Storied 44-year-old distributor New Yorker Films defaulted into dust this week. The passing was announced on their website—seemingly designed in the Prodigy dial-up era.
Call it innovation or compromise, but IFC Films moves with the times, shepherding the quaint arthouse designation into the 21st century. At its worst, it'll throw a big-screen baby shower for properties that deserve abortion to the straight-to-DVD dumpster. At its best, IFC will find a screen for something like Philippe Garrel's Frontier of Dawn—among the slate of its upcoming releases previewing at BAM in "Focus on IFC Films." A film in overlapping halves, Frontier has scion Louis Garrel segueing between two affairs and hesitating on the edge of a supportable future (a/k/a "bourgeoisie happiness"). For those that love them, Garrel's romances offer a luxuriantly cool bower, so singular we'll forgive his latest film's lopsidedness in pitting sweet twit Clémentine Poidatz against lioness Laura Smet.
Garrel the Younger's Apollonian 'fro also appears in the execrable La belle personne, where he models the latest heartsick poses from Christophe Honoré's Winter line. The credits claim inspiration from Madame de La Fayette, but that's base namedropping—this roundelay of lycée love is a Frenchified Archie, with the corner café replacing Pop's Chok'lit Shop, plus poncey scarves and blasé-amoral teacher-student affairs for the sophistos. Some of the love patter is interchangeable with Frontier's, but for Honoré, despair is a wardrobe of postures—see Romain Duris's window-display mope in Dans Paris—where Garrel's excavating close-ups suggest the far-off rush of subterranean oceans.
Turner Prize–winner Steve McQueen brings white-box gallery decontextualization to his subject: imprisoned IRA agitator Bobby Sands, who died in '81. Ambivalence restrains the politics. Sands (Michael Fassbender) is cast as a Starvation Artist; he and his fellow inmates performance-art protest with all that's available—their bodies—in reservoirs of piss, fecal murals, and suicide-brave ferality. McQueen purports to find the point when mortified flesh exhales the human spirit, which must have been what drew Golgotha fetishist Mel Gibson's Icon Productions to the project. Sands's deathtrip is kept earthbound by Hunger's structure, a guided tour from one isolated transgressive exhibit to the next.
Less stultifyingly curated is Quiet Chaos, with Nanni Moretti in stoic retreat after a death in the family—the running joke is that everyone he knows seems less reconciled to life than him. Too long in settling in and sabotaged by non-sequitur pop cues, it does have a bracing way of swerving out of scenes, offroading into one surprise sex bout with more ugly-hot veracity than any in memory.
Olivier Assayas (Demonlover, Clean) is one of the few apostles still faithful of narrative drama's ability to support more than one idea at a time. Touching on the subjective value of things (as transmitted from people), the opiate of nostalgia, and the aura of legacy before its big intergenerational cast even comes into focus, Summer Hours details the auction of a family estate and its objets d'art. After one of Assayas's spooling party-panoramas, there's a pause to breathe and a half-glimpse of what's gone—"The house is sold"—which stands for whatever you'll just have to live without.
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