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Frenchie Jaoui Look at me" opens the NY Festival

The 42nd edition of the New York Film Festival opened this past weekend, with one of its most diverse and anticipated slates in recent years. Featuring an exciting mix of the new works of acknowledged film masters and fresh discoveries, the Festival, presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center, is generally acknowledged as the crown jewel of film events in a city that boasts more than 25 film festivals during the year.

“It is the gold standard as far as New York festivals are concerned”, one prominent US distributor stated. “With most of its screenings sold out within hours of tickets going on the block, and the intense media coverage by New York and national press, having a film in the Festival is an excellent launching pad for the film’s career in the United States.” Showcasing a short list of 25 films (as opposed to the hundreds presented at events like Toronto, Venice and Cannes) gives each film an opportunity to have its moment in the spotlight.

That spotlight was first cast on Friday night as the Festival presented its Opening Night attraction, Look At Me, directed by French director Agnes Jaoui. The film, which won Best Screenplay honors at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, is a scathing look at the moral shallowness of a group of pushy Parisian careerists who specialize in elegantly humiliating and one-upping each other. Jaoui’s writing partner, the actor Jean-Pierre Bacri, stars as an egotistical publisher who does not recognize the special gifts of his ugly duckling daughter. The film, which is being highly touted as this year’s French entry for the Academy Awards, will be released in the US by Sony Pictures Classics in February 2005.

Jaoui, who was present at the screening, received thunderous applause following the film. She will also be participating later this week in the HBO Films Directors Dialogues, a new feature of the Festival that brings some of the prominent film talents to the stage to discuss their careers, influences, artistic concerns and upcoming projects.

Following the screening at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall, the invited crowd of film professionals, cultural, business and political leaders made their way to Central Park’s Tavern On The Green for the traditional Opening Night Reception. A who’s who of film personalities and representatives from New York’s distribution and production scene were out in force. Revels continued until the wee hours.

The Opening Night film is one of seven French features and co-productions to be presented. The Festival, which in its early days was one of the first film events to highlight the works of the Nouvelle Vague generation of Truffaut, Godard, Chabrol, Rohmer and others, continues its long standing love affair with French cinema this year.

Among the French highlights are the aforementioned Look At Me (Agnes Jaoui); Kings And Queen, the latest film from maverick director Arnaud Desplechin (My Sex Life), a love story that alternates from the darkly comic to the unabashedly tragic set in a mental hospital administered by Catherine Deneuve no less; Triple Agent, a stark psychological change of pace for perennial Festival favorite Eric Rohmer that mixes politics and espionage in 1930’s Paris; and The 10th District Court: Moments Of Trial, veteran photographer and documentary filmmaker Raymond Depardon’s fascinating look at the inner workings of a Parisian courtroom that offers an absorbing and entertaining sketch of contemporary French society.

Films that have been co-produced with France are an intriguing mix of film cultures and stories. Always welcome at the Festival is film titan Jean-Luc Godard, who is presenting his Swiss-French co-production Notre Musique (Our Music). The film, a kaleidoscopic mix of video and film montages, is a timely and artistic contemplation of the state of a world that remains defined by conflict and war. Mixing documentary footage with fiction segments in a moving tapestry of hard-edged and surreal imagery, the film is being distributed in the US this Fall by Wellspring.

Another French co-production, this time with Lebanon, also explores the human dimensions of wartime conflict. In The Battlefields, an impressive feature debut by Danielle Arbid, is set in the battle-scarred Lebanon of the 1980’s. A coming-of-age drama of remarkable strength, the film follows the story of 12-year-old Lina, as she painfully discovers the contradictions and hypocrisies of adult life set against the challenges of life in a war zone.

Another view of the Middle East conflict is the French-Egyptian film The Gate Of The Sun, a powerful adaptation of Lebanese writer Elias Khoury’s epic novel of fifty years of Palestinian dispossession, exile, and resistance. The film follows the flight of Younes, his wife Nahila, and their fellow villagers as they are forced to move from their Palestinian homes to a refugee camp in Lebanon. The film, which clocks in at almost five hours, mixes personal stories and historical events as its details the impact of the “nakhba” (disaster) on Palestinian life and society.

The last French co-production is the first ever between France and one of the world’s most exciting emerging film cultures, South Korea. Woman Is The Future Of Man, one of the hits of the Cannes Film Festival, is the sophomore feature of Korean director Hong Sang Soo, whose first film Turning Gate was presented at the Festival last year. Top French producer Marin Karmitz, who has collaborated with such international film giants as Chabrol, Kieslowski and Kiarostami, was so impressed by Hong’s first film that he offered to produce this newest project. With echoes of a classic French theme, the film focuses on the relationships between two men and the woman they once both desired. As emotions and erotic relations shift between the characters, the film is a potent meditation on the subject of lost love and the passage of time.

While France is the European country that is most represented at the Festival, there are other European highlights that will be presented over the next ten days.

The screening of the newest film from Spanish director Pedro Almodovar is always a reason for excitement, and New York audiences will be able to view his latest, Bad Education, before it opens theatrically in mid November courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics. The provocative film centers on the reunion of two school friends, one a film director, the other an aspiring screenwriter (played by Y Tu Mamá También’s fast-rising star Gael García Bernal), who become intertwined in memories of Catholic education, multiple identities, sexual dualities, and, above all, a passion for film. Director Almodovar’s own passion for the cinema will be highlighted later this week at a special event entitled Viva Pedro that celebrates his life and career.

The Festival is hosting the US Premiere of UK director Mike Leigh’s latest film, Vera Drake, the Grand Prize Winner at this year’s Venice Film Festival Venice Film Festival. The film, which features a superb performance by veteran actress Imelda Staunton (Best Actress Prize at Venice), is a complex and rewarding story of an abortionist who helps out other women “in trouble” in a 1950’s England where such activity was not only illegal but scandalous. The film, which is being released immediately after the Festival by Fine Line Features, has been hailed as one of director Leigh’s most shattering dramas about the consequences of moral courage.

Rounding off the European slate is another highly anticipated film event. In what will probably be his swan song, Swedish director Ingmar Bergman revisits the married couple whose union unraveled before our eyes in the 1973 classic Scenes From A Marriage. Featuring the same incomparable acting duo of Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson, this late masterpiece offers a powerful coda to the earlier story, while introducing a new generation of the estranged family who continue the explosive legacy of love, hate and inability to connect that director Bergman has made the signature of his unique and enduring career. The film is scheduled for a release later this year by Sony Pictures Classics.

Stay tuned for coverage of the American, Asian and Latin American films being showcased at New York’s most prestigious film event.

Sandy Mandelberger
Industry Editor

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