Friday, October 2, 2009

NYFF: Where is It? Where is IT!

A scene from "Ne Change Rien." Photo courtesy of The Film Society of Lincoln Center/Red Star Cinema

YESTERDAY concluded Day 6 of the 47th New York Film Festival, and so far Yours Truly has a hyphenated word on the brain: low-key.

Before the film festival, I’d just come off Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, which was a swirl. By comparison the film festival is whimpering: If one listens close enough, s/he will hear a faint sound. While this is not a fashion week, it is a platform for people in a particular industry to showcase their work for industry people, media, movers and shakers and the moneybags. I haven't had the sense when I've been at the brand-new and state-of-the-art Alice Tully Hall and Walter Reade Theater that anything out of the ordinary is going on. The nerve-endings in the “center” are anestheticized. At Bryant Park, one feel It, one gets It. Not here. Not yet.

Again, this is my first film festival. The little investigating I’ve done, though, has revealed that it is on the quiet side, a bit more opaque than, say, Sundance, Cannes, Toronto and certainly Tribeca. And it’s not just the absence of stars and blockbusters-in-waiting. Yet I have my ear to the ground, my eyes open, my antennae up – in my pursuit of It. The It I’m missing.

Meanwhile, the films. At this juncture, I am not going to pass too much judgment despite the couple of words I have in mind. But I will disclose that I have not yet seen a film that has moved me. Today, I will see ”Mother” and “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire.” Maybe one or both will do some moving.

Yesterday, I saw Portuguese director, Pedro Costa’s “Ne Change Rien.” Costa leaves the familiar territory of the slums of Libson for a recording studio that can be anywhere in the world for the making of the album, Ne Change Rien, by French actress and singer, Jeanne Balibar. As is most of his work, it’s shot in a darkened space in black and white, which gives it the look of a noir film.

It’s a good album and witnessing the process of album production is engrossing. Balibar has a strong, seductive voice. I was especially taken by how the musicians broke down the melodies note by note and repeatedly sang verses to get the sound just right. However, this is not the film – if that is the correct term for it – for most of the arthouse set. And make no mistake, this is for that segment of the population. It will not see the darkness of the screening room in the 16-screen cineplex, at least not one in the United Sates. It’s too inaccessible, and almost flaunts it, as if it is saying to us – the moviegoers – “f_ _ _ you.” It’s rude; we don’t expect it.

What we do expect is a narrative with protagonists/antagonists, conflict, dialogue, plot devices and so on. In this piece of narcissism are several people in a recording studio, albeit with good mood lighting, laying down tracks. Here, too, is a sprinkling of chatter: “I worked as a waitress for a year”/“Oh that’s a good bottle of wine.” Scintillating dialogue, no? And what of the cutaways that are so tightly framed that one can feel the pressure from his chair. Are these concerts/videos/dream sequences? I didn’t work that out. They could have been left on the cutting-room floor and the film would have suffered nothing by their absence. I didn’t leave only because I wanted to see the end. Frankly I was hoping for something – something – to happen.

I endeavor. I endeavor. Again, this is a good experience. Yet, I hope today or tomorrow, certainly before the festival shuts down on the eleventh of October, that I will be moved by a film. And that I find It. I think I will. I hope so.

For a complete list of 2009 New York Film Festival entries and ticket/general information, visit:

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