by Jim Fouratt
I have been trying to encourage readers to risk being challenged and intellectually stimulated by attending Film Festivals such as the New York Film Festival and Tribeca Film Festival. In addition, I also encourage viewers to sample art theaters that still exist in NYC, including Lincoln Center’s four theaters, MoMA’s Film program, and Museum of the Moving Image as well as Film Forum, IFC, Jonas Mekas’ Anthology, Cinema Village, etc. Art theaters are the most likely venues, in my opinion, to show the most interesting films, and they also host many smaller film festivals like the African Film Festival, the Italian Open Road festival, Other Israel Film Festival and others. These theaters screen films that will not be in the multiplex or easy to find on streaming platforms. Most of the movies I write about here are usually found in those kinds of screening rooms.
For example, two films by director Kelly Reichardt are scheduled to open in March. Reichardt is considered by many critics and the international press as one of the leading living film directors in the US. Her first film River of Grass, shot on 16 millimeter, was launched in 1994 at Sundance and picked up jury prizes worldwide. A narrative film based on her growing up in Florida with both her parents employed in the securities industry, the remastered version was screened at the Toronto and Sundance Film Festivals this year. It is a stunning restoration. Often compared to Chantal Akerman because of her rigorous discipline of making the viewer actually look into the frame to understand the storytelling, Reichardt’s films are rich in human interaction and landscaped on the location true to the natural settings of her stories. Her newest feature Certain Women, which world premiered at Sundance in January, again shows a master’s hand at work. Kristen Stewart stars as one of the women. Certain Women opens this month.
Between the end of Sundance and the beginning of the Tribeca Film Festival important surveys of films are sponsored by the Lincoln Center Film Society. Rendezvous with French Cinema is one.
Let’s Go The Movies
Rendezvous with French Cinema (March 3-13) presented by Film Society of Lincoln Center and UniFrance at the Walter Reed has a very strong program this year. Here are five I can recommend, but there are many I have not seen yet.
Director Jacques Audiard
After the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and the influx of refugees from Syria and other war-torn countries, French filmmakers have turned the narrative lens to examine conditions of refugees and how multicultural politics have kept new citizens from integrating into French culture, society, political life and, most importantly, economic life. Dheepan, which won the Cannes Palme d’Or, focuses on three Sri Lankans who form a fake family when they arrive in Paris and are placed in a violence filled “immigrant” town built by the French government outside of Paris. It portends the current conversation across the European Union about the failure of multiculturalism and how best to integrate while respecting cultural differences.
Director Alice Winocour
In her award winning Augustine, Winocour established her reputation for a fascination with characters who do not fit into society. As author of Mustang, Oscar contender for best foreign film, Winocour next took on the issue of the lingering effects of war on an individual. She explores in chilling storytelling the disruptive effects of Post Traumatic Stress upon an individual attempting to live a “normal” life after returning to civilian life. Disorder is the title, disruptive is the emotional effect.
(La Belle Saison)
Director Catherine Corsini
Set in 1971, Delphine (Izïa Higelin) is an only child, a farmer’s daughter who prefers farming to dating. When she goes to University in Paris by chance she falls in with a group of female students on fire with their first immersion in feminism. While new to her she becomes very excited with the ideas but also with Carole (Cécile De France) who has a boyfriend. Friendship and political comradeship meld into mutual attraction and then love flirts with their newfound politics. Beautifully and sensitively directed, the storytelling builds off of Carole and explores the difference between living in exciting Paris and living on a farm in rural France (where circumstances take them back). I was very taken with the authenticity of the emotional life of the characters. It is the film that Carol and Blue is the Warmest Color has prepared a general audience to appreciate, as well as the film lesbians have been waiting to see.
Director Nassim Amaouche
Amaouche directed, stars and co-wrote this insightful and mysterious film that shows a second generation French Algerian caught between two cultures and forced to acknowledge it by circumstances that make him ask “Who am I?” and “Where do I come from?” It is about family and reinvention and love.
JIM, THE JAMES FOLEY STORY
Director Brian Oakes
The world saw the video of an American journalist kneeling in an orange jumpsuit speaking in halting language as an ISIL masked man stood over him with a saber in his hand. When finished, James Foley was beheaded. It was a horrific act. But who was Jim Foley? Brian Oakes, who knew Jim, has constructed an artful examination of a man who grew up as a Massachusetts doctor’s son in a Catholic family of five, three brothers and one sister. After college Foley became a freelance journalist in Afghanistan, where he was captured and freed. After going home he returned to Syria and again was captured and this time killed. We learn of the desperate attempt by his mother and father to free him and how the US government refused to ransom their son and officially refused to negotiate with ISIL. We meet his fellow war correspondents and learn of their affection for Jim and their war reportage. Oakes follows them into combat coverage. We also learn how they operate mostly on their own as they supply the world with uncensored coverage and images of what the wars in the Middle East are about today. Also examined is the government’s no negotiation, no ransom policy. Now showing on HBO and some special theatrical screenings.While Jim is a tough story, the film is so filled with family love and care it does not lessen the horror, but tempers the reality with how much family and friends mean in wartime.
Director Dawn Porter
Trapped is a report from the front lines of women trying to control their bodies and being able to make their own choices about what to do when unexpectedly pregnant. It is a portrait of two Southern women who each opened private health clinics for women that wanted to terminate unwanted pregnancies. The film release on HBO and in theaters is critical, as a serious challenge to Roe v. Wade is on the Supreme Court agenda this session (now eight justices, not nine). What it taught me is how tactics of the anti-choice movement (led by men) have changed and incrementally succeeded in passing health regulation laws specifically targeting these womens’ clinics, making it impossible for them to comply with the unnecessary regulations that have become law. Trapped is a mother and daughter shared movie watching event. Also important viewing for men who support a woman’s right to choose and control their own bodies.
Here is what director Dawn Porter has written about her film and why she made it:
“From 2011 to 2013, hundreds of regulations were passed restricting access to abortion in America. Reproductive rights advocates refer to these as “TRAP” laws, or Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers. While these laws have been enacted in 11 states, Southern clinics, in particular have been hit hardest and are now in a fight for survival. In Texas, less than half of the clinics open in 2013 are still functioning. In Alabama, three clinics struggle to keep their doors open. And in Mississippi, just one abortion clinic remains. Some of the most common requirements with which clinics struggle to comply include: requiring physicians to obtain admitting privileges from local hospitals for any doctor performing abortions, requiring that clinics undertake expensive renovations such as widening hallways by a few inches to accommodate wheelchairs and gurneys they will rarely use, and requiring other regulations usually reserved for hospitals even though abortion providers rarely require such a high level of care. But even in this hostile environment the doctors, clinic owners and staff refuse to give up. TRAPPED interweaves the personal stories behind these regulatory battles: from the physician who crisscrosses the country assuring medical services are available; to the strong women and men who run the clinics; to the lawyers leading the legal charge to eliminate these laws; to the women they are all determined to help. In this feature length character driven film, our main characters fight alongside a dedicated cadre of attorneys to preserve abortion rights in a country living with the mistaken belief that Roe v. Wade still protects a woman’s right to choose.”