All about Harmony Korine's latest shocker and Pedro Almodovar's women

By Josh Wolk
Updated October 06, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT
Credit: Corbis Bettman

At the 37th annual New York Film Festival, there’s no glamorous Riviera on which to sunbathe and no Aspen mountains to ski down, but what the Big Apple shindig lacks in fresh air it makes up for in intriguing screening choices. Spanish director Pedro Almodovar’s ”All About My Mother” opened the festivities, a hotly anticipated choice after he won the Best Director award at Cannes this year, where many felt the film deserved the Palme d’Or.

Almodovar’s movies have always centered around women, and ”Mother”’s cast is almost all female. But don’t ask the stars whether the wealth of on-set estrogen was the secret to its success. ”I don’t like to think about whether it’s all men or women on a movie,” says Penelope Cruz, who plays a pregnant nun in ”All About My Mother” and who will soon be appearing in ”All the Pretty Horses” with Matt Damon. ”I’ve been in movies where all the other actors were men. It depends on what happens in each particular situation.” Adds Argentinean film star Cecilia Roth, who plays the grieving mother: ”Every man asks, ‘Is it different [with all women]? Did you love each other?’ It’s very attractive for a man to know all about that.”

Later in the week came the screening of ”julien donkey-boy,” the latest avant-garde work by Harmony Korine, who made his mark as the screenwriter for ”Kids” and the director of the grotesque ”Gummo.” Korine has revisited his love of damaged people, following the family life of a schizophrenic (”Trainspotting”’s Ewen Bremner), who lives with his quietly psychotic father (director Werner Herzog) and pregnant sister (Chloe Sevigny). And although there are fewer out-and-outlandish sights in ”julien” than in ”Gummo,” Korine manages to squeeze in an armless man dealing cards with his feet and a masturbating nun. Still, he denies he’s out to titillate viewers. ”I don’t think anything’s shocking [here],” Korine says. ”A masturbating nun? I imagine nuns masturbate…. I want to present images on screen that have never been seen before.”

For ”julien” Korine adopted the cinematic code of the Danish group Dogma 95, which says that the camera can only catch what is naturally occurring on location: No artificial lighting or effects are allowed. The film’s grainy, jerky look came from digital cameras, and his cast freely improvised (there was no formal script). ”Dogma is about willful submission,” he says. ”It forces you not to hide behind the tricks that most filmmakers use.” But Korine won’t be returning to the Dogma school for his next movie: ”Maybe I will in 5 or 10 years. It’s like church. If I feel impure, I can go back and cleanse myself in cinematic terms.”

”Being John Malkovich,” the twisted tale of a man (John Cusack) who finds a portal into the brain of the titular actor (who costars with an unreconizably frumpy Cameron Diaz), was screened for the press last Tuesday. But the press conference afterwards was abruptly canceled because director Spike Jonze had spontaneously decided to stay in L.A. for the premiere of ”Three Kings,” in which he makes his acting debut. Jonze’s decision to skip his New York premiere seems like another case of his typical unpredictability, judging from a story told by ”Three Kings” director David O. Russell.

”Spike is a good friend who got arrested the first night he came to meet me,” said Russell about the music-video-director wunderkind (Beastie Boys’ ”Sabotage,” Weezer’s ”Buddy Holly”). ”He came to visit me in Cape Cod, and he had gotten a rental car. I got a phone call that I had to come pick him up because he had taken the rental car and was doing doughnuts in a park. These bicycle policemen had circled him and chased him and stopped his car, and a Hertz official demanded that he give the keys back.”

For a complete schedule of films, check the festival’s website.

All About My Mother

  • Movie
  • R
  • 102 minutes
  • Pedro Almodovar