NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL 2000 (PART II) Send This Review to a Friend
Seeing new films is only part of the New York Film Festival. Each year various directors and stars show up to allow audiences to meet them, and on occasion there are question and answer periods, which are also provided at the press screenings. I caught several such sessions, one of the most impressive of which was the conference attended by acclaimed actress and director Liv Ullmann on the occasion of the showcasing of her latest film, "Faithless," which she directed from a script by Ingmar Bergman. (See New York Film Festival 2000 Part I.)
Ullmann, whose long association with Bergman as an actress and also in a personal relationship is well known, said that in making the film she didn't just represent herself but she represented Bergman and his "wonderful screenplay." She noted, "We had an agreement that after he gave me the script we wouldn't meet again until after two years." Thus she was able to pursue her own artistic course without Bergman looking over her shoulder.
Did she change anything in what he had written. "No, the words are his," she replied. "Obviously, edits had to be made; it was a four-hour monologue. I made my own images. Ingmar said it would be exciting to see what my images would be."
Ullmann's transition from actress to director enabled her to bring to her work a knowledge of how actors feel and perform. She explained: "Actors are creative--tremendously creative--and you have to give them the room, the trust to do what they do best. They have to feel that trust. That I really learned from Ingmar." Previously, Ullmann directed "Private Confessions" from an Bergman script, as well as "Sophie," which was her first feature film, and her adaptation of Sigrid Undset's novel, "Kristin Lavransdotter."
Does she feel confident as a director? "I feel I know the job," she said, enthusiastic about her new position in cinema and recalling, "As an actress I always felt I was ashamed that I was an actress." Ullmann, in talking about the context of the deep emotional drama, noted that it was called "Faithless" as differentiated from "Unfaithful," because the story deals with problems involved in a lack of living by faith in the larger sense rather than merely with the unfaithfulness in the marriage depicted.
Ed Harris has also moved from acting to directing, and in talking about his film "Pollock," in which he also stars as the late artist Jackson Pollock, he told of his interest in the artist and the feeling that "this would be a good part to sink my teeth into. I didn't know much about his work but I learned a lot about it over the years." Harris said he was intent on making a film that encompassed Pollock's work as well as his life, and he described the process of trying to avoid making a film that was only a standard biography.
"It was very important to see this man work because painting was his life," Harris said, referring in part to a scene in which Pollock is shown developing the style of painting for which he became known. Copies of his paintings were created for the film. Harris gave the impression of the film being a labor of love that he has long nurtured, which is confirmed by the passion we see in his performance and in the film itself, which was scripted by Barbara Turner and Susan J. Emshwiller.
The film gains immeasurably from the work of Marcia Gay Harden in the role of Lee Krasner, Pollock's artist wife. Harden told how she read as much as she could about Krasner and studied videos that exist of her.
"I think I hoped that by playing Lee Krasner I would be a great artist," she mused with a smile, "but it doesn't work that way."
There was much interest in a press conference featuring "Before Night Falls," Julian Schnabel's film about the late Cuban dissident writer Reinaldo Arenas, who was persecuted under Castro for his homosexuality as well as for his role as a rebellious writer whose work was smuggled out of Cuba.
"I don't think my film will be shown in Cuba anytime soon," Schnabel said with resignation, "but I hope the Cuban people will eventually get a chance to see it." The director, also known as an artist, said that becoming a filmmaker hasn't deterred him from continuing to paint. Schnabel was accompanied by his star, Javier Bardem, warmly greeted for his superb portrayal of Arenas, who noted that he was a Spanish actor playing a Cuban.
With films from Iran gaining increasing recognition, an especially welcome director was Bahman Farmanara, whose "Smell of Camphor, Fragrance of Jasmine," which he also wrote and in which he stars, is a major work. After spending considerable time in the United States and Canada, he went back to Iran to try to make movies there.
"Every year I gave a script to the Ministry of Culture, and for ten years, each was turned down," he said. "They didn't give me any reason why they were not approved." (The censorship restrictions in Iran are well known.) Nor did they give him any reason why his present film was approved.
"Smell of Camphor, Fragrance of Jasmine," is a witty film that in its sly way reveals much about the problems of living in Iran. "I have a script that's approved about to be shot next year," Farmanara reported. But he said much could happen in a country like his. The writer director conveys the impression of a man with a sense of humor similar to that in his film.
It was a revelation to get a personal sense of French actress and writer-director Agnes Jaoui, whose "The Taste of Others" is such a fascinating and sophisticated examination of relationships. Asked whether she was influenced by other directors, she cited Alain Resnais, who directed her in "Same Old Song."
She made light of the problem of working both in front and behind the camera, and spoke affectionately of her collaboration with her husband, writer-actor Jean-Pierre Bacri. One gets the impression that she is quietly sure of what she wants to do when she makes a film, and that she is a person gifted in knowing how to trim a story to its truthful essentials and bring a woman's perspective to her material.