Last night, the 25th New York Film Festival opened at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall with the American premiere of "Dark Eyes," a film by Soviet-born director Nikita Mikhalkov and starring Marcello Mastroianni.
The film, which won Mastroianni the prize for best actor at Cannes, is the first of 24 from around the world that will be screened in this year's festival, which continues until Oct. 11. The closing-night film will be "House of Games," playwright David Mamet's first effort as a movie director, starring Lindsay Crouse and Joe Mantegna.
Mamet won't be the only American included in this year's program. In addition to features and documentaries from Denmark, Hungary, Nicaragua, Italy and Mali, there are a total of seven films -- a full third of the program -- from the United States.
Among the most eagerly anticipated from that list is Barbet Schroeder's "Barfly." The movie, which is taken from an autobiographical screenplay by the renegade man of letters Charles Bukowski, stars Mickey Rourke and Faye Dunaway as a drunken couple in love with each other and their low-life existence in the gin joints and sleazy dives of Los Angeles. Deborah Schaeffer's "Fire From the Mountain," an unabashedly partisan documentary based on the book by Omar Cabezas about the Sandinistas' struggles against Somoza and the contras, is another American entry, as are "Horowitz Plays Mozart," a documentary by the Maysles brothers focusing on the great pianist, and Taylor Hackford's salute to Chuck Berry, "Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll!"
A fair number -- 12 to be exact -- of the filmmakers included in this year's program are making their first festival appearance. One of the newcomers, Hong Kong actor-director Jackie Chan, has contributed an "action" film titled "Jackie Chan's Police Story," which is perhaps the most radical departure from the usual festival-style picture, but which may turn out to be -- like Jim Jarmusch's "Stranger Than Paradise" two years ago -- the major find of the festival.
There are high expectations, too, for "A Taxing Woman," which was directed by Japanese filmmaker Juzo Itami, the director of "Tampopo." "A Taxing Woman," a satirical thriller about tax evasions in Japan, again features the stars of "Tampopo," his wife Nobuko Miyamoto and Tsutomu Yamazaki.
In addition to the newcomers, a number of artists familiar to festival audiences will again premiere their films here.
Alain Resnais, whose film "Muriel" was shown as part of the first New York Film Festival, will present "Melo," based on a 1929 melodrama about a wife in love with her husband's best friend, starring Sabine Azema, Andre Dussolier and Fanny Ardant.
French director Eric Rohmer will also return with another of his series of "comedies and proverbs" called "L'Ami de Mon Amie" ("My Girlfriend's Boyfriend"). Another returning French director, Maurice Pialat ("Police," "Lulu"), this year brings "Under Satan's Sun," a demanding story about a relationship between a country priest (Ge'rard Depardieu) and a young murderer (Sandrine Bonnaire). The film won the Golden Palm at Cannes, but was soundly booed. In a festival singularly lacking in controversy, this film could provide at least a touch of drama.
There's a sense of excitement as well about a younger Frenchman, Le'os Carax, whom many people see as the natural heir to the tradition of the French New Wave. (Others who are less generous claim to see only that group's mannerisms and little of its talent.) Carax's film, "Bad Blood," is a futuristic thriller in which the world is threatened by a disease which will make love impossible. The film stars Juliette Binoche, who also starred in Carax's 1985 festival debut, "Boy Meets Girl."
Much of what is good in world cinema these days is coming out of Great Britain, via British television. "A Month in the Country," starring Colin Firth, Kenneth Branagh and Natasha Richardson, is a film about two men returning home from the First World War to their village in Yorkshire. Directed by Pat O'Connor, from Simon Gray's adaptation of the J.L. Carr novel, the movie is very much in the current British mold of small, personal and close to home.
British director Peter Greenaway, whose film "The Draughtsman's Contract" was a festival hit in 1985, has put together "The Belly of an Architect," about an American architect, played by Brian Dennehy, who goes to Rome for an exhibition honoring an 18th-century master and loses -- among other things -- his wife, Chloe Webb ("Sid and Nancy"), to a young architecture expert.
Another British director who is better known in this country, John Boorman ("Deliverance" and "Excalibur") has been getting the best advance word-of-mouth for his autobiographical story about his family's exploits during World War II. "Hope and Glory" is set in 1940 in suburban London and stars Sebastian Rice-Edwards as the young Boorman and Sarah Miles as his mother. This is one to watch.
Danish director Gabriel Axel has adapted the Isak Dinesen novella "Babbette's Feast," about two spinsters in a Danish coastal village in the late 19th century who are joined in their reminiscences by a Paris chef, played by Stephane Audran. This luxuriant evocation of Dinesen's tale has been well received elsewhere around the world, and may be one of the surprise hits of the festival.
Model Paulina Porizkova makes her acting debut in "Anna," a film written by "Angry Harvest" director Agnieska Holland and directed by Polish-born filmmaker Yurek Bogayevich, who's making his debut. Sally Kirkland also stars as Anna in this story about a Polish actress trying to make her way in the New York theatrical world.
Other countries represented are Hungary, with "Diary for My Loved One," Ma'rta Me'sza'ros' autobiographical film about an aspiring filmmaker; Mali, with "Yeelen," part coming-of-age story, part myth based on a local drama by Souleymane Cisse; the Soviet Union, with "Theme," a drama by director Gleb Panfilov about a once-promising writer who takes up with a vital young tour guide he hopes will rekindle his creativity; and West Germany, with "Anita -- Dances of Vice," a story based on the life of Anita Berber, a famous Berlin dancer during the scandalous '20s, by Rosa von Praunheim.
In the past, the festival has always included as part of its program a number of revival films, and this year the new releases will be hard pressed to better the works from years past. Withdrawn from commercial release for more than 15 years, John Frankenheimer's queasy spy satire "The Manchurian Candidate" may easily take the honors as the best film of the festival. The 10th anniversary of Roberto Rossellini's death will be remembered with a revival of his films "Joan of Arc at the Stake," starring Ingrid Bergman, and "The Human Voice," starring Anna Magnani.
In the case of this year's New York Film Festival, the new films may hold most of the surprises, but it may be the older movies -- the revivals -- that will capture the imaginatio