Friday, October 10, 2008

NYFF Roundup

Four Nights With Anna, directed by Jerzy Skolimowski

Creeping silently in low-lit dankness, Leon (Artur Steranko) slithers into Anna's apartment across the way, fastidiously painting her toenails as she's passed out on the bed. He's one of your normal crematorium employee types, a sullen, sensitive kind of guy who takes care of his grandmother and walks with a hunch, trying to disappear into himself. This is Jerzy Skolimowski's first return to filmmaking in 17 years, a strange obsessional object that's lovely to look at (if you're into wet industrial decay like I am) and builds into an emotional peak with flat champagne and cold meats as Leon stages a faux-wedding for his imaginary life. My only quibble is with the flashbacks, which add unnecessary psychologizing, lifting the veil too much from the film's foggy mystery.

Night and Day, directed by Hong Sang-soo

Funnier than Woman on the Beach, with a great sad-sack performance from Yeong-ho Kim. The most disturbing thing about the movie, as Glenn Kenny notes, are the colored plastic deli bags he's constantly carrying. What does he have in there?

The Headless Woman, directed by Lucrecia Martel

The picture to the left is a Diane Arbus photo from 1961, with the same title as the remarkable new film from Ms. Martel. Both film and photo could be retitled The Woman Who Wasn't There. A comfortable middle-class mother (Maria Onetto) runs over a dog, and she is later consumed with the fear that she also killed a child. Decentered from her daily life, she is isolated by Martel in shallow focus close-ups in the widescreen frame, her family haunting the edges, fuzzy spectres present mainly through the dense sound design. The accident occurred right before a major storm, and water keeps seeping into the frame, whether literally pouring down, or intimated in the cement discovered under her lawn, which used to hold a fountain. She slowly ebbs back into consciousness, only to discover that she no longer fits, so she dyes her hair.

Tokyo Sonata, Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa

A sad movie and a great one. Salaryman Ryuhei gets canned after his job is outsourced to China. Struck dumb with fear, he keeps mum to his wife and hangs out with a witty fellow member of the downsized. A familiar device perhaps, but imbued with a gentleness that it is incredibly rare these days. His youngest son asks for piano lessons, his oldest wants to join the US Army. His wife, the luminous Kyoko Koizumi, tries to glue the shards of their lives together. She makes fresh doughnuts. The pain of lost dignity, economic stress, and plain old disappointment is expressed with such simplicity and understanding that I was an emotional wreck halfway through. The great Koji Yakusho shows up late to inject a touch of surrealism to the proceedings in a harried, head-smacking performance that thrusts the film towards greatness. He sets in motion a beautifully controlled sequence of parallel editing between the wife, the husband, and the youngest child that is filled with bittersweet yearning and choked laughter. Then a piano solo encapsulates why we keep on living despite all our stupidites. A sequence for me and for you.



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