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This article by Angelina Sciolla was prepared for the January 22, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
At the Movies
"I make film to pass the time." — Jean-Luc Godard
It is no surprise such deliberate banality would come
from the lips of the existentialist filmmaker and father of the French
New Wave cinema, Jean-Luc Godard. One would assume he recognizes the
irony of such a statement, because for more than 40 years audiences
worldwide have enjoyed "passing time" by watching his films.
The New Jersey Film Festival launches its spring season on Friday,
January 24, with a 2001 Godard film. The festival features as its
centerpiece a Godard retrospective, promising a select menu of films
spanning his long and fascinating career. To some who have lost track
of Godard and his doings, he is a master relegated to film school
fodder — a relic from the ’60s whose didactic theories and radical
politics lost their cinematic bite in the bourgeois post-Cold War
Yet for others, he is one of the most important filmmakers of the
last 50 years. New Jersey Film Festival executive director Al Nigrin
thinks so. "Godard changed the roadmap of moviemaking," says
Nigrin in an interview from his Rutgers campus office. "I became
a filmmaker because of him."
As demonstrated in his films, Godard appears to both disdain and exploit
pop (i.e. American) culture for its reductive influences. His films
are literate, stylish, and character-driven with simple plots. But
while he has remained in the shadows for some time, the 73-year-old
Godard reestablished his creative viability when he emerged from a
directorial hiatus in 2001 with "In Praise of Love," a critical
smash that captured a Palm D’Or nomination at the 2001 Cannes Film
Festival and introduced him to the latest generation of cinephiles.
Musing over Godard’s long career, Nigrin feels this latest film may
be Godard’s swan song. "Sensing that," he explains, "I
wanted to take this opportunity to celebrate Godard’s remarkable work."
Exploring themes of love, longing, and politics, "In Praise of
Love" is reminiscent of Godard’s early work, with the first act
shot in shimmering black and white amidst Parisian locations familiar
to Godard fans. He is also sure to include a dig at his cultural nemesis
— the United States — with characteristic French aplomb. "Americans
have no memory of their own," says one of the characters. "That’s
why they have to steal others."
The festival’s retrospective also includes Godard films featuring
his wife, actress Anna Karina. "My Life To Live" (1962) offers
the conventional plot of a young girl who leaves her small town with
dreams of becoming an actress, only to drift into a life of prostitution.
Godard rescues the story from cliche with a striking and effective
lack of sentimentality.
Also on the program is "Alphaville" (1962). This quirky, futuristic
gangster film-noir features Karina as the daughter of a missing professor
whose claim to fame is the Alpha 60, an omniscient computer that monitors
the comings and goings of a group of mysterious hotel guests.
A later, notorious work, "Hail Mary," is Godard’s
re-telling of the Virgin birth, set in modern-day France. The film
stirred controversy when it was released in 1985 and is replete with
Godard’s deconstructive and challenging storytelling style. It’s worth
a look just to discover what all the fuss was about and to see how
Godard breaks taboos without being entirely irreverent toward the
integrity of the original Gospel story.
With 50 screenings over 42 days, the New Jersey Film Festival offers
other edifying movie options as well. Highlights include the new "Satin
Rouge," a sensuous Tunisian melodrama about a widowed seamstress
who, while checking up on her daughter’s romance with a cabaret musician,
becomes drawn to an exotic inner circle of nightclub belly dancers.
Ultimately she ends up trading her dowdy shifts for veils and finger
cymbals and strikes up a hot romance with a sexy drummer. This film
is sure to add fuel to the burgeoning belly dance craze and clearly
shows that a sumptuous and mysterious Middle-Eastern culture still
thrives despite all the attention heaped upon the co-existent puritanical
On the topic of unwanted attention, "The Trials of Henry Kissinger,"
an indicting documentary based on the book by journalist Christopher
Hitchens, connects the world’s most famous diplomat and champion of
Realpolitik to some pretty heinous acts, including the assassination
of Chilean president Salvador Allende on September 11, 1973. The film
also suggests Kissinger was a mercenary careerist who saw the Vietnam
War as a means to advance through the White House ranks. While not
entirely convincing on every argument, it is a film worth seeing in
order to measure the far-reaching tentacles of international power
Also noteworthy are "Fidel," a substantive documentary about
the enduring Cuban dictator, and the silent classic "Potemkin"
of 1925, a stunning and shattering epic that ranks with D.W. Griffith’s
"Birth of a Nation." The Soviet government commissioned filmmaker
Sergei Eisenstein to create a film montage of revolutionary actions
taken in 1905, the year of the first (and unsuccessful) Russian revolution.
Instead, Eisenstein decided to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the
failure by focusing on a single event — the mutiny by the crew
of the Battleship Potemkin and the resulting massacre of civilians.
This picture has been universally anointed as one of the greatest
works in film history. The festival offers the signal opportunity
to see it once again on the big screen.
Other interesting choices include the area premiere of "Dracula:
Pages from a Virgin’s Diary," a feminist take on the classic vampire
tale directed by rising star Guy Madden, and "Butterfly,"
a documentary about Oregon environmental activist Julia Butterfly
Finally, the festival will present the 15th annual United States Super
8 Film and Digital Video Festival — the longest running, nationally
recognized, and juried 8mm film festival in North America. Over 150
filmmakers from the U.S. and Canada will compete for cash and prizes.
Adding more fun to this smorgasbord of fresh indie films is the fact
that the audience gets to help pick the winners.
— Angelina Sciolla
Sunday in Scott Hall, Room 123, Rutgers College Avenue campus, near
the corner of College Avenue and Hamilton Street. Thursday screenings
are in Loree Hall 024, Douglass College campus, near the corner of
Nichol Avenue and George Street; with selected free events at Borders
Books, East Brunswick. Admission $6; all programs begin at 7 p.m.
Information 732-932-8482 or www.njfilmfest.com
Godard’s newest film, Friday to Sunday, January 24 to 26 at 7 p.m.
activist Julia Butterfly Hill, Thursday, January 30 at Loree Hall;
January 31 to February 2 at Scott Hall 123.
February 6. Satin Rouge. From Tunisian director Raja Amari (2002),
Friday to Sunday, February 7 to 9. L’Atalante. Restored version
of the 1934 French surrealist classic by Jean Vigo,Thursday, February
13. Dracula: Pages From A Virgin’s Diary, Guy Maddin’s new feature
is a stylized dance melodrama in black and white (and red), February
14 to 16.
Sunday, February 21 to 23. Alphaville. Jean-Luc Godard’s 1966
classic. $6., Thursday, February 27. Derrida, documentary on
the father of "deconstruction," Jacques Derrida (2002). Friday
to Sunday, February 28 to March 2.
Sergei M. Eisenstein, Thursday, March 6. Bowling for Columbine,
Michael Moore’s 2002 documentary feature on American gun culture,
Friday to Sunday, March 7 to 9. The Trials Of Henry Kissinger,
directed by Alex Gibnet and Eugene Jarecki (2002); double bill with
"Fidel" by Estela Bravo, March 28 to 30.
about the Voodoun religion of Haiti, Thursday, April 3. Morvern
Callar . Black comedy directed by Lynne Ramsay (2002), Friday to
Sunday, April 4 to 6. Hail Mary. Jean-Luc Godard’s controversial
1985 feature that translates the story of the virgin birth into a
modern story, Thursday, April 10.
Fontaine (2002), Friday to Sunday, April 11 to 13. ABC Africa.
Documentary about the ravages of AIDS and civil war in Uganda by Iran’s
most celebrated filmmaker, Abbas Kiarostami, April 18 to 20.
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