This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001

LITTLE JOE

Little Joe

Alice Woodard (Emily Beecham) surveys her creation in Jessica Hausner’s Little Joe

LITTLE JOE (Jessica Hausner, 2019)
Quad Cinema
34 West 13th St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
Opens Friday, December 6
212-255-2243
www.littlejoefilm.com
quadcinema.com

Emily Beecham was named Best Actress at Cannes for her role as a scientist and single mother who creates a different kind of monster in Jessica Hausner’s tense and gripping Little Joe, which opens Friday at the Quad. The Austrian director’s first English-language film was inspired directly by Frankenstein and Invasion of the Body Snatchers while evoking elements of Rosemary’s Baby and Little Shop of Horrors as it plays with horror, sci-fi, teen drama, and other genre conventions. Beecham is Alice Woodard, a plant breeder who is developing a flower she believes can make people happy through its “mood-lifting, antidepressant” scent. She names the new species Little Joe, after her son, Joe (Kit Connor), and even sneaks one plant home for him from the highly secured lab, which is blatantly against the rules.

She works at a science institute — a pristine environment with sterile-looking halls and researchers walking around in white lab coats — with Chris (Ben Whishaw), who has a crush on her, Bella (Kerry Fox), who goes everywhere with her dog, assistants Ric (Phénix Brossard) and Jasper (Andrew Rajan), and their boss, Karl (David Wilmot), who is hesitant to release the plant to the public until rigorous testing proves its safety, even though there’s an important plant show coming up where it would be perfect to introduce it. But after the lovely red blooms start emitting clouds of white spores, first Bella’s dog, then Alice’s coworkers and son, along with his friend Selma (Jessie-Mae Alonzo), begin changing.

Little Joe

Joe (Kit Connor) and his mother, Alice (Emily Beecham), sit down for takeout in stylized, atmospheric Little Joe

Written by Hausner (Lourdes, Amour Fou) with Géraldine Bajard, Little Joe is thick with foreboding, as scenes play out slowly to creepy electronic music by late Japanese composer Teiji Ito, who scored films by Maya Deren. The film is set in a timeless world of brightly lit, vividly contrasting pastel yellows, reds, greens, pinks, purples, and blues that conjure the 1970s but there are cell phones; cinematographer Martin Gschlacht, editor Karina Ressler, costume designer Tanja Hausner (the director’s sister), and production designer Katharina Wöppermann invoke the atmosphere of such cult faves as auteurs John Carpenter and David Cronenberg and novelist Ira Levin — who wrote The Stepford Wives, The Boys from Brazil, and Rosemary’s Baby — as Alice soon finds herself fighting against what appears to be a spreading conspiracy, all the while exploring her fears with her understanding psychotherapist (Lindsay Duncan). Alice’s bowl-cut red hair is reminiscent of Mia Farrow’s in Rosemary’s Baby (and her last name, Woodard, is similar to Rosemary’s, Woodhouse). Like that classic horror film, Little Joe focuses on the concept of birth and parenthood from a female point of view; even as Alice tries to protect her scientific creation, she is attempting to hold on to her pubescent son as he and his father, Ivan (Sebastian Hulk), become closer. “The ability to reproduce is what gives every living being meaning,” Bella says.

Perhaps the scariest part of the film is how realistic it feels despite its heavily stylized artifice. Hausner, for her first English-language movie, consulted with neuroscientist James Fallon, biologist Hanns Hatt, and other experts to research the validity of her plot, particularly in an age where there is global controversy over the efficacy of genetically modified food and animal and human cloning. Beecham (Sulphur and White, Into the Badlands) is superb as Alice, a stand-in for all of us, someone who just wants to bring happiness to the world but, in this case, may not fully understand the price it comes with.

FIRST SATURDAYS: BEST OF THE BOROUGH

Tuesday_Smillie_S.T.A.R._2000

Tuesday Smillie, S.T.A.R., watercolor, collage on board, 2012 (courtesy of the artist / © Tuesday Smillie)

Brooklyn Museum
200 Eastern Parkway at Washington St.
Saturday, December 7, free (some events require advance tickets), 5:00 - 11:00
212-864-5400
www.brooklynmuseum.org

The Brooklyn Museum shows off the best of the borough in the December edition of its free First Saturday program. There will be live performances by Los Hacheros, Gemma, DJ Laylo, Adrian Daniel, and drag collective Switch n’ Play (featuring Divina GranSparkle, K.James, Miss Malice, Nyx Nocturne, Pearl Harbor, and Vigor Mortis with special guest Heart Crimson); Visual AIDS screenings of short films commemorating the annual Day With(out) Art, followed by a conversation between filmmakers Iman Shervington and Derrick Woods-Morrow, moderated by writer Mathew Rodriguez; a book talk on Elia Alba’s The Supper Club with Sur Rodney (Sur) and Jack Waters, focusing on the conversation from the book that asks “What Would an HIV Doula Do?”; a curator tour of the Arts of Japan galleries with Joan Cummins; teen apprentice pop-up gallery talks in “Nobody Promised You Tomorrow: Art 50 Years After Stonewall”; a night market with handmade artisanal products; and a poetry reading and book signing by Brooklyn poet laureate Tina Chang from her latest book, Hybrida. In addition, the galleries will be open late so you can check out “Garry Winogrand: Color,” “Nobody Promised You Tomorrow: Art 50 Years After Stonewall,” “yasiin bey: Negus,” “One: Xu Bing,” “Pierre Cardin: Future Fashion,” “JR: Chronicles,” and more.

CHARLOTTE FOREVER — GAINSBOURG ON FILM: MELANCHOLIA

Justine (Kirsten Dunst) faces the end of the world in Lars von Trier’s dazzling Melancholia

CinéSalon: MELANCHOLIA (Lars von Trier, 2011)
French Institute Alliance Française, Florence Gould Hall
55 East 59th St. between Madison & Park Aves.
Tuesday, December 3, 7:30
Series continues Tuesday nights through December 17
212-355-6100
fiaf.org

Danish writer-director Lars von Trier has nothing less than the end of the world on his mind in his controversial 2011 drama, Melancholia, which is screening December 3 at 7:30 in the FIAF CinéSalon series “Charlotte Forever: Gainsbourg on Film.” Yet another of Von Trier’s love-it-or-hate-it cinematic forays opens with epic Kubrickian grandeur, introducing characters in marvelously composed slow-motion and still shots (courtesy of cinematographer Manuel Alberto Claro) as an apocalyptic collision threatens the earth and a Wagner overture dominates the soundtrack. Kirsten Dunst won the Best Actress award at Cannes for her portrayal of Justine, a seemingly carefree young woman celebrating her wedding day who soon turns out to be battling a debilitating mental illness. Her husband, Michael (Alexander Skarsgård), is madly in love with her and does not know quite what he has gotten himself into, especially as the partying continues and Justine’s motley crew of family and friends get caught up in various forms of intrigue, including Gaby, her marriage-hating mother (Charlotte Rampling), Dexter, her never serious father (John Hurt), Jack, her pompous boss (Stellan Skarsgård), Claire, her married sister (Charlotte Gainsbourg), and Claire’s filthy rich husband, John (Kiefer Sutherland), who is hosting the event at his massive waterfront estate.

While most of the film focuses on the wildly unpredictable Justine, the latter section turns its attention on Claire, who is terrified that a newly discovered planet named Melancholia is on its way to destroy the world. But Melancholia is not just about sadness, depression, family dysfunction, and the end of the world. It’s about the search for real love and truth, things that are disappearing from the earth by the minute. Justine works as an advertising copywriter, attaching tag lines to photographs to help sell product; at the wedding, Jack is determined to get one more great line of copy from her, even siccing his young, inexperienced nephew, Tim (Brady Corbet), on her to make sure she delivers. But what she ends up delivering is not what either man expected. Perhaps the only character who really sees what is going on is a wedding planner played by the great Udo Kier, who continually, and comically, shields his eyes from Justine, unable to watch the impending disaster. Just as in the film, as some characters get out their telescopes to watch the approaching planet and others refuse to look, there are sure to be many in the moviegoing public who will shield their eyes from Melancholia, choosing not to view yet another polemical film from a director who likes to antagonize his audience. They don’t know what they’re missing.

LE CONVERSAZIONI: FILMS OF MY LIFE

Laurie Anderson. Photography by Ebru Yildiz / Nicole Krauss. Photography by Goni Riskin.

Laurie Anderson and Nicole Krauss will be at the Morgan Library on December 5 for latest Le Conversazioni presentation (photos by Ebru Yildiz and Goni Riskin)

Morgan Library & Museum
225 Madison Ave. at 36th St.
Thursday, December 5, $20, 7:00
212-685-0008
www.themorgan.org

The ongoing series “Le Conversazioni: Films of My Life” continues December 5 at the Morgan Library with Laurie Anderson and Nicole Krauss sitting down for a discussion with moderator Antonio Monda, the artistic director and cofounder of Le Conversazioni, an Italian festival started in 2006 dedicated to literature but which has since spread to include other disciplines. Anderson is an Illinois-born, New York-based, Grammy-winning musician, filmmaker, composer, and multimedia performance and spoken-word artist who has released such records as Big Science and Mister Heartbreak, made such films as Home of the Brave and Heart of a Dog, and staged such cutting-edge shows as United States Live, Moby-Dick, and The End of the Moon. Krauss is the Manhattan-born award-winning author of Man Walks into a Room, The History of Love, Great House, and Forest Dark. They will be discussing films that influenced their work. The 7:00 event is being held in conjunction with the Morgan exhibition “Verdi: Creating Otello and Falstaff — Highlights from the Ricordi Archive,” which will be open at 6:00 for ticket holders.

SHOOTING THE MAFIA

Shooting the Mafia

Letizia Battaglia’s stunning photographs of the Cosa Nostra are shown in Shooting the Mafia

SHOOTING THE MAFIA (Kim Longinotto, 2019)
Quad Cinema
34 West 13th St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
Through December 5
212-255-2243
quadcinema.com

Palermo native Letizia Battaglia took a major turn at the midpoint of her life, becoming a photojournalist at the age of forty, concentrating on brutal crime scenes often involving the Mafia. Now, at the age of eighty-four, her engrossing story is being told in the documentary Shooting the Mafia. The first female photographer to work for a daily Italian newspaper, Battaglia is a bold presence, dominating the screen, displaying a series of distinctive hair colors as she talks about her life and career, discussing her love affair with photography. “The camera changed my life. I began to find myself. Before that, I wasn’t a real person,” she tells director Kim Longinotto. But she wasn’t taking pictures of death for the thrill of it, or for sensationalism. She was determined to show everyone what was happening in Sicily, how the mob operated, leaving a bloody trail behind it as the police, the courts, and the local community looked away. “Photographing trauma is embarrassing. You love these people, but you have to take photos. I couldn’t tell them I was doing it with love,” she says while also explaining that people should not be ruled by fear.

Shooting the Mafia

The fearless Letizia Battaglia takes on the Palermo mob in Shooting the Mafia

At one point, in the town of Corleone, she sets up an outdoor exhibit of her black-and-white photos of Mafia killings and suspected Cosa Nostra leaders; showing such images in public breaks the code of silence and puts her own safety at risk as she receives death threats. She also enters politics as a Green Party councilor. “I wanted to build a better society,” she says. The latter parts of the film focus on the 1986-87 efforts of judges and prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino as they arrest and try a huge group of mafiosos led by Luciano Liggio and Totò Riina. Longinotto (Gaea Girls, Runaway, Dreamcatcher) and editor Ollie Huddleston interweave new interviews with Battaglia, her assistant, Maria Chiara Di Trapani, Battaglia’s former lovers and fellow photographers Santi Caleca, Eduardo Rebulla, and Franco Zecchin, and her current partner, Roberto Timperi, with archival news reports, home movies, family photographs, and clips from Alberto Lattuada’s 1951 film about sin and redemption, Anna. Through it all are Battaglia herself and her stunning photos, haunting pictures that you can’t look away from. “I want to take away the beauty that others see in them,” she says. “I want to destroy them.” Thank goodness she didn’t.

RELENTLESS INVENTION: NEW KOREAN CINEMA, 1996-2003

Christmas in August Hur Jin-ho

The Film Society of Lincoln Center focuses on Hur Jin-ho’s Christmas in August and other South Korean fare from 1996 to 2003 in “Relentless Invention”

Film Society of Lincoln Center
Walter Reade Theater
165 West 65th St. between Broadway & Amsterdam Aves.
Series continues through December 4
212-875-5600
www.filmlinc.org

Under elected presidents Kim Young-sam (1993-98) and Kim Dae-jung (1998–2003), freedom in South Korea flourished as military rule ended. Nowhere was that more evident than in movie theaters; while North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong-il was trying to create his own propaganda film industry in North Korea, such South Korean auteurs as Bong Joon-ho, Hong Sang-soo, and Park Chan-wook began making genre-redefining works that quickly gained international attention. The Film Society of Lincoln Center pays tribute to this artistic revolution in “Relentless Invention: New Korean Cinema, 1996–2003,” a twelve-day, twenty-one-film salute continuing at the Walter Reade Theater through December 4. Below is a look at four of the selections; the festival also includes Bong Joon-ho’s debut, Barking Dogs Never Bite, Hong Sang-soo’s The Day a Pig Fell into the Well, Kim Sang-jin’s Attack the Gas Station, and Jeong Jae-eun’s Take Care of My Cat, among others.

Sgt. Lee Soo-hyeok (Lee Byung-hun) and Sgt. Oh Kyeong-pil (Song Kang-ho) see things from different sides in Joint Security Area

JOINT SECURITY AREA (Park Chan-wook, 2000)
Thursday, November 28, 7:00
www.filmlinc.org

Park Chan-wook’s Joint Security Area takes place at the DMZ Joint Security Area known as Panmunjeom, the dividing line between North and South Korea and where soldiers from each country actually face one another directly. Major Sophie Jean of the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission (Lee Young-Ae) has arrived to investigate the violent murder of two North Korean officers but discovers during her inquiry that key facts are missing involving South Korean hero Sgt. Lee Soo-hyeok’s (Lee Byung-hun) relationship to injured North Korean Sgt. Oh Kyeong-pil (Song Kang-ho). Told in a series of flashbacks, the gripping story deals with duty, honor, courage, and brotherhood — as well as the absurdity that war and politics inject into individual behavior and common human decency. As always, Song Kang-ho’s (The Host, Thirst) big, round face dominates the screen, his hulking figure at the center of the controversy.

Local detectives are searching for a serial killer in Memories of Murder

Local detectives are searching for a serial killer in Memories of Murder

MEMORIES OF MURDER (SALINUI CHUEOK) (Bong Joon-ho, 2003)
Thursday, November 28, 2:00
Sunday, December 2, 7:00
Monday, December 3, 1:15
www.filmlinc.org

In 2006, South Korean writer-director Bong Joon-ho burst onto the international cinematic landscape with the sleeper hit The Host, a modern-day monster movie with a lot of heart. He followed that up with the touching segment “Shaking Tokyo” in the compilation film Tokyo!, and Mother, the futuristic thriller Snowpiercer, and Okja, about an extraordinary pig. Inspired by actual events, Bong’s second film, 2003’s Memories of Murder, is a psychological thriller set in a rural South Korean town. With a serial killer on the loose, Seoul sends experienced inspector Suh (Kim Sang-kyung) to help with the case, which is being bungled by local detectives Park (Song Kang-ho) and Cho (Kim Roe-ha), who consistently tamper with evidence, bring in the wrong suspects, and torture them in both brutal and ridiculously funny ways. But as the frustration level builds and more victims are found, even Suh starts considering throwing away the book and doing whatever is necessary to catch the killer. Bong’s first major success, earning multiple awards at film festivals around the world, Memories of Murder is a well-paced police procedural that contains just enough surprises to overcome a few too many genre clichés. The film is beautifully shot by Kim Hyung-gu, from wide-open landscapes to a busy, crowded factory. But the film is dominated by Song’s unforgettable face, a physical and emotional wonder whether he’s goofing around with a prisoner or dead-set on catching a criminal.

Revenge, kidnapping, and intense violence are all part of Park Chan-wook’s SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE

Revenge, kidnapping, and intense violence are all part of Park Chan-wook’s Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance

SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE (Park Chan-wook, 2002)
Saturday, December 1, 6:00
Tuesday, December 4, 4:00
www.filmlinc.org

Park Chan-wook kicked off his revenge trilogy with Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (even though the second film, Oldboy, was the first one released in the States), a creepy, quirky tale that lays low for quite a while before busting loose with a massive splattering of the old ultra-violence. After deaf-mute Ryu (Shin Ha-kyun) fails miserably in a desperate, ridiculous attempt to get his dying sister (Lim Ji-eun) a kidney, the recently laid-off Ryu is convinced by his anarchist girlfriend, Youngmin (Bae Doo-na), to kidnap the four-year-old daughter (Han Bo-bae) of Park (Song Kang-ho), the man who owned the factory that kicked him out. But when the plan goes awry, both Ryu and Park become obsessed with avenging their torn-apart lives. Although the first half of the film is too slow and heads off in too many directions, the second half brings everything together, chock full of the kind of violence promised by the title.

Choi Min-sik is at his creepy best in the second part of Park Chan-wook’s Vengeance trilogy

OLDBOY (Park Chan-wook, 2003)
Tuesday, December 4, 9:00
www.filmlinc.org

The second in director Park Chan-wook’s revenge trilogy (in between Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and the 2005 New York Film Festival selection Sympathy for Lady Vengeance), Oldboy is a twisted, perverse psychological thriller that won the Grand Prix de Jury at Cannes, among many other international awards. Choi Min-sik (Chihwaseon) stars as Oh Dae-su, a man who has been imprisoned for fifteen years — but he doesn’t know why, or by whom. When he is finally released, his search for the truth becomes part of a conspiracy game, as he can seemingly trust no one. As he gets closer to finding everything out, the gore and terror continue to increase. Choi is outstanding as the wild-haired Dae-su in Park’s awesome rampage of a film, which is not for the faint of heart.

ALEC GUINNESS: KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS / THE MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT

Louis Mazzini (Dennis Price) is sick and tired of being bossed around by the D’Ascoynes (Alec Guinness in multiple roles) and decides to take extreme action in KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS

Louis Mazzini (Dennis Price) is sick and tired of being bossed around by the D’Ascoynes (Alec Guinness in multiple roles) and decides to take extreme action in Kind Hearts and Coronets

KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS (Robert Hamer, 1949)
Film Forum
209 West Houston St.
Wednesday, November 27 – Thursday, December 5
212-727-8110
filmforum.org

After being spurned by their aristocrat family and watching the wealthy D’Ascoynes turn their back on his mother even in death, Louis Mazzini (Dennis Price) decides that he is not going to let them get away with such awful treatment. So Louis, the tenth Duke of Chalfont, comes up with a plot to get rid of the eight D’Ascoynes standing between him and the dukedom. In Robert Hamer’s wickedly funny black comedy Kind Hearts and Coronets — screening at Film Forum November 27 through December 5 in a seventieth anniversary 4K restoration — each one of those haughty D’Ascoynes is played by Alec Guinness, young and old, male and female, to deservedly great acclaim.

The film is told in flashback as an elegant, distinguished Louis is writing his memoirs in prison on the eve of his execution. He eloquently describes the details of his multiple murders, as well as his unending yearning for the questionably prim and proper Sibella (Joan Greenwood), who continues her flirtations with him even after she marries Louis’s former schoolmate Lionel (John Penrose), as well as his relationship with Edith (Valerie Hobson), the wife of one of the D’Ascoynes he kills on his march to power, glory, and revenge. But his hubris leads to his downfall — and one of the most delicious twist endings in film history.

Based on Roy Horniman’s 1907 novel, Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal, and adapted by Hamer (The Spider and the Fly, School for Scoundrels) and cowriter John Dighton (The Barretts of Wimpole Street), Kind Hearts and Coronets — which was turned into the Tony-winning musical A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder — takes on British high society, class conflict, royalty, and hypocrisy with a brash dose of cynical humor and more than a hint of eroticism, pushing the sexual envelope amid all the laughter. Price is terrific as the dapper Louis, but it’s impossible to steal the show from Guinness, who is a riot as the succession of doomed D’Ascoynes. Guinness was originally asked to play four of the roles but suggested that he do them all, and thankfully Ealing Studios agreed; one of the key shots in the film is when six of the D’Ascoynes are seen together. In conjunction with Kind Hearts and Coronets, Film Forum is also showing three other classics starring the ever-graceful Alec Guinness de Cuffe, The Lavender Hill Mob, The Man in the White Suit, and The Ladykillers.

Goofy chemist Sid Stratton (Alec Guinness) is looking to revolutionize the textile industry in the Ealing classic The Man in the White Suit

THE MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT (Alexander Mackendrick, 1951)
Film Forum
209 West Houston St.
Wednesday, November 27, 2:40, 8:50
Sunday, December 1, 6:15
Wednesday, December 4, 2:40, 8:50
212-727-8110
filmforum.org

Alexander Mackendrick’s splendid 1951 Ealing comedy The Man in the White Suit is a hysterical Marxist fantasy about corporations, unions, and the working man that doesn’t feel dated in the least. Alec Guinness stars as Sidney Stratton, a brilliant scientist relegated to lower-class jobs at textile mills while he works feverishly on a secret product that he believes will revolutionize the industry — and the world. After being fired by Michael Corland (Michael Gough) at one factory, Sid goes over to Birnley’s, run by Alan Birnley (Cecil Parker, whose voiceover narration begins and ends the film). As Sid develops his groundbreaking product, he also develops a liking for Birnley’s daughter, Daphne (Joan Greenwood), who is preparing to marry Corland. Meanwhile, tough-talking union leader Bertha (Vida Hope) also takes a shine to the absentminded chemist, who soon finds himself on the run, chased by just about everyone he’s ever met, not understanding why they all are so against him.

Guinness is at his goofy best as Sid, a loner obsessed with the challenge he has set for himself; his makeshift, Rube Goldberg-like chemistry sets are a riot, bubbling over with silly noises like they’re in a cartoon. But at the heart of the film lies some fascinating insight on the nature of big business that is still relevant today. Nominated for an Oscar for Best Screenplay, The Man in the White Suit is an extremely witty film, expertly directed (and cowritten) by Mackendrick, who would go on to make such other great pictures as The Ladykillers and Sweet Smell of Success. It’s easy to imagine that if someone in a textile mill today came up with a similar invention as Stratton’s, the same arguments against it would arise, suppressing progress in favor of personal interest and preservation.