpoint with the Palestinian drama Paradise Now (see page 35) and is no less appalling. No distributor. J.H.

[September 25 and 26]
Waiting perhaps for Ocean's 13, Steven Soderbergh experiments—venturing into deepest America (small-town Ohio) to direct a cast of nonactors in an outrageous, if deliberately uninflected, melodrama. Bubble is set largely in an underpopulated doll factory (get it?) and is so aggressively disorienting in its banality that it begins to resemble science fiction. Magnolia, opens January 2006. J.H.

The Squid and the Whale
[September 26 and 28]
Noah Baumbach's cine-memoir dramatizes his parents' separation. Cruel and tender, this is a richly detailed, rarely sentimental, and even revelatory child's vision of a particular Park Slope haute boho milieu. The movie is often funny, but despite the Salinger-esque overtones, it's far from cute—least of all in its mortifying view of teenage sex. The camera may seem casual, but the period mise-en-scéne is beyond fastidious. Samuel Goldwyn Films, opens October 5. J.H.

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