Husam Asi indulges in a film-lover’s feast at the New York Film Festival
23 February 2008
New York has a lot to offer its residents and visitors, but for film fans, the New York film festival is the city’s best treat. This year, the festival offers 28 film premieres, inclding award-winning films, documentaries, animation and shorts. Many of the film makers and stars are attending their screenings and holding Q&A sessions, including directors Joel and Ethan Coen, Sidney Lumet, Eric Rohmer, Julian Schnabel, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Todd Haynes, Claude Chabrol, Catherine Breillat and Wes Anderson. The cast attending include Nicole Kidman, Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman, Willem Dafoe, Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin and Belen Rueda.
Opening this year’s festival is the North American premiere of the Wes Anderson comedy, The Darjeeling Limited, starring Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman as three brothers re-forging family ties during a train ride across India. In the festival’s Closing Night selection, Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi’s groundbreaking graphic novel about her childhood in Iran during the Islamic Revolution comes to life onscreen through the animations of Vincent Paronnaud and the voice talents of Catherine Deneuve, Chiara Mastroianni, Danielle Darrieux and Simon Abkarian. Persepolis has already garnered awards in other festivals including the Jury Prize in Cannes.
In between, the festival’s Centerpiece film is Joel and Ethan Coen’s bold Cormac McCarthy adaptation No Country for Old Men. This is a throat-gripping yet oddly meditative film, about the violent chain reaction that follows a hunter’s discovery of several dead bodies, a huge stash of heroin and $2 million in cash. It’s embellished by gorgeous photography from DP Roger Deakins, and underpinned by outstanding performances from Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin and Tommy Lee Jones.
The rest of the films come predominantly from veterans. Sidney Lumet presents Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, a riveting drama of greed and blood ties, staring Ethan Hawke and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Noah Baumbach returns with Margot at the Wedding, staring Nicole Kidman and Jennifer Jason Leigh. Julian Schanbel comes with an enthralling new film The Diving Bell and Butterfly, which tells the story of Jean-Dominque Bauby, who wrote his best-selling book by the blinking of his eye, the only functioning organ in his body that allowed him to communicate with the world after he was robbed of all muscle control by a massive stroke.
Over half of the movies come from International film makers, most of them are returnees to the festival. Legendary French director, Eric Rohmer, comes with his pastoral love story, The Romance of Astree and Celadon. There were two more films from France: A Girl Cut in Two by Claude Chabrol and The Last Mistress by Catharine Breillat.
But the most exciting films come from newcomers. Romanian Director, Cristian Mungiu, makes his festival debut with his provocative Cannes film festival Palm d’Or winner, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, a gripping story about illegal abortion during the Ceausescu era in Romania.
Another impressive debut comes from the Spanish director, Antoni Bayona, with the supernatural thriller The Orphanage, staring Belen Rueda and Geraldine Chaplin. The film was produced by Guillermo Del Toro and it does conjure up images from his his oscar winning film from last year, Pan’s Labyrinth. A dominant theme in this year’s festival was not Iraq’s war, which was explored only in Brian De Palma’s drama Redacted, but music. Carlos Saura continues his unparalleled career of capturing music and dance onscreen with Fados, an exploration of the celebrated Portuguese musical style. Peter Bogdanovich’s Runnin’ Down a Dream: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers offers a one-of-a-kind look at the legendary American rock band, with about four hours of in-depth interviews and behind-the-scenes material. And Murray Lerner provides ample follow-up on the Dylan legend with his look at the singer’s stage appearances in The Other Side of the Mirror: Bob Dylan Live at the Newport Folk Festival, 1963-1965. Dylan was also the subject of Todd Haynes star-studded, poetic movie I am Not There, which swirls through Dylan’s life and legends, and allows a series of avatars (including Richard Gere, young Marcus Carl Franklin and, most miraculously of all, Cate Blanchett) to bloom within a variety of settings, styles and registers.
There are no awards to win at the New York film festival. It’s more of a festival of festivals, where most the selected have been seen at previous events and won prestigious awards. These films, like selected films from previous years, will undoubtedly garner more awards from other festivals and organizations and even Oscars.