NYFF: Daily Reviews

Daily updates from the Festival

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 Retaliation—a 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 afterwards—and in equally fine form—was 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 mother’s 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 shootout—ending sprawled out on the stage. As for the film’s sword, dagger, and gunfights, he claimed a minimum of takes (“I don’t like to practice”) and poked fun at his monumental co-star’s “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.

--Nicolas Rapold

Golden anniversary approaching, the New York Film Festival maintains a singular position. Because it’s curated rather than competitive, the annual Lincoln Center bash is a yearly bulletin on the state of world film culture—heavy 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 NYFF’s 27 Main Slate selections, the festival’s 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 Ferrara’s 4:44: Last Day on Earth, Lars von Trier’s Melancholia, and Béla Tarr’s The Turin Horse) visualizing the end of the world.

Although impossible to equal the news value of last year’s opening night, the world premiere of The Social Network, this NYFF has a number of star-enriched, commercially viable, name-brand tent poles. Roman Polanski’s Carnage (adapted from Yasmina Reza’s Tony-winning God of Carnage) kicks off the fest Friday night with the director’s first NYFF inclusion, if not appearance, since Knife in the Water, 47 festivals ago. Michelle Williams’s 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 Payne’s 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 Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method—a deeply fascinating Freudian love story for the Jung at heart. It’s also—along with the doomsday trio, Gerardo Naranjo’s terrific Miss Bala, and Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s magisterial Once Upon a Time in Anatolia—one of the festival’s 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 nation’s 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 Slate’s 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 NYFF’s 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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Dorothy_Miller_1986
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