NYFF: ‘Time Out of Mind’ rewards patience while ‘Jauja’ puzzles

nyff52NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL: This was the final day of pre screenings at the festival, so from now on the P&I (Press and Industry) screenings will be taking place during the official NYFF days, so that’s exciting as well. Today I’m going to be talking about one really tremendous film and one really puzzling one. They are the heartbreaking character study/drama Time Out of Mind from Oren Moverman (starring Richard Gere) and the experimental Western of sorts Jauja, starring Viggo Mortensen.

richard-gere-1-600Time Out of Mind
Director: Oren Moverman

Richard Gere gives what I feel to be the performance of his career so far in Oren Moverman‘s simple yet incredibly powerful Time Out of Mind. What begins as a character study of a homeless man becomes, by the time the end credits role, a reflection of us as a society, of the need and yearning to be acknowledged/heard in this world. Gere may be playing a man quite down on his luck with specific food and shelter problems in New York City, but the more emotional issues at hand are universal. Credit goes to Moverman and Gere for achieving this profound statement. Kudos also to Moverman for how he integrates the city, making it arguably a bigger character than the one Gere is playing. It’s a moving film, one that is almost impossible to forget, and one that is among the best to screen so far here at the New York Film Festival.

When we first meet George Hammond (Gere), he’s being kicked out of the empty apartment he’s been squatting in. Reduced to sleeping in a bathtub, George is, in his own words, “in between things”. When he’s back on the streets, he begs for change to buy booze and looks for a bench to sleep on. That’s his routine, though from time to time he also follows his daughter Maggie (Jena Malone) a bartender who wants very little to do with him. Eventually he gets put into a men’s shelter, where he finds that not having any forms of I.D. sends him down the rabbit hole of bureaucracy, despite good intentions. From there, it just continues on as a daily struggle to survive, all while the rest of the world ignores him.

Stripped of anything and everything, Richard Gere disappears into this part. It’s a hauntingly simple performance, one devoid of artifice. There’s never a moment where you look at Gere as an actor, solely as this homeless man George. It’s a remarkable performance, to say the least. He’s capably supported by Jena Malone in one of the better roles she’s gotten of late, as well as Steve Buscemi, Kyra Sedgwick, Michael K. Williams, and Ben Vereen, but Gere is the one you’re going to have your heart broken by. Moverman’s writing keeps things very simple and spare, while the direction is the best he’s ever put forward in an already strong career. The camera is always behind glass or in a different building, observing Gere as we actually would in society…from a distance and removed from having to deal with him. The full effect of it hits you towards the end, likely to bring some folks to tears.

I’m not sure if Time Out of Mind will ultimately be released in 2014 for awards consideration, but regardless of the year it’s worthy of Academy members taking a close look at it. Gere and Moverman put forward work that deserves to be remembered. I know that I’ll never forget it. Time Out of Mind is one of the very best things I’ve seen at the NYFF so far this year, no doubt about that.

(★★★½)
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jaujaJauja
Director: Lisandra Alonso

I’ll be blunt…I have no idea what Jauja is about. An experimental film with no interest in making any overt sense, Lisandro Alonso‘s latest apparently fits in perfectly with his prior work. I’ve yet to see anything else by Alonso, so I perhaps I was ill prepared, but the rather drowning silence to which this played at the New York Film Festival suggests that I wasn’t the only one who didn’t get it. Admittedly often beautiful to look at and with a solid Viggo Mortensen performance, this has accessible elements, but overall is an impenetrable film.

Set during the late 1800’s in what apparently is Patagonia, Danish engineer Gunnar Dinesen (Mortensen) arrives with his teenage daughter Ingeborg (Viilbjork Agger Malling) to participate in a surveying project for the army as they rid the land of its natives. One older soldier clearly lusts after Ingeborg and even offers a horse to Dinesen for her, but early on she opts to run away and elope with another younger soldier. This sets Dinesen off after her, though what he traverses is less the planet Earth than a bizarre dreamscape. Heavily existential in nature, he goes looking for his daughter, right up until the plot makes a hard right turn in the third act.

The only thing I can fully embrace here is the performance from Viggo Mortensen. He’s quite good here, capturing your attention in a way that the rest of the work can not. Mortensen saves this from being a totally experimental film. In addition to the aforementioned Viilbjork Agger Malling, the cast includes Adrian Fondari, but Mortensen is the one you pay attention to. Lisandro Alonso’s visuals can be arresting at times, with the movie itself framed in such a way as to remind you of old photographs, but with no narrative pull, the experimental nature of the work ultimately reduces its effectiveness. You can’t hate something like Jauja, but you can wonder who it was actually meant for.

(★★)

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!