Saturday, February 18, 2012

Film Comment Selects: What's Old Is New

Film Comment Selects
February 17-March 1, 2012
Walter Reade Theater, 165 West 65th Street

Now in its 12th year, Film Comment Selects has become the hipper alternative to the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s headliners, the New York Film Festival and New Directors/ New Films. Showing films yet to be seen in New York--although some have distributors and will open--FCS has also expanded to include films forgotten or deemed worthy of rediscovery. There are as many hits as misses: but where else can you watch a film, Transfer, where an elderly German couple is transformed into an attractive young African couple thanks to advances in science, for the sake of longevity and--of course--love?

Transfer, directed by Damir Lukacevic, is a typical Film Comment Selects entry: stylish and engrossing. It also keeps the viewer at arm’s length, which is what mars otherwise estimable entries as Aleksandr Sokurov’s bizarre attempt to turn Goethe’s Faust (pictured, above) into farce (although it does contain his characteristically fluid camerawork) and Morten Tyldum’s initially exciting but finally ludicrous thriller Headhunters.

Film Comment Selects also gives viewers another chance to catch Kenneth Lonergan’s unjustly neglected Margaret--shot in 2005 and given a token release last fall--and glory in the extraordinary performances of Anna Paquin and Lonergan’s wife J. Smith-Cameron in a post-Sept. 11 moral fable set on the Upper West Side. Joshua Marston’s The Forgiveness of Blood--his first film since 2004’s Maria Full of Grace--is set in Albania, with a group of superb non-actors in a story of ancient revenge rituals intruding on the 21st century.

But dominating the selections are vintage films that give Film Comment Selects a sidebar feel reminiscent of the NYFF. A trio of lesser films by a trio of masters comprises Ingmar Bergman’s Face to Face (1975, pictured, above), which contains what may be Liv Ullmann’s most nakedly emotional portrayal in Bergman feature; Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Despair (1978), which wastes Dirk Bogarde’s suave presence; and Ken Russell’s Altered States (1980), the erratic director’s failed attempt at sci-fi/horror.

Far more enticing is a rare screening of Mike Leigh’s glorious comic study Life Is Sweet (1990), to remember Bingham Ray, who distributed that film--which was Leigh’s breakthrough--in the United States. There’s also a trio of insightful documentaries by Jean-Pierre Gorin: My Crasy Life, Routine Pleasures and Poto and Cabengo, the last a sharp-eyed chronicle of young twin girls who speak their own language. So if the series’ new films don’t have broad appeal, the return of the old might compensate.

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