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New York Film Festival 2017
New York Film Festival 2017

Mudbound

The patch of worn Mississippi farmland where much of Dee Rees’s Mudbound is set connotes an atmosphere of literal and economic devastation. The fertile properties of Mississippi Delta soil are scarcely visible in the modest plant growth that adorns the flat landscapes, which are occasionally dotted with shacks that look as if they were designed with the express purpose of falling apart. This is the sort of place barely fit for human habitation, which in the Jim Crow South inevitably means it’s been set aside for black citizens who continue to work as sharecroppers, saved from redundancy only by the remoteness of their location, a place where tractors and other mechanized farm equipment have yet to reach. >>

New York Film Festival 2017

On the Beach at Night Alone

On the Beach at Night Alone’s two parts are united by repetitions that signal the recurring habits of our lives and the emotionally mathematical fastidiousness of Hong’s imagination. In both halves, Young-hee (Kim Min-hee) says that she should move to the city in question, suggesting her desperation to rejoin a fixed society. In each half, Young-hee is told that her romantic grief over her lover has caused her to look more mature and “womanly”—an observation that’s never not creepy. Correspondingly, Young-hee tells her buddy, Myung-soo (Jung Jae-young), that he looks older, commenting on his face in a manner that’s repeated almost verbatim in a similar context in The Day After. Beaches, which give the film its title along with a famous Walt Whitman poem, figure in each half as the ultimate realm of Young-hee’s solitude, which is breached, however, by unseen males who attempt to put the woman back on course—white-knight gestures that are facetiously staged to epitomize the ego of patriarchy. >>

New York Film Festival 2017

The Other Side of Hope

Over the past 35 years and more than a dozen feature films, Aki Kaurismäki has maintained, along with cinematographer Timo Salminen, a distinctive aesthetic that uses high-contrast lighting, close-ups, and stoic faces to achieve a deadpan style perched somewhere between the sardonic and the severe. The Other Side of Hope upholds that standard, and follows on the heels of Le Havre, the writer-director’s 2011 film about a young Gabonian refugee on the run in the titular port city, with the tale of Khaled (Sherwan Haji), a Syrian refugee seeking asylum in Finland. Kaurismäki has spoken of this film as being the second in a planned “refugee trilogy,” with the third shooting location as yet undetermined. Based on the dip in quality from Le Havre to The Other Side of Hope, though, one may wonder if Kaurismäki hasn’t already exhausted the material, especially since this new film hits comparable narrative beats without the same specificity as its predecessor. >>

New York Film Festival 2017

The Rider

The proximity of fiction to actual fact adds an inherent layer of interest to Chloé Zhao’s The Rider, especially in scenes between family members, which resemble the kinds of conversations they must have, or have had, about the real Brady’s accident and his high-risk life choices. But those opportunities aren’t seized on as directly as they could be; the writing instead emphasizes the universality of the family’s struggles, turning a potentially very personalized narrative into more of an archetypal one. An exception to this is a scene in which Brady (Brady Jandreau) is woken up by a group of his cowboy buddies and dragged out to the middle of nowhere for a night of drinking and guitar playing around a campfire. As the friends work in unison to raise Brady’s spirits and take his mind off his injury, each reveals a bit about themselves, their own cultural ideas, ethnic backgrounds, and individual feelings on the American West. >>

New York Film Festival 2017

Spoor

Spoor’s driven by a striking tonal contrast. On one hand, it’s an atmospheric and surreally comic character study that follows Duszejko (Agnieszka Mandat-Grabka), an eccentric retiree who teaches English to children part-time, as she learns to come out of her isolation and depend on humans as well as animals, fashioning a new social life in vignettes that emphasize gentility and connectivity, most memorably in a series of montages that suggest Duszejko’s visions of new acquaintances’ pasts. On the other, it’s a veiled call for revolution, excusing murder as a necessary step toward taking back our planet. The final scene, reveling in the birth of a new community that’s built on a bedrock of murder, is chilling for its persuasive sweetness. This tree-hugging, animal-loving film has a stinger in its tail. >>

New York Film Festival 2017

The Square

After scrupulously analyzing the rippling effects of a man’s moment of human weakness in Force Majeure, Ruben Östlund has adopted a more panoramic view for The Square, edging his latest film closer to the vignette-driven narrative terrain of 2008’s Involuntary. Juggling the handful of interconnected tribulations that overwhelm Christian (Claes Bang), the curator of a reputable Stockholm contemporary art museum, in the run-up to the opening of a new relational art exhibition called The Square, the film grabs at a pinwheel of hot-button social topics including class privilege, liberal guilt, urban poverty, viral marketing, and mutually reinforced passivity in the face of mounting inhumanity, winding up with something simultaneously overstuffed and undercooked. While Östlund’s mastery of visually amplifying social unease is still very much intact, he’s partially undone here by his own thematic ambition, which, in scene after exquisitely staged scene, threatens to put too fine a point on otherwise thrillingly indeterminate situational comedy. >>

New York Film Festival 2017

Thelma

Joachim Trier’s Thelma opens with an unnerving father-daughter hunting trip on a frozen lake. As the pair cautiously progresses across the ice, the camera occasionally points down, catching fish darting around just below the surface of the dark but clear water. The ominous atmosphere of the moment escalates swiftly when, stalking a deer, Trond (Henrik Rafaelsen) gets into position, only to turn his rifle on his unaware child, Thelma (Grethe Eltervåg). The father holds the gun to her head for an excruciatingly long time before reconsidering his plan and lowering the weapon. Few scenes in the rest of Joachim Trier’s film match the sharp tension of this sequence, its cold precision masking a compelling mystery that’s all too quickly explained. >>

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