Monday, October 20, 2008

Tough Decisions

In the first four days of the festival we had, in competing time slots, two films about pickpockets (The Pleasure of Being Robbed and Sparrow), two films about physical transformation (Beautiful and Hunger), and two important directors doing their sole Q&A's (Darren Aronofsky and Mike Leigh). In pure must-see terms, the new films by Abdel Kechiche, Kelly Reichardt, and Erick Zonca were competing on Friday as a run-up to the even more painful scheduling of 24 City, Of Time and the City, and Gomorrah in simultaneous slots on Saturday.

This may register as a complaint. In fact, it isn't. A cinephile faced with the luxury of having to decide between the new Jia Zhang-ke and Kiyoshi Kurosawa films, not to mention the lesser-known titles that don't come with the same level of critical support, should feel as though at a luxury dinner banquet. Tough choices are a part of festival life, and the more information available to the discerning cinephile, the more discerning his or her choices will be.

A serious discernment should consider the films themselves and never the projection standards, since one always hopes that those will be consistently excellent; however, a few discerning cinephiles have not been pleased the festival's digital projection, and had they been able to discern in advance that 24 City, to take one example, would be shown in subpar conditions, they would have certainly opted for another title.

Theater five and six at the River East, specifically, are the two screens in question. This reviewer spent four hours of Saturday with two films that should have looked a whole lot better: the aforementioned 24 City and Shanghai Trance by Dutch filmmaker David Verbeek. Different in mood though similar in dealing with a contemporary post-industrial backdrop, you wouldn't have been able to tell their visual designs apart if you saw them at this weekend's screenings. With theater five's dark and off-calibrated projection, they both looked muddy and indistinct.

It should be noted that the critics on this blog (and elsewhere) get into the movies for free. We're hardly the ones to complain. This isn't about us. But at the screening of 24 City, the couple who paid $12 sitting next to this critic made their aggravation seem perfectly understandable.