Film Festivals come and go. What’s important is what stays with you. I saw some things at this year’s New York Film Festival. Moments out of time, as they say (and used to say in a provocative yearly Film Comment roundup). Here are some fragments that are still stuck to my shoe:
To Die Like a Man: An aging, ailing Argentine drag diva orders her pretty young boyfriend to reclaim her wig and costume from a black amazonian rival. Like a good soldier, he snaps to it, clambering upon the stage to help the haughty bitch disrobe. As her elbow-length gloves, tassels, dress and other goodies come off, revealing a stunning Nubian body out of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Brazilian wet dreams, the boyfriend damn near faints. Our irritated heroine snaps, “What’s the matter? Never seen a naked man before?”
Wild Grass: His soul as restless as a kid at recess, a dapper retiree (André Dussollier) descends into a mall parking garage to the busy chickawa-thump-thumps of a Bruckheimer techno-thriller. The camera glides along in anamorphic widescreen, soaking up the garage’s teal fluorescents. So mesmerizing and intense—but why are we laughing? Alain Resnais is a master of appropriating styles to fit/bedevil/brazen his characters’ lovesick delirium, that’s why. At the NYFF press conference, he noted The Shield and Law and Order among his favorite TV shows. In many places, his camera swoops and hovers with the abandon of Hitchcock, of The Conformist, of Branded to Kill, all in the service of a dream, the kind you wake from with a stupid grin and a thousand thoughts.
Min Ye: A bougie Malian couple have one of those fights we’ve all had and we all dread, the kind where the mouths are issuing the worst threats and putdowns while the eyes plead, “Why are we doing this to each other? Why can’t we stop?” Underneath the surface tumult, a Malian ballad stages its own timid protest. Later, husband sits up in bed, frozen in remorse. Wife climbs in bed as if he weren’t even there, her back to him. He reaches out to her and she… Yeah, you’ve seen this moment for many centuries now, but you are always experiencing it for the first time when a great like Souleymane Cissé sings it.
A Room and a Half: Dave Bowman went beyond the infinite and landed in a galactic menagerie, struck mute by the sight of time unfurled like a scroll. Russian Nobel poet Joseph Brodsky (Grigoriy Dityatkovskiy) has a similar reaction when he faces the demise of everything he knew and loved, including himself, at the tiny flat he grew up in. Then he skates away on the air (or a Neva River ferry) like Mastroianni at the start of 8 1/2.
Plastic Bag: Werner Herzog’s mighty voice embodying the soul-sick titular character makes up for the short’s tiresome film school symbolism. But this made my day: A red bag twirls on the wind, and Herzog, gathering up all the awe and love he’s got in him, says, “Isn’t she beautiful?”
Around a Small Mountain: Circus performances stripped of music, audience reaction and ringmaster’s commentary become 1000X as spellbinding. The harnesses creak, the performers grunt, and somehow the familiar becomes magical again. Early on, a perfectly-timed laugh shatters the silence attending an inept clown act. Forget the plot; this is a comedy about the perils of blocking.
Ne Change Rien: A Dutch-angle, chiaroscuro long-take of singer Jeanne Balibar recording a drunkenly sexy number with her two leathery pet guitarists. All we hear of the song is whatever they coo into their mikes and whatever leaks, like a whisper, from their studio headphones. As the music builds and Balibar’s narrow hips become possessed, the session gathers all the heat of an inspired ménage à trois. They even smoke afterwards.
Broken Embraces: A confession that sounds like it’s going to be about murder actually cops to something far worse: selling out a good filmmaker. Also, exalted images of Kira Miró and Penélope Cruz that tell us Pedro Almodóvar, not Bigas Luna, should have directed The Tit and the Moon.
Wild Grass: “So, you love me, then.”