Film Comment Selects
, Film Society of Lincoln Center's annual film series that showcases the best films from all corners of the world selected by folks at Film Comment
magazine, marks the arrival of spring for New York cinephiles in an otherwise dreadful February/March movie season.
This year's selections are as diverse as ever; the series blasts off with Mark Hartley's hilarious doc Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films
(read James Marsh's review here
) with some of Cannon's greatest hits as the sidebar selections, includes Larry Clark's Kids
part deux, The Smell of Us
(skater kids in Paris, this time), a tribute to the late Mike Nichols with a screening of his underrated, underseen The Fortune
, Philippe Garrel's rarely screened elegy Un ange passe
, a special screening of the original preview cut of Joe Dante's Gremlins
(featuring five additional minutes!), as well as many festival favorites, including Tsukamoto Shinya''s remake of Fires on the Plain
(read Pierce Conran's review here
), Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead's Spring
, Nakashima Tetsuya's The World of Kanako
(read Kurt Halfyard's review here
) and Christian Petzold's new film Phoenix
. The series also shed a six-film spotlight on autobiographical Danish auteur Nils Malmros.
I was able to sample the films below from the series lineup. The Film Comment Selects runs from February 20 to March 5. For more information and tickets, please visit FSLC website
THE SMELL OF US (d. Larry Clark)
It's been 20 years since Larry Clark made Kids. Now in his 70s, Clark hasn't changed his tune one bit. The setting has moved to Paris, and young skaters and hustlers are now armed with iPhones to memorialize their sexual escapades. But everything else is pretty much the same. Even though there is a lot of skin and explicit shots, the impact is far less shocking to anyone in this internet age.
The thin story centers around Mat/Pacman (Lukas Ionesco), a San Sebastian-esque beauty who is 'only gay for cash.' Everyone is in love with him, including his best buddy JP/Babyface and the only visible girl in the group, Marie. There are a lot of flabby, monstrous old men/women lusting for young flesh in this film, including a cameo from Clark himself as a drunk homeless man they call Rockstar (yeah right).
The Smell of Us makes the word 'disaffected' even more tiresome. The kids in the film are not only rebels without a cause but without a brain, emotions and everything else that makes interesting characters. It is too obvious that the only thing left to sell is their youthful bodies. In this day and age, I don't think that cuts it anymore.
SHOCK VALUE: How Dan O'Bannon And Some USC Outsiders Helped Invent Modern Horror
USC, the school responsible for incubating such Hollywood filmmakers as George Lucas, Ron Howard and Rian Johnson, was also the place to be for successful genre filmmakers in the late 60s and early 70s.
USC archivist Dino Everett lovingly strings together the works of USC Film School collaborators, including Dan O'Bannon, John Carpenter, Charles Adair, Terence Winkless and Alec Lorimore, in this no frills anthology. Obviously these are raw, amateurish student films but there is clear evidence of seeds being planted of what's to come in genre filmmaking, especially in Adair's riveting The Demon, predating Texas Chainsaw Massacre and sharing the same spirit of Night of the Living Dead, and Winkless and Lorimore's Judson's Release being a precursor to Carpenter's Halloween. I would loved to have seen Carpenter's thesis film Lady Madonna; the anthology includes some of the sound recordings of the film without the picture, since the negatives of the film are said to be lost.
BYPASS (d. Duane Hopkins)
Duane Hopkins' Bypass is yet another great example of social realism set in a British working class neighborhood. It fits somewhere between the works of Lynne Ramsay, Andrea Arnold and Shane Meadows, owing everything, of course, to Alan Clarke, Bill Douglas and early Mike Leigh. Gracefully lensed by David Proctor and beautifully acted by the principals, the film rises above other depressing, small time thug dramas set in England.
Bypass tells a story of the Locketts. Fatherless with a bedridden mom, the eldest, Greg (Benjamine Dilloway), a former soccer player whose dreams are crushed by a leg injury, deals in petty theft to support the family. But when he is caught and locked up, it's the turn of sickly younger brother Tim (George MacKay, in a star making turn) to provide for the family, dealing with pretty much the same set of local lowlifes. Things get complicated when bill collectors and child welfare services are hounding him and his younger sister and his angelic girlfriend, Lily (Charlotte Spencer), gets pregnant.
Hopkins shows his talent for effortless pacing, change of POV, and smart, economical storytelling without losing sight on the characters' innate goodness and warm hearts. Brooding and tense, Bypass showcases another major talent in the making in British cinema.
VOICE OVER (d. Cristian Jimenez)
Chilean director Cristian Jimenez's Bonsai has been on my radar for a while. His new family dramedy Voice Over is a well-written, well-rounded film. It tells the story of Ana (Ingrid Isensee), a pretty, thirty-something, unemployed, divorced mother of two young children, who is dealing with all of life's messiness. While taking care of her two kids, who are growing up fast, she finds out that her seemingly happy parents are separating. Then her bossy older sister comes back home after getting a Ph.D for anthropology, with her hunky French husband and a new baby in tow. A failed actress, now Ana is trying to be a voice-over artist for commercials. Even though Ana is the supposed protagonist of the film, Jimenez gives equal attention to each character and makes them all shine.
I really hate familial archetypes, especially 'quirky' characters in American comedies. Jimenez wouldn't have any of that. His characters are well developed, yet far from perfect people who are trying to cope with the curve balls life throws at them. There's birth. There's death. There's also the first sign of womanhood, sibling rivalry, a rusty nail in the yard, veganism, heartbreaks and forgiveness, but nothing seems far-fetched or outrageous for quirk's sake. There isn't a moment in life when a smooth-voiced narrator explains that everything will be okay, as in the movies. Jimenez has a real eye and ear for life's little incongruities. The result is a rich and rewarding viewing experience.
HIGH SOCIETY (d. Julie Lopes-Curval)
Alice (Ana Girardot) is at a stage where she is trying to find her artistic voice. The thing is, she's from a single-mother household, works at a cake shop and lives in a small town in Normandy. Knitting is her thing. After many weeks of hesitation, she asks for a recommendation letter for entering a prestigious art school in Paris from a wealthy woman in the fashion industry who frequents the cake shop and has a villa in Normandy. Once she is accepted by the school, she gets involved with the woman's son, Antoine (Bastien Bouillon), who quits a business school to become a photographer. He is a proto-hipster, rebelling against rich parents and living that bohemian lifestyle in Paris.
For the rest of the film, we witness the education of Alice as she finds her artistic voice and learns about life. Even though she loves Antoine, he involuntarily keeps reminding her of the deep divide in their class differences; it's in the things he says and does nonchalantly, even innocently, that hurts her.
High Society is beautifully written by Sophie Hiet and Julie Lopes-Curval, the latter of whom directed. I can't think of another movie that deals with class differences so subtly. (It's explored in Blue is the Warmest Color but is better here). Rich and poor aren't grotesquely exaggerated caricatures here. Girardot is adorable as a young woman finding out that there is a bigger world out there and that there is so much to learn and explore, without compromising the sense of who she is and not forgetting where she's from. A beautiful film.
TREE OF KNOWLEDGE (d. Nils Malmros) *In Focus
Nils Malmros chronicles the bittersweet days of his adolescence in a Danish intermediary school in the 1950s. Tree of Knowledge concerns a dozen kids in the same class, as they start noticing the opposite sex; love at first sight, jealousy and heartbreak ensue.
It is quite apparent that, way back then, Malmros was doing what social realists such as the Dardenne brothers are doing now. Almost documentary-like, he gains full access to the lives of these youngsters and gets amazingly naturalistic performances. These episodic days of 13 year old boys and girls are madly affecting. Particularly in the case of Elin, a tall, sullen brunette from an ultra conservative household who gets ostracized because she is a prude, both by heartbroken, monstrous boys and cliquey, jealous girls. Then there is Niels-Ole (Jan Johansen), a leader and general rabble-rouser of the pack, who falls hard for beautiful Maj-Brit (Lone Elliot), only to find out that our little Maj-Brit has 'been around' with many boys.
Malmros masterfully orchestrates two years in the lives of the group -- here's looking at you, Linklater! -- and ends the film just as swiftly, leaving us wanting more and appreciating the fleeting nature of those precious days in equal measure.
* The series include the following films by Malmros: Arhus by Night, Boys, Facing the Truth, Pain of Love, Sorrow and Joy and Tree of Knowledge.
NINJA III: THE DOMINATION (d. Sam Firstenberg) *Cannon Films Tribute
Christie (Lucinda Dickey) is just an ordinary working gal: she works for a phone company, climbing up the telephone polls in a cute jumpsuit, then changes to a neon-colored leotard to teach an aerobics class. She encounters a dying ninja who just killed about a hundred Los Angeles cops along with his intended victim. His soul gets transferred to Christie and she becomes an unstoppable cop killer.
Ninja III, steeped in typical 80s cheesy settings -- Patric Nagel poster, squiggly neon tubes on the wall and public phone booth in the living room -- is an epitome of a Cannon b-picture ridiculousness. You just have to surrender yourself to it and it will reward you handsomely.
*Cannon Films Tribute includes the following masterpieces: 10 to Midnight, The Last American Virgin and Ninja III: The Domination.
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