by Tony Dayoub
With last night's gala opening screening of Ang Lee's Life of Pi, the 50th New York Film Festival is well underway. By most accounts a visually stunning adaptation of a long-thought unfilmable novel, Life of Pi suddenly jumps to the front of the Oscar derby despite its official release date (11/21) still being weeks away. I wasn't in New York for yesterday's press screening having returned to Atlanta last Sunday. But I'm okay with having missed it since apparently the effects-heavy film is still unfinished. Life of Pi aside, my coverage of the festival continues as I've seen a significant number of films I've yet to post reviews for. So keep coming back for about another week and a half for more on the NYFF50. After the jump, a few words on a couple of today's screenings.
Here and There (Aquí y allá) is a realist drama depicting a side of the undocumented worker's plight we rarely see in cinema, the return of a man to his family in Mexico after a long sojourn working in America. Director Antonio Méndez Esparza works with a cast of non-actors, principally Pedro de los Santos and Teresa Ramírez Aguirre as the worker and his wife, to shape a somewhat affecting story of the bewildering dislocation this man feels upon his return to a small village in Guerrero. The economic hardship of his town affects Pedro in more than just the expected ways, causing members of his fledgling cumbia band to quit in favor of working more hours at their day job. With the slow stranglehold the poor economy begins to exert on Pedro's only release, his music, America beckons again. Though Here and There is diverting enough, it lacks a certain bite, letting its story unfold so languidly one loses track of what Méndez Esparza is trying to say. Inexplicably, this won the Grand Prize at this year's Critics' Week in Cannes. Not a bad film necessarily, Here and There is just inert.
Speaking of "inexplicable," it's hard to grasp why Camille Rewinds (Camille redouble) is playing on the main slate of the New York Film Festival. This lightweight fantasy is a re-imagining of Peggy Sue Got Married which departs in a very different direction after setting up its basic premise of an alcoholic, middle-aged woman thrust back in time to her high school years. Camille (played by the film's writer and director, Noémie Lvovsky) defiantly avoids falling for her high school sweetheart this time around, using her time in the past to reach out to her late mother (Yolande Moreau) in the days approaching what will be a sudden death. But Camille Rewinds never quite figures out the proper balance between the emotional mother-daughter plot, the feminist and very French plot about a woman redefining herself in relation to her yet-to-be estranged husband (Samir Guesmi) and the strongest of its stories, the continuing relationship between Camille and her best friends (Judith Chemla, Julia Faure, India Hair). Instead of doubling down on the goofy, girls-just-want-to-have-fun escapades of Camille and her clique (all well-acted in both younger and older stages by a promising trio of young actresses), Lvovsky gets sidetracked by opportunities to emote in deadly serious scenes that strike a dissonant chord with the rest of the movie. I'm all for mixing genres, moods, etc., in contemporary films. It's a quality that I miss which is plentiful in classic cinema. But Camille Rewinds does it so ham-handedly, I wonder what about it caught the eye of the NYFF selection committee. Skip this one, and rent Coppola's Peggy Sue instead. At least there you'll get the treat of witnessing one of Nicolas Cage's most eccentric performances.
Otherwise some of today's highlights include a 2:30 pm discussion with Life of Pi director Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), part of the HBO Directors Dialogues series; a 4:15 pm screening of Roman Polanski: Odd Man Out, a documentary I had mixed feelings about but still leaned towards "like" more than not; a 6 pm discussion with director Barry Levinson (Rain Man) whose new found footage horror film The Bay will likely be a festival sleeper and plays tonight at midnight; and finally, the not-to-be-missed return of Brian De Palma, Passion, premiering at 9 pm. It's a fun, twisty-turvy throwback to his 80s thrillers that has to be seen to be believed.
Here and There is playing at the 50th New York Film Festival at 12:45 pm today at the Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall, 1941 Broadway (at 65th Street), New York, NY 10023; and at 6 pm Tuesday, October 2nd and 9 pm Wednesday, October 10th, at the Elinor Bunin Monroe Film Center's Francesca Beale Theater, 144 West 65th St (south side between Broadway and Amsterdam), New York, NY 10023.
Camille Rewinds is playing at 3:30 pm today at Alice Tully Hall; at 6:15 pm Monday, October 1st at the Francesca Beale Theater; and at 12:30 pm Tuesday, October 2nd and 3:30pm Wednesday, October 10th at the Elinor Bunin Monroe Film Center's Howard Gilman Theater, 144 West 65th St (south side between Broadway and Amsterdam), New York, NY 10023.
For more ticket information go online here, or call (212) 721-6500.