The 56th edition of the New York Film Festival will kick off on September 28 with Yorgos Lanthimos’s racy, playfully subversive costume drama The Favourite, and closes on October 14 with the North American premiere of Julian Schnabel’s At Eternity’s Gate, a look at the life—though mostly the suffering—of painter Vincent van Gogh during the time he lived in Arles and Auvers-sur-Oise, France. If not one of the most jampacked programs in the festival’s history, it is one of the more geographically far-flung ones, with 30 films from 22 different countries comprising the main slate.
This year, Netflix outpaced HBO in Emmy nominations, and readers of tea leaves believe that the studio will break into the Oscar race in a big way next year with Alfonso Cuarón’s sweeping and personal Roma, a kind of autobiography as autocritique that sees the filmmaker ruminating on the life of the woman who helped raise him in Mexico City in the early 1970s. Netflix also has three other films in this year’s main slate: the Coen brothers’ The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, an anthology of “western tales” united by the theme of mortality; Tamara Jenkins’s first film in 11 years, Private Life, the story of a middle-aged New York couple coping with the pressures of trying to conceive a child; and Alice Rohrwacher’s Happy as Lazzaro, a seriocomic, time-traveling fable about tobacco farmers who have been forced into serfdom.
Per usual, many of the films have been picked from the vine of Cannes, Venice, Locarno, and beyond, among them Jafar Panahi’s quasi-realist parable 3 Faces, Jia Zhang-ke’s richly self-referential Ash Is Purest White, Christian Petzold’s audaciously dissonant Transit, and Pawel Pawlikowski’s narratively minimal and aesthetically elemental Cold War. And others returning to the festival are Claire Denis, whose Robert Pattinson-starring sci-fi whatsit High Life was recently acquired by A24; Alex Ross Perry, whose Her Smell, starring a volcanic Elisabeth Moss, is one of the few films in the main slate without a distributor (though one imagines that will change soon); and Hong Sang-soo, with not one but two black-and-white films, Grass and Hotel by the River.
Among the festival’s noteworthy sidebars are Spotlight on Documentary, which includes new works by Errol Morris (American Dharma, a face-off between the filmmaker and Steve Bannon), James Longley (Angels Are Made of Light, about schoolchildren growing up with great difficulty in Kabul), and Roberto Minervini (What You Gonna Do When the World’s on Fire?, about African-Americans in New Orleans struggling to find social justice); the MUBI-sponsored Projections, which features the latest films from Ted Fendt (Classical Period), Jodie Mack (The Grand Bizarre), Albert Serra (Roi Soleil), and Tsai Ming-liang (Your Face); and a Special Events section that includes Orson Welles’s The Other Side of the Wind and Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s The Wild Pear Tree.
For a complete schedule of films, screening times, and ticket information, visit the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s official site.
Jafar Panahi works references into his film to some of the compositions, landscapes, and boundary-pushing plays of fiction and documentary evidenced in Abbas Kiarostami’s cinema. But instead of mere replication, 3 Faces filters these elements through Panahi’s own unique sensibilities. Rather than letting the mysteries in his film stand, or prolonging its ambiguities, Panahi prefers to signify potential plot directions and formal strategies and then promptly pivot away from them at the moment they outlast their usefulness. This isn’t the mark of a lesser filmmaker, but merely one who recognizes that his own strengths lie in his intuitiveness, his wit, and his humor. >>
Asako I & II
Asako (Erika Karata) and Ryôhei’s (Masahiro Higashide) lack of stature is their stature, and this realization forces us to confront our own means of self-glorification. Who are we to judge Asako and Ryôhei for petty preoccupations that so closely mirror our own? Hamaguchi teases the audience with more vital and interesting supporting characters but keeps us tethered to Asako and Ryôhei, who do eventually confront their self-absorption—particularly Asako, in an agonizingly cathartic moment by a sick friend’s bed. Eventually, Asako and Ryôhei come to resemble not so much characters as friends, co-workers, and aquaintances who wind in and out of our lives as we march onward toward a singular conclusion. Like Happy Hour, Asako I & II is a parable of the grace—and, yes, happiness—that spring from resignation. >>
Ash Is Purest White
The political dimensions of Jia Zhang-ke’s films hve led to a strained relationship with state censors in the past—and so the director’s appointment this year as a representative of China’s 13th National People’s Congress, and the larger indication that he was working to gain the favor of the state, created some worries about the integrity of his films going forward. But thankfully, the clever, subversive, and hugely ambitious Ash Is Purest White assuages those concerns. The film serves as a considered retrospection, and a coherent transition between Jia’s neorealist early films and his more recent populist melodramas. It’s a quixotic and profound statement on the spatial and temporal dissonances that inform life in 21st-century China. >>
At Eternity’s Gate
An impressionistic biopic, shot through with Julian Schnabel’s usual insolence toward narrative and formal conventions, At Eternity’s Gate, co-written by Jean-Claude Carrière, eschews any serious attempts to understand Vincent van Gogh (played here by Willem Dafoe) or his art, and simply luxuriates in the beauty that beguiled the man. This is both a fitting tribute to an artist who rebuffed conventional painting techniques, and a disappointingly self-indulgent exercise, the efforts of a filmmaker whose affinity for abstractions often interfere with the story he’s trying to tell, and distract from the purported subject of the film. >>
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
The Coen brothers’ The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is a paean to the western, a silly, mood-shifting shaggy-dog anthology that feels at once structurally ambitious and somehow inchoate, almost perfunctory at times. It comprises six separate stories, concerning a mélange of typical reprobates and shoot-you-in-the-back gunmen. There are also a few innocent souls, though most of them suffer at the hands of the reprobates and gunmen. (Zoe Kazan, playing the film’s one true innocent, leads the most fully developed story, about a pair of siblings who join a caravan to Oregon.) Despite the slapstick humor and typically wry banter on display, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs sees the Coen brothers at their most misanthropic, depicting humanity as a kind of pestilence, nothing more than a bunch of malefactors and murderers who will, given the chance, fuck you over. Death pervades these stories, seeping into each narrative like blood into a garment. >>
Lee Chang-dong is a social realist whose work is still loaded with symbolism that verges on the poetic. The watchful eyes of Jong-su (Yoo Ah-in), who lives near the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas, double for the widescreen camera that patiently roves over and registers the film’s action. Burning, based on Haruki Murakami’s 1992 short story “Barn Burning,” is fixed on messy and mundane surfaces, and yet amid its displays of everyday naturalism are references to preternatural rituals and symbolic offerings. By its conclusion, Burning has broken through its zero-sum late-capitalist confines in order to invest aesthetic grandeur to the quotidian, and in disquietingly sublime fashion. >>
Cold War is shot in the same impeccable black-and-white, full-frame Academy ratio as Pawel Pawlikowski’s 2014 film Ida, but this time the filmmaker engages his symmetrically balanced images as a canvas primed to be disrupted. The various carefully choreographed sequences of a Polish folk ensemble’s song-and-dance performances register almost imperceptibly as anachronistic: Zula’s (Joanna Kulig) dancing is just a little more loose-limbed than that of her stagemates, her facial expression a bit more solemn and melancholy as she sings a traditional folk song about a forbidden love. One early shot perfectly encapsulates the film’s vision of nascent, emerging modernity: Zula’s body bobs gently in a river, barely disturbing the water’s surface calm. >>
A Faithful Man
From its plainly declarative title to its narrative’s multitude of infidelities, A Faithful Man comes off a bit like a wry subtweet at director Louis Garrel’s father, Philippe Garrel, whose filmography is packed with stories of men cheating and women being cheated on, many modeled on his 10-year relationship with pop icon Nico. The twist here is that A Faithful Man is pretty solidly a comedy—and that the beautiful women in the film, rather than the aloof, debonair male artist, are initially the ones with the most sexual agency. >>