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Rife with rarities from almost every era, The New York Film Festival's expansive celebration of Nikkatsu, the 100-year-old Japanese film studio, kicked off on Saturday with 1968's Retaliationa tough-hearted chronicle of underworld turf wars that zeroes in on the treacherous overlap between gangsters and civilians. Screening in a very fine scope print, the bravura action sequences included a bathroom massacre and a flashlight-lit home invasion that spills from room to room, balanced by the nitty gritty details of crooked real estate dealing and bemused farmer reaction shots. Presiding on stage afterwardsand in equally fine formwas Joe Shishido, the 77-year-old Nikkatsu contract player and Seijun Suzuki heavy, who headlined Retaliation with Akira Kobayashi as his nemesis turned admirer. Shishido-san recounted his favored answers about getting his start in movies (as a fetus in his mothers belly, when she went to toilet-less cinemas that stank of shit) and his childhood exploits (wearing so many swords on his belt that his innards hurt).
Before long, the notoriously cheek-augmented star of home-country hit Fast-Draw Guy was answering a question by getting up and feigning a shootoutending sprawled out on the stage. As for the films sword, dagger, and gunfights, he claimed a minimum of takes (I dont like to practice) and poked fun at his monumental co-stars too high singing voice. The audience, fronted by a contingent of Japanese press, seemed suitably impressed. A man in camouflage, after loudly saluting Shishido-san, buttonholed me on the way out: Very good, eh? He should be prime minister!
NYFF's 37-film Nikkatsu tribute, "Velvet Bullets and Steel Kisses," continues through Oct. 16.
Golden anniversary approaching, the New York Film Festival maintains a singular position. Because its curated rather than competitive, the annual Lincoln Center bash is a yearly bulletin on the state of world film cultureheavy on festival winners and critical favorites. The NYFF programmers order à la carte from abroad and bring it back home, garnished with a few crowd-pleasing treats for its board and the local media.
The quality varies from year to year, but the 2011 edition is solid. Building on a strong Cannes, which premiered 11 of the NYFFs 27 Main Slate selections, the festivals selection committee (Richard Peña, Scott Foundas, Dennis Lim, Todd McCarthy, and Voice critic Melissa Anderson) has created a mix of the hyped and the obscure, the familiar and the new, the tough and the tender, a soupçon of fluff and no less than three movies (Abel Ferraras 4:44: Last Day on Earth, Lars von Triers Melancholia, and Béla Tarrs The Turin Horse) visualizing the end of the world.
Although impossible to equal the news value of last years opening night, the world premiere of The Social Network, this NYFF has a number of star-enriched, commercially viable, name-brand tent poles. Roman Polanskis Carnage (adapted from Yasmina Rezas Tony-winning God of Carnage) kicks off the fest Friday night with the directors first NYFF inclusion, if not appearance, since Knife in the Water, 47 festivals ago. Michelle Williamss Monroe turn, My Week With Marilyn, the first feature by British TV director Simon Curtis and a world premiere, is the designated centerpiece, while Alexander Paynes George Clooney vehicle, The Descendants, closes the festival October 16.
Two more movies are flagged as galas: The Skin I Live In by Pedro Almodóvar, whose biannual presence at Lincoln Center is pretty much a given, and, from a director who has never been so honored, David Cronenbergs A Dangerous Methoda deeply fascinating Freudian love story for the Jung at heart. Its alsoalong with the doomsday trio, Gerardo Naranjos terrific Miss Bala, and Nuri Bilge Ceylans magisterial Once Upon a Time in Anatoliaone of the festivals standout standouts.
Nothing this year from East Asia (a retro for the Japanese B-movie factory Nikkatsu aside), but there are two excellent entries each from Israel (The Footnote by Joseph Cedar and Policeman by Nadav Lapid) and Iran (This Is Not a Film by Jafar Panahi and Mojtaba Mirtahmasb and A Separation by Asghar Farhadi). The two Israeli films evoke the nations fierce insularity from very different perspectives while, each in its way, the Iranian films are legal thrillers.
Bean-counters will further note the Main Slate is evenly split between vets and rookies. Polanski aside, the 13 returnees include Almodóvar, Ceylan, the Dardenne brothers (back to neo-neorealist form with The Kid With a Bike), Ferrara, Aki Kaurismäki (the mordant heart-warmer Le Havre), Steve McQueen (the much-hyped Shame), Naranjo, Panahi, Payne, Martin Scorsese (with a documentary portrait of George Harrison), Tarr, von Trier, and Wim Wenders (the Main Slates other doc and first 3-D picture, Pina). (Majorly snubbed: Aleksandr Sokurov, whose typically eccentric version of Faust won the Golden Lion in Venice.) Along with Cronenberg are a dozen first-timers: Cedar, Curtis, Sean Durkin (making his debut by evoking the Manson family in Martha Marcy May Marlene), Farhadi, Mia Hansen-Løve (Goodbye First Love), Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist, likely the NYFFs biggest crowd-pleaser), Ulrich Köhle (Sleeping Sickness), Lapid, Julia Loktev (The Loneliest Planet), Santiago Mitre (The Student), Ruben Östlund (Play), and Alice Rohrwacher (Corpo Celeste, a/k/a Heavenly Body, a slyly understated verité-style comedy in which a 13-year-old girl confounds the Catholic Church).
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