Today brought the first 3 of what will ultimately be 15 New York Film Festival screenings this week. The films in question were ‘Here and There‘, ‘Camille Rewinds‘, and ‘Berberian Sound Studio‘. For those who are wondering exactly what the fest is like, here’s a short summary of my day. I arrived at the Walter Reade Theater on the Upper West Side of Manhattan around 9:30am. There’s always an industry colleague to chat with, but this early in the day most people are more interested in the free coffee and tea. By 10 the first movie was beginning and the day didn’t end until almost 5 in the afternoon (including one Press Conference via Skype). Between each screening most people run outside to get cell phone service (myself included), with the bravest leaving to find a quick bite to eat. For the most part though, it’s just screening after screening. The first 2 films screened kicked off the Main Slate of the fest, while the final movie of the afternoon was the first ever flick in the new Midnight Movies sidebar that’s debuting at the NYFF this year. None of these films are particularly high-profile, and honestly I hope they’re not indicative of the overall quality of the titles screening this year, but with a lot still to look forward to this week, I’m confident that this was just a somewhat underwhelming beginning to what will be a memorable film festival.
Here and There (**½)
I give filmmaker Antonio Méndez Esparza a lot of credit for taking as natural an approach to this film as he did. He used non professional actors in all the roles, which actually gives the movie a realism that it otherwise wouldn’t have had. This tale of a Mexican man who moved temporarily to the United States to find work and now is returning to his family ultimately is problematic for me mainly due to a bloated running time and a too thin plot. The movie tells a 90 minute story, but takes nearly 2 hours to do so, leading to a bit of dissatisfaction on my part. That being said, Esparza is an emerging talent to watch out for.
Pedro (Pedro De los Santos) left Mexico to earn some money in America, following the rumors that there’s tons of money to be made. He did okay, but he’s hardly a rich man when he returns home to his wife and daughters. He dreams of starting a band and making it big, but now that he’s home Pedro is finding that most people are more interested in doing whatever menial labor will put food on their tables as opposed to being famous. His children are initially a bit distant to him, having missed him while he was gone, while his wife suspects him of infidelity while in the U.S. for that period of time. Everyone doubts that Pedro can make a living in the mountains of his hometown, and even in his most honest moments, he must feel the same too. Thus we have the ever looming specter that he might abandon his family again…
The film is novelistic in its approach and that works for a time. The issue is that during the second hour it feels like we’re killing time until the end. Esparza throws in a dramatic plot development that distracts us for a bit, but before long we’re just waiting for Pedro to man up and do what is necessary. It’s not a huge issue for me, but combined with the slack pacing, it wound up being deliberate a flick to ultimately recommend. It was a prize winner at Cannes earlier this year though, so it certainly has its fans. I’m just not fully among them.
Camille Rewinds (***)
The first crowd pleaser of the festival, this romantic comedy is pretty much a French language take on Francis Ford Coppola’s flick ‘Peggy Sue Got Married’ (or any number of similar films). We have an unhappy older woman waking up to magically find herself a teenager again. Director, co-writer, and star Noémie Lvovsky knows how to make an enjoyable film, and if this isn’t the deepest movie ever made, it’s a hard one not to like. For a festival that appears to be full of rather heavy titles, this was a welcome bit of fun early in the Main slate of the fest. I can see this one being a surprisingly successful hit when it opens in theaters here in the United States.
Camille (Lvovsky) is an alcoholic 40 something about to get divorced. She’s pretty unhappy and angry at the world…and we can add confused to the list when she passes out drunk at a New Year’s party and wakes up in her old childhood home with her parents scolding her for being out late and drinking. She’s apparently back in the 80′s, a teenager, and free to try to make her life better. She falls in with the same friends, but initially resists the charms of the man who’d wind up being her ex-husband Eric (Samir Guesmi). Of course, nothing is that simple, and Camille finds herself struggling with fate and trying to find a way back to middle age.
Both Lvovsky and Guesmi play themselves at both ages, so it’s a credit to their acting that you never are bothered by the clear age discrepancy. They have a solid chemistry which fuels the flick along, even if they don’t spend much of the movie together. As for Lvovsky’s writing and directing, they’re both solid, but her direction has some nice touches which set things apart, including an almost Fincher-esque opening title sequence. Her song choices are amusing, even if one or two of them don’t fit for the time period. Still, this is a fun flick and I definitely had a good time with it!
Berberian Sound Studio (**)
A horror film that initially starts out as a love letter to sound mixers before eventually turning real stale, I got progressively more impatient with this movie. It’s a high concept flick, but it can’t finish the job, which is a big issue for me. Writer/director Peter Strickland obviously had something very specific in mind, but he refuses to let the audience in on it. Ostensively an homage to some of the “Giallo” horror films that Italy put out in the 70′s, the only real thing I liked about this was Toby Jones’ lead performance. Everything else was hit or miss, with much more of the latter than the former.
Gilderoy (Jones) is a well-respected sound engineer hired to come to Italy and work on a mysterious film. It looks like a particularly gruesome horror movie to him, but the weird director and producer claim it to be something more. Gilderoy slowly begins to suspect some odd goings on are taking place at the studio, but he has no proof. Everything just seems off though. Soon enough, however, he’ll find out that something very strange indeed is taking place, though he’d never have been able to guess what exactly it is. The thing is, you probably won’t either…
For the first half hour or so Strickland does a good job of showing off exactly what type of work a sound mixer does, while ratcheting up the tension. The thing is, this is a slow burn with no payoff. Aside from one very funny and shocking decision during the third act, there’s no real point to anything. It’s a cool film for those who are junkies for this type of movie tech stuff, but in terms of plot there’s really just nothing. I thought that I’d love this movie and I ended up disliking it a decent amount. It’s really just disappointing.
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s entry into my New York Film Festival diaries, as I’ll be looking at the trio of ‘Passion’, ‘The Bay’, and ‘Roman Polanksi: Odd Man Out’. I’m looking forward to all of them, so my fingers are crossed that they don’t let me down.
-Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!
Tags: Berberian Sound Studio, Camille Rewinds, Entertainment/Culture, film festival diaries, Here and There, Independent films, New York Film Festival, New York Film Festival diaries, NYFF, NYFF 2012