14 Films (and Other Recommendations) at the 60th New York Film Festival
With the opening night of the 60th New York Film Festival upon us, Filmmaker would like to recommend 14 titles to catch during the 17-day engagement, which runs from September 30 through October 16 in-person at Film at Lincoln Center. Over the course of our previous festival coverage from this year—including Sundance, Cannes, Venice and TIFF—many of these films have been featured on our site in critical dispatches and reviews. Below, we share links and excerpts from these director interviews and festival dispatches, highlighting Jerzy Skolimowski’s Eo, Véréna Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor’s De Humani Corporis Fabrica, Kelly Reichardt’s Showing Up as well as Jean-Luc Godard’s The Image Book, the director’s last feature presented in the wake of his passing. Read below for links to our coverage and excerpts from our reviews. Also, Vadim Rizov’s review of the Opening Night film, Noah Baumbach’s White Noise, is here.
In addition to its films, the New York Film Festival this year has a robust lineup of talks. Particularly recommended are Filmmaker 1998 25 New Face Cauleen Smith, whose Drylongso is a retrospective screening; Nan Goldin, the subject of Laura Poitras’s excellent All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, which you’ll read about in our forthcoming print issue; author and filmmaker Annie Ernaux, whose The Super 8 Years Vadim Rizov writes about below, and who will be in conversation with novelist Elif Batuman; and a conversation with producer Effie Brown, CEO of Gamechanger Films and producer of Closing Night film The Inspection.)
For further information on the schedule, tickets and the full line-up, visit Film at Lincoln Center’s official website.
Armageddon Time. It’s 1980, morning in what’s not quite yet Reagan’s America: he’s still a candidate heard on TV prophesying that America is approaching its own moral moment of Armageddon, which—along with the Clash’s cover of “Armagideon Time”—is the pretext for the title. Gray’s gloomy takes on Greek tragedy, from Little Odessa up through We Own the Night, could all have had this title, their narratives devoted to plunging characters into endless downfalls. Armageddon Time, though, unexpectedly begins in a place of non-foreboding warmth and reminiscence; its opening sequences unfold Paul’s family life as peak Jewish family comedy, his public school days as essentially innocuous teachers-vs-kids hijinks. Paul’s parents are working-class and supportive, but it’s his grandpa Aaron who serves as a rock of delight and reassurance—a peak part for late-period Anthony Hopkins, who at this point just radiates basic decency. Paul already wants to be an artist, even if he’s not entirely sure what that means: after a class trip to the Guggenheim, he replicates a Kandinsky painting. Plagiarism as a precondition for artistic training is a venerable tradition; plagiarism of abstract art for a renowned classicist like Gray is, I guess, at least an acknowledgement of awareness of more radical forms that he’s consciously rejected, the rough film equivalent of Wilco booking particularly abstruse opening acts. —Vadim Rizov
Enys Men. Mark Jenkin’s Enys Men is the Cornish filmmaker’s sixth feature, and first since his semi-breakout, Bait (2019). I haven’t seen any of those, but knew going in that he was a material-driven director who tends to work in 16mm that he hand-processes. Set in 1973, Enys Men (Cornish for “Stone Island” and is pronounced—if I recall correctly—AYN-is Mayn) is an image-forward movie drenched in the kind of dense, thick film grain you can find in e.g. the work of Ben Rivers or Samuel M. Delgado & Helena Girón. Primary colors veritably bleed off the screen as we watch a woman (British TV actor Mary Woodvine, also in Bait) after she arrives to observe an unusual flower that’s appeared on the isle. Just as the image’s graininess never lets you forget that you’re looking at an image, conspicuous foley work verges on cartoonish, with isolated radio noise, footsteps and creaking doors amplified to the point where they become haptic. —VR
Showing Up. My Cannes Competition viewing ended with Kelly Reichardt’s Showing Up, in which artist Lizzy (Michelle Williams, delivering 50 kinds of long-suffering looks) tries to finish the final sculptures for her forthcoming show while being repeatedly detained from what she needs to do. Ceramic sculptures presumably made her hirable to teach and do university admin, but art doesn’t otherwise provide a livable income; instead, it’s repeatedly backburnered to deal with infinite waves of mundane workplace bullshit and interpersonal drama. At school, Lizzy’s show is under-promoted relative to other faculty while she’s relegated to processing reimbursals for administrators with expense accounts she implicitly doesn’t have. Brother Sean (John Magaro) lives nearby and seems somewhere near, if not exactly, bipolar; a la Richard Dreyfuss sculpting a mountain in his living room in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, he shovels up his backyard to create a series of mouths communicating from the earth. Jo (Maryann Plunkett), both Lizzy’s mother and supervising administrator, connects her professional and family lives, in both of which she feels unheard. There’s no peace at home either, where the hot water’s been out for two weeks. Every time Lizzy brings it up, her landlord/friend/quasi-rival Jo (Hong Chau) acts like she’s being unreasonable, even before “asking” her to care for a pigeon with a broken wing on the single personal day she’s managed to carve out for her remaining tasks. —VR
Aftersun. Memory’s ability to obscure or reveal anew — as well as to indict or possibly heal — is the subject of Charlotte Wells’s debut feature, Aftersun. The bare elements of the film’s story, which I summarized to close my profile of Wells in Filmmaker‘s 2018 25 New Faces list, are simple: “Aftersun, about a young father’s vacation trip with his daughter to a beachside resort, [is] inspired by her own vacation trips with her dad.” What’s missing from that synopsis is the film’s present-day perspective, which allows the innocence of a child’s holiday to be charged by a raft of turbulent meanings and emotions. Having directed a number of acclaimed shorts, including Blue Christmas, a brilliant depiction of a fractured family Christmas, and with Adele Romanski, Barry Jenkins and Mark Ceryak (from Pastel) and Amy Jackson (from Unified Theory) the producers on this debut, Wells received major recognition when her film premiered in Cannes at Critics Week, where it won the French Touch prize. — Scott Macaulay
All that Breathes.“You don’t care for things because they share the same country, religion or politics. Life itself is kinship. We’re all a community of air.” Those are the poetic words heard in the closing voiceover of Shaunak Sen’s mesmerizing All That Breathes…the film’s an ambitiously intricate study of the intersection of environmental collapse, religious tension, and the love of two Muslim brothers for a feathered scavenger unnervingly falling from a smoggy Delhi sky. With stunning cinematography and utmost attention to the tiniest detail (down to mosquitos buzzing over a puddle), Sen (Cities of Sleep) follows Wildlife Rescue cofounders Nadeem and Saud (and their equally dedicated volunteer Salik), self-taught bird doctors on an increasingly Sisyphean quest to save the black kite, a meat-eating raptor that can’t be treated at the local animal hospital because it’s “non-vegetarian.” And do so amidst funding woes and power outages, choking pollution and political clashes in the streets. It’s a tale of high drama in which the avian stars serve as canaries in a toxic global coal mine soon to engulf us all. —Lauren Wissot
De Humani Corporis Fabrica. It was only a matter of time before Sensory Ethnography Lab explorers Véréna Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor went inside—deep inside. Shot at eight different French hospitals, De Humani Corporis Fabrica intermingles imagery from within and without the human body, observing patients and listening in on surgeons during operations with special cameras and medical equipment. Immersive in different ways from their masterpiece Leviathan, and even more hypnotic than Caniba in aligning the screen’s surface with the textures of tissue, Paravel and Castaing-Taylor’s latest film takes its title from Vesalius’s groundbreaking 16th-century anatomy text, de- and re-familiarizing us with the interiors and exteriors of our flesh, and the systems used to navigate and contain them. —Nicolas Rapold
EO. “What if this movie’s just a donkey green screened onto a bunch of Koyaanisqatsi-looking footage?” I joked to a friend as the lights dimmed for Polish master Jerzy Skolimowski’s new film, Eo. It wasn’t, but honestly I wasn’t as far off as I thought. Touted (in the media, at least) as a remake of Robert Bresson’s 1966 classic Au hasard Balthazar, the 84 year-old’s latest offers one of the more radical updates of that film imaginable. Pitched somewhere between sacrilege and tribute (Skolimowski is a notorious Bresson fan, even if his work has rarely shown his influence), Eo is an epic, expressive and capricious odyssey into the primitive viscera of Balthazar’s legacy. A profoundly spiritual portrait of the titular donkey, Balthazar is also the text its maker most explicitly links to his early life as an action painter (“Then onto my canvas burst a multitude of structures, each with its own dialectic,” says a man with an easel strapped to his back). With Eo, Skolimowski aims for an even more volatile and irruptive classification. —VR
R.M.N. In Cristian Mungiu’s R.M.N…Matthias (Marin Gregoire) is introduced working in a German sheep-slaughtering factory; when a factory supervisor curses him as a “lazy Gypsy,” Matthias promptly headbutts him and hits the road back to his Transylvania hometown. Everyone’s left home to find work elsewhere, which we know because the characters keep saying that, and Matthias’s bakery manager ex-girlfriend Csilla (Judith State) has been forced to recruit foreign laborers for minimum wage positions. Her hiring of two Sri Lankan employees (Gihan Edirisinghe and Amitha Jayasinghe) immediately triggers virulent racist pushback from the townsfolk, first in the form of (naturally) a vile Facebook group. Because Mungiu is a filmmaker who’s incapable of not staying terminally on-message, a seeming digression—Csilla having a nice holiday dinner with her new hires—is punctuated by a half-assed Molotov cocktail thrown through the window; the person next to me jumped, but to me this development was clearly inevitable. —VR
Stars at Noon. I thought about this during the closing stretch of Claire Denis’s Stars at Noon, adapted with letter-of-the-law faithfulness from Denis Johnson’s novel. Trish (Margaret Qualley) is ostensibly a journalist floating around Nicaragua; the book is narrated in the first person and makes it quasi-clear that Trish is, in all likelihood, using journalism as a cover story for activities supporting a rebel group—which, along with a lot of other things, isn’t as clear in the adaptation. This ambiguity, however, doesn’t seem like a deliberate choice: while retaining something like 80% of the book’s dialogue and most of its plot, Denis’s second English-language film hollows out the political specifics and ditches the 1984, Nicaragua setting for the COVID-forward present. Following Both Sides of the Blade, Denis’s first feature this year, this is equally heavy on masks and testing protocols; she’s certainly not shying away from the moment, which leaves the un-updated political specifics in a weird achronological vacuum. Trish starts an affair with a British oil company rep (or so he claims), Daniel (Joe Alwyn), who’s got unspecified heat on him; fleeing vague hostile forces, they find themselves at the Costa Rican border, where Trish encounters Stars’s only other American, played by Benny Safdie. “We’re Americans,” he tells her. “We’re friends.” This is all Trish needs to know that he’s up to no good—beware of US representatives who show up and claim to be your friend, a lesson countless countries have learned many times over. — VR
TÁR. Todd Field’s TÁR simulates ethical complexity to “call into question” cancel culture, which—no matter what Gina Carano, Peter Vack et al. have to say about it—is not an unprecedentedly bold or unthinkable move; millions of Americans are waiting to nod in vociferous agreement. The titular Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett) first speaks at the New Yorker Festival, in onstage conversation with the magazine’s Adam Gopnik as himself. This prolonged opening (somewhere around 15 minutes) provides an excuse for a lot of expository background: Tár is an EGOT honoree, a revered modern conductor, a lesbian who’s also the first woman appointed to lead a German orchestra, who makes a point of performing contemporary work alongside the old warhorses and is a composer herself. If that sounds familiar, the conversation inevitably namechecks Leonard Bernstein—still most people’s image, if they have one, of the dark art of what a conductor does exactly—but also lists other meaningful predecessors for Tár including Marin Alsop, the real-life lesbian conductor mentored by Bernstein who became the first female leader of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and is presumably a slight inspiration for the character. —VR
Triangle of Sadness. Triangle of Sadness divides neatly into three parts. First, a fashion industry satire that resolves into a relationship face-off between model Carl (Harris Dickinson, one of Eliza Hittman’s Beach Rats) and influencer Yaya (newcomer Charlbi Dean). Then, the notorious yacht trip, with a drunken skipper (Woody Harrelson) and casually tyrannical rich passengers (such as affable Russian manure billionaire, played by Zlatko Buric). And finally, following a pirate attack, the conundrum of survival on a tropical isle, where the pyramid of power is flipped to elevate a skilled yacht underling, Abigail (Dolly De Leon), to island capo, because she knows how to fish. Beauty and power, realpolitik and good intentions, envy and exploitation—Östlund aims for another symphony of mortification and slapstick in three movements. — NR
The Super 8 Years. For Annie Ernaux fans, The Super 8 Years is something better than a movie—it’s effectively a new Ernaux novella, assembled from home movie footage shot by her late ex-husband Philippe Ernaux and directed by her son David. The author reads her text over a trim 61 minutes, assembled from footage shot by Philippe beginning in 1972, when he first bought a Bell & Howell super 8 camera, until their separation in 1981. Ernaux’s memoirs have examined her life while rarely overlapping what’s recalled from one book to another, which is true here even as what we see fills out her work: it’s impossible not to gasp when seeing her mother, the subject of so much of her work, suddenly in motion. The film’s subject is a new one—the slow-motion dissolve of her marriage, a subject she’s written about before but not in such detail—and its highlights include records of trips she took over the decade covered, from a weird sojourn in Albania to her an early 80s Moscow visit. Super 8 Years thus fills in a decade of Ernaux’s life, working both against and from the late Philippe’s perspective. The result is both a new text and its own dialectical synthesis, a narrative filled out with a typically dazzling array of references to films, music and political outrages from the period covered. (The prose in English is consistent with her style, as the subtitles were done by one of her two regular English-language translators, Alison Strayer.) —VR
The Image Book. How, then, to approach Jean-Luc Godard’s latest and possibly last feature-length work, The Image Book, which is as radical and rigorous as Goodbye to Language (or any other film to have ever screened in Cannes), and which disclosed a great deal of its reference points in its trailer? Taking the film to task here, less than 20 hours after I was introduced to it, I’m tempted to steer clear of either impulse (for now), and to embrace the film as a work of poetry. As one of David Bordwell’s friends opined, Godard is, arguably, “a poet who thinks he’s a philosopher.” I see no problem with acknowledging that he’s invaluable as both, but sympathize with those who prefer to respond to the more impressionistic qualities of his late Late period (especially his HD collaborations with Fabrice Aragno). These are films that ignite every interpretative impulse in our brains without satisfying our desires to be passive, unproductive viewers; they do not give clarity or any obvious avenues through the deluge of information, even if they make us feel as though, were we smarter, more knowledgable, bilingual cinephiles, we would be able to do just that. It’s in this way that Godard’s films also invite us to improve ourselves, something I think very few other artists achieve. —Blake Williams
Maria Schneider, 1983. Researching the life and career of Maria Schneider (The Passenger, Last Tango in Paris) for a larger project, filmmaker Elisabeth Subrin discovered a brief interview the actress gave in 1983 for the French TV show Cinéma Cinéma. It’s a conversation alternately defiant and mournful, with Schneider reflecting with real critical awareness upon the gendered power structures of the film industry as well as the violations she experienced living and working within it — including, in one painful section, on the set of Last Tango in Paris.
Subrin used the interview as the basis for a 60-second short that was a part of Strand Releasing’s 30th Anniversary compilation, and now it is the basis for her longer, 25-minute work, Maria Schneider, 1983, that premiered today at the Cannes Film Festival in the Director’s Fortnight section. Recalling Subrin’s use of archival footage and reenactment in her 1997 Shulie, Maria Schneider, 1983 deploys the contributions of three actresses — Manal Issa, Aïssa Maïga and Isabel Sandoval — to create a dialogue that carries Schneider’s words across generations. (Madeleine Hunt-Ehrlich interviewed Subrin for Filmmaker.) — SM