See It Now

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

The President's Last Bang
[October 3 and 4]
Perhaps the most audacious movie in the festival, at least on its home territory, Im Sang-soo's satire treats the 1979 assassination of longtime South Korean dictator Major General Park Chung-hee as the occasion for a bloody farce. The ruling elite stages a geriatric drunken orgy as the monumentally incompetent Korea CIA puts its conspiracy into action. It's not always easy to follow, but the attitude is unmistakable. Kino, opens October 14. J.H.

Who's Camus Anyway?
[October 3 and 4]
Back in the mid 1980s, Mitsuo Yanagimachi was one of the young stars of Japanese cinema. Then he went AWOL. To judge from this unexpectedly Altman-esque ensemble comedy, he's served a bit of time teaching college filmmaking. An energetic satire of youthful self-importance, filled with crushes, complications, and long tracking shots, it's clever, entertaining, and awfully familiar—up until the particular narrative preoccupation that had been the young Yanagimachi's own comes suddenly to the fore. No distributor. J.H.

Beyond the Rocks
[October 5]
A minor miracle, this long-lost 1922 silent was discovered, nearly complete, in a Dutch collection and is notable mainly for the dream pairing of Gloria Swanson and Rudolph Valentino. She was by far the bigger star at the time and seems a bit of a hard-faced floozy for the role of the ingenue; he's a bit soft by contrast, but a total natural. Swanson's outfits aside, this sub-DeMillean romance of adultery (not) isn't vintage '20s exotic, but set mainly in a succession of English drawing rooms and country gardens, it does end with everyone converging mid Sahara. Milestone, opens late 2005. J.H.

photo: Christine Plenus/Sony Pictures Classics


Three Times
[October 5 and 6]
Hou Hsiao-hsien presents the same romantic couple in a trio of historically charged situations—a Kaohsiung billiards parlor in 1966, a Dadaocheng brothel in 1911, and a Taipei rock club in 2005. Recapitulating something of his own development, the result is high middling Hou: His version of silent cinema is fascinating, not least because it plays to Shu Qi's limited strengths as an actress, but the movie's implicit themes of time travel, eternal recurrence, and the transmigration of souls are largely dissipated in the confusion of the final present-day section. No distributor. J.H.

Paradise Now
[October 5 and 6]
Contrived but chilling, Hany Abu-Assad's second feature tells the tale of two Palestinian auto mechanics from Nablus whose suicide mission in Israel goes unexpectedly awry. The movie may not succeed in inspiring sympathy for these hapless terrorists, but it does compel an appreciation for their sense of desperate, bitter humiliation. Paradise Now is often didactic and takes a few too many narrative curves, but when these human time bombs go wandering off in their "wedding suits," it packs a powerful existential wallop. Warner Independent, opens October 28. J.H.

Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story
[October 7 and 8]
Nothing if not unpredictable, Michael Winterbottom cracks the NYFF with this suitably eccentric adaptation of Laurence Sterne's unfilmable masterpiece of 18th-century postmodernism. The movie is appropriately self-reflexive and compulsively digressive—although, made literal, many of Sterne's japes cease to be funny. For all the on-set antics, appropriated Fellini music, inside baseball, and throwaway gags, the movie is most successful when Steve Coogan and his foil Rob Brydon are aimlessly riffing on the color of Brydon's teeth ("How about Tuscan sunset?") or trading Al Pacino imitations. Picturehouse, opens October 11. J.H.

[October 7 and 8]
Adapting Joseph Conrad's short story "The Return" with the help of two superb actors, Patrice Chéreau reinvents the period chamber drama. The world caves in on a smug, wealthy publisher (Pascal Greggory) when his wife (Isabelle Huppert), in the course of an afternoon, leaves him for another man, then abruptly reverses her decision. Title notwithstanding, Gabrielle monitors the husband's minutely shaded reaction to his spouse's outbreak of passion—going from humiliation and bafflement to a terrified comprehension. Unfolding in crepuscular, sumptuously upholstered interiors, amid silently bustling servants and stiffly poised dinner guests (the cinematographer is the great Eric Gautier), this wildly stylized film is at once robust and ethereal, an existential ghost story with fresh blood pulsing through its veins. No distributor. D.L.

The Sun
photo: Film Society of Lincoln Center
The Sun
[October 8]
Aleksandr Sokurov brings his dictator trilogy to an unexpected conclusion with this intimate portrait of Emperor Hirohito at the moment where he has to surrender his divinity. Issey Ogata is on-screen throughout; twitchy and stuttering, he gives what could be the performance of the festival as the divine nerd—whether discussing the nature of the northern lights, examining his photo albums, or nibbling on a Hershey bar (a gift from Douglas MacArthur). When he emerges from his room, the emperor reminds the American G.I.'s of Charlie Chaplin; his nightmares seem to presage Godzilla. No distributor. J.H.

Caché (Hidden)
[October 9]
More muted in its nastiness than most Michael Haneke films, Hidden nevertheless reworks many of his favorite themes—video surveillance, childhood guilt, the family under siege. A smug TV personality (Daniel Auteuil) and his wife (an intense Juliette Binoche) are terrorized by a series of mysterious VHS tapes left on their doorstep. Haneke doesn't resolve all the mysteries—this is an art thriller after all— but he effectively grounds a sense of personal menace in a larger historical framework. Sony Pictures Classics, opens December 23. J.H.

Also screening: Regular Lovers (September 24), Through the Forest (October 2), The Passenger (October 8).

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