Tales From the NY Film Festival / part 4

Here Come the Romanians!

Tuesday, After Christmas


The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu

Have you seen any Romanian films lately? While Romanian films may have flown under the general public's radar here in America, Romanian filmmakers have been making some of the most creative and engaging films released worldwide for the last decade.  The Death of Mr. Lazarescu  directed by Cristi Puiu was the first one to catch my attention in 2005.  In it, a handheld camera quietly follows a 69 year old man's journey through the bureaucracy of the Romanian healthcare system, for 24 black humor filled fatal hours (you can quite often catch it now on IFC or Sundance Channel). Ever since then, it seems that every Romanian film I've seen is a winner - like there's something in the water over there.  Cristian Mungiu's 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days won the Palme D'Or at Cannes in 2007.  At last year's NY FIlm Fest we were introduced to Corneliu Porumboiu's Police Adjective.  Last spring I saw the hilarious, Happiest Girl in the World, directed by Radu Jude. 

Now at this year's NY FIlm Festival, we were treated to three more great films - Tuesday, After Christmas by Radu Muntean, Aurora by Cristi Puiu (after a 5 year absence), and The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu by Andrei Ujica.  

Cristi Puiu

Aurora, the much anticipated follow-up to Mr.Lazarescu, finds director/writer Cristi Puiu in the lead role as a sullen lone individual on a methodically creepy mission, of which we know very little for the 3 hour duration of the movie. The camerawork, (with a series of typically Romanian long takes), is is at times exquisite, or jarringly exquisite. The humor is black. The effect is mind numbing. 

Mirela Oprisor and Mimi Branescu from Tuesday, After Christmas
director Radu Muntean

Tuesday, After Christmas directed by Radu Muntean is a Romanian twist on the typically French concerns of a man, his mistress, and his wife. Again a series of long takes and superb acting move the narrative swiftly along. In town for the screening were the actors playing the cheating husband and spurned wife, who are indeed real life husband and wife (Mimi Branescu and Mirela Oprisor). 

director Andrei Ujica

Last but certainly not least, The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescudirected by Andrei Ujica is a documentary, so to speak.  It is compiled entirely of self serving documentary footage shot at the behest of the Romanian politician/ madman / dictator Nicolae Ceausescu during his reign from 1965 to 1989, that has been cleverly edited together by Andrei Ujica, and bookended by video footage of the trial of Ceausescu and his wife which ended in their executions (wikipedia Ceausescu here). There are state trips to Russia, China, North Korea, England and Disneyland. There are official visits to meat factories, games of volleyball, and speeches to the Romanian state assembly. There are no explanations of what we are seeing, only the footage - only the "facts". And yet you can't take your eyes off the everyday workings of this madman. And then, you are left to ponder that the aftermath of this oppressive state created by Nicolae Ceausescu, is what has led to the incredibly strong series of films we are now receiving  from these Romanian directors. 

Corneliu Porumboiu, director of Police Adjective in 2009
Cristian Mungiu, director of 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days in 2007
Cristi Puiu, director of Aurora and Mr Lazarescu


Tales From the NY Film Festival / part 3

David Fincher brings the Facebook movie to town for Opening Night

David Fincher's "The Social Network" was one of the best NY Film Fest Opening Night films in years. The dialogue by Aaron Sorkin was so sharp and the direction so fast paced, that there was barely time to catch it all in one sitting (reveal - I saw it twice).  Everyone was buzzing at the premiere screening about it being a perfect way to start off the two week festival. Expectations were high for Fincher, director of "Zodiac" and "Fight Club", especially given all the press and no comments from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Not only did this movie make a perfect landing in the Zeitgeist of 2010, it also made a perfect landing in the Zeitgeist of this year's Festival. I rarely say that my favorite film of the Festival is also the top movie at the box office two weeks running. 

David Fincher
Aaron Sorkin

And yet, talking about the film with friends in the city this week, I am surprised to find that people are avoiding seeing it because they don't like Facebook, or don't anticipate it being anything but a Hollywood knockoff. The price of success? This film starts off so quickly, with such a knockout opening sequence, that there's barely time for the film company's logo to appear on the screen before the dialogue rolls up on the soundtrack. Fincher talked about it at a special Festival dialogue - how he worked the actors - Jesse Eisenberg and Rooney Mara - until they could play a 15 minute scene in 3 minutes naturally. In fact he said, the only way he would have "final cut" was if he brought the film in under 2 hours and 7 minutes. So it moves fast. And it is, in its own way, a film as classically constructed as any Hepburn and Tracy film of the 40's. It's subject matter is not really Facebook, but a classical playing out of human relationships under the pressures of ambition.   Jesse Eisenberg is pitch perfect as Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, or at least the Mark Zuckerberg of Sorkin's script. Andrew Garfield, the next Spiderman, is also splendidly sad as Zuckerberg's spurned business partner Edwardo Severin. And alright, Justin Timberlake does a very good job as Napster founder and master manipulator Sean Parker. 

Jesse Eisenberg
Justin Timberlake

So Opening Night was an unqualified success, and the Festival was off to a great start. The party was at the Harvard Club in midtown - that was a little weird, until I remembered it was a film that took place at Harvard - duh. It was an elegant but cavernous space, and very crowded. I couldn't locate Justin Timberlake to get his photo. But I did find most of the other players while they were still "Social,  and digitized them before they headed out into the night. 

producer Scott Rudin with writer Aaron Sorkin
David Fincher with Gina Gershon
Andrew Garfield
Jesse Eisenberg
actress Brenda Song with fans outside the theater

Tales from the NY FIlm Festival / part 2

Olivier Assayas attacks NYC with "Carlos"

Olivier Assayas is a gem of a director. And his latest film "Carlos" is a gem of a film - all 330 minutes of it. Actor Edgar Ramirez plays the part of the notorious 1970's terrorist "Carlos the Jackal" (wikipedia him here). What Olivier Assayas directs here is not really an all consuming bio of Carlos, but a fast paced tour through the 1970's terrorist cells of Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, as they existed through the end of the cold war into the 1980's. 

Edgar Ramirez

Shown last week to audiences at the NY FIlm Festival the same way it was shown last spring at the Cannes Film Festival - in it's full 330 minute format - the film was a real event (it was also shown this week on Sundance Channel in three parts). To be able to see a 5 1/2 hour film  projected on a superior screen like the one at Alice Tully Hall is to understand why the NY Film Festival is so important. In France, when "Carlos" was shown last spring at Cannes, there was much debate about whether this five and a half hour film was even a film (that's so French). Its scheduled appearance on French television last spring had to be pushed back so it could be shown at Cannes, where it was ultimately deemed by the powers that be, not to be a 'film' and therefore had to be shown out of competition. And yet, in this era of digital filmmaking, Olivier Assayas actually shot "Carlos" on real film - and in 16 real countries. 

Many of the actors in the film were present for a Q&A with Assayas after the film. And the next day Assayas himself sat down for an event titled "The Cinema Inside Me", where the former Cahiers de Cinema critic showed film clips and discussed some of his cinematic influences. One from an unnamed Dario Argento film, was a long scene in a gothic castle, where a pretty girl searching for her keys spends an extended sequence reaching and later swimming under water as her elusive keys seem to fall deeper into an abyss. Assayas marvelled at the absurdity of spending 10 minutes film time on what would normally be a 1 minute scene - and the evidence of the filmmakers pure love of cinema in doing so. This from a man who just made a 330 minute film. He also showed another long clip - a glorious final sequence from Jean Renoir's 1954 film French Can Can with Jean Gabin.

Olivier Assayas

Assayas has been making films of all types and genres for over 15 years. The subject last month of a NY Times Magazine profile, BAM Cinematek is now running a series of his films titled "Post Punk Auteur". Check out the schedule - Assayas will be present on Monday October 18th, after a screening of Demonlover (from 2002). On October 23rd and 24th, BAM will be showing the full version of Carlos (BAM has already shown the great Summer Hours from 2008 - go immediately to netflix and rent it there).You can also catch the full version of Carlos in Manhattan at the IFC Cinemas.  from October 15th thru November 2nd. Olivier Assayas will be present for the screenings this weekend October 15-16-17. 

Edgar Ramirez plays Carlos

Personal note: About 3 1/2 hours into Carlos, be on watch for a sequence built around the great Dead Boys song "Sonic Reducer". And at the end of Summer Hours Assayas makes great use of the song "Little Cloud" by the Incredible String Band. Post Punk Auteur indeed.


Tales From the NY FIlm Festival

1. Closing Night On the RC with Clint and Matt

Sunday was closing night of the 2010 New York Film Festival. That is where have I been for the last month - quietly (and obsessively) shooting photographs of directors and actors at press conferences and in green rooms.  That's what I do every fall. As the unofficial official photographer for the Festival, I  photograph the action behind the screens, and at the same time get to see about 25 amazingly beautiful and sometimes agonizingly artistic new films from all over the planet. Over the next few days on this blog, I'll try to give you the rundown on what I saw, what you should go out of your way to see, and what you shouldn't waste your time on (but need to know enough about to hold up your end of the  conversation). Oh right, and my photographs as well.

Matt Damon arrives with his wife
Luciana Bozan Borroso

T.S.Eliot said "In the end is my begining".  So I'll start at the end. Closing night is a big event, and at 6:30pm Sunday night, I found myself in the middle of the Red Carpet madness, waiting for Clint Eastwood to show up and "walk the carpet" to promote his new film  "Hereafter", starring Matt Damon.  A little background info. This is not my usual beat -  hordes of photographers and entertainment television crews are lined up under a long horizontal party tent waiting to spend several minutes time with tonight's focus of attention. An event carefully organized and played out several times every evening around this city, these same players - photographers and video crews -  move about this town in search of the big money photo, and tomorrow night's entertainment sound bites and blog exclusives, following the carefully laid out rules of the stars and their publicists. They all know the game and are familiar with the pecking order at these events. 

Clint Eastwood talks to the press

The first group Clint Eastwood will walk by are the photographers. Separated into "pens" of about 20 photographers each, behind barriers with some in the front row and others standing behind them on their traveling step stools, they will have about 45 seconds to shoot off a barrage of flashes and call out "this way Clint...to your right, to your left", before he passes on to the next group.  Maybe Clint will do something more interesting for "pen 2", causing those in "pen 1" to grumble for a few more good minutes with him, before he eventually moves on to the hallowed video crews - the place where Mr. Eastwood will spend most of his time on the Red Carpet this evening. On the carpet, video is king. The photographers are the serfs.

Bryce Dallas Howard

But on this night I was given the equivalent of a photographer's "get out of jail free" card - a "Roaming Pass" that allows me to walk and shoot anywhere on the "carpet".  There are three of us "roamers"  tonight, and I  am given this pass because I shoot for the Film Festival.  The other two "roamers" are heavy duty pros who do this every night, so I will keep my eyes on them to guide me through this urban safari. Meanwhile we three  get to wait at the head of the Red Carpet for Clint Eastwood to arrive. He will walk right past us before he heads into the madness. 

Clint Eastwood arrives with wife Dina Ruiz

At 6:45 there is still no sign of Clint. The film is set to screen at 7pm, where the Lincoln Center audience is anxiously awaiting a first look at the new film "Hereafter". Matt Damon has already passed us with his very pregnant wife, and is talking to the television crews. He too is awaiting Clint. Every photographer is waiting to get the money shot, which tonight is a "2 shot' of Clint and Matt. This will be the focus of tonight's madness. When Clint shows up at 6:50 the fun starts, and the flashes in Pen 1 go wild. You can not imagine what it's like to try to stand in front of 25 photographers shooting 10 flashes per second on automatic pilot. This is the crazy modern world that is about as far away from the "decisive moment" as one can get. All these photographers will talk into a microphone on their camera, and read off the name of the subjects in the photo so their editor can ID everyone in the picture. These photos will be uploaded to their agencies wirelessly from their cameras in the next half hour. Time is of the essence. You will be looking at them in your local paper on your way to work tomorrow morning.

Bryce Dallas Howard and Cecile De France
The cast of "Hereafter" with director Clint Eastwood

And speaking of time, the audience inside the theater is still waiting for the start of the film. At 7:15 Clint Eastwood and Matt Damon are separately talking to video crews. Publicists are aware that there are still shots to be taken of Matt and Clint and the whole cast. But the whole cast is upstairs in the green room, having done the red carpet long ago. I am stuck against the photo backdrop of logos, trying to stay out of the background of the television shots. We three "roamers" are patiently waiting for the money shot. The photographers in the "pen" won't get it - they are done for the night. Word comes at 7:20 that the money shot will happen upstairs in the green room. We leave the red carpet and run ahead of Matt and Clint to be able to shoot them entering. And the green room is packed! None of the cast, producers, and friends have taken their seat. They are waiting for Clint and Matt. The audience in the theater is unaware of all this. At 7:25, the cast - Matt Damon, Bryce Dallas Howard, Cecile de France, and director Clint Eastwood are all brought into the photo section of the green room for our big moment. It will last 5 minutes at the most. It is a very tight squeeze just to stand back and get them all in the shot. In the middle of that bubble it will be very difficult to get everyone to look in your direction. But I've got to admit it's an adrenaline rush. Not my favorite thing to do, but every photographer should experience it at least once. We finish this whole thing up at 7:30pm, Clint and Matt will go directly into the theater to introduce the film, and the show will go on. One half hour later, I will be sitting alone on a park bench  amazed that I survived the madness.

the "money shots"

Tomorrow, more Tales (and photos) from the NY Film Fest 2010.

*One more thing - tonight, the film "Carlos" (about the terrorist Carlos the Jackal from the 70's), by the great French director Olivier Assayas (if you have not seen "Summer Hours" from last year, go directly to Netflix), will be screening on Sundance Channel in three parts - part 2 tonight. I saw it at the Festival last week. Perhaps there will be repeat screenings. But in part 2, there is great use of the Dead Boys song "Sonic Reducer". I know this is late notice, but be sure you catch it somehow.

all photos © GODLIS