NYFF: “Beyond the Hills” excites, “Punk” disappoints, “Araf” shows graphic

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Hello again to all of you film festival fans out there! Clayton was with me the past few days at the New York Film Festival taking in the sites and cinema, so you got to see his thoughts on some of the big flicks, but I’m back today to talk about some of the other screenings thus far.  Friday saw 4 films being screened, though only one was from the Main Slate. That was the much anticipated “Beyond the Hills,” though we were also treated to sidebar documentaries “Punk in Africa,”  “John Cassavetes,” and “Lang/Godard: The Dinosaur” (the latter two were only about an hour apiece and thus won’t get review).

Beyond the Hills (***)

Filmmaker Cristian Mungiu certainly isn’t making things easy for his audience here with the Romanian drama ‘Beyond the Hills’. The film often seems like an endurance test at over 2 and a half hours long, though the compelling nature of the true life story, the concept of a foreign church vs a resistant individual, and the strong central performances ultimately makes this a movie worth seeing. There are times when the flick is positively engrossing, but at other points it really seems to be trying to test your patience. I managed to survive, but the mixed reviews so far suggests that not everyone will be able to.

Set at an isolated and deeply Orthodox convent, we meet a young woman named Alina (Cristina Flutur) who’s come to Romania to be reunited with her close friend and former lover Voichita (Cosmina Stratan). Alina hopes to leave with Voichita, but is troubled to see how devoted she is now to faith. The former winds up staying and trying to change the mind of the latter, though her independence is seen as an issue at the convent and eventually Alina is looked at as being possessed by a demon. This is based on a true story, so there’s no surprises about how the plot will go if you know the story, but there’s an interesting notion at play here about the fight between the individual and the group. I just wish it were a slightly easier watch.

Mungiu gets a pair of good performances from Flutur and Stratan, though his writing isn’t as solid as his direction. This is a step back from ‘4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days’, though still a high quality film. It’s certainly not for everyone and the deliberate pace will drive away plenty, so approach this one with a bit of a degree of caution. I’ll talk more about ‘Beyond the Hills’ in an official review, but in short…see it if you think it’s you’re type of movie. If not, stay far away.

Punk in Africa (**½)

An intriguing documentary that doesn’t maintain your interest for a full running length, ‘Punk in Africa’ looks at the emergence of the protest form of music on a continent where you’d least expect to see and hear it. For about half of the time you’re drawn into this story that I know I wasn’t previously aware of, but at about the 45 minute mark redundancy and boredom begin to set in. Fans of musical docs have better options out there, but you could still do a lot worse. I’ll get into this more with a longer review when the film comes out, but for now just know that it’s interesting but not especially fulfilling.

John Cassavetes and Lang/Godard: The Dinosaur (***)

Short films.

Araf (**½)

A mostly unmemorable film that features an unforgettable and brutal sequence in a hospital bathroom, ‘Araf’ is a strange little movie. Incredibly slow but not without an appeal at times, this is an art movie from the word go. I won’t spoil the scene that has stayed in my mind since the morning I saw it, but suffice to say…it’s rough. A slice of life story set in Turkey, it actually has a few similarities to ‘Slumdog Millionaire’, though this is far darker. I’m not sure who the audience is for a movie like this, but when it comes out it’s worth considering seeing if you’re okay with a real tough watch.

You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet (**)

A deeply experimental yet profoundly uninteresting flick, Alain Resnais nearly bored me to tears with ‘You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet’. The movie is essentially a retelling of the play Eurypides, just done twice at once. We see a live version done while a filmed version plays alongside. There’s a bit more to it than that, but essentially if that doesn’t have you interested then you’re likely to be as uninterested as I was. I’m again likely in the minority here, but it was a huge misfire for me and the worst thing I’ve seen at the festival yet.

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!