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Movie Maestros at the New York Film Festival

ALEXANDRA (Alexander Sokurov)ALEXANDRA (Alexander Sokurov) 

Wednesday, October 3--------The New York Film Festival is, if nothing else, loyal to its cinema masters. Hell, it practically invented them. For the past 45 years, the Festival has been as influential as any in introducing and sustaining interest in some of the world's most celebrated filmmakers. While some other festivals focus almost exclusively on emerging talents (and they certainly are well represented at this year's NYFF as well), few other film events of this stature continue to pay hommage to movie maestros with such reverence and respect. Whether their latest films are blazingly original or simply a continuation of a theme that has obsessed them through their careers, these film masters always have the welcome mat left out for them at the Film Society of Lincoln Center.....a place that honors not only what is fleetingly hot, but what has lasting resonance and virtue.

The list of film masters on tap this year is truly impressive and very international. Reflecting the Festival's long-held love affair with French cinema, a dazzling duo of French film greats are being presented. Claude Chabrol has directed nearly 60 features since emerging as one of the key provocateurs of the Nouvelle Vague in the late 1950s. In his latest film, A GIRL CUT IN TWO, the director presents a bracing social satire, inspired, he has said, by the sensational Gilded Age shooting of architect Stanford White. In this contemporary retelling of love, jealousy and murder,  a jaded novelist (Francois Berleand) competes with the unstable heir to a Lyons pharmaceutical fortune (Benoit Magimel) for the affections of a luscious TV weathergirl (Ludivine Sagnier). Chabrol's fellow Nouvelle Vague compatriot Eric Rohmer is also at the Festival, presenting his latest film at the ripe age of 87. THE ROMANCE OF ASTREA AND CELADON is the director's allegedly final film, based on Honoré d’Urfé’s legendary 17th century novel.  Astrea and Celadon are young lovers whose romance is torn asunder by fate. For Rohmer, the great cinema storyteller of l'amour, love is fleeting, and in that lies its power, beauty and fragility.

No living filmmaker has been more obsessed with the state of the Russian soul than Alexander Sokurov. In his latest film ALEXANDRA, the great filmmaker ponders the cost of war. Mother Russia herself—a blunt, grimly humorous, and totally confident babushka indelibly played by octogenarian opera diva Galina Vishnevskaya—pays a solo visit to her grandson's unit in Chechnya., in this allegory to politics and national pride.  Just as powerful a statement, albeit in the guise of an intense heist thriller, is embodied in the film BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD, a late career masterpiece from American filmmaker Sidney Lumet (who celebrates his 50th anniversary this year in the world of cinema). In this intense and intricate film, two brothers (the superb Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke) unleash a family tragedy of Shakesperean dimension when their "perfect crime" implodes and threatens to unravel the tenuous connection of a rather atypical and dysfunctional contemporary family.

The great Spanish director Carlos Saura continues his fascination with the nexus of film, dance and music in the intriguing FADOS. This time, he turns his gaze to neighboring Portugal for a beautiful celebration of the fado, the particularly lamentative Portugese blues. Saura presents a kaleidoscope of fado styles, from the strictly traditional to electronica variations, and leads us through a fascinating and satisfying musical journey with the great fado stylists Carlos do Carmo, Catarina Moura, Argentina Santos, and Maria da Nazaré. A fascination with the artifice of the theater, as a reflection of the drama of everyday life, is at the core of Taiwanese director  Hou Hsiao-hsien’s THE FLIGHT OF THE RED BALLOON, a remake of a famed children's classic. Oscar winning actress Juliette Binoche plays the proprietor of a marionette theater and the single mother of a lonely boy who spends his days with his Chinese au pair. The two watch as the adults around them come apart at the seams, all reflected in the scenes of the marionettes and the symbolic image of a red balloon slowly drifting across the Parisian landscape.

Two American filmmakers who began their careers in the glory days of the early 1970s, when the Hollywood cinema underwent a major flowering of talent and energy, are back with two vastly different film essays. Brian DePalma, best known for his cinema of anxiety, leaves behind the Hollywood slickness of his last few films, to make an edgy and disturbing low-budget treatise on the false premise and empty rhetoric of the Iraq War. Ripped from the headlines, REDACTED is a fictionalized account of a murderous 2006 atrocity committed against an Iraqi teenage girl and her family by American troops. Using hand-held cameras, grainy video stock and an edgy editing style, DePalma offers a disturbing portrayal of ice-cold fury and moral stagnation in the fog of war.

Peter Bogdanovich, who made his name with such films as THE LAST PICTURE SHOW, WHAT'S UP DOC? and PAPER MOON, tries his hand at performance art in TOM PETTY AND THE HEARTBREAKERS: RUNNING DOWN A DREAM. This intimate chronicle of the celebrated rock-n-roll band not only features dynamic concert footage, but also draws on rare archival film and lively chronicles of the band's collaborations with Bob Dylan, Stevie Nicks, Roger McGuinn and the Traveling Wilburys. Detailing Petty's rocky relationship with the record industry and his career longevity, the director gives audiences a rare backstage pass to understand and appreciate how musical artists remain fresh and feisty despite the pressures to produce a never-ending output of hits. In its way, it says as much about America's wrong-headed values as DePalma's visceral anti-war diatribe.

What these film masters, in all their diversity, demonstrates to film audiences, is that creativity knows no age and inspiration knows no timeclock. As long as the work is true, these film masters still have much to say.

Sandy Mandelberger, Film New York Editor

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The Ultimate Guide to the New York Film, Video and New Media Scene.

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