2005_10_nyff4_rocks.jpgIt's the beginning of the second and final full week for the New York Film Festival, and don't let the lack of major American or even better-known international names stop you. The hardcore cinephile will certainly have heard of Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien, but unless you follow Asian cinema, you may be unfamiliar with Mitsuo Yanagimachi or Im Sang-soo. Now would be as good a chance as any to introduce yourself to these great talents as each of them have films playing during this week's program. Unfortunately, we once again couldn't get to every screening, and this week's casualty was Hou's Three Times (screening Wed at 6 PM and Thur at 9 PM). We've heard mixed things about it, however, including from people who absolutely love the rest of Hou's work.

Gothamist can happily suggest attending the other three main program films this week though. Im's The President's Last Bang, Yanagimachi's Who's Camus Anyway? and Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad's Berlin Film Festival award winner Paradise Now are three very different but fascinating cinematic experiences, each speaking volumes about the societies from which they come.

The Shochiku sidebar continues at the Walter Reade Theater this week, and then there's one more screening which should pique the interest of anyone who enjoys films from the silent era. Director Sam Wood's 1922 romantic drama Beyond the Rocks was long-thought lost until the Dutch Film Museum found a print hiding away in its archives with only two minutes unwatchable and beyond repair. The film is about a young woman who marries a rich older man for his money only to then fall in love with another more handsome gentleman younger than herself. It stars early Hollywood legends Gloria Swanson and Rudolph Valentino.

Remember, all regular festival screenings are at Alice Tully Hall. For more information and to buy tickets, visit the NYFF website, and if something is sold out, don't lose hope. Some tickets usually become available immediately before the screening. More detailed comments on Paradise Now, The President's Last Bang and Who's Camus Anyway?.

Paradise Now
It's too bad the NYFF didn't decide to to pair up Paradise Now with earlier festival participant Avenge But One of my Two Eyes. Gothamist had the chance to see both films -- which each deal, in very different ways, with the question of Palestinian suicide bombers -- on consecutive days more than a week ago, and they provide an interesting contrast to each other. The documentary Avenge loses some of its more interesting points in a cloud of vitriol, but its Israeli filmmaker argues that he understands Palestinian suicide bombers fighting against the apartheid-like treatment he sees imposed on them by Israel, especially when considering the stories of Masada and Samson, taught to children as heroic moments in Jewish history.

Paradise Now, from Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad, is a powerfully moving film about two young men chosen to carry out a mission of destruction in Israel. Surprisingly, although a definitive contrast between the run-down, desert-like, concrete environment of the Palestinian town in the West Bank and the lush, modern, tropical look of an Israeli city is depicted at the end, the one thing Paradise Now does not emphasize is the hardships of Palestinian life other than in subtle ways -- the sound of an explosion in the distance, the sight of an Israeli roadblock. But what Abu-Assad does do is show a relatively balance depiction of the argument within Palestinian society about how best to achieve their goals. The film does not argue that suicide bombing is a good tactic, and in fact -- although I'm sure different people may view it in different ways -- we see it as an argument against this method of revolution. However, it does its best to provide an accurate representation of why and how they do what they do, humanizing them, and showing that they're not necessarily the band of religious zealots much of the world imagines them to be. Particularly interesting to us is the one main female character in the film, the daughter of a noted "martyr," who provides the sole voice of reason and peace. Maybe what Paradise Now really communicates -- intentionally or not -- is that if women were in charge, violence would be a lesser component of this conflict. (Screens Wed. 10/5 at 9 PM and Thur 10/6 at 6 PM

The President's Last Bang
2005_10_nyff4_presidents.jpgIm Sang-soo's film might just be worthy of creating a new genre name: the docu-comedy. The President's Last Bang relates the story of the 1979 assassination of South Korean president, General Park Chung-hee. Park had ruled South Korea since 1961, but his presidency was more of a dictatorship. He was assassinated by the head of the country's Intelligence agency. If you're unfamiliar with South Korean history (and we're certainly no experts), that's about all you'll learn from Im's film, at least about the actual events. This isn't quite satire as much as true crime and political thriller treated with an eye of absurdity and ridicule. It's odd to find yourself laughing at sequences which would you might otherwise expect to be suspenseful or shocking unless it's a Naked Gun/Airplane style slapstick comedy, but Im's picture strives in both style and tone to achieve the kind of black comedy from serious situations perfected most notably by Stanley Kubrick in Dr. Stangrelove.

Im presents a Korean government filled with bumbling fools and incompetents. The president's chief bodyguard doesn't carry a gun. A walkie talkie at Army headquarters doesn't actually have the range to speak to the guard gate at the entrance to the compound. A butler at the presidential retreat seems more cunning and calm than any of the members of the KCIA who are actually the main participants in the assassination. Yet Im doesn't stage any of the film in an attempt to garner laughter; every moment is played perfectly straight, allowing the situations to unravel and the laughter to evolve on its own. The heads of the South Korean government come together to determine how best to proceed -- their biggest fear being that North Korea will see a vacuum at the top and attack -- yet none of them seem to actually be able to decide the best way to proceed, and all of them want to pass the buck to someone else. Im's absurdist tone communicates more about his feelings regarding both this moment in history and those running his country than any of the individual events, and he can't do anything more than laugh. (Screens tonight at 6 PM and tomorrow 10/4 at 9 PM)

Who's Camus Anyway?
2005_10_nyff4_camus.jpgWho's Camus Anyway? took us by surprise. Japanese writer-director Mitsuo Yanagimachi has created a funny and thrilling Altman-esque ensemble drama-comedy with interweaving stories. We walked out thinking we had just seen some weird combination of The Player and Scream with an even greater film geek sensibility. The story centers around a group of college students making a film called "The Bored Murderer," about a young man who kills an old woman simply to have the experience of doing so. Throughout the film, Yanagimachi brings us into the lives and relationships of several of these students as well as their professor, a former filmmaker who hasn't made a picture of his own in a decade.

Calling Who's Camus Anyway? a meta-exploration of movies and filmmaking is almost an understatement. The film is a lot of fun as it does things like talk about the famous long tracking shots in movies like Touch of Evil and GoodFellas as it does one of its own. The merging of real and "reel" life as elements of the students' film parallels events in their personal lives is brought to a head with a brilliant closing sequence where the audience has to decide whether it's watching the film-within-a-film or one of the more mysterious characters' becoming a bit too intimate with the role he's playing. The most fascinating part of the film, however, is what it says about modern Japanese society and youth culture. There is very little that is actually Japanese within the activities and conversations we witness, other than the art they actually create. The film is based on a Japanese story and a theatrical rehearsal we witness earlier is in some form of traditional Japanese theater, however everything is influenced by Western culture. The movies and literature the students constantly reference includes the French New Wave as well as Tarantino, and we repeatedly visit a group of students dancing hip hop outside on campus. It's as if the only thing keeping traditional Japanese culture alive in these young students' lives is their own artistic representation of it. Ultimately, Who's Camus Anyway? is a wonderfully fun and interesting post-modern look at Japanese society, and if you're any sort of film geek (like us), you'll appreciate its myriad of references all the more. (Screens tonight at 9 PM and tomorrow 10/4 at 6 PM)