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Claus Mueller


Claus Mueller is a Film Festival Ambassador to filmfestivals.com

He is based in New York where he covers the festival scene.


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2017 New York Film Festival

From September 28 – October 15 the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s  New York Film Festival presented its 55th edition with an enlarged program in five venues. It included 23 productions in its main slate, four sections with 24 short films covering narratives, genre stories, New York stories, and documentaries, 15 essential classic films which were recently restored or released, 18 documentaries. 41 short and feature films in the new Projections section, and 25 films in the much acclaimed retrospective of Robert Mitchum.  Numerous free events were open to the public;  three convergence virtual reality projects, four The Wild Cave projections screenings and several dialogues with directors whose films were in the 2017 program, Lucrecia Martel, Agnes Varda & JR, Hong Song-soo, and Philippe Garrel.  Richard Linklater discussed with the NYFF Director Ken Jones films that inspired them, illustrating points presented with film clips. Issues of the digital divide Without a Net a documentary by Rory Kennedy was shown free of charge.  The journal Film Comment, published by the Film Society of Lincoln Center premiered  A Gentle Creature by Sergei Loznitsa and arranged three free talks covering The Cinema of Experience, Filmmakers Chat, and the end of the festival’s Festival Wrap. In two evening events Kate Winslet and Ava Du Vernay with her guest shared their views about films.  In the special events section Claude Lanzmann portraits in four new 2017 films of four Eastern European women and their destiny were shown which had their world premiere at the festival. The special events also included a master class with Kent Jones and  two distinguished cinematographers Vittorio Storaro and Ed Lachman, world premieres of The Opera House (Susan Froemke), Spielberg (Susan Lacy), Trouble No More (Jennifer Lebeau) and G.W. Pabst’s 1929 Pandora’s Box with a new orchestra score composed and directed by Jonathan Ragonese. There is no doubt that the New York Film Festival offers a comprehensive   innovative program in its many sections, a differentiated selection of domestic and international themes and issues, new cinematic approaches, immersive technologies and revival of classics to name some cardinal areas of interest the fest satisfied.  But what is also rather important is the festival’s service to the general  public as expressed in the large number of events and screenings which are free of charge.        

 

The Square, Ruben Oestlund, Sweden, 2017

As in his other films, Play featuring robberies of helpless white children with adults not intervening because the robberies are carried out by kids from minority groups and Force Majeure dissecting a father’s state of mind who spontaneously decides to save his cell phone rather than his family when threatened by an avalanche, Oestlund depicts in The Square the frailty of human bonds focusing on the precarious nature of interaction. The context is provided over one week by actions of Christian, a young chief curator running a modern art museum who is setting up his introductory exhibit The Square. The film’s episodes are embedded in the art community he serves, the art business, his somehow dysfunctional social family life and numerous loose   sequences.  Interactions he depicts are complicated, provocative and frequently open ended and Oestlund does not provide answers for the audience.  The Square is a small circumscribed and neon bordered area in front of the museum, an avant-garde art work intended to create a statement about behavior. The Square represents the locus of compassion, sympathy and our shared space of understanding. The film offers a satirical portrait of this young self-possessed art curator and of the manners and pretensions his upscale culturally entitled bourgeois audience embraces. When people rush for the museum-provided customary delicious lunch after a presentation the speaker requests that they have to slow down since enough foods is available. A seminar   is interrupted by a man with Tourette’s syndrome cursing the speaker and the audience which is to helpless to respond.  Christian’s one night stand ends with a battle about the condom used and he fails to remember his partner’s name.  When queried about art he responds that any object including the purse of the journalist interviewing him are elevated to a work of art by labelling it art. The interview takes place in front of several piles of dirt that are now art given their designation as art. During a black-tie fundraising dinner, a semi-clad ape man terrifies the well behaved guests through his rapid movements and roars disrupting the dinner and grabbing guest. First they freeze not knowing how to respond but after their frame of behavior is broken, a group of men tries to kill him. When a video from a marketing agency showing  a homeless girl being blown up on the square to generate maximum attention for the art show goes viral on YouTube Christian is fired and is helpless trying to explain the video and his loss of the job to a large audience of journalists.  Within a week his status of the self-assured intellectual has faded.

For Oestlund  our society is dominated  by  media management and marketing.  In politics the more exposure one gets through media  the higher chance of election as demonstrated by Trump’s elevation.  In  art the value is determined by the market and funding for art determined by reaction of sponsors. The more offensive it comes across to sponsors and interest groups the smaller the amount raised and the greater the censorship.

 

Faces Places  Agnes Varda and JR, France, 2017

The film is a persuasive documentary essay of people and places in rural France.  88 year old Agnes Varda and her much younger  collaborator JR, a 34 year old street photographer, engage in a photographic voyage reacting and recording spontaneously   elements of the environment  focusing primarily on unknown people from all walks of life.  Their tools for understanding are the large images of people produced by JR’s photo booth on a truck.  They  are pasted as black and white murals   to the walls  and other surfaces and come close to large public art project.  Images reflect mostly people but also groups and reproductions of old photos. More importantly are the sentiments of the people who were photographed which they express in non-directive talks about themselves, the environment and work, and the reaction to their images.  Varda and JR also shared reflections about their life and art. They place themselves as much into the center of the film as the people they met in their spontaneous passages. Varda and JR had no script for the film nor had preconceptions about the content. They started with the idea of exploring the reality of persons met at random and it took them  a long time to get enough funds to realize the project.

 

Hall of Mirrors, Ena Talakic and Ines Talakic, USA 2017

This documentary portrait of  the non-partisan Edward J. Epstein is a compelling analysis of his investigative journalism using as a central theme his recently published book “How America Lost Its Secrets: Edward Snowdon, the Man and the Theft” and material from numerous books and articles by the 81 year old author. They cover a broad range from his investigation of the Warren Commission, the economics of Hollywood, the case study of the diamond industry to the revealing analysis of Edward Snowdon absconding with 1.2 million secret documents from the National Security Agency. Epstein demystifies in the film and Q&A session Snowdon and removes him from the pedestal of a whistle-blowing hero to that of a common hacker who found with his stolen information a new home in Russia. But Epstein makes it clear that the NSA takes much of the blame by outsourcing the handling of sensitive information.  Comparing his work as an investigative journalist early in his career to what he is doing now Epstein emphasized that effective investigation has become much more difficult. Access to and the quality of information is filtered by many factors including the use by policy makers of public relations and crisis management experts. Further Facebook and other interest driven social media are rarely a source of valid information. The gap between fact and fiction or appearance and reality is growing steadily and the status of news precarious.

 

The films noted below are part of ‘Projections’ a showcase for international film and video works. Encompassing 41 short and feature films. Projections was sponsored by MUBI, a streaming service offering demanding films. The films productions shown at the festival “expand upon our notions of what the moving image can do and be” and impact our perception of reality.

 

Caniba, Verena Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor, USA, France, UK, 20017

Shown for the first time in the United States this documentary offers a disturbing portrait of Issei Sagawa who lives near Tokyo with by his brother Jun. Sagawa was declared legally insane in 1981 by a French court for killing a fellow student, raping her corpse and cannibalizing it and was deported to Japan. He turned there into a media sensation making a living as a manga book author and pornographic film maker capitalizing on his outrageous crime. He is now cared for by his brother Jun due to impairments caused by a stroke.  The documentary conveys that Sagawa still desires human flesh and would  like to be killed by another cannibal.  Ironically, his brother  shows in the documentary strange sadomasochistic sexual desires.  The anthropologist film makers try to refrain from judgmental statements but the subject matter, imagery and the brothers’ statements presented rather disturbing.

 

Occidental, Neil Bekoufa, France, 2017

Also premiering is this non-linear feature about the guests and staff of a bohemian downtrodden hotel in Paris staged against the background of protests, riots and street violence.  Directed by Neil Bekoulaf, a visual artist, Occidental’s narration is restricted to the hotel and its claustrophobic theater-like setting with occasional excursions to the chaotic outside. The cast of odd characters engaging frequently in unpredictable actions includes a gay Italian couple that has checked into the hotel’s marriage suite  with empty suitcases, some English guests prone to drinking, an old American man with his attractive young female lover,  and a suspicious hotel manager with her receptionist and an assistant who cannot communicate.  There are no clear connections between the characters since they do not seem to be what they represent to each other fitting the genre breaking construction of the film.  The hotel manager calls the police suspecting the gay couple of being thieves or terrorists, the cops do not believe her account since there is no evidence or logic to her stories. Her assistant faints when queried and the receptionist seems to be falling in love with a guest. It is not clear to the audience what and why things are happening and confusion prevails, including the destruction of the hotel Occidental by an explosive rapidly spreading fire. The hotel’s inmates escape into the street riots and contradictory accounts of the fire are shared. If the destruction of the hotel stands for the demise of the occident is not clear.  Bekoufa turned the hotel into an art object installation after the film was completed and provided incomplete answers in the Q & A session, musing that the meaning of his film has to be ascertained by the viewers.

Claus Mueller, filmexchange@gmail.coma

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