More Ice Than Cherries: The 1997 New York Film Festival

There are many New York Film Festivals. First of all, there's one for filmmakers, who have a chance to attract the attention of distributors and exhibitors. There's another festival for distributors themselves, who have a chance to preview the next 9 months' lineup and, if they're lucky, create a buzz about it. There's one for the members of the Film Society of Lincoln Center, which publishes FILM COMMENT magazine and operates the Walter Reade Theater and the Festival; for their $60, the members get a two-week head start on ticket buying. Finally, there's the general public, who have the privilege of lining up in front of Alice Tully Hall the Sunday morning when tickets go on sale. It's best to get there early: one third of the tickets will probably have sold out before becoming available to the public and the other third will sell while you're standing in line.

However, the festival contains an idea worth defending, even if it's sometimes buried beneath these varying agendas: the idea that the world of film is one world. At its best, the festival treats high-profile American releases like THE ICE STORM and BOOGIE NIGHTS, films from Egypt, Iran, Mexico or Portugal, and restored prints of D.W. Griffith's ORPHANS OF THE STORM and Wojciech Has' THE SARAGOSSA MANUSCRIPT as equals. Given the economics of the American film industry, this idea has less and less force in our film culture. But for two weeks, one can do one's best to ignore this sad state of affairs.

Of course, there's another NYFF: one for the press. I was lucky enough to get a press pass this year, so I was able to escape the usual frustration of not being able to get tickets for everything I wanted to see. This particular festival offers plenty of opportunities and pitfalls - opportunities to see a cross-section of 1997 world cinema in a few weeks, pitfalls like the tendency to make sweeping generalizations along the lines of "European film is dead!" or "Salute the {fill in the blanks} New Wave!" By choosing a mere 28 or so features for the festival, the selection committee implicitly promises a choice of the best films that have been made this year. Without being able to attend the Berlin, Cannes, Venice and Toronto festivals, it's difficult to judge how accurate their judgment is. The NYFF tends to offer a kind of "greatest hits" summary of other festivals, an approach that offers mixed blessings. On one hand, the NYFF doesn't showcase too many discoveries (that's the job of the New Directors/New Films festival, co-sponsored by the Film Society of Lincoln Center); on the other hand, it doesn't show an endless stream of Sundance rejects or dull Third World and Eastern European films that seem to have been chosen by throwing dice on an atlas. This year, we were even spared the usual handful of PBS-fodder documentaries.

So, what are my sweeping generalizations about this year's festival? Most other festivalgoers I know were pretty disappointed by it, and I certainly see why, even if I had a slightly better time than they did. Apart from a handful of outstanding films (Abbas Kiarostami's TASTE OF CHERRY, Arturo Ripstein's DEEP CRIMSON, Takeshi Kitano's HANA-BI, Errol Morris' FAST, CHEAP & OUT OF CONTROL and the 2 Wong Kar-Wai entries), there wasn't much to get excited about. Hollywood entries BOOGIE NIGHTS, THE ICE STORM and WASHINGTON SQUARE all struck me as accomplished but underwhelming. None of the European films left much of a lasting impression, and even filmmakers as talented as Lars von Trier, Manoel de Oliveira, Daniele Huillet/Jean Marie Straub and Pedro Almodovar offered up relatively minor work. (I should add the caveat that I missed Alexander Sokurov's MOTHER AND SON, which tended to provoke love-it-or-hate-it reactions.) Anyone prospecting for new auteurs was likely to be disappointed, unless Mexican director Arturo Ripstein, who's been making films for the past 30 years without ever getting much attention north of the border, counts. Additionally, 8 of the films opened with a week of their festival appearance.

I've resisted the urge to substantially revise these reviews or add reviews of festival entries that I saw outside the festival. (For the record, I'd give 4 stars to FAST, CHEAP AND OUT OF CONTROL, 3 and 1/2 to DEEP CRIMSON, 3 to Paul Thomas Anderson's BOOGIE NIGHTS and 2 and 1/2 to Ang Lee's THE ICE STORM.) The following is a snapshot of my New York Film Festival, written as it happened.

HANA-BI (Takeshi Kitano, Japan) ***1/2

If nothing else, HANA-BI proves that Takeshi Kitano is a filmmaker of extremes: extreme violence (as anyone who's seen VIOLENT COP, BOILING POINT or SONATINE can testify), but also extreme tenderness. These two extremes make up the two poles of the life of Detective Nishi (played by Takeshi himself), which goes into a whirlwind when his wife (Kayoko Kishimoto) is diagnosed with terminal cancer and his friend/partner Horibe (Ren Osugi) is paralyzed on a shootout. For the first twenty minutes, HANA-BI feels like a fairly conventional tale of a man struggling to deal with these problems. But it quickly turns into a disorienting, hallucinatory film, juxtaposing scenes so brutally and viscerally violent that they're difficult to watch with lyrical moments in which Horibe learns to paint (all the paintings and drawings were executedby Takeshi) and Nishi tries to console his dying wife by taking her on trips to the park and the beach. Neither pole cancels out the other, and the result is a daring, often beautiful film. When the festival began, HANA-BI has no American distributor yet, and I wasn't surprised: it's a marketing department's nightmare. However, Milestone Films picked it up shortly after I saw it. I wonder if Miramax will ever release SONATINE, which has been sitting on their shelf for at least two years.)


A program of five shorts:

TRISTE (Nathaniel Dorsky, USA) **

PONY GLASS (Lewis Klahr, USA) ***1/2

HAPPY-END (Peter Tscherkassky, Austria) ***

THE PRESENT (Robert Frank, USA) ***1/2

EFPSYCHI (Robert Beavers, Greece) **

The festival is presenting a 4-program avant-garde sidebar; this sampler showed excerpts from 3 of the 4. Like almost every feature-length program of shorts I've seen, it's a terribly uneven assortment, but at least it ran on a continuum from the sublime to the difficult-to-sit-through. I'll start with the latter. TRISTE is a nicely shot but dull collage of hand-painted film and short scenes of everyday life. An exercise in rhythmic montage and visual rhyming, EFPSYCHI juxtaposes extreme close-ups of a man's face with Athens street scenes. Despite a few striking images, it becomes monotonous pretty quickly.

However, the bulk of the program was worth seeing. HAPPY-END may be a one-joke film, but the joke works. Director Peter Tscherkassky has taken a Super-8 home movie of a middle-aged couple getting drunk on New Year's 1977, distorted and looped the footage and set it to a spectacularly inane German pop song, turning the reel into a kitsch NO EXIT. THE PRESENT begins with director Robert Frank trying to figure out what to make a film about; the resulting film is a moving, elegiac ode to his friends. PONY GLASS is a cut-out animation, made mostly out of images taken from SUPERMAN comics. Despite being only 15 minutes long, it's one of the best films the festival has shown so far. As usual, Lewis Klahr has turned the relics and memories of a 60s childhood steeped in pop culture into something deeply personal and imaginative: in this case, a homoerotic reverie about Jimmy Olsen, Superman's perpetual second banana.

YEAR OF THE HORSE (Jim Jarmusch, USA) ***

About 75% of the runing time of YEAR OF THE HORSE consists of excellent concert footage from a 1996 Neil Young & Crazy Horse tour. If you're not a fan of Neil at his most abrasive, these extremely noisy, extended performances aren't likely to convert you; if you are (and I'm a big one), they're quite a treat. Had Jarmusch been content to simply make a concert film, it might have earned another half-star. However, he also incorporates home movies from 1976 and 1986 (no real revelations, unless you're shocked to see Neil & co. pass around a joint or set a bouquet on fire), interviews with the band members, their manager and Neil's dad, and cuts from performances to landscape shots, animation or footage of the band and crew walking around, all of which look like leftovers from a music video. The interview segments only spring to life when the band discusses its history (including the 1972 overdose of guitarist Danny Whitten, memorialized in "Tonight's The Night") and its late producer David Briggs. There's an additional problem: most of the film was shot on Super-8 and later blown-up to 35mm. Of course, the graininess and coarseness of the image are intended to match the music's roughness, but they just make the film look cheap. Distributed by October Films.

TASTE OF CHERRY (Abbas Kiarostami, Iran) ****

It's probably best to approach this film without knowing much about it; if you know exactly what's going on, both the first 20 minutes and the ending will feel much different. I'll just say that it chronicles what may be the final day in the life of a suicidally desperate man. Most of the elements of TASTE OF CHERRY are familiar from other Kiarostami films. His fondness for extreme long shots is quite evident. These shots were used as puncutation in WHERE IS THE FRIEND'S HOME?, AND LIFE GOES ON and THROUGH THE OLIVE TREES; here, they alternate with claustrophobic close-ups. Like THE TRAVELLER, WHERE IS THE FRIEND'S HOME? and AND LIFE GOES ON, iTASTE OF CHERRY is structured around a (physical and spiritual) journey. Even the enimgatic final scene makes more sense if one recalls the endings of AND LIFE GOES ON and THROUGH THE OLIVE TREES. But all these elements are pared down to the essential: life and death are at stake here. This is the most moving film I've seen so far this year : an Iranian analog to films like Dreyer's ORDET and Bresson's THE DEVIL, PROBABLY. Distributed by Zeitgeist Films. I don't expect it to be a commercial breakthrough for Iranian cinema (it's a great deal more gruelling than GABBEH or THE WHITE BALLOON, to put it mildly), but I'm overjoyed that we're finally getting a commercial release from one of the greats of world cinema.

FROM TODAY UNTIL TOMORROW (Jean-Marie Straub/Daniele Huillet, France/Germany) **

My credentials for reviewing this film, a 62-minute adaptation of an obscure 1929 operetta by Arnold Schoenberg, are limited: I know nothing about opera or Schoenberg and I've only seen one other Straub/Huillet feature (the 1968 CHRONICLE OF ANNA-MAGDALENA BACH.) However, I found CHRONICLE pretty engaging, and I don't know much about Bach either. FROM TODAY UNTIL TOMORROW is an austere adaptation, shot in fixed shots on one set, and this rigorous approach doesn't seem particularly suited to the libretto, whose treatment of a couple's marital problems (beginning as a sort of bedroom farce and culminating in a rather conservative defense of monogamy) seems to call for a lighter touch. As Godfrey Cheshire pointed out in VARIETY, Schoenberg wasn't exactly Cole Porter. No distributor. Are you surprised?

LOVE AND DEATH ON LONG ISLAND (Richard Kwietniowski, UK/Canada) ***

This is a charming, surprisingly upbeat DEATH IN VENICE/LOLITA takeoff. John Hurt stars as Giles De'Ath, a reclusive British novelist whose life is changed when he becomes obsessed with teen idol Ronnie Bostock (Jason Priestley), star of USA Channel favorites like HOTPANTS COLLEGE II and SKIDMARKS. Eventually, he heads out to Ronnie's Long Island home town to track him down. But Giles isn't a typical stalker; Hurt manages to make him both creepy and sympathetic, without whitewashing the depth of his obsession. As for Priestley, he proves that he has a sense of humor about his own career. Distributed by CFP.

THE SWEET HEREAFTER (Atom Egoyan, Canada) ***1/2

VILLAGE VOICE critic J. Hoberman suggests that THE SWEET HEREAFTER will be one of the biggest hits from the festival. When Fine Line releases it on December 24th, we'll get to find out. I wouldn't be suprised if he's right. Even more so than in EXOTICA, Egoyan seems to be trying here to translate his personal set of themes and formal structures into a language that could connect with a large audience. Adapted by him from the novel by Russell Banks, THE SWEET HEREAFTER spins a number of plotlines around a 1995 school bus crash in a small British Columbia town. The accident has killed most of the town's children, and the film examines what happens when lawyer Mitchell Stevens (Ian Holm, in an Oscar-worthy performance), haunted by his own troubles, comes to town to stir up a class-action suit. For once, Egoyan is dealing directly with the material of melodrama. Stevens' quest takes the form of a series of intersecting encounters with the local community: an artist couple (Earl Pastko and Arsinée Khanijan), the bus driver (Gabrielle Rose), a teenage girl whose dreams of becoming a rock singer have been destroyed by paralysis caused by the accident (Sarah Polley) and an angry widower (Bruce Greenwood.) It gradually becomes clear that the lawsuit has more to do with his needs (especially anguish over a drug-addicted daughter) than the needs of the people he supposedly wants to help. I don't mean to suggest that THE SWEET HEREAFTER feels particularly compromised - as warm as it is, it's still a fairly grim film, with a storyline that requires an attentive viewer. (Indeed, I overlooked a key moment when I initially wrote about it.) However, EXOTICA is my favorite film of the 90s, and I was hoping for another film on the same level. THE SWEET HEREAFTER is a fine film in its own right, but it didn't have anywherew near the same impact on me. Check back in January: maybe a second viewing will do the trick.

KISS OR KILL (Bill Bennett, Australia) *

A tedious, ugly neo-noir exercise about an outlaw couple (Matt Day and Frances O'Connor) on the run after unintentionally giving a fatal overdose of sleeping pills to a man that O'Connor robbed. When I read the press kit, I was surprised to learn that Bennett has been making films (including the Sandra Bullock vehicle TWO IF BY SEA) since 1984. If he wanted to return to his roots, he may have succeeded - KISS OR KILL feels like a student film made under the influence of GUN CRAZY, BREATHLESS (gotta love those jump cuts), BONNIE & CLYDE, BADLANDS and a few dozen of their imitations. A friend of mine walked out after 20 minutes; I had severe difficulty keeping myself from following him. Distributed by October Films.

MA VIE EN ROSE (Alain Berliner, Belgium/France) **1/2

Given that the central character of MA VIE EN ROSE, Ludovic (Georges DuFresne), is a 7-year-old boy who wants to become a girl, Disney probably won't be picking up the remake rights for this French-language film. (There's a late plot development that suggests an ending suitable for Disney, if not the Christian Coalition, but Berliner thankfully resists such closure.) If MA VIE EN ROSE were Australian, it would probably be an exercise in dayglo fabulousness (set to a soundtrack of 70s pop hits, of course); if it were British, it would probably be a well-acted, naturalistic Lesson In Tolerance, shot without much visual style. Berliner combines the two approaches - he's cited both Tim Burton and Ken Loach as influences, and he does come close to synthesizing that seemingly incompatible pair. At worst, MA VIE EN ROSE suffers from a severe case of the cutesies - in particular, I could've done without the fantasy scenes depicting Ludovic's obsession with Barbie surrogate Pam. At best, it does a terrific (and terrifically colorful) job of pointing out the conformist paranoia hiding beneath the veneer of tolerance. Kudos to production designer Véronique Melery. Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics

WASHINGTON SQUARE (Agnieszka Holland, USA) **

I can see why Agnieszka Holland was attracted to Carol Doyle's adaptation of this Henry James novel; the oppression faced by heroine Catherine Sloper (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is a softer, infinitely more genteel variation on that faced by the women in A WOMAN ALONE and ANGRY HARVEST. However, her film doesn't amount to much more than a classy soap opera. For much of the film, Leigh seems miscast; her performance of Catherine as a shy, girlish perpetual virgin is terribly mannered and self-conscious. Additionally, she doesn't have much to do except react to the tyrannical rage of her father, Dr. Sloper (Albert Finney), and try to figure out how she can possibly marry the unemployed Morris Townsend (Ben Chaplin, blandly handsome.) Dr. Sloper dominates her life; Finney's hammy performance dominates the film. Once Catherine is forced to make some real choices, WASHINGTON SQUARE does become a bit more interesting, but by then, it's too late. This is certainly an improvement over TOTAL ECLIPSE, but there's not much to distinguish it from dozens of other middlebrow period pieces and literary adaptations. Can you say "Oscar bait?" Distributed by Hollywood Pictures

DESTINY (Youssef Chahine, Egypt/France) ***

I've been curious about Egyptian filmmaker Youssef Chahine ever since I read about his 1996 retrospective at the Locarno Film Festival in a special issue of CAHIERS DU CINEMA and articles by Dave Kehr in FILM COMMENT and Berenice Reynaud in SIGHT & SOUND. My curiosity finally paid off. DESTINY is the most startling and original film I've seen so far in the festival: an epic period piece, deeply influenced by 40s and 50s Hollywood at its least hip (musicals, biopics, maybe even Biblical spectaculars), and a deeply personal, politically committed film. After the academicism of WASHINGTON SQUARE and the pseudo-noir idiocy of KISS OR KILL, Chahine's freewheeling approach to genre is quite refreshing. DESTINY opens with a book (and "heretic") burning in 12th-century France; it closes with another book burning in Andalucia. In between, it tells the story of Islamic Andalucian philosopher Averroes (and the multi-religious/cultural entourage of students, poets and musicians who gather around him), who struggled to preserve his humanist philosophy against threats of violence and censorship from fundamentalists. Given recent events in Algeria (as well as the banning of Chahine's last film in Egypt), the film couldn't be more relevant, and it also has plenty to say about the problems we're facing here. When it comes to subject matter, Chahine can't be faulted for lack of ambition. DESTINY sets itself at the crossroads between Europe and Africa, between Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Unfortunately, it doesn't always due justice to the subject matter. (An acquaintance compared it to a comic book adaptation of IVANHOE, and even if I don't agree, I can understand why he thinks so.) It tends towards the didactic, and it doesn't always bear its 135-minute length gracefully. But it did whet my appetite for Chahine's other 32 films, which may be coming to the Walter Reade some time next year. No distributor. When asked about the film's chances of finding an American distributor, Chahine launched into a lengthy (and justifiable) tirade about Americans' lack of curiosity about the rest of the world. The post-screening Q&A was the longest and most lively of the ones I've attended.

VOYAGE TO THE BEGINNING OF THE WORLD (Manoel de Oliveira, Portgual/France) ***

When riding on a train, do you spend the time reading or staring at the window? When your grandparents brought out the photo album, slide show or home movies, did you stay awake? Do you know (or care) anything about the life and work of 89-year-old Portugese filmmaker Manoel de Oliveira? Your responses to these questions will say a lot about your response to his latest film. The "plot" can be fully summed up in one sentence: an actor, born in France to a Portugese father and French mother (Jean-Yves Gautier), takes time out from shooting a film on location in Portugal to travel (with director Manoel, played by Marcello Mastroianni, and two Portugese assistants) to the impoverished rural village where his aunt lives. "Nothing happens," except gazing at scenery and a great deal of reminiscing from Manoel (Mastroianni is obviously playing Oliveira, and much of what he says is autobiographical) and the aunt. "Nothing happens," but the film does a terrific job of exploring a small corner of experience and memory. I liked it, but I know that it's likely to provoke mass walk-outs. Distributed by (the courageous) Strand Releasing.

FALLEN ANGELS (Wong Kar-Wai, Hong Kong) ****

There are certain directors who like to turn every scene, even something like a brief shot of a jukebox or a rainy street, into an event, full of extremes of light or darkness, distorted color and odd angles. This breed started emerging around the late 70s and early 80s, and they've achieved mixed results, largely because their style is so often derived from commercials and music videos, with their overbearing desire to grab the attention of the TV viewer so he or she doesn't reach for the remote. (A film like TRAINSPOTTING is a perfect example. An enormous amount of talent obviously went into it, but I was repulsed by Danny Boyle's need to keep us entertained every millisecond.) But this style can also achieve real poetry, and FALLEN ANGELS (along with Wong Kar-Wai's CHUNG KING EXPRESS and ASHES OF TIME) is a perfect example. To put it simply, Wong Kar-Wai (and cinematographer Christopher Doyle) seem to fall in love with everyone and everything that crosses the camera. Their style doesn't stem from neediness, but from an evident pleasure in filmmaking. FALLEN ANGELS is somewhat of an extension of CHUNG KING EXPRESS: it cross-cuts between three characters - a hitman (Leon Lai), his booking agent (Michelle Reis) and a crazed mute (Takeshi Kinehsiro) who likes to break into shops after hours and force bystanders to get a haircut or buy ice cream - whose stories eventually merge. As sheer entertainment, this outdoes any Hollywood film I've seen in years, and it manages to suggest a great deal about the pleasures and dangers of urban life (in New York as much as Hong Kong.) A delight. Distributed by Kino International.

LA VIE DE JESUS (Bruno Dumont, France) ***

There's no need to take a director at their word about a film, but sometimes it's inevitable that one's experience of a film will be colored by what the director has to say about it. Taken on its own terms, LA VIE DE JESUS is a success, although one that's often pretty unpleasant to watch. However, I've seen few other recent films in which my experience of the film lies at odds with what the director's stated intentions. As a social-problem film about youth nihilism, LA VIE DE JESUS is miles ahead of the likes of KIDS. Dumont skillfully shows the ravages of unemployment, poverty and racism without ever making the film feel like a sermon or sociology lesson. His approach to this subject matter is refreshing; where another filmmaker would've shot this in 16mm with a handheld camera, he uses widescreen 35mm and often frames the Northern French countryside in gorgeous long shots that act as counterpoint to his characters' hopeless lives. However, Dumont is adamant that he's made a Christian allegory, not a piece of social realism, and that the ending promises "a movement towards repentance and grace...a small light that can come on." These themes might have come across better if the arc of the narrative wasn't so grim (the three main - not to say only - events of the film include a bedside visit to a dying AIDS patient, a rape and a murder, along with lots of aimless motorbike racing) and the characters weren't so brutish and inarticulate. As a depiction of unemployment, its miserabilism is the flipside of feelgood crowd-pleasers ike BRASSED OFF and THE FULL MONTY. But Dumont doesn't seem to realize that his film works best when it's closest to Ken Loach, not Robert Bresson. Judging from statements like "Film should be painful" and "The stupidity of Americans is not measurable," he'd do a better job of promoting his film if he stopped giving interviews. No distributor.

HAPPY TOGETHER (Wong Kar-Wai, Hong Kong) ***1/2

On a first viewing, this struck me as one of Wong Kar-Wai's weakest films. It improved greatly with a second viewing, and I may have been disappointed initially only because HAPPY TOGETHER is somewhat of a departure. For one thing, it takes its rhythm from the characters (a gay couple from Hong Kong, played by Tony Leung Chiu-Wai and Leslie Cheung, living in a tiny room in Buenos Aires and travelling around Argentina) rather than the city that surrounds them. The Buenos Aires setting isn't utilized much; about half the film takes place in one room. The look of the film is glossy and stylized, but the narrative is far more "realist" than any of Wong's other films. For once, he's depicting the everyday life of a couple, troubled as they may be. The melancholy underlying ASHES OF TIME and FALLEN ANGELS comes to the fore here. All in all, HAPPY TOGETHER feels very much like a transitional film. Distributed by Kino International.

LIVE FLESH (Pedro Almodovar, Spain) ***

Almodovar seems to be settling into a comfortable middle age as a maker of well-crafted, intelligent melodramas. If he'd filmed LIVE FLESH (an adaptation of a Ruth Rendell novel) 10 years ago, it would have been filled with outrageous characters and bright colors. But his treatment of the material is remarkably restrained. LIVE FLESH begins abruptly, with two events depicted in media res. In 1970, a prostitute gives birth to a boy on a Madrid bus. Twenty years later, that boy, Victor (Liberto Rabal), tries to woo a spaced-out junkie, Elena (Francesca Neri), inadvertently setting in motion a chain of accidents and misunderstandings which culminate in a shoot-out. After shooting and paralyzing a cop, David (Javier Bardem), he's sentenced to a 4-year jail term. These events tie Victor, Elena and David (along with David's alcoholic partner, Sancho, and Sancho's wife) together, and the heart of the film centers around what happens when Victor tries to put his life back together after his release. Almodovar's style in LIVE FLESH is somewhat reminiscent of Claude Chabrol; like many Chabrol films, this one takes the storyline of a thriller but concentrates on exploring character rather than action. In keeping with Almodovar's new mood, LIVE FLESH is surprisingly optimistic.Distributed by Goldwyn/MGM.

THE KINGDOM, PART 2 (Lars von Trier/Mortten Arnfred, Denmark) ***

The first four episodes of THE KINGDOM, released here two years ago, may have been the first third of a TV series, but they were paced and structured well enough to stand up on their own. THE KINGDOM, PART 2 consists of the middle four episodes of the series (according to the press book, the final third will begin shooting next summer), and these four episodes feel very much like the middle of something larger. THE KINGDOM, PART 2 is about the same length as the first part, but it feels slower and much more scattered. Additonally, von Trier and Arnfred seem confused about what tone to adopt. These episodes feel simultaneously goofier (the "Danish scum" monologues are delivered into a toilet bowl and shot from the p.o.v. of a piece of shit!) and overly earnest. The goofiness tends to work better; von Trier's anger at the way medical institutions can abuse power and get away with it is palpable, but the decision to play a subplot involving a deformed baby (played by Udo Kier) for pathos misfires badly. And I don't think it gained anything from the transfer to the big screen, although the video transfer looks slightly better this time around.Still, it has quite a few fine moments. Distributed by October Films.

And then the withdrawal symptoms began...