The Witnesses: erotic, not lurid
The 46th annual New York Film Festival opens tomorrow, and as the Voice‘s own J. Hoberman, one of the festival’s five programmers, puts it, “Cannes, as usual, was the prospector’s mother lode.” Which means, among other things, that the Frenchies are coming. NYFF 2008 includes new films from Olivier Assayas and Arnaud Desplechin, as well as Hong Sang-Soo’s Paris-set homage to the nouvelle vague, Night and Day. On top of that, the opening night feature is a Cannes Palme d’Or winner, Laurent Cantet’s The Class. And yet the best French-language film to hit New York this year has already left theaters and can be viewed only on video.
Andre Techine’s The Witnesses (see Nathan Lee’s Voice review from January) received some warm notices, but failed to find a sizable stateside theatrical audience. The story of how the arrival of AIDS in Paris in 1984 affects a group of intertwined lovers, The Witnesses is this director’s richest work since Wild Reeds (1994). Techine is particularly skilled in presenting homosexual relationships as erotic without rendering them lurid, with the result that even his admirers tend to consign him to the queer ghetto. He’s just as good with hetero couples (his last feature, 2004’s Changing Times, was about an autumnal romance between Gerard Depardieu and Catherine Deneueve) but a better way of saying it is that Techine is just plain good with people. Old-fashioned humanism is not in style at the movies right now (just see Sound of the City’s heated discussion this week of The Dark Knight), but if Techine’s work has fallen out of fashion, it is cinema’s loss.—Benjamin Strong