52 NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL: OVERVIEW #1

52 NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL: OVERVIEW #1

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By Tristán Pollack Teshigahara

9/15/14: Week 1/Incompresa

On the first day of the New York Film Festival everything seems to be in place. Inside of the Walter Reade cinema critics, writers, filmmakers and curators gather around the lobby eagerly waiting to reserve seats for what could easily rank as the most ambitious NYFF program to date. The NYFF has kept a strong track record in featuring films from all around the world, each film offering a unique perspective. Like some of the best film festivals, it has turned into a beacon of hope for filmmakers and artists who have been censored by totalitarianism. The 49th NYFF premiered Jafar Panahi’s This is Not a Film (2012), which he made while under house arrest from the Iranian government. The 51st NYFF released Jehane Noujaim’s The Square (2013), a vivid documentation of the Egyptian Revolution that originally took place in Tahrir Square in 2011. Although this year’s festival seems to move away from that direction, there is a subtle gesture of altruism that seems to give the programming a socially conscious direction. The 52nd New York Film Festival runs from September 26 – October 12.

Incompresa (2014), the third feature from actor-turned-director Asia Argento, is a loose autobiographical work that shimmers with confidence and humanity. Perhaps, the shift in tone and lucid structure has much more to do with Argento coming to terms with motherhood then her need to tell her story. The film centers on a disturbingly resilient girl named Aria (possibly a stand-in for Asia), who is a product of dysfunctional artist parents. From the outset, Aria, played by the blue-eyed Giulia Salerno, lives with her mother (Charlotte Gainsbourg), a promiscuous musician, and neurotic father (Gabriel Garko), a egomaniacal actor who is waiting to do a serious role. She also lives with two half-siblings: Lucrezia and Donatina (Anna Lou Castoldi), each of them being favored by their parents. Aria, being the only staunch supporter of the new family unit, is neglected and abused by both parents as they take pride in their own respective children. When the marriage finally dissolves, she is tossed between her mother and father, thus setting off the ping-pong cycle of her life.

Throughout her misadventures she, fortunately, befriends Dac, a stray cat that she adopts, and Angelica (Alice Pea), her closest friend in school. While it is inevitable to make the connection between Aria and Asia, it is clear from the beginning that her film is a work of fiction. The tone is playful, but also solemn – composed of a kaleidoscopic color scheme that seems to recall the forgotten cult bands from the 80s (e.g. Suicide and Joy Division). This whimsical swirl of female bonding, awkward sexual awakenings, cheesy hairdos, and feedback-laden music paint a clear picture of what life must have been like for Asia Argento. While all of this provides a strong script and cast, the problem lies in the rather conventional narrative and the somewhat melodramatic portrayal of Aria. Incompresa ultimately whispers to the viewer that we are not laughing at Aria the way her schoolmates or her negligible parents do, but instead we are laughing with her. And, indeed, laughter being one of the strongest human emotions, is something we can never take away from children. Incompresa (Misunderstood) screens at the NYFF on September 27 and 29.

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By Tristán Pollack Teshigahara

9/16/14: Week 1/Adieu au Langage 

Alternatively, Adieu au langage (2014), the latest effort from the prolific New Wave veteran Jean-Luc Godard, is precisely what it purports to be: a work of art that literally eschews cinematic meaning. Seldom has there been a filmmaker who has truly probed the 3D format and deconstructed it to its barest essentials.

Like Chris Marker or Werner Herzog, Godard has rapturously accepted his role as one of cinema’s most beloved tricksters. In this 3D excursion the octogenarian’s dog, Roxy, guides us along the way. Overtime, we soon realize that his ‘actor’ is in fact the central key to unlocking this experiential puzzle. On the surface, Adieu au language painstakingly captures the humdrum affair between a married woman and an older man. The presentation of this couple is duplicitous, because we are soon faced with not just one couple, but perhaps a second couple who mimics the initial one. Whether or not we can confirm the veracity of what we are seeing, Godard encourages us to loose ourselves in our own imaginations.

For some viewers, it may help to see how the film alludes to Godard’s Contempt (1963), which at once is a free-associative essay on the convergence of art and commerce, but also an aesthetic journey that resembles The Odyssey. However, Adieu doesn’t have any walls or dimensions to break (in Adieu multiple walls are already broken). With a little help of Godard’s literary and philosophical friends, he is able to communicate all that is literally ineffable in Adieu. In that sense, the film shows an alliance with his 8-part marathon essay film Histoire(s) du cinema (1988). This comparison becomes especially relevant once we take note of all the visual cut-up techniques that Godard performs with utmost glee. There are hand-held shots of natural landscapes that resemble Mekas’ films, then there are intentional forays into video, making it abundantly clear that a moving image can wear many hats and many different outfits. But then, there is the nearly exhaustive, but audacious use of superimpositions that recalls a quote from one of the texts in Histoire(s) du cinema: “May each eye negotiate for itself.” And indeed out of mental and emotional fatigue, we are driven to succumb to the director’s advances, allowing him to exercise our visual cortex with his montage of disorienting images. Any viewer who suffers from epilepsy should avoid watching this film. Adieu au langage screens at the NYFF on September 27 and October 1.

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9/17/14: Week 1/Hill of Freedom

Hong Sang-soo, a native of Seoul, Korea has made his own imprint on global cinema with his decidedly auteur approach to filmmaking. With 16 feature length films under his belt, he has been likened to everyone from Eric Rohmer to Abbas Kiarostami. To be compared to the likes of these two filmmakers is certainly a rarity, but there also seems to be something specific to the narrative structure of Hong Sang-soo’s films. Seemingly in all of Sang-soo’s films, a narrative begins in a matter-of-factly way. Often a character in a film, a surrogate for the audience, witnesses something for the first time but not always in chronological order.

Hill of Freedom (2014) is no exception to the rule. The film is centered on a lovesick man, Mori (played by the great Kase Ryo), who journeys back to South Korea in hopes of reuniting with the woman of his dreams, Kwon (Seo Young-hwa). It all begins when Kwon, checking in at her old workplace (where she met Mori some years ago when they taught at the same language school), finds his letters and accidentally drops them on her way out. She scrambles to put them back in order, but slightly flustered, she mixes them up and proceeds to read them without any chronology.

This is how Mori’s epistolary exchange begins with his beloved former colleague. As a result, the audience follows Mori’s peculiar mishaps in exactly the same order as Kwon reads them. Sang-soo’s signature fragmented non-linear narrative structure works best in Hill of Freedom, but has also been used to great effect in In Another Country (2012) and Tale of Cinema (2005). Perhaps what makes this deceptively simple film a joy to follow, even for Hong newcomers, is the fact that the broken narrative structure also echoes the issues of spoken language in the film: a faltering broken English that is the imperfect form of communication by which Mori engages his cast of acquaintances, as well as Kwon. What is most impressive about this film is the director’s ability to fully address and resolve all of Mori’s seemingly minor issues within the film’s duration of 66 minutes.

On another note, it is curious that not much has been stated to address the latent chauvinism that seems to permeate Hong Sang-soo’s films. This could warrant a much longer discussion, but it again it is evident that the women in his films are beguiling, charming and ultimately loyal to their men.  Some might argue that this is just the director’s way of sardonically exposing the simple-minded nature of the male perspective.  Ultimately, it is up to the audience to decide. Hill of Freedom screens at the NYFF on September 30 and October 8.

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