New York Film Festival: Beyond the Oscar Heavies

Photo: Oscilloscope/Courtesy of the Film Society of Lincoln Center

Wendy and Lucy
Kelly Reichardt’s first film, Old Joy, followed two friends on a walk through the woods. Plotwise, that was it. If you’re looking for more action in her new film, you will be sorely disappointed. Spoiler: A woman loses her dog. End spoiler. You don’t even miss the dog, because the actress playing the woman is so enthralling: Introverted and alert, Michelle Williams plays her part like a rock god strumming on a Stratocaster without plugging in the amp. Alone in a pit-stop northwestern town, running away from something unnamed, she is stuck without friends or family. Silent for much of the film, she strikes up the calm acquaintance of a parking-lot security guard. It’s practically an anti-acting stunt. They talk, she sits, she walks, she looks. When the screen goes dark, her melancholy follows you outside, like a lost dog.

Photo: Fortissimo Films/Courtesy of the Film Society of Lincoln Center

Tokyo Sonata
Kiyoshi Kurosawa is best known for the stylish, J-horror shock of Cure and Pulse, but, as his twentysomething angst flick Bright Future proved, he’s also painfully sensitive to the inchoate terrors of the waking world. His new film couldn’t be more frightening in light of Wall Street’s crisis: When a fortysomething father is laid off, he can’t tell his family. He spends his days in a suit, prowling the sidewalks with other fathers and husbands too embarrassed to confess their failure. His marriage crumbles, one son skips school, and his other son threatens to join the American Army, in part because his father’s generation seems like such a dead end. The serene pace ultimately crescendos into a horrifying clash of strange coincidences—yet somehow Kurosawa’s steady tone pulls it together, just in time for an improbably moving finale.

Photo: Eunmi Yoo/Courtesy of BOM Film Productions of the Film Society of Lincoln Center

Night and Day
Korean auteur Hong Sang-Soo (Woman Is the Future of Man, Woman on the Beach) has become an international critics’ favorite, largely because his films are so critic-ready: thoughtful, ruminative, sexy romances set in South Korea’s upper-bohemian scene. This time, he classes up his tale even more: When a South Korean painter, caught smoking weed, skips town for Paris, he is lonely yet hardly alone, flirting with Korean-expat painters and professors who are just as aimless and self-deceiving as himself. Stretches of the film seem repetitive, but in Hong’s world, people making stupid mistakes seem utterly sympathetic. It helps that his Kim Yeong-ho has the dry, hangdog charm of Josh Brolin and Thomas Haden Church.

Photo: Janus Films/Courtesy of the Film Society of Lincoln Center

“In the Realm of Oshima”
If you’re looking for tasteful, self-serious cinema, skip this 24-film sampler from the kinky Nagisa Oshima. Sure, he filmed a few sober dramas, but he’s famous for exploiting the destabilizing power of sex in Japan’s striated culture. Cruel Story of Youth—a sensual romp with two young, frisky con artists—gave birth to the Japanese New Wave in 1960. From there, he filmed a guilty man’s marathon run with prostitutes (Pleasures of the Flesh), tied up a maid and her master (In the Realm of the Senses), scored students’ erotic escapades to bawdy tunes (Sing a Song of Sex), and shook up a staid samurai school with a handsome warrior (Taboo). Catch one of those—or two strange cameos from Western stars: In Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, a POW drama that begins with a gay rape, David Bowie plays a British soldier imprisoned by another rocker, Ryuichi Sakamoto. In Max Mon Amour, Charlotte Rampling plays a dignified British woman who brings home her charming lover: a chimpanzee.

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New York Film Festival: Beyond the Oscar Heavies