The Hands of Bresson

Sundry observations on the art of cinema and world film culture

NYFF 2008: Bringing It All Back Home

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Michelle Williams in Wendy and Lucy

Each September, as the New York Film Festival rolls out two weeks of film for its illustrious guests and patrons, the event stirs up mixed feelings among this city’s hardcore cinephile community. Veteran malcontents like to grouse that there is too much middlebrow programming from the likes of Wes Anderson or Noah Baumbach, with top slots taken by crowd pleasers already slated for theatrical release. Others seem to think the fest is redundant, as it focuses on programming a best-of selection of already anointed or buzzed-about films from Cannes and Toronto. But these gripes are akin to drunken holiday invectives hurled at dearly loved family members. Sober up, people!

Now in its 46th edition, this year’s New York Film Festival corrals twenty-eight features and seventeen shorts representing a broad swath of international cinema into its posh new Ziegfeld Theater, from eagerly awaited new work by indie directors Kelly Reichardt (Wendy and Lucy), Hong Sang-soo (Night and Day) and Lucretia Martel (The Headless Woman) to celeb-studded dramas by Clint Eastwood (Changeling) and Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler), to masterly fables from the likes of Arnaud Desplechin (A Christmas Tale), Olivier Assayas (Summer Hours), and Mike Leigh (Happy-Go-Lucky). Alongside these are the festival’s equally distinguished sidebars, “Views from the Avant-Garde,” featuring new work by James Benning and a tribute to trailblazer Bruce Conner, and “In the Realm of Oshima,” a retrospective of the great Japanese provocateur Nagisa Oshima. Far be it from me to spoonfeed such “unworthy” new and classic work to those who’d rather make discoveries of their own at far-flung festivals from Sarajevo to Pusan, but let’s be honest about something: who can afford to travel these days? New Yorkers have the good fortune of not having to road trip to Toronto (ten hours by car) or spend thousands of Euros only to wrestle red-carpet goons in a certain French resort town at the height of summer to see the best of what these major film showcases have to offer.

Besides, this year’s selection committee—Kent Jones, Scott Foundas, Lisa Schwartzbaum, Jim Hoberman, and chair Richard Peña—have also included some nervy picks by newer filmmakers debuting at the fest (Antonio Campos, Pablo Larrain) as well as two astonishing, beautifully accomplished dramas, Tulpan and Shouga, both by Kazakh directors who should be better known to anyone serious about film culture. As always, there’s plenty to see and argue about, and over the past two weeks of near-daily press screenings, that’s exactly what my colleagues have been doing. (Nothing’s as dull as consensus, or as useless for gaining insight into one’s own habits of viewing.) We’ve just begun to post our first round of on-camera interviews from the festival, as well as reviews and dispatches from our partner sites (Filmmaker, The Man Who Viewed Too Much, Filmlinc blog), so look here in the coming days for more coverage. And, as always, we invite you to join the conversation, whatever your entry point might be.

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Written by eyemaster

January 31, 2009 at 4:36 pm

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