Olivier Assayas Retro. @ MOMA Gramercy

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Date/Time: 18/09/2003 12:00 am

Olivier Assayas
September 18–21
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Olivier Assayas brought the liminal crises of adolescence and young adulthood vividly to life in such films as Paris Awakens (1991) and Cold Water (1994). Since then, the French writer-director has grown ever more virtuosic in his stylistic and thematic experimentation, evidenced by Irma Vep (1996), his love poem to genre moviemaking; Les Destinées (2000), an epic period drama about the deaths of a marriage and a Limoges porcelain factory; and Demonlover (2002), recently released in commercial theaters by Palm Pictures, about industrial espionage and vampiric possession.
A former editor of the French film magazine Cahiers du Cinéma, Assayas is one of contemporary cinema’s most impassioned and discerning critics, bringing fresh perspectives to the masters who have profoundly influenced him. In his own films he combines the ethical humanism of Jean Renoir with the romantic sentiment of Frank Borzage; the formal rigors of Robert Bresson and Andrei Tarkovsky with the kinetic electricity of Kenneth Anger; and the interiority of Ingmar Bergman and Hou Hsiao-hsien with the improvisatory daring of Andy Warhol and John Cassavetes. Assayas introduces this nine-film exhibition with a screening of Les Destinées on September 18.
Organized by Joshua Siegel, Assistant Curator, Department of Film and Media, and Ryan Werner, Head of Theatrical Distribution, Palm Pictures.
Les Destinées (Les Destinées sentimentales). 2000. France. Written and directed by Olivier Assayas. With Emmanuelle Béart, Charles Berling, Isabelle Huppert. This deceptively classical, supremely elegant adaptation of Jacques Chardonne’s semi-autobiographical epic novel, set against a turbulent backdrop of turn-of-the-century French bourgeois complacency devolving into pre-World-War-II anxiety, traces a Protestant minister’s dying marriage, his tentative seduction of a young woman, and his noble attempts to save his family’s troubled Limoges porcelain factory. Courtesy Wellspring, New York. In French with English subtitles. 180 min.
Thursday, September 18, 6:30 (introduced by the director)
L’Enfant de l’hiver (Winter’s Child). 1989. France. Written and directed by Olivier Assayas. With Michel Feller, Clotilde de Bayser, Nathalie Richard, Gérard Blain. Amour fou among a quartet of emotionally precarious young professionals: An architect abandons his girlfriend as she’s about to give birth, pursuing instead a stage designer obsessed with an actor who is otherwise involved. Unlike other classic melodramas of impossible love and violent betrayal, what lies startlingly at the center of this melancholic ronde is a newborn baby with an absent father. Courtesy Gemini Films, Paris. In French with English subtitles. 85 min.
Friday, September 19, 6:45
Une Nouvelle vie (A New Life). 1993. France. Written and directed by Olivier Assayas. With Judith Godrèche, Sophie Aubry, Bernard Giraudeau. After the sudden death of her desperately lonely mother, a young woman ditches her boyfriend and her dead-end job to find the rich father she never knew. Along the way she meets her half-sister, with whom she develops a deeply conflicted and yet strangely loving relationship. Courtesy Pathé, Paris. In French with English subtitles. 117 min.
Friday, September 19, 8:30
HHH: A Portrait of Hou Hsiao-hsien. 1997. France/Taiwan. Directed by Olivier Assayas. Assayas’s longtime enthusiasm for the work of Taiwanese filmmaker Hou led him to make this surprisingly exuberant profile of a director known for his quietly restrained, elliptical films. As Hou escorts Assayas around his childhood haunts of Taipei and its environs, he reveals himself to be charmingly wry, politically and critically engaged, and fond of karaoke. Courtesy First Run/Icarus Films, New York. 91 min.
Saturday, September 20, 4:00
Haishang Hua (Flowers of Shanghai). 1998. Taiwan/Japan. Directed by Hou Hsiao-hsien. Screenplay by Chu Tien-wen. With Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Michiko Hada, Michelle Reis. Based on an 1894 novel by Han Ziyun (translated in the 1930s from its original dialect into standard Mandarin by Eileen Chang), Hou’s masterpiece is set in a Shanghai brothel in the British concession, where clients evade Chinese authorities to pass languorous evenings with lovely young women, the “flowers” of the film’s title. Hou delineates sumptuous surfaces, claustral spaces, and veiled social exchanges through tracking shots choreographed to resemble an opium dream—a stylistic trait for which Olivier Assayas shares an affinity. Courtesy Wellspring. In Mandarin with English subtitles. 130 min.
Saturday, September 20, 6:00
Fin août, début septembre (Late August, Early September). 1998. France. Written and directed by Olivier Assayas. With Mathieu Almaric, Virginie Ledoyen, Jeanne Balibar. A novelist’s impending death provokes his close circle of friends to reassess their own lives. Assayas affirms the exquisite messiness of human relationships in this Proustian/Tarkovskian study of time’s fluidity, the interplay between fantasy and memory, and the essential unknowability of others. Courtesy Zeitgeist Films, New York. In French with English subtitles. 112 min.
Saturday, September 20, 8:30
Paris s’éveille (Paris Awakens). 1991. France. Written and directed by Olivier Assayas. With Judith Godrèche, Jean-Pierre Léaud, Thomas Langmann. Awash in the brooding romanticism of Nicholas Ray and Frank Borzage, Assayas’s film follows nineteen-year-old Adrien as he flees the police to find an uncertain sanctuary in Paris with his estranged, unstable father Clément (played by New Wave icon Léaud). Adrien’s desire for Clément’s wild child-bride Louise rekindles the rivalry between father and son, and leads the tempestuous lovers to a derelict squat and a difficult fate. Courtesy Pathé. In French with English subtitles. 95 min.
Sunday, September 21, 3:00
L’Eau froide (Cold Water). 1994. France. Written and directed by Olivier Assayas. With Virginie Ledoyen, László Szabó. With a soundtrack of generation-defining music that features Leonard Cohen, Alice Cooper, and Roxy Music, and with career-defining performances by a feral Ledoyen and an anguished Szabó, Cold Water is a masterful portrait of adolescence circa 1972. The director conjures a sense of life teetering on the precipice of oblivion through spatial compositions that are at once constraining and expansive, tense camerawork, and a wintry palette of translucent blues. In French with English subtitles. 92 min.
Sunday, September 21, 5:00
Irma Vep. 1996. France. Written and directed by Olivier Assayas. With Maggie Cheung, Jean-Pierre Léaud, Nathalie Richard, Lou Castel. New Wave ham director Léaud enlists Hong Kong action-movie star Cheung to salvage his doomed remake of Louis Feuillade’s silent-era serial Les Vampires. Squeezing into a black latex bondage suit, Cheung becomes vampish jewel thief Irma Vep and immediately holds the film crew in thrall. With the antic mayhem of a surrealist comedy and the knowing charms of René Clair and François Truffaut, Assayas celebrates a lost era of moviemaking while also flouting its genre conventions. Courtesy Zeitgeist Films. In French with English subtitles. 97 min.
Sunday, September 21, 6:45