THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS (Gillo Pontecorvo, 1966)
Film Society of Lincoln Center, Francesca Beale Theater
144 West 65th St. between Eighth Ave. & Broadway
Saturday, October 1, $15, 7:30
Festival runs September 30 - October 16
Theatrical run opens October 7 at Film Forum
In Italian director Gillo Pontecorvo’s gripping neo-Realist war thriller The Battle of Algiers, a reporter asks French paratroop commander Lt. Col. Mathieu (Jean Martin), who has been sent to the Casbah to derail the Algerian insurgency, about an article Jean-Paul Sartre had just written for a Paris paper. “Why are the Sartres always born on the other side?” Mathieu says. “Then you like Sartre?” the reporter responds. “No, but I like him even less as a foe,” Mathieu coolly answers. In 1961, French existentialist Sartre wrote in the preface to Frantz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth, the seminal tome on colonialism and decolonialism, “In Algeria and Angola, Europeans are massacred at sight. It is the moment of the boomerang; it is the third phase of violence; it comes back on us, it strikes us, and we do not realize any more than we did the other times that it’s we that have launched it,” referring to European colonization. “There are those among [the oppressed creatures] who assert themselves by throwing themselves barehanded against the guns; these are their heroes. Others make men of themselves by murdering Europeans, and these are shot down; brigands or martyrs, their agony exalts the terrified masses. Yes, terrified; at this fresh stage, colonial aggression turns inward in a current of terror among the natives. By this I do not only mean the fear that they experience when faced with our inexhaustible means of repression but also that which their own fury produces in them. They are cornered between our guns pointed at them and those terrifying compulsions, those desires for murder which spring from the depth of their spirits and which they do not always recognize; for at first it is not their violence, it is ours, which turns back on itself and rends them; and the first action of these oppressed creatures is to bury deep down that hidden anger which their and our moralities condemn and which is however only the last refuge of their humanity. Read Fanon: you will learn how, in the period of their helplessness, their mad impulse to murder is the expression of the natives’ collective unconscious.” Sartre’s brutally honest depiction of colonialism serves as a perfect introduction to Pontecorvo’s film, made five years later and then, unsurprisingly, banned in France. (In 1953, the Martinique-born Fanon, who fought for France in WWII, moved to Algeria, where he became a member of the National Liberation Front; French authorities expelled him from the country in 1957, but he kept working for the FLN and Algeria up to his death in 1961. For more on The Wretched of the Earth, see the documentary Concerning Violence: Nine Scenes from the Anti-Imperialistic Self-Defense.)
In The Battle of Algiers, Pontecorvo (Kapò, Burn!) and screenwriter Franco Solinas follow a small group of FLN rebels, focusing on the young, unpredictable Ali la Pointe (Brahim Haggiag) and the more calm and experienced commander, El-hadi Jafar (Saadi Yacef, playing a character based on himself; the story was also inspired by his book Souvenirs de la Bataille d’Alger). Told in flashback, the film takes viewers from 1954 to 1957 as Mathieu hunts down the FLN leaders while the revolutionaries stage strikes, bomb public places, and assassinate French police. Shot in a black-and-white cinema-vérité style on location by Marcello Gatti — Pontecorvo primarily was a documentarian — The Battle of Algiers is a tense, powerful work that plays out like a thrilling procedural, touching on themes that are still relevant fifty years later, including torture, cultural racism, media manipulation, terrorism, and counterterrorism. It seems so much like a documentary — the only professional actor in the cast is Martin — that it’s hardly shocking that the film has been used as a primer for the IRA, the Black Panthers, the Pentagon, and military and paramilitary organizations on both sides of the colonialism issue, although Pontecorvo is clearly on the side of the Algerian rebels. However, it does come as a surprise that the original conception was a melodrama starring Paul Newman as a Western journalist. All these years later, The Battle of Algiers, which earned three Oscar nominations (for Best Foreign Language Film in 1967 and Best Director and Best Original Screenplay in 1969), still has a torn-from-the-headlines urgency that makes it as potent as ever. And now it will look better than ever, as a 4K restoration in honor of the film’s fiftieth anniversary is being shown October 1 at 7:30 in the Revivals section of the New York Film Festival, prior to the October 7 North American theatrical release at Film Forum.
BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD (Sidney Lumet, 2007)
Museum of the Moving Image
35th Ave. at 36th St., Astoria
Saturday, October 1, $12, 2:30
Series continues through October 2
Sidney Lumet spins an intriguing web of mystery and severe family dysfunction in Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. Andy (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Hank (Ethan Hawke) are very different brothers who are both in desperate financial straits. Andy, a real estate exec, has a serious drug problem and a fading marriage to his sexy but bored young wife (Marisa Tomei), while ne’er-do-well Hank can’t afford the monthly child-support payments to his ex-wife (Aleksa Palladino) and daughter (Amy Ryan). Andy convinces Hank to knock off their parents’ (Albert Finney and Rosemary Harris) jewelry store, but when things go horribly wrong, everyone involved is forced to face some very difficult situations, leading to a harrowing climax. Seymour and Hawke are both excellent, the former cool, calm, and collected, the latter scattershot and impulsive. Tomei gives one of her finest performances as the woman sleeping with both brothers. Lumet tells the story through a series of flashbacks from various characters’ point of view, with fascinating overlaps — although a bit overused — that offer different perspectives on critical scenes. Hoffman chose the role of Andy over Hank, which leads to several surprises, including an opening scene you will never forget. Adapted from a script by playwright Kelly Masterson — whom Lumet had never met or even spoken with — Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (the title comes from an Irish toast that begins, “May you be in heaven half and hour…”) is a thrilling modern noir from one of the masters of melodrama. The underrated film is screening on October 1 at 2:30 in the Museum of the Moving Image series “Philip Seymour Hoffman: The Master,” a sixteen-film tribute to Hoffman, a native New Yorker who left us well before his time. The series continues through October 2 with such other Hoffman films as Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia, Anthony Minghella’s The Talented Mr. Ripley, and Anton Corbjin’s A Most Wanted Man.
CABARET CINEMA: THE CONGRESS (Ari Folman, 2013)
Rubin Museum of Art
150 West 17th St. at Seventh Ave.
Friday, September 30, $10, 9:30
Writer-director Ari Folman imagines a sad but visually dazzling future in the spectacular fantasy The Congress. Inspired by Stanislaw Lem’s 1971 short novel The Futurological Congress, the film follows Robin Wright playing a fictionalized version of herself, an idealistic actress about to turn forty-five who has let her career come second to raising her two children, daughter Sarah (Sami Gayle) and, primarily, son Aaron (Kodi Smit-McPhee), who is slowly losing the ability to see and hear. Wright’s longtime agent, Al (Harvey Keitel), has a last-chance opportunity for her: Jeff Green (Danny Huston), the head of Miramount, wants to scan her body and emotions so the studio can manipulate her digital likeness into any role while keeping her ageless. They don’t want the modern-day Robin Wright but the young, beautiful star of The Princess Bride, State of Grace, and Forrest Gump. The only catch is that in exchange for a substantial lump-sum payment, the real Wright will never be allowed to act again, in any capacity. With no other options, she reluctantly takes the deal. Twenty years later, invited to speak at the Futurological Congress, she enters a whole new realm, a fully animated world where men, women, and children live out their entertainment fantasies. Shocked by what she is experiencing, Wright meets up with Dylan Truliner (Jon Hamm), who has been animating her digital version for years, as a revolution threatens; meanwhile, Green has another offer for her, even more frightening than the first.
The Congress is a stunning look at America’s obsession with celebrity culture and pharmaceutical release amid continuing technological advancements in which avatars can replace real people and computers can do all the work. The animated scenes, consisting of sixty thousand drawings made in eight countries, are mind-blowing, referencing the history of cartoons, from early Max Fleischer gems through Warner Bros. classics as well as nods to Disney, Pixar, Who’s Afraid of Roger Rabbit, and even Richard Linklater’s rotoscoped Waking Life; Folman also pays homage, directly and indirectly, to James Cameron and Stanley Kubrick. (The central part of the cartoon scenes were actually filmed live first, then animated based on the footage; be on the lookout for cameos by Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Frida Kahlo, and dozens of other familiar faces.) Wright gives one of her best performances playing a modified version of herself, maintaining a calm, cool demeanor even as things threaten to completely break down around her. Paul Giamatti does a fine turn as her son’s concerned doctor, and Huston has a ball chewing the colorful scenery as the greedy, nasty studio head (as well as numerous other authority figures). The film also plays off itself in wonderful ways; the fictionalized Wright is at first against being scanned and used in science-fiction films, but the real Wright, of course, has agreed to be turned into a cartoon character in a science-fiction film. The story does get confusing in the second half, threatening to lose its thread as it goes all over the place, but Folman, whose previous film was the Oscar-nominated Waltz with Bashir, manages to bring it all together by the end, led by the stalwart Wright. Named Best European Animated Feature at the European Film Awards, The Congress is an eye-popping, soul-searching, hallucinogenic warning of what just might be awaiting all of us. It’s screening September 30 at 9:30 at the Rubin Museum, concluding the three-part Cabaret Cinema series “Consciousness Hacking: Mind-Expanding Film Experiences,” in which Consciousness Hacking founder Mikey Siegel and Consciousness Hacking NYC cofounder Dr. Christopher Kelley investigate “the three principal dimensions of consciousness hacking: 1) Contemplation, 2) Psychedelic Journey, and 3) Technological Innovation.” Dr. Kelley will host the screening, joined by special guests.
The Pearl Theatre
555 West 42nd St. between Tenth & Eleventh Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through October 30, $59-$79
The Pearl Theatre revival of Shelagh Delaney’s first play, A Taste of Honey, a British breakthrough written when she was eighteen, is a thoroughly engaging, bittersweet coming-of-age tale about a working-class mother and her peculiar daughter in dank, depressing postwar Britain — late-1950s Manchester, to be precise. Single mom Helen (Rachel Botchan) and her teenage daughter, Jo (Rebekah Brockman), are on the move again, settling into their new flat in a factory town. It’s a dreary, bleak apartment with a bathroom down the hall and a fine view of the gasworks. The two constantly bicker over just about everything, from money to men, furniture to booze. At one point Jo, who calls her mother “Helen,” notes, “You should prepare my meals like a proper mother,” to which Helen responds, “Have I ever laid claim to being a proper mother?” When one of Helen’s many male friends, Peter (Bradford Cover), a one-eyed playboy, starts talking marriage, Jo quickly falls for Jimmy (Ade Otukoya), a black male nurse and sailor who is about to ship out. In the second act, Jo finds herself in trouble and turns to the effeminate Geoffrey (John Evans Reese), creating a strange simulacrum of family after her mother has taken off with Peter. Through it all, the trio of trumpeter Max Boiko, guitarist Phil Faconti, and bassist Walter Stinson plays jazz and music-hall numbers, wandering around the set and even sitting on the couch with the actors, each acknowledging the others’ presence. Helen and Jo are also both aware of the audience, addressing them directly several times, trying to get the crowd on their side. “She’d lose her head if it was loose,” Jo says early on, while Helen asks, “Wouldn’t she get on your nerves?”
A Taste of Honey has quite a history. It debuted in London in 1958, where it caused a stir as a reaction to the Angry Young Men movement led by John Osborne and Kingsley Amis. (“I don’t like a too-knowledgeable woman,” Osborne said at the time. “I feel it is against her sex.”) The show moved to Broadway two years later, with Angela Lansbury as Helen, Joan Plowright as Jo, Nigel Davenport as Peter, Billy Dee Williams as Jimmy, and Andrew Ray as Geoffrey; a 1981 Great White Way revival featured Valerie French as Helen and Amanda Plummer as Jo. The story was also made into a 1961 movie by Tony Richardson, written by Delaney and starring Rita Tushingham in her first film. (The famous title song was written for the movie and is played at the start of this revival; Williams recorded his own take for a 1961 album.) The faithful Pearl version is directed by Austin Pendleton, whose fine A Day by the Sea has been extended at the Mint. Harry Feiner’s cluttered set captures the feel of a dingy working-class flat, while the large background charcoal drawing of the company town is a reminder of what might be Jo’s only real skill. “I thought you said you weren’t good at anything,” Helen says after finding Jo’s sketchbook. Jo answers, “It’s only a drawing.” Helen adds, “I didn’t realize I had such a talented daughter,” to which Jo boasts, “I’m not just talented, I’m geniused.” Pearl veteran Botchan and Brockman are naturals as Helen and Jo, fighting the way only mothers and daughters can; it’s a thrill watching them go for each other’s throats even as a little care and love trickle through.
There’s a timeless quality about Delaney’s writing that keeps A Taste of Honey fresh and poignantly funny, dealing with such issues as the economy, race, homosexuality, and broken families, led by two strong female characters who speak their mind. Delaney, who was immortalized on the covers of the Smiths’ Louder than Bombs compilation and “Girlfriend in a Coma” single — in 1986, Smiths leader Morrissey told NME, “I’ve never made any secret of the fact that at least fifty percent of my reason for writing can be blamed on Shelagh Delaney”; Morrissey also incorporated two lines from the play into the song “Reel around the Fountain” — went on to write several other plays and screenplays but never again achieved the critical success her debut work brought her; she passed away in 2011 at the age of seventy-two. But as the working class in America continues its own decline amid hard-fought struggles for economic equality for women, gay rights, increases in the minimum wage, an end to racism, and affordable housing, A Taste of Honey feels as relevant as ever.
In 1985, BAM president and executive director Harvey Lichtenstein was looking for a special space where he could present Peter Brook’s extraordinary nine-hour epic, The Mahabharata, in Brooklyn. Two days after giving up, he suddenly saw the abandoned Majestic movie house, which he passed by on his way to BAM every day, and immediately summoned Brook. The two men climbed a ladder and got inside through a window, and they instantly knew they had found a home for the epic theater piece, which ran at what would become the BAM Harvey as part of the 1987 Next Wave Festival. Brook, who has also staged such works as The Cherry Orchard, The Man Who, and The Suit at BAM, will be back at the Harvey with Battlefield, a seventy-minute exploration of the central story of The Mahabharata. The collaboration with Marie-Hélène Estienne for their C.I.C.T. — Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord troupe runs September 28 through October 9, featuring music by Toshi Tsuchitori, lighting by Philippe Vialatte, and costumes by Oria Puppo. The ninety-one-year-old Brook will participate in a discussion following the October 6 performance. Based on the ancient Sanskrit text and the 1989 play written by Jean-Claude Carrière, the production is also part of the Paris-New York Tandem cultural initiative that highlights film, music, theater, dance, education, and more in the two cities.
The Shiva Theater at the Public Theater
425 Lafayette St.
Tuesday - Sunday through October 9, $20
After making stops at such locations as Rikers Island, the Brownsville Recreation Center, the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, the Williamsbridge Oval Recreation Center, and the Lenox Hill Neighborhood House’s Women’s Mental Health Shelter at the Park Avenue Armory, the Public Theater’s Mobile Unit has come home to the Shiva Theater, where it will be presenting its stirring adaptation of Hamlet through October 9. The 105-minute streamlined version of the classic Bard tragedy is performed just as it was during its five-borough road trip, on a small center stage with very few props. The audience is seated on all four sides of the action, and costume changes are made in full view just behind the seats; the only concession to the more traditional theater setup at the Shiva is that the three rows of seating are on risers. Olivier Award winner and Royal Shakespeare Company associate artist Chukwudi Iwuji is both inspired and inspiring as Hamlet, the depressed son of the recently murdered king who is told by his father’s ghost (Timothy D. Stickney) that he was killed by his brother, Claudius (Stickney), who has since married Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude (Orlagh Cassidy), and assumed the throne. As Hamlet considers what a rogue and peasant slave he is, contemplates the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, opines on what a piece of work is man, and decides that the play’s the thing that will catch the conscience of the king, Claudius sends Hamlet’s school friends Rosencrantz (Natalie Woolams-Torres) and Guildenstern (Christian DeMarais) to spy on him. Meanwhile, Hamlet also reevaluates his relationship with Ophelia (Kristolyn Lloyd), the sister of the brave Laertes (DeMarais) and daughter of the king’s right-hand man, Polonius (Daniel Pearce).
Director Patricia McGregor (Hurt Village, The Mountaintop) takes fun liberties with the staging, infusing it with modern-day humor that works not only for an audience of underserved youth and adults who might never have seen a live Shakespeare play before but also for a more experienced crowd of regular theatergoers at the Public. DeMarais is a hoot as a white hip-hopper, Pearce is extremely funny as the stalwart Polonius (and the gravedigger), and Christopher Ryan Grant (the player king) provides an appropriately foreboding percussive soundtrack. Not everything works; the character of Ophelia nearly gets lost in all the drama, save for Lloyd’s overemotional singing of music by Imani Uzuri. Stickney is a bold, confident Claudius, Cassidy is a poignant queen, but this Hamlet, as the work requires, belongs to the lead, and Iwuji, who has never played the role before, jumps in feet first, giving his all, often making direct eye contact with the audience to bring them further into the story. He does a lot of shouting, but he balances that with beautifully rendered soliloquies that (almost) feel like they could have been written today. That feeling is enhanced by some of Montana Levi Blanco’s contemporary costume choices, including a hoodie worn by Hamlet. Other fresh touches include, yes, a cell phone. Katherine Akiko Day’s set is just about as basic as they come, a small square area about the size of a boxing ring, where characters bring chairs and roll multipurpose boxes on- and offstage, creating an intimate atmosphere. The Mobile Unit production of Hamlet is a must-see for both newbies as well as Bard enthusiasts, a playful adaptation highlighted by a superior performance by Iwuji.
Film Society of Lincoln Center, Walter Reade Theater, Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center,
Bruno Walter Auditorium, Alice Tully Hall
West 65th St. between Broadway & Amsterdam Ave.
September 30 - October 16
The fifty-fourth New York Film Festival gets under way on September 30 with Ava DuVernay’s 13th, kicking off more than two weeks of screenings and special events at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. The centerpiece selection is Mike Mills’s 20th Century Woman, with James Gray’s The Lost City of Z closing things on October 15. Divided into Main Slate, Convergence, Explorations, Projections, Retrospectives, Revivals, and Spotlight on Documentary, this year’s lineup also features works by Paul Verhoeven, Bertrand Tavernier, Gianfranco Rosi, Bill Morrison, Cristian Mungiu, Ken Loach, Errol Morris, Pedro Almodóvar, Kenneth Lonergan, Jim Jarmusch, Olivier Assayas, Cristi Puiu, Kenneth Lonergan, Eugène Green, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Douglas Gordon, and Hong Sang-soo, most of whom will be on hand for Q&As following select screenings. “A Brief Journey through French Cinema” includes films by Bertrand Tavernier, Robert Bresson, Jacques Becker, Julien Duvivier, Jean-Pierre Melville, and Jean Renoir, while a tribute to Henry Hathaway boasts a dozen movies, from Garden of Evil and Kiss of Death to Niagara and Rawhide. Among this year’s Revivals are Gillo Pontecorvo’s restored The Battle of Algiers, Bresson’s L’argent, Tomás Gutiérrez Alea’s Memories of Underdevelopment, and Marlon Brando’s One-Eyed Jacks. Below is a list of one highlight per day; keep checking twi-ny for reviews and further information.
Saturday, October 1
Sunday, October 16
Lives in Transit video installation by Global Lives Project, free, Furman Gallery, Walter Reade Theater
Saturday, October 1
Gimme Danger (Jim Jarmusch, 2016), followed by a Q&A with Jim Jarmusch and Iggy Pop, Alice Tully Hall, $25, 9:15
Sunday, October 2
Meet the Makers: Sherlock Holmes & the Internet of Things, with Lance Weller and Nick Fortugno, Howard Gilman Theater, free, 1:00
Wednesday, October 3
“The Psychology of Storytelling: Lindsay Doran,” with Oscar-nominated producer and studio executive Lindsay Doran, Howard Gilman Theater, 6:45
Tuesday, October 4
Dawson City: Frozen Time (Bill Morrison, 2016), followed by a Q&A with Bill Morrison, Francesca Beale Theater, $15, 9:00
Wednesday, October 5
Film Comment Live: A Quiet Passion (Terence Davies, 2016), followed by a Q&A with Terence Davies, Cynthia Nixon, and Sol Papadopoulos, Walter Reade Theater, 6:00
Thursday, October 6
The Death of Louis XIV (Albert Serra, 2016), followed by a Q&A with Albert Serra and Jean-Pierre Léaud, Alice Tully Hall, $20, 6:00
Friday, October 7
Harlan County USA, (Barbara Kopple, 1976), followed by a Q&A with Barbara Kopple, Walter Reade Theater, $15, 6:00
Saturday, October 8
Projections Program 2: Beyond Landscape, short films followed by Q&As with directors Rosa Barba, Tomonari Nishikawa, Sky Hopinka, and Brigid McCaffrey, Howard Gilman Theater, $15, 5:15
Sunday, October 9
Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan (Linda Saffire & Adam Schlesinger, 2016), followed by a Q&A with Wendy Whelan, Linda Saffire, Adam Schlesinger, and other crew members, Walter Reade Theater, 3:30
Monday, October 10
Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds (Alexis Bloom & Fisher Stevens, 2016), followed by a Q&A with Carrie Fisher, Alexis Bloom, and Fisher Stevens, Alice Tully Hall, $20, 6:00
Tuesday, October 11
My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea (Dash Shaw, 2016), followed by a Q&A with Dash Shaw, Howard Gilman Theater, $20, 6:00
Wednesday, October 12
Spotlight on Documentary: The Cinema Travellers (Shirley Abraham & Amit Madheshiya, 2016), followed by a Q&A with Shirley Abraham and Amit Madheshiya, Francesca Beale Theater, $15, 9:00
Thursday, October 13
HBO Directors Dialogues: Paul Verhoeven discussing Elle, Elinor Bunin Munroe amphitheater, free, 7:00
Friday, October 14
Explorations: Everything Else (Natalia Almada, 2016), followed by a Q&A with producer Daniela Alatorre, Walter Reade Theater, $15, 4:00
Saturday, October 15
Elle (Paul Verhoeven, 2016), followed by a Q&A with Paul Verhoeven and Isabelle Huppert, Alice Tully Hall, 3:00