Once again our intrepid correspondent Monica Castillo braves the Big Apple and the New York Film Festival to make her report.--PK
Ah, Lincoln Center. An eerily sanitized white spot
of land set aside for the arts in the middle of a grimy, busy city. It this
location where I find the New York
Film Festival, now in its 50th year. It looks
pretty good for 50, crowds are still lining up outside of theaters hours in
advance and almost every screening tacks on a Q and A with the director at the
end of the credits.
But I'm only here for four days, trying to cram in as many movies as I can
before my bus for Boston
leaves 34th Street.
I'm a film critic on a mission.
As often happens at film festivals, the first film I see in the morning is a
documentary about an incurable disease. In this case, Alzheimer's.
To be honest, it was not as rough-going as it might sound."First Cousin Once Removed" is a personal
story about progressive memory loss up to the point where the movie's subject
no longer realizes he is the subject of the movie. Alan Berliner records the
decline of his mentor (and first cousin, once removed) Edwin Honig at different
times in the latter stages of his disease. The movie's chronology is non-linear,
and the jump cutting doesn't let the audience linger long on the gravity of
Honig's situation at any particular moment. Berliner wisely includes lighter
moments, such as when his young son plays music with Honig. But like many
personal documentaries, it was shot on an almost nonexistent budget.
The pixilation and lighting in the movie was distracting once blown up for the
big screen. It will be coming to HBO later in the year, so perhaps the smaller
screen will alleviate that problem. Nonetheless, the movie still has the
emotional strength of last year's "How to Die in Oregon,"
especially if you have gone through the experience of watching a loved one suffering
a similar malady.
So let's move on to another uncomfortable subject: arranged marriages! The Israeli
feature "Fill the Void" concerns the
marital woes of a Jewish Orthodox community. After the death of her sister
during childbirth, 18-year-old Shira decides to take her place and take care of
her son and husband. Yup, marrying her brother-in-law, which other members of
the community have problems with. Director Rama Burshtein joined the audience
via Skype after the screening to clear up a few things. She is a member of a
Hassidic Jewish community herself, and while the premise of the story itself is
a rare occurrence, it does take place. Gender politics complicated the
production because the strict Hasidic male extras would not take direction from
a woman. It was enlightening to learn of a community of Hasidic women who make
films for themselves and by themselves and screen them in rented halls and
Then came the avant-garde feature, Jeff Preiss's "Stop." I
can't give a thorough review of this film: it frustrated me so much I couldn't
watch the whole thing. The filmmaker's premise, recording his son as he grows
up, is heartfelt, but the style put me off by inserting a brightly colored
number in ascending order at random points of the film. By the end of the first
hour, the numbers were in the mid-200s. An equally annoying piano score,
consisting of a thud of notes that would then cut to the audio of the film, didn't
make the numbers gimmick any easier to take. But when the film lovingly focused
on the child playing in the sand or watching TV, I was entranced. I could feel
my own nostalgia creeping in. Only to be interrupted by a flashing number in
yellow and red.
Finally I saw Marina Zenovich's documentary "Roman Polanski, Odd Man Out," the follow-up to her "Roman Polanski Wanted and Desired" (2008).
In this film Zenovich explains that she had an interview set with the reclusive
director one month after he was to make an appearance at the Zurich Film
Festival. As you might recall, however, that's where Polanski was arrested, setting
off the consequent legal and media circus. Here Zenovich digs up familiar faces
for interviews again, but also includes some new material that make this yet
another interesting addition to Polanski's file. The film does a decent job of
breaking down the international conspiracies at play, but the real odd man out is
the viewer, as Zenovich relies mostly on secondary sources. And no word from
the man himself, who has for 30 years eluded the long arm of the L.A. D.A's