With the festival circuit as a road map and quality as a guidepost, Film Comment Selects has established itself as the city's most heavily distilled showcase of rare, forgotten, and new exercises in the outre. 2011 is par for the course: an updated version of Alex Cox's divisive post-punk spaghetti Western Straight to Hell, Werner Herzog's 3-D Cave of Forgotten Dreams,Hobo With a Shotgun, etc.
Equally if not more impressive are titles even further left-of-center. French actress-turned-director Isild le Besco receives a mini-retrospective, her digital video features Demi-tarif (2003), Charly (2007) and Bas-fonds (2010) capturing with uncomfortable, diaristic intimacy forsaken children and adolescents who create anarchic dys/utopias beyond the control of a peripherally glimpsed adult world. The three Parisian kids left largely to their own devices in Demi-tarif make for a particularly haunting social experiment in uninhibited freedom and zero future.
Several other FCS deep cuts place unconventional family units, literal or figurative, at the center of their concerns. The Velvet Underground and Nico (1966) is classic Warhol, haphazardly operating camera movements in a Zen-like state of distraction while filming the legendary group, Nico's toddler as much part of the noodling as the hipsters.
The domestic couple of Rainer Werner Fassbinder's unearthed TV-film I Only Want You To Love Me (1976) is anything but unconventional—which, of course, makes their story sadly illustrative. Superlatively directed at the end of RWF's mid-career Sirk phase, I Only Want follows with unsentimental compassion an unappreciated bricklayer and newlywed whose endless striving for middle-class respectability ends in economic and moral degradation. Rather than being a simple, pitiable victim, Fassbinder's protagonist has options and thus suffers a tragedy having nothing to do with fate.
Intense solo performances constitute the series's counter-motif. Klaus Kinski: Jesus Christ the Savior (2008) finally provides a complete cinematic record of the volatile actor's infamous 1971 one-man stage show, a radical reinterpretation of the messiah in front of a hostile, heckling crowd hoping for a train wreck. Something else surprisingly emerges: a moving universal message from a readily provoked eccentric who just wasn't made for his fiercely political times.
By far the most fascinating and problematic film of the series, Wundkanal("Gun Wound,"1984) is a feature-length interrogation of elderly Nazi war criminal Dr. Alfred Filbert. The trouble is that director Thomas Harlan—son of Third Reich propagandist Veit Harlan—coerced Filbert's testimony by deceiving him into thinking he was acting a role. The action unfolds in a suffocating netherspace of images and information meant to undermine the distinction of fiction and truth; Robert Kramer's making-of documentary Our Nazi (1985) reveals the off-screen misgivings of the crew and confrontations between Filbert and Holocaust survivors. Not that Our Nazi "resolves"Wundkanal—nor should it—but the context it offers for Harlan's disturbing methods is, under the circumstances, welcome.
February 18-March 3 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center