CINÉSALON: CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA (Olivier Assayas, 2014)
French Institute Alliance Française, Florence Gould Hall
55 East 59th St. between Madison & Park Aves.
Tuesday, October 6, $14, 4:00 & 7:30 (later screening introduced by Florence Colombani)
Series continues through October 27
The related concepts of time and reality wind through Olivier Assayas’s beautifully poetic, melancholy Clouds of Sils Maria much like actual snakelike clouds slither through the twisting Maloja Pass in the Swiss Alps, as life imitates art and vice versa. Juliette Binoche stars as Maria Enders, a famous French actress who is on her way to Zurich to accept an award for her mentor, playwright Wilhelm Melchior, who eschews such mundane ceremonies. But while en route, Maria and her personal assistant, the extremely attentive and capable Valentine (Kristen Stewart), learn that Wilhelm has suddenly and unexpectedly passed away, and Maria considers turning back, especially when she later finds out that Henryk Wald (Hanns Zischler), an old nemesis, will be there to pay homage to Wilhelm as well, but she decides to go ahead after all. At a cocktail party, Maria meets with hot director Klaus Diesterweg (Lars Eidinger), who is preparing a new stage production of Wilhelm and Maria’s first big hit, The Maloja Snake, but this time Maria would play Helena, an older woman obsessed with ambitious eighteen-year-old Sigrid, the role she originally performed twenty years earlier, to great acclaim. Klaus is planning to cast Lindsay Lohan-like troublemaking star and walking tabloid headline Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloë Grace Moretz) as Sigrid, which does not thrill Maria as her past and present meld together in an almost dreamlike narrative punctuated by the music of Handel and cinematographer Yorick Le Saux’s gorgeous shots of vast mountain landscapes.
Clouds of Sils Maria resonates on many levels, both inside and outside of the main plot and the film itself. Assayas (Irma Vep, Demonlover) cowrote André Téchiné’s 1983 film, Rendez-Vous, which was Binoche’s breakthrough; Assayas and Binoche wouldn’t work together again until his 2008 film Summer Hours, similar to the relationship between Wilhelm and Maria. Meanwhile, the story of the play-within-the-film is echoed by the relationship between Maria and Valentine, who are having trouble separating the personal from the professional. It is often difficult to know when the two women are practicing lines and when they are talking about their “real” lives. Binoche (Blue, Caché) is simply extraordinary as Maria, a distressed and anxious woman who is suddenly facing getting older somewhat sooner than expected, while Stewart (The Twilight Saga, On the Road) became the first American woman to win a French César, for Best Supporting Actress, for her sensitive portrayal of Valentine, a strong-willed young woman who might or might not be holding something back. The scenes between the two are riveting as they venture in and out of the reality of the film, their onscreen chemistry building and building till it’s at last ready to ignite. Art, life, cinema, theater, fiction, and reality all come together in Clouds of Sils Maria, as Maria, Assayas, and Binoche take stock of where they’ve been, where they are, and where they’re going. The film is screening at 4:00 and 7:30 on October 6 in FIAF’s CinéSalon series “Theater & Cinema”; the later show will be introduced by Florence Colombani. The Tuesday festival continues through October 27 with such other stage-related dramas as Arnaud Desplechin’s Esther Kahn, Abdellatif Kechiche’s Games of Love and Chance, and François Truffaut’s The Last Metro.
Who: Orlando Ferrand, Sabine Heinlein, Vasyl Makhno, Elyssa Goodman, and Oriana Leckert
What: Miss Manhattan and Brooklyn Spaces Present: To the 5 Boroughs
Where: Niagara Bar, 112 Ave. A at Seventh St., 212-420-9517
When: Monday, October 5, free, 7:45
Why: Taking its name from the 2004 Beastie Boys album To the 5 Boroughs, which features such tracks as “Ch-Check It Out,” “Shazam!,” and “An Open Letter to NYC,” To the 5 Boroughs is a free evening of nonfiction readings, hosted by Elyssa Goodman of Miss Manhattan and Oriana Leckert of Brooklyn Spaces, who has been lured across the East River for this event. The three readers are Orlando Ferrand (Apologia: Cuban Childhood in My Backpack, Citywalker), Sabine Heinlein (Among Murderers: Life After Prison), and Vasyl Makhno (Winter Letters, The Gertrude Stein Memorial Cultural and Recreation Park). Why should you go? Because as the Beasties famously declared in “An Open Letter to NYC,” “Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens and Staten / From the Battery to the top of Manhattan / Asian, Middle Eastern, and Latin / Black, White, New York, you make it happen.”
NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL: MAGGIE’S PLAN (Rebecca Miller, 2015)
Film Society of Lincoln Center
Sunday, October 4, 9:30, and Monday, October 5, 6:00, $25, Alice Tully Hall
Sunday, October 11, 3:00, $20, Walter Reade Theater
New York Film Festival runs through October 11
Rebecca Miller channels her inner Woody Allen and Noah Baumbach with the bittersweet romantic comedy Maggie’s Plan, making its U.S. premiere at the fifty-third New York Film Festival. Greta Gerwig is at her loopy best as Maggie, a thirtysomething college arts administrator who, after failing to maintain any relationship for more than six months, decides to become a single mother by impregnating herself with the sperm of an old classmate, Guy (Travis Fimmel), a Brooklyn hipster trying to become a pickle mogul. (He works for the real Brooklyn Brine Co.) Maggie’s married best buds, former boyfriend Tony (Bill Hader) and Felicia (Maya Rudolph), who have just had a baby themselves, debate her decision, but she is determined to forge ahead. As she prepares for the artificial insemination, which she is performing herself, she grows close with older New School adjunct professor John (Ethan Hawke), a ficto-crypto-anthropologist working on his novel. John has two kids of his own but is feeling overwhelmed by his wife, Georgette (Julianne Moore), a wickedly ambitious educator who has just been offered a lofty position at Columbia. Soon Maggie, John, and Georgette are in the midst of a complicated love triangle that is at times as frustrating to watch as it is endearing.
Miller, the daughter of playwright Arthur Miller, is a novelist and writer-director who has previously made such films as The Ballad of Jack and Rose, which starred her husband, Daniel Day-Lewis, and The Private Lives of Pippa Lee. Inspired by an unpublished novel by Karen Rinaldi, Maggie’s Plan is likely to be Miller’s most popular film, despite the clichéd setup that threatens to be annoyingly obvious and mundane but usually manages to bring out something fresh and charming. The tale evokes such films as Allen’s Manhattan and Baumbach’s Frances Ha, with mumblecore breakout star Gerwig (Nights and Weekends, Hannah Takes the Stairs) again playing a quirky character who seems to live in her own candy-colored fantasy land. Miller even uses cinematographer Sam Levy, who photographed such other Gerwig films as Frances Ha and Mistress America, to shoot Maggie’s Plan. Hawke is in good form as a man caught between two worlds, Hader and Rudolph provide cynical comic relief, and it’s impossible to take your eyes off Gerwig, who once again displays her mesmerizing natural talent, but Moore nearly steals the show as the sensationally dressed and coiffed Georgette, an unrelenting force with a to-die-for Danish-Teutonic accent and an attitude to boot. Maggie’s Plan is screening twice at Alice Tully Hall, first on October 4 at 9:30 with Miller, Gerwig, Moore, Hawke, Rudolph, and Fimmel in person, followed on October 5 at 6:00 with Miller present to talk about the film. In addition, an encore screening has been added on October 11 at 3:00.
1040 Grand Concourse at 167th St.
Friday, October 2, free, 6:00 - 10:00
Ten years ago, the Bronx Museum partnered with Full Circle Prod Inc. to promote B-girl culture, leading to, among other things, East Harlem-raised pioneering break dancer Ana “Rokafella” Garcia’s 2010 documentary on female hip-hop culture, All the Ladies Say. On October 2, the Bronx Museum and Rokafella are teaming up again with a special free First Fridays! presentation celebrating the fifth anniversary of the film. The evening will include performances by Lah Tere and Queen Godis from Momma’s Hip Hop Kitchen and DJ KS360, live painting by Lady K Fever, and a dance-off between Brooklyn B-girl Mantis and Connecticut B-girl N’tegrity. The event starts at 6:00, but be sure to get there early to check out the excellent exhibit “¡Presente! The Young Lords in New York” and the new show “Trees Are Alphabets.”
200 Eastern Parkway at Washington St.
Saturday, October 3, free, 5:00 - 11:00
The Brooklyn Museum’s October free First Saturday program pays tribute to National Hispanic Heritage Month — which actually runs September 15 to October 15 — on October 3, kicking things off with a performance by Garifuna traditionalist Aurelio Martínez, who is not only a singer-songwriter but was the first black member of Honduras’s National Congress. Known simply as Aurelio, he will be highlighting songs from his latest record, 2014’s Lándini, which includes such tracks as “Sañanaru,” “Milaguru,” and “Durugubei Mani.” (You can sample the songs here; Aurelio will also be playing a free show at the David Rubenstein Atrium at Lincoln Center on October 15.) First Saturday also features live performances by Danza Fiesta: Baile y Teatro Puertorriqueno, DJ duo iBomba (DJ Beto and DJ Ushka), the Gregorio Uribe Big Band, the Humberto Ramírez Quintent, Nuyorican Poets Cafe, and Cave Canem poets Willie Perdomo, Elizabeth Acevedo, and Rio Cortez. In addition, Richard Aste and Edward J. Sullivan will lead a curator talk on the new exhibition “Impressionism and the Caribbean: Francisco Oller and His Transatlantic World,” art workshops will teach participants how to paint still lifes like Francisco Oller, you can settle in for a game of dominoes, Raquel Cepeda will read from and discuss her most recent book, Bird of Paradise: How I Became Latina, with her husband, Sacha Jenkins, and children are invited to sing and dance to Spanish and English songs with ¡Acopladitos! And the galleries are open late so you can check out such other exhibitions as “The Rise of Sneaker Culture,” “Kara Walker: ‘African Boy Attendant Curio (Bananas),’” “KAWS: ALONG THE WAY,” and “Zanele Muholi: Isibonelo/Evidence.”
MOUNTAINS MAY DEPART (SHAN HE GU REN) (Jia Zhangke, 2015)
Film Society of Lincoln Center
Monday, September 28, Alice Tully Hall, 6:00, and Tuesday, September 29, Francesca Beale Theater, 9:15
New York Film Festival runs through October 11
Master Chinese writer-director Jia Zhangke returns to the New York Film Festival with Mountains May Depart, a melancholic look at love and relationships in which one decision can change the rest of your life, as well as an allegory about China itself and its path in the world. Jia’s wife and muse, Zha Tao, stars as Shen Tao, a flighty, flakey young woman flirting with coal miner Liangzi (Liang Jin Dong) and burgeoning capitalist Zhang Jinsheng (Zhang Yi) in 1999 China, the country on the cusp of an economic crisis. It’s easy to see the young woman’s romantic decision as a microcosm of China’s economic decisions, as the working class battles the wealthy elite, and the effects of both are profound. The setup is reminiscent of the love triangle at the center of François Truffaut’s Jules et Jim, but Jia takes it much further, continuing the story in 2014, and then into 2025, a bleak future where individual happiness is painfully elusive. Jia (Still Life, The World, 24 City) and his longtime cinematographer, Yu Lik-wai, shoot the three time periods in different screen ratios, exemplifying how much things evolve as Chinese capitalism and globalism take over, affecting — and disaffecting — the next generation. But the past is always snapping at the characters’ heels; much of the film takes place in the Yellow River basin, where ancient structures recall China’s history, and in Jia’s vision of the future, vinyl LPs are back in fashion (although handheld devices are much cooler). Music plays a key role in the film, primarily Sally Yeh’s Cantonese song “Take Care” and the Pet Shop Boys’ cover of the Village People’s “Go West,” the latter a title that gets to the heart of the film.
Zhao is marvelous as the bittersweet Shen, from singing at the colorful Fenyang Spring Festival Gala as the new millennium approaches to trying to restore her relationship with her son (Dong Zijian), who her husband insisted be named Dollar. Her eyes are filled with emotion as she proceeds on a course that was never what she dreamed. In the third section, Sylvia Chang shines as Mia, a sensitive, divorced teacher from Hong Kong who grows close to Dollar in a future world in which English has eclipsed Chinese, so fathers and sons literally do not speak the same language. Navigating the four physical sufferings of Buddhist thought — birth, old age, sickness, and death, Jia avoids showing many key moments in the lives of the characters, often leaving it up to the audience to uncover what has happened over the years and decades, which has a certain grace, although the ambiguous ending is more than a bit frustrating, even if it makes sense as a parable for China as a whole. But it’s all encapsulated in the briefest of kisses in a helicopter that will both brighten and break your heart. And keep an eye out for the guy with the Guangdong Broadsword. Mountains May Depart is screening at the New York Film Festival on September 28 at 6:00 and September 29 at 9:15, with Jia and Zhao in person to talk about the film. In addition, Jia will take part in a free HBO Directors Dialogue at the Howard Gilman Theater on September 29 at 6:00, and Walter Salles’s documentary, Jia Zhangke, a Guy from Fenyang, is being shown at the festival on September 30 and October 1.