By William Wolf

THE BEST TEN FILMS OF 2016  Send This Review to a Friend

(Selected from films released in New York theaters during the year and listed in order of preference,)

1.I, DANIEL BLAKE

2. LA LA LAND

3. LOVING

4. THINGS TO COME

5. LION

6. THE INNOCENTS

7. FATIMA

8. JACKIE

9. THE PEOPLE VS. FRITZ BAUER

10. MARGUERITE

Other favorites among 2016 films, listed in no special order:

Fences, Neruda, 13th, Elle, Moonlight, Manchester by the Sea, The Measure of a Man, OJ: Made in America, Denial, Snowden, Sully, Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four, Art Bastard, Mia Madre, Sand Storm, Indignation, Café Society, Florence Foster Jenkins, Toni Erdmann, The Pickle Recipe, Finding Babel, Fire at Sea, A Tale of Love and Darkness, The Birth of a Nation, War Dogs, A Man Called Ove, Anthropoid, Genius, Dough, Papa: Hemingway in Cuba, Louder Than Bombs, Rules Don’t Apply, Is That a Gun in Your Pocket?, Hell or High Water, I Am Not Madame Bovary, I Am Not Your Negro.

TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL--2017 AWARDS  Send This Review to a Friend

Award winners for the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival were announced today (September 17) at the closing ceremony hosted by Piers Handling, CEO and Director of TIFF, and Cameron Bailey, Artistic Director.

This marked the 40th year that Toronto audiences were able to cast ballots for their favorite festival film for the Grolsch People’s Choice Award. This year’s honor went to Martin McDonagh for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” The award offers a $15,000 cash prize. The first runner up was Craig Gillespie’s “I,Tonya.” The second runner up was Lucas Guadagnino’s “Call Me by Your Name.”

The Grolsch People’s Choice Midnight Madness Award went to Joseph Kahn’s “Bodied.” The Grolsch People’s Choice Documentary Award went to AgnèsVarda and JR’s “Faces Places.”

The Canada Goose Award for Best Canadian Feature Film went to Robin Auber’s “Les Affamés.” The award carries a cash prize of $30,000 sponsored by Canada Goose. The jury gave honorable mention too Simon Lavoie’s “The Little Girl Who Was too Fond of Matches.”

The City of Toronto award for Best Canadian First Feature Film went to Wayne Wapeemukwa’s “Lul’Luk’l.” The award carries a cash prize of $15,000 made possible by the city of Toronto. Honorable mention went to Sadaf Foroughi’s “Ava.”

The IWC Short Cuts Award for Best Short Film went to Niki Lindroth von Bahr’s “The Burden,” with honorable mentions to Matthew Rankin’s “The Tesla World Light” and Qiu Yang’s “A Gentle Night.”

As selected by a jury from the Network for the Promotion of Asian Pacific Cinema for the sixth consecutive year, the NETPAC Award for World or International Asian Film Premiere went to Huang Hsin-Yao’s “The Great Buddha+.” The Toronto Platform Prize by Air France was awarded to Warwick Thornton’s “Sweet Country.”

A jury of the International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI) awarded its honor for the Discovery program to Sadaf Foroughi for “Ava,” and its award for Special Presentations to Manuel Martin Cuenca for “The Motive.”

The annual TIFF has emerged as one of the most important film festivals in the world and attracts a huge international press corps. Posted September 17, 2017.

TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2017--MOTHER!  Send This Review to a Friend

In “Mother!,” which I saw at the Toronto International Film Festival just before its commercial release, Javier Bardem plays a desperate man with a writer’s block. Would that director-screenwriter Darren Aronofsky also had writer’s block. It would have spared us from the most obnoxious film of the year.

Whatever was on Aronofsky’s mind with respect to the horror genre, “Mother!” is a pretentious exercise in mounting violence with a thoroughly repulsive ending. Maybe horror fans will relate to it, but others may find the violence upsetting and the finale just plain disgusting. And the entire film makes little sense.

Jennifer Lawrence as the mother in question goes through most of the film screaming, and that’s before she is set afire (there’s worse). The camera loves her, as well it should, but she has an empty one-note sacrificial role.

The set-up involves a recently married couple living in a house that had been destroyed. In the title role Lawrence is fixing it up with devotion. Bardem is creepy and manipulative as a writer frantic to receive approval, welcoming people who supposedly come to celebrate him but rip the house apart.

What happens is a steady, ever-growing wild mob invading, starting with visitors played by Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer, whom the husband welcomes but against whom the wife angrily protests. More and more people show up to storm the house, as the destruction is piled on in scene after scene. Meanwhile, the wife discovers that she is pregnant.

What may sometimes be illusion on the part of the wife and what is reality can be pondered. But what we see is what we get, and the horror is ever-mounting, not with wit, but with an exercise in cinematic outrageousness.

If you find it worth analyzing, you can spot a “Rosemary’s Baby” idea, for example. Perhaps one can accept “Mother!” as satire of the horror flicks. But any potential meaning is undermined by the unfettered violence without anything seriously or comically making sense. Given all of the hype about the film, you may want to see for yourself. But don’t say I didn’t warn you. A Paramount Pictures release. Reviewed September 15, 2017.

TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2017--FIRST THEY KILLED MY FATHER  Send This Review to a Friend

Angelina Jolie deserves to be commended for her striving to bring human values to the fore on screen and for her determination to use artistry for that purpose. Her latest, “First They Killed My Father,” which she directed as well as co-wrote and co-produced and which was seen at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival just before its release, is a haunting exploration of trying to survive under the oppressive reign of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.

The film stems from a memoir by Loung Ung of the terror she as a young girl and others in her family faced when Phnom Penh was invaded in 1975 and brutalized as part of the Khmer Rouge genocide against its victims. Ung, who collaborated on the screenplay with Jolie, was forced to flee. Her father had been in the military and had to run for his life, which meant that his family would also be targeted.

The story unfolds through the perspective of Loung, played as a youngster by the excellent Sreymoch Sareum. She and her siblings are forced into working the fields and being subjected to the austere, doctrinaire discipline that militates against owning anything privately and trains youths to be vicious fighters loathing the stated enemy.

The film depicts the intense brutality and the heroic efforts to escape and survive against all odds. Jolie doesn’t flinch in dramatizing the destruction and desperation. There are both emotionally touching scenes as well as horrific ones. Her location filming is excellent and she exhibits talent for raising a work to epic level, with very convincing casting to achieve maximum reality.

Jolie and her production team succeed in providing a sprawling look at the Cambodian tragedy of that era, always illuminated via the struggle of Loung Ung and her family. Fortunately, there is also an early reference to President Richard Nixon’s unjustified U.S. assault on the country.

It has been interesting and informative to follow Jolie’s career and her talent as a filmmaker. What obviously also drives her is being a deeply caring person, and that clearly stands behind virtually every scene in this film that is important historically as well as for its artistic achievement. A Netflix release. Reviewed September 15, 2017.

FRANCESCA CAPETTA SINGS DEAN MARTIN: A CENTENNIAL CELEBRATION  Send This Review to a Friend

It probably is a long time since the Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall was jumping as much last night (July 12, 2017) when Francesca Capetta produced and starred in a centennial tribute to Dean Martin, with songs that he sang making up the program. Capetta is an attractive, vibrant force with a strong voice, an entertaining style both as a singer and host, and she set a fun tone to the Dino tribute. Having come here from Italy four years ago, she still displays a charming, slight remainder of accent that adds flavor.

Capetta enhanced the concert with additional performances by Stacy Sullivan and the renowned Broadway star Liliane Montevecchi, plus a nine-member back-up chorus, the accompaniment by pianist and musical director Ian Herman, plus Russell Farhang on violin and Charlie Caranicas on trumpet. And Martin was certainly there in spirit, thanks not only to the recollection of his songs but via the anecdotes Capetta spun about him, including his long-running television show that earned him millions. (Alas, there was no mention of the Martin’s popular roasts that can still be seen on Youtube.)

I had first heard Capetta in a Broadway Rising Stars performance at The Town Hall, and in my review praised her for dynamically singing “God Help the Outcasts” from “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” Last night she demonstrated how adept she could be in conceiving and staging a concert. She excelled, for example, in singing such Martin stalwarts as “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head,” “Everybody Loves Somebody Sometimes,” and “Volare.” She also resorted to her native Italian in singing “Senza Fine” by Gino Paoli.

Stacy Sullivan took the stage with her customary vocal expertise in singing poignant renditions of “On the Street Where You Live” and “Blue Moon.” Then she and Capetta joined for some mutual fun. “I’m from Oklahoma and Francesca is from Italy, so together we make a spaghetti western,” Sullivan cracked, and they proceeded to sing a lively “Don’t Fence Me In.”

Montevecchi’s participation was a hoot. Clad in a tight-fitting black outfit, the legendary Broadway star began by bending over and touching the floor with her hands to prove she could still do it at her stated age of 85. More importantly, she showed that she could still deliver a song in a respectable voice, singing “C’est Magnifique” and “I Love Paris.” Montevecchi seemed to be having a great time playing up to an adoring audience.

Capetta capitalizes on her Italian heritage. She got a big laughs recounting a story about her mangled accent when she first came to the U.S., a story she has probably dined out on over the years. She told how when she stayed at a hotel with an unmade bed she called down to the desk and said she needed to have a sheet. After being advised to use the toilet, she clarified, “No, I need a sheet on the bed.” That only made it worse, so she had to go in person to explain.

The hour-long tribute came across more like a nightclub or theater staging than a concert, and it breezed by with well-coordinated pizzazz and the appeal of Capetta and her stars. At the Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, 154 West 47th Street. Reviewed July 13, 2017.

FJK FUSION OF CULTURE AND DANCE  Send This Review to a Friend

Once again Fadi Khoury Dance, the company founded in 2014, has displayed elements reflecting the approach to which it is dedicated in an effort to be different from other dance companies. Its “A Message of Peace” program, celebrating its recent tour of 31 cities in China, was presented last night (June 13, 2017) at the Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College. Its latest offering was billed as “From classical ballet to ballroom and Middle Eastern to jazz.”

The make-up of the company reflects its international outlook, with emphasis on the culture of the Middle East. Artistic director, choreographer, dancer and co-founder Fadi J. Khoury, was born in Bagdad, Iraq. He has followed in the footsteps (no pun intended) of his father who, also a dancer and choreographer, was artistic director of the National Iraq Ballet.

The company’s co-founder Sevin Ceviker, associate artist and principal dancer, is from Istanbul, Turkey. She trained in classical ballet at an early age and eventually performed at the Istanbul Opera House. Both Khoury and Ceviker have vast international performing experience.

In addition to creating works with Middle East attachment, the company also looks to Latin America and other cultures to blend into its commitment to mix classical ballet with modern dance and ballroom. Among the many stops along the way in Khoury’s career was a stint teaching ballroom as lead instructor, dancer and choreographer at the Arthur Murray Dance Center in New York.

The Mid-East connection was illustrated prominently in last night’s final dance number, “Echoes,” which was said to be inspired by Dabke, a folkloric traditional Bedouin dance from the mountains of Lebanon and Syria. The accompaniment was heavy on percussion as the dancers, with sashes suggesting the region as part of their smart black and white costumes, provided dynamic interpretation. (Khoury designs the company’s costumes).

I found the entirely different opener especially intriguing. “Mundo” was described as “a work in progress which joins Latin American social dancing and folkloric movement.” Providing the accompaniment with a score by Paco de Lucia and Diego Amador was jazz pianist Frank Abenante and his NYC Latin Jazz Ensemble. The work was marked by high energy of couples and solo turns and a build-up of great intensity with the fusion of styles.

In the middle piece, “Reflections” the costumes puzzled me. Men were dressed in skirts in their pairing with the women and each other, and I was attempting to grasp the point. Was this an effort to symbolically break down gender identity? As for the dancing, the program partly described the piece as having images that “hint of the evanescence of life and beauty.” At the Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College, East 68th Street (between Park and Lexington Avenues). Posted June 14, 2017.

DE NIRO, HONORED WITH FILM SOCIETY AWARD, DENOUNCES TRUMP BUDGET PLAN TO TAKE AWAY ARTS FUNDING  Send This Review to a Friend

In accepting the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s 44th Chaplin Award at the Society’s annual gala last night (May 8, 2017) at the David H. Koch Theater, Robert De Niro blasted Trump administration budget plans to take away funding from various arts organizations. De Niro was eloquent in making his point.

Citing the importance of art, he lauded the long line of Chaplin award recipients before him for their contributions to art, and especially cited the art of Charlie Chaplin, the Society’s first recipient and the man for whom the annual award has been named. Taking a dig at President Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant policies, he pointed out the Chaplin came here as an immigrant “who probably wouldn’t pass today’s extreme vetting.” He expressed hope that “we are not keeping out the next Chaplin.”

De Niro also mocked the administration’s excuse for cutting arts funds--that they were supposedly just going to “the rich liberal elite.” The audience then erupted with applause when he said, “This is what they now call an alternative fact.` I call it what it is—bullshit.”

De Niro wryly lauded the annual Film Society of Lincoln Center’s annual film festival as “my favorable uptown festival.” De Niro, of course, has been a prime force in establishing the ongoing Tribeca Film Festival downtown. There was generosity with respect to the Tribeca event expressed during the gala that raised funds for the New York Film Festival that occurs every Fall. Film festivals in the same city inevitably compete in raising money.

In keynoting the evening, Ann Tenenbaum, Chairman of the Board of the Film Society, announced that $1.7 million had been raised by the gala to support the Society’s work.

During the salute to De Niro an array of clips from the many films he has made were shown, some emphasizing his tough guy and dramatic roles, others reflecting his comedies. Some were keyed to his working with the assembled notables who spoke in his honor.

Among the speakers were Michael Douglas, Whoopi Goldberg, Barry Levinson, Sean Penn, Martin Scorsese, Ben Stiller, Harvey Keitel and Meryl Streep. All were lavish in their praise for De Niro as an actor and as a person.

Penn, for example, told how when he first saw De Niro on screen, it made him forget about his initial idea of directing films to wanting to become an actor. Several speakers had stories to tell about working together on films. Streep, who was honored in 2008 with the Chaplin Award, was effusive in her praise, and looking up at De Niro seated in a box, said “I love you.”

The honor of presenting the award to De Niro fell to Martin Scorsese, himself a Chaplin Award honoree, who had elaborated upon working with De Niro and on their long-time friendship. De Niro had to pause before he spoke after he was introduced as there was a huge ovation from the packed theater. Some were only attending the awards ceremony, others went to a post-Gala dinner.

The more than 100 films in which De Niro appeared have included such especially well known ones as “Taxi Driver,” “The Deer Hunter,” “Raging Bull,” “Analyze This,” “Goodfellas,” “A Bronx Tale,” “The King of Comedy," "The Little Fockers” and ensuing “Fockers” comedies.

Recipients of the Chaplin Award since Charlie Chaplin was honored in 1972 have included such famous film stars and directors as Fred Astaire, Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder, Laurence Olivier, Federico Fellini, Elizabeth Taylor, Bette Davis, Gregory Peck, Robert Altman, Clint Eastwood, Sean Connery, Mike Nichols, Dustin Hoffman, Barbra Streisand, Robert Redford and Morgan Freeman.

I’ve been attending an reviewing these galas since the start, and it as been gratifying to see the parade of the honorees over the years. The first award to Chaplin was thrilling because it marked his return to the United States after staying abroad for 20 years, since when as he left for Europe in 1952, he was told he would not be welcomed back until he proved his moral turpitude. He had been broadly criticized as a result of a paternity suit, but the basic reason was for the political bent of his latter films and his support of left-wing causes.

In advance of his return, I had gone to his home in Switzerland to interview him, as he said he would not be giving interviews in the United States. He told me, “I’m going to America, I like America and I’m prepared to be shot.” Instead he was honored as a returning hero. Subsequent to his being celebrated by the Film Society of Lincoln Center he was awarded an honorary Oscar in Hollywood. Posted May 9, 2017.

CAREERS THROUGH CULINARY ARTS PROGRAM (C-CAP) HONORS CHEF MICHAEL ANTHONY AND HOSTS GRAND TASTING   Send This Review to a Friend

On Wednesday, March 8, 2017, Chef Michael Anthony of Gramercy Tavern and Untitled and Studio Café at the Whitney Museum of American Art was honored in front of 700 guests at the 18th annual Careers through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP) Benefit. Anthony was presented with the C-CAP Honors Award and was recognized for his achievements and contributions to the culinary industry as well as his commitment to nurturing the next generation of chefs.

This grand tasting, held at Chelsea Piers, raised nearly $1,000,000 to support scholarships as well as educational and career opportunities for disadvantaged youth pursuing careers in the restaurant and food service industry. The event showcased cuisine from an all-star lineup of New York City’s major chefs and restaurateurs.

They included Michael Anthony, C-CAP Board Co-Chair and chef Marcus Samuelsson; C-CAP Board Member and restaurateur Michael Stillman; 2016 Michelin Star Chefs, Adam Bissell, Daniel Boulud and Aaron Bludorn, John Fraser, Markus Glocker, Alfred Portale, Michael White; and Javi Estévez of La Tasquería de Javier Estévez (Madrid); as well as C-CAP alumni Giovanna Delli Compagni of Asiate, Cesar Gutierrez of Café Boulud, Betty Peña of Pig and Khao, Swainson Brown of The Writing Room, and Yvan Lemoine of Union Fare. More than 60 New York City C-CAP high school students and alumni, hoping to put their mark on the culinary world, assisted the chefs.

The savory dishes included were Marcus Samuelsson’s spiced salmon with apple dashi and chicken rice salad; Michael Anthony’s citrus and burrata - citrus, burrata cheese, green olives, radicchio, on rice cracker; duck liver mousse parfait, madeira gelée, brioche from Daniel Boulud, Aaron Bludorn, and C-CAP grad Cesar Gutierrez; and Carla Hall’s braised chili pork and plantains, cornbread, shaved radish salad.

Desserts included Miro Uskokovic’s miro’s cookies and milk: triple chocolate chunk, oatmeal, prune rugelach; Sarabeth’s triple chocolate-chocolate pudding; Wayne Harley Brachman’s flourless chocolate tart with mocha cream, and Marc Aumont’s Chocolate éclair au chocolat.

WCBS-TV News Anchorman Maurice DuBois was the master of ceremonies. Marcus Samuelsson presented the C-CAP Honors Award, an original stainless steel sculpture by Philip Grausman, of a germinating fava bean, symbolizing C-CAP’s budding culinary students and recognizing the care and interest chef Anthony has in the mentoring of C-CAP students.

The event also included a silent and live auction by Christie’s auctioneer Chloe Waddington and was coordinated by Harriet Rose Katz of Gourmet Advisory Services.

Careers through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP) is a non-profit that provides career opportunities in the foodservice industry for underserved youth through culinary arts education and employment.

Dish List: Philip DeMaiolo, Abigail Kirsch, 24 hour coriander and sea salt cured Atlantic salmon with sauce gribiche.

Jason Weiner and Alex Nieto, Almond, Lamb meatball Moroccan style: ricotta salata, salsa verde.

Christian Pratsch, Giovanna Delli Compagni*, Daniel Coward*, Asiate, hamachi: carrot panna cotta – yuzu gel – pink peppercorn.

Markus Glocker, Bâtard, Caramelle pasta, duck broth, scallions, ricotta.

Daniel Boulud, Aaron Bludorn, Cesar Gutierrez*, Café Boulud, duck liver mousse parfait, madeira gelée, brioche.

Carla Hall, Carla Hall's Southern Kitchen, braised chili pork and plantains, cornbread, shaved radish salad.

Ivy Stark, Dos Caminos, grilled pineapple and toasted coconut guacamole with pepino enchilito.

John Fraser, Dovetail, baby beets and pomegranate salad, charred fennel, bulgur wheat.

Fortunato Nicotra, Felidia, beef tagliata rossini with black truffle.

Alfred Portale, Gotham Bar and Grill, sheep milk ricotta tortellini: braised lamb shank, butternut squash parmesan crema.

Michael Anthony, Gramercy Tavern/ Untitled, Citrus and burrata - citrus, burrata cheese, green olives, radicchio, on rice cracker.

Miro Uskokovic, Gramercy Tavern/Untitled, Miro’s cookies and milk: triple chocolate chunk / oatmeal / prune rugelach.

Manish Mehrotra, Indian Accent, rice crusted bass, kerala, coconut curry.

Marc Aumont, Kreuther Handcrafted, chocolate éclair au chocolat .

Missy Robbins, Lilia, prosciutto, parmigiano butter, balsamic mustard served on bread.

Maria Loi, Loi Estiatorio, Htapodaki stin schara: grilled octopus with red wine-macerated onions, capers, fresh herbs, lemon, and olive oil.

Kyung Up Lim, Michael's, salmon tostada, avocado, puffed quinoa, black truffle aioli.

Abram Bissell, The Modern, “Eggs on eggs on eggs” trout roe, egg yolk, fried egg puree, dill and warm brioche.

Matt Hoyle, Nobu 57, salmon tataki goma miso ponzu.

Bill Telepan, Oceana, Grilled swordfish with pickled lemon and black pepper yogurt.

Zene Flinn, Park Avenue Spring, trout roe on Russian black bread with avocado purée and beet pickled shallots.

Leah Cohen, Betty Pena*, Pig & Khao, Khao soi with wonton noodles, mustard.

Michael Lomonaco, Wayne Harley Brachman, Daniel Rutledge, Porter House New York, Thai beef salad- chang mai and flourless chocolate tart with mocha cream/

Ryan Bartlow, Quality Eats, grilled Nueske’s bacon, peanut butter, jalapeno jelly.

Sarabeth Levine, Sarabeth's, triple chocolate-chocolate pudding.

Ali LaRaia, The Sosta, roasted radish with salsa verde and parmigiano reggiano crouton.

Marcus Samuelsson, Streetbird Rotisserie, spiced salmon with apple dashi and chicken rice salad.

Javi Estévez, La Tasquería de Javier Estévez (Madrid), Madrid steak tartar.

David Burke, Tavern 62 by David Burke, grilled zucchini with chili and parmesan.

Thomas Chen, Toume, Shrimp toast with wasabi aioli.

Yvan Lemoine*, Union Fare, whole roast suckling pig, celery remoulade.

Carmen Quagliata, Union Square Café, chicken tortelloni, Umbrian lentils, parmigiano.

Jonathan Kavourakis, Vandal, Shawarma salad cones (chicken, falafel croutons, hot sauce white sauce boss).

Michael White, Jared Gadbaw, Vaucluse, scallop crudo with black truffles.

Swainson Brown*, The Writing Room, Pastrami beef tongue with pickled apple and horseradish.

*C-CAP Alum

NEW DIRECTORS/NEW FILMS 2017  Send This Review to a Friend

There are so many films included in this year’s New Directors/New Films series jointly presented by The Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art (March 15-26) that the best I can do is report on what I have managed to sample at press previews amid the hectic schedule of regular film and theater coverage.

Over the years many films in the series have leapt to wider recognition. Those who make the selections have the opportunity to find gems or at least discoveries worth a wider audience, and that is the satisfaction that the series brings annually.

Depending on your capacity for rap, you may find “Patti Cake$,” written and directed by Geremy Jasper, an appealing offbeat film with a magnetic heroine. Danielle Macdonald, seriously overweight, plays Patti, who may lack self-confidence but on the other hand is eager to be a rap performer.

I had no idea of the busy rap scene in northern New Jersey, to which Jasper, a musician and former music video director from Hillsdale, is attuned. He has been inspired to direct his first feature film, and it is alive with passion, rap and the effective depiction of the scene.

Macdonald makes an impression as a likable young woman with heart, and one is seduced into rooting for her. Siddharth Dhananjay is also effective as her hip-hop partner who encourages her, and they acquire as a collaborator Mamoudou Athie. Another major role is played by Bridget Everett as Patti’s alcoholic mother, also a singer. The film is a major entry in the current series.

Although it can sometimes be confusing because of its flashbacks, “By the Time It Gets Dark,” directed by Anocha Suwichakornpong and in Thai wih English subtitles, deals with important issues. The touchstone is a 1976 massacre of Thai student activists at a university. We see a scene in which the students are forced to lie face down, and what happens to many of them became a milestone in Thailand.

Various characters are examined in the film, especially that of an actress who is assumed to be well known. We see her at different stages of her life, and the portrait is linked to the massacre. In some ways “Before It Gets Dark” is a memory story, and in other aspects it appears meant to be of the moment.

“Arabia,” co-directed by João Dumans and Affonso Uchoa, is a Brazilian working class film that zeroes in on conditions and an individual trying to find a path amid the pressures and situations that confront him.

Cristiano has a prison record, a strike against him, and we follow his adventures and struggles as he takes to the road and tries to find his place in life. The film makes a welcome statement about conditions In the country.

I found the film “4 Days in France,” which clocks in at two horus and 21 minutes, extended pretention. Directed by Jérôme Reybaud, the film involves one gay man leaving his lover, who then proceeds to try to find where he went and catch up with him.

What is most interesting, however, is how the film depicts a network of gays through the French countryside connected via smart phones. It would seem that no matter where a gay man is, he can find other gays and rendezvous with them for quickie contacts, or perhaps more than that.

We see all this through the eyes of the lover who has split as he drives along country roads. The scenery is often quite breathtaking, and the film is enlivened by encounters with gays and others not in the network. For example, one woman needs help in burying her pet. Another woman is rather strange and just wants a life.

The trouble is one can tire of the very drawn out journey. Whether there is an emotional kick when the lovers finally meet will depend on how much patience you have.

The South Korean film “Autum, Autumn,” directed by Jang Woo-jin, eventually focuses on a man and woman who meet on a tour. Each is married, but in the course of the film they engage in intimate conversation revealing to each other much about their lives.

He is not very good looking and she is pretty in an ordinary way. What we learn about their respective lives, in the closeness that develops as they express themselves in ways that they have been able to with their mates, is rather tender.

Because of their ties in life, nothing will ever come of this meeting. You might call this a Korean “Brief Encounter,” although it has nowhere near the depth and emotion of the British classic.

A film with particular political interest is “White Sun,” directed by Deepak Rauniyar. It is set in Nepal against the background of the divisions and political rivalries in that country. But the story is a personal one, and that gives the film a very human quality.

The plot involves a Maoist activist who returns home after his father has just died. His father believed in the monarchist regime, which the Maoissts fought in a lengthy civil war. The son’s brother also was on the monarchist side.

What happens in the effort to perform a burial according to the required rituals and the clashing relationship make for an involving and sometimes satirical film. How all is worked out holds one’s attention and tells us much abut human behavior. Reviewed March 20, 2017.

RENDEZ-VOUS WITH FRENCH CINEMA 2017  Send This Review to a Friend

A look at what’s cooking in French Cinema is always interesting, and the opportunity arises each year with the Rendez-Vous With French Cinema Series, co-presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and Unifrance. The time has arrived again (March 1-12) and out of those I sampled, I find a number of the entries in this year’s batch worth attention.

The most important is “Frantz,” François Ozon’s film based on Ernst Lubitsch’s 1932 “Broken Lullaby.” Set in a German town, a mystery occurs when a Frenchman visits the symbolic grave of a German soldier killed in World War I. He was Frantz, the fiancé of Anna (Paula Beer), who is still grieving about her loss.

She becomes curious and meets the visitor, Adrien (Pierre Niney), who recounts a friendship with Frantz prior to the war. The story grows more complicated, as Adrien meets Frantz’s parents and romantic impulses spring between him and Anna. Of coruse, we suspect that all is not as it seems.

The film is engrossing, but a rather fanciful ending doesn’t seem convincing. Yet on balance “Frantz” impresses and belongs to the category of anti-war films that portray soldiers as victims no matter which side they are fighting on.

“The Odyssey,” directed by Jérôme Salle, is an enjoyable film about the renowned undersea explorer Jacques Cousteau, well-played by Lambert Wilson. The film examines Cousteau’s professional and personal life with emphasis on the problematical relationship with his son, Philippe (Pierre Niney). Audrey Tautou plays the elder Cousteau’s wife Simone, who, to her neglect, must endure her husband’s overriding concentration on his exploits.

A vivid plus is the abundance of underwater shots of sea life. There is also the emphasis on Cousteau’s growing commitment to saving the environment from desecration, a passion that develops within him and builds his resulting activism for that cause.

There has been much attention in France to “Nocturama,” Bertrand Bonello’s fim about a group of young terrorists who blow up buildings in Paris. The first half of the film is suspenseful as we follow the secret movements and meetings carried out to make the coordinated destruction happen. But then instead of scattering to safety, the perpetrators inexplicably gather in a department store after closing.

They party in the store while awaiting a certain morning assault by the police. There doesn’t seem to be any philosophical motivation for the terrorists, who just seem to be out to make trouble or prove that they can. Holing up in the department store seems thoroughly dopy, as it can mean certain death, although when it comes right down to the cops killing the terrorists one by one, it is apparent that they really want to live.

“Django,” directed by Étienne Comar, is a compelling drama about famed jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, impressively played by Reda Kateb. The film concentrates on Reinhardt’s opposition to the Nazi persecution of his Romani people during World War II. Cécile de France has a colorful role as his friend and muse, a woman who fights the Nazis into whose confidence she has worked her way.

Reinhardt’s music becomes a major part of the film, as one would expect, but in that realm there are also revelations that his talent went beyond his playing and encompasses his skill as an orchestra leader as well.

It is always interesting to watch Marion Cotillard, even in the odd film “From the Land of the Moon,” directed by Nicole Garcia. Cotillard plays Gabrielle, who is in an unhappy marriage and is psychologically disturbed. When she goes to a rest home in Switzerland she falls for a fatally ill soldier.

The twist at the end seems more like a joke played on the audience than a logical outcome, and is likely to leave one more annoyed than enlightened. It spoils a potentially effective drama and Cotillard’s impassioned performance goes for naught.

If you enjoy intense medical dramas, “Heal the Living,” directed by Katell Quillévéré, may be for you. A young man is left brain dead after a car accident and his grieving parents must decide whether to allow an organ transplant for someone badly in need of a heart.

The film proceeds to take us into the process of arranging for transplants, involving both the donor and the needy recipient. We go right into the operating room to follow the surgical details. This is only for those who have the stomach for such a film, but for those who do, this is a rewarding experience that is both dramatic and educational.

There are many other films to explore in this jam-packed series. At the Walter Reade Theater, 165 West 65th Street, unless otherwise noted. Details at filmlinc.org. Reviewed March 5, 2017.

  

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