New York Film Festival 2009: The Year of Over-80 Filmmakers


Alain Resnais is merely one of four filmmakers over the age of 80 bringing new work to this year’s fest—and, at 87, he isn’t even the oldest of the lot. (See Scott Foundas’s “Director Alain Resnais, 87 Years Young.”) Beyond the inherent novelty value, these new films all find their makers in strong form and, in several cases, working with an experimental freedom—and a libido—generally believed to be the province of the very young. Here, Resnais’s contemporaries, from youngest (everything’s relative) to oldest:

JACQUES RIVETTE, 81 The youngest—though reportedly also the frailest—of the lot, Rivette returns to a vintage theme in Around a Small Mountain, which stars Italy’s Sergio Castellitto as a good samaritan who stops to aid a distressed motorist (Jane Birkin), then accompanies her back to the traveling circus where she is returning after a long absence. The world is, once again, but a stage as Rivette revisits the realm of performers and performing with grace and charm. If this is an undeniable divertissement by a great director, it carries with it a sense of farewell, as Rivette, through his on-screen surrogates, takes a bow and bids us adieu.

ANDRZEJ WAJDA, 83 In Wajda’s Sweet Rush, a lovelorn doctor’s wife (the excellent Krystyna Janda), whose two sons died in World War II, embarks on an Oedipal affair with a strapping, working-class youth less than half her age. The film, which Wajda had once planned to make as a straightforward drama, was interrupted by the death of Janda’s real-life husband (and Wajda’s frequent cinematographer), Edward Klosinski, prompting the director to reconceive the project as a film about filmmaking, very much in the vein of his 1969 valentine to his former star, Zbigniew Cybulski, Everything for Sale. Now, the period romance is bracketed by a heartfelt, first-person monologue delivered by Janda in a bedroom that seems to have been lit by Edward Hopper.

MANOEL DE OLIVEIRA, 100 Three months shy of 101, Portugal’s éminence grise also arrives with a film hinged on romantic obsession; whereas Wajda gets to his unhappily ever after through tragedy, Oliveira reaches his through gentle farce. In Eccentricities of a Blond-Haired Girl, a young Lisbon accountant (played by the director’s grandson, Ricardo Trêpa) falls deeply under the spell of the titular fair-haired lass (comely Catarina Wallenstein) he spies fanning herself across the office courtyard. Might this be Oliveira’s last festival film? Nobody lives—or keeps making movies—forever. But at least at this year’s New York Film Fest, everything old really is new again.