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Diego Lopez Calvin  /  AP
Gael Garcia Bernal as Angel Juan Zahara is seen in Pedro Almodovar's "Bad Education." The New York Film Festival will present the film and honor Almodovar with a look back at his work.
updated 10/1/2004 4:23:56 PM ET 2004-10-01T20:23:56

It’s all about Pedro Almodovar at the New York Film Festival, where the irreverent, inimitable Spanish filmmaker will be honored with a look back at his work.

The director of such complex, theatrical films as “Talk to Her,” “All About My Mother” and “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown,” who’s long been a favorite at the festival, will arrive with his latest, “Bad Education.”

Many other respected, veteran filmmakers — including Jean-Luc Godard, Ingmar Bergman, Zhang Yimou and Mike Leigh — are returning to the 42nd annual festival, which began Friday and runs through Oct. 17.

Celebrating 20 years
Richard Pena, program director of the Film Society of Lincoln Center, which organizes the festival, said this seemed like an appropriate time to honor Almodovar because it’s sort of their 20th anniversary together.

“It dawned on us that the first year we showed Pedro was in ’85 with ‘What Have I Done to Deserve This?”’ Pena said Friday.

“‘Bad Education,’ which for me, I think is his masterpiece thus far, is a film that both sums up so many things that have been a part of his work, but it also points toward a new direction in which he’s going. So it was a good time to look back on his career.”

Almodovar’s new film, a highly personal reflection on Catholic upbringing starring up-and-coming Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal (“The Motorcycle Diaries,” “Y Tu Mama Tambien”), plays Oct. 9 as the festival’s centerpiece film.

But before that, the Film Society of Lincoln Center will pay tribute to Almodovar with “Viva Pedro!” on Thursday night, featuring highlights from his movies and a discussion with the writer-director.

Previous Almodovar films that have appeared at the festival include “Women on the Verge of Nervous Breakdown” (opening night 1988), “All About My Mother” (opening night 1999) and “Talk to Her” (closing night 2002).

“What for us has always been a great aspect of his work is a certain unpredictability. He’s a director that’s constantly surprising,” said Pena, who’s also chairman of the festival’s selection committee. “Nothing in his films is easy or predictable, in the sense that that’s even how you feel toward his characters. Look at ‘Bad Education.’ In many ways, the most sympathetic person is a priest who’s a former abuser of young boys.”

Films from Payne and Jaoui
The festival opened Friday night with “Look at Me” by Agnes Jaoui, the French director whose “The Taste of Others” (2000) was nominated for an Oscar for best language film. Her latest, which won the screenplay prize at Cannes, is a comedy about a cranky, overweight 20-year-old woman.

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At the end of the festival, writer-director Alexander Payne returns with “Sideways,” an observant comedy with a ’70s vibe about mismatched best friends (Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church) on a road trip to the wine country of California’s central coast.

Payne, whose “About Schmidt” starring Jack Nicholson was the opening night film in 2002, said he likes being involved with the New York Film Festival because it’s selective. Unlike Toronto or Cannes, which shows about 300 films, only about two dozen play each year in New York.

“It’s such a prestigious festival, I would have been happy not even having opening night or closing night — I would have been happy playing the festival any old way,” Payne told The Associated Press by phone Friday from Los Angeles. “The fact that Richard Pena saw fit to have one on opening night and another on closing night — who could ask for anything more?”

Other highlights from the festival’s 25 offerings:

  • “Notre Musique,” a film about war told in triptych, from French master Godard.
  • Bergman’s “Saraband,” the sequel to the Swedish film icon’s “Scenes from a Marriage,” which brings back the 1973 film’s stars, Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson.
  • Leigh’s “Vera Drake,” winner of the Golden Lion at this year’s Venice Film Festival, starring Imelda Staunton as an abortionist in 1950s England.
  • “House of Flying Daggers” from Chinese director Zhang, a computer-graphic, martial-arts extravaganza set in 859 A.D.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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