Rebel Rebel

Steven Erickson on “Film Comment Selects”

Edward Yang, A Brighter Summer Day, 1991, still from a color film, 237 minutes.

“FILM COMMENT SELECTS,” now in its tenth year, seems conscious of its status as the New York Film Festival’s rebellious younger brother. This year, it opens with Jonathan Kaplan’s teens-gone-wild classic Over the Edge (1979) and includes a revival of another landmark film about adolescence, Edward Yang’s A Brighter Summer Day (1991).

Philippe Grandrieux’s Un Lac (2008) raises the use of shakycam to a high art (as if the technique needed the flattery): Rarely has handheld camerawork been so expressive. Shot in French with a cast of Russian actors, Un Lac depicts a close-knit family living in the middle of a snowy forest. One day, a mysterious stranger arrives and joins the household. Grandrieux’s first two films, Sombre (1998) and La Vie nouvelle (2002), weren’t exactly devoid of tenderness, but sexual violence was a constant threat. Here, love abides without such menace, although that doesn’t mean everyone lives happily ever after.

The slight narrative often seems like a pretext for exploring film’s capacity for depicting extremes of light and darkness. Un Lac alternates between blown-out whites and images so crepuscular they’re barely legible. It would probably be unwatchable on DVD. Grandrieux’s shots pulse with vitality. It’s a shame that the director has made only three films, all featured in this edition of “Film Comment Selects,” in twelve years.

Trailer for Soi Cheang’s Accident (2009).

The series’s Asian selections are a mixed bag. In Like You Know It All (2009), director Hong Sang-soo’s reliance on bifurcated plots about the misadventures of male artists at last seems to arrive at formulaic complacency. On the other hand, Soi Cheang’s Accident (2009) is a modern noir gem. Following a group of assassins who stage murders that look like accidents, it could pass for a work by Johnnie To (who produced it). Decorated with plumes of cigarette smoke and a constant downpour, it pushes Hawksian professionalism into a maelstrom of paranoia and mistrust. While it includes several thrilling set pieces, the narrative’s connective tissue is equally compelling.

The sole Middle Eastern entry in this series, Elia Suleiman’s The Time That Remains (2009), brings the Palestinian-Israeli director’s characteristic wit to the everyday slights suffered by Arabs under Israeli domination. After a present-day introduction, in which a cabdriver talks to a mute Suleiman while roaming the streets of Nazareth—the director’s hometown—the film returns to the 1948 founding of Israel. Although The Time That Remains employs some Suleiman trademarks—repetition, static shots in which an unmoving camera directly faces its subjects—it aims for an epic quality foreign to his earlier work. But the mixture of humor and anger never really gels and instead leads to a sense of weary resignation. Suleiman suggests that Israeli occupation has reduced Palestinians to silent observers of their own lives. Unfortunately, he doesn’t quite do justice to his own family’s story.

“Film Comment Selects” runs February 19–March 4 at the Walter Reade Theater in New York. For more details, click here.