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Posts tagged ‘NYFF’

Luminous, Lucent, Transcendant Kate Winslet Could Win Her 2nd Oscar for “Wonder Wheel”

Wonder Wheel 3

Lustrous, luminous, transcendent Kate Winslet is the wonder of Woody Allen’s new “Wonder Wheel.”
Is there any American filmmaker alive today who writes  such great roles for women? No. There simply isn’t. And as photographed by cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, Kate Winslet seems to be a cinematic miracle of color and light, majesty and emotion,

You simply can’t take your eyes off her. Storaro and Allen have combined to give her a cinematic beauty that makes you gasp, in a multi-faceted role that makes you applaud. She is playing Ginny, a Brooklyn waitress, who works in a Coney Island Clam House. I have known SOOOO many Ginnys in my lifetime, and British though she is, Winslet absolutely nails her Ginny to the Coney Island boardwalk. And it’s  stirring performance in the grand tradition. She’s every woman. And every woman I’ve known, from Brooklyn, trying to make a better life for herself and her family. And trying to find love at the same time, having given up her dreams of being an actress earlier in her life.

Winslet’s Ginny seems the simplest of creatures.. But Allen’s writing and her bravura performance proves that every woman is as complex as a whirlwind. Or a rollercoaster. Or a Wonder Wheel at  Coney Island, to use this film’s great metaphor. Winslet has never seemed so bedeviled and so bewitching at the same time. She’s a housewife in waitress’ outfit that she wears like a queen, as she goes about her frantic daily work of cooking and cleaning for the whole of Brooklyn it seems.

Allen and Storaro capture the ordinary woman’s extraordinariness. She is married to a lout (James Belushi) and having a torrid affair with Justin Timberlake, the local lifeguard. Timberlake’s string-bean-ness seems out of place as a life guard, but he, too, has movie star charisma in buckets instead of muscles, that make all the women in the film falling for him make sense.Justin Timberlake Wonder Wheel He and Belushi have both never been better.Kate Winslet 1

She is playing Ginny, a common-as-they-come Brooklyn waitress, who is as uncommon, as she is earth-bound. Winslet’s a fiery red-head this time. And in Storaro’s use of orange and amber light, she seems so on fire, she is burning up the screen. It is no surprise then that her red-headed son is an arsonist, setting  a fire every time he’s left alone. The fires remind him of his mother.

And Juno Temple is Belushi’s neglected daughter, who turns up as a “Marked” woman, being chased by the mob, because she married a gansta, and became a “canary” who sang on her husband, making her a woman on the run for her life. She hides  out in Winslet’s and Belushi’s  humble household underneath the ever-present Wonder Wheel. Young, blonde Temple has the role of her career here, too, and is doomed from the first seconds we see her taking her first tentative steps under the Wonder Wheel.

In a simple car ride in a romantic rain storm with Timberlake, she becomes, as he says “as beautiful as the rain light.”Storaro has lit her in golds and blues to emphasize her beauty as well as her melancholy. She, too, is magnificent in this film.

Storaro  and set designer Santo Loquasto make more magic by making Coney Island in the ’50s look like the Riviera.

Winslet’s performance is so heart-breaking and towering it immediately recalls the great screen performances of screen queens past. Joan Crawford in particular. The shop girl who was not a shop girl.  The waitress who was not a waitress. And reminds you that not since the ’40s have actresses consistently seen parts like this. Winslet’s Ginny is the  working class version of Cate Blanchett’s Jasmine in Allen’s recent Oscar winner “Blue Jasmine.” “Wonder Wheel” is his best film since “Midnight in Paris” and is now one of my favorite Woody Allen movies. It’s right up there with the best. It reminds me why I love Brooklyn. And New York City.

“Wonder Wheel” is a movie movie about romance and melodrama and great actresses playing great roles. And it ends this year’s superlative NYFF with a BANG!

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Agnes Varda, 89, Is Up, in More Ways than One @ the NYFF!

Everything is so up at the NYFF 55, it makes my heart sing! Not the least of which is their big tribute to the tiniest of French Grande Dames du Cinema, Agnes Varda. My latest review at Awardsdaily.com on the great French icon. I called it “Hot at 89” And it was published within minutes! Beautiful lay-out by Sasha Stone and her gifted editor Ryan Adams! Merci a tous, as Agnes would say.

http://www.awardsdaily.com/2017/10/01/hot-89-agnes-varda-nyff-french-cinema-Agnes Varda truck 1icon-honored/

Oscars at the Moment, Before the Election

jackie-1Oscars in early November. Things are getting clearer. Could the National Election itself have an impact on Oscar? We’ll see, but now, if it did, it would be the political movie of the year “Jackie” that gets carried forward. It’s a reminder of how decent and moral the people running the country were in the time of Camelot. The Kennedy Years seem light years away from the partisan horror of this current chilly November moment.

“Jackie” has the gravitas that “La La Land” simply does not. And they’re hiding “La La Land” from the East Coast critics. I STILL haven’t seen it. There’s been no big deal press screenings scheduled. Is it because they think the New York establishment isn’t going to like a musical film, a love story, yet, that glorifies LOS ANGELES? I can think of no other reason for “La La Land”s distributors holding it back like this. It wasn’t at the NYFF, if that means anything. But I do think it’s a little suspicious.

Certainly the curators of the NYFF COULD have chosen it to play if they wanted to. There was certainly room. And I’ve heard that Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling can’t sing. Or can’t sing well enough to carry a movie musical.la-la-land-1 I hope of course that they can, and I look forward to, musical comedy queen that I am, to enjoying its’ delights immensely. viola-davis-fences-1Also still unseen is “Fences” the late August Wilson’s adaptation of his own screenplay with Denzel Washington directing himself  in his Tony-winning role and co-starring of course, the great Viola Davis, reprising HER Tony winning role. Davis has now won herself an Oscar for sure, by putting herself in the Supporting category. But how good is the film? Is it as great on film as it was onstage? Or is it going to seem long, and talky and “stagey”?

August Wilson,esteemed to such an extent that he has a New York Broadway theater named after him, never lived to see any of his many plays translated successfully into film. I hope Denzel has worked his directorial as well as his actor’s magic. Will he also be up for a Best Actor Oscar? His third. Or will it go to now the supposed front-runner Casey Affleck for “Manchester by the Sea.” If “Manchester” is going to win something big, and it’s so good, it should, then maybe it’s Casey Affleck who’s the beneficiary and not the film.

manchester-by-the-sea-5When we see “Fences” we will know, but right now Casey Affleck is at number one in the estimation of the Gold Derby-ites AND the Gurus o’ Gold, of which I was a member. Once upon a time. In a galaxy, far, far away…

Best Supporting Actor is much harder to parse right now, so I won’t, but don’t expect small, gay, indie “Moonlight” to score. If the Academy is going to go for a small, racially charged indie, I think it’s going to be “Loving.” It’s a superb little film that grows in the mind and lingers like a haunting refrain.  Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton as I’ve posited earlier are both going to get nominated for Best Actress and Actor, respectively, and I think even its’ terrific young director Jeff Nichols will too. Replacing “Moonlight.” In both Best Picture and Best Director.loving-1

If this year it’s going to be OscarsSoBlack, in reaction to last year’s OscarSoWhite, it’s straight “Loving” and “Fences” that will both be nominated for Best Picture. After the rave of raves “Loving” got from Manola Dargis in today’s New York Times, I think THAT’S the indie darling to watch. Not “Moonlight”. If the critically adored “Carol” couldn’t crack it last year then “Moonlight” is certainly a much longer shot at Best Picture or Director.

Only Mahershala Ali in a very small role might get nominated from “Moonlight” in the major categories. That would be as Supporting Actor. But enough Academy members Iin the Actor’s Branch have to see “Moonlight” to nominate him. Will they? And then there’s the terrific Naomie Harris as the drug-addicted mom-from-hell….It worked for Mo’nique in “Precious” and she did no campaigning but she won! Could British actress Harris who so dazzled as Winnie Mandela a few years back in “A Long Walk Home” get nominated, too? That would really be something for this tiny film. And perhaps we might see Black Actors nominated in every category! Wouldn’t that be something new? Something wonderful.

#Oscars

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Phillip Seymour Hoffman & I

Phillip Seymour Hoffman & I

It’s soooo difficult to write about the tragic passing of Phillip Seymour Hoffman, because I looked so much like him & was mistaken for him almost constantly.

Especially when he played Truman Capote and won an Oscar for it. Then didn’t acknowledge the real person whom he was portraying so memorably. I got very angry about that more than once, especially at the National Board of Review awards that year when he didn’t even mention Truman or that he was playing a gay character. Nothing. Zip. In that acceptance speech that night or when he went on to win every award in the world that year for “Capote” culminating in the Oscar.And it was the year of “Brokeback Mountain”, too. The Year of the Queer, if ever there was one.

Contrast these acceptance speeches to what Jared Leto, who keeps winning and winning for “Dallas Buyer’s Club” has been criticized for, which is leaving out People with AIDS He’s corrected that.

Phillip never did. He didn’t think it was appropriate, at that time. 2006 which seems like 100 years ago in gay life.

Phillip saw the resemblance between us, too. I remember sitting in the front row of a press conference at the NYFF, can’t remember the name of the film, but he played yet ANOTHER gay part, this time a drag queen named Rusty. And he REALLY looked like me, when I lived in drag in the early ’70s. And he kept turning to look at me in the audience and was clearly disconcerted by the resemblance as I always was.

But for a straight man with a family and children, he played many, many gay parts both before and after Capote. He looked so much like me in some films especially “Boogie Nights” where he heartbreakingly played a young, long-haired P.A. who had a crush on Dirk Diggler. That part was an enactment of me in the ’70s, friends commented to me. It was unnerving. But of course I appreciated the intelligence and the power that went into that characterization.

We came officially face-to-face in the interview for “When the Devil Knows You’re Dead” which I posted in the previous piece here on my blog. And he was as uneasy about the striking resemblance as I was. It was uncanny sometimes. He was a blond. I was a redhead. But my god, it was an unusual similarity. Too close for comfort, and as you can see in the interview, Phillip is strangely scratching himself throughout. It was weird.

I met him many, many times at press events and junkets after this interview, and he always acknowledged me with respect. He played soooo many gay characters, and there I was the living embodiment of the roles he always claimed were “very difficult” for him. Esp. Capote.

He was one of the greatest actors of our time, or any time. He made 50 movies. He was excellent in all of them.

From the Tod Solendz film “Happiness” where he played a creepy telephone stalker that broke him open to a wider recognition. To his last final great role of Willy Loman on stage live in “Death of a Salesman.” It was a great privilege to have seen him onstage in that iconic role. He was clearly too young for it, but there was a desperation about a forty-something man playing someone who was supposed to be twenty years older. And at the end of his life. And as the title says, it was about “Death”. Willy Loman kills himself at the end of the play. It was oddly prescient like Phillip KNEW something.

There was a tremendous rough, urgency to his performance. Like he had to do that part, and he had to do it NOW. Like he knew there was no time left. And it turned out, there wasn’t.

He had played the part in High School, too, according to published reports. He was kind of obsessed with it. Willy Loman is certainly one of the great roles in one of the great plays of American Theater.

And for the record, in all my encounters with him over the many years I was covering him as a critic and entertainment journalist, I never saw or even THOUGHT of anything drug related in reference to him.

He won the Oscar the year of “Brokeback Mountain” when many said that Heath Ledger should’ve won it. And then Heath died in an equally tragic way in similar circumstances.

I wonder if that bothered him. It bothered me.

And then he went on to play even MORE gay roles…Guilt over “Brokeback” and Heath not winning? Who can say?

But the point is he played them all brilliantly, and with a range that we have almost never seen in an American actor.

His agent, whom I mention in the interview, Sarah Fargo “found” Phillip right as he was graduating from NYU UNDERgrad it should be noted. And not their illustrious Graduate Acting Program.

And it was Sarah, who became one of his life-long friends, who jump- started his career by getting him seen and into roles and projects where someone who looked like him would normally not have been seen and seen so quickly. He was a character actor, not a leading man, and I think he always saw himself that way.

He always gave himself 200% to any part. And EVERY part. How different was he in “Boogie Nights” and as the baseball manager in the baseball movie, whose name escapes me at the moment? ETA: “Moneyball”

Or in the indelible preppy monster/alcoholic Freddie that Matt Damon dispatches so abruptly in “The Talented Mr. Ripley”? Or the creepazoid/charismatic cult leader Lancaster Dodd in “The Master”?

And now that I think back on it the role that he was only moderately effective in was perhaps the role that was closest to him in real life as events have shown,the alcoholic Jamie Tyrone, in the incredible revival of “Long Day’s Journey Into Night.” Starring Vanessa Redgrave as the tornado/virago of a drug-addicted mother who terrorized her hapless family, she blew on to the stage with hurricane force and pretty much stayed at that unbelievable level of performance throughout the plays three acts.

She was like a demon unleashed and she frightened the wits out of her family and CHANGED THE BLOCKING every night, though not the lines, which I could hear with crystal-clear clarity even sitting in the rear of the orchestra. Phillip shrank from her as his character was supposed to. And she throttled the living daylights out of Robert Sean Leonard every night, but you never knew WHEN she was going to attack him. I saw it twice. I’ll never forget it.

Phillip’s untimely death is such a shock and an incalculable loss to American film and American theater. Maybe leaving us soon so was his way of saying “I’m done now. I’ve nothing more to give. I’ve said what I had to say.” And now he’s gone. In the most lurid way possible. With a needle in his arm.

That small detail will haunt all of us who knew him, and the many millions who knew him through his work. But to know him that way or any way was to love him.

His great, hungry spirit will always be with us. Our hearts go out to his surviving family and friends.

That he will be missed is an underestimate.

Oscars ~ After the NYFF, Where Did Everyone Land?

As the 51st Edition of the New York Film Festival, wound up tonight, where did all the Oscar seekers land? Who was helped? Who was hurt? Well, one thing is still sure. “12 Years a Slave” is STILL the front-runner and the one to beat emerging from this festival, where it also received its’ lion’s share of raves to match its’ tumultuous receptions at Telluride and Toronto. And it opens this coming Friday in theaters and expect the lion (NOT M.G.M.s) to keep on roaring.

“12 Years a Slave” depicts the horrors of slavery more completely and compellingly than any other film on the subject has been able to do. Oscar bound director Steve McQueen said “It is a film about a holocaust.” And it is. The moniker “The Black ‘Schindler’s List’” still aptly describes it, glib though that may be. And remember how many Oscars that dark, frightening, monumental film won!

But other things emerged at the NYFF, but not I think any other film that could topple “12 Years” from its’ front-runner status.

But Chiwetel Ejiafor saw competition to his Best Actor Oscar chances emerge from veterans Robert Redford and Bruce Dern, both 77. For “All Is Lost” and “Nebraska” respectively. Also Tom Hanks as well for “Captain Phillips” which opened the Festival. It’s clear now that ALL FOUR of these men are really seriously vying for the five slots. They may all get in. But so intense was the competition trying to take down Ejiafor (but assuredly not the Picture) that the rival film companies had all THREE of these films competing for red carpet time and media and audience attention by all playing on the same night! Tuesday!

I think that shows that Redford and Dern’s parties are especially scared. But this is particularly surprising in Redford’s case. He got a standing O and cheers galore from the audience at the NYFF, but I sense flop sweat. Ejiafor’s portrait of kidnapped slave Solomon Northrup is going to go down in history and is going  to be hard to beat. But clearly Redford’s crew has thrown down the gauntlet with this Tuesday night manuvering.

Some thought Hanks may not even squeeze into the top five, but Redford evidently is a sure-thing. But will he win?

Some say he’s giving the performance of his career, but if “All Is Lost,” a film with virtually no dialogue, tanks at the box-office that will be a different story. A sparse, intense drama at sea, which is well, exactly what “Captain Phillips” is, too. Uh-oh…

But “Phillips” killed at the box-office this past weekend. It was evidently smart to get it out immediately after its’ NYFF Opening Night stint. Where, like Redford, Hanks got a standing ovation. But who is in the better film?  It’s clearly Ejiafor.

And where does that leave Bruce Dern? Maybe in Supporting, if he’s smart. But I don’t think he’s smart. And the film is in Black and White, another hard sell.

These tiny, little gradations mean MUCH MORE than they’d usually mean in an ULTRA-tight Oscar race. Hanks was rumored to maybe even not get in!

But then again the box-office just spoke up on his behalf. And loudly.

Meanwhile, outside the NYFF, in the real world, “Gravity” was still breaking box office records and was even satirized on SNL on Sat. night. I can’t think of when a MOVIE, an Oscar-seeking movie was on SNL BEFORE the opening titles, this quickly! it’s become a pop cultural event and at barely 90 mins. running time, millions more people can see it and more quickly than any of the other film.

Who came a cropper at the NYFF? Ben Stiller’s “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” which I quite enjoyed, but it’s slot as the prestigious Centerpiece film raised expectations and garnered the genial, funny film lots of negative reviews that its’ Oscar chances certainly didn’t deserve or need. I think it will make a lot of money and  family audiences will to it respond, too. It opens Christmas Day, which sounds perfect.

And “Inside Llewyn Davis” the latest from the much beloved Coen Bros? It seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle. So many films. SO little time

Meanwhile, waiting in the wings are “Saving Mr. Banks” about the making of Disney’s classic “Mary Poppins” which Jeff Wells of http://www.hollywood-elsewhere.com has announced that he’s going to fly over and see its’ London opening,, so he can scoop every one over here. Jeff, who’s been crazy about it, since he read the script, has been a big champion of it sight unseen and it co-stars Emma Thompson(who already has a two Oscars) and oh, him again, Tom Hanks (he’s also got two). Hanks could see himself in Supporting playing Walt Disney, which sounds like an Academy slam dunk, if ever there was one. But it could also diminish his “Captain Williams” shot at lead. Yes. It’s THAT competitive this year. Which is great, because it means that there are a lot of excellent films in the mix.

We shall see. I can’t wait for Jeff’s postings from London! But meanwhile, my (seemingly) endless journey of festivals is done. For the greater moment anyway. And I’ve seen a lot of good films this year. But nothing, NOTHING beats “12 Years a Slave.”

New York Film Festival 2013 ~ So far, so good

The New York Film Festival 2013, which is now unfurling at Lincoln Center and environs, seems to be packed with more frenzied activity (and press) than ever before. The NYFF prides itself on NOT being as big a film festival as, say, Toronto. And this week it was really brought home to me why. They just don’t have the space and the number of cinemas that Toronto has to use for its’ great festival. TIFF takes over the entire city, near and far. New York does not. It stays comfortably ensconced where it’s always been for its ’51 years of existence :Lincoln Center. The Press Screenings are all held in the medium-sized Walter Reade Cinema, pleasant, charming but certainly not the biggest theater in New York. And in NY, they only show a FRACTION of the films that TIFF does.

Today I saw “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” one of the largest theaters in the AMC Lincoln Square multiplex on W.68th and Bway. And it was packed to the rafters, but a film like this with multiple, elaborate fantasy sequences needs a much larger screen than the Walter Reade. It fit there just fine. It’s very unusual for the Film Society to bond with AMC, but I guess for this charming, funny centerpiece film, it was a very good fit for all.

“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” turns out to be a thoroughly enjoyable family film that will be pleased by all at Christmas time, but hardly on Oscar-seeker as it was buzzed to be. But it’s good, solid old-fashioned boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl entertainment, and should make a lot of money around the holidays. It’s fizzy family fun. With a lot of adventure thrown in. A very unusual Centerpiece for the New York Film Festival, which usually goes for much more serious fare.

Directed by and starring Ben Stiller, who plays the title role, it is loosely based on the famous James Thurber short story of the same name that ran in the New Yorker magazine in 1939. Walter Mitty, in this version, is someone who daydreams and wishes for a colordul life far-removed from the mundane black and white one he feels he’s stuck with.

True to Thurber,  Walter keeps “zoning” in and out of fantasy sequences, that escalate as the film’s action ramps up, precipitated by his blossoming romance with single mother/accountant, Kristin Wiig, in an uncharacteristic ingenue role. But she’s an age-appropriate love interest for Stiller, and has a skate-boarding son who Stiller bonds with.

His fantasies include chasing his idol Sean Penn, a world traveling Life magazine photographer, to the wilds of Greenland(never before seen in a feature film!) and also, of course, the neighboring island country of Iceland. Olafur Darri Olafson nearly steals the film as the drunken, gargantuan Icelandic helicopter pilot, he encounters in a Greenland bar drinking beer out of gigantic “boot glasses” .Yes, they’re shaped like boots. Walter Mitty, characteristically orders “a small boot.”

It’s long, but it held my interest. As did the also overlong “Gloria” a Chilean film about a still attractive, middle-aged working woman, who is trying to enjoy her change of life years in urban Santiago. She has children, but she sees them infrequently. It’s almost as though she’s childless.

A hairless stray cat keeps interrupting her “quiet life” as does her encounter and subsequent relationship with a middle-aged businessman Rodolpho (Sergio Hernandez). The film is much more interesting than it’s plotless plot  sounds. God is in the details in this well-observed film about the minutiae of female ageing in the post-menopausal years. It serves mainly as a vehicle for an iconic Chilean actress Paulina Garcia, who is quite marvelous and holds the screen throughout the 2 1/2 hour running time.

If there is any Oscar bait to be found at the NYFF, I would certainly say Senora Garcia deserves consideration for her unstinting tour-de-force performance in the title role. The director Sebastian Lilio said he created the film for her and she was involved with it even before it was written. “You have to fall in love with Paulina to do something like this.” And I have to say, I did. She’s irresistible. Alas an unknown actress in a small foreign film has no chance at breaking in to the Oscar race, where this year, it seems every actress involved already has an Oscar or two or three. But they are going to do a campaign for “Gloria” as Best Foreign Film. And Chile has submitted it as their Official Submission to that race in the Oscars. AND “Gloria” has a US distributor. Which is all wonderful news.

Another film that I mightily enjoyed and was truly fascinated by was the comedy team of Penn and Teller’s venture into serious documentary film making “Tim’s Vermeer.” This riveting doc is heading straight for an Oscar nomination and it may very well get there. In the “Applied Science” section of the NYFF, its central character,  an eccentric San Antonio millionaire named Tim Kenison ,gets his art geek on by telling his friend Penn one night in conversation that he’d “always wanted to paint a Vermeer.” And this film shows painstakingly how he does it.

Painstaking is the operative word here. Every single detail of how Tim does indeed paint his Vermeer is on the screen, but surprisingly, it is never dull. Tim had a theory, which he proves using the work of the 17th century Dutch master, that the photographically detailed paintings, which are ravishing in and of themselves on the big screen, were painted using”a small mirror on a stick” and the physics of Camera Obscura. I know this sounds deadly, but like “Gloria”, it is a great work of (documentary) film making that needs to be seen to be enjoyed.

I never would have thought of Penn and Teller as Oscar contenders, but as I type these unbelievable words, I think they very well may be. And “Tim’s Vermeer” is certainly THEIR surprising masterpiece.

“Liv Og Ingmar” Moving New Doc at Festival Des Film Du Monde in Montreal! And soon to be at NYFF, too!

“LIV  & INGMAR” Moving, New Doc Dominates Montreal!

Being at the wonderful Festival des Films du Monde, now for my 14th consecutive year, is like being encased in a delightful, glamorous bubble of film, where all the languages of the world are swirling around you, but mainly French, mais oui, bien sur! Montreal always had that certain je sais quoi, and still does, I’m happy to report. It’s intoxicating atmosphere is something that you never want to end.
This year found the 36th Montreal World Film Festival, which wrapped last night, more multi-cultural than ever, if that’s possible.Over 400 films from over 80 countries!
So many films from all over the world, and so many of them that you won’t ever get to see in America,it’s staggering. And it’s sad that we have such a limited, narrow view of world cinema, with foreign film distribution, being what it is in the States. But wonderful films from all over are all here and all being celebrated, which continues to be a miraculous thing for cineastes in Montreal and cinephiles everywhere.
I thought nothing would top seeing “The Artist” here for the first time last year, with a packed Montrealais audience, who had fought to get tickets to the sold-out screenings. But this year something unexpectedly did!
It was a doc, no less, from Norway, named “Liv Og Ingmar,” about the tumultous love life and relationship of Ingmar Bergman, the late legendary Swedish filmmaker, and Liv Ullman, his great Norwegian actress, who  he starred in a dozen of his films and who had a child by him. They were together for five years,mostly on his isolated island of Faro, and were friends and working partners and collaborators for most of their lives, a 42 year relationship of star-crossed lovers and artists, which is heart-breaking in the extreme. It’s unexpected force and poignancy reduced me to tears.
Dheeraj Akolar, a 20-something Indian director, is making his feature film debut in spectacular fashion with “Liv Og Ingmar.” He was allowed unprecedented access to not only Bergman’s and Ullman’s great films, but also excerpts from his private love letters to her, which are heard here for the first time. The film also quotes extensively from Ullman’s moving memoir “Changing,” which Ullman reads herself.  Ullman more or less narrates the film. It is entirely from her point of view, which is enlightening and refreshing, and not only that, she was here in Montreal to talk about it herself!
According to Akolar, she had no editorial say in the film final, but its utterly unique and persuasive perspective is undeniably hers. In person, Liv Ullman is the loveliest of women, now in her 70s but still absolutely lovely and vital, always verging on the poetic in every question she was asked at the press conference.
Down to earth, practical, a woman of infinite good Norwegian horse sense, she still finds it astonishing that she was involved with and the beloved of the genius Swedish auteur, who seems the direct polar opposite to her in every way imaginable. Nothing about this relationship was easy or politically correct. It was painful in the extreme as the film amply shows. But it was love. And that is what makes the film so universal and so incredibly moving.
When asked if Max Von Sydow and Erland Josephsson knew that they were playing stand-ins for Bergman himself, Ullman exclaimed, “The person who was always playing Ingmar was ME!” and she thumped her chest.
Ulmman also kept emphasizing that she continues to act and direct plays and films herself in Norway and Sweden, and that she has had and continues to have a very healthy and productive creative life away from the late Bergman, including a career in Hollywood that landed her on the covers of Time magazine and Newsweek and garnered her two Oscar nominations.
Though she’s never won one herself, “Liv Og Ingmar” is such an astouding, moving experience for a doc, that it could very well be nominated, and even win in that category, as the forgetful Academy might well wish to finally honor her in this way, while she is still very much with us. And we all now how the Academy likes movies that make them cry, and this film  sure will.
Another film that I found exciting was “B.A.Pass” ANOTHER debut feature by ANOTHER Indian filmmaker making his feature film debut, Ajay Bahl. Before this gripping film, Bahl was a full-time working director of photography in India, where they make over 2,000 films a year, Bahl estimated. He read a short story named “The Railway Auntie” by Mohan Sikka in “The Delhi Noir” collection and decided to make this film himself, also financing it completely.
“B.A. Pass’ is about Mukesh, a 19-year-old boy who loses both his parents in a car crash at the beginning of the film. He has two young sisters that he has to take care of, and is sent to Delhi to live with relatives. “B.A. Pass” is the lowest form of degree one can get in an Indian college, like a liberal arts degree and it qualifies him for nothing, leaving Mukesh to drift aimlessly into the arms of a genuine femme fatale, Sarika. As played by the Bollywood star Shilpa Shukla, she dazzles him, and us, as she seduces him into a life of male prostitution, sharing him with all her rich, female friends.
All the taboos one usually associates with Indian filmmaking are blown out of the water here by director Bahl, as the lovers do more than just look at each other intensely, as is usual in Bollywood. There is no dancing or musical numbers here to lift Mukesh out of the desperate circumstances he begins to slide into. “B.A.Pass” reminded me a lot of “Midnight Cowboy’ as he becomes a gigolo, eventually going with men, as well as women. Newcomer Rajesh Sharma plays Mukesh marvelously in his first leading screen role.
Another film that stunned and surprised me was the Finnish World War II film “Hiljaisuus” or “The Silence.” Masterfully directed by veteran filmmaker Sakari Kirjavainen, it depicts the heroic, heartbreaking Finnish custom of retrieving its’ dead soldiers’ bodies from the battlefields and preparing their remains by thawing, tidying and dressing them for return to their families. A poetic, grim ritual,unique to Finland, that is a morbid and well as a dangerous custom, as soldiers have to retrieve dead bodies that have been sometimes lying in a no-man’s land between Finland and Russia for weeks if not months, most frozen solid by the harsh Finnish winter.
Set in an evacuation camp, “The Silence” compels as it repels, and Joonas Saartamo is riveting and yes, even sometimes funny, as the young soldier Eino, who has to do these difficult heart-renching rescues, even at his own peril.
“Buzhashi Boys”, a cours metrage, or short film, from Afghanistan, also was shockingly indelible. Made by one of the few Americans to actually call Kabul home, director Sam French compellingly told the tale of two very young street kids, one a blacksmith’s son, one a beggar, who are friends and hope one day to become the titular Buzkashi horsemen of title, which is a sport that I will skip describing, except to say that it is played with great gusto and ferocity on horseback. The Kabul that we see is so abjectly poor, with bullet-holes in every ruined building that the two boys innocently play in, that “Buzhashi Boys”  in its’ brevity and toughness, lets us see a glimpse of another ghastly, but human world that we would probably never get to see except at a film festival like Montreal.
Post-script “Liv Og Ingmar” is going to be screening soon in the upcoming New York Film Festival, with Liv Ullman herself in attendance! Not to be missed!

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