This year’s Main Slate of the 57th New York Film Festival, September 27 – October 13, showcases 29 films from 17 different countries. Nine films in the festival were honored at Cannes, including Bong Joon-ho’s Palme d’Or–winner Parasite; Grand Prix–winner Atlantics: A Ghost Love Story, directed by Mati Diop, an alum of annual FLC series Art of the Real and winner of the 2016 Lincoln Center Emerging Artist award; Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire, NYFF’s Film Comment Presents selection and winner of both the Queer Palm and the Best Screenplay prize; Pedro Almodóvar’s Pain and Glory, awarded Best Actor for Antonio Banderas; Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles’ Jury Prize–winner Bacurau; Young Ahmed, which brought home the Best Director prize for Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne; and three Un Certain Regard winners, including Oliver Laxe’s Jury Prize–winner Fire Will Come, Albert Serra’s Special Jury Prize–winner Liberté, and Kantemir Balagov’s Beanpole, which collected the Best Director prize. Top prize winners from the Berlinale will also appear in the Main Slate: Nadav Lapid’s Golden Bear–winner Synonyms and Angela Schanelec’s I Was at Home, But…, which won the Silver Bear for Best Director.
Olivier Assayas makes his 10th appearance at the festival with Wasp Network, while other returning filmmakers include Arnaud Desplechin, Kelly Reichardt, Corneliu Porumboiu, Bertrand Bonello, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Marco Bellocchio, Pedro Costa, and Agnès Varda, whose final film Varda by Agnès will screen posthumously. Making their New York Film Festival debuts are New Directors/New Films alum Pietro Marcello, Lou Ye, and Federico Veiroj, whose work has also screened in FLC’s Neighboring Scenes series, and additional filmmakers new to the festival include Diao Yinan, Koji Fukada, and Justine Triet, an alum of FLC’s Rendez-Vous with French Cinema.
NYFF Director and Selection Committee Chair Kent Jones said, “Cinema is the domain of freedom, and it’s an ongoing struggle to maintain that freedom. It’s getting harder and harder for anyone to make films of real ambition anywhere in this world. Each and every movie in this lineup, big or small, whether it’s made in Italy or Senegal or New York City, is the result of artists behind the camera fighting on multiple fronts to realize a vision and create something new in the world. That includes masters like Martin Scorsese and Pedro Almodóvar and newcomers to the festival like Mati Diop and Angela Schanelec.”
This year’s New York Film Festival poster is designed by Main Slate director Pedro Almodóvar, whose film Pain and Glory marks his 11th NYFF appearance. Speaking about his inspiration for the design, Almodóvar said, “For the basis of this year’s New York Film Festival poster, I used a photo of a still life that I exhibited at the Marlborough Gallery. The masses of color on which the text is printed are reminiscent of an animated sequence that appears in my latest film, Pain and Glory, though for this version I have chosen less bright colors, using muted shades of red, blue, green, and mauve. These colors correspond to the palette in which I seem to move lately.”
57th New York Film Festival Main Slate
Dir. Martin Scorsese, USA
The Irishman is a richly textured epic of American crime, a dense, complex story told with astonishing fluidity. Based on Charles Brandt’s nonfiction book I Heard You Paint Houses, it is a film about friendship and loyalty between men who commit unspeakable acts and turn on a dime against each other, and the possibility of redemption in a world where it seems as distant as the moon. The roster of talent behind and in front of the camera is astonishing, and at the core of The Irishman are four great artists collectively hitting a new peak: Joe Pesci as Pennsylvania mob boss Russell Bufalino, Al Pacino as Teamsters president Jimmy Hoffa, and Robert De Niro as their right-hand man, Frank Sheeran, each working in the closest harmony imaginable with the film’s incomparable creator, Martin Scorsese. A Netflix release.
Dir. Noah Baumbach, USA, 136m
Noah Baumbach’s new film is about the rapid tangling and gradual untangling of impetuosity, resentment, and abiding love between a married couple negotiating their divorce and the custody of their son. Adam Driver is Charlie, a 100-percent New York experimental theater director; Scarlett Johansson is Nicole, his principal actress and soon-to-be L.A.-based ex-wife. Their “amicable” breakup devolves, one painful rash response and hostile counter-response at a time, into a legal battlefield, led on Nicole’s side by Laura Dern and on Charlie’s side by “nice” Alan Alda and “not-so-nice” Ray Liotta. What is so remarkable about Marriage Story is its frank understanding of the emotional fluctuations between Charlie and Nicole: they are both short-sighted, both occasionally petty, both vindictive, and both loving. The film is as harrowing as it is hilarious as it is deeply moving. With Merritt Wever and Julie Hagerty as Nicole’s sister and mom, and Azhy Robertson as their beloved son, Henry. A Netflix release.
Dir. Edward Norton, USA, 144m
In an unusually bold adaptation, writer-director-producer Edward Norton has transplanted the main character of Jonathan Lethem’s best-selling novel Motherless Brooklyn from modern Brooklyn into an entirely new, richly woven neo-noir narrative, reset in 1950s New York. Emotionally shattered by a botched job, Lionel Essrog (Norton), a lonely private detective with Tourette syndrome, finds himself drawn into a multilayered conspiracy that expands to encompass the city’s ever-growing racial divide and the devious personal and political machinations of a Robert Moses–like master builder, played by Alec Baldwin. Featuring a rigorously controlled star turn by Norton and outstanding additional supporting performances by Bruce Willis, Willem Dafoe, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Bobby Cannavale, Leslie Mann, and Cherry Jones, plus a haunting soundtrack (featuring a score by Daniel Pemberton, with orchestration by Wynton Marsalis, and an original song by Thom Yorke), Motherless Brooklyn is the kind of movie Hollywood almost never makes anymore, and a complexly conceived, robust evocation of a bygone era of New York that speaks to our present moment. A Warner Bros. Picture.
Atlantics: A Ghost Love Story
Dir. Mati Diop, France/Senegal/Belgium, 105m
Building on the promise—and then some—of her acclaimed shorts, Mati Diop has fashioned an extraordinary drama that skirts the line between realism and fantasy, romance and horror, and which, in its crystalline empathy, humanity, and political outrage, confirms the arrival of a major talent. Set in Senegal, the birth country of her legendary director uncle, Djibril Diop Mambéty, the film initially follows the blossoming love between young construction worker Souleiman (Ibrahima Traoré), who’s being exploited by his rich boss, and Ada (Mama Sané), about to enter into an unwanted arranged marriage with a wealthier man. Souleiman and his fed-up coworkers soon disappear during an attempt to migrate to Spain in a pirogue, yet somehow his presence is still quite literally felt in Dakar. Transmuting a global crisis into a ghostly tale of possession, the gripping, hallucinatory Atlantics: A Ghost Love Story was the winner of the Grand Prix at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. A Netflix release.
Dir. Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles, Brazil, 130m
A vibrant, richly diverse backcountry Brazilian town finds its sun-dappled day-to-day disturbed when its inhabitants become the targets of a group of marauding, wealthy tourists. The perpetrators of this Most Dangerous Game–esque class warfare, however, may have met their match in the fed-up, resourceful denizens of little Bacurau. Those who remember Kleber Mendonça Filho’s wonderful NYFF54 crowd-pleaser Aquarius starring Sonia Braga—who appears here in a memorable supporting role—might be surprised by the new terrain and occasional ultraviolence of his latest, codirected with his longtime production designer Juliano Dornelles. Yet this wild shape-shifter shares with that film the exhilaration of witnessing society’s forgotten and marginalized standing up for themselves by any means necessary. With references to the fearless genre works of John Carpenter, George Miller, and Sergio Leone, Bacurau, winner of the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, is a vividly angry power-to-the-people fable like no other. A Kino Lorber release.
Dir. Kantemir Balagov, Russia, 130m
In immediate post-WWII Leningrad, two women, Iya and Masha (astonishing newcomers Viktoria Miroshnichenko and Vasilisa Perelygina), intensely bonded after fighting side by side as anti-aircraft gunners, attempt to readjust to a haunted world. As the film begins, Iya, long and slender and towering over everyone—hence the film’s title—works as a nurse in a shell-shocked hospital, presiding over traumatized soldiers. A shocking accident brings them closer and also seals their fates. The 27-year-old Russian director Kantemir Balagov—whose debut feature Closeness caused a stir at Cannes and the New Directors/New Films festival just last year—won Un Certain Regard’s Best Director prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival for this richly burnished, occasionally harrowing rendering of the persistent scars of war.
Fire Will Come
Dir. Oliver Laxe, Spain/France/Luxembourg, 85m
The beauties and terrors of nature – human and otherwise – drive this extraordinary, elemental new film from Oliver Laxe, in which the verdant Galician landscape becomes the setting for forceful internal and external dramas. After making films abroad for years, interrogating the line between filmmaker and subject in such locales as Tangiers (You Are All Captains) and Morocco (Mimosas), Laxe returns to the rustic village in northwest Spain where his grandparents were born to tell the story of Amador (Amador Arias), who has recently served time in prison for arson and has come home to live with his elderly mother, Benedicta (Benedicta Sanchez) -both played brilliantly by nonprofessional actors. Laxe follows Amador’s day-to-day readjustment, immersing the viewer in the deep eucalyptus forests and vast countryside of northwest Spain, building to an astonishing climax fueled by an uncontrollable fury.
Dir. Kelly Reichardt, U.S., 121m
Kelly Reichardt once again trains her perceptive and patient eye on the Pacific Northwest, this time evoking an authentically hardscrabble early 19th-century way of life. A taciturn loner and skilled cook (John Magaro) has traveled west and joined a group of fur trappers in Oregon Territory, though he only finds true connection with a Chinese immigrant (Orion Lee) also seeking his fortune; soon the two collaborate on a successful business, although its longevity is reliant upon the clandestine participation of a nearby wealthy landowner’s prized milking cow. From this simple premise Reichardt constructs an interrogation of foundational Americana that recalls her earlier triumph Old Joy in its sensitive depiction of male friendship, yet is driven by a mounting suspense all its own. Reichardt shows her distinct talent for depicting the peculiar rhythms of daily living and ability to capture the immense, unsettling quietude of rural America. An A24 release.
A Girl Missing
Dir. Koji Fukada, Japan, 111m
Director Koji Fukada and star Mariko Tsutsui have created one of the most memorable, enigmatic movie protagonists in years in this compelling and beautifully humane drama. Middle-aged Ichiko works as a private nurse in a small town for a family, functioning as caregiver for the entirely female clan’s elderly matriarch, and befriending the two teenage daughters; when one of the girls disappears, Ichiko gets caught up in the resulting media sensation in increasingly surprising and devastating ways. Fukada keeps the story tightly focused on Ichiko’s perspective, illustrating with patience and compassion the different forms of trauma that can be created by one event, and – in keeping with the themes of his internationally acclaimed Harmonium – how easily and frighteningly a life can spiral out of control.
I Was at Home, But…
Dir. Angela Schanelec, Germany, 105m
Though she’s been an essential voice in contemporary German cinema since the ’90s, Angela Schanelec is poised to find wider international audiences with I Was at Home, But…, which won her the Best Director prize at this year’s Berlin Film Festival. An elliptical yet emotionally lucid variation on the domestic drama, her latest film intricately navigates the psychological contours of a Berlin family in crisis: Astrid – played with barely concealed fury by Maren Eggert – is trying to hold herself and her fragile teenage son and young daughter together following the death of their father two years earlier. Yet as in all her films, Schanelec develops her story and characters in highly unexpected ways, shooting in exquisite, fragmented tableaux and leaving much to the viewer’s imagination, hinting at a spiritual grace lurking beneath the unsettled surface of every scene. A Cinema Guild release.
Dir. Albert Serra, France/Portugal/Spain, 132m
For the bold of imagination, not the faint of heart, the latest work from Catalan filmmaker Albert Serra (The Death of Louis XIV) is easily his most provocative yet. In the 18th century, somewhere deep in a forest clearing, a group of bewigged libertines engage in a series of pansexual games of pain, torture, humiliation, and other dissolute, Sadean pleasures, attempting to reach some form of erotic nirvana, though rarely ever appearing to truly enjoy themselves. Serra’s truly radical film, set over the course of one night, is at once an aesthetic and sonic pleasure—every composition is a thing of eerily lit perfection, its soundtrack the chirps and rustles of the nighttime forest—and an unsparing depiction of the human drive for corporeal cruelty and sexual release. As its title suggests, Liberté is a film about the meaning of freedom, in both sex and in art.
Dir. Pietro Marcello, Italy, 129m
For the past fifteen years, Pietro Marcello has been working at the vanguard of Italian cinema, creating films that straddle the line between documentary and fiction, but which play off both a 19th-century Romanticism and 20th-century neorealism in their class-conscious focus on wanderers and transients. Marcello’s most straightforwardly fictional feature to date, Martin Eden is set in a provocatively unspecified moment in Italy’s history yet was adapted from a 1909 novel by American author Jack London. Martin (played by the marvelously committed Luca Marinelli) is a dissatisfied prole with artistic aspirations who hopes that his dreams of becoming a writer will help him rise above his station and marry a wealthy young university student (Jessica Cressy); the twinned dissatisfactions of working-class toil and bourgeois success lead to political reawakening and destructive anxiety. Martin Eden is an enveloping, superbly mounted bildungsroman.
Dir. Federico Veiroj, Uruguay, 97m
Leading light of contemporary Uruguayan cinema Federico Veiroj (A Useful Life) specializes in complexly drawn protagonists struggling amidst the specters of professional and personal failures. His new film, based on the 1979 novella Así habló el cambista by fellow countryman Juan Enrique Gruber, is his most ambitious, political, and forceful yet. Set largely in Montevideo, The Moneychanger stars Daniel Hendler in a tightly coiled performance of comical discomfort as Humberto Brause, who takes advantage of Uruguay’s poor economy by specializing in offshore money laundering. Spanning the fifties to the seventies, the film follows Humberto as he gets increasingly in over his head with multiple shady book-cooking schemes throughout South America, leading to an ultimate life-or-death decision.
Dir. Arnaud Desplechin, France, 119m
North American Premiere
In a change of pace from such recent kaleidoscopic knockouts as My Golden Years (NYFF53) and Ismael’s Ghosts (NYFF55), Arnaud Desplechin shows a different and no less impressive side of his mastery with this taut policier, based on a true murder case. The scene of the crime is Roubaix, the city in Northern France where Desplechin was born and where he’s set many of his films. Here, during a somber Christmas season, a middle-aged, French-Algerian detective is investigating the fatal strangulation of a poor, elderly woman in her apartment, with suspicion falling on her next-door neighbors, two young white women with a complicated interpersonal bond. Desplechin turns what might have been a lurid thriller into a work of engrossing psychological portraiture and socioeconomic inquiry that pays exquisite attention to the nuances of each remarkable performance, including Roschdy Zem as police captain Douad, and Léa Seydoux and Sara Forestier as the suspects.
Pain and Glory
Dir. Pedro Almodóvar, Spain, 113m
Pedro Almodóvar cuts straight to the heart with his intensely personal latest, which finds the great Spanish filmmaker tapping into new reservoirs of introspection and emotional warmth. Antonio Banderas deservedly won the Best Actor award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival for his miraculous, internalized portrayal of Salvador Mallo, a director not too subtly modeled on Almodóvar himself, whose growing health problems—including tinnitus, migraines, and spinal pain—and creative block have initiated a midlife reckoning. Moving in and out of time, evoking Salvador’s childhood in the sixties (featuring Penélope Cruz as his doting mother); his years of triumph in the eighties; and present-day Madrid, where he navigates new artistic challenges, Pain and Gloryis both a moving summative statement on a career and an indication of more brilliant things to come. A Sony Pictures Classics release.
Dir. Bong Joon-ho, South Korea, 132m
In Bong Joon-ho’s exhilarating new film, a threadbare family of four struggling to make ends meet gradually hatches a scheme to work for, and as a result infiltrate, the wealthy household of an entrepreneur, his seemingly frivolous wife, and their troubled kids. How they go about doing this—and how their best-laid plans spiral out to destruction and madness—constitutes one of the wildest, scariest, and most unexpectedly affecting movies in years, a portrayal of contemporary class resentment that deservedly won the Cannes Film Festival’s Palme d’Or. As with all of this South Korean filmmaker’s best works, Parasite is both rollicking and ruminative in its depiction of the extremes to which human beings push themselves in a world of unending, unbridgeable economic inequality. A NEON release.
Film Comment Presents
Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Dir. Céline Sciamma, France, 121m
On the cusp of the 19th century, young painter Marianne travels to a rugged, rocky island off the coast of Brittany. Here, she has been commissioned to create a wedding portrait of the wealthy yet free-spirited Héloise, whose hand in marriage has been promised to a man she’s never met. Resentful of the forced union, Héloise at first refuses to be painted, yet a growing bond—at first emotional and then erotic—develops between the women, exquisitely etched by Noémie Merlant as the artist and Adèle Haenel as her initially reluctant muse. With a visual precision as delicate as that of Merlant’s Marianne—whose patient acts of creation are lovingly dwelt upon—Céline Sciamma classically builds her double portrait from tentative romance to melodramatic rapture to a quietly devastating ending, all while subverting the traditional story of an artist and “his” muse. Winner of the Best Screenplay award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. A NEON release.
Dir. Lou Ye, China, 125m
The incomparable Gong Li (Raise the Red Lantern) gives a mesmerizing, take-no-prisoners performance in Saturday Fiction, a slow-burn spy thriller set in Japanese-occupied Shanghai on the cusp of World War II. She plays acclaimed actress Jean Yu, who has returned to Shanghai from China after a long absence. Jean Yu is in rehearsals for a play to be directed by a former lover (Mark Chao), but she seems to have ulterior motives, functioning as a double agent and gathering intelligence for the Allies, including the fateful realization of Japan’s imminent attack on Pearl Harbor. Shooting in evocative black-and-white, director Lou Ye (Spring Fever) has created here a gripping thriller that builds to a nerve-wracking climax, and which never loses sight of the human beings caught up in the gears of history.
Dir. Justine Triet, France/Belgium, 100m
Past and present collide in an increasingly complicated and highly entertaining fashion in Justine Triet’s intricate study of the professional and personal masks we wear as we perform our daily lives. Psychotherapist Sybil (Virginie Efira) abruptly decides to leave her practice to restart her writing career—only to find herself increasingly embroiled in the life of a desperate new patient: Margot (Adèle Exarchopoulos), a movie star dealing with the aftermath of a traumatic affair with her costar, Igor (Gaspard Ulliel), while trying to finish a film shoot under the watchful eye of a demanding director (Toni Erdmann’s Sandra Hüller, splendidly high-strung), who happens to be Igor’s wife. Sybil, negotiating her own past demons, makes the fateful decision to use Margot’s experiences as inspiration for her book, as boundaries of propriety fall one after another. As she proved in her previous film In Bed with Victoria, which also starred the magnificently expressive Efira, Triet is a master at creating heroines of intense complexity, and of maintaining a tricky balance between volatile drama and sly comedy.
Dir. Nadav Lapid, France/Israel/Germany, 123m
In his lacerating third feature, director Nadav Lapid’s camera races to keep up with the adventures of peripatetic Yoav (Tom Mercier), a disillusioned Israeli who has absconded to Paris following his military training. Having disavowed Hebrew, he devotes himself to learning the intricacies of the French language, falls into an emotional and intellectual triangle with a wealthy bohemian couple (Quentin Dolmaire and Louise Chevillotte), and frequently finds himself objectified, both politically and sexually. A powerful expression of the impossibility of escaping one’s roots, Synonyms is, even after the unforgettable Policeman (NYFF48) and The Kindergarten Teacher, Lapid’s boldest and most haunting work yet, a film about language and physicality, masculinity and nationhood. A Kino Lorber release.
To the Ends of the Earth
Dir. Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Japan, 120m
For more than two decades, Kiyoshi Kurosawa has been at the artistic forefront of Japanese cinema, bending the form to his own singular, internalized rhythms in such films as Cure, Pulse, and Tokyo Sonata (NYFF46). His latest is no exception, an unexpected narrative following Yoko (former J-pop idol Atsuko Maeda), a television host whose trip to Uzbekistan to shoot an episode of her reality travel show begins to dissolve her chipper persona, revealing the paranoia and dislocation beneath. Filled with absurdly humorous set pieces, and climaxing with a cathartic burst unprecedented in Kurosawa’s oeuvre, To the Ends of the Earth is both an entertaining tale of culture clash and a penetrating depiction of a young woman’s alienation and anxiety that pushes the director’s craft into new, mysterious, and enormously emotional realms.
Dir. Marco Bellocchio, Italy, 145m
Since the galvanizing burst of his unforgettable debut feature Fists in the Pocket (NYFF3), Marco Bellocchio has remained an Italian auteur of rigor and fury, representing social unrest in stories that range from the intimate to the epochal. In his 80th year, he has returned with one of his most compelling films. Pierfrancesco Favino commands the screen throughout this decades-spanning true-life narrative as Tommaso Buscetta, the mafia boss turned informant who helped take down a large swath of organized crime leaders in Sicily in the eighties. In one fully realized, impressively staged scene after another, including the notorious Maxi Trial, overseen by Judge Giovanni Falcone (Fausto Russo Alesi), Bellocchio interrogates received ideas about loyalty that so many other movies of this genre use to romanticize their characters. This is a very different kind of mafia drama, one that has the structure of a procedural but coasts on the waves of psychological portraiture. A Sony Pictures Classics release.
Varda by Agnès
Dir. Agnès Varda, France, 115m
When Agnès Varda died earlier this year at age 90, the world lost one of its most inspirational cinematic radicals. From her neorealist-tinged 1954 feature debut La Pointe Courte to her New Wave treasures Cléo from 5 to 7 and Le Bonheur to her inquiries into those on society’s outskirts like Vagabond (NYFF23), The Gleaners and I (NYFF38), and the 2017 Oscar nominee Faces Places (NYFF55), she made enduring films that were both forthrightly political and gratifyingly mercurial, and which toggled between fiction and documentary decades before it was more commonplace in art cinema. In what would be her final work, partially constructed of onstage interviews and lectures, interspersed with a wealth of clips and archival footage, Varda guides us through her career, from her movies to her remarkable still photography to the delightful and creative installation work. It’s a fitting farewell to a filmmaker, told in her own words. A Janus Films release.
Dir. Pedro Costa, Portugal, 124m
Portuguese director Pedro Costa has continually returned in his films to the Fontainhas neighborhood, a shantytown on the outskirts of Lisbon that’s home to largely immigrant communities. Not merely a chronicler of the poor and dispossessed, Costa renders onscreen characters that exist somewhere between real and fictional, the living and the dead. His latest, a film of deeply concentrated beauty, stars nonprofessional actor Vitalina Varela in a truly remarkable performance. Reprising and expanding upon her haunted supporting role from Costa’s Horse Money (NYFF52), she plays a Cape Verdean woman who has come to Fontainhas for her husband’s funeral after being separated from him for decades due to economic circumstance, and despite her alienation begins to establish a new life there. The grief of the present and the ghosts of the past commingle in Costa’s ravishing chiaroscuro compositions, a film of shadow and whisper that might be the director’s most visually extraordinary work. A Grasshopper Film release.
Dir. Olivier Assayas, France/Spain/Brazil, 127m
Olivier Assayas brings his customary style and urgency to an unexpected subject in this epic chronicle of a small group of Cuban defectors in Miami who in the early nineties established a spy web to infiltrate anti-Castroist terrorist groups carrying out violent attacks on Cuban soil. Amidst a dazzling ensemble that includes Gael García Bernal, Wagner Moura, Ana de Armas, and Leonardo Sbaraglia, Assayas mostly centers on the saga of network member René Gonzalez (Édgar Ramírez, star of Assayas’s Carlos, NYFF48)and his wife Olga (Penélope Cruz, in a superb performance of complex emotional transparency), who for many years is kept in the dark about René’s double life in America. Inspired by Fernando Morais’s meticulously researched book The Last Soldiers of the Cold War, Wasp Network is a nuanced, gripping thriller from one of the world’s most adventurous, globe-hopping filmmakers, told with journalistic detail and vivid sympathy for those Cubans in exile who sought liberation back home while being targeted by the U.S. government.
Dir. Corneliu Porumboiu, Romania, 98m
In a delightful twist, leading Romanian director Corneliu Porumboiu, whose inventive comedies such as Police, Adjective (NYFF47) and The Treasure (NYFF53) have for more than a decade brought deadpan charm and political perceptiveness to his country’s cinematic renaissance, has made his first all-out genre film—a clever, swift, and elegant neo-noir with a wonderfully off-kilter central conceit. Easily corruptible Bucharest police detective Cristi—played by the eternally stoic Vlad Ivanov—arrives on the mist-enshrouded Canary Island of La Gomera, where he learns a clandestine, tribal language, improbably made entirely out of whistling; this form of hidden communication will keep his superiors off his trail as he becomes increasingly embroiled in a convoluted gangster scheme involving a stash of Euros hidden in a mattress and a sultry femme fatale named, of course, Gilda. Porumboiu’s take on the crime drama furthers his explorations of the intricacies and limitations of language, but is also his most playful, even exuberant, film. A Magnolia Pictures release.
The Wild Goose Lake
Dir. Diao Yinan, China/France, 112m
Chinese director Diao Yinan’s much anticipated follow-up to his breakthrough noir Black Coal, Thin Ice is an altogether more colorful crime drama. A formalist gangster thriller drenched in reds and blues, though imbued with a melancholic tone that speaks to contemporary China’s vast economic disparities, the elegantly down-and-dirty The Wild Goose Lake, set in the nooks and crannies of densely populated Wuhan, follows the desperate attempts of small-time mob boss Zhou Zenong (the charismatic Hu Ge) to stay alive after he mistakenly kills a cop and a dead-or-alive reward is put on his head. The filmmaker proves his action bona fides in a series of stylized set pieces and violent shocks—including a showstopper on a stolen motorbike—simultaneously devising a romance between Zhou and a mysterious young woman (Gwei Lun-mei) who’s out to either help or betray him. Diao deftly keeps multiple characters and chronologies spinning, all the while creating an atmosphere thick with eroticism and danger. A Film Movement release.
Dir. Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Belgium, 84m
North American Premiere
The Dardenne Brothers won this year’s Best Director award at the Cannes Film Festival for this brave new work, another intimate portrayal-in-furious-motion of a protagonist in crisis. The filmmakers’ radical empathy alights on a Muslim teenager (extraordinary first-time actor Idir Ben Addi) in a small Belgian town who is being gradually radicalized into extremism despite the desperate protestations of his single mother (Claire Bodson), and who winds up hatching a murderous plot targeting his beloved teacher (Myriem Akheddiou). Taking a serious view of a difficult issue—the effect of fanaticism on the body and soul—the Dardennes here remind viewers why they continue to be at the center of 21st-century cinema.
Dir. Bertrand Bonello, France, 103m
After giving multiple shots to the arm of contemporary French cinema with such audacious films as House of Tolerance, Saint Laurent (NYFF52), and Nocturama, Bertrand Bonello injects urgency and history into the well-worn walking-dead genre with this unconventional plunge into horror-fantasy. Bonello moves fluidly between 1962 Haiti, where a young man known as Clairvius Narcisse (Mackenson Bijou), made into a zombie by his resentful brother, ends up working as a slave in the sugar cane fields, and a contemporary Paris girls’ boarding school, where a white teenage girl (Louise Labèque) befriends Clairvius’s direct descendant (Wislanda Louimat), who was orphaned in the 2010 Haiti earthquake. These two disparate strands ultimately come together in a film that evokes Jacques Tourneur more than George Romero, and feverishly dissolves boundaries of time and space as it questions colonialist mythmaking. A Film Movement release.