Film Comment Selects

The exhilaratingly varied film festival turns 12.

  • Almayer's Folly

  • Mortem

  • Headhunters

Almayer's Folly

Adolescence tends to brings out the worst in all of us, but the 12-year-old Film Comment Selects shows no signs of awkward-age inelegance. The lineup for this always-invigorating series—a festival that feels programmed straight from the id—is as thrillingly eclectic as ever. Your choices run the gamut from art house to mainstream, from revivals of past gems to premieres of new, often distributor-less work. It's a place where the latest from Russian maestro Aleksandr Sokurov (the Venice Golden Lion--bestowed Faust) can sit comfortably alongside Wanderlust, the Paul Rudd--Jennifer Aniston comedy from The State's David Wain.

That's something Film Comment editor and programming associate Gavin Smith, reached by phone in Manhattan, notes was always part of the attraction. "We sort of do the lineup by the seat of our pants," he says enthusiastically. "It's not all worked out on paper months ahead of time, and there is a kind of intuitive dimension to how we program. We really grab whatever we can, and it's often a surprise which films are included. As a result, the identity or the character of what we're doing tends to shift from year to year."

That shifty sense of character and identity has become an FC Selects given; indeed, it's one of the reasons cinephiles of all stripes flock to the series in unusually high numbers. You never quite know what you're going to get, and it keeps you ever-alert and engaged. Those who might be overwhelmed by the everything-including-the-kitchen-sink variety of movies on display here, however, should start off with the trippy black-and-white lesbian psychodrama Mortem (Sat 18; Tue 21). Like the bastard offspring of Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Russ Meyer, this midnight-movie-ready mind-fuck follows a vivaciously gorgeous blond motorcyclist to a secluded hotel, where she does erotic battle with a brunette doppelgnger. Delirious, deranged and never less than spellbinding, this is also one of the highlights for Smith: "Mortem is a really curious, mesmerizing object, and it doesn't have distribution. It would be great if there's an audience."

Next, take a documentary detour with the audaciously titled Whores' Glory (Sun 19) from Germany's Michael Glawogger (Working Man's Death). This visually stunning feature explores the lives of the workers in three whorehouses: in Thailand, where giggly girls are displayed behind aquarium glass; in Bangladesh, where prepubescent-looking women service a seemingly endless stream of clients; and in Mexico, where streetwalkers offer themselves to johns from behind candy-colored motel-room doors. It's a heavy subject that Glawogger treats with observational, insightful empathy.

Lighten things up with a straight genre piece—the crazily amusing Norwegian thriller Headhunters (Feb 23 and 24), in which an amateur art thief (Aksel Hennie, like a Nordic clone of Christopher Walken) gets in way over his head when he steals the wrong guy's painting. Then supplement the popcorn adrenaline rush with the raging, emotionally charged TONY favorite Margaret (Feb 25), a piercing study of a grieving Manhattan teen from writer-director Kenneth Lonergan, who will make a rare appearance at the screening and maybe dish on the film's troubled production.

Finish your whirlwind tour with two evocative treasures, the first from Belgium's Chantal Akerman (Jeanne Dielman). Her adaptation of Joseph Conrad's first novel, Almayer's Folly (Feb 26), opens with an astonishing assassination sequence--cum--musical number before segueing into a dreamy, disquieting tale of a Dutch fortune seeker and the mixed-race daughter he unwittingly ruins. And on closing night, don't miss Alps (Mar 1), the latest bit of mind-altering madness from Greek auteur Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth), about a four-member secret society who hire themselves out to bereaved families as stand-ins for deceased relatives. Deadpan absurd from moment to moment, puzzling and provocative in toto, the film has a lingering power and effect that, much like FC Selects itself, is thrillingly difficult to define.

Film Comment Selects runs Fri 17--Mar 1 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Click here for the official site, showtimes and tickets.

Follow Keith Uhlich on Twitter: @keithuhlich

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