By William Wolf

NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL 2006 (II)  Send This Review to a Friend

Let’s get one of the mishaps of the 2006 New York Film Festival out of the way in order to move on to better things. I refer to the indulgence of David Lynch’s “Inland Empire.” Lynch is an acquired taste and although I found his early “Eraserhead” a shallow bit of surrealism that paled in comparison with what a master like Buñuel could do with surrealism, I was more impressed with “Blue Velvet” and “Mulholland Drive.” But with “Inland Empire” he is back to his surrealist meandering in a three-hour spectacle that is a hodgepodge of imagery. It isn’t that the film makes little sense; surrealism doesn’t have to make sense. It’s the lack of wit that makes his work so inferior and ultimately boring despite his command of technique.

In this case Lynch shot with high-definition video. Whatever his method, the banality would still be the same. The film, with such structure as exists, is built around the problems and journey of an actress, portrayed by Laura Dern, who is the best part of the enterprise. Dern gives her all with respect to what is asked of her, and she is striking in most of her scenes in purely visual and emoting terms whether or not you understand or care about what’s going on. Among those whom Lynch has also recruited for the film are Jeremy Irons, Justin Theroux, Karolina Gruszka and Harry Dean Stanton

There are fans who gobble up this Lynch stuff, and someone I respect spent time explaining to me what he thought the film was all about. It was as if we had watched two different movies. Although surrealism doesn’t have to have a sensible narrative or even ask to have its contents understood, it does have to have ingredients that make it worth sitting through for three hours. There are a few scenes that are amusing, and some that are disturbing. But Lynch doesn’t exhibit the sort of sophistication or—here’s that word again—wit to convince this skeptical viewer that the three hours are well spent.

Another vapid film at the Festival was “Marie Antoinette,” the review of which can be found by returning to the home page and clicking on Search.

One New York Film Festival work that does have sophistication is “Belle Toujours” by the impressive 98-year-old Manoel de Olivera, who still knows how to make a classy film. Remember Buñuel’s “Belle de Jour”? Olivera has come up with “Belle Toujours,” which looks at key characters of the former film 38 years later.

Michel Piccoli reprises Husson, the role he played in the original, and this time, instead of Catherine Deneuve, the always intriguing actress Bulle Ogier plays the role of Séverine, who had in a quest for eroticism gone to spend afternoons working in a Parisian brothel. When they meet again there are issues to explore, and Olivera directs in high style.

Another French film of interest turned out to be “Poison Friends,” directed by Emmanuel Bourdieu. It is a study of relationships at a university, with Thibault Vinçon as André, who has convinced other students that he is brilliant. They become susceptible to his superior attitude that challenges them to do better. But André’s pressuring turns out to be very destructive, and he is ultimately revealed to be far from what he pretends to be.

The ambiance of the film is impressive and some aspects of the film reminded me of the destructiveness in Claude Chabrol’s 1959 film “The Cousins.” The acting in “Poison Friends” is excellent, including by cast members Malik Zidi, Alexandre Steiger and Natacha Régnier.

Those who saw Nikolaus Geyrhalter’s “Our Daily Bread” might have wanted either to never eat again or go out and defiantly get over the impact with a good meal. The film explores the many facets of growing and preparing food. There is no narration, only the visuals, and what visuals they are.

We see crops being sprayed with pesticides, thousands of chickens in cages, pigs and cows being led to the slaughter, including one cow that fiercely resists as if knowing what is coming. We see workers doing the bloody task of slicing apart the newly killed animals hanging on hooks, and workers interrupting dirty tasks to take breaks eating their lunch while still in bloody clothes.

Apart from its shock value, the film shows the extent to which the food industry rests on mass production and large farming operations. Food is big business and “Our Daily Bread” provides an intimate look. Narration isn’t missed. What’s on screen from which we can draw our own impressions and conclusions is enough.

Director Tahani Rached takes us onto the streets of Cairo in “These Girls,” a documentary exploring the lives if a group of young women who hang out in their street life, form a bond and cope with the rigors of their existence with manufactured bravado. The director, although having lived in Quebec for many years, was born in Egypt. She has a sympathetic eye for her subjects and films them matter-of-factly without condescension.

There is sadness in watching the young women on whom the director focuses, as they would seem to have no uplifting future. They indicate that they have dreams, but their camaraderie seems a replacement for carrying through any ambitions, and the longer they live on the streets, the more they seem doomed to this existence, whether or not they consider it being a drawback. The film is an eye-opener as a look at one aspect of Cairo.

“The Journals of Knud Rasmussen,” directed by Zacharias Kunuk and Norman Cohn, is a slowly-paced but engrossing film that is part fiction, part documentary. Harking back to Danish/Inuit explorer Knud Rasmussen in the Arctic North America in the early 1920s, the film dramatizes the effort to bring Christianity to the area and the effects on the population.

The Festival scored with some meaningful special attractions, like screening as a retrospective Warren Beatty’s “Reds” and presenting a new print of Alberto Lattuada’s classic “Mafioso.” Michael Apted was back with “49 Up,” yet another follow-up in his series looking at the development of those he investigates every seven years.

As usual the Festival turned out to be an eclectic mix. That’s its strong point, providing Festival-goers with a broad vision of what’s going on in any given year. Accordingly, you take the good with the bad.


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