Exile in Dogville


When the New York Film Festival’s opening-night film, Mystic River, materialized late in competition at Cannes, it seemed destined to crown Clint Eastwood’s career with a Palme d’Or—in part because of a widespread critical dissatisfaction with the festival’s other movies. Given that Cannes 2003 was somewhat hysterically attacked as the worst edition in recent memory, it’s striking that 13 of the 22 main-program features in a solid, if not stellar, NYFF premiered in Cannes—business as usual, I guess. J. HOBERMAN


October 4 and 5

The most provocative and most likely the greatest movie in this year’s festival, Lars von Trier’s masterpiece tells the story of a fugitive (Nicole Kidman) harbored, exploited, and ultimately martyred by the denizens of the eponymous small town. Working with a handheld camera on a nearly bare stage, von Trier invents an abstract American community as the austere arena for a cruel parable of Christian charity and Old Testament revenge. Lions Gate will release it next year. J.H.


October 4 and 5

Moroccan director Faouzi Bensaidi’s debut, set during Ramadan 1981, concerns a boy, his mother, and her father-in-law, who struggle while the kid’s father is imprisoned for inciting a strike. If the trope of a child toting an emblematic artifact—here a chair—seems too familiar, the glimpse into his mother’s woeful banishment from the erotic is stingingly fresh. No distributor. LAURA SINAGRA


October 6 and 7

A widow and her daughter return to their Sri Lankan estate to face the dissolution of the family fortune. Lester James Peries’s adaptation of what the credits call The Cheery Orchard (now there’s an idea) is an object lesson in the pitfalls of cine-Chekhov, vacuum-packing its mannequin performers in a state of unventilated torpor. No distributor. DENNIS LIM


October 6 and 7

In Jan Jakub Kolski’s misleadingly titled, faintly absurdist WWII drama (an adaptation of a Witold Gombrowicz novel), two middle-aged bohemian types leave Warsaw for a friend’s country house, where they become obsessed with matchmaking a pair of blond, beautiful teens. A film of odd, expectant moods, it never quite transcends literary enigma. No distributor. D.L.


October 8 and 9

Digging deeper into overgrazed turf, Claude Chabrol challenges the bourgeoisie to another smackdown. The political backdrop and the secretive grandmother (Suzanne Flon) generate mild interest, but the quasi-incestuous couple is a bore and the guilt all too schematized. Palm Pictures opens it October 10. D.L.


October 8 and 9

Some British fans are positioning David MacKenzie’s adaptation of Scottish beatnik Alexander Trocchi’s ’50s novel as this year’s Morvern Callar. The movie is more pretty than gritty, with Trocchi’s existential edge blunted, but Tilda Swinton’s zombie passivity makes an elegant foil for Ewan McGregor’s winking bad boy. Sony Classics. J.H.


October 10 and 11

Gus Van Sant’s audaciously poetic evocation of a Columbine-like American high school shooting—the surprise winner at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival—is stronger on formal values and surface tension than social context or psychological analysis. Divisive, disturbing, and designed for maximum glide, it’s almost avant-garde, a movie of long traveling shots, complex sound bridges, and impossible yearnings. HBO/Fine Line will open it October 24. J.H.


October 10 and 11

Marco Bellocchio’s semi-fictional drama imagines Italian prime minister Aldo Moro’s 1978 kidnapping from the perspective of the only female captor. Solemn and tense, the film tips almost imperceptibly into tragedy, with a boldly fanciful ending that only deepens its anger and sadness. No distributor. D.L.


October 11 and 12

Pondering chaos and coincidence, Barbara Albert’s impressive second feature has a generic resemblance to Magnolia. But this Austrian filmmaker is more rigorous in structuring her movie; Free Radicals is an intelligent exercise in montage enlivened with some terrific visual and dramatic ideas. No distributor. J.H.


October 13 and 14

Another first-rate movie by Jafar Panahi, director of The White Balloon and The Circle, this deadpan dark comedy begins and ends with a real-time, fixed-camera jewelry-store robbery. As usual with Panahi, Tehran is a character and there’s a tremendous, impassive tragicomic performance by nonprofessional Hossain Emadeddin. Wellspring opens it next year. J.H.


October 13 and 14

Documentary filmmaker Julie Bertuccelli’s impeccably shot first feature—set in Tblisi with a mixed cast of French, Russian, and Georgian actors—is a sweet, accomplished fable of loss and self-deception in the post-Soviet world. It’s also an effective mother-daughter-granddaughter drama featuring the amazing Esther Gorintin. Zeitgeist. J.H.


October 15

Tsai Ming-liang lovingly evokes the dream life of a dilapidated Taipei theater, where the King Hu classic Dragon Inn unspools one final time before a handful of desultory patrons. Wryly minimal and lushly nostalgic, this movie about watching movies holds up an inquiring mirror to its audience—and in the urinal-cruising scene finds a situation hilariously suited to the director’s long, fixed takes. No distributor. D.L.


October 15 and 16

Working in the tradition of Michelangelo Antonioni’s early-’60s (and Abbas Kiarostami’s early-’90s) modernism, Turkish auteur Nuri Bilge Ceylan should secure his reputation here with this artfully spare and deliberate study of the strained relationship between an Istanbul intellectual and his rural kinsman. New Yorker Films. J.H.


October 16 and 18

Hong Kong action director Johnnie To makes his Lincoln Center debut with this stylish procedural, predicated on the late-night convergence of three separate police units and several criminal gangs. Nothing if not formalist, PTU is played for brutal prankishness and lyrical suspense. No distributor. J.H.


October 17 and 18

Denys Arcand’s crowd-pleasing weepie is a sequel to the Quebecois filmmaker’s equally facile Decline of the American Empire. I can’t say that this is the cutest movie about a cancer death I’ve ever seen, but it is certainly the most egregiously self-congratulatory. Miramax will open it in November. J.H.


October 17 and 18

Jacques Doillon’s post-colonial two-hander sets up a discomfiting mismatch—rich, white, middle-aged expat (Pascal Greggory) and teenage Marrakech servant girl (Najat Benssallem)—and turns it into a tormented dance of shame and desire (all the more impressive for being conducted largely via translator). Tenaciously icky, Raja has the courage of its convictions. No distributor. D.L.


October 19

Despite scorching performances (Sean Penn, Naomi Watts, Benicio Del Toro), Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Amores Perros follow-up is a deflationary exercise in déjà vu. An achronological structure keeps three characters suspended in orbit around a horrific accident; the heart-transplant device (in the dubious tradition of Untamed Heart, Return to Me, and John Q) cancels any attempts at spiritual profundity. Focus Features plans a November release. D.L.

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J. Hoberman’s review of Mystic River