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NYFF 2012 ~ Strong Films Feature Strong Actresses, “Amour”, “Beyond the Hills”

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.

Can You Can Cannes? Some do. Some don’t.

As Cannes 2012 departs, it’s reverberations nevertheless will be felt throughout the Oscar season to come.

Pete Hammond of http://www.deadlinehollywood.com chimes in that he LIKED “Lawless” the Weinstein Australian gangster movie starring Shia LeBouef. Whereas Manohla Dargis of the New York Times  just dismissed it out right.

Jeffrey Wells was left with a WTF? reaction to the awards at http://www.hollywood-elsewhere.com and is taking three days off to recuperate.

Todd McCarthy, now at the Hollywood Reporter, felt the awards went where they should’ve gone, as did Dargis at the Times.

Hammond unearths a little known Cannes factoid that the two unknown Roumanian actresses, who are now unknown no longer, since they shared the Best Actress prize for Christian Mongiu’s lesbian nun story “Beyond the Hills” , were found by their director ON THE INTERNET! Now that should be uplifting news to a lot of aspiring actresses out there, that the Internet is now a career path.

Did they have websites I wonder? Just WHAT were they doing when Mongiu spotted them?

Another little know fact. If a film wins the Palme d’Or, the French equivalent of Best Picture, it can NOT win another major award, like for instance, say Best Actor or Actress.

And with the across-the-board acclaim of Michael Haneke’s “Amour” and the praise being heaped on 80-something stars Jean-Louis Trintingant and Emmanuelle Riva, they are both likely Oscar contenders for nominations, not wins. But who knows? I still think this film will not be nominated by the French, and the Austrians or Germans are unlikely to support a film that is in the French language.

Sony Pictures Classics already has this on the awards track. “Amour” is a must-see, no matter which way you slice it.

And Marion Cotillard’s “Of Rust and Bone” is being mentioned by all who have seen it as also a very likely Oscar contender for another nomination for Maid Marion. Having just won rather recently for “La Vie En Rose” acting in her own language, French, I wonder if that lightning would strike TWICE for her in another French film. The win, I mean, not the nomination. The nomination for Mlle. Cotillard seems almost a done deal and the only one that is emerging from Cannes.

Although there is also that American film, that opened Sundance “Beasts of the Southern Wild” which also won a major prize, for a first feature film, and is also a film that Oscar Goddess Sasha Stone of http://www.awardsdaily.com kept commenting on in her famous Cannes’  podcast luncheon with Jeffrey Wells. Sasha thinks, especially with Fox Searchlight having picked it up, that they are going to  ride this one all the way to a Best Picture nomination. The directors first name is Behn. Others would spell it “Ben” and he’s only 23. But this is the film, about a 6-year-old girl trying to cope with the after-effects of Hurricane Katrina, that has captivated not only the Sundance scenesters, but also the French, so it’s broadly popular.

And Sasha thinks the young girl in it could likely be the youngest person ever nominated for an Oscar. She’s THAT good evidently. And her name is unpronounceable and well as un-spell-able, so I’m going to look it up and include it later.

No American films seem to have hit at Cannes, but this one has. And with Fox Searchlight behind it. They are gonna “Tree of Life” it all the way to the Dolby. Which is the new name of the Kodak.

But other than “Beasts” no other American film has gotten much, if any traction. Then comes the big Summer Pause in the awards world, where all the summer blockbusters roll out and we don’t really see much of anything until Toronto. Which I will be attending for the 14th year! Can’t wait! But first comes Provincetown in a couple of weeks. And they always have such smart films there…

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