NYFF: Daily Reviews

Daily updates from the Festival

Pina screens at the NYFF October 15 and opens in theaters December 21.

Wayward Young Carry On: Martha Marcy and the Dardennes Latest

Wednesday at the 2011 New York Film Festival was all about homeless, wayward souls, as Sean Durkin’s directorial debut Martha Marcy May Marlene and Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s The Kid with a Bike focused their rigorous gazes on young people in the throes of inner chaos. Riding into Manhattan on a wave of Sundance and Cannes huzzahs, Durkin’s film attaches itself to damaged Martha (newcomer and sister to the twins Elizabeth Olsen), who flees an upstate New York cult run by John Hawkes’ charismatically scruffy wannabe-Jim Jones for her estranged sister Lucy’s (Sarah Paulson) Pottery Barn-catalog lakeside rental house, where her transition back into “normal” society is complicated by traumatic flashbacks to her prior experiences as “Marcy May” at the commune.

Despite sterling performances by Olsen, Hawkes and Paulson, Martha Marcy May Marlene is a tale of psychological fracturing that’s frustratingly upfront and blunt about its characters’ states of mind as well as its critique of both its rural and bourgeoisie milieus. Durkin's on-the-nose script too often lacks genuine complication, and a post-screening interview with Durkin and Olsen (conducted by the Voice’s own Melissa Anderson) did little to dispel that impression. Queried about his story’s inspiration, Durkin admitted that the idea came from the sudden notion, “Wouldn’t it be cool to make a film about a cult that’s set today?” while Olsen’s enthusiasm for the project stemmed largely from the (highly debatable) fact that “It was exciting for a character to grow and change so much in a story.” Pressed by audience members about his not-so-subtle censure of Lucy’s upper-middle-class lifestyle, Durkin claimed impartiality, stating that the narrative’s comparisons of its two environments “came from nothing other than being true to the characters”—a skirting of the issue almost as frustrating as the film’s unspoken but ever-present message: Can’t live with a cult, can’t live without it.

This Is Not A Film
This Is Not A Film

Whereas Durkin’s debut felt mechanized, the Dardennes’ subtly spiritual humanism continues to find new, natural modes of expression. Another of the Belgian auteurs’ compassionate examinations of downtrodden loners attempting to subsist (and find salvation) on society’s fringes, The Kid with a Bike fixates on Cyril (a stunningly intense Thomas Doret), an 11-year-old abandoned at a foster home by a father (Jérémie Renier) who, upon finally being tracked down by his ferociously devoted and persistent son, admits to not wanting anything to do with the boy. A random doctor’s-office encounter with an angelically benevolent hairdresser (Cécile De France) affords Cyril a fortuitous second chance at childhood. However, that process of restoring, if not innocence, then at least safety and affection, is an arduous one that involves the repeated theft of his titular vehicle and a dubious surrogate paternal figure,

The directors, in a Q&A, called their latest “maybe the closest [of our films] to a fairy tale, because the characters are the simplest.” Perhaps simplest, but not simple. From an opening scene in which he doggedly clutches to a phone receiver, refusing to believe that his dad’s cell is out of service, to a later violent heist, Cyril proves a heartbreaking figure of raw adolescent agony trapped in a state of constant motion, driven by his anger and confusion to ride, flail, stab, bludgeon and embrace with blind confusion. The Dardennes track Cyril with their usual formally disciplined handheld cinematography, creating not just intimate proximity to their subject but a piercing sense of unbridled anguish in desperate search of direction.

Despite a soulful performance by De France, Samantha’s sudden, bottomless altruism remains a somewhat unbelievable hiccup in the otherwise credible tale, which (for only the second time, after 2008’s Lorna’s Silence) finds the Dardennes interjecting periodic cascades of orchestral music into their unaffected action, a device that, per the directors’ succinct and precise explanation, “brings what is in fact missing for Cyril: Love.”

--Nick Schager
Highbrow Bump and Grind with Frederick Wiseman

The New York Film Festival may still not have put Frederick Wiseman in the main slate, but his movie-length residency at French nu chic club Le Crazy Horse put the joys of les fesses for all to see on Monday night. If we go by Wiseman's closed-door chronicle of the dances, rehearsals, meetings, press interviews, maintenance, and time-killing at the 50-year-old establishment, a large amount of thought goes into the optimum elegant-erotic deployment of women's buttocks, with all due consideration as well to the shareholders' bottomline. The dissection of routines in which tasteful grinds can approach curvilinear abstraction in close-up make Crazy Horse a culture-bridging counterpart to Wiseman's arthouse hit from last year, La Danse. (Wiseman makes the connection explicit with a priceless scene of dancers watching a Russian ballet blooper video.) But it's also reminiscent of Model (1980) and to an extent Seraphita's Diary (1980) in its surreal touch and color, with framing and tableau impressing more than the sometimes-constrained movement. The numbers—which seek to transfigure leggy, lithe dancers into caged spotted panthers, horsehair-tasseled beefeaters, and the like—are shown being revamped and replaced by frustrated artiste Philippe Decouflé, who comically tolerates his artistic director. The sequences of dance and bodies being assembled and positioned could approach a slowed-down silent-film fever dream, were it not for the cover of Britney Spears's "Toxic." It might be nice to hear further from the classically trained dancers—a snapshot of a pudgy kid on a vanity mirror makes us wish the performers were interviewed more than the directors, or the admittedly amusing costumer. Capping it all is a performance of the freshly recorded house song, "Les Filles du Crazy," which gives hilariously on-point tribute to these "soldiers of the erotic."

--Nicolas Rapold Velvet Bullets and Steel Kisses
« Previous Page
Next Page »

Now Showing

Find capsule reviews, showtimes & tickets for all films in town.

Box Office Report

Join My Voice Nation for free stuff, film info & more!