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Filmmakers Edward Wang and Malle retrospective in NY

Two masters of the art of the cinema are being honored in New York at career retrospectives at two of New York’s most venerable film institutions, starting this past weekend.

The Museum of Modern Art, which has one of the world’s most celebrated film archives, will present three defining films from the career of Taiwanese director Edward Yang, to mark the publication of a new monograph on the filmmaker by celebrated film critic and historian John Anderson. The filmmaker is revered as a modern master who, according to Anderson’s assessment, “combines the humanity of Jean Renoir, the heroic gestures of Werner Herzog, and the modernist sensibility and droll humor of Rainer Werner Fassbinder. “

The series, which will screen three of Yang’s eight films, begins with his most acclaimed and widely seen film YI YI (A ONE AND A TWO, 2000), a modern classic of family life set in the hectic metropolis of present-day Taipei. Other films included in the series are the rarely screened THE TERRORIZER (1986), a referential work that is Yang’s commentary on the process of fiction and the hallucinatory effect of film montage, and A BRIGHTER SUMMER DAY (1991), Yang’s nearly 4-hour passion play of the challenges at the core of Taiwan’s proud yet tragic national soul.

Across town, the Film Society of Lincoln Center, which presents the New York Film Festival each Fall, is offering a remarkably thorough near-complete retrospective of the films of director Louis Malle. One of the only film directors who managed the transition from his native France to American cinema, Malle’s films range from new wave comedies to devastating melodramas, and some of cinema’s most remarkable documentary achievements.

Malle, born in France in 1932, studied filmmaking at France’s national film academy IDHEC, and upon graduation was recruited by oceanographer/filmmaker Jacques Cousteau to create a film inspired by Cousteau’s best selling book, THE SILENT WORLD. The film, one of the seminal documentaries of the 1950’s, shared the Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival that year and launched Malle’s career.

Among the films to be screened are Malle’s contributions to the Nouvelle Vague (New Wave), which revolutionized international cinema and established a whole generation of singular French filmmaking talents as Francois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard and Alain Resnais. Such 1950’Sclassics as Malle’s solo directorial debut ELEVATOR TO THE GALLOWS, starring Jeanne Moreau and featuring a jazz score by the legendary Miles Davis, THE LOVERS, also starring the luminous Moreau, and ZAZIE DANS LE METRO, will be seen for the first time in many years in newly minted film prints.

Other French career highlights, THE FIRE WITHIN (1963), VIVA MARIA (1965, with Moreau and Brigit Bardot), the semi-autobiographical MURMER OF THE HEART (1971) and Malle’s famous meditations on the French occupation LACOMBE LUCIEN (1981) and AU REVOIR LES ENFANTS (1987) will also screen.

Malle, who famously married actress Candice Bergen and made America his primary home, made many of his later films in the United States. Among the highlights screening in the series are PRETTY BABY (1978), set in the prostitute red light district of New Orleans at the beginning of the 20th century and featuring a scandalous performance by a then adolescent Brooke Shields; ATLANTIC CITY (1980), a career-capping swan song for actor Burt Lancaster and a career-starting one for actress Susan Sarandon; MY DINNER WITH ANDRE (1981), a marvelously simple and endearingly funny encounter between raconteurs Wallace Shawn and Andre Bishop; and Malle’s last film, VANYA ON 42ND STREET (1994), an adaptation of the Chekhov classic with a new translation by playwright David Mamet.

Arguably, the highlight of the series is the complete, 7 hour documentary PHANTOM INDIA (1968), a wildly ambitious portrait of the Indian sub-continent that took over three years to film, edit and post-produce. The film, originally presented on French and British television, will make its long-awaited debut on DVD later this year.

Malle died unexpectedly in 1995 of cancer but left an extraordinary legacy of films that explored the mysteries of the human soul. From French lovers to Atlantic City gangsters to the mysteries of the exotic Indian culture, Malle used his camera as a microscope to learn more about the human condition and present a common humanity for film lovers to appreciate. Hats off to Lincoln Center for bringing the public the life’s work of such an extraordinary man and film artist.

Sandy Mandelberger
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