The Film Society of Lincoln Center announces the lineup for the 19th edition of Film Comment magazine’s annual festival, Film Comment Selects, February 6-10. The cinematic showcase returns with a selection of titles curated by the magazine’s editors, offering strikingly bold visions, mixing North American, U.S., and New York premieres of new films and long-unseen older titles that deserve the big-screen treatment.
“We are so delighted with this year’s lineup,” said Nicolas Rapold, Editor-in-Chief of Film Comment. “The lively variety of movies reflects Film Comment’s eclectic interests as well as our passion for new cinema from around the world. I would wager it is the only slate that features (to name a selection at random) a star-studded basketball lockout story, a 1917 Lincoln impersonation epic, and a devastating canine love story.”
The festival opens with the New York premiere of Sunset, the spellbinding second feature from Academy Award–winning director László Nemes following an orphaned young woman searching for her brother in turn-of-the-century Budapest. Nemes, whose previous film Son of Saul was an NYFF53 Film Comment Selection, will appear in person for a Q&A on Opening Night as well as for a free Film Comment Talk on February 9 for an in-depth discussion on his approach to filmmaking. Film Comment Selects will also feature a special Spotlight screening of Steven Soderbergh’s basketball drama High Flying Bird, written by Moonlight co-screenwriter Tarell Alvin McCraney and starring André Holland, Zazie Beetz, Melvin Gregg, Sonja Sohn, and Kyle MacLachlan.
Other new works in the festival include the U.S. premiere of Ekta Mittal’s Absence, an exquisitely crafted film capturing the waves of migration from rural India to the cities; the lightly futuristic Jessica Forever, with Aomi Muyock as the titular den mother of an adopted gang of orphaned teenage boys; Yara, an unexpected, picturesque love story from Iraqi-French filmmaker Abbas Fahdel; and Beatriz Seigner’s Los Silencios, a poetic, strikingly visual refugee story featuring a predominantly nonprofessional cast. Standout documentaries of the festival include Los Reyes, Bettina Perut and Iván Osnovikoff’s portrait of the resident stray dogs of Chile’s first skate park; Yang Zhang’s Up the Mountain, a moving, funny, and increasingly surprising picture of shifting generations and deep rural roots and traditions; the U.S. premiere of The Hidden City, featuring mesmerizing subterranean imagery from the tunnels of Madrid; and Beata Bubenec’s Flight of a Bullet, a gripping window into the Russian-Ukraine conflict shot in one harrowing take.
In addition to these anticipated new works, Film Comment Selects will present the eight surviving episodes of The Lincoln Cycle (1917), a series of surprisingly sophisticated short films examining the life of Abraham Lincoln. In a co-presentation with The New York Review of Books, the festival will feature a screening of Edward Dmytryk’s CinemaScope Western Warlock, an adaptation of Oakley Hall’s razor-sharp 1958 novel starring Anthony Quinn, DeForest Kelley, Richard Widmark, and Henry Fonda as gunslinger Clay Blaisedell. Film Comment Selects will also recognize the work of late cinematographer Robby Müller, known for his gorgeously shot collaborations with filmmakers like Wim Wenders and Jim Jarmusch, with a rare screening of the Müller-shot Honeysuckle Rose, with director Jerry Schatzberg in person for Q&A.
FILMS & DESCRIPTIONS
All screenings will take place in the Walter Reade Theater (165 W. 65th St.) unless otherwise noted. Where possible, film descriptions are excerpts from Film Comment magazine.
László Nemes, 2018, Hungary/France, 144m
Hungarian and German with English subtitles
Academy Award–winner László Nemes (Son of Saul) returns with an audacious, spellbindingly shot new film. “In Sunset, Nemes’s filmmaking is as absorbing as it was in Son of Saul. Budapest at the beginning of the 20th century—where an orphaned young woman, Irisz, searches for her mysterious brother while working at an upscale hat emporium—presents its own kind of nightmare, made ominous and fantastical through Nemes’s claustrophobic framing, chiaroscuro look, and fluid camera movement.”—Tina Poglajen (Venice interview). A Sony Pictures Classics release.
High Flying Bird
Steven Soderbergh, 2019, USA, 90m
During a pro basketball lockout, a sports agent (André Holland) pitches a rookie basketball client (Melvin Gregg) on an intriguing and controversial business proposition. Steven Soderbergh’s new film also features Zazie Beetz, Sonja Sohn, Zachary Quinto, Kyle MacLachlan, and Bill Duke and was written by Moonlight co-screenwriter Tarell Alvin McCraney. “With High Flying Bird, Soderbergh discovers yet another profession whose practitioners’ for-hire physiques stand in for the gig-to-gig economics of his own creative hustle: basketball players. His new film ups the metaphorical ante in a couple of ways: High Flying Bird considers hoopsters as content creators in an entertainment industry upended by streaming sites, and as black laborers in a marketplace controlled by white owners … It amounts to a multifaceted consideration of freedom and agency.”—Mark Asch (Jan/Feb 2019 issue). A Netflix release.
Ekta Mittal, 2018, India, 80m
The waves of migration from rural regions of India to the cities gets a lyrical portrait in Ekta Mittal’s exquisitely crafted look at longing and loss. Channeling the works of Punjabi poet Shiv Kumar Batalvi, her hybrid film gives voice to women who in some cases do not even know the fates of their husbands or sons after they leave. Against the backdrop of the haunted beauty of the countryside at night and a richly designed soundscape, the film creates an unshakeable sense of the mystery that mass migration leaves behind and the resilience that it requires.
Flight of a Bullet
Beata Bubenec, 2017, Russia/Latvia, 80m
Russian and Ukrainian with English subtitles
“Shot in one harrowing take, Bubenec’s tense handheld dispatch begins at a blown-up bridge in embattled Eastern Ukraine, before detouring into an interrogation at a makeshift base and dissipates into ornery chatter among bored and aggrieved soldiers. Her war-zone film gripped the small crowd with whom I watched it, dropping us in media res at the thoroughly dicey Russian-Ukraine conflict. The whole scenario—which could be plucked wholesale for a fictional thriller—neatly captures the frontier justice at work, but it’s also an instant window into how the bloodshed of war pervades life and aggravates and enables male aggression.”—Nicolas Rapold (True/False Film Fest 2018 dispatch)
The Hidden City / La ciudad oculta
Victor Moreno, 2018, Spain, 80m
Spanish with English subtitles
“Moreno’s underground city symphony takes us into an unknown world of darkness and glimmering activity. Deep below Madrid, tunnels of all sorts keep the city running; whether storm drains or subways or other subterranean systems, they’re the behind-the-scenes to urban living. In the mind’s eye, the film’s mesmerizing imagery echoes past trips through cinema, with Michael Glawogger, John Alton, Alien, and Dziga Vertov all harmonizing in the film’s DNA. Traveling through the tunnels (sometimes through tracking shots), the film’s camera-eye journeys from the abstract into the brutally concrete, with night-vision peeks at rats and even a cat, and workers on their rounds through the artificial night.”—Nicolas Rapold (Jan/Feb 2019 issue)
Caroline Poggi & Jonathan Vinel, 2018, France, 97m
French and English with English subtitles
“Here is the lightly futuristic story of Jessica, bold leader and den mother to an adopted gang of militaristic, orphaned teenage boys, most of whom wouldn’t be too out of place popping up as video-game-obsessed violent misfits at school. Together with her charges, Jessica (played by Aomi Muyock as by turns pajama-clad ordinary and off-duty Greek goddess) commandeers an abandoned house on an island as a fortress against the horde of drones sent to assassinate them. It’s a portrait of bereft teenage masculinity that feels vivid in its science fiction—most of all for its bold, unsolicited attempt to address the specter of violent urges.”—Nicolas Rapold (Nov/Dec 2018 issue). A Shudder release.
The Lincoln Cycle
Benjamin Chapin, 1917, USA, 215m (screens in two parts with one intermission)
“A centerpiece of the 2018 Pordenone Silent Film Festival was a near-complete retrospective of the surviving silent films of John M. Stahl, starting with The Lincoln Cycle (1917), a series of 10 short films produced by Benjamin Chapin as a vehicle for his performance as Abraham Lincoln. Stahl received no on-screen credit from the egotistical Chapin, but credibly claimed throughout his career that he was the director. Structured entirely around memory and recollections of the past, these surprisingly sophisticated small dramas, eight of which survive, include flashbacks that recur with variations or changes in point of view, and even flashbacks-within-flashbacks.”—Imogen Sara Smith (Pordenone Silent Film Festival dispatch)
(Please note: Episodes 9 and 10 of The Lincoln Cycle are lost.)
Bettina Perut & Iván Osnovikoff, 2018, Chile/Germany, 78m
Spanish with English subtitles
North American Premiere
“Santiago is home to Chile’s first skate park which—in Bettina Perut and Iván Osnovikoff’s wonderful nonfiction film—is home to two resident stray dogs. Los Reyes (“The Kings”) watches Fútbol and Chola, a furry shepherd mix and some kind of labrador respectively, as they hang out, play, and generally coexist with the people who are also hanging out and playing on the lawns and concrete ramps. Rather than create a Disney fantasy out of the setup, Perut and Osnovikoff weave together two strands that remind us of the reality underlying this urban oasis.”—Nicolas Rapold (Jan/Feb 2019 issue)
Beatriz Seigner, 2018, Brazil/Colombia/France, 88m
Portuguese and Spanish with English subtitles
“The tens of millions of people currently displaced globally have found their way on screen in numerous well-intentioned dramas and documentaries over the past several years, but with Los Silencios, Brazilian writer/director Beatriz Seigner lends the phenomenon a metaphysical dimension. The setting is the island borderlands between Brazil, Colombia, and Peru, where Colombian emigrants live in a liminal state. Joining their numbers are new arrivals Amparo (Marleyda Soto, one exception to the predominantly nonprofessional cast) and her two young children Nuria and Fabio, rebuilding their lives from the ground up.”—Nicolas Rapold (Nov/Dec 2018 issue)
Up the Mountain
Yang Zhang, 2018, China, 126m
Mandarin with English subtitles
North American Premiere
In Yang Zhang’s visually dazzling documentary, what could have been an amusing look at a painter’s rural school and the older villagers he mentors deepens into a moving and detailed portrait of family and community life cycles. Unfurling dense landscape compositions and splashing the screen with the saturated colors of the students’ work, Zhang picks up the strands of the coolheaded master’s own growing family and his star pupil’s burgeoning relationship, which takes the younger man into the new world of a bustling city. It’s a poignant, funny, and increasingly surprising picture of shifting generations and deep rural roots and traditions.
Edward Dmytryk, 1959, USA, 122m
In Edward Dmytryk’s ’Scope Western, the mining town of Warlock is at the mercy of a band of rogue cowboys, until citizens engage the sharpshooting services of Clay Blaisedell (Henry Fonda), accompanied by right-hand man Tom Morgan (Anthony Quinn). Adapted from the razor-sharp 1958 novel by Oakley Hall, Dmytryk’s film becomes a roiling panorama of competing drives and moral ambiguities, epitomized by Richard Widmark’s tormented Johnny Gannon. Warlock co-stars Dorothy Malone and DeForest Kelley, and was shot by Joe MacDonald (My Darling Clementine, Pickup on South Street). Thomas Pynchon pronounced Oakley’s original book (a Pulitzer finalist), “one of our best American novels,” which “restored to the myth of Tombstone its full, mortal, blooded humanity.”
Co-presented with The New York Review of Books
Abbas Fahdel, 2018, Lebanon/Iraq/France, 101m
Arabic with English subtitles
“The latest from Iraqi-French filmmaker Abbas Fahdel forgoes the armed conflict that has up to now inspired his features in favor of something altogether unexpected but in some ways just as brave: a love story. Yara’s picturesque location—a remote valley in northern Lebanon, all grand expanses and gorgeously overgrown canyons—stands in sharp contrast to the modesty of the narrative, which follows the teenage title character (Michelle Wehbe), who lives and works with her hardscrabble grandmother (Mary Alkady) on a cliffside farm, and falls for a young hiker, Elias (Elias Freifer). The drama, if that’s not too strong a term, is of a purely romantic nature.”—Jordan Cronk (Jan/Feb 2019 issue)
Robby Müller in Memoriam
Jerry Schatzberg, 1980, USA, 119m
The late Robby Müller (1940-2018) shot gorgeously realized works for directors ranging from Wim Wenders (Paris, Texas) to Jim Jarmusch (Down by Law) to Lars von Trier (Breaking the Waves) to Barbet Schroeder (Barfly). The rarely screened Honeysuckle Rose, directed by Jerry Schatzberg (Panic in Needle Park), stars Willie Nelson as a touring country music singer, Dyan Cannon as his wife, Slim Pickens as his bantering compadre, and Amy Irving as the woman he falls for on the road. The film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Song for “On the Road Again,” which sums up its rambling spirit.
Film Comment Free Talk: László Nemes
The director of opening-night film ;Sunset, an Academy Award winner for Son of Saul, discusses the boundary-pushing technique of his filmmaking and approach to history in an illustrated talk with clips.