03 October, 2011

49th New York Film Festival

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

The 49th edition of the New York Film Festival, a sure sign of the Fall season, is underway, and in its substantially expanded format, there is literally something for everyone at this year’s event. The Festival, which has prided itself on being a boutique as opposed to the bazaar offered at such events in Toronto, Cannes and Berlin (and at New York’s own Tribeca Film Festival) still offers the cream of the crop from those other festival celebrations, with a sprinkling of highbrow curiosities geared to the most serious of cinephiles. However, this year’s program is a good 25% larger than previous sessions, a result of the increased screen space available since the Film Society of Lincoln Center, the event’s presenter, opened its three-screen Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center. Between the newly refurbished gala center Alice Tully Hall, the intimate jewel box of the Walter Reade Theater and the three screens at the Film Center, the Festival now has the ability to play it both large and glamorous and intimate and no frills, all in the same program.

The highest-profile titles are in the main selection, including the opener, Roman Polanski’s adaptation of the Tony Award-winning Broadway hit CARNAGE; the centerpiece (Simon Curtis’s MY WEEK WITH MARILYN with Michelle Williams channeling the fragility and grit of Marilyn Monroe); and the closer, Alexander Payne’s first film in five years, THE DESCENDANTS, starring George Clooney as a Hawaiian patriarch that has Oscar nomination written all over it). MY WEEK WITH MARILYN is a world premiere, a rare occurrence for this Festival, which mostly shows the top flight films that had their openings at other festivals, mainly Cannes, Venice and Toronto. However, New York still is an important player in the festival sweepstakes because much of the nation’s media community resides here. So such films as A DANGEROUS METHOD, Canadian director David Cronenberg’s intense drama of sexual desire and psychoanalytic competition (Dr. Freud meets Dr. Jung) and THE SKIN I LIVE IN, Festival fave Pedro Almodovar’s playful yet horrific sampling of Hitchcockian suspense, use the Festival as the launch of their media campaigns for eventual theatrical release.

That speaks to the interesting phenomenon that also distinguishes the New York Film Festival. More than 75% of the film presented in the main slate come with distributors already attached. This is quite different from the previous festivals mentioned, where part of the excitement is the industry’s first introduction to these long anticipated titles and possible bidding wars that are followed by the industry trades to see which companies walk away with the most dazzling jewels. While it makes no difference to the enthusiastic New York audiences who attend (although at $24 per ticket, the Festival is quite a pricey affair in a time of economic austerity), it remains rather industry lite. Distributors are already attached to such high profile titles as THE ARTIST (Weinstein Company), FOOTNOTE (Sony Pictures Classics), GOODBYE FIRST LOVE (Sundance Selects), THE KID WITH A BIKE (Sundance Selects), LE HAVRE (Janus Films), MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE (Fox Searchlight), MELANCHOLIA (Magnolia Pictures), MISS BALA (Twentienth Century Fox) ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA (Cinema Guild), PINA (Sundance Selects), A SEPERATION (Sony Pictures Classics), SHAME (Fox Searchlight) and THE TURIN HORSE (Cinema Guild).

Where the New York Film Festival can make a difference, in furthering the careers of its films at least, is with the titles that come here without a distributor attached. This is not to say that the films are unknown (most have played at Berlin, Cannes, Venice or Toronto) but a strong response from critics and audiences here can make the crucial difference in an eventual distribution pickup. That is what is on the line for such films as 4:44 LAST DAY ON EARTH, New York cult director Abel Ferrara’s apocalyptic valentine to his home city; THE LONELIEST PLANET, director Julia Loktev’s examination of the unraveling of a couple on a trekking holiday in the Caucasus Mountains, with a charismatic lead performance by Mexican heartthrob Gael Garcia Bernal; PLAY, an immigrant story that is both disturbing and heartening by Swedish director Ruben Ostlund; POLICEMAN, a gripping political drama from Israeli debut director Napav Lapid; SLEEPING SICKNESS, a meditation on the life of a white European doctor working in a troubled Cameroon directed by Germany’s own Ulrich Kolhler; THE STUDENT, the story of a university student who becomes involved in radical politics in Argentine director Santiago Mitre’s smashing debut; and THIS IS NOT A FILM, a video diary by Iranian director Jafar Panahi on the eve of his appeal for disloyalty that has been a Festival staple since its premiere in Cannes.

The Festival offers other delights and curiosities in its other sections, including a Masterworks section of famous and infamous films from the past, and a wide-ranging programs of Special Events, Directors Dialogues, a four-day program of Avant-Garde works and a tribute to the pulp genre films of Japan’s legendary Nikkatsu Corporation, a production and distribution institution that has been steadily producing and releasing films since 1912. We will be reporting on these and other aspects of the Festival in the days ahead. For more information, visit:

24 September, 2011

The Return Of Roman Polanski

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

Word comes from Europe that the celebrated director Roman Polanski will be returning to Zurich, Switzerland this week to accept the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Zurich Film Festival. This could have been a standard issue awards story except for the fact that Mr. Polanski’s trip to Zurich two years ago to pick up this same honor precipitated a one-year legal battle that led to months of house arrest and his possible extradition to the United States to face a prison term for fleeing the country in 1978 to avoid punishment for the crime of statutory rape with a minor. The fact that Mr. Polanski feels secure enough (or is still enough of a high stakes risk taker) to return to the place where his legal limbo occurred is yet another fascinating chapter in an extraordinary life of one of our most gifted living film auteurs.

The 78-year-old director is enjoying one of his most prolific periods in this latter chapter of his life and career. His film THE GHOST WRITER, which starred Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan and Kim Catrall, was the major winner at last year’s European Film Awards, sweeping the top prizes for Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Screenplay. Polanski is currently receiving a career retrospective at the prestigious Museum of Modern Art in New York. His newest film CARNAGE, a satire of manners based on the Tony Award-winning play GOD OF CARNAGE, will open the New York Film Festival next week (after world premiering at the Venice Film Festival last month). Advance word on CARNAGE is that it will be a major player in the end-of-season awards race, with Polanski possibly be nominated for an Oscar……and continued questioning of why he should be denied access to the country where he spent one of the most fruitful periods of his life.

Polanski’s story is a fascinating one, a reflection of the shifting currents and historical milestones of the past eight decades. Roman Polanski was born Rajmund Roman Thierry Polański in Paris, France in August 1933 to Polish Jewish parents. He moved with his family back to Poland in 1937, shortly before the outbreak of World War II. He suffered all the indignities and horrors when the Nazis invaded the country, but survived the Holocaust hiding with a Catholic family, although his mother and other relatives did not. Following the war, he was educated in the strict regimentation of Communist-era Poland and was accepted into the famed Lodz National Film School, where he made a series of impressive short films. In 1962, his feature thesis film KNIFE IN THE WATER was nominated for an Academy Award, and announced the arrival of a brash new European talent. Polanski eventually got out of Poland and lived in London during the height of its swinging sixties period, making such celebrated films as REPULSION (1965) and CUL DE SAC (1966).

In 1968, he moved to the United States and made a tremendous impression with the adaptation of Ira Levin’s best-selling horror novel ROSEMARY’S BABY, starring Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes and Ruth Gordon. Just as he had been part of the Eastern European new wave and the British post-war film movements, Polanski became a symbol of the New Hollywood, a time when the movie studios were in decline and a host of brash young directors (including Arthur Penn, Brian De Palma, Mike Nichols, Robert Altman, Martin Scorsese and others) began their celebrated careers. Following the triumph of ROSEMARY’S BABY came the deepest of personal tragedies. In 1969, Polanski's pregnant wife, the actress Sharon Tate, was murdered by members of the Manson Family at their Los Angeles home. The grisly event was later seen as the definitive end to the optimism and free flowing years of the 1960s. Following Tate's death, Polanski returned to Europe and spent much of his time in Paris and Gstaad, but did not direct another film until MACBETH (1971) in England. The following year he went to Italy to make WHAT? (1973) and subsequently spent the next five years living near Rome. However, he traveled to Hollywood to direct CHINATOWN (1974), one of the definitive films of the decade. The neo-noir, which starred Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway and John Huston, was nominated for eleven Academy Awards and was a critical and box-office success.

Polanski was again an A-list Hollywood director but the drug-fueled licentiousness of the times eventually caught up with him. In 1977, after a private photo shoot in Los Angeles, Polanski was arrested for the sexual abuse of a 13-year-old girl and pleaded guilty to the charge of unlawful sex with a minor. In a case that was particularly convoluted, he made the fateful decision to flee the country to avoid sentencing, setting up in Paris, where he has been ever since. Since then, he has faced possible extradition to the United States and a lengthy prison sentence that has prevented him from visiting the United States or even traveling to countries that have extradition treaties that could result in his arrest and deportation (this is what happened in September 2009 when he came to Zurich, with the extradition order eventually thrown out by a Swiss court).

The irony of his precarious relationship with the United States was felt most keenly in 2002, when his Holocaust drama THE PIANIST won three Academy Awards, including one for himself as Best Director. His no-show at the awards ceremony, where he received an extended standing ovation, reignited debate about why the United States still was gunning for his arrest, even after his now middle-aged “victim” had publicly forgiven him and pleaded for the overturning of his guilty verdict. In a time when Americans are focused on much bigger issues, it seems that it the overzealousness of a few stubborn officials in the Los Angeles district attorney’s office have prevented the celebrated director from returning to the U.S. and have kept him in a legal limbo, where he must always be looking over his shoulder, afraid of an arrest warrant.

Polanski has received many awards in his career and may be in the running this year for more for his latest film CARNAGE. The film, set in New York City but shot in Paris, is a bracing comedy about the relationship between two couples after their children get in a fight at school and the selfishness of everyone, which eventually leads to chaos. It stars Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster, Christoph Waltz and John C. Reilly. Sony Pictures Classics will release the film in December at the height of awards season. The big question in Hollywood is whether the celebrated director will again be nominated and will he finally be able to come back to the United States to receive the recognition of an industry that he has so influenced. It seems yet another chapter in Polanski’s colorful and eventful life is yet to be written.

23 September, 2011

Trans Atlantic Partners Networking In New York

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

One of the more ambitious initiatives at this week’s Independent Film Week, the international gathering of independent producers, in New York is Trans Atlantic Partners, an intensive training and networking program for established film producers from Europe, Canada and the United States. 26 producers are participating in the program designed to give filmmakers the necessary tools and knowledge to maneuver through the complex arena of international co-productions. The initiative is sponsored by the IFP, the U.S. producers organization that is presenting all the programs in the Independent Film Week, the Erich Pommer Institut (Europe) and Strategic Partners (Canada), a major co-production market held in Halifax during the Atlantic Film Festival.

European producers and their projects participating in the forum include:

Anneli Ahven (Estonia, MY ESTONIA)
Helen Alexander (UK, HECTOR & HIMSELF)
Tom Collins (Ireland, READING IN THE DARK)
Dariusz Jablonski (Poland, DRY RUN)
Titus Kreyenberg (Germany, THERE ARE NO SOULMATES)
Gilbert Mohler (Germany, THE QUEST FOR THE DRAGON'S GOLD)
Magnus Paulsson (Sweden, WANG)
Olivier Rausin (Belgium, MOTEL)
Sebastian Schelenz (Germany, MOTEL)
Femke Wolting (The Netherlands, EINSTEIN IN GUANAJUATO)

For more information, visit:

19 September, 2011

Strong Film Sales Emerging From Toronto

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

Although it began rather slowly, the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) which just concluded on Sunday, saw a good degree of sales and acquisition activity, with many more deals to be announced in the coming weeks. Although it does not have an official market sidebar like Cannes or Berlin, there is a good amount of informal rubbing of shoulders between members of the international film community who were in attendance in force.

According to the TIFF press office, more than 31 films were sold during the Festival's 11-day stanza to territories in North America, Europe, The Middle East, Asia, South America, and Australia, with more sales expected to be announced in the coming days. Among the biggest deals of the event was the sale of the UK drama SHAME by artist-turned-director Steve McQueen to Fox Searchlight Pictures for North America. Other films that were significant players included TRISHNA (UK, Michael Winterbottom), WUTHERING HEIGHTS (UK, Andrea Arnold), KILLER JOE (US, William Friedkin), THE LADY (France/US, Luc Besson), GOON (Canada, Michael Dowse), GOD BLESS AMERICA (US, Bobcat Goldthwait), ELLES (France/Poland/Germany, Malgoska Szumowska), YOUR SISTER'S SISTER (US, Lynn Shelton), THE DEEP BLUE SEA (UK, Terrence Davies) and INTO THE ABYSS (US, Werner Herzog).

Film sales confirmed to date include: BEAUTY (South Africa/France, Oliver Hermanus), BELOVED (France, Christophe Honore), ELLES (France/Poland/Germany, Malgoska Szumowska), FREE MEN (France, Ismael Ferroukhi), GENERATION P (Russia/USA, Victor Ginzburg), GOD BLESS AMERICA (US, Bobcat Goldthwait), GOON (Canada, Michael Dowse, HYSTERIA (US/UK, Tanya Wexler), THE HUNTER (Australia, Daniel Nettheim), INTO THE ABYSS (US, Werner Herzog), KILLER JOE (US, William Friedkin), LAST DAYS IN JERUSALEM (France/Israel/Palestine/Germany, Tawfik Abu Wael), LIFE WITHOUT PRINCIPLE (Hong Kong, Johnnie To), YOUR SISTER'S SISTER (US, Lynn Shelton), SARAH PALIN--YOU BETCHA! (UK, Nick Broomfield + Joan Churchill), SHAME (UK, Steve McQueen), TERRAFERMA (Italy, Emanuele Crialese), THE AWAKENING (UK, Nick Murphy), THE INCIDENT (France, Alexandre Courtes), THE LADY (France/US, Luc Besson), THE RAID (Indonesia, Gareth Huw Evans), THIS IS NOT A FILM (Iran, Jafar Panahi + Mojtaba Mirtahmasb), WUTHERING HEIGHTS (UK, Andrea Arnold), and YOU'RE NEXT (US, Adam Wingard).

Of course, many films in the TIFF program were sold previously at the Cannes Film Festival or were pre-sold last year, and Toronto provided a shimmering showcase for their launch on the North American market. The many film critics who attended create an early indication of which films will be prominent in the end-of-year awards season. In addition, several strong titles are still very much in play, with announcements to be made shortly, including such films as the Festival opener FROM THE SKY DOWN (US, Davis Guggenheim), TAKE THIS WALTZ (Canada, Sarah Polley), A HAPPY EVENT (France, Remi Bezancon), WINNIE (South Africa/Canada, Darrrell Roodt), FAUST (Russia, Alexander Sokurov), ALMAYER'S FOLLY (Belgium/France, Chantal Akerman), OUTSIDE SATAN (France, Bruno Dumont), 360 (UK/Austria/France/Brazil, Fernando Meirelles), AMERICANO (France, Mathieu Demy), FRIENDS WITH KIDS (US, Jennifer Westfeldt), SALMON FISHING IN THE YEMEN (UK, Lasse Hallstrom), BURNING MAN (Australia, Jonathan Teplitzky), HABEMUS PAPAM (Italy/France, Nanni Moretti), THE MOTH DIARIES (Ireland/Canada, Mary Harron), POULET AUX PRUNES (France/Germany/Belgium, Marjane Satrapi + Vincent Paronnaud), and Cadillac Audience Award winner WHERE DO WE GO NOW? (France/Lebanon/Egypt/Italy, Nadine Labaki).

Overall, nearly 4,000 industry delegates attended the Festival this year, a 20% growth over 2010. Attendees worked closely with the Festival’s Sales & Industry Office, which facilitates information sharing and fosters relationships between accredited buyers, sales agents, producers and filmmakers. Many more deals, both large and small, will be announced in the coming weeks, as sellers and buyers continue to circle one another long after TIFF has come and gone.

Toronto 2011 Award Winners

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

The 36th edition of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) came to a climactic close on Sunday with the announcement of its award recipients at a reception at the Four Seasons Hotel. With the Festival further solidifying its status as one of the Top Four in the world (with only Cannes, Berlin and Sundance in the running), it remains distinguished by not having a juried competition, with the exception for awards given to native Canadian films. So while there is no TIFF Grand Prize per se, the films that have been singled out are given remarkable momentum for their success in the marketplace in the months to come. If anything, Toronto adheres to its preferred position as the official launch of the awards season, with such high profile titles as A DANGEROUS METHOD, MONEYBALL, THE DESCENDANTS, THE IDES OF MARCH and others figuring prominently in this year’s Oscar races.

In addition, TIFF’s reputation as a “people’s festival” with a discerning audience also makes its Audience Awards a bellwether of which films will make waves at the box office when they open theatrically later this year. This year’s Cadillac People’s Choice Award went to WHERE DO WE GO NOW?, by Lebanese actress/director Nadine Labaski. The film, set against the backdrop of a war-torn country, tells the heartwarming tale of a group of women’s determination to protect their isolated, mine-encircled community from the pervasive and divisive outside forces that threaten to destroy it from within. The film, backed by French company Pathe, with co-production partners in Lebanon, Egypt and Italy, makes parallels to the “Arab spring” uprisings and the uncertain status of women in positions of leadership under the new realities. The award includes a cash prize of $15,000 and a custom award, provided by sponsor Cadillac. Another Middle East-themed film, the Berlin Golden Bear winner A SEPERATION by Iranian director Ashgar Farhadi, was the first runner-up, along with the Quebec dramedy STARBUCK, directed by Ken Scott.

The Cadillac People’s Choice Documentary Award was given to American director Jon Shenk for THE ISLAND PRESIDENT, a portrait of Mohamed Nasheed, the president of the island nation of the Maldives as he fights to save his homeland from rising seas caused by climate change and the greedy habits of the world’s powerbrokers in North America, Europe and Asia. In the popular Midnight Madness section, which showcases genre films, the Cadillac People’s Choice Award went to one of the breakout hits of the Festival….the Indonesian martial arts film THE RAID, directed by Gareth Evans and starring Indonesian martial arts sensation Iko Uwais. The film follows a SWAT team that is trapped in a rundown apartment block in Jakarta filled with heavily armed drug dealers and killers. It has been sold across the globe and promises to become the first big Indonesian film in decades.

TIFF has hosted an international jury of journalist from the international critics association FIPRESCI for twenty years. Members of the FIPRESCI Jury this year included Diego Batlle (Argentina), Carmen Gray (United Kingdom), Freddie Wong Kwok-Shiu (Hong Kong), Sam Adams (United States), Pascal Grenier (Canada) and John Semley (Canada). The FIPRESCI Prize in the Discovery debut features section was awarded to Swedish director Axel Petersén for AVALON, in the words of the jury “an assured, darkly humorous portrait of an affluent class in hedonistic self-denial that marks the arrival of a promising new voice in Swedish filmmaking.” In the Special Presentations section, which includes more veteran directors, the FIPRESCI Prize was won by Italian director Gianni Amelio for THE FIRST MAN, a co-production with France and Algeria. In this adaptation of a classic novel by existential French writer Albert Camus, the director has explored the legacy of colonialism and its repercussions on both the master and the servant. The jury lauded the director’s sensibility that combines “the tenderness of a memoir and the unflinching gaze of a war reporter.”

TIFF takes its vaulted international position seriously as a showcase for new Canadian cinema. Films from new and veteran Canadian auteurs were quite visible in all the sections of the Festival, including the inclusion for the first time of iconic director David Cronenberg (with his Jung-meets-Freud pscho/sexual drama A DANGEROUS METHOD). TIFF affords a dazzling showcase for this “north of Hollywood” talent with a series of juried awards. The SKYY Vodka Award for Best Canadian First Feature Film was won by Toronto-based writer/director Nathan Morlando for EDWIN BOYD, an evocative biopic of Canada’s most notorious bank robber, with local star Scott Speedman reaching a new maturity in the lead role. The award, which includes a cash prize of $15,000, will help the film find substantial international distributor interest across the border and beyond. The jury gave a special citation to Quebec director Anne Émond for the provocative NUIT #1, the erotic and candid portrayal of a hot one-night-stand sexual encounter.

The City of Toronto Award for Best Canadian Feature Film was unanimously voted to Montreal-based writer/director Philippe Falardeau for MONSIEUR LAZHAR, the tale of an Algerian immigrant who attempts a new beginning in a new land. The story focuses on the lead character, a teacher and his relationship with two of his pupils: a 10 year old boy traumatized by his encounter with death and a girl whose own interpretation of fate and destiny provoke unforeseen revelations. Sponsored by the City of Toronto, the award carries a cash prize of $30,000.

So, the curtain closes on another TIFF…..with films still reverberating in the consciousness of attendees and many beginning their slow, upward climb to critical and audience recognition. For the most celebrated films, TIFF provided their first significant encounter with both groups. For the many hidden gems in the Festival’s program of over 300 films, they await discovery and championing. Those of us who furiously attended are catching our breaths, waiting for both things to happen.

Terrence Davies Film Coming To U.S.

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

n a deal closed prior to its final public screening at the Toronto International Film Festival, THE DEEP BLUE SEA, a UK production by veteran director Terrence Davies, has been acquired by specialty U.S. distributor Music Box Films. The film, adapted from British playwright Terrence Rattigan's celebrated 1952 play, stars Academy Award winner Rachel Weisz (THE CONSTANT GARDENER), Olivier Award winner Tom Hiddleston (WAR HORSE, THOR) and BAFTA and Olivier Award-winning theatre actor Simon Russell Beale (AN IDEAL HUSBAND). THE DEEP BLUE SEA is Music Box’s first acquisition of an English language film. Music Box Films’ recent slate includes the original DRAGON TATTOO trilogy, which collectively registered nearly $22 million in US theatrical box office receipts. Hot on the heels of the film’s Toronto premiere THE DEEP BLUE SEA screens in competition at the San Sebastian Film Festival, as well as serving as the Closing Night Gala at next month's London Film Festival.

sees Terence Davies’ return to the big screen. His most recent film, the documentary OF TIME AND THE CITY, was an affectionate look at his childhood city Liverpool, but he is best known for the semi-autobiographical DISTANT VOICES STILL LIVES, THE LONG DAY CLOSES and THE HOUSE OF MIRTH. The film is a Camberwell/Fly Film Production financed by UK Film Council and Film4 in association with Protagonist Pictures, Lip Sync Productions and Artificial Eye. The film is being sold internationally by Protagonist Pictures.

U.S. Distributor Buys Burma Biopic

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

The Cohen Media Group (CMG) has picked up U.S. distribution rights to French director Luc Besson’s newest film, THE LADY, from French production company/sales agent Europa Corp. The biopic, a French/UK co-production stars Michelle Yeoh as Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese pro-democracy leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner, and details her personal struggle for political expression in one of the world’s most oppressive military dictatorships. The film made its world premiere bow on September 12 at the Toronto International Film Festival. CMG is planning to open the film in New York and Los Angeles by the end of the year to qualify for Oscar and other awards consideration for both Yeoh and her co-star David Thewlis, with a full release early next year. CMG, which produced the Oscar nominated FROZEN RIVER in 2008, moved into distribution last year with the release of the French/Algerian Oscar nominee OUTSIDE THE LAW.

European And Canadian Producers Network

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

The Toronto Producers Lab is the high-powered mixer where 12 European film producers and a dozen of their Canadian colleagues have a chance to network and powwow on possible co-productions and other cooperative ventures. The initiative is organized by the Toronto International Film Festival, the Ontario Media Development Corporation and European Film Promotion, a pan-European organization that represents the film industries of its European members.

The Lab organizers have used their match making skills to pair up European and Canadian producers based on their track record, their current film slates and where they’d like to draw additional film financing based on their shooting priorities. In this day and age, where almost any European city can be a stand-in for any city in the world, and Canadian production represents an entrée into the lucrative North American market, the Lab is fulfilling an important function. While many Europeans have their sights set on possible financing and distribution in the United States, the truth is that the U.S. does not have any co-production treaties with other countries, whereas Canada has them with virtually every European nation. For more information on the participants and their projects, visit:

13 September, 2011

Newest From Quebec Enfant Terrible

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

The Quebec director Jean-Marc Vallee first made significant waves in 2005 with his rock-infused coming-of-age film C.R.A.Z.Y., which won major prizes on the international film festival circuit and was sold to almost 50 international territories (a strong statement for a French language Canadian film). Unfortunately, its success was not matched in the United States, where it played at the New Directors/New Films festival and other prestigious events, but never got theatrically released.

In the years since, the director made his English language debut with THE YOUNG VICTORIA, a period costumer about England’s Queen Victoria that starred Emily Blunt. Now Vallee has returned to his Franco roots with CAFÉ DE FLORE, which had its world premiere last week at the Venice Film Festival and makes its North American bow in Toronto this week. The Canadian/French co-production is set in 1969 Paris and also in contemporary Montreal. It stars French pop star and actress Vanessa Paradis (aka Mrs. Johnny Depp) as the mother of a child with down syndrome. As in his previous films, the soundtrack of pop music greatly enhances the atmosphere and overall mood. The film has strong advance buzz and this time Monsieur Vallee should see his American theatrical ambitions met.

12 September, 2011

Toronto Top Ten Buzz Titles

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) enters its middle stretch this week, offering attending buyers, critics and film lovers a dizzying feast of film treats. Planning what to see is a definite must, since even at 5 films per day (my personal max), there are many that are missed. While here, one must adapt a strategy and raison d’etre……do you attend the highly buzzed titles in the largest cinemas (the ones by name directors with oodles of movie stars) or mine the more exploratory sections of the Festival in search of a perfect gem. Personally, I prefer doing a little bit of both and the rewards can be great. Seeing a fantastic new film by an acknowledged master is a definite thrill, as is discovering a fresh voice in a debut film from a country that can most generously be described as obscure. That sense of discovery can pay off big time, in terms of box office, film awards and audience recognition. In the past few years, Toronto has served as the initial launching pad for such contemporary classics as AMERICAN BEAUTY, TSOTSI, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, PRECIOUS and THE KING’S SPEECH. Which films will now enter the winners circle from this year’s batch? I cannot be certain but here are 10 films are generating the most buzz at this year’s Festival.

#1 THE IDES OF MARCH (USA) – George Clooney, who already has an Oscar for his acting work in the film SYRIANA, may bring home a twin award as Best Director for this highly charged political thriller. The film, which also stars Ryan Gosling, Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei, Philip Seymour Hoffman and a sensational supporting cast, brings audiences into the behind-the-scenes drama as the staff of an idealistic Presidential contender must spin rumors of corruption and sexual impropriety. With the upcoming election cycle now part of the 24 hour news feed, this film is amazingly topical and will be the subject of much debate in months to come.

#2 A DANGEROUS METHOD (Canada) – Marking the first time that a David Cronenberg has been seen at the Festival (which seems remarkable in itself), the veteran director moves from his horror roots to tell a more muted tale in beautiful historical detail. The film, with a script by Christopher Hampton adapted from his stage play, chronicles the real-life rivalry between the autocratic Viennese psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud (played with uncanny charm and bluster by Viggo Mortensen) and the ambitious Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung (played by rising star Michael Fassbender) and the role that a mentally unstable Russian woman (played by Keira Knightley) plays in their initial collaboration and eventual dissolution. While some have complained that the film has a chilly atmosphere, it is without a doubt one of the most literate dramas to come out this year and should figure strongly in awards season.

#3 360 (UK/Austria/Brazil/France) – Fernando Meirelles, the Brazilian director behind such intriguing recent films as CITY OF GOD, THE CONSTANT GARDNER and BLINDNESS, offers a jigsaw puzzle of a movie which spans the world as it examines sexual relations between people of different social classes. The fact that the attractive cast includes such names as Rachel Weisz, Jude Law, Anthony Hopkins, Ben Foster and Jamel Debouzze, with the language switching effortlessly from English to French to German to Portugese to Slovakian makes this a truly international film about the universal hunger for intimacy.

#4 THE DEEP BLUE SEA (UK) --- Veteran UK director Terence Davies, whose previous films have mined the past for its hidden secrets, adapts a famous play by 1950s British playwright Terrence Rattigan and offers actors Rachel Weisz, Simon Russell Beale and Tom Hiddleston exceptionally meaty roles that explore the dimensions of human despair and capacity for resurrection. Weisz plays an abandoned woman who attempts suicide to win back her lover and send a message to her former husband. The film brings a classic English acting touch to a highly emotional and erotic story of abandonment and isolation.

#5 FRIENDS WITH KIDS (USA) --- A very mainstream film that comes into the Festival without a US distribution deal is a rare bird indeed. This follow up to her successful 2004 comedy KISSING JESSICA STEIN has writer//director and actress Jennifer Westfeldt taking on the lead role of a woman who decides to have a child with her male friend who is not husband material (played by a winning Adam Scott). In this pet project, the writer/director and her producing partner (and life partner) Jon Hamm have assembled a terrific cast to play their married and harried friends, including such favorites as Maya Rudolph, Kristen Wiig, Edward Burns, Megan Fox, Chris O’Dowd (and Hamm himself). The audience laughed throughout and the script has some sharp insights into the psyches of successful 30-something New Yorkers who want their cake and eat it too. This one will off the shelf soon enough……..

#6 ALPS (Greece) – After creating a sensation last year with his debut film DOGTOOTH (and being nominated for a Best Foreign Language Oscar), Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos is back on the Festival circuit with his sophomore effort, another bizarre tale populated by mysterious people. In this film, a group of people, led by a nurse, form a sort of therapy group for people in grief that impersonate the deceased as a way of helping them with their grieving process. The film is decidedly offbeat but also tremendously insightful and beautiful to watch. It literally gets into your head and leaves you altered…..and isn’t that what the best cinema can do for us?

#7 CAFÉ DE FLORE (Canada/France) ---- Quebec director Jean-Marc Vallee first made significant waves in 2005 with his rock-infused coming-of-age film C.R.A.Z.Y., which won major prizes on the international film festival circuit. In the years since, the director made his English language debut with THE YOUNG VICTORIA, a period costumer about England’s Queen Victoria that starred Emily Blunt. Now Vallee has returned to his Franco roots with CAFÉ DE FLORE. The film is set in 1969 Paris and also in contemporary Montreal. It stars French pop star and actress Vanessa Paradis (aka Mrs. Johnny Depp) as the mother of a child with down syndrome. The film also features an evocative score that brings depth and illumination to its dual story structure.

#8 POULET AUX PRUNES (France) --- After the worldwide success of the animated parable PERSEPOLIS, directors Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud return with another film set in Iran, this time of the 1950s. Different from the previous film, this one is a live action film, but one that depends on classic expressionistic cinema language to tell its tale of a talented musician whose instrument is broken and loses meaning in life. While the soul searching is in a deep humanist vein, the film is not bereft of humor and a kind of surrealist charm.

#9 ALBERT NOBBS (Ireland) --- Latin American director Rodrigo Garcia, who had a major indie arthouse hit in the US with the multi-character drama MOTHER AND CHILD, tries his hand at a historical story in this unusual and provocative film set in 19th century Ireland. Veteran actress Glenn Close is generating Oscar buzz playing the lead role, a woman who disguises herself as a man and works as a butler for twenty years. The film offers a compelling meditation on the role of gender and sexuality in allowing people to live to their full potentials. The excellent supporting cast is made up of hot young actress Mia Wasikowska, Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Aaron Johnson. The film is a strong favorite to win the Audience Award here in Toronto.

#10 THE LADY (France/United Kingdom) --- French director Luc Besson focuses his expansive yet intimate lens on a true heroine of our time. This biopic tells the story of Aung San Suu Kyi, an Oxford-educated woman from Burma who returns to her native country in the 1980s as a voice of dissent to one of the most repressive military dictatorships in the world. Chinese actress Michelle Yeoh is receiving tremendous praise for her powerful and charismatic work as the social activist whose Nobel Peace Prize win did not prevent the military junta from keeping her under house arrest for over a decade. At once epic and intimate, the film celebrates the struggle of an individual who represents the struggles of her people, and celebrated the difference that a single strong-willed individual can make in the world.

06 April, 2011

New York's Newest Art Film Palace

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

The specialty theatrical scene in New York City is about to get a new jolt with the highly anticipated expansion by the Film Society of Lincoln Center, among the city's most prestigious film institutions. The long-awaited Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center is a gloriously modern 17,500 square-foot venue, will house two theaters, an amphitheater and a café, adding a potential for 4 different screens at the same time (including the Walter Reade Theater, the Film Society's current showcase venue located directly across the street). Both the 150-seat Francesca Beale Theater and the 90-seat Howard Gilman Theater will show new specialized film releases, with the Gilman also offering special programs. A 75-seat amphitheater, which contains a 152-inch Panasonic Plasma screen (the largest of its kind on public display in the country) will house lectures, panels and educational programs.

The inaugural title at the Film Center will be Andrew Rossi’s PAGE ONE: Inside The New York Times, a documentary look behind the scenes at the workings of the world’s most prestigious daily newspaper. The film will play both of the new venue’s screens on June 17. The Film Society is also finalizing details for a multi-day launch of the Film Center prior to the June 17 opening date. The film, which had its world premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, will be distributed in North America by Magnolia Pictures.

In a second announcement, the Film Society of Lincoln Center has appointed veteran film executive Bingham Ray as the Film Center’s “first-run strategy consultant.” Ray will work with FSLC program director Richard Pena and the organization’s team to identify first-run arthouse titles for the Film Center throughout the year.

Coming at a time when specialty titles from both the American independent stable and from world cinema in general are having a harder time to reach audiences, the Film Society of Lincoln Center will now be able to offer several options for both first run films in their initial theatrical releases and also specialty and retrospective series that appeal to a niche audience. For more information, visit:

11 March, 2011

French Femme Directors Take Center Stage

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor
Kathryn Bigelow may have broken through the glass ceiling with her historic Best Director Oscar win last year for THE HURT LOCKER, but the door was not pushed wide open for women directors in the American film industry. Despite strong work by such American indie stalwarts as Lisa Cholodenko (THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT) and Nicole Holofcener (PLEASE GIVE), and the emergence of a number of debut directors (chief among them Debra Granik with WINTER'S BONE and Lena Dunham with TINY FURNITURE), women directors still must compete in a mostly male-dominated profession.

Luckily, the same is not the case in the French film industry, as evidenced by the strong representation of femme talents at this year's Rendez-Vous With French Cinema, a showcase of contemporary French films co-presented by Unifrance and the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Not only do most of the films in the program feature strong stories about and peformances by women, the sheer number and diversity of works by women directors is eye-catching and enviable.

Coline Serreau, a still vibrant 63 years old, is the veteran of the group, having made films since the 1970s, most notably the Cesar Award winners 3 HOMMES ET UN COUFIN (1985), LA CRISE (1992) and CHAOS (2001). She is represented in this year's showcase by THINK GLOBAL, ACT RURAL, a radical documentary manifesto that digs into the problem of industrialized agriculture and queries a diverse group of citizens, from farmers to philosophers, on solutions and alternatives to our devouring of the earth's precious natural resources. This is eco filming with a poetic twist by a filmmaker whose oeuvre has darted from sly comedies to intense dramas to probing documentaries.

Catherine Breillat
relishes her reputation as a wild child of French cinema, a kind of twisted "female Tim Burton" whose unabashed feminism and disquieting cinematic exercises make her a cult favorite and, admittedly, an acquired taste. She is one of the few filmmakers in the world who burrow from cinema's aesthetic past while adding contemporary twists that allow the classic tales to resonate with a new and slightly subervise air of knowingness. In her latest, an adaptation of THE SLEEPING BEAUTY, the psychological burden of a young girl's curse to be asleep for 100 years, where her subconscious gives way to ravishing and disturbing dreams. The program, which continues through this Sunday at both the Walter Reade Theater (uptown) and the IFC Film Center (downtown), also charts a new generation of femme auteurs-in-the-making.

Brigitte Sy is an actress-turned-director whose sophomore effort FREE HANDS is based on a true story. A women filmmaker working on a neorealist project at a French prison crosses the line with one of the inmates and becomes involved in both his unrequited sexual hunger and his illicit drug dealing. Featuring a strong central performance by Israeli actress Ronit Elkabetz, the film explores both sexual obsession and the thin line between appropriate and inappropriate behavior in a highly charged setting. While questions remain in the narrative about accountability, the film proceeds to an open-ended coda where the on-going relationship between the two protagonists is far from resolved.

Described as a kind of French West Side Story, Audrey Estrougo's LEILA (a rather bland Americanization of its original title TOI, MOI, LES AUTRES, meaning You, Me And The Others) unveils a musical love story about a pampered slacker and an amibitious Arab law student, set to French pop songs of the 1960s and 1970s. Using vivid colors and vibrant cinematography, the film is in the best tradition of other "through sung" musical classics such as THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG and THE GIRLS OF ROCHEFORT, but with a modern twist laced with class conflict and worldly pessimism.

Up-and-coming actress Anais Demoustier gives a smart performance as a bored 20-something with gumption in director Isabelle Czajka's noir-influenced LIVING ON LOVE ALONE. Needing to find an alternative to her dead-end job and less-than-glamourous life, she runs off with a guy (played by sexy Pio Marmai) and a gun in the classic road movie mold of barely controlled anarchy.

Making an auspicious feature debut is Katell Quillevere, whose LOVE LIKE POISON was one of the standouts at last year's Directors Fortnight/Cannes Film Festival. When a fourteen year old girl comes home from Catholic boarding school, her strict family is unprepared for her mysterious behavior. The film brings the contradictions of its coming-of-age story into deep focus, as the young woman struggles with the hypocrisy of her religious dogmatism and her sexual stirrings awakened by a less-than-innocent choir boy. The film is an adaptation of an original script that won for its fledgling writer/director the Jean Vigo Prize.

Triple threat Valerie Donzelli directs, writes and stars in THE QUEEN OF HEARTS, a French screwball comedy that hits all the expected notes of sexual romance and fulfillment. A hopeless romantic recently dumped by a long time boyfriend is now juggling the attention of three different suitors. Only in France could such sexual goings on be slapped with a G rating and a shrug of inevitablity by film censors. It seems the French never tire of "l'amour toujours l'amour" in all its guises and assume that one's sexual and romantic fulfillment is a right not a privilege. It's a woman's world and we men are only visitors in it. For more information on the films presented in this year's series, visit: or

07 March, 2011

A French Feast For Cinema Lovers

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

It is a longstanding amour fou......the crazy love New Yorkers have for all things French, and the French appreciation of New York as its cultural cousin. For both sides, the yearly Rendez-Vous With French Cinema program, which is now running in several venues around New York City, is both an erotic embrace and a dazzling dance. For francophiles and film buffs, it is a film feast.

Presented by the Film Society at Lincoln Center and Unifrance, the 16th edition offers its customary hors d'oeuvres of genres and styles, reflective of the larger French film industry, one of the most prolific in the world and a beacon for countries who have seen their own output overwhelmed by Hollywood blockbusters.

The stars are here....Deneuve, Depardieu, Bruni-Tedeschi, Scott Thomas, Sagnier, Wilson, as are great auteurs, both classic (Claude Lelouch, Bertrand Tavernier, Phillipe Le Guay), contemporary (Alain Corneau, Francois Ozon, Benoit Jacquot, Catherine Breillat) and a host of newer names making their reputations in their native France and now here. Things began on a strong note last Thursday, with the Opening Night launch of the popular film festival favorite POTICHE, the latest film from cult director François Ozon. The film, nominated for four César awards (the French Oscar) was a huge box office hit in France, no doubt due to its repairing of Catherine Deneuve and Gérard Depardieu. Deneuve, who also starred in the director's ensemble musical 8 WOMEN , is being given a hefty retrospective at the BamCinematek that parallels this contemporary French film program.

While it is hard to hang a thematic lynchpin on such a diverse program, this year's line-up has a distinctly feminist caste. Of the 22 feature films presented, a third are directed by women, with others also prominently featuring women and their sensibilities. In POTICHE, the story centers on a trophy wife who takes over her ailing husband’s factory. MOZART'S SISTER offers a complelling portrait of thwarted musical genius, restricted by the morals and sexism of the 18th century. THE PRINCESS OF MONTPENSIER features a strong performance by Mélanie Thierry as the object of affection of warring factions. Two generations of actresses, Kristin Scott Thomas and Ludivine Sagnier give powerful performances in Alain Corneau's LOVE CRIME, a tale of corporate competition in the workplace. A strong supporting cast of Spanish actresses, including the delicious Carmen Maura, are also prominently featured in the comedy SERVICE ENTRANCE, a comedy of class struggle and personal liberation by Phillipe Le Guay.

Not all of the films on display are quite as breezy. Benoit Jacquot, who apparently relishes his ability to shock an audience, is back with another controversial showcase. DEEP IN THE WOODS is set in 19th century France, when a young vagabond arrives in a village and ist aken in by a doctor and his daughter. While earning their trust, the film proceeds to a lengthy and discomforting rape scene, which tears apart the civility of the father and daughter relationship. Counter-intuitively, the rape victim, driven by an uncontrollable force, leaves home in search of the man who has stripped her of her innocence. Truths are revealed on the part of this lusty trio as the filmmakers turns our bourgeoise assumptions on their head.

Several of the films on tap are new to me and I will dutifully report on some of the breakout films from the series, which represents a truly impressive snapshot of contemporary French cinema, in my next report. For a complete list of films being presented through March 13, visit:

02 March, 2011

Brooklyn Welcomes A Screen Goddess

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

Brooklyn…..get ready for some true glamour. Catherine Deneuve, the grande dame of French cinema will receive a career retrospective starting on Friday, March 4 at the BAMcinématek, Brooklyn’s leading art house cinema. In the month-long tribute, 25 films from the great actress’ varied career over five decades will be showcased. The program is co-presented by Unifrance,in collaboration with Music Box Films, the Cultural Services of the French Embassy, and Institut Français. BAMcinématek is the first presenter on this national tour—with all films projected in 35mm—which will take the retrospective to Los Angeles; Pleasantville, NY; Chicago; Boston; Seattle; San Francisco; and Portland, Oregon; with other cities yet to be announced.

Deneuve, one of cinema’s great beauties, is also an actress of remarkable range. She has starred in a mix of edgy dramas, frothy musicals, out-and-out comedies and historical epics. In many ways, her career reflects the obsessions and interests of French cinema itself, one of the only film industries that has weathered competition from the Hollywood studio system and refuses to retreat. Early in her career, she was the not so discreet object of desire in such landmark films as BELLE DE JOUR, THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG, REPULSION and TRISTANA. As she matured, in that manner of French beauties whose allure only grows with age, she became emblematic of a particular kind of French woman….seductive, sensuous, aware of her power, yet with a core of vulnerability that must be masked by a cool, impassive exterior.

BAMcinématek welcomes Deneuve herself, who will appear in person on Friday evening for a Q&A with cult director François Ozon following the Brooklyn premiere of his newest comedy, POTCHE (2011), screening as part of Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, a review of contemporary French cinema that also begins this weekend at the Film Society of Lincoln Center in Manhattan. On the same night, Deneuve will appear for a screening of Roman Polanski’s psycho-sexual classic REPULSION (1965), one of her best known and most appreciated films.

The program features a garden of delights from the actress’ oeuvre. From her international breakthrough in THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG (1964), a through-sung tale of love lost with music by Michel Legrand, to her matriarchal turn in the family drama A CHRISTMAS TALE (2008), the length and breadth of her career is nothing short of inspiring. Everyone has their favorite Deneuve film, so one has the choice over the next few weeks to savor her riveting performances in such classics as BELLE DE JOUR (1967), THE YOUNG GIRLS OF ROCHEFORT (1967), LA CHAMADE (1968), TRISTANA (1970), DONKEY SKIN and LIZA (1972), in which she stars opposite the equally beauteous Marcello Mastroianni.

Films from her later career demonstrate what a durable actress she is and how she transcended her looks to find the core motivations and neuroses of her characters. In Francois Truffaut’s THE LAST METRO (1980), she is glamour personified in a role of a wife hiding her Jewish husband in occupied Paris. One of her frequent collaborators of late has been the iconoclastic director André Téchiné, whose emotionally complex chamber pieces have yielded some of Deneuve’s most critically acclaimed roles, including her turns in such films as SCENE OF THE CRIME (1986), MY FAVORITE SEASON (1993) and CHANGING TIMES (2004). Recently, she has worked with such individualistic directors as Francois Ozon and Lars Von Trier in a career that keeps evolving and expanding.

For a complete list of the films to be screened, visit:

08 February, 2011

Can Film Festivals Work Together?

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor
Can film festivals work together? That was one of the provocative questions brought up on the first full day of the International Film Festival Summit, a "meeting of the minds" event that is bringing together leading film festival reps in Berlin today and tomorrow. The event is being held at the Berlin Hilton Hotel.

"While I think that collaboration can always happen, the idea that film festivals will share their contacts, films or sponsors is rather utopian", commented Basil Tsiokos, Festivals Director for international sales agency Shoreline Entertainment and a documentary programmer for the Sundance Film Festival. This sentiment was also echoed by Deborah Young, Festival Director of the Taormina Film Festival in Italy. "In Italy, there is alot of competition for funding and sponsorships, with the two largest ones, Venice and Rome trying to outdo each other".

Michelangelo Messina, Director and Founder of the Ischia Film Festival, also in Italy, was more positive. "We work closely with festivals in our region, most specifically the Naples Film Festival, in sharing ideas, films and guests. We also have good relationships with festivals in other countries, although the situation in Italy can sometimes be difficult."

Another Festival Director who has had good experiences collaborating with festivals outside his home territory is Scott Hillier, the head of the European Independent Film Festival, which takes place in Paris in March. "We have had good success in taking a selection of our programming to festivals in other countries. They want to know about young European talents and it gives us a chance to promote our event internationally."

Also positive on the subject was Bente Maalen of the Trondheim International Film Festival in Norway. "In Norway, several of the film festivals work together along with a local distributor on a few films each year. The distributor gives each festival a different premiere and then uses the exposure at the festival in their marketing campaigns when they open the films in theaters".

Javier Martin-Dominguez, the Artistic Director of the Seville Festival of European Cinema in Spain, spoke about his festival's inclusion in a new program being coordinated by French sales agent Wide Management. They are creating a worldwide festival circuit for a group of films and also tying them in with local distributors. "It is an ambitious idea", Martin-Dominguez offered, "we are open to the idea and will wait and see what kind of success it will be for both festivals and filmmakers."

While festivals that are close together in either geography or timeframe already collaborate on print shipments and sharing of guest invitations, the idea of sharing content is still a controversial one.

Aside from this specific topic, Summit attendees also participated in an informative discussion on incorporating new marketing techniques into their planning and execution, as well as receiving a highly entertaining presentation by Peter Belsito of Film Finders, a veteran of the film festival circuit, who laid out the current landscape of the key festivals that professionals and press attend and ones that are on the ascendant.

The Summit continues through tomorrow. For more information, visit:

24 January, 2011

Top Ten Foreign Film Releases In North America

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

Figures are now emerging of the Top Ten international titles that saw the light of day in theatrical venues in the US and Canada in 2010. As one would expect, most of the films share the English language and come from the United Kingdom. Of the ten films cited in order of their theatrical box office take, three comprise the Swedish-language adaptations of the phenomenally successful Stieg Larsson trlogy. One film with French production origins (BABIES) and one title from Italy (I AM LOVE) made up the list of non-English language titles in this Top Ten. The only other non-English language film was last year's Oscar winner from Argentina, THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES.

Two of the top films on the list are still in theatrical release and both are major blockbusters with production roots in the United Kingdom. HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HOLLOWS still qualifies as an English film, despite its mega-production and release by a major studio conglomerate. Its box office take of $291 million by year's end places it securely in the Number One spot. Following behind with a strong $58 million take at the end of December (but still in wide release) is the royal drama THE KING'S SPEECH, which The Weinstein Company is positioning as a major Oscar contender (having just won the Producers Guild of America top prize this weekend).

The Number Three spot is THE GHOST WRITER, Roman Polanski's stylish political thriller, which secured a modest $15 million, despite its uniformly strong reviews and casting of such stars as Ewan McGregor and Pierce Brosnan. The film was a French/German co-production between Polanski's production company, France 2 Cinema and Babelsberg Film Studios. Following on its tail at Number Four is 127 HOURS, the endurance morality tale from Oscar winner Danny Boyle, which fixed $11.3 million by year's end and will presumably get another boost after its lead James Franco is announced as a Best Actor Oscar nominee on Tuesday morning. If the film secures multiple nominations (perhaps for Best Film and Best Director), then its American distributor Fox Searchlight is expected to launch an intensive campaign to bring the film beyond the urban market.

Occupying positions 5, 6 and 9 on the list are the Swedish language adaptation of the Stieg Larsson uber-thrillers THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO ($10 million), THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE ($7.8 million) and THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET'S NEST ($5.5 million). All three films were released in North America by Music Box Films, a tiny distribution boutique company that also released the French crime epic MESSRINE. The success of this triple shot of Swedish films (prior to the eventual release in 2011 of an American version of the films by director David Fincher and starring Daniel Craig) has literally put Music Box on the map and has made it an instant player in the distribution game.

Focus Features, the distributor of the documentary film BABIES, perhaps was expecting a bigger impact with the film, which was widely promoted prior to its release last summer. Directed by French documentarian Thomas Balmes and funded by Canal Plus, the film secured $7.3 million during its North American theatrical run, bringing it in at Number Seven on our list.

The remaining films, clocking in at Number 8 and Number 10 respectively, were the Argentine drama THE SECRET OF THEIR EYES, which showed a respectable $6.5 million take after being the upset winner of last year's Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, and I AM LOVE, the stylized romantic drama directed by Italy's Luca Guadagnino and starring Tilda Swinton, in a ravishing performance that has inexplicably fallen off the radar in this awards season.

Of course, monies taken in is not the same as film quality, but it is rather interesting to note the films that clicked at the box office (even at a substantially modest level compared to most Hollywood titles).

Producers Guild Prize Creates Oscar Upset

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor
The Oscar race for Best Picture got interesting this weekend, as a drag-out fight between quintessentially American and British films is set for the Academy Awards' biggest prize. With THE SOCIAL NETWORK winning top prize at last week's Golden Globe Awards and THE KING'S SPEECH a probable big winner at the BAFTA Awards, the inevitability of the "Facebook film" seems far less assured. This past weekend's upset win for its closest challenger has now made the Oscar race less certain then it was even a few days ago.

The Producers Guild of America (PGA) is one of the most reliable guilds when it comes to predicting Oscar success. It is the only one that actually uses the same system to count votes that the Academy does to determine its Best Picture Oscar winner. Therefore, the PGA's choice on Saturday evening of the historical biopic THE KING'S SPEECH has fueled speculation that THE SOCIAL NETWORK's win come Oscar night is not a fait accompli.

The royal drama's British producers Iain Canning, Emile Sherman and Gareth Unwin were named winners of the Darryl F. Zanuck Award for Outstanding Producer of Theatrical Motion Pictures. When English actress Helen Mirren opened the envelope at the awards ceremony and delightedly announced the upset win, the entire audience gasped, realizing that this had now added a drama to the awards season that so far has been lacking. The PGA victory gives a huge boost to the film's American distribution, The Weinstein Company and its Oscar hopes for THE KING'S SPEECH, which came out of the Toronto Film Festival with an Audience Prize and has won awards for its lead actor Colin Firth, but not for the film as a whole.

Odds makers take note.....the last three Producers Guild winners (THE HURT LOCKER, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE and NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN) went on to Oscar gold in the Best Picture competition. In fact, in the 21-year history of the PGA Awards, more than 75% of the films selected by this producers guild were also winners on Oscar night. Will THE KING'S SPEECH continue the trend or will it not be able to sidetrack the overwhelming momentum of THE SOCIAL NETWORK.....stay tuned.

17 January, 2011

When Gustav Met Sigmund

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

Films that feature well known figures from history are always intriguing, whether they reflect actual fact or are mere figments of the director's feverish imagination. In the delightfully dishy MAHLER ON THE COUCH, the filmmaking team of Percy Adlon (pere) and Felix Adlon (fils) have made a delicious historical "did-it-ever-happen" that features such historical characters as the classical composer Gustav Mahler, the psychotherapist Sigmund Freud and the Bauhaus design founder Walter Gropius (with Alma Mahler also figuring strongly in the steamy proceedings). This collision of historical fact and fiction was the official Opening Night attraction of the 20th annual New York Jewish Film Festival, whick kicked off last Wednesday and runs through January 27 in New York.

Set in 1910, the plot deals with the composer's tumultuous marital life with his wife Alma and his ambivalent relationship with Sigmund Freud in early 20th century Vienna. Based on actual events, eyewitness accounts and Mahler's journal entries, the film gives a wonderful flavor of the period and a behind-the-scenes look at the drives, neuroses and sexual longings of some of the century's most celebrated individuals. The film's rich score, which features many of the composer's most famous works, is conducted by Los Angeles Philharmonic music director Esa-Pekka Salonen. It had its world premiere at last June's Los Angeles International Film Festival.

Percy Adlon, best known for his 1980s arthouse hit BAGHDAD CAFE, once made a movie about Marcel Proust that focused on his maid. Here, he (in collaboration with his son) is up to his old tricks in a delightfully witty, artistically vigorous and occasionally loony fantasia about Vienna's cultural elite of 100 years ago. In the film, the great Austrian composer seeks out the father of psychoanalysis to help with the fallout of the marital betrayal of his wife Alma. She has fallen for Walter Gropius, the architect who eventually will be a founder of the Bauhaus School, which was instrumental in introducing modern architecture around the globe.

While other luminaries of the period including painters Gustav Klimt, Max Burckhard and Oskar Kokoschka figure in the narrative, the film focuses on the nine-year marriage of Gustav (Johannes Silberschneider) and Alma (Barbara Romaner), a union that seemingly was doomed from day one. Mahler, nearly 20 years her senior, stifles Alma's desire to write music while insisting she act as his muse and assistant. This headstrong woman never was going to play that role for long. In a panic over her alleged dalliances, Mahler tracks down Freud (Karl Markovics) in Holland, wandering strangely deserted streets and canals with the cigar-smoking Freud while ranting about the distressing adultery of his beloved wife. In flashbacks and documentary-like interviews on camera with Alma's mother (Eva Mattes), the film explores the source of Mahler's great joy and sorrow while suggesting that Alma is in every note of music he wrote during the marriage. This is especially true of the last piece he ever composed, the first movement of his unfinished Tenth Symphony, a composition filled with a outbursts of joy, rage and torment.

While the prominent men do shine, the film's most thoroughly enjoyable performance is given by Barbara Romaner, a Bavarian stage actress making her film debut in an electric performance. She plays her as a proto-feminist who understands that the new century will bring about a new dynamic in the traditional war of the sexes, one where the wife need not necessarily have more obligations or less fun than her husband. She fully inhabits the role of this complex personality whose passion for love and art collides with her role of wife and mother. Her love affair with Gropius is like a drug whose physical sensations she can't do without, yet her adoration of her husband's genius forces her (temporary) withdrawal.

The film is just one of the highlights of this year's event, which features a strong program of titles from Europe, North America and Israel. For a sense of the program's depth, refer to my piece of December 27:

For a full description of all the films and events of this year's 20th edition of the New York Jewish Film Festival, co-presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and The Jewish Museum, visit: or As my mother is found of couldn't hurt!!!!

Film Forum: An Embrace of European Cinema

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

How fortunate are we film-crazy New Yorkers to have such a cinematic treasure as the Film Forum in our midst. The three-screen arthouse complex in the West Village neighborhood of Manhattan has been an indispensable New York institution for over 40 years. As the only remaining independent not-for-profit arthouse theater (in a city that used to be pocketed with them), the Film Forum presents an enviable mix of the classic and the obscure, the heralded and the newly discovered. The length and breadth of the Film Forum's exquisite curatorial sense, as led by Founder and Executive Director Karen Cooper and Director of Repertory Programming Bruce Goldstein, is legendary.

And for lovers of European cinema (guilty as charged), both classic and contemporary, the Film Forum is an especially rich resource. Just look at its current program as proof positive of its commitment to European film. Two certifiable classics are currently on view.....the ground-breaking Russian silent film classic BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN (1925) by the never out-of-date montage master Sergei Eisenstein and the luciously romantic and hauntingly metaphysical THE LEOPARD (1962) by Italian master stylist Luchino Visconti. On its third screen is one of the strongest films period of the last year, the Romanian drama IF I WANT TO WHISTLE, I WHISTLE by writer/director Florin Serban. While European cinema is certainly not its only focus (American indies, Latin American and Asian films are also hot commodities on the theater's ambitious slate), the continued focus on European cinema is a great gift.

After a long day of business meetings, I treated myself to a late afternoon screening on Friday of THE LEOPARD, being shown in a gloriously restored 35mm film print. Heralded by Martin Scorese as "one of the great visual experiences in cinema". Film Forum has presented this particular classic several times in the past few decades, but never has the sheer sweep of the visuals, the saturated color and the highly textured cinematographer of Guiseppe Rotunno been shown to such great effect as in this gloriously restored version (the work of Scorsese's own The Film Foundation). The film, a kind of Italian "War and Peace", revels in both its sweeping action sequences and in its intimate moments of heartbreaking nuance. Burt Lancaster gives a performance for the ages as the Prince of Salina, an aristocrat who must confront a new world order for which he is temperamentally unprepared. The fact that the actor's voice was dubbed into Italian after the fact by someone else (a common practice of the time) makes it even more remarkable. And what can one say about the exquisite beauty of Alain Delon as the Prince's nephew and Claudia Cardinale as the object of both of their affections......have two more beautiful screen gods ever occupied the same frame? This is a film to make the film lover swoon and weep with tears of both joy and regret that the aesthetics of a (non-digital) epic are now part of cinema's past.

Equally impressive is the restored presentation of BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN, the 1925 Soviet agit prop film that depicted the 1905 uprising that predated the actual Russian Revolution a decade later. While the film celebrates the 20th anniversary of that pre-revolutionary fervor, it is the film itself that became an incendiary bomb of creativity in a cinema that had become a bit bloated with theatrical pretension. For its master director Sergei Eisenstein, the battle cry was the imaginative use of montage, which brought added resonance to individual images and sequences and also challenged an audience's ability to follow a complicated storyline on many different planes and time frames. The classic sequence on the Odessa Steps, which has inadvertently become a kind of visual cliche, is still a tour de force of technique and emotionalism that still retains its power to shock. You cannot see it often enough, I say. So much of what we now take for granted must have seemed positively galvanizing when the film was released....a film that matched its revolutionary furvor with its own dynamic stylistic imperative. In many ways, this is a film that continues to astonish and embolden both those who create cinematic images and those who absorb them.

While it is not quite as revolutionary in its technique, the contemporary Romanian drama IF I WANT TO WHISTLE, I WHISTLE, Romania’s official entry into this year’s Oscar competition for Best Foreign Language Film, features a star-making performance by its charismatic and haunted lead George Pistereanu, who was nominated for a European Film Award as Best Actor for his debut performance. He stas as an 18-year-old about to be released from a prison for juvenile delinquents, who stages a hostage drama in order to save his beloved younger brother from the clutches of his good-for-nothing mother. The hulking thug, an imposing presence, reveals shades of desperation and unexpected tenderness as he develops a relationship with the young female hostage that he uses as a shield to press for his escape. Writer/director Florian Serban, making an astonishing debut, has cast many non-professionals as the young man's fellow prisoners, giving the film an immediacy and authenticity that both echoes and supercedes the classic prison dramas of the Warner Brothers studios, where Cagney, Raft, Robinson and Bogart played the hard-boiled lifers. Serban knows how to push the genre's buttons and to accentuate the pulp in his story, but he also brings out a layer of psychological confusion, familial tension and emotional vulnerability that makes this an affecting and heartrending personal story. It is a shame that a film of such power is not being given a fuller distribution push (the distributor, Film Movement, saves its biggest bang for the dvd market) but those interested in the continued flowering of the Romanian New Wave have a few days left to savor this compelling and uncompromising characer study.

In the weeks ahead, the Film Forum continues its embrace of contemporary European cinema with the presentations of such celebrated titles from the international film festival circuit as INTO ETERNITY, Danish director Michael Madsen's documentary on the follies of containment of nuclear waste; LE QUATTRO VOLTE, Italan director Michaelangelo Frammartino's visual tour de force that unravels four different stories set in an idyllic village in Italy's mountainous region of Calabria; and THE ARBOR, a riveting portrait of doomed UK playwright Andrea Dunbar who drew on her own hardscrabble life to create theatrical and screenplays that mine the discontent of Britain's working classes. Written and directed by Clio Barnard, the film has been an international film festival circuit hit and is an illuminating study of how pain can inform passion.

A lover of European cinema? Get thee to West Houston Street. The Film Forum is still standing after all of its specialty arthouse colleagues have long bitten the dust as a cathedral to what is still essential cinema. For more information, visit their website:

06 January, 2011

My Personal Top Ten List

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

As a media junkie (guilty as charged), I cannot help but be inundated this time of the year with all manner of critics pontificating on their "top ten" favorites of the year in the worlds of film, theater, music, art, fashion, politics, etc. While in the past, anxious readers waited with breath that is baited for what the New York Times writers and other major critics singled out as the year's best cultural attractions, the internet has created a democratization that defiantly says that what I say matters as much as the next person. However, as someone who works within the film industry, attends as many as 30 film festivals a year and also tries to mine the worlds of independent and international cinema on a daily basis, I am as qualified as anyone to make up my own personal Top Ten In Film list (to which you can violently agree or disagree in stately or snarky comments). So, not necessarily in ranking order, except for my Number One Choice, here goes........


It may have boasted a few too many Hollywood contrivances but no other film of the past year so accurately captured the dual embrace of new technology and the loneliness that all that connectnedness can bring. A smart script by Aaron Sorkin, a devious directorial plan by David Fincher and the exquisitely squirmy acting stylings of Jesse Eisenberg and Justin Timberlake as overachievers with little or no moral grounding made this not only a guilty pleasure but also a significant zeitgeist moment. Where will all this "social networking" lead a new enlightenment or to a dark hole of loneliness and despair is the film's overwhelming question. In years to come, analysts many understand their own culture by what they uncover here. With the real life Mark Zuckerberg being dubbed as Time Magazine's "Man of the Year", this is, simply and definitively, the movie of the year.

2. CARLOS. Many times international co-productions are mainly about financial couplings but in the case of this globetrotting thriller of 1970s terrorism, the jumble of languages, cultures and geographic locations is truly stunning.....a reminder of how much our planet has shrunk. Edgar Ramirez gives the year's most riveting performance as a committed idealogue who does not hesitate to grab what he wants for the causes he defends. The director Olivier Assayas takes his audiences on an international tour of the underbelly of institutional and governmental authority, while commenting on the callous nature of those who commit their violent crimes in the name of the people. The film is a primer to investigate the explosion of violence in our own times and our hallowed institutions' helplessness in satisfying the needs of individuals and nations in equal measure.

3. MOTHER AND CHILD. The multi-layered, multi-character drama that peaked when the film CRASH was an upset Oscar victor a few years ago finds a true resonance and raison d'etre in this stunningly sensitive and damnedly painful film. Annette Bening, who may very well finally win the Oscar for her bitter pill of a performance in the infinitely more breezy THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT, should be recognized for her stunning work in this film as a mother who still agonizes over her decision to give up her child for adoption. Paralleling the malaise of the central performance is a corporate go-getter with her own well of pain in another great turn by the perpetually underrated Naomi Watts. This is sensitive indie filmmaking of the highest order. Unfortunately, this profound and moving film on the theme of mothers and daughters could not find a large audience and will therefore most probably not be recognized during this highfallutin' awards season. But this is a film that I predict will grow in stature in future years as a beautiful example of screen acting and the power of cinema to create emotional echoes that move and touch us to the core.

4. EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP. The hands down winner of the most outrageous film of the year is this hilarious mockumentary on artworld pretension and celebrity. Directed by the graffiti artist Banksy as a kind of Warholian spoof, the film seems to be about one thing (the rise of the Los Angeles art wunderkind Mr. Brainwash) but is really about Banksy's own ambivalence about his success as a millionaire street artist. In the end, the whole thing is a clever hoax and a prank of genius which has spurred more "what was it really about?" comment than any other film this season. One thing is sure, do not underestimate the wry talents of this artist and social provocateur....

5. PLEASE GIVE. Add to the great director/actor teams the on-going relationship between director Nicole Holofcener and her alter ego, the actress Catherine Keener. This hilarious yet rather hateful film about greed and indifference in an age of affluence perfectly captures a particular kind of Manhattan dual-edged sword sensibility that is both liberal in its leanings and conservative in its action. As the couple who waits for an elderly neighbor to die so that they can break through the wall to engorge the empty apartment, Keener and Oliver Platt mine the depths of urban neuroses, consumerist longing and liberal guilt in the funniest and most acerbic pairing of the year. If you want to know what New York life, in all its complexity and absurdity, was like in 2010, look no further than here.

6. CAIRO TIME. Wistfulness is a difficult emotion to portray but this sensitive and perceptive film finds a visual expression of that longing in the face of one of our most emotive actresses, the brilliant and brittle Patricia Clarkson. As a diplomat's wife who visits the exotic city of Cairo while she waits for her United Nations husband to join her, Clarkson gives a from-the-inside-out performance that is akin to silent screen acting. Her alabaster face is both rigid and expressive, and the mere arch of her eyebrow or the pouting of her lower lip describes more than a page of dialogue ever could. Alexander Siddig matches her intensity as a local man who takes her under his wing, expressing both an attraction and a disdain for the Westerner in his midst. This is a film of a kind of moral courage that is rare and to be coveted for its near-silent expressiveness. I hope more people find this beautiful gem of a movie.

7. JOAN RIVERS: A PIECE OF WORK. OK, I will confess, I have been a devoted Joan Rivers fan for as long as I can remember. From her early self-depricating humor to her current tendency to deflate our moral and political pretensions, the comedienne is a true envelope-pusher and comedic icon. However, in this not-always-flattering portrait, the inner restlessness and emotional chaos that fuels the comedic talent is revealed in astonishing and disturbing fashion. It is perhaps a cliche to say that comedy is the outward expression of pain, but this is evidenced again and again as Rivers struggles to keep relevant as time relentlessly marches on and newer faces come to the fore. Not at all a puff piece, this may be the most confessional and accurate portrait of the dark side of show business that has ever been captured on film. The fact that this celebrated documentary has not made the final cut for the Best Documentary Oscar is one of the scandals of the film season.

8. I AM LOVE. This ravishing film, which seems to have been forgotten in the current awards season despite its great critical and box office success this summer, is a reminder of the lush dreamworld that cinema alone can create. Tilda Swinton, in a remarkably transformative performance, is both alluring and despairing as the matriarch of an aristocratic Milanese family whose neglect by her husband and children lead her to an illicit amour fou. Drawing on the best traditions of such filmmakers as Luchino Visconti and Bernardo Bertolucci, the film is a sumptuous feast for the eyes and ears, with a delicacy and delibirateness to it that made for a swooning experience of a night at the movies. Why this film is being forgotten so quickly is a true mystery, but perhaps its exotic nature and its obvious connection to classic European cinema has been more hindrance than help.

9. A PROPHET. As a longtime lover of prison melodramas, this hard-boiled tale of an Arab man who must become a hardboiled murderer in a French prison was exactly my cup of mint tea. Tahar Rahim as the youth who grows up in a hurry and Niels Arestrup as the Mafioso kingpin who demands complete loyalty are astonishing in their portrayals.....a nod to the celebrated gangsters of the Warner Brothers films of the 1930s and amazingly original in their own brutal identities. This is a film that veers from formula and sensationalism (although the violence quotient is certainly visceral) and comments on the social order both inside and outside the brutal prison system. Life is a jungle, both behind and outside the bars, and the only integrity left to someone is their own moral courage. This film is literally a stunner and proclaims a promising career for its French writer/director Jacques Audiard. While this film opened in Europe last year, it only came to these shores in 2010, and certainly qualifies as one of the most satisfying and terrifying cinema showcases of the year.

10. WINTER'S BONE. As an example of what riches can be derived from a seemingly unpromising story and setting, this astonishing feature debut by Debra Granik captures the harsh beauty of the impoverished communities of the Ozark Mountains with the intensity of Greek mythology. The gods are not smiling as these human beings squirm in the bloody, nightmarish hell that they have created for themselves. As a microcosm of a society that is falling apart through moral indifference and the dissolution of familial and institutional bonds, the film offers a chilling portrait of a divided nation as well as a silent scream for sanity. The performances by Jennifer Lawrence as the seeming innocent in search of her father, John Hawkes as her meth-fueled uncle and Dale Dickey as a harrowing missing-teeth matriarch makes up the best ensemble cast of unknowns this season. This is a film that continues to haunt me........

If I was to expand the list to 20 titles, the following would have made the cut: INCEPTION, THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT, THE FIGHTER, THE TOWN, THE GHOST WRITER, LEBANON, ANIMAL KINGDOM, BLUE VALENTINE, BLACK SWAN, 127 HOURS, VINCERE, INSIDE JOB, THE KING'S SPEECH and JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT: THE RADIANT CHILD. Truth be told, I have yet to see TRUE GRIT, WHITE MATERIAL, ANOTHER YEAR and THE TEMPEST, but I stand by my choices. What do you think????