French Influence Marks 46th New York Film Festival

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The New York Sun

With all the titles shipped over from France, one could easily dub this year’s New York Film Festival “Cannes: Redux.”

As the event readies for its 46th annual edition — which will take place at Lincoln Center between September 26 and October 12 — the official schedule, announced earlier this week, awarded 17 of the festival’s 28 slots to titles that screened at the Cannes International Film Festival in May. Included in the roster is Laurent Cantet’s “The Class,” which won the coveted Palme d’Or, Steven Soderbergh’s controversial four-hour biopic “Che,” and Clint Eastwood’s “Changeling,” which follows last year’s “No Country for Old Men” as the festival’s centerpiece.

Some might say that 17 films — 60% of the NYFF selections — handpicked from the Cannes slate is excessive. But the selection committee chairman, Richard Peña, believes that these are among the year’s best films, and that there easily could have been a larger ratio of Cannes crossovers.

“It was a particularly strong year at Cannes, and up until a few weeks ago, it was looking as if there would be even more titles [from Cannes],” he said. “A lot of strong work came in right at the end, and due to three films arriving during the very last week of screenings, there were films we had sort of committed to that we had to replace.”

France is very much at the center of this year’s event. Aside from the weighty presence of the Cannes festival, four of the NYFF’s 28 films were made by French directors. Mr. Cantet’s “The Class,” based on an autobiographical novel by François Bégaudeau, draws on real teachers and students to create an insider’s tale of a modern-d ay high school classroom. Arnaud Desplechin’s “A Christmas Tale” assembles such prominent French talents as Catherine Deneuve, Mathieu Amalric, and Emmanuelle Devos in a coming-home-for-the-holidays drama. Agnès Jaoui’s “Let It Rain” is about the nature of documentary filmmaking, telling the story of a rising politician and the two emerging filmmakers following her every move. And Olivier Assayas’s “Summer Hours” features Juliette Binoche as one of three siblings toiling with issues of life and death after the passing of their mother.

“The quality of the French films is notable, and French filmmakers are extremely active this year,” Mr. Peña said. “But one can also see the influence of the French film industry through international financing. Twelve films this year are totally or partially financed from France.”

One such international co-production is the festival’s closing-night selection, Darren Aronofsky’s “The Wrestler,” which stars Mickey Rourke in what organizers are describing as the “performance of a lifetime.” “The Wrestler” tells the story of a faded fighting pro named Randy Robinson, who now makes money performing for devout wrestling fans in smaller venues across New Jersey.

If films like “A Christmas Tale” and “The Wrestler” are acting showcases, the latter featuring not only Mr. Rourke but also Evan Rachel Wood and Marisa Tomei, other titles are attracting notice thanks to the auteurs behind the camera. Of course, Mr. Eastwood never fails to capture the industry’s attention, but “Changeling” has the added benefit of featuring Angelina Jolie as a mother coping with the horror of a missing son in 1920s Los Angeles. Also returning to New York screens are Mike Leigh, with the whimsical-turned-worrisome “Happy-Go-Lucky,” and Jia Zhangke with “24 City,” about the rise and fall of a Chinese factory town.

Many New Yorkers are eagerly awaiting “Che,” Mr. Soderbergh’s two-part biopic about the Argentinean revolutionary that divided critics during its debut at Cannes. Benicio del Toro walked away with Best Actor honors at th e festival.

“What happens, especially at a place like Cannes, is that people think in terms of box office. I have nothing against box office concerns, but people focused primarily on the troubles that might be faced in marketing this film, and that colored a lot of the reaction,” Mr. Peña said of the film’s mixed reception. “But this is a film that in many ways throws down a certain gauntlet. It wants to show you an example of a successful revolution and then another example of an unsuccessful revolution. And each half, while a fully comprehensive film, is helped exponentially by seeing the two parts back to back.”

Wong Kar Wai, a perennial festival favorite in New York, returns with “Ashes of Time Redux,” a final reworking of his adaptation of the classic Chinese martial arts story.

“Even people who know Wong Kar Wai’s film, this will feel like a whole new film,” Mr. Peña said, pointing to this version’s additional footage, refined plot points, and enhanced cinematography.

This year’s “spotlight retrospective” at the NYFF is a newly enhanced print of Max Ophüls’s “Lola Montes,” a biography of the dancer and courtesan Lola Montes (in actuality Elizabeth Rosanna Gilbert), which today remains a masterpiece preoccupied with the nature of time and fame. For decades, cineastes have tried to restore an original print of the film, which circulated for years in a sloppily abbreviated version.

“It was so butchered, so dissected, but this one is it,” Mr. Peña said. “It captures the glory of the film, puts in the footage that we’ve been waiting for, smoothes out the edges, and the color looks magnificent. This is the film that Ophüls wanted to make.”

Additional festival information can be found at; The 46th New York Film Festival runs between September 26 and October 12. Tickets go on sale Sunday, September 7.

The New York Sun

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