New York Cool: In this Issue
submit listings
New York Cool:

What's Up For Today?

New York Cool - Ask Miss Wendy


JUNE 1 – JUNE 10, 2007

The Brooklyn Film Festival is back for the tenth year. Here is a quote from their press release,"Time for a change: on its 10th anniversary, the Brooklyn International Film Festival (BiFF) re-invents itself and launches a thematic challenge: “IDENTITY”. The Festival, June 1-10, 2007, is ready to bring the competitive 10-day event to multiple Brooklyn communities while increasing the number of total programs from 36, in 2006, to 81. For the first time this year, every film will have 2 screenings and customers will be able to catch movies everyday from 1pm to 11:30pm."

The New York Cool writers will be posting reveiws daily on this page.

Diane Crespo and Stefan C. Schaefer's
2007 Brooklyn Film Festival

Reviewed by Julia Ann Sirmons

Technical difficulties with a DVD projector couldn't stop a delightful screening at the Brooklyn Film Festival, which featured Diane Crespo and Stefan C. Schaefer's Arranged -- a lovely, light-handed comedy about breaking barriers in this very multicultural borough -- as the main attraction.

After a few minutes of awkward shuffling while the projectionist fiddled with plugs in the booth, the screening began with a French short, Pick Up (Decroche), directed by Manuel Schapira. In this brilliantly conceived and exceptionally well-written film, Léa (played with the perfect oscillating mix of audacity and timidity by Laetitia Spigarelli) looks for love by randomly calling a pay phone she can see from the window of her apartment, hoping that cute boys passing by will pick up and talk to her. The conversations that develop from this unusual ruse feel both realistic and comically surprising, and the seemingly insurmountable paradox of Léa's intense longing for a genuine human connection and her paralyzing fear and vulnerability is both heartbreakingly and comically familiar to anyone who’s ever been lonely in a big city.

Schapira's film was followed by something completely different, Jacob Potashnik’s experimental short Artie’s Film: The Topography of Loneliness. Comprised of footage shot in New York City in 1980 and 1981, the film is a visual and aural tone poem. A montage of urban images is accompanied by cryptic stream-of-consciousness voice-over narration layered over a beautiful jazz score. The film’s intent is to explore the effects of the Holocaust on the children of the survivors. (The “Artie” of the title seems to be a reference to Art Spiegelman, who addressed the same topic so eloquently in his Maus graphic novels, and who is thanked in the film’s credits.) Artie’s Film was suffused with an elegant, haunting quality, and it’s almost a shame that Pick Up was such a hit with the audience, as Potashnik got no time to explain his intriguing film during the brief question and answer session that preceded the screening of Arranged.

A romantic comedy for a post-9/11 New York, Arranged documents the blossoming friendship between two young women, Nasira (Francis Benhamou), a Muslim of Syrian origin, and Rochel (Zoe Lister Jones), an Orthodox Jew. The women teach at the same Brooklyn public school, and are simultaneously going through the rituals of arranged marriages.

This premise could easily have slid into that all-too-familiar category of soppy “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” - lesson-teaching cinema, but strong performances (particularly from Benhamou and Lister Jones) and a subtle, sensitive screenplay make Arranged soar. Benhamou’s Nasira is all serene determination and staunch confidence, while Lister Jones’ Rochel starts off mild-mannered and apologetic and eventually finds her way to her own defiant self-possession. Part of what makes Arranged such a successful and enjoyable film is the fact that a friendship between devout Jewish and Muslim women is portrayed as an inevitability, not an impossibility – their decisions to choose traditional lifestyles in a secular world means that there is much more to unite them than divide them. They become allies, battling the forces that insist on calling their beliefs and lifestyles backwards and oppressive, particularly their interfering Jewish feminist principal (played to pissy perfection by Marcia Jean Kurtz) who feels it is her duty to drag these women into the 21st century by giving them money and telling them to go out and buy some sexy clothes.

Facing this kind of resistance – as well as various forms of coercion from their respective families – the women develop a beautifully organic and charmingly conspiratorial relationship, comparing notes and expressing envy at the different aspects of the process in the other’s faith. (Nasira envies the fact that Rochel gets to out on dates with potential suitors, while she can only meet potential husbands in the presence of both sets of parents; Rochel resents the pressure her parents put on her to make a match quickly – regardless of the total unsuitability of all her potential matches – so she won’t ruin her younger sister’s prospects.) The filmmakers make the wise decision not to make the two women’s journeys too similar. While Nasira gets mad when her dad tries to set her up with a guy twice her age, she still has faith in the process and quickly finds a young man with whom she has a real chemistry. Rochel, on the other hand, suffers through the classic Bad Date Montage: Orthodox Jew Edition, and eventually shuts down the whole process, refusing to meet any more suitors. In a delicious and hilarious third-act twist, it takes some undercover work by Nasira to help Rochel find the Nice Jewish Boy of her dreams.

In the end, Arranged is not a mushy morality play, but rather a sharply defined portrait of two very modern women: confident, complex, and very much in control of their own destinies. As Rochel says when she finally has the courage to defend her lifestyle to her meddling principal, “It’s different, yes. But I still have a choice.” Arranged gives viewers a charming and refreshing perspective on what it means for a woman to make her own choices, and in doing so proves that narrative cinema and multicultural enlightenment, can, when everything’s just right, be a match made in heaven.

Alanté Kavaïté’s
(Écoute le temps)
2007 Brooklyn Film Festival

Reviewed by Julia Sirmons

Attendees of a Brooklyn Film Festival screening on the evening of June 2 were treated to a program of films that demonstrated the variety and ferocity of talent of emerging European filmmakers.

At the screening, the main feature, Alanté Kavaïté’s Fissures (Écoute le temps), was preceded by two short films. The first, Hold Your Breathe (Apnée), directed by Claude Chabot, is a beautifully photographed film filled with long, lush slow motion shots. It depicts an anonymous driver and his female companion being pursued by a paparazzo. Stop motion-esque effects show us the calamitous results. The second short, Dutch director Mischa Rozema’s Postman, was a delightfully weird exercise in black-and-white space animation, in which robotic Venus Flytraps discover mushroom clouds for the first time.

The audience was then treated to Fissures, a film that opens with a car crash, a dying deer and beautiful close-up photography of a wild rough landscape, and ends with the collapse of a house. In between, it offers up an inventive, thrilling, and haunting treatise on the supernatural, the obsession with the past, and the evocative power of sound.

Charlotte (Émilie Dequenne) is a sound engineer who works on nature documentaries. She has a strained, distant relationship with her freewheeling mother (Ludmila Mikaël), who for unknown reasons has estranged herself from her daughter and husband (Jacques Spiesser) and gone to live in a remote village.

But when her mother is brutally murdered, Charlotte journeys to the village to find out the truth about the death. She’s also, of course, looking for clues about a woman she never really knew or understood, hoping to come to terms with the fact that their complicated, unresolved relationship has been terminated forever.

Kavaïté and editor Agnès Mouchel do a good job of balancing these two different investigation story lines. Poignant shots of Charlotte staring at her mother’s freshly slept-in, still unmade bed, searching for clues about her mother’s identity are carefully balanced with slow and careful revelations of the dark secrets that we’re secretly hoping lurk beneath the calm façade of this small village.

The hints of deep nastiness in this small town are revealed slowly, enticingly, as we gradually meet the increasingly creepy and suspicious members of this tiny community, all of whom seem to have had secret and disturbing ties to Charlotte’s mother, who, as we eventually learn, worked as the town clairvoyant.

There’s the uptight mayor’s wife, who can barely muster up enough of her sang froid and petit bourgeois sense of propriety to disguise her contempt with her crudely ambitious bore of a husband. Though they deny any connection to something as nasty of the murder of a hippie psychic, we eventually discover that they were both clients of Charlotte’s mother, separately seeking advice and knowledge, respectively, about the first lady’s infidelities.

Charlotte also encounters an organic farmer (Mathieu Demy) who had a close yet ambiguous relationship with her mother, and clings a bit too closely to Charlotte as his only link to the dead woman. Finally there are the creepy, unfriendly neighbors, a frosty French farm lady (Nadia Barentin) and her slightly imbecilic but good-hearted son (Bruno Flenden), who behave suspiciously and refuse point-blank to answer any of Charlotte’s friendly queries.

Turning to her professional instincts to hunt down the truth, bugging the neighbors’ house in hopes of gathering intelligence. As she listens obsessively, we see flashbacks of her past encounters with her mother that begin to illuminate the complexities of their often contentious relationship.

However, Kavaïté (who wrote as well as directed) has more ingenious, and spine-tingling surprises up her sleep. In a really creative and inventive development, the flashbacks take a turn toward the spooky when, thanks to her sound equipment, she starts hearing conversations from the past; conversations that she never could have witnessed personally and that provide valuable clues about the days and events leading up to her mother’s death.

Incited by the potential of this unexpected power, Charlotte becomes possessed by a kind of mania, frantically mining the house for all the clues it can give her. She scrawls chalk markings on the floor to mark the areas where she can hear past conversations. She starts tying scraps of paper scrawled with various names to a web of strings hung up around the murder room, plotting out the exact times and dates of the past conversations, trying desperately to solve the dual mysteries of her mother’s life and death.

Diehard cinephiles will undoubtedly note a similarity between Charlotte’s obsessive determination to solve this mystery and the plot of Francis Ford Coppola’s 1974 film The Conversation, in which a character played by Gene Hackman gets mired down in a similar aural quest for the truth.

However, in adding the clever and unique supernatural element to her plot, Kavaïté adds a whole new layer of intrigue and psychological depth to Fissures. She allows the present and the past to speak with and interact with each other, aiding each other in unraveling the truths and nuances of each time period. The recurring motif of fissures, in walls, in sounds, in the space-time continuum emphasizes the (in the world of this film, very literal) difficulty of separating the past from the here and now.

Here again Kavaïté and Mouchel show a mastery of building cinematic suspense, carefully cutting between scenes of the past and the present, revealing the pieces of the puzzle at a tantalizing pace.

In spite of this natural skill with heightening tension, Fissures’ only major fault is an excess of establishing shots and intermediary scenes. The scenes where Charlotte is initially installing her sound equipment in the room go on far too long. Watching Charlotte assemble mike stands for minutes on end is not visually interesting, and there’s just not enough tension in these scenes to make up for the lack of visual stimulation.

There are also far too many lengthy shots of Charlotte walking through the woods in her blue raincoat, on her way to meet with one suspect or another. Kavaïté apparently wants to use these scenes to focus on Charlotte’s mounting confusion, anxiety, anger, and terror. But Dequenne is an actress of a fierce intensity and power; she doesn’t need so much camera time to convey the pathos and vacillations of Charlotte’s interior life. It’s a strange irony; almost as if Kavaïté, who has such a talent for building up suspense, doesn’t trust her own instincts and feels the need to draw things out unnecessarily.

In spite of the occasional lag, the audience gets it good shock ending, where the grisly details of the mystery are finally revealed to Charlotte, and the truth literally comes crashing down on her. And in the end, unlike Charlotte, who comes to terms with the truth and the things she’ll never know, for the viewer, the sound of those crackly recordings from the past reverberate in the ears long after the screen has gone black.


Sarah Schenck’s
Slippery Slope
2007 Brooklyn Film Festival

Reviewed by Corey Ann Haydu on June 6, 2007

Slippery Slope is a confused, comedic look at feminism and the adult entertainment industry. In Sarah Schenck’s third film, a feminist filmmaker named Gillian (played by Kelly Hutchinson), has her anti-porn documentary accepted by the Cannes Film Festival. Unfortunately she can’t pay to finish the film without fifty thousand dollars; a fifty thousand dollars she doesn’t have. In an unlikely twist, she gets a job… directing a Shakespearean themed porn! Craziness ensues as Gillian tries to hide her new job from her husband, threatening her marriage in the process.

Slippery Slope is an inconsistent but entertaining film. It has some truly funny moments, particularly as Schenck gets more and more involved in her work. At one point she sets up a camera in her bedroom and tries out different sexual positions with Barbie dolls. Gillian gets more and more excited as she films them in erotic positions and ends up having to do some serious explaining when her husbands walks in on her. All the actors excel in this film, making it clear that Schenck has an eye for comedic talent. Hutchinson steals the show, creating a fully complex and loveable character out of the intellectual, prudish Gillian. The supporting cast also shines, and the fun in the film is all propelled by excellent character work, commitment to awkward situations and an over all comfort with the risqué content.

Where the film falls apart is in its ultimate “message”. As a comedy it is funny, but it is tackling hot topic issues and seems to be confused in its opinion on porn and feminism. Schenck seems to be criticizing sects of feminism that look down on porn and encouraging sexual freedom. At the same time, she is ridiculing the porn industry for their cheesy stories and questionable morals. In the end I don’t know whether to be happy for Gillian or disgusted by her. Perhaps it is a matter of the ending not being fully earned. The characters change (as well they should in any film) but I don’t necessarily see why or how.

Hutchinson’s charm wins out ultimately and Slippery Slope is a watchable fun comedy. It is refreshing to see actors take comedy seriously and really let loose with outrageous characters instead of simply resting on situation and dialogue. The film is sexy and short, just as it should be. Sex sells and Schenck abuses, criticizes, and accepts this - all in an hour and twenty minutes. I am interested to see how Schenck does without the aid of young naked bodies and high brow sex jokes. Time will tell.



© New York Cool 2004-2014