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NY Fest about Asian and Latin American Influences


As the New York Film Festival enters its final week, it continues its marathon of remarkable films from around the world. The Festival’s strong affinity for European and American Independent cinema has already been discussed, but among its most astonishing discoveries are new films from a variety of Asian and Latin American filmmakers.

The new Asian Cinema continues to produce wondrous new talents, and this year’s Festival is highlighting many of them. Coming from its world premiere at Cannes is the beguilingly mysterious Tropical Malady, the debut feature of gifted Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Breaking new ground in his country by portraying a gay love story between a young solider and a young man from the countryside, the film then makes an imaginative leap into the realm of myth and legend, in which human and animal join together in a fantastic union. This strikingly original work which heralds a major new talent will be distributed later this year in the United States by Strand Releasing.

The new Chinese cinema is amply represented at the Festival by several impressive films. The World, the latest triumph from director Jia Zhangke (Platform, Unknown Pleasures) is a vividly contemporary tale of people who aren’t sure where they belong in the new, globalized world order. The story focuses on a young dancer and her security-guard boyfriend who work at a Beijing theme park, a weird cross between Las Vegas and the Epcot Center that offers scaled-down versions of famous landmarks— the Pyramids, the Eiffel Tower, even the twin towers of the World Trade Center. Jia offers a compassionate take on the daily lives and dreams of the provincial workers at the World Park who have come to the capital with dreams of making it big in the new glamorous world, but end up offering visiting tourists a sly imitation of the real thing.

Celebrated director Zhang Yimou dazzles with his historical epic House Of Flying Daggers. The sumptuously beautiful film is set during the Tang Dynasty in the 9th century. In this story of intrigue and loyalty, a double agent is sent to the imperial court to free a blind dancer who is one of their own. A dazzling collage of color, movement, dance, and acrobatics, House opens a new chapter in the creative use of CGI technology. The brilliant cast, featuring Zhang Ziyi (China), Andy Lau (Hong Kong), and Takeshi Kaneshiro (Japan) points to the emergence of an exciting new pan-Asian cinema that incorporates the best of several film traditions. The film is being released later this year by arthouse distributor Sony Pictures Classics.

As a special event, The Festival is presenting the complete trilogy of one of the great achievements in recent Asian cinema. Infernal Affairs, co-directed by Andrew Lau and Alan Mak, has set new standards for the crime genre with its exquisite visual design and inventive storytelling. This is a rare opportunity for New York audiences to see the original Hong Kong films and witness the star-making roles of Andy Lau and Tony Leung, before they are re-made next year by Hollywood.

One of the world’s great filmmakers, Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien, presents his beautifully rendered Café Lumiere, an elegant homage to another indisputable master, Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu. In contrast to Ozu’s Tokyo stories that presented a portrait of an orderly Japanese society being eroded by modernity, Hou conjures a present-day Japan in which family life is a mere shell and romantic passion has given way to mindless eroticism. Investing his images with dazzling beauty and simplicity, Hou brilliantly captures the pathos of contemporary urban solitude.

The world’s most exciting emerging film cultures may well the burgeoning film scene in South Korea. Woman Is The Future Of Man, one of the hits of the Cannes Film Festival, is the sophomore feature of Korean director Hong Sang Soo, whose first film Turning Gate was presented at the Festival last year. Top French producer Marin Karmitz, who has collaborated with such international film giants as Chabrol, Kieslowski and Kiarostami, was so impressed by Hong’s first film that he offered to produce this newest project. With echoes of a classic French theme, the film focuses on the relationships between two men and the woman they once both desired. As emotions and erotic relations shift between the characters, the film is a potent meditation on the subject of lost love and the passage of time.

Israeli cinema is a potent mixture of Eastern and Western influences. The Festival is presenting this year's Cannes Camera D’Or winner for best first feature, Keren Yedaya’s riveting psychological study, OR (MY TREASURE). This astonishing film focuses on an aging Tel Aviv prostitute and her eighteen-year-old daughter, Or, who fights to keep her mother off the streets. Or is not without her own sexual desires, which complicates her role as puritanical overseer. With an eye for the rich details of daily life in working-class Tel Aviv, this remarkably self-assured debut offers us glimpses of Israeli society rarely seen onscreen.

Rounding off its showcase of Asian cinema is a highly anticipated retrospective program dedicated to the legendary Shaw Brothers Studios, the Hong Kong-based producers of a range of films that put Hong Kong cinema on the map. Best known for their mind-bogglingly surreal martial arts films, the Shaw Brothers created everything from historical epics to contemporary comedies, from adaptations of operas to Hollywood-style musicals. This multi-film tribute presents the great films of the 50s, 60s, and 70s— just a taste of the extraordinary richness of Hong Kong cinema in its crucial, formative years.

Moving across the globe, the Festival is presenting a few stellar examples of the exciting cinema that is emerging from Latin America. The Holy Girl, the sophomore feature of Argentinean director Lucrecia Martel (La Cienega) is a seductive meditation on teenage sexuality. Amalia is a moody teenager at a religious school for girls who comes alive when a stranger rubs up against her in a crowd. The culprit happens to be a prestigious doctor who is staying in the hotel run by Amalia’s divorcee mother. Amalia, who freely mixes piety and perversity, begins to stalk her molester…is she trying to save him or seduce him? Martel’s provocative film was produced by HBO Films and will be released later this year in the US by Fine Line Features.

Four generations of an Argentine family hit the road in Pablo Trapero’s enchanting and buoyantly funny new movie, Rolling Family. .As they travel to attend a family wedding far from Buenos Aires, old passions and rivalries are re-ignited. The film has a gentle rhythm and a keen eye for the landscapes and folkways of Argentina. Building his narrative around ordinary events and emotions, and using a cast of non-actors, director gives us a perceptive road movie with a difference, in which reality has a magical aura.

As a special event, the Festival is presenting the beautifully restored, full length Brazilian classic Macunaima. Originally released in 1969, the film was one of the masterpieces of the new Brazilian Cinema. With its heady mix of folklore, radical politics, and irrepressible zaniness, the film follows a Candide-like hero as he travels from the depths of the jungle to the heights of the big city, along the way meeting con artists, urban guerillas, and industrialists who like to eat people. Based on a famous modernist novel, the story was updated by director Joaquim Pedro de Andrade to reflect a country caught between a harsh military dictatorship and the anarchic energy of its people. The film, with its vibrant colors and musical score, is a milestone of Latin American cinema.

For the armchair traveler, this year’s New York Film Festival is a wondrous journey through the landscapes of the mind and the heart, while presenting a vivid portrait of life in all its diversity from all corners of the globe. No passport required.

Sandy Mandelberger
Industry Editor

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