New films by Albert Serra, Douglas Gordon, João Pedro Rodrigues, and other ‘vanguards of contemporary cinema’ will screen in Explorations, a new section added to the 54th New York Film Festival.
Explorations is devoted to work from around the world, from filmmakers across the spectrum of experience and artistic sensibility. Some films are delicate, others more forceful; some are contemplative and some dive directly into the heart of their material. The one quality that they share is that they are adventurous and exploratory, in the very best sense of the word.
The new section kicks off with six features, including Albert Serra’s latest, The Death of Louis XIV, featuring a tour de force performance by French cinema legend Jean-Pierre Léaud; Douglas Gordon’s portrait of avant-garde icon Jonas Mekas, I Had Nowhere to Go; João Pedro Rodrigues’s The Ornithologist, which won him the Best Director prize at Locarno; as well as Natalia Almada’s Everything Else, Gastón Solnicki’s Kékszakállú, and Oliver Laxe’s Mimosas.
This year’s festival also showcases 23 shorts in five programs as part of the NYFF Main Slate. Shorts Program 1: Narrative includes emerging filmmakers such as New Directors/New Films alum Terence Nance (An Oversimplification of Her Beauty) and Roger Ross Williams, a co-creator of Convergence’s Traveling While Black and an Oscar winner for Best Documentary Short. Shorts Program 2: International Auteurs highlights new short work from acclaimed directors Nadav Lapid, Bertrand Bonello, Jia Zhangke, and Gabriel Abrantes, while Shorts Program 4: New York Stories focuses on our city, featuring Gina Telaroli (NYFF Artists Academy 2015), Dustin Guy Defa (Local Color: The Short Films of Dustin Guy Defa, FSLC 2015), and the directorial debut of New York actress Chloë Sevigny. The second annual Genre Stories and the inaugural Documentary shorts program present global tales, both real and unreal, and boast world premieres of Jack Burke’s New Gods, Adam Goldhammer’s Imposter, Lewie Kloster’s Legal Smuggling with Christine Choy, Matt Tyrnauer’s Jean Nouvel: Reflections, and Mila Aung-Thwin and Van Royko’s The Vote.
FILMS & DESCRIPTIONS
The Death of Louis XIV
Directed by Albert Serra
France/Portugal/Spain, 2016, 115 min
The great Jean-Pierre Léaud, synonymous with French cinema for over half a century, delivers a majestic, career-capping performance as the longest-reigning French monarch during his final days. Albert Serra’s elegant, engrossing contemplation of death and its representation finds the extravagantly wigged Sun King slowly wasting away from gangrene in his bedchamber, surrounded by devoted servants, pets and a retinue of hopeless doctors. Filled with ravishing candlelit images and painstaking details gleaned from Saint-Simon’s memoirs and other historical texts, Louis XIV is as darkly funny as it is moving, revealing the absurdity of the rule-bound royal court, but even more so of death itself.
Directed by Natalia Almada
Mexico, 2016, 90m
North American Premiere
The first fiction feature by accomplished documentarian Natalia Almada is inspired by Hannah Arendt’s idea that bureaucratic dehumanization is the worst form of violence. Oscar nominee Adriana Barraza (Babel) gives a haunting, unsentimental performance as Dona Flor, an elderly government clerk who punishes her clients as unreasonably as life has punished her. But when she loses the last living creature she cares for, she goes into crisis. Almada reveals a cross-section of Mexico City’s population, creating an intimate portrait of one woman among the multitude who remain resilient despite oppression and corruption.
I Had Nowhere to Go
Directed by Douglas Gordon
Germany, 2016, 97m
Autobiography and biography merge in this often shattering, sometimes absurdly funny collaboration between two polymath artists, Douglas Gordon and Jonas Mekas. Gordon’s unlikely project, to bring to the screen Mekas’s prose memoir of his first decade in exile from Lithuania and journey from post-WWII displaced persons camps to New York, where he finds his vocation as a filmmaker, yields an operatic experience of sound and image. The film—which features Mekas reading his own text in haunting, musical voice-over—attests to one extraordinary man’s experience of loss and desire to make a new life, yet also resonates as a tale of the diaspora in which tens of millions exist today.
Directed by Gastón Solnicki
Argentina, 2016, 72m
The new film from Argentinian director Gastón Solnicki (Papirosen) is a singularity: a playful portrait of spiritual lethargy. Partly inspired by Béla Bartók’s opera Bluebeard’s Castle (vivid passages are heard throughout the film), it is comprised of moments that seem to have been drawn from memory, with an elliptical continuity that moves according to forms, colors, sounds, and states of being. There is no protagonist in Kékszakállú, but several young women blanketed under layers of sunlit lassitude and politely tamped down discomfort. Nevertheless, this is a joyful experience, moving inexorably toward liberation.
Directed by Oliver Laxe
Spain/Morocco/France/Qatar, 2016, 93m
An intense young man (the haunting Shakib Ben Omar) is tasked with escorting a caravan to safety. Taking a taxi far into the Moroccan desert, he seems to travel to another time as well, joining a band of travelers on horseback—and the dead body they are transporting—on a trek through the treacherous Atlas Mountains. Oliver Laxe’s stunningly shot, suggestively ambiguous follow-up to his acclaimed debut, You All Are Captains, is at once a quest story, a landscape study, and a Western with shades of the uncanny. With the openness of a parable, Mimosas doesn’t dramatize so much as embody the mysteries of faith. Winner of the Grand Prize at the 2016 Cannes’ Critics Week.
Directed by João Pedro Rodrigues
Portugal/France/Brazil, 2016, 118 min
In his most audacious film since his groundbreaking debut O Fantasma, João Pedro Rodrigues reimagines the myth of Saint Anthony of Padua as a modern-day parable of sexual and spiritual transcendence. On a bird-watching expedition in the remote wilderness of northern Portugal, Fernando (Paul Hamy) capsizes his canoe and loses his bearings. His ensuing odyssey, both intensely physical and wildly metaphysical, involves sadistic Chinese pilgrims, a deaf-mute shepherd named Jesus, pagan tribes, Amazons on horseback, and a glorious variety of feathered friends. Shot entirely outdoors and in magnificent ’Scope by Rui Pocas, The Ornithologist is a bracing exercise in queer hagiography, a cheerfully blasphemous tale of a religious awakening.
Shorts Program 1: Narrative
Showcasing emerging filmmakers, this narrative program features seven unique films from seven countries in six different languages. Programmed by Dilcia Barrera & Gabi Madsen TRT: 103m
The Girl Who Danced with the Devil / A moça que dançou com o Diabo
João Paulo Miranda Maria, Brazil, 2016, 15m
A girl from a very religious family seeks her own paradise.
Be Good for Rachel
Ed Roe, USA, 2015, 19m
Tonight Rachel is double-booked: a babysitting job and a nervous breakdown.
Terence Nance, France, 2016, 15m
A classic love story in a far-from-classic reworking.
Little Bullets / Küçük Kurşunlar
Alphan Eseli, Turkey, 2016, 14m
Forced to flee Syria for the border region of Southeast Anatolia, a mother and daughter struggle to accept their newly found safety.
Marta Hernaiz Pidal, Bosnia and Herzegovina/Mexico, 2016, 15m
Selma is determined to get rid of the Romani woman sitting on her apartment’s entrance steps.
Land of the Lost Sidekicks
Roger Ross Williams, USA, 2016, 6m
When his home is magically transformed into a dark forest filled with animated characters from classic Disney movies, a young boy learns to confront his fears.
And the Whole Sky Fit in a Dead Cow’s Eye / Y todo el celo cupo en el ojo de la vaca muerta
Francisca Alegria, Chile/USA, 2016, 19m
Emeteria is visited by a ghost she believes has come to take her to the afterlife. But he has more devastating news.
Shorts Program 2: International Auteurs
This program features new work by four of the most adventurous directors in international cinema today. Programmed by Dennis Lim TRT: 96m
A Brief History of Princess X
Gabriel Abrantes, Portugal/France, 2016, 7m
Abrantes’s pseudo-doc on Constantin Brancusi’s most infamous sculpture is a short, sweet, and appropriately inappropriate look at how eroticism and scandal played roles in the history of modern art.
Sarah Winchester, Phantom Opera / Sarah Winchester, Opera Fantôme
Bertrand Bonello, France, 2016, 24m
North American Premiere
A film to stand in for an opera unmade: Bonello’s moody, baroque meditation on the heiress to the Winchester rifle fortune plays like a ballet-cum-horror film, an ornate tapestry of enigmatic images, chilling synths, and traces of a tragic and eccentric life.
Jia Zhangke, China, 2016, 25m
Jia takes on an eclectic tone and tries out some bold new tricks in this comic short commissioned by the Hong Kong International Film Festival, following three unemployed coal miners searching for work in the Shanxi region.
From the Diary of a Wedding Photographer / Myomano Shel Tzlam Hatonot
Nadav Lapid, Israel, 2016, 40m
North American Premiere
Lapid’s latest provocation delves headlong into the absurdities and neuroses of matrimonial rites as an Israeli wedding photographer repeatedly finds himself embroiled in psychodramas with the brides and grooms who hire him.
Shorts Program 3: Genre Stories
This is the second annual edition of a program focusing on the best in new horror, thriller, sci-fi, pitch-black comedy, twisted noir, and fantasy shorts from around the world. Programmed by Laura Kern TRT: 83m
Daniel Augusto, Brazil, 2015, 15m
In a story adapted from Dickens, a reclusive railway worker’s routine is mysteriously disrupted.
Can’t Take My Eyes Off You
Johannes Kizler & Nik Sentenza, Germany, 2016, 11m
North American Premiere
A single mother and her teenage daughter must contend with something far more fraught than their relationship.
Jack Burke, UK, 2016, 15m
Sickness challenges the resiliency of a utopian existence.
Pascal Thiebaux & Gil Pinheiro, Luxembourg/France, 2015, 13m
Small, furry, and ferocious, the tooth fairy will defend its enamel treasures at any cost.
What Happened to Her
Kristy Guevara-Flanagan, USA, 2016, 15m
A biting, beautifully gruesome exploration of female corpses, as portrayed nude on screen.
Adam Goldhammer, Canada, 2016, 14m
Since Father’s disappearance, Mother hasn’t quite seemed herself . . .
Shorts Program 4: New York Stories
This program, now in its second year, showcases work from some of the most exciting filmmakers living and working in New York today, including established names and ones to watch. Programmed by Dan Sullivan TRT: 71m
Chloë Sevigny, USA, 2016, 35mm, 15m
North American Premiere
Sevigny’s highly anticipated directorial debut is an adaptation of a Paul Bowles short story, a hypnotic and ethereal fairy tale for today about a young girl’s feline reveries.
I Turn to Jello
Andrew T. Betzer, USA, 2016, 15m
A metropolitan nightmare unfurls as a nervous cellist (Eleanore Pienta) cracks under pressure at an audition—and again, and again, and . . .
Dustin Guy Defa, USA, 2016, 6m
North American Premiere
Scenes from the working life of a male director: Defa sophisticatedly lampoons masculinity in filmmaking with this sly, surprising meta-movie.
This Castle Keep
Gina Telaroli, USA, 2016, 14m
The shapeshifting latest from the multi-hyphenate Telaroli is a moving elegy for that which gets lost over the years in a changing city.
Los Angeles Plays New York
John Wilson, USA, 2016, 18m
This hilarious documentary concerns the world of NYC-set courtroom reality shows filmed in L.A.
Tommy Davis, USA, 2016, 3m
A campy and cryptic love letter that features a new, quintessentially American take on Morse code.
Shorts Program 5: Documentaries
For its first documentary shorts program, NYFF showcases a selection of the most innovative nonfiction storytelling today, from profound personal chronicles to treatments of significant global issues. Programmed by Dilcia Barrera & Gabi Madsen TRT: 89m
Legal Smuggling with Christine Choy
Lewie Kloster, USA, 2016, 4m
Academy Award–nominated filmmaker Christine Choy undergoes a wild adventure when she illegally—and accidentally—smuggles cigarettes across the Canadian border.
Esteban Arrangoiz, Mexico, 2015, 16m
Chief diver of the Mexico City sewerage system, Julio César Cu Cámara must repair pumps and dislodge garbage from the gutters to maintain the circulation of sewer waters.
Jean Nouvel: Reflections
Matt Tyrnauer, USA, 2016, 15m
A meditative portrait of Pritzker Prize–winning architect Jean Nouvel and his creation process.
Ian McClerin, USA, 2015, 4m
As part of a healing process from trauma, Shannon May Mackenzie turned words into visual art, constructing a six-foot circle out of sentences and phrases.
Mila Aung-Thwin & Van Royko, Canada, 2016, 10m
Strict military rule and international sanctions kept Myanmar sealed off from the world for decades. The Vote observes residents of the bustling city of Yangon as they navigate their first democratic election in over 50 years.
Brillo Box (3¢ off)
Lisanne Skyler, USA, 2016, 40m
Andy Warhol’s Brillo Box sculpture makes its way from a family’s living room to a record-breaking Christie’s auction in this exploration of how we navigate the ephemeral nature of value. An HBO Documentary Films release.