Well, the New York Film Festival is over. Now I have no excuse for not finishing the latest draft of Ten Manipulations. There was no meeting this Sunday on account of we were all busy. Brandon was recovering from Six Degrees, I was recovering from my 23rd birthday party and Ernest… he was just recovering.
So I saw NYFF closer Sideways last night and all I can say is that I didn’t like it as much as Election or About Schmidt. There’s nothing bad about it, per se. It’s a solid buddy movie. But it might fall into the mushy middle — no big name actors to sell it Hollywood-style, no interesting hook to sell it indie. (Paul Giamatti, Thomas Hayden Church and the supporting femmes were great though, don’t get me wrong. Just casting a cold producer’s eye for a second.)
Manohla Dargis has what I assume is a positive Sideways review at the New York Times. I haven’t read more than the first graf though.
I hear the Times ripped Solondz a new one in the review of Palindromes. I met at least three Lincoln Center members who were so put off after they read the review they opted not to see it. I think that’s a pretty scummy thing to do — and it’s why I no longer read New York Times type reviews before I see stuff. (I’ll still skim Variety’s reviews; I find them fair and balanced — and I can predict when plot spoilers are coming.)
Solondz’ (?Solondz’s) big gambit is casting a different actor in the role of the central character for each sequence. I’m not sure it pays off in any truly meaningful way, supporting the themes of the story that he wants to tell. But I wasn’t put off by it either. You just accept it and watch the story. This is a sequel, of sorts, to Welcome to the Dollhouse, his second first feature — haunted by the ghost of Dawn Weiner. But it is set in a much more fantastical world than Dollhouse (or Happiness or Storytelling). Solondz pushes the boundaries of his trademark ‘uncomfortable funny.’ Are we supposed to laugh at the insanity that swirls around Aviva, or just be offended by it? I’m not sure. But I love the sort-of Fellini-lite middle sequence with the Sunshine Singers. For that sequence alone, I think this film is destined to live on in cult circles. I hope to post more of my thoughts on Palindromes, especially Mr. Solondz’ rather logorrheic defense of it at the Q&A.
Finally, I have to say that my favorite film of the festival turned out to be one I didn’t even want to see. Saraband was billed as a sequel to art-house milestone Scenes from a Marriage and the final film statement of the incomparable Ingmar Bergman. I figured it wasn’t worth seeing if I hadn’t seen Scenes — and that because it was Bergman, I’d have many more opportunities to see it for less than Lincoln Center’s $15 blood money. But my g.f. got a ticket for herself and dutifully Netflixed Scenes. We watched it together; I bought a scalped ticket to Saraband and I’m ever so glad I did.
The eponymous “saraband” is a cello passage from a Bach concerto that is so difficult, it takes a lifetime to master. Do we smell a metaphor? But it goes beyond the easy final statement of a great artist. Bergman, like Prospero, is willing to drown his book of magics for the good of mankind. The saraband is a metaphor for human connection — father/daughter, father/son, mother/daughter, actor/director, ex-husband/ex-wife, actor/actor, cinematographer/director, and perhaps more. It is one of his most eloquent expressions of despair, and one of his most explicit acknowledgements of hope. What a thrill to be filled and emptied of existential angst. I walked out that night feeling like I was the recipient of a blessing.
Saraband is not so much a sequel as a story with some of the same characters. And that is the end of the shared Venn region with Palindromes. Johan and Marianne may be central characters, but the main story is about Henrik (Johan’s son from another marriage) and Karin, Henrik’s daughter. Two years after the death of their wife/mother, they have become excessively devoted to each other. Karin has a talent with the cello, and her father has been training her, sometimes ruthlessly, for a conservatory audition. But it is clear that if she leaves him, he’ll kill himself. What starts as a very theatrical movie (direct address, long monologues) becomes surprisingly cinematic as the desperation of everyone is laid bare in chilling close-ups. Categorizing beyond this point is futile. There is nothing predictable and everything inevitable about this plot — though the most surprising thing to fans of Scenes may be how much Johan and Marianne have changed in thirty years.
At 86, Ingmar Bergman has delivered a story that ranges fluently from youth to old age, theater and film convention, and all on digital. (I’m not sure of the exact digital format it was shot in, but it looked great. 24p?) In fact, it almost wasn’t shown at the fest because he’s insisted it only be digitally projected. This forced Lincoln Center to buy a digital projector. From now on digital films will be accepted for submissions at the New York Film Festival — just one more gift from Bergman to future generations of film-makers.