Thursday, 3 March 2011

New York, I Love You

2009. Dir: Various. Starring: Natalie Portman, Ethan Hawke, Chris Cooper, Cloris Leachman and Julie Christie. ●●●○○

It's difficult to review a collection of shorts like New York, I Love You, do you review each of the shorts as individual pieces, or try to assess the whole collection as a single entity? Luckily we have a template as this is a follow up to the critically acclaimed 2006 film Paris, Je T'Aime which presented a number of Gallic themed romances. Unfortunately New York doesn't live up to the high standards of his European predecessor.

The premise is relatively simple, 10 renowned directors (including Mira Nair and Brett Ratner) take a geographical area of the Big Apple and portray a love affair which somehow encapsulates the feel and atmosphere of the region whilst being linked by a mysterious French girl filming segments of life with her video camera. One of the main issues of the project is that none of the films seems to be uniquely presenting a way of life in the city, they're all stories that could easily be transplanted to an alternative zip code.

Three of the shorts stood out of the pack as worth watching.

Mira Nair is an old hand at the short film format, having worked on 8 and the 9/11 memorial collection. Here the chaste romance between Hasidic bride to be Natalie Portman and Jain divorcee Irfan Khan as they barter over diamond prices, cleverly highlighting the differences and ties between them over their irreconcilable faiths is fascinating and beautifully played.

Ethan Hawke, Maggie Q, Chris Cooper and Robin Wright have two very different conversations about hooking up with strangers in the city, with pull the rug under our feet consequences (alas the first meeting was rather ruined in the trailer) which blindside the audience in a surprising yet shocking way, and both involve the female taking charge of the sexual nature of their conversations reversing the usual gender expectations. Yvan Attal takes a lo-fi hand held approach to the direction allowing the actors room to breathe. Hawke himself probably takes the performance crown for the piece for this section and for his delightfully funny miming in the linking segments.

The final section, and the only one with a real sense of place, is Joshua Marston's Coney Island set two hander with Eli Wallach and Cloris Leachman alternatively hilariously bickering and touchingly quiet as they walk to the seafront. The dialogue between them clearly illustrates the nature of their relationship and the underlying love between them. It's one of the few scenes that offers contrast and a lightness of touch missing from most of the other films.

Other scenes, such as the ponderous Shekhar Kapur segment (wasting John Hurt and Julie Christie) and the overtricksy opener with Andy Garcia and Hayden Christiansen (directed by Jiang Wen), are best avoided but as with all collections there's an unfortunate inconsistency in quality which combined with the drabness of the collection makes this tough to recommend.

Hopefully by the time we get to Shanghai, I love you some of those issues will be resolved.


TomS said...

Ben, I am so glad you finally got to see this. I agree with your assessment that there was something lacking in its sense of place...

I also liked the segments you recommended too...although I enjoyed the Julie Christie centerpiece a little bit better.

Shanghai will be fascinating!

Runs Like A Gay said...

I've got to say overall it was a touch disappointing - all tha waiting probably put me in the wrong frame of mind.

The Julie Christie section was nicely shot, but ultimaely felt pretentious to me.