Thursday, February 17, 2011

Film Comment Selects 2011


Isild Le Besco's new film, Bas-fonds
Film Comment Selects
February 18-March 3, 2011

Walter Reade Theater, 165 West 65th Street

Each February, Film Comment Selects acts like a mini-New York Film Festival, presenting interesting films that have yet to make it to our fair city. Even in this digital age, many movies are never seen in the world’s cinema capital, so the series is a welcome primer about what’s out there for adventurous audiences.

This year’s edition highlights a trio of films each by two very different French directors: 28-year-old Isild Le Besco and 85-year-old Claude Lanzmann. Lanzmann, whose epic nine-hour documentary Shoah remains the touchstone for any artistic treatment of the Holocaust, has three relatively short interview films included, along with two Q&As on February 26.

A Visitor from the Living, which was shown at the 1997 NYFF, is a head-scratching 65-minute conversation with the Red Cross doctor duped by the Nazis when he visited Auschwitz and Theresienstadt and saw nothing resembling death camps, while Sobibar, Oct. 14, 1943, 4 PM (shown at the 2001 NYFF) is a riveting account by a Holocaust survivor of the single successful camp uprising during WWII. Rounding out the Lanzmann trio is his latest film, The Karski Report, a sobering 50-minute discussion with Jan Karski, the Polish resistance leader who failed to convince FDR and Supreme Court Justice (and Roosevelt’s right-hand man) Felix Frankfurter about the realities of the Nazi extermination plans.

Le Besco’s films as writer-director come on the heels of her still-active acting career (she is featured in a new film during next month’s Rendez-vous with French Cinema). Her debut feature, 2003’s Demi-Tarif, set the tone for her work in its exploration of three motherless children. Charly (2007) is even more assured in its handling of the central relationship between a 14-year-old runaway (played by Le Besco’s own brother) and the more mature young woman named Charly (played by the superb Julie-Marie Parmentier). Her newest film, Bas-fonds (Dregs)—which opens the series on February 18—dispassionately explores a trio of young women living together without boundaries, at least until a botched crime leads to unexpected consequences.

Although he died in 1991, a crazily charismatic actor returns in Klaus Kinski: Jesus Christ Savior, an account of an infamous 1971 live performance by Kinski of his own 30-page monologue based about Christ that turns into a heckling and shouting match between the actor and many audience members—some of whom he even lets onstage to have their say. After many false starts and stops—and, at the 73-minute mark, the end credits—Kinski finally returns to a nearly empty hall to recite the script for the faithful who have stayed. It’s an extraordinarily intimate look at one of the most daring and single-minded performers of our time.

Kinski was best known for his collaborations with Werner Herzog, whom I have always preferred as documentarian. Herzog’s latest non-fiction film, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, is a stunningly-photographed exploration of ancient cave paintings recently unearthed in southern France; as usual with Herzog, he goes beyond the 32,000-year-old drawings to discuss the origins and limitations of our thought process and, by extension, how they are recorded. I’m no fan of the current mania for 3-D gimmickry, but there are moments in the caves where you feel you are really there, which is saying something.

No comments: