Past Masters


The whisperings have begun. Blame it on a weak Cannes, the demise of Wellspring, a generalized cultural malaise, or just the law of averages asserting itself after the banner years of 2004 and ’05, but there’s a definite sense emerging that 2006 may wind up being a down year for art movies. The fall festival lineup promises better things to come, but one of the great things about living in New York is that even in these days of DVD, HD, and other sundry acronyms, there remain plenty of opportunities, of a range unmatched anywhere else in the country, to see great films of the past on the big screen. Last fall’s repertory calendar was distinguished by its Japanese programs, including the New York Film Festival’s Shochiku series and retros devoted to masters Kenji Mizoguchi and Mikio Naruse. Mizoguchi makes another pass this year (September 8 through 21, Film Forum, 209 West Houston Street), but overall the season has a decidedly more “traditional” (read: Eurocentric) feel.

Which is certainly not to imply that this fall’s rep house offerings are safe or boring. Au contraire, this fall will see the first ever New York screening of a legendary leviathan of French cinema: Jacques Rivette’s 12-hour-plus Out 1: Noli Me Tangere (1971), showing as part of a complete Rivette retrospective (November 10 through December 17, Museum of the Moving Image, 35th Avenue and 36th Street, Astoria, Queens). Edited down from some 30 hours of improvised footage, Rivette’s magnum opus (showing in two parts December 9 and 10) comprises hours of Living Theater–like rehearsals interwoven with the conspiracy-minded machinations of two inscrutable loners (Jean-Pierre Léaud, Juliet Berto). The footage also yielded a second film, Out 1: Spectre (December 17), which runs a mere four and a half hours, sculpting the same raw material into an elusive four-way narrative that slips insidiously into a Pynchonesque morass of epistemological terror.

This year’s NYFF retro takes on the formidable catalog of legendary arthouse distributor Janus Films (September 29 through October 27, Walter Reade Theater, 165 West 65th Street). A fair number of the usual suspects are present ( The Seventh Seal, The 400 Blows, etc.) but the series features a surprising proportion of less-obvious choices, including Roman Polanski’s acerbic feature debut Knife in the Water and Serbian filmmaker Dusan Makavejev’s underseen W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism. Also making a welcome appearance at the festival is Warren Beatty’s Reds (Alice Tully Hall, West 65th Street and Broadway). A canny early-Reagan-era mixture of radical politics and old-school Hollywood romance, Beatty’s biopic of American journalist John Reed may be the most unabashedly pro-Communist film ever released by a major studio. A quarter-century on, it remains as politically unfashionable as ever.

Elsewhere, we’ll see new-print revivals of two highly regarded works by the currently resurgent Werner Herzog: Aguirre, the Wrath of God (October 20 through 31, Film Forum) and The Mystery of Kasper Hauser (December 12 through 19, BAM Rose Cinemas, 30 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn). MOMA devotes four days to a mid-career retrospective of American avant-gardist Su Friedrich’s work (September 27 through 30, 11 West 53rd Street), and BAM dives into the untapped reservoir of 1930s Czech cinema, including the work of director Gustav Machat ? (November 30 through December 10). But, inevitably, we return to the French. This November, Film Forum revives two of the finest films ever made in France—or anywhere else, for that matter. Still unavailable on disc, Jean-Luc Godard’s Two or Three Things I Know About Her (November 17 through 30) is arguably the greatest film by the greatest filmmaker to emerge in the past half-century. Two or Three Things represents the peak of Godard’s 1960s explorations of, among other things, Paris, primary colors, the act of reading, documentary technique, and the ineffable now. Few other films could possibly follow The Rules of the Game (November 1 through 16). A staple of best-films-ever-made lists and one of the rare classics that’s every bit as good as its reputation, Jean Renoir’s 1939 masterpiece, simultaneously severe and humane in the best French literary tradition, may seem a bit subtle here in the era of Karl Rove, but it was a sufficiently caustic portrait of a society on the brink of apocalypse to get banned by both the French government and the Nazis. Now if only someone would get around to making a contemporary equivalent.

The Science of Sleep

Directed by Michel Gondry

Warner Independent, September 22

For his first fiction film without co-writer Charlie Kaufman, Eternal Sunshine director Michel Gondry heads even deeper into the human subconscious with The Science of Sleep, the story of a confused young man (Gael García Bernal) incapable of differentiating between reality and dreams. Bernal’s befuddled sleepwalker—or is that walksleeper?—leads viewers on a kaleidoscopic trip through Gondry’s demented psyche. MS

49 Up

Directed by Michael Apted

First Run, October 6

“Give me the child until he is seven and I will give you the man.” So goes the Jesuit saying that inspired the BBC doc Seven Up! in 1964. Director Michael Apted has returned to film the kids profiled in that show every seven years since. This seventh iteration turns self-critical, as the subjects grow weary of the ritual and question its value. RES

Flags of Our Fathers

Directed by Clint Eastwood

Paramount, October 20

The last master of classical Hollywood style doesn’t lack in ambition, with two tales of the Battle of Iwo Jima set to premiere over the next year. This first entry (and early Oscar front-runner) follows the American G.I.’s, while Red Sun, Black Sand documents the Japanese side (to be released in 2007). RES

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

Directed by Larry Charles

20th Century Fox, November 3

Comedian Sacha Baron Cohen has brought his television creations to the big screen before (2002’s Ali G Indahouse) but Borat marks the first time he’s brought his proven formula—uncomfortable interviews with real people unaware they are part of an elaborate joke-—with them. The trailer promises Kazakhstanian shenanigans in the classic Borat mold including a horrific rendition of the National Anthem in front of a hostile rodeo crowd. MS

For Your Consideration

Directed by Christopher Guest

Warner Independent, November 17

After skewering rock stars, dog shows, and small-town theatrical impresarios, Christopher Guest and his band of improvisers turn their sights on the biggest target of all: the Academy Awards. Admittedly, after last year’s Oscars, which included an interpretative dance of Crash‘s sexual molestation scene, no parody could be funnier than the real thing. MS

Tenacious D in “The Pick of Destiny”

Directed by Liam Lynch

New Line, November 17

As Will Ferrell has Adam McKay, Jack Black has Kyle Gass—unsung partners who wring the most inventive work out of their superstar brethren. So the long-gestating D film (hatched in ’04) should be an unhinged aria of Sasquatch jokes, Ronnie James Dio homages, and maniacal mugging. RES

The Good German

Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Warner Brothers, December 8

They brought you Out of Sight, the Ocean’s series, and the much-maligned Solaris. With their fifth collaboration as director and star, Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney tell the story of an American journalist (Clooney) thrown into the middle of a Graham Greene–style murder mystery in post-WWII Germany. MS

Children of Men

Directed by Alfonso Cuarón

Universal, December 25

Alfonso Cuarón, bulging with Harry Potter grosses, goes big again by adapting P.D. James’s dystopia of worldwide infertility. Even the testosterone-rich Clive Owen can’t will that blue line into existence. A burnt-out Michael Caine eases his masculine hurt until there’s a miraculous conception that could save humanity. RES

Pan’s Labyrinth

Written and directed by Guillermo del Toro

Picturehouse, December 29

Set in the same supernatural Spanish Civil War rubble as Del Toro’s The Devil’s Backbone, Pan’s Labyrinth further mines the fascism-as-horror vein. A young girl discovers a destiny-dealing satyr at the heart of a labyrinth behind her house—offering an escape from her repressive family life. RES