The most controversial film playing this week at the New York Film Festival is Lars Von Trier’s Anti-Christ, but there’s not much to it underneath all the shock and awe. It’s basically a gross-out comedy leavened with pornography and genital mutilation to prove that it’s a film for “adults”. Once the trauma wears off, there’s not much to consider except Von Trier’s messy, inscrutable psyche, which has already been given sufficient (if not way too much) attention in the past. Happily, there are other pleasures to be had at Lincoln Center right now.
Almost certain of not finding a distributor but definitely worth your time is João Pedro Rodrigues’ To Die Like a Man. Detailing the life of a past-her-prime drag performer (Fernando Santos) struggling to keep together both career and personal life, the film is exquisitely shot and beautifully performed. Rodrigues is all about finding the spiritual grace notes in a life awash in suffering and disappointment. The film could as easily have been called the The Martyrdom of St. Tranny.
Also of note is Police, Adjective, Romanian director Corneliu Porumboiu’s follow up to 2006’s 12:08 East of Bucharest. On the surface it’s a kind of police procedural, though it owes less than nothing to recent American incarnations of that genre (e.g. Zodiac). Rather, Corneliu applies patient, documentary realism to the smallest of small beer cases. Officer Christi (Dragos Bucur) has been tailing a suspected teenage hash dealer for days, but is reluctant to make a bust for fear of ruining the boy’s life. It’s both character study and a nuanced meditation on personal vs. state morality.
Equally concerned with conflicted morality is film festival Samuel Maoz’s Lebanon, which depicts four callow twentysomethings experiencing the crucible of combat from inside an Israeli tank. Maoz is himself a veteran of the First Lebanon War, and perfectly captures the welter of emotions — confusion, denial, anger, resignation — that befall soldiers when first introduced to armed conflict. The film rarely leaves the tank’s interior, creating a sustained mood of hot-box paranoia that fairly sweats off the screen.