In close-up with Kent Jones on the 51st New York Film Festival. Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
The week before the 51st edition kicks off on September 27, New York Film Festival Director of Programming and Selection Committee Chair Kent Jones and I spoke about extraordinary filmmakers - Catherine Breillat, Claire Denis and Agnieszka Holland, who are screening their latest work, and a very personal debut from designer agnès b, who has been a champion of cinema for decades. Arthur Ripley's The Chase follows It's the Cat and Some Other Cat. The Coen Brothers, Jia Zhangke and Lav Diaz explore the vastness of violence, Teller looks into Vermeer, and James Franco goes out into the wilderness.
In Part 1 of our conversation, Kent Jones called agnès b's film My Name Is Hmmm… "extremely, challengingly personal for her."
Catherine Breillat has "one of her greatest endings" in Abuse of Weakness
Anne-Katrin Titze: Speaking of personal, after her take on Bluebeard and Sleeping Beauty, Catherine Breillat's new film is based on her personal story after she suffered her stroke. Can you talk a bit about Abuse Of Weakness (Abus De Faiblesse)?
Kent Jones: It's a well documented case that she had. She saw Christophe Roconcourt on television and said I must have that guy for my movie, you know, kind of like her Rocco Siffredi experience [Anatomy Of Hell, 2004], I guess. He took her for a lot of money. When she took him to court, she was able to prove that there had been 'abus de faiblesse' which is a genuine legal term. What she does in the movie is she looks at it in a very straight forward way. She looks at the dynamics of her relationship with Roconcourt, obviously everyone is given different names. It's a film about the question of agency and responsibility because she is left wondering. Was that me? I think it is actually one of her greatest endings, I have to say. Isabelle [Huppert] is great.
AKT: I am very much looking forward to it. Also to Claire Denis' Bastards (Les Salauds).
KJ: Talk about angry! Very, very tough movie, motivated by anger at the DSK [Dominique Strauss-Kahn] case because in the press it was, "Oh, he's a Lothario, he's a man. He's a libertine, he makes no apologies for it. He's just savaging young women." That's what the film is about really. And she's also taking Sanctuary by Faulkner. Faulkner is really a constant for Claire. You know that there are traces of Faulkner in a lot of her films, in L'Intrus (The Intruder, 2004) for instance. You can see it in her other movies, too. She thought about Faulkner for a long time.
AKT: In a very different way from James Franco.
"…there are traces of Faulkner in a lot of her films…" Claire Denis - Bastards
KJ: Yeah, in a very different way from James Franco. You know, there was a plan a few years ago to make a group of Faulkner adaptations for HBO. Then I heard that David Milch bought every Faulkner novel ever written. Although, I guess, he couldn't have because James Franco made As I Lay Dying and he is supposedly going to make...
AKT: The Sound And The Fury.
KJ: Yes. A lot of people who love Claire's work were saying to me "gee, can't you call somebody at HBO and see if they can have Claire do Light In August?" That would never work.
AKT: Light In August with Claire?
KJ: Oh, it would be great, just not within that framework.
AKT: I would love to see the result. Franco's Child Of God fell flat for me. A film about man and wilderness I find far superior is Whitewash by Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais with an excellent Thomas Haden Church battling external and internal demons.
KJ: I like the spirit of Franco's films. To put it really simply and bluntly, I like the fact that he reads. He has an idea of an American voice that really appeals to me. He knows literature and he knows poetry. In Child Of God I very much like the sense of place and the way he shot it. I also like the commitment to the material. It's like, boy, I can think about a lot of ways of working around the material. He certainly doesn't.
Agnieszka Holland's Burning Bush "…begins with an act of violence…"
AKT: Another angry film I saw last week was Roger Michell's Le Week-end.
KJ: Hmm. Le Week-end you could say is emotionally violent. I'm also thinking of A Touch Of Sin by Jia Zhangke and Norte [The End Of History], by Lav Diaz. I mean, if you're thinking of anger, Inside Llewyn Davis by the Coen Brothers is a very unusual film in that sense, because it's about someone [Oscar Isaac as Llewyn Davis] who's perpetually angry and resentful. And then whenever he is starting to play music he's an angel. And when the music stops he's angry and resentful and pissed off again. In Burning Bush by Agnieszka Holland, obviously that begins with an act of violence that someone commits against themselves. Who knows why would those films converge at the same time? Sometimes it can be valid, sometimes it could be more of an habitual way of thinking.
AKT: You are right. Especially when you talk about something as vast as violence.
Changing pace -
AKT: There are some cat films that are listed at seven minutes for two.
KJ: Some what?
AKT: Cat films. Before the cat? The cat is back? Something like that?
KJ: Oh! It's the Cat (Mark Kausler, 2004) / Some Other Cat (Mark Kausler, 2013). My friend Greg Ford is a producer and an animator. He is one of the last people who is doing hand-drawn animation. So, he produced these two films. I didn't feel that it would be good to squeeze them into one of the shorts programs. So we show them before The Chase (1946) which is in the Revival section, a film by Arthur Ripley from the Forties.
"…if you're thinking of anger, Inside Llewyn Davis by the Coen Brothers is a very unusual film in that sense…"
AKT: Many people I know told me that they are very, very eager to see this one. [One of them is Guy Maddin]. So am I.
KJ: Good. I'm very glad to hear that. It's a film that has been out of commission for a long time.
AKT: And the cats fit with it?
KJ: Yeah, it seemed like a good place to do it, because The Chase is kind of a crazy film.
AKT: Are there any prominent themes in the festival this year that you noticed post-selection, maybe?
KJ: I think the discussions of themes are always a little bit misleading in the sense that when one pronounces the word theme then you start with a tacit assumption that you are attributing it to the people who made the film when in fact themes arise because in different moments in history people have different things on their mind, different things are floating through the culture. For instance, there are two documentaries in the main slate, At Berkeley by Fred Wiseman and American Promise [directed by Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson] that are both dealing with educational institutions. Then, I suppose there are quite a few violent films.
AKT: Tell me a little about another one of your sidebars. Applied Science is a cluster here.
Tim's Vermeer directed by Teller, of Penn and Teller
KJ: When you're curating films that are new, what you're doing is you're thinking about how they talk to each other. You're thinking of how films function together and how one reflecting off the other creates another idea that wouldn't be there if the film were just alone. These three films to me seemed like obvious companions in the sense that they're all about projects. Tim's Vermeer (directed by Teller, of Penn and Teller) about the obsessiveness to recreate the conditions under which Vermeer painted The Music Lesson and to test his theory of how they were painted as it grows out of the theory of Hockney.
AKT: I was at the presentation David Hockney gave at NYU, several years ago and he convinced me totally.
KJ: Oh it seems obvious. It's not even a question at this point. The fact that people are fighting it - I don't understand that. Where is the dishonor? So he used an optical tool, big deal. Does it lessen the painting? I don't think so. But also then Particle Fever (CERN super-collider's search for the Higgs particle directed by Mark Levinson), you know, is a different kind of project, obviously conceived on an absolutely massive scale as is Google And The World Brain (directed by Ben Lewis).
Additional programming at the New York Film Festival includes Spotlight On Documentaries, How Democracy Works Now, Motion Portraits, and Convergence, with three days of panels, workshops and “immersive experiences”.