Connect with us


Filmlinc 2010: Aronofsky and Weir Retrospectives

Film Society of Lincoln Center went standing room only style this week with not one but two all-star retrospectives. The first was the man currently sitting in the seat of best American filmmaker period, Darren Aronofsky. The second was legend of atmospheric storytelling Peter Weir.

Film Society of Lincoln Center went standing room only style this week with not one but two all-star retrospectives. The first was the man currently sitting in the seat of best American filmmaker period, Darren Aronofsky. The second was legend of atmospheric storytelling Peter Weir.

Filmlinc screened all of Aronofsky’s previous films (other than Black Swan) leading up to a talk with the director and Scott Foundas following the screening of The Wrestler (New York Film Festival 2008 closing night film), which focused on and featured clips from Aronofsky’s current release, best picture contender, and my pick for best film of the decade (still nine years to go), Black Swan.

Aronofsky stepping in the room gave Walter Reade Theater that kind of buzz in the air that was last seen at the premiere of The Social Network. There was a standby line of about 100, on top of the sold out show. People were showing up throughout The Wrestler, to the point that by the end I turn around during the credits and there are probably 100 people standing behind my last row seat (if you know anything about anything, the last row at Walter Reade is the only place to sit) with all of the aisles filled with photogs.

Foundas did his thing as usual, mixing in praise for someone who is obviously special to him as well as challenges. As would be expected from a master like Aronofsky, random anecdotes that he throws away during the conversation floor the audience. The one that struck me most was, in discussing the film’s sound design, he explained that they recorded the sounds of actual swans and reworked them with effects to create much of the film’s lush soundscape and even for a flushing toilet. It cannot be said enough what a treat it is to have someone at the height of his career (hopefully this will last for a long time), and such a height at that, in person for a talk like that.

The same cannot quite be said about Peter Weir. Picnic at Hanging Rock is not only one of my 25 favorite films of all time, but it is one that has no peer. Nothing ever touched the kind of atmosphere Weir created. The sense of dread created by the landscape, the sound design and music, the idyllic nature of the girls and their fall from grace, it’s all just this unique experience and art work that was not before and not since matched in its style.

The Way Bac though, is terrible. It’s a misjudged, confused, boring, and inappropriate rehash of the fourth and fifth parts of the Japanese epic The Human Condition. This is one of those stubborn films that carries its sense of importance around like a badge of honor and self-pity. It demands everyone watching to care, but I cannot imagine why anyone would.

The story is an adaptation of an allegedly fraudulent novel about a group of World War II POWs from Siberia to India. The rumor has it that the author was not on the walk, and Weir said he was only somewhat sure that the walk actually happened. This is only relevant in as much as it contributes to the confused ideas at work. Often when someone adapts a true story or a novel such as this they feel the need to maintain much of the aboutness of the historical context of the original.

The thing is, it was important then, but not now. I don’t think, in 2010 (or 2011), we’re dying for a film preaching to us about the dangers and evils of Communism. This needed to be a story about the journey these men and one girl went on. For the most part it was, and if you recut the film (down from about two hours fifteen minutes that feel longer than The Human Condition’s nine hours) and take out the parts that get nasty on the Commies, it would easily refocus the story and fix this problem.

The bigger problem is that this journey could not be less interesting as well. The dialogue feels like it was written by a senior in high school. The jokes, which amazing enough, some of the audience laughed at, are as clichéd and trite as possible. Weir insisted on keeping the film as accurate and realistic as possible, while still using Hollywood actors. This gives us actors like Mark Strong and Colin Farrell doing ridiculous accents and speaking Russian for half of their parts. Ed Harris plays Ed Harris. Saoirse Ronan plays her one note as always and stares with her eyes that critics will say tell of an old soul and remind them of Meryl Streep. Jim Sturgess plays the lead and you just wish for him to go away.

The narrative is constructed of obstacle after obstacle that they reach along this walk. There is no conflict or real tension whatsoever, except when they randomly intersperse death scenes and tug at the audience’s heart strings. Between these obstacles, the characters learn more about one another, and grow closer. They open up about their back stories and find that…wait for it…wait for it…they can overcome their differences because have more in common than they thought! Thing is, even though act one establishes why all of these guys should clash, they easily get over all of those reasons in one scene each, all with the same motivating factor of wanting to escape their common enemy.

Weir’s discussion with Foundas did not compare to the one with Aronofsky. It reminded me of some other filmmakers I saw this year, in particular Joe Dante, whom I had the chance to interview. Guys from the 60s, 70s and 80s, who were once at the top of their games, going from one big budget Hollywood project to the next, are now desperately trying to get tiny indie movies made. Unlike Joe Dante though, who basically acknowledges that his one trick pony has a bum leg, who is using his experience in the industry to focus on other ventures such as Trailers From Hell, Weir is just making movies that aren’t as good as those he used to.

Half of the discussion focused on the turning tides of the industry, and the place Weir finds himself in within it. He joked that he expected to be flown in first class for this visit, but ended up in business. Despite his last film, Master and Commander, being his biggest, it took him seven years to get the low-budget The Way Back made, and it feels like almost as long to get distribution.

Even though The Way Back was a disappointment, it’s still a real pleasure to see one of the best ever. The retrospective proved that this is probably Australia’s finest auteur, with classics like Picnic, The Cars That Ate Paris, The Last Wave and The Mosquito Coast (better than the eternally overrated Witness).

All in all, it was a tremendous week for FilmLinc. Nobody delivers the goods like them. If you’re a film fan living in New York and don’t take advantage of the programming they are churning out every month, you are crazy. Film Forum, BAM, IFC, they are all great, but Film Linc is on another level. Besides the amazing and rare films they show constantly, having programmers like Scott Foundas, Gavin Smith, Richard Peña and Dennis Lim holding discussions all the time is so special. Skip getting that Cinema Studies degree—just buy a membership to Film Linc and show up every day—that is your education.

Continue Reading
You may also like...

Eric Lavallée is the founder, CEO, editor-in-chief, film journalist and critic at (founded in 2000). Eric is a regular at Sundance, Cannes and TIFF. He has a BFA in Film Studies at the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013 he served as a Narrative Competition Jury Member at the SXSW Film Festival. He was an associate producer on Mark Jackson's This Teacher (2018 LA Film Festival, 2018 BFI London). In 2022 he served as a New Flesh Comp for Best First Feature at the 2022 Fantasia Intl. Film Festival. Current top films for 2022 include Tár (Todd Field), All That Breathes (Shaunak Sen), Aftersun (Charlotte Wells).

Click to comment

More in Retro

To Top