Monday, October 01, 2007

NYFF: A Francophile Weekend

From the 45th Annual New York Film Festival (Sept 28th through Oct 14th)

The Romance of Astrée & Céladon
French legend Eric Rohmer rather cheekily adapts an ancient myth for today's cinema. Or rather I think that he does. Astree & Celadon is one of those foreign language films that make me question the whole enterprise of people judging films and performances that aren't in their native tongue. Are these performances as affected as they seem? (How can I tell when I can't hear the line readings filtered as they are through subtitles, a non-aural beast.) If not, why do I imagine the affectations? If I'm correct, does the stylistic choice inform the subject or is it poorly executed? I couldn't tell you.

Here's what I do know. The screenplay makes an initial fuss over this tale's bucolic charms and wild poetry; the former is nominally present in the scenery --though I wish it'd been more capitalized on by the cinematography; the latter is found in the ridiculous beauty of its lead players (Astrée is Stéphanie Crayencour. Céladon is Andy Gillet, whose charms were not lost on Boyd in our Venice coverage) ...but not, I think, in the film itself which feels stiff. At least to this non French speaker. And yet the movie has some charm, fun circular logics --"love desires only itself" is played out amusingly, and an altogether satisfying and sensual conclusion. (As a whole though, er.... grades are so useless. I'm going with "C"ish grade but the ending is divine. Steve, who reported from TIFF earlier, liked it less than I.)

The Diving Bell and Butterfly
The first half hour of this bio story of Jean-Dominique Bauby, who suffers from locked in syndrome (i.e. total paralysis but with a fully functioning mind) is a marvel. Entirely told from the paralyzed man's point of view the film is visually inventive, moving, and rich with an array of tones from gallows humor to curiousity to horniness through to sober despair. The rest of the film which abandons its "locked in" point of view rather suddenly and for reasons I cynically assume are commercial isn't as strong but is still moving and well played.

This movie has a way of amassing ardent wet-eyed admirers. You need those fans if you're hoping for rave reviews, abundant top ten lists, and awards traction. It's in French so there are obstacles to its inevitable Oscar campaign but expect the team to push hard anyway. It can be compared, at least on the shallow surface, to The Sea Inside wherein Javier Bardem emoted while paralyzed from his bed. That earlier film went on to win the foreign film Oscar but missed its expected Best Actor nom. More surprisingly it didn't do so well even by adjusted arthouse standards given the awards, media attention and Bardem's fame. The Diving Bell and Butterfly is a much better film: less cloying, less superficial, and directed with true showman's flair. Whether or not that transfers to more awards and box office is impossible to predict... for now (more on Julian Schnabel at the Q & A) B

I missed: Spain's creepy genre pic The Orphanage but you can read reviews both very pro (Levy) and very con (Slant) if you're interested. Bela Tarr's The Man From London will also play today but it didn't fit into my schedule.

next up: 4 Months... , Secret Sunshine and Patty Clarkson in Married Life


Anonymous said...

love you / mean it.....but this foreign stuff is a real yawner to me.

Glenn Dunks said...

Be thankful you missed The Man From London. Or, if you did see it, you could use it has a two-hour nap!

gabrieloak said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
gabrieloak said...

One really overrated film in French that is playing at the NYFF and played at the TIFF is The Flight of the Red Balloon. Though both Binoche and the Chinese actress who plays her nanny give artful performances, This film goes on and on with pretentious puppet scenes, uninteresting scenes in which Binoche fights with her tenants, and repetitive tributes to a much shorter film classic, The Red Balloon. I know the director is considered a master but I don't understand the raves for this film.

Boyd said...

I loved Flight of the Red Balloon. I think it is one of those rare films that seems to really show what it means to live a normal life from day to day, and by simply doing so transforms itself into great art.

Anonymous said...

looking forward to reading your opinio of 4 months... I'm hesitant on seeing it as it looks rather depressing... :o(