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'Film Comment Selects' at Lincoln Center

Hail to The Victors, and revolting youth, and confused assassins

The film festival that's not quite a film festival returns with 10 repertory programs and 16 features—the movies that persisted in the memories of bimonthly Film Comment's masthead gang after another year of making the rounds at Cannes, Locarno, Venice, Toronto . . .

Opening night attempts to punk out parent Lincoln Center with 1979 youth-in-revolter Over the Edge. Adolescents with East Coast accents find themselves uprooted to the exurban West, where the under-16s have nothing to do but burn one outside New Granada's prefab rec center (City sales pitch: "Tomorrow's City . . . Today"). An urban planning j.d. movie, it understands how ugly buildings ask to be vandalized, with images of dross landscapes corresponding to Robert Adams's contemporary photos of Colorado developments. And the kids are great, as human as their surroundings aren't: Aside from Matt Dillon's bold midriff-baring, the iconic image of freedom is Pamela Ludwig waving a pistol around while air-guitaring to Cheap Trick.

Parent-child concerns are inverted in Applaus, a weepie vehicle for Dogme mainstay Paprika Steen as a recently divorced middle-aged actress struggling off-stage for self-control and custody. Her dubious conclusion, validated by the film's solipsistic one-woman show, is that having an unstable alcoholic mother is a boon because it makes you "interesting." To the Danes' ravenous interesting-ness, I prefer the socially grounded, deprecating melancholy of Hong Sang-soo's Like You Know It All, with Kim Tae-woo as an almost-40 film director who, in every situation, fails to select the response appropriate to his age and position. It's a film both "real" and beautiful, especially in the plein air Jeju Island scenes. Adult delinquency is epidemic in Persécution—director Patrice Chéreau suggests the title as a synonym for "love," with Charlotte Gainsbourg overwhelmed by boyfriend Romain Duris, who is himself stalked by Jean-Hugues Anglade. Duris's screwed-tight mask of pout has rarely succeeded in suggesting anything beneath, but his narcissistic suffering lends itself to a film in which romance is a mostly solitary game of psychological projection, aggrandized problems, and unwelcome grand gestures.

The Victors: A 1963 GI tract
Film Society of Lincoln Center
The Victors: A 1963 GI tract

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Film Comment Selects
Film Society of Lincoln Center
February 19 through March 4
Walter Reade Theater

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The retro rarity this go-around is an excavation of The Victors. The history of the World War II film shouldn't be read as the simple trajectory from naive jingoism to smug-modern truth, but Carl Foreman's intimate epic was something very different in 1963. Playing in the complete 175-minute cut, it's the only directorial credit for Foreman, High Noon screenwriter, blacklistee, and veteran of Frank Capra's documentary unit—the latter role reflected in The Victors' newsreel chorus, announcing the changes of battleground as the film travels with American GIs liberating Europe, from Sicily to Berlin. Adapted from a short-story anthology, with episodic structure intact, the film is less about battlefield maneuvers than the lives of individual dogfaces (second-tier leading men, Georges Peppard and Hamilton, doing moving work), particularly in their amorous interludes with a smorgasbord of early-'60s Euro-arthouse damsels (Senta Berger, Jeanne Moreau, Romy Schneider, Melina Mercouri, Elke Sommer). Memorable scenes abound—Eli Wallach's sergeant resurfacing as a mess in a hospital bed, Peppard invited in for tea with a working-class Brit family—while the snowbound execution of deserter Private Eddie Slovik, set to Sinatra's "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," epitomizes Foreman's crude-ironic stance toward mass culture and mass violence—an irony that turns to bad antiwar pathos in the last reel.

This only touches on the international fare (there are just a couple of American picks), which includes films set in Ceausescu's Romania and Palestine, said to be "deadpan funny" (read: precise mise-en-scène, sympathetic politics, urbane half-laughs). But Lincoln Center never lacks for geography lessons—so let's have more stylish dreck like Accident, a Hong Kong thriller in which mastermind assassin Louis Koo stops believing in the existence of chance after years of contriving minutely calibrated, accidental-looking deaths. It is seriously a hoot.

 
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