Left: Andrew Haigh, Weekend, 2011, still from a color film in HD, 96 minutes. Russell and Glen (Tom Cullen and Chris New). Right: Asif Kapadia, Senna, 2010, still from a color film in 35 mm, 104 minutes.
THE BAMCINEMAFEST gets off to a smashing start with the New York premiere of Weekend, Andrew Haigh’s smart, sexy, gay two-hander. (Opening night is Thursday, June 16, at 7:30 PM, and ticket holders are invited to the afterparty with cast and crew. You’ll be able to say that you saw—across a crowded room—the movie’s brilliant stars, Chris New and Tom Cullen, before they became famous.) Cullen plays the semicloseted Russell (out to his close friends but not to his neighbors or coworkers at the gym where he’s a lifeguard). One night in the loo of a crowded Nottingham gay bar, he connects with Glen (New, who’s as sleepy-eyed and acid-tongued as the young Tim Roth), and, much to his surprise, they wind up in bed together. Over the course of three days, they quickly discover their mutual capacity for an intimacy that’s emotional as well as sexual, their relationship intensified by the fact that Glen, an artist who audiotapes postcoital conversations to use in his work, is already scheduled to leave for grad school in Portland (where else?). Just when it seemed that it would be unbearable to sit through another movie about identity-as-sex and vice versa, one comes along that’s more precise and more moving than almost all the others. Weekend is something like a Rohmer talkathon punctuated by R-rated sex and set in working-class England. I was as amazed by it as the characters—and the actors who play them—were by each other.
Like Weekend, some of the best movies in the BAMcinemaFest—Asif Kapadia’s Senna and Azazel Jacobs’s Terri—are scheduled to open later this summer. The latter is a beautifully observed, radiantly photographed, occasionally hilarious depiction of a misfit teenage boy coming of age with the help of a clumsy but hopeful guidance counselor (John C. Reilly, subtle at last). Senna is a documentary portrait of the Brazilian race-car driver Ayrton Senna, a three-time Formula One world champion who became a martyr for the sport that consumed him when, at the age of thirty-four, he was killed behind the wheel of a car about which he had grave misgivings. An international celebrity from the time he burst onto the racing scene in 1984 until his death ten years later, Senna was surrounded by cameras wherever he went and, despite their presence, he was remarkably open in conversation and in manner. Kapadia weaves the movie from existing video footage of this handsome, seductive, intelligent, utterly focused young man. From time to time, we also see the course of a race nearly through his eyes. (In Formula One cars, video cameras are anchored next to the drivers’ heads.) One doesn’t need to know or care about racing to be thoroughly moved and shaken by Senna, or to realize that the miracle of the movies has allowed us to see a genius at work.
Among other must-sees: Chris Munch’s Letters from the Big Man, a fairy tale for adults about a young woman who encounters a bigfoot in the deep forests of southwestern Oregon and forms a mutually protective relationship with him (I believed every minute of it), and Charlie Ahearn’s Jamel Shabazz Street Photographer, a documentary follow-up to Ahearn’s epoch-defining Wild Style. The film begins in the 1980s, just after Shabazz graduated from Brooklyn’s Tilden High. Shabazz photographed his peers on the streets where they hung out and where many of them died. He went on to hold a day job as a corrections officer, which seemed to change not a jot the freedom that his subjects—many of them living outside the law—felt before his camera. They shine; they give meaning to “cool” as tragedy and comedy. “Back in the Days: REMIX,” an exhibition of Shabazz’s photographs, runs June 16–26 in BAM’s Natman Room. He will be signing copies of his book of the same title on the last afternoon of the show.
BAMcinemaFest includes twenty-six feature-length movies and three programs of shorts. Among the American Independent movies that I cannot recommend, I did spot something like a trend. Michael Tully’s Septien, Sophia Takal’s Green, and Alex Ross Perry’s The Color Wheel are all, in one way or another, ambitious—that is, they strain to be out of the ordinary. They are also all built around characters that one would find unbearable to be around for five minutes, let alone the duration of a feature film. (If, that is, one could believe in their existence at all.) Of the three, Septien shows the most talent. Tully and his excellent DP, Jeremy Saulnier, know how to tell a story with the camera. And that’s nothing to be taken lightly.
BAMcinemaFest runs June 16–26 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.