This year’s New York Film Festival is just about at the half-way through point, for press. The press screenings started just about immediataely that I got back from Toronto. And begin two weeks or so before the public begins to see the films, which began Friday night with “The Life of Pi.”
The 50th annivarsary edition of the NYFF has cerainly been featuring strong films about strong women, with VERY strong actresses doing award-worthy work.
The strongest by far is “Amour” the Palme d’Or winner at this years’ Cannes film festival, and this almost unbearably-painful-to-watch film by Michael Haneke(pronounced like Hun-a-kuh, like the Festival of Lights) stars French luminaries from the past Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintigant.
Emmanuelle Riva’s performance as Anne, an 80-something former music teacher who lives with her octogenarian husband, the equally magnificent Trintigant, in a beautifully quaint Paris apartment. And the lovely, charming Anne begins to be the victim of a series of strokes that leave her, first paralyzed on the right side, then paralyzed even further.
The demands on M. Riva are gargantuan in terms of enacting all the dibiltating stages of her decline, and she magnificently meets every one of them with bravery and great force. You really are appauled at the toll old age is taking on her as she is ravaged by one malady after the other after the other. And Trintignant has the less showy role of the caretaker, the devoted husband who is appauled and dismayed by the excruciating decline and pain of his wife’s deteriotating conditiion.
Haneke is one of my favorite filmmakers and his previous work “Cache”, “Funny Games” and “The White Ribbon” are all extremely challenging and perplexing in different ways. “Amour” which should have been named “Le Mort” is tough, but “Amour” is the toughest, as it unflinchingly chronicles the end-of-life traumas that all human beings are going to have to face sooner or later. Some thing as grim as this material has never been shown onscreen. It’s disturbing, horrifying and unforgettable, all at the same time.
Austria has chosen it as their official entry for the Oscar for Best Foreign Film even though the actors speak French and it is set in France. Haneke, the director, is Austrian. France has chose the light-hearted comedy “The Intouchables” a Weinstein Co. production. So it will be comedy v. tragedy in this category at the Oscars in February. I’m sure both films may be nominated and Ms. Riva, too, may get a Best Actress nomination, her performance an the dying Anne is so awe-inspiring.
There’s also, like Haneke’s “Cache” and “The White Ribbon” especially, a kind of mystery that needs to be solved at the end. And I can only alert you to the fact that everything you need to know is in the OPENING scene of the movie. Just pay close attention.
Equally devastating, but somehow, lighter, if that’s even possible, is Roumanian director Christian Mungiu’s “Beyond the Hills.” This film was also awarded at Cannes, with a dual Best Actress prize, for the two young women,Cosima Strahaan and Cristina Flutur, who play the leads. Childhood best friends since the orphanage they grew up in, Stratan’s character joins an Orthodox nunnery that separates her from Flutur.
Alina(Flutur) is obsessively attached to Voichita(Strahan) and right off the bat, in the very first scene of the film, she crushingly hugs her friend, collapsing in tears in a train station, in such a way that Voichita, the nun, is dreadfully embarassed.
Alina, long story short, is revealed to have an overwhelming lesbian love for Voichita, and will stop at nothing in the convents’ attempts to separate the two, after Alina comes for an extended visit and then stays and stays. Her obsession becomes violent and the nuns and their priest attempt to exorcise the demons they believe Alina is possessed by. It’s horrifying. And it it not set in the past though the convent and its’ inhabitants and rituals seem medieval.
And this is based on the non-fiction novels of Tatiana Niculescu Bran, which in turn were based on a true story.