Among the films showing now through December, the DFT is hosting an impressive three director retrospectives. The 19 films scattered throughout the schedule take viewers from Madrid to Tokyo, chronicling the lives of geishas, trannies, bullfighters, ghosts, divas and men buried almost completely in sand. Here's a quick guide to the auteurs you can see this fall.
Sept. 7 through Oct. 1
He used to be Spain's cinematic bad boy, generating both camp and controversy with his neon-colored sex comedies. Now Pedro Almodovar is a "mature" world cinema master, showered with Oscars and festival awards but he still hasn't lost the edge of his early films. In Almodovar's world, men become women, women become men and sex can serve as both a bargaining chip and the ultimate liberator. The eight films offered this fall run the gamut from wild to mild, but all showcase the master's unerring knack for soapy melodrama, garish comedy and unabashed emotionalism. Here are some can't-miss picks:
Sept. 30-Oct. 1
This one's got it all: Sex on a pink bullfighter's cape, femmes fatales, murder as the ultimate orgasm and a prima donna hairdresser (played by the director himself). Antonio Banderas began a long-running collaboration with Almodovar with this 1986 comedy-thriller that makes Basic Instinct look like a Doris Day movie.
This mostly underrated 1997 effort is probably the closest the director has come to a conventional thriller but there's nothing conventional about this tale of crisscrossed lives all brought together by one gunshot. Just as Banderas benefited from his work with Almodovar, Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem went on to bigger if not necessarily better Hollywood work after this film.
Oct. 1 through Oct. 22
A rigorous aesthete, Hiroshi Teshigahara made films that pushed the boundaries of narrative cinema. Whether focusing on surreal allegories or matter-of-fact presentations of tea rituals, the director managed to inject into each film a potent commentary on what it means to be "modern" in booming postwar Japanese society.
Woman in the Dunes
Old and new Japan clash when a professor falls into a pit and has to dig himself out in a darkly absurd fable devised by author Kobo Abe. This is Teshigahara's best-known film in the Western world, but until now, it's never been screened in its intended, 147-minute length.
The Face of Another
Forget Face/Off. Teshigahara and Abe teamed up yet again for this sci-fi chiller in which a disfigured man receives a facial transplant, after which he begins to play mind games with those who knew him before, including his unsuspecting wife.
Oct. 29 through Dec. 10
Jean-Luc Godard worshipped him. Yasujiro Ozu influenced him. Akira Kurosawa learned from him. Kenji Mizoguchi is rightly considered along with peers Ozu and Kurosawa to be one of the three towering figures in the history of Japanese cinema. Having suffered a traumatic childhood during which his sister was sold into sex slavery he grew up to tell sensitive, heartbreaking tales of geishas, barmaids and housewives chafing at the restrictions imposed upon them by polite Japanese society. Of his huge body of work, the DFT will be showing seven films, among them:
If you've never seen a Mizoguchi film, this is the place to start. Although it's quite unlike his contemporary melodramas, this creepy, sensual ghost story shown just in time for Halloween still reflects the director's pet themes: love, loss and the fine line between obsession and oppression.
Sisters of the Gion
Brisk, funny and tragic, this story of two "working women" in the Gion district of Tokyo contrasts a traditional geisha's devotion-at-all-costs ethics with her younger sister's anything-for-a-buck attitude. Michael Hastings