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18 Films to Watch in 17 Days at NYFF 2023

Gracie Atherton-Yoo (Julianne Moore) demonstrates flower arranging for Elizabeth Barry (Natalie Portman) in a scene from Todd Haynes's May December.Julianne Moore and Natalie Portman in May December (Photo by François Duhamel, courtesy of Netflix)

With the opening night of the 61st New York Film Festival upon us, Filmmaker would like to recommend 18 titles to catch during the 17-day engagement, which runs from September 29 through October 15. 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 edited excerpts from these director interviews and festival dispatches.

Anatomy of a Fall 

Justine Triet’s Palme d’Or winner is more straightforward and more detour-prone than its courtroom drama premise—even if a lot of it does take place in the courtroom, just like its titular reference point, Otto Preminger’s Anatomy of a Murder. Here, Sandra Hüller is writer Sandra Voyter, whose autofiction is inherently ambiguous: the film’s first conversation is between her and Zoé (Chloe Rutherford), a university student writing a thesis on Voyter’s work. Zoé asks if the challenge and seduction for the reader is indeed to untangle truth and fiction, foreshadowing the film’s main narrative question: Hüller is put on trial for the murder of her husband Samuel (Samuel Theis), a situation where determining actuality versus fiction is the entire point. By its very nature, a murder trial can lead to examining the entire lives of both victim and suspect, meaning Anatomy of a Fall has a natural excuse to be capacious in the myriad subjects it takes on, and the movie gives a sense of continually opening up to new possibilities—it’s the rare film that’s more, not less, surprising as it approaches the end. [Watch the trailer here.] —Vadim Rizov

The Beast

The year is 2044, and in an A.I.-ruled society that’s banned human feelings as anathema to work efficiency, Gabrielle (Léa Seydoux) submits herself to a surgery that will clean her DNA of all emotions—except the process sends her back in time to rub shoulders with different reincarnations of her soulmate Louis (George MacKay), another young man who’s chosen to undergo the same treatment to avoid unemployment. This is technically Bertrand Bonello’s first sci-fi project, but the future he imagines is neither hyper-technological nor post-apocalyptic rubble. There are no screens in sight, Paris looks like Paris and an air of antiseptic calm hangs over the film—arguably its most disquieting feature. As The Beast’s jumbled chronology shuttles Gabrielle across 1910s France, 2014 Los Angeles and her anemic present, Josée Deshaies’s cinematography switches formats and footage, mixing celluloid and digital, widescreen and 4:3 ratios, and opening up the frame to different moving-image sources: laptops, TV programs, social media reels. For all its warnings against A.I.’s dehumanizing consequences, The Beast is nonetheless alive to the creative potential of the devices we handle daily, and that rebellious freedom is the film’s greatest asset.—Leonardo Goi

Aggro Dr1ft.

Shot entirely in infrared and graced with augmented reality and A.I. flourishes that give characters an exoskeleton of bionic-seeming tattoos, Harmony Korine’s film isn’t driven by its archetypal plot (a killer is haunted by his life choices and the looming threat of an arch-nemesis) so much as its images. Drenched in iridescent colors—a palette of bright cyan, magenta and gold—and scored to deafening techno, Aggro Dr1ft is in turns assaultive and seductive, a feast and a battering for eyes and ears. Yet its intellectual pleasures are no less gratifying than its sensorial ones. As characters and bodies blended into the neon-soaked environment around them, Korine tipped his hand: Aggro Dr1ft doesn’t just seek to immortalize a gamecore aesthetic that’s become so pervasive in today’s moving images, it also tries to interrogate its scope and texture. I can empathize with those who’ll find the ride stultifying; for me, Aggro Dr1ft was less a provocation than an electric encounter with the screen and what can be expressed through it. — LG

The Delinquents

It’s the rare three-hour film that has as light a touch as The Delinquents while keeping a deft hold on the audience. That’s partly down to its surefire bank heist plot, borrowed somewhat from Hugo Fregonese’s 1949 Argentine noir Hardly a Criminal: a longtime clerk steals enough money to retire on, stashes it, then goes to jail, planning to recover the loot upon release. Morán (Daniel Elias) is the nebbishy thief in Rodrigo Moreno’s new film, which premiered in Un Certain Regard at Cannes to general delight. But his accomplice on the outside, Román (Esteban Bigliardi), gets distracted by another kind of escape from drudgery, in the form of a radiant free spirit, Norma (Margarita Molfino), he meets in the countryside. That detour, and other twists, set The Delinquents apart from the usual ticking heist plot, along with Moreno’s especially smooth control of tone, comedic aplomb and a characterful cast. With Laura Citarella’s Trenque Lauquen recently out in the U.S., some have drawn comparisons within Argentine cinema, but Moreno’s storytelling has its own sly appeal and mysterious drive, without leaning on an appreciation of narrative gamesmanship.—Nicolas Rapold

Do Not Expect Too Much From the End of the World

A collage straddling black comedy and road movie, Do Not Expect centers on Angela (Ilinca Manolache), an overworked production assistant whose company has been hired by Austrian entrepreneurs to shoot a safety-at-work video for their Romanian staff. Jude, who also penned the script, tails Angela as she drives around Bucharest to audition people who’ve been disabled at work and are willing to admit it was all due to their failure to take the most basic precautions—to take the blame for their bosses, that is, in exchange for a €500 reward. If the video Angela is working on boils down to a reminder to follow the rules, Do Not Expect keeps breaking them. The film switches from celluloid to digital, hopscotching across Bratu’s drama, Angela’s present-day urban odyssey (shot in grainy 16mm by Marius Panduru) and glimpses of her online alter-ego Bóbita, an Andrew Tate-type caricature through which she spits all kinds of insults at women via TikTok clips that pepper her journey. Sprawling and sinuous, Do Not Expect trades a linear three-act structure for more kaleidoscopic canvas; that freeform quality and endless curiosity are perhaps its greatest assets. Its formal inventiveness is a testament to Jude’s creativity as much as to the vitality the medium can radiate when one isn’t afraid to test its limits and possibilities. [Watch the trailer here.]—LG


Lisandro Alonso’s Eureka begins as a parodic reworking of the filmmaker’s last feature, 2014’s Jauja. In impeccable academy-ratio black-and-white with rounded edges that looks startlingly close to classics like 1946’s My Darling Clementine, which it seems to nod to, Alonso offers a revisionist Western of badass violence. A transition too good to spoil launches viewers into the second, arguably main section of Eureka, shot in in 1.85 in Pine Ridge, South Dakota. Here, police officer Alaina (Alaina Clifford) does nightly rounds of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, sighing with great weariness as her tasks—which include visiting an old couple’s filthy house to look for a missing young woman, arresting a belligerent drunk and responding for a request for help at a casino where a shooting incident took place—keep piling up, with no support forthcoming. This is the film’s most compelling section, with a quasi-Lynchian array of visuals locating the uncanny in the mundane, among them rooms full of meticulously coordinated garbage and the police car’s red-and-blue flashing sirens imposing themselves on each scene with stroboscopic intensity. The film’s final sections, which introduce a third aspect ratio (1.66, again with rounded frame edges) make multiple geographic leaps. These latter segments also contain a gigantic bird, presumably the titular Eureka, whose unexpected appearance adds an additional oneiric dimension.—VR

Evil Does Not Exist

Ryusuke Hamaguchi‘s Evil Does Not Exist begins by removing every element that might be reasonably expected from his work by now. Instead of long group dialogue sessions and theatrical/ therapeutic role-play, Evil starts with a generously prolonged, people-free dolly shot through a forest, the camera pointed straight up at the sky as it’s broken up by branches passing overhead.  All this has the faint whiff of rooting out audience weaklings after Drive My Car‘s thematic directness and super-sized success. Hamaguchi does eventually get around to “giving the people what they want,” defined here as a long town hall meeting establishing the film’s main throughline: a conflict over land development initiated by Tokyo outsiders and foisted on resistant rural locals, with wood-chopper and all-round odd-jobs-man Takumi (Hitoshi Omika) caught in the middle. That’s discarded as misdirection in Evil‘s last 20 minutes, which instead activate a plot thread barely foreshadowed earlier and suddenly making it the urgent focus. What follows is easy to follow on a literal level—it’s very clear what happens—but baffling on a symbolic one, or even the basic one of “what incited this plot development.” Whatever’s going on here, Evil Does Not Exist is pleasingly obdurate, genuinely confounding in an uncommon way.—VR

Fallen Leaves

Fallen Leaves is more overtly funny than his previous two films—the bummed-out, surprisingly didactic (in a nice way) migrant-crisis dramas Le Havre and The Other Side of Hope—even as the performances remain in the tamped-down range that Aki Kaurismäki once described as his “revenge on Bresson.” If Kaurismäki seems incapable of change (or simply averse to it), Fallen Leaves is directly about it. The skeletal plot is a romance between an alcoholic construction worker, Holappa (Jussi Vatanen), and a minimum-wage service worker, Ansa (Alma Pöysti), whose father and brother died of drink; for her love, Holappa cleans his act up. It’s a startling thing to see in a Kaurismäki movie, whose work contains alcohol intake so nonstop that labeling it as a bad thing is totally unexpected. Shooting on 35mm as ever, Kaurismäki’s sense of vibrant color remains extremely pleasurable; he can make a supermarket’s employee locker room pleasing just by painting the lockers in shades of red, green and orange. Change is visible around the edges—the bar chalkboard offers IPAs, the Ukrainian invasion is always being discussed on the radio and the music expands beyond the usual parade of weepy balladry and rockabilly to include, to my genuine surprise, keyboard-based indie rock (the band is Maustetytöt). But ultimately Kaurismäki reaffirms his mastery of a world he’s made familiar, and I don’t think I’d have it any other way.—VR

Hit Man

A comeback crowdpleaser, leveraging the increasing star power of Glen Powell, who first appeared appeared in Richard Linklater’s work in 2006’s Fast Food Nation and who’s since developed an authoritative command of charismatic cockiness. Hit Man has Linklater making everything hum in part because he’s so adept at getting disparate parts to all live in the same amiable tonal place—this movie’s discomfort with death as something other than a punchline takes the sting out of violence even once it does arrive. The film is as fluidly edited as ever by Linklater’s longtime collaborator Sandra Adair, sometimes generating laughs from the rhythm of cutting from one reaction shot to another rather than anything the performers are doing, the kind of invisible craft that gets overlooked. Linklater remains a master of disguising all the work he’s doing.—VR

Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell

Pham Thien An’s strikingly accomplished debut, a 178-minute slow cinema opus its maker expanded from his previous short, Stay Awake, Be Ready, luxuriates in long takes—Pham works with cinematographer Dinh Duy Hung, who also shot his short films—and has its story jump-started by a motor accident. Whatever defects one may detect in Pham’s writing or aptitude with actors, they are outweighed by the bravura execution of his Bi Gan-esque mobility theater, which will remain the star of the show for the entire three hours. When a hen hops into a window at the precise moment the camera finishes its slow drift over to center it in its frame, or when a butterfly flutters into Hanh’s memorial service, landing on her photo immediately after a lightning storm causes the lights to flicker off and then on again, it feels simultaneously miraculous and totally planned, too perfect to have been intended and yet too essential to have been accidental. It’s a movie in which every other long take delivers such wonder, and yet also elicits doubts.—BW

May December

Todd Haynes’s campy, provocative and sexy May December stands as the filmmaker’s strongest work since Far from Heaven (2002), if not Safe (1995). (I’m inclined to say Haynes should only ever work with Julianne Moore.) As with Carol (2015), Haynes examines the vulnerability and power dynamics that spring from cross-generational desire, this time as it relates to a heterosexual partnership that began between a middle-aged baker named Gracie (Moore) and her son’s 13 year-old Korean-American friend, Joe. Despite enduring years of tabloid headlines, public scrutiny and random packages of shit delivered to their front door, Gracie and a now-36-year-old Joe (Charles Melton) enjoy a superficially ideal upper middle class marriage; they grill hot dogs for friends on the weekend, and their twins (conceived during their affair) are about to graduate high school and head off to college. Their past is about to become public once again, however, as well-known actress Elizabeth Berry (Natalie Portman) arrives to do some hands-on research for her upcoming role as Gracie in a movie that promises to reveal the truth and humanity of her life story. More than perhaps any previous Haynes project, May December is concerned with artifice and performance. Much of the film’s power arrives courtesy of Haynes’s understanding that more immersion and knowledge into the details of a person’s life often leads not to understanding but to deeper abstractions, and the film’s lingering enigmatic nature is made possible by its impressionistic delivery of images, behaviors and event details—most of which are dwelled upon just enough to be memorable, never enough to make them reasonable. [Watch the trailer here.]—BW

Nowhere Near

An eccentrically styled travelogue, with Miko Revereza leveling up from the mostly onscreen-text narration of No Data Plan to a full-on, often very funny voiceover whose delivery hovers one emotive click above monotone and is more effective for it. While reflecting on familial and Filipino history, Revereza allows for unexpected detours, like a montage scored to his own free jazz clarinet skronking whose tension is amplified by the slightly unsettling images—a man air-punching towards the camera, shattered glass, a map of red states vs. blue. At one point, Revereza visits the Mall of America and finds unlikely, implicit visual kinship between the palm trees in its Nickelodeon Universe theme park and the ones in the Philippines. As a narrator, Revereza skews towards academically-inflected riffs that mostly fire, like a re-interpretation of Spirited Away as a parable about migrant children.—VR

Occupied City

Constructed from 36 hours of footage shot on 35mm over three years, Occupied City‘s structure and main thematic thrust barely change from scene to scene. Each sequence begins with the narrator listing the address of the location we’re seeing (around 130 in total), then narrating the World War II history associated with it and, sometimes, the location’s post-war afterlife. Predictably, much of what we learn is grim, a seemingly endless litany of Jewish round-ups, concentration camp deaths and betrayals of Resistance fighters. The amount of detailed information delivered is nearly impossible to process and retain for four continuous hours, and it’s easy to guiltlessly zone out and accept it as ambient texture. The past becomes an excuse to walk through the present, a prompt to open-ended curiosity rather than towards a didactic mission. Certainly no one’s ever accused McQueen of being unable to compose a shot and, as shot by DP Lennert Hillege, Occupied City is consistently classically handsome and pleasing to look at.—VR

Pictures of Ghosts 

The Brazilian director’s first documentary, divided into three parts revolving around cinema. In the first, Filho tells the history of his apartment in Recife—bought by his parents long ago, in which he shot amateur VHS exercises as a kid and used more professionally for Neighboring Sounds and Aquarius (both of which this ends up acting as an especially personal annotation of), and where he still lives. Here, personal and film history have merged into one, like the night Filho heard Nico, a long-dead neighbor’s dog, barking outside—the seemingly resurrected canine was audible from his appearance in Neighboring Sounds, being broadcast on TV that night. In Ghosts‘ second part, Filho turns his attention to downtown Recife, and specifically the numerous theaters that used to be there, before a shorter third part focusing on cinemas-as-churches in a specifically Brazilian context, considering both in their architectural overlaps and how some of Filho’s childhood venues have since transformed into megachurches.—VR

La Práctica

For his first feature since 2014’s Two Shots Fired, Argentinian drollery pioneer Martín Rejtman changes it up a little—it’s his first movie filmed outside his home country in bordering Chile—while remaining recognizably himself. Drawing upon his own 20-plus-years of yoga practice, Rejtman starts with teacher Gustavo (Esteban Bigliardi), in the middle of a separation from his wife. Per usual, Rejtman repeatedly branches off from his main narrative, following a selection of characters through their own separate storylines (maybe the real friends were the narrative pathways we met along the way) before returning back to the center. With his usual impeccable staging of physical comedy and deadpan interactions, Rejtman’s return is welcome, with a new, slightly sinister emphasis on bodily self-care and the breakdowns that come with aging; the number of times we hear muscles cracking or straining at the slightest unexpected gesture should generate a large number of people stretching in the lobby post-screening.—VR

A Prince

Cinephiles familiar with the films of Alain Guiraudie will find the firmest footing with A Prince‘s frank and singular vision of gay life, though Creton feels even more removed from the flow of traditional narrative cinema. Indeed, from the opening passage it’s clear that A Prince will privilege texture and uniquely cinematic beauty over story, showing rural France in low-grade mini-DV video before cutting to a crisp 16:9 image, with no clear relation between the two. Creton’s camera remains patiently attuned to the breezy flow of this community of casually promiscuous horticulture enthusiasts in Normandy, employing poetic montage that relies on the frequent presence of voiceover narration to unite the images, even as characters spontaneously age decades, replaced by new actors right before our eyes. This assemblage of moments is admirably confident; Creton trusts his filmmaking instincts enough to not force the proceedings in any particular direction, resulting in a relaxed surrealism that is a genuine pleasure to watch unfold.—BW

The Sweet East

Semi-inspired by (among many other things) Terry Southern’s CandyThe Sweet East takes place in a picaresque-enabling America, represented here by the tristate area and Washington D.C., where everyone has an equal opportunity to be an entertaining/quotable scumbag regardless of political orientation. Inscrutable Lillian (Talia Ryder) hits the road and floats through a variety of irreconcilable milieus that make for a tableau of the mental-garbage-pilled American present: a hapless Antifa collective led by rich kid (and self-proclaimed “artivist”) Caleb (Earl Cave), thence to white supremacy as represented by Poe-fixated college professor Lawrence (Simon Rex), over to a pair of black filmmakers working on a revisionist period piece (Jeremy O. Harris and Ayo Edebiri), and so on across the ideological spectrum. A lot of credit is due to editor Stephen Gurewitz, who’s whittled and synthesized an evident mountain of footage into a final product that has consistent good energy—of an antisocial kind, maybe, but one committed to stepping out and seeing what kind of trouble can be found, even if only to ultimately reject it all.—VR

Youth (Spring)

Chinese director Wang Bing is probably best known for West of the Tracks (2002)—his three-part, nine-hour documentary portrait of China’s industrial center of Shenyang—and Youth (Spring) is the first third of what may end up being his largest-scale project to date. Shot in China’s Zhili province between 2014 and 2019 (West of the Tracks, by comparison, filmed for only two years), this initial chapter hops between various twentysomethings who work at several of the region’s 18,000 sewing factories that are used to produce a large percentage of the world’s supply of children’s clothing. At 212 minutes, Spring is characteristically grueling, immersing viewers in the dehumanizing hell of Chinese capitalism. There is, as is often the case for me, the question of duration for a work containing such imperative cultural value, which concerns the problem of balancing accessibility with comprehensiveness. Wang’s work, though, continues to reside outside the demands of the film market, and is nobly far more concerned with documenting and archiving his subject’s experiences as an act of generosity to their existence than he is with reducing them to an audience-friendly presentation.—BW

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