Robert De Niro Tribute

Robert De Niro at his Tribute (c) Ed Scheid

The recent Chaplin Award tribute to Robert De Niro from the Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York City was a memorable event. The notable guests gave personalized insights into their collaborations with De Niro. Extensive clips highlighted De Niro’s many indelible performances in films like “The Godfather, Part II” (1974), “Taxi Driver” (1976) and “Raging Bull” (1980).

Harvey Keitel (c) Ed Scheid

Harvey Keitel who appeared with De Niro in films from “Mean Streets” (1973) to “The Comedian” (2016) spoke of the “excellence” of De Niro’s work and told a highly amusing anecdote of a trip to Rome with De Niro. Paparazzi told police that De Niro and Keitel were members of the Red Brigades and the two were arrested. After De Niro was recognized, the two were released. Newspapers said that De Niro was in Rome with his “best friend Keith Carradine.”

Whoopi Goldberg (c) Ed Scheid

More humor followed. Whoopi Goldberg said that De Niro’s attraction to black women made her feel good about the way she looked. She added that she could tell studio executives “Robert De Niro likes me!” Ben Stiller who appeared in “Meet the Parents” (2000) and its sequels with De Niro, joked about how making “The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle” hurt De Niro’s reputation.

Meryl Streep (c) Ed Scheid

Meryl Streep who starred with De Niro in “The Deer Hunter” (1978), “Falling in Love” (1984) and “Marvin’s Room” (1996) said that when she was a young actress, the only person she knew with a film role was Michael Moriarty. She went to see him in “Bang the Drum Slowly” (1973) and thought that the man (De Niro) playing the naïve ballplayer from a rural background was so convincing he had to be a non-professional.

When Streep saw Martin Scorsese’s “Mean Streets”, she was shocked to see the man she thought was a “hillbilly” in “Bang the Drum” portraying an unstable small-time New York hood. With that acting versatility, Streep said she wanted De Niro to be “my teacher for most of my life.”

Both Sean Penn and Barry Levinson, who directed De Niro in films that include “Wag the Dog” (1997), spoke of their high regard for De Niro and his impressive career.

Martin Scorsese (c) Ed Scheid

The Chaplin Award was presented by Martin Scorsese who has directed De Niro in many of his most acclaimed films from “Mean Streets” early in both their careers, to “Taxi Driver”, “Raging Bull”, for which De Niro received the Best Actor Oscar, “Goodfellas” (1990), and “Casino” (1995). Scorsese spoke of the “lasting trust” between the two of them.

Martin Scorsese (c) Ed Scheid

Scorsese mentioned an anecdote that he said illustrates why De Niro is such an outstanding actor. He said that while both of them were preparing “Raging Bull”, they were visited by two United Artists executives. One of the executives asked De Niro in regard to the role of boxer Jake La Motta in the film, “Why do you want to play a cockroach?” De Niro forcefully replied “He’s not a cockroach”.

Scorsese later said the executives had planned to pull financing on the film until the encounter with De Niro. Scorsese added that De Niro “never looks down” on the characters he portrays.

Robert De Niro (c) Ed Scheid

In accepting the Award, and after thanking the previous speakers, Robert De Niro spoke of the importance of the arts and organizations that support the arts like the National Endowment of the Arts and the Public Broadcasting System, particularly in such a “divisive” time with “mean-spirited” government policies.

Robert De Niro (3rd from left) being congratulated by Ben Stiller, Barry Levinson, Meryl Streep and Harvey Keitel (c) Ed Scheid

De Niro joked to the audience that he doesn’t just make films for the “liberal elite”. “That’s what my restaurants are for” he added. He said he makes films “for all of you.”

Barry Levinson, Meryl Streep, Harvey Keitel and Sean Penn (c) Ed Scheid

Robert De Niro, Barry Levinson, Meryl Streep and Harvey Keitel (c) Ed Scheid

French Rendez-Vous 2015: Fresh Views of a Familiar Subject

I was pleasantly surprised that two of the stronger films in the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema in New York were from the familiar the serial killer genre. Perhaps, these films made such an impression because both are based on real cases.

“SK1” (“L’Affaire SK1”) is a procedural that follows the multi-year search for and trial of a serial killer, nicknamed The Beast of the Bastille. Director Frederic Teller makes a notable feature debut, showing in fascinating detail the determination of the police investigating the murder of women in Paris. Mistakes prolong the hunt.

Raphael Personnaz and Olivier Gourmet in "SK1"

Raphael Personnaz and Olivier Gourmet in “SK1”

The film is extremely well-acted. The focus is on a young inspector (Raphael Personnaz, “The French Minister”). His partner is played by Dardennes regular Olivier Gourmet. One of France’s top actresses, Nathalie Baye (“Catch Me If You Can”) portrays a lawyer after the killer is caught and put on trial. Director Teller, who co-wrote the screenplay, maintains tension throughout. The film has some chilling scenes, particularly when the killer (Adama Niane) makes a court confession in front of the victims’ families.

Nathalie Baye at Rendez-Vous with French Cinema     (c) Ed Scheid

Nathalie Baye at Rendez-Vous with French Cinema (c) Ed Scheid

Director Frederic Teller and members of the cast discussed the film after the screening. Teller said he had access to a trove of documents for different drafts of the screenplay. Nathalie Baye who had been directed by Teller for television said she really enjoyed him as director, she felt they worked very close together as he understands actors.

Teller said his main influence was from French and American films from the 1970s and 1980s that focused on character like “Missing” and “Taxi Driver”. He described “SK1” as “obsessing, searching for the man behind the monster” and added that it was a “film about people fighting evil.”

Frederic Teller after the screening     (c) Ed Scheid

Frederic Teller after the screening (c) Ed Scheid

Also inspired by history, “Next Time I’ll Aim For the Heart” (“Prochaine Fois Je Viserai le Coeur”) has a very unusual twist in that the serial killer (Guillaume Canet, “In the Name of My Daughter”) is Franck Neuhart, a respected gendarme assigned to the case.

Before the screening, Canet added that because of the complexity of his role, it is the “best part” of his career. He also saluted his “spiritual father” director Jerry Schatzberg who was in the audience, saying Schatzberg discovered Al Pacino (“Panic in Needle Park”, 1971).

Guillaume Canet in “Next Time I’ll Aim For the Heart”

Guillaume Canet in “Next Time I’ll Aim For the Heart”

The film is directed and co-written by Cedric Anger, a former film critic. Set during 1978-1979, it is an absorbing study of a very conflicted character with several gripping twists to the plot as the gendarme attempts to impede the investigation of himself.

Guillaume Canet at Rendez-Vous with French Cinema     (c) Ed Scheid

Guillaume Canet at Rendez-Vous with French Cinema (c) Ed Scheid

Canet is impressive. His Neuhart is frightening, deadly violent to his female victims. But his private life, he carries on a tentative romance with his cleaning lady. In torment from the crimes he seems unable to control, Neuhart beats himself, and in unsettling scenes, has barbed wire wrapped around his bleeding arm.