22 October, 2010

Found Footage Film To World Premiere In Poland

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

SPARK OF BEING, a found footage film by celebrated avant-garde filmmaker Bill Morrison, is making its World Premiere this week at the AMERICAN FILM FESTIVAL(AFF), the first film event in Eastern Europe solely devoted to the works of contemporary and classic American cinema. Like his earlier film DECASIA (2002), Morrison uses disparate found footage extracts and a dynamic score to create a unique film experience that communicate many different layers of resonance and meaning.

While the earlier film was a kind of symphony of decomposition, SPARK OF BEING offers a nostalgic treatise on the nature of creation. The starting point is the story of Dr. Frankenstein and his monster, to note the 100 year anniversary of the first silent film adaptation of the famed Mary Shelly novel. Here, Morrison presents his take on the classic tale, using striking visual imagery to delineate the monster’s unique position between decay and living flesh. Morrison follows in the good doctor’s footsteps by digging up rotting film fragments and making them whole again, bringing new life to the deteriorated celluloid. In this process, the images take on a life of their own…..changing colors, creating bulges and crumples, pulsating with their own organic life, set to an electro-jazz rhythm score by Dave Douglas. The film has been presented with live musical accompaniment at museums, mediatheques, concert halls and music clubs, but this is the first time that it is being presented solely as a film in a film festival environment.

Morrison began his career as a designer of visualization for some of New York’s most adventurous avant-garde theaters. His series of short films since 1990, including such celebrated works of the avant-garde as THE NIGHT HIGHWAY, THE FILM OF HER, TRINITY and THE MESMERIST have won awards at film festivals in Berlin, Mumbai and Rio de Janeiro. His feature debut, the celebrated DECASIA in 2002, has been hailed as one of the most important experimental films of the last decade. SPARK OF BEING has its world premiere debut as part of The Cutting Edge section of visually adventurous films that include such other titles as DOUBLE TIDE (Sharon Lockhart), NY EXPORT: OPUS JAZZ (Henry Joost and Jody Lee Lipes), OPEN (Jae Yuzna) and THE OWLS (Cheryl Dunye). For a complete list of films and events at the inaugural American Film Festival, visit:

American Indie Auteurs In Poland

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

While the Polish public certainly is aware of the latest Hollywood films, and with current American television series also freely available here, it is a little surprising that some of the American indie world's most celebrated auteurs are virtually unknown. That is one of the goals of the inaugural American Film Festival, the first film event in Eastern Europe solely devoted to contemporary and classic American cinema. And if the size of the audiences at the screenings is any indication, the American indies will be as well known here as their Hollywood counterparts.

In the Festival section, Decade of Independents, Festival programmers are showcasing some of the most important and influential American indie films of the past ten years. Many of these films did not get an original theatrical release in Poland and some never even made it to the dvd market. However, with internet platforms now readily available to the public, there is an opportunity for the films to be rediscovered and for the filmmakers, long known in the West, to widen their reach into Eastern Europe.

The names are indeed impressive: Darren Aronofsky (represented here by the visually inventive REQUIEUM FOR A DREAM and the Mickey Rourke career comeback THE WRESTLER), The Coen Brothers (the stylish but sedate THE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE), David Lynch (the master's surrealistic take on the allure of Hollywood, MULHOLLAND DRIVE), Spike Jonze (the wildly anarchic ADAPTATION), Gus Van Sant (the controversial and uncompromising GERRY and PARANOID PARK), Michael Moore (the compelling and disturbing portrait of the underbelly of rage and violence in American life, BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE) and Sofia Coppola (her breakthrough film LOST IN TRANSLATION).

Other auteurs being showcased include: Jonathan Couette (the autobiographical essay film TARNATION), Woody Allen (the deceptively lightweight meditation on human relations, ANYTHING ELSE), Todd Solondz (the surrealistic masterpiece PALINDROMES), Michel Gondry (the masterfully elusive and resonant meditation on memory, THE ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND), Jim Jarmusch (the child-like innocence of BROKEN FLOWERS and the existential thriller THE LIMITS OF CONTROL), Wes Anderson (the playful yet disonant animation film THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX) and Miranda July (the impressive debut ME AND YOU AND EVERYONE WE KNOW).

For those discovering these films for the first time or others interested in revisiting them, this is an astonishing program in and of itself. The fact that is only one of three retrospectives (with a complete look at the work of John Cassavetes and a potpourri of classic Hollywood gems) makes it all the more impressive. The American Film Festival boasts one of the most eclectic and enriching (and meaty) programs on the festival circuit.

21 October, 2010

Hommage To Nathalie Baye in New York

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

What is it about French actresses, that they grow even more beautiful and, arguably, more talented with age. Jeanne Moreau and Catherine Deneuve are but two examples of this gorgeous gallic phenomenon, where their later roles take on even greater gravitas as the subtle lines of their face change, their voices lowers a register and their once all-too-fragile beauty slightly hardens and becomes as enduring as a Greek sculpture. But blood courses through their veins and passion, if not only of the body, remains part of their allure.

Such is certainly the case with the actress Nathalie Baye, who has been honored with a mini-retrospective this past week given by the Film Society of Lincoln Center (who just presented the stellar 48th edition of the New York Film Festival…..don’t these people sleep?). The series highlights some of her finest films over a 30 year career that shows no signs of abating. She continues the trajectory of a unique career in cinema, having worked with a wide range of directors, from Truffaut to Spielberg, Godard to Chabrol. On screen, she has a force and grace that is surprising from someone so petite and porcelain-faced. One senses that beneath the demure façade that fires are raging and uncontrollable passions are always on the verge of breaking through. Film directors have loved that quality of restrained control since her early work in the 1970s, of which THE MOUTH AGAPE by Maurice Pialat and Francois Truffaut's dark exploration of loss and remembrance THE GREEN ROOM.

She had her true breakout role opposite Gerard Depardieu as the wife of a returning peasant in THE RETURN OF MARTIN GUERRE (1982) by Daniel Vigne. The richly imagined retelling of this fractured fairy tale set in the 16th century sets up the possibility that the returning husband may be an imposter….and posits the question of how we know one another after all. The unknowingness of human relations is also at the core of NOTRE HISTOIRE (1984), a compelling deux-a-deux with Alain Delon as two strangers on a train who become involved in a secret. The film, as directed by Bertrand Blier, walks the fine line between reality and fantasy, clarity and lunacy….all reflected in the rather stoic visage of Ms. Baye. She was equally ambivalent, and never more beautiful, than as the tormented wife trying to collect a debt from her former love in Jean Luc Godard’s return to genre form, DETECTIVE (1985).

She won one of her several Cesar Awards as Best Actress in the shockingly explicit AN AFFAIR OF LOVE (Une Liaison Pornographique, 1999), with Baye showing considerable skin in her sensual, no commitment encounters with Sergi Lopez. Frederic Fonteyne’s film forms a kind of companion piece to Bertolucci’s LAST TANGO IN PARIS, as the two strangers attempt to establish a purely sexual relationship but, in the end, cannot escape the yearnings of their own humanity.

Baye had her biggest hit that same year with VENUS BEAUTY INSTITUTE, in which she starred as a world-weary beautician who reluctantly gives love another try. In a cast that introduced ingénue Audrey Tatou, as well as veterans Bulle Ogier and Mathilde Seigner, director Tonie Marshall’s winning comedy won several Cesar Awards and became a world box office sensation.

The series, which ends on October 21, also highlights her more recent work with a diverse group of directors, including: Steven Spielberg (CATCH ME IF YOU CAN, 2002), Claude Chabrol (THE FLOWER OF EVIL, 2003), Xavier Beauvois (LE PETIT LIEUTENANT, 2005), Thomas Gilou (MICHOU D’AUBER, 2007) and Josianne Balasko (CLIENTE, 2008). Baye was in New York all week, giving an on-stage reminiscence of her life and career and at many of the week’s screenings. The actress was also recently feted for her career achievement at the Montreal World Film Festival last month for the astonishing quality of her work. As she ages into perfect grand motherhood, expect to see her still glorious visage gracing French and European cinema for decades to come.

19 October, 2010

Olivier Assayas: Post-Punk Auteur

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

In CARLOS, the riveting and expansive 5 1/2-hour biopic of the charismatic 1970s terrorist Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, writer/director Olivier Assayas relies on a dizzying cinematic style that is also punctuated by the punk music that characterized the rebellion of the age in which he lived. Music and visuals are among the many pallettes that Assayas has used with great fidelity and skill throughout his diverse and diverting 25-year career. As an added panache to the theatrical release of CARLOS in the United States by IFC Films (surely one of the highlights of the Fall film season), the BAMcinematek in Brooklyn is presenting an exhaustive retrospective of the director's oeuvre. The series, which began last weekend and will also screen the CARLOS marathon biopic, is presenting 19 films in all, including his early short films, a number of rarely-seen documentaries and his full feature film oeuvre. Ranging from anarchic rebellion to pastoral family pieces to intense thrillers, the director's range and interests are truly wide-reaching.

Like his "nouvelle vague" predecessors a generation before, Assayas came to directing first immersing himself in the world of film criticism. Like Godard, Truffaut and Malle, he maintains both the detached eye of the outside critic, while remaining loyal to his vision, but forever finding a correlation to the visual voices of his heros. In Assayas' case, there was indeed a cinematic gene.....his father Jacques Remy was a screenwriter who penned original works and adaptations for the big and small screen, in collaboration with such French giants as Rene Clair, Marcel Camus, Roger Vadim and Rene Clement. It is even rumored that the young Assayas was the ghost writer of several scripts when his faher's health began to fail.

As a film critic at the prestigious Cahiers du Cinema, Assayas wrote extensively about the underrated auteurs of both French and world cinema, while also championing Asian filmmaking, in particularly the works of his primary artistic influence, the Taiwanese filmmaker Hou Hsiao-hsien. By 1986, he was ready to helm his first original script, the music-set DISORDER, about a group of young punk musicians who break the rules in order to do the one thing that they find transcendent....making music. The film won a Critics Prize at the Venice Film Festival and Assayas was instantly hailed as a new kind of French filmmaker.

As stated, music has played a big role in his films, as both subject and subtext. In PARIS AT DAWN (1991), a moody triangle develops between a drug addict and her older lover and his son. The film, shot in delectable black and white that gives Paris the atmospheric glamour usually associated with film noir New York, boasts an original score by the Velvet Underground's John Cale. In the underrated LATE AUGUST, EARLY SEPTEMBER (1998), Assayas uses the melodious music of Malian musician Ali Farka Toure to provide the rhythm of the back-and-forth connections between a disparate group of thirty-somethings. In the controversial demonlover (2002), the terrific score by Sonic Youth contributed to the film's wildly hallucinatory atmosphere and underlying erotic tension. The unstable world of musicians also informs CLEAN, with Assayas' one-time wife Maggie Cheung winning accolades for her performance as a recovering addict who was a casaulty of a high-powered and unforgiving music world.

However, striking visuals are also a hallmark of Assayas' best work. In IRMA VEP (1996), his international breakout hit, the imagery is almost hallucinatory as Assayas brings us behind the scenes of the filmmaking process as a director (played by the iconic Jean-Pierre Leaud) attempts a remake of the subversive silent classic LES VAMPIRES by Louis Feuillade. The frug-fueled mania of Paris night life is brought to colorful life in the earlier COLD WATER (1994), climaxing in an extensive party scene with hot passion, illicit drugs, music and dancing before a raging bonfire. Drugs also fuel the erotic tension in BOARDING GATE (2007), a steamy look at hedonism starring Michael Madsen and Asia Argento.

While these "all charged up" visuals necessitate a hot temperament and a roving camera, Assayas has also demonstrated his powerful control of understated emotion in such films as LES DESTINEES (2000), a multi-era period piece starring a stellar cast that included Isabelle Huppert, Emmanuelle Beart and Charles Berling. A similar sure hand gave a special resonance to the unstated in SUMMER HOURS (2008), an almost Japanese-look at the effect of a parent's death on the surviving children....while also making a trenchant statement about what can be characterized as the cynical and unsentimental "new France", a country adrift in the waves of globalization.

While that subject is considered one for our own age, it clearly has been the case for several decades, as is demonstrated with great alacrity in CARLOS. The film moves between Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and the Balkans with dizzying speed, often including three different languages in the same scene. As an international terrorist who found alliances with (at different times) the Russians, the Syrians, the German Stasi, the Libyans and terrorist cells in France, Germany and Spain, Carlos was, in his way, a true citizen of the world. However misguided his messianic politics and violent nature, he understood that the world was more interconnected than most people in his age realized. In the end, when he is abandoned by all his former allies, he represents the ultimate isolation and lack of connection that is inherent in many of Assayas' films. As is illustrated, we come into this world alone and leave it just as lonely......but oh, the musical, magical, visual ride.

For more information on this and future film series, visit: