Oct 10, 2009

The 2009 New York Film Festival needs Prozac

I agree with A.O. Scott that this year's selection for the Festival has been the most dismal in years. I didn't buy as many tickets because the list of movies was scary. I usually buy for films that don't seem to have distribution, or films that are cinematic events, like The White Ribbon. My tastes are decidedly middlebrow. I run away from the overintellectual, but refuse to see crappy schlock. This year, the selection was overwhelmingly European and obscure, the American movies chosen not exactly a barrel of laughs, but more than that, it was made as if by depression.
I am an enthusiastic misanthrope, but that doesn't mean that I tolerate endless gloom in movies. But what is even sadder is that, except for the sold-out Haneke film, every screening we've been to has been plagued with empty seats. I could tell something was wrong when I ordered the tickets and I promptly got excellent orchestra seats. This meant that people were not in a buying frenzy. And who can blame them? We can ascribe this to a tightening of the belt with our economic situation. Quite frankly, many of the films, you can see a couple of months later for $8 less. But I'm sure the unappealing roster is to blame. Who needs three French film makers with a marked tendency for the insufferable (Resnais, Breillat and Denis)?
The festival is an event, the renewed theater is lovely, the projection quality magnificent, and people should feel excitement to see movies, not dread. Last year at the Ziegfield the energy was great. Movies like Gomorrah and Hunger gave the festival great buzz. This year, there is no buzz. The opening night selection may be wonderful, but it is a French film by octogenarian Alain Resnais (not my cup of tea), not the most electrifying choice in the world. And closing night is the new flick by Almodovar, which perhaps should have been opening night. I saw it France and didn't like it (stale and self-referential, like most of his movies before Volver), but at least it is gorgeous to look at and has Penélope Cruz in it. Wattage.
One cannot accuse a film festival of elitism. The point of this kind of festival is precisely to show films that are below the radar, or that challenge the sad state of affairs that is our national film industry, which makes increasingly stupid movies. But it is also to create excitement, anticipation and passion for films.  This year, there's plenty of sordidness, or intellectual European filmmakers, or obscure stuff that is not very appealing.
Having said this, so far, the movies we've seen have all been excellent: the intense Israeli film Lebanon, Sweet Rush, a lovely film by Andzrej Wajda, a very interesting German movie called Everyone Else and the Haneke movie. 
I hope they learn their lesson and next year give us, not more lowbrow stuff, but more excitement.

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