The big deal this weekend at the New York Film Festival may be the world premiere of Ben Stiller’s “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” but the hot ticket is surely “Inside Llewyn Davis”, screening Saturday night (in advance of a December opening).
Joel and Ethan Coen’s warmly received and almost-affectionate send-up of the Bleecker Street folk scene is certainly their warmest film in the 16 years since “The Big Lebowski”. Like that enduring cult film, “Llewyn Davis” succeeds largely because the lead actor—Oscar Isaac, in one of the year’s best performancaes—inspires sympathy beyond the constraints of attitude. For those unable to score a ticket, the festival’s “Revivals” section features a restored print of Nicholas Ray’s luminous outlaw ballad “They Live By Night” (1948) which was not only the most talented debut feature made in Hollywood since “Citizen Kane” but a late example of the Popular Front culture than incubated the ‘60s folk revival.
Sunday’s offerings include the first screenings of “The Immigrant”, written and directed by James Gray (an American filmmaker particularly beloved by the French), and “Bastards” by Claire Denis (a French filmmaker much admired by Americans). “The Immigrant” is Gray’s most ambitious feature—a period melodrama devoted to the vicissitudes of a Polish woman (Marion Cotillard) arrived in the Lower East Side circa 1920. Gray’s attention to detail is somewhat undercut by some cloddish performances (mainly Joaquin Phoenix) and “The Immigrant” does turn fatally Punch and Judy midway through. Still, it’s not every director who aspires to be Frank Borzage (with Cotillard as his Janet Gaynor) and in any case the movie deserves to be seen on screen as Gray intended before distributor Harvey Weinstein cuts out its heart.
A better achieved but less audacious look at a big city sex scene than “The Immigrant”, “Bastards” is Denis’s chic, oblique neo-noir, inspired perhaps by the French continuation of the DSK affair. The sense of evil is palpable but pat. “Chinatown” it’s not—watching I was further distracted in wondering why the festival hadn’t welcomed “Welcome to New York”, the DSK thriller by sometime NYFF hero Abel Ferrara?
Also Sunday is a newly added screening of the strongest, subtlest movie I’ve seen so far in the NYFF Main Slate, namely Romanian director Corneliu Porumbiou’s “When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism”. (It also shows on Tuesday.) Porumbiou, last seen here with “Police, Adjective” is a theoretically minded filmmaker with an extremely dry sense of humor. A movie about the making of an unmade movie, “When Evening Falls” is a film that you watch between the lines—or rather the shots, of which there are only 18.
Like “Police, Adjective”, this is an epistemological comedy; it’s also has the structural rigor of the latest and most delightful of documentaries from Harvard’s Sensory Ethnography Lab, the folks who brought you “Leviathan.” Unfortunately there are no more screenings of “Manakama,” Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez’s filmed cable car ride to a mountain-top Nepalese monastery, repeated and repeated so that it ultimately becomes a visual metaphor for the transmigration of souls; fortunately Cinema Guild has picked it up for distribution.
Images: New York Film Festival