New York Film Festival Report No. 5 (Let the Sunshine In, Lady Bird, BPM)

lady bird

This is it. The final entry in my New York Film Festival diary. It was a very good festival. I’m very glad I got to be a part of it. As for you, well, you should be happy there’s a lot of great movies coming your way in the next couple months.

Let the Sunshine In
I try to avoid indulging in stereotypes, but let’s put on our prejudice hat for a moment. If I tell you “artsy French film version of a Nancy Meyers movie”, what do you picture? Because that’s the most effective way to describe Claire Denis’s new movie Let the Sunshine In, which stars Juliette Binoche as a newly single woman who bounces from one frustrating relationship to another. For those who heard French Nancy Meyers and expected a sexual thriller about kitchen remodeling: I have bad news. The movie has the rough structure and tone of a romantic comedy, but it’s all hidden under layers of impenetrability. That’s the French part of it all, of course.

Denis is a very talented and very well respected director. I assume that she had a very specific movie in mind, and that Let the Sunshine In probably resembles that movie quite closely. It is just a very unpleasant movie to sit through. My guess is that Denis is trying to say something about language, or communication, because her movie is made up of scenes of two people talking in which they dance around every subject never truly saying anything concrete, over and over again. This might be commentary on the way people talk (I guess), but it’s incredibly boring to watch. Also, this film was described to me as a “comedy”, which is too generous for a movie with maybe two chuckles in it.

Let the Sunshine In will probably be released in theaters sometime next year.

Lady Bird
I have a hard time finding things to say about Lady Bird other than that it is a delightful movie. There is no point to simply list all the things I liked about it, so I let’s talk about it in context. This is the directorial debut of Greta Gerwig, who is mostly known as an actress. As a writer, she collaborated on two wonderful movies with director Noah Baumbach (in which she also starred). Film critic Kyle Turner pointed out on Twitter that Gerwig’s movies focus on the romance of relationships that aren’t explicitly romantic. Frances Ha was about a break-up story about two best friends. Mistress America was about an obsessive love between sisters. Now, Lady Bird, is a romance about keeping up the love between mother and daughter.

Saoirse Ronan stars as Christine, who has given herself the name Lady Bird, and is the kind of teenager who is trapped between feeling like she’s better and worse than everyone else. You know, typical teenager stuff. Lady Bird is a working class girl who lives in Sacramento and goes to a private Catholic school. She is trapped between wanting to leave her hometown and reinvent a new life for herself and loving the people and places that she’s known her whole life. This is most obvious in the complicated relationship she has with her mother, played by Laurie Metcalf. Ronan and Metcalf are the stand-outs in a cast full of incredible performances. What else can I say? The movie is hilarious, I can’t wait to see it again, and Gerwig is as good of a director as she is an actress and a writer.

Lady Bird will open in theaters on November 3. 

BPM (Beats per Minute)
This movie by Robin Campillo was the big audience favorite at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Grand Prize of the Jury. The film is best described as a portrait of the French chapter of the activist group Act Up, which stood up for the rights of HIV-positive people in the eighties and nineties. Other than its sexual honesty and impassioned energy, the movie is most exciting in the ways in which its structure reflects that of an activist group. The film has an expansive ensemble of characters, and it devotes a healthy amount of time to most of them. Each scene is presented from more than one perspective. The camera is constantly cutting to someone else’s perspective, as if it the film itself was reflecting the democratic ideals of the subjects themselves.

That’s true of at least the first two thirds of the movie. BPM is two and a half hours long (overlong running times being a staple of contemporary French cinema), and as it moves along it loses the plural focus. For its last section, the movie narrows its point of view on one specific character as his battle with AIDS becomes more intense. It’s not that these scenes are bad, but they are the kind of thing we usually see in movies about the AIDS crisis (not that there are that many movies on the subject). It’s a disappointment because it just isn’t as unique and impassioned as the first part of the film. It all comes together rather strongly in the end, but given how long the movie is, most of my patience had been lost by then.

BPM will open in limited release on October 20. 

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