Choice Cuts

Steven Erickson on “Film Comment Selects”

Left: Na Hong-jin, The Chaser, 2008, still from a color film in 35 mm, 125 minutes. Right: Lou Adler, Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains, 1981, still from a color film in 35 mm, 87 minutes. Corinne Burns (Diane Lane).

SINCE ITS INCEPTION TEN YEARS AGO, “Film Comment Selects” has been an essential supplement to the New York Film Festival, the kind of program equally open to French splatterfests and the poetic musings of Philippe Garrel. This year’s edition may be the first whose revivals are more exciting than its new films; offered up are Robert Aldrich’s lesbian landmark The Killing of Sister George (1968), the complete cinematic oeuvre of Guy Debord, Lou Adler’s punk saga Ladies and Gentleman, the Fabulous Stains (1981), Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s terrorism satire The Third Generation (1979), and two early-’80s documentaries by Joel DeMott.

Jean-Luc Godard once said, “All you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun.” Argentinean director Pablo Fendrik modifies that axiom in The Mugger (2007): All he needed was a sixty-year-old actor (Arturo Goetz), a gun, and a tireless cinematographer. With little by way of dialogue or other explanatory devices, The Mugger follows its title character on a robbery spree across Buenos Aires. The film is direct and immediate; its use of long takes is riveting, prompting suspense even when nothing much is happening. Unlike many films it recalls, from Benoît Jacquot’s A Single Girl (1995) to José Luis Guerín’s In the City of Sylvia (2007), it plays with cinematic traditions of voyeurism but is not driven by a heterosexual male gaze: Fendrik raptly follows a middle-aged man, not a beautiful young woman. Unfortunately, The Mugger ultimately collapses, settling for cheap irony over a satisfying conclusion. Still, it’s a very promising debut.

Another first feature, Na Hong-jin’s The Chaser (2008) has a premise that’s difficult to describe without making the film sound like a sordid wallow in misogyny. Its protagonist (Kim Yoon-suk) is a cop-turned-pimp investigating a serial killer who specializes in prostitutes. In look and tone, Na hews to American films like The Silence of the Lambs (1991) and Se7en (1995) more than he does to movies like Memories of Murder (2003), his compatriot Bong Joon-ho’s police-procedural masterpiece.

Michael Almereyda’s Paradise (2009) aims for the breadth of Chris Marker’s essay film Sans Soleil (1983) and achieves it. Matching that film’s depth, of course, is another matter entirely. Paradise comprises a montage of video footage taken by Almereyda on journeys around the world. Some of it is very striking: a boy swarmed by a flock of penguins, a photographer snapping pictures of bison in a frozen Yellowstone. Almereyda never points his camera at himself; in fact, his presence is subdued throughout the film. A somewhat random assemblage of images, it was undoubtedly more fun to make than it is to watch.

“Film Comment Selects” runs February 20–March 5 at the Walter Reade Theater in New York. For more details, click here.