The New York Film Festival is one of the oldest and most prestigious in the world, and it’s earned its prominence as much through selectivity as location. The main slate of the NYFF is limited to just over two dozen films, representing the best of the best of the year’s festival offerings, and anchored by a smattering of high-profile premières. Today, the Film Society Of Lincoln Center announced what’ll be showing at the 52nd installment of the NYFF (minus some of the special programs that will be announced later), and the titles should be familiar to anyone who’s been paying attention to world cinema in 2014. In addition to the previously announced opening, closing, and centerpiece films (Gone Girl, Birdman, and Inherent Vice, respectively), the New York fest will feature some of the biggest buzz titles from Sundance (Whiplash, Listen Up Philip), Cannes (Foxcatcher, Mr. Turner, Clouds Of Sils Maria, Goodbye To Language), and the upcoming Toronto and Venice fests (Eden, Pasolini).
Why should you care about this if you’re not going to be in New York, Venice, Toronto, or Telluride? Because the fall festivals set the agenda for awards season, as well as for what Oscar-indifferent cinephiles will be talking about for the next several months—and even into next year. A New York Film Festival slot usually indicates that of all of the movies bouncing around from fest to fest this year, these are the ones to make time for.
The full main NYFF slate is below, with the refreshingly detailed descriptions taken from the Film Society Of Lincoln Center’s press release. Incidentally, for those who like to speculate about what will be playing at the ever-secretive Telluride Film Festival, look for the words “New York Première.” If it’s attached to a movie that didn’t play at Sundance, then that movie is probably Telluride-bound. Along the same lines, any TIFF-goers who are wondering whether some big as-yet-announced movies might still slip into Toronto when the full schedule is released next week, the words “North American Première” should answer some questions about the status of the likes of The Wonders and Saint Laurent.
Beloved Sisters (North American Première)
Dominik Graf, Germany/Austria, 2014, DCP, 170m
German and French with English subtitles
Romantic sentiment runs high but aristocratic decorum holds sway in this beautiful and thoroughly modern rendering of the real-life 18th-century love triangle involving German poet Friedrich Schiller (Florian Stetter) and two sisters of noble birth, Charlotte (Henriette Confurius) and Caroline (Hannah Herzsprung), whose strikingly intense relationship and profound mutual devotion verge on symbiosis. As Schiller’s star rises in the philosophical-literary world of Weimar Classicism, with Charlotte at his side, the married Caroline chooses to stay close by—with dramatic consequences. Sisterhood is finally the most passionate and wrenching form of love in the aptly titled Beloved Sisters, and the deeply felt performances of Confurius and Herzsprung are hard to forget. Meanwhile, there’s a fresh, bracingly contemporary sense of energy, a relaxed pace and a down-to-earth directness to director Dominik Graf’s unfussy re-creation of ultra-formal 18th-century town-and-country life.
Birdman or The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance (Closing Night – New York Première)
Alejandro G. Iñárritu, USA, 2014, DCP, 119m
In Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s big, bold, and beautifully brash new movie, one-time action hero Riggan Thomson (a jaw-dropping Michael Keaton), in an effort to be taken seriously as an artist, is staging his own adaptation of Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. As Thomson tries to get his perilous undertaking in shape for the opening, he must contend with a scene-hogging narcissist (Edward Norton), a vulnerable actress (Naomi Watts), and an unhinged girlfriend (Andrea Riseborough) for co-stars; a resentful daughter (Emma Stone); a manager who’s about to come undone (Zach Galifianikis)... and his ego, the inner demon of the superhero that made him famous, Birdman. Iñárritu’s camera magically prowls, careens, and soars in and around the theater, yet remains alive to the most precious subtleties and surprises between his formidable actors. Birdman or The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance is an extravagant dream of a movie, alternately hilarious and terrifying, powered by a deep love of acting, theater, and Broadway—a real New York experience.
The Blue Room (North American Première)
Mathieu Amalric, France, 2014, DCP, 76m
French with English subtitles
A perfectly twisted, timeless noir, Mathieu Amalric’s adaptation of Georges Simenon’s domestic crime novel also tips its hat to Alfred Hitchcock/Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers On A Train. A country hotel’s blue room is the scene of erotic rapture, but the adulterous man (Amalric) and woman (a boldly sexual Stéphanie Cléau, co-author of the script with Amalric) who meet there have different visions of their future. She is more obsessed than he, and his misunderstanding of the madness in her desire will destroy him and all he holds dear. Amalric’s direction is brutally spare, as is his performance of a man caught in a vise—a situation of his own making. The classic aspect ratio (1:33) and Grégoire Hetzel’s turbulent, insistent score heighten the sense of entrapment. Léa Drucker as the deceived wife and Cléau as the desperate mistress make strong impressions, but Amalric, who has the most eloquent eyes in contemporary cinema and uses them here to convey lust, guilt, bewilderment, and the dawning realization that he is a pawn in a malignant game, is unforgettable.
Clouds Of Sils Maria (U.S. Première)
Olivier Assayas, Switzerland/Germany/France, 2014, DCP, 124m
English and French with English subtitles
Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) is a middle-aged actress who soared to stardom in her twenties in a play called Maloja Snake, in which she created the role of a ruthless young woman named Sigrid who engages in a power game with her older boss. Now an established international actress, Maria is considering the role of the older woman in a heavily promoted revival, with an infamous young superstar (Chloë Grace Moretz) as Sigrid. Maria and her savvy personal assistant (Kristen Stewart) prepare for the production at a secluded spot in the Swiss Alps, in a series of stunning scenes that are the beating heart of Olivier Assayas’s brilliant new film. What begins as a chronicle of an actress going through the paces of celebrity culture (fashion shoots, official dinners, interviews, Internet rumors) gradually develops into something more powerfully mysterious: a close meditation on time and how one comes to terms with its passage.
Eden (U.S. Première)
Mia Hansen-Løve, France, 2014, DCP, 131m
Mia Hansen-Løve’s fourth feature is a rare achievement: an epically scaled work built on the purely ephemeral, breathlessly floating along on currents of feeling. Eden is based on the experiences of Hansen-Løve’s brother (and co-writer) Sven, who was one of the pioneering DJs of the French rave scene in the early 1990s. Paul (Félix de Givry) and his friends, including Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter (otherwise known as Daft Punk), see visions of ecstasy in garage music—as their raves become more and more popular, they experience a grand democracy of pure bliss extending into infinity, only to dematerialize on contact with changing times and the demands of everyday life. Hansen-Løve’s film plays in the mind as a swirl of beautiful faces and bodies, impulsive movements, rushes of cascading light and color (she worked with a great cameraman, Denis Lenoir), and music, music, and more music. Eden is a film that moves with the heartbeat of youth, always one thought or emotion ahead of itself.
Foxcatcher (New York Première)
Bennett Miller, USA, 2014, DCP, 134m
Bennett Miller’s quietly intense and meticulously crafted new film deals with the tragic story of billionaire John E. du Pont and the brothers and championship wrestlers Dave and Mark Schultz recruited by du Pont to create a national wrestling team on his family’s sprawling property in Pennsylvania. Miller builds his film detail by detail, and he takes us deep into the rarefied world of the delusional du Pont, a particularly exotic specimen of ensconced all-American old money and privilege. Miller’s film is a powerfully physical experience, and the simmering conflicts between his characters are expressed in their stances, their stillnesses, their physiques, and, most of all, their moves in the wrestling arena. At the core is a trio of perfectly meshed and absolutely stunning performances from Mark Ruffalo as Dave, Channing Tatum as Mark, and an almost unrecognizable Steve Carell as the fatally dissociated du Pont. Foxcatcher offers us a vivid portrait of a side of American life in the ’80s that has never been touched in movies.
Gone Girl (Opening Night – World Première)
David Fincher, USA, 2014, DCP, 150m
David Fincher’s film version of Gillian Flynn’s phenomenally successful best seller (adapted by the author) is one wild cinematic ride, a perfectly cast and intensely compressed portrait of a recession-era marriage contained within a devastating depiction of celebrity/media culture, shifting gears as smoothly as a Maserati 250F. Ben Affleck is Nick Dunne, whose wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) goes missing on the day of their fifth anniversary. Neil Patrick Harris is Amy’s old boyfriend Desi, Carrie Coon (who played Honey in Tracy Letts’s acclaimed production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) is Nick’s sister Margo, Kim Dickens (Treme, Friday Night Lights) is Detective Rhonda Boney, and Tyler Perry is Nick’s superstar lawyer Tanner Bolt. At once a grand panoramic vision of middle America, a uniquely disturbing exploration of the fault lines in a marriage, and a comedy that starts black and keeps getting blacker, Gone Girl is a great work of popular art by a great artist.
Goodbye To Language (New York Première)
Jean-Luc Godard, France, 2014, DCP, 70m
French with English subtitles
The 43rd feature by Jean-Luc Godard (and the only film at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival to get a round of applause mid-screening), Goodbye To Language alights on doubt and despair with the greatest freedom and joy. At 83, Godard works as a truly independent filmmaker, unencumbered by all concerns beyond the immediate: to create a work that embodies his own state of being in relation to time, light, color, the problem of living and speaking with others, and, of course, cinema itself. The artist’s beloved dog Roxy is the de facto “star” of this film, which is as impossible to summarize as a poem by Wallace Stevens or a Messiaen quartet. Goodbye To Language was shot, and can only be truly seen and experienced, in 3-D, which Godard has put to wondrous use. The temptation may be strong to see this film as a farewell, but this remarkable artist is already hard at work on a new project.
Heaven Knows What (U.S. Première)
Josh & Benny Safdie, USA, 2014, DCP, 93m
Harley (Arielle Holmes) is madly in love with Ilya (Caleb Landry Jones). She’s sure he loves her just as much, if only he could express it. Both of them are heroin addicts, kids who pretend to be heavy-metal rockers but spend their time scuffling, arguing, and preying on each other as they wander around New York looking for a fix and the chump change to pay for it. The script, based on a Holmes’s memoir and written by the Safdies with Ronald Bronstein, is a miracle of economy. Sean Price Williams’s cinematography expresses the clouded vision of kids who can’t imagine how invisible they are to the New Yorkers who take their homes and jobs for granted. And the Safdie Brothers, in their toughest and richest movie, direct a cast composed largely of first-time actors so that they disappear into their characters, horrify us, and break our hearts.
Hill Of Freedom (U.S. Première)
Hong Sang-soo, South Korea, 2014, DCP, 66m
Korean and English with English subtitles
Kwon (Seo Young-hwa) returns to Seoul from a restorative stay in the mountains. She is given a packet of letters left by Mori (Ryo Kase), who has come back from Japan to propose to her. As she walks down a flight of stairs, Kwon drops and scatters the letters, all of which are undated. When she reads them, she has to make sense of the chronology… and so do we. Hong Sang-soo’s daring new film, alternately funny and haunting, is a series of disordered scenes based on the letters, echoing the cultural dislocation felt by Mori as he tries to make himself understood in halting English. At what point did he drink himself into a lonely stupor? Did he sleep with the waitress from the Hill of Freedom café (Moon So-ri) before or after he despaired of seeing Kwon again? Sixteen films into a three-decade career, Hong has achieved a rare simplicity in his storytelling, allowing for an ever-increasing psychological richness and complexity.
Horse Money (U.S. Première)
Pedro Costa, Portugal, 2014, DCP, 103m
Portuguese and Creole with English subtitles
Since the late ’90s, Pedro Costa has devoted himself to the task of doing justice to the lives and tragedies and dreams of the Cape Verdean immigrants who once populated the now-demolished neighborhood of Fontainhas. Costa works with a minimal crew and at ground level, patiently building a unique cinematographic language alongside the men and women he has befriended. Where does his astonishing new Horse Money “take place”? In the soul-space of Ventura, who has been at the center of Costa’s last few shorts and his 2006 feature Colossal Youth. It is now, a numbing and timeless present of hospital stays, bureaucratic questioning, and wandering through remembered spaces… and it is then, the mid ’70s and the time of the Carnation Revolution, when Ventura got into a knife fight with his friend Joaquim. A self-reckoning, a moving memorialization of lives in danger of being forgotten, and a great and piercingly beautiful work of cinema.
Inherent Vice (Centerpiece – World Première)
Paul Thomas Anderson, USA, 2014, 148m
Paul Thomas Anderson’s wild and entrancing new movie, the very first adaptation of a Thomas Pynchon novel, is a cinematic time machine, placing the viewer deep within the world of the paranoid, hazy L.A. dope culture of the early ’70s. It’s not just the look (which is ineffably right, from the mutton chops and the peasant dresses to the battered screen doors and the neon glow), it’s the feel, the rhythm of hanging out, of talking yourself into a state of shivering ecstasy or fear or something in between. Joaquin Phoenix goes all the way for Anderson (just as he did in The Master) playing Doc Sportello, the private investigator searching for his ex-girlfriend Shasta (Katherine Waterston, a revelation), menaced at every turn by Josh Brolin as the telegenic police detective “Bigfoot” Bjornsen. Among the other members of Anderson’s mind-boggling cast are Reese Witherspoon, Benicio Del Toro, Martin Short, Owen Wilson, and Jena Malone. A trip, and a great American film by a great American filmmaker.
Jauja (U.S. Première)
Lisandro Alonso, Argentina/Denmark/France, 2014, DCP, 108m
Danish and Spanish with English subtitles
A work of tremendous beauty and a source of continual surprise, Alonso’s first film since 2008’s Liverpool is also his first period piece (set during the Argentinian army’s Conquest of the Desert in the 1870s), his first film with international stars (led by Viggo Mortensen), and his first screenplay with a co-writer (poet and novelist Fabián Casas). But the emphasis, as in all his work, is on bodies in landscapes. Danish military engineer Gunnar Dinesen (Mortensen, in a Technicolor-bright cavalry uniform) traverses a visually stunning variety of Patagonian shrub, rock, grass, and desert on horseback and on foot in search of his teenage daughter (Viilbjørk Agger Malling), who has eloped with a new love. Alonso’s style reaches new heights of sensory attentiveness and physicality, driving the action toward a thrilling conclusion that transcends the limits of cinematic time and space.
Life Of Riley (New York Première)
Alain Resnais, France, 2014, DCP, 108m
French with English subtitles
Adapted from Alan Ayckbourn’s Relatively Speaking, Life Of Riley, the final work by Alain Resnais, is the story of three couples in the English countryside who learn that their close mutual friend is terminally ill. Yet the story is only half the movie, a giddily unsettling meditation on mortality and the strange sensation of simply being alive and going on, feeling by feeling, action by action. The swift, fleeting encounters between various combinations of characters (played by Resnais regulars André Dussollier and Sabine Azéma—the director’s wife—along with Michel Vuillermoz, Hippolyte Girardot, Sandrine Kiberlain, and Caroline Silhol) take place on extremely stylized sets, and they are punctuated with close-ups set against comic-strip grids, and broken up by images of the real English countryside. Funny but haunting, Life Of Riley is a moving, graceful, and surprisingly affirmative farewell to life from a truly great artist.
Listen Up Philip (New York Première)
Alex Ross Perry, USA, 2014, DCP, 108m
Alex Ross Perry’s third feature heralds the arrival of a bold new voice in American movies. Even more than in his critically lauded The Color Wheel, Perry draws on literary models (mainly Philip Roth and William Gaddis) to achieve a brazen mixture of bitter humor and unexpected pathos. In this sly, very funny portrait of artistic egomania, Jason Schwartzman stars as Philip Lewis Friedman, a precocious literary star anticipating the publication of his second novel. Philip is a caustic narcissist, but the film, shot with tremendous agility on Super-16mm by Sean Price Williams, leaves his orbit frequently, lingering on the perspectives of his long-suffering photographer girlfriend, Ashley, (Elisabeth Moss) and his hero, the Roth-like literary lion Ike Zimmerman (Jonathan Pryce), who himself considers Philip a major talent. A film about callow ambition, Listen Up Philip is itself remarkably poised, a knowing, rueful account of how pain and insecurity transfigure themselves as anger but also as art.
Maps To The Stars (U.S. Première)
David Cronenberg, Canada/Germany, 2014, DCP, 111m
David Cronenberg takes Bruce Wagner’s script—a pitch-black Hollywood satire—chills it down, and gives it a near-tragic spin. The terrible loneliness of narcissism afflicts every character from the fading star Havana (Julianne Moore, who won the Best Actress Award at Cannes for her nervy performance) to the available-for-anything chauffeur (Robert Pattinson) to the entire Weiss family, played by John Cusack, Olivia Williams, Evan Bird, and Mia Wasikowska. The last two are brother and sister, damaged beyond repair and fated to repeat the perverse union of their parents. And yet, in their murderous rages, they have the purity of avenging angels, taking revenge on a culture that needs to be put out of its misery—or so it must seem to them. Cronenberg’s visual strategy physically isolates the characters from one another, so that their occasional violent connections pack a double whammy.
Misunderstood (North American Première)
Asia Argento, Italy/France, 2014, DCP, 110m
Italian, French, and English with English subtitles
The imaginative life of a preteen girl in Rome in the 1980s is depicted with love and humor by Asia Argento, who grew up in the same place and time under similar showbiz circumstances. All but ignored by her divorced, narcissistic parents and tormented by her more conventional and manipulative siblings, Aria (a marvelous Giulia Salerno) shuttles between the well-appointed digs of her singer mother (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and actor father (Gabriel Garko), carrying her only companion, a large cat who is more affectionate and comfortable in his own skin than any of the humans in her life. A precociously gifted writer, Aria elaborates her cat-accompanied walks into the sometimes life-threatening adventures that mix with mundane actualities. As a projection of young female subjectivity, Misunderstood is ingenious, direct, and utterly real.
Mr. Turner (New York Première)
Mike Leigh, UK, 2014, DCP, 149m
Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner is certainly a portrait of a great artist and his time, but it is also a film about the human problem of… others. Timothy Spall’s grunting, unkempt J.M.W. Turner is always either working or thinking about working. During the better part of his interactions with patrons, peers, and even his own children, he punches the clock and makes perfunctory conversation, while his mind is clearly on the inhuman realm of the luminous. After the death of his beloved father (Paul Jesson), Turner creates a way station of domestic comfort with a cheerful widow (Marion Bailey), and he maintains his artistic base at his family home, kept in working order by the undemonstrative and ever-compliant Hannah (Dorothy Atkinson). But his stays in both houses are only rest periods between endless and sometimes punishing journeys in search of a closer and closer vision of light. A rich, funny, moving, and extremely clear-eyed film about art and its creation.
Pasolini (U.S. Première)
Abel Ferrara, France/Belgium/Italy, DCP, 87m
Italian, English, and French with English subtitles
Pier Paolo Pasolini—filmmaker/poet/novelist, Christian, Communist, permanent legal defendant, and self-proclaimed “inconvenient guest” of modern society—was an immense figure. Abel Ferrara’s new film compresses the many contradictory aspects of his subject’s life and work into a distilled, prismatic portrait. We are with Pasolini during the last hours of his life, as he talks with his beloved family and friends, writes, gives a brutally honest interview, shares a meal with Ninetto Davoli (Riccardo Scamarcio), and cruises for the roughest rough trade in his gun-metal gray Alfa Romeo. Over the course of the action, Pasolini’s life and his art (represented by scenes from his films, his novel-in-progress Petrolio, and his projected film Porno-Teo-Kolossal) are constantly refracted and intermingled to the point where they become one. A thoughtful, attentive, and extremely frank meditation on a man who continues to cast a very long shadow, featuring a brilliant performance by Willem Dafoe in the title role.
The Princess Of France (U.S. Première)
Matías Piñeiro, Argentina, 2014, DCP, 70m
Spanish and Italian with English subtitles
As in his critical hit Viola (2013), Matías Piñeiro doesn’t transplant Shakespeare to the present day so much as summon the spirit of his polymorphous comedies. Víctor (Julián Larquier Tellarini) returns to Buenos Aires after his father’s death and a spell in Mexico to prepare a radio production of Love’s Labour’s Lost. Reuniting with his repertory, he finds himself sorting out complicated entanglements with girlfriend Paula (Agustina Muñoz), sometime lover Ana (María Villar), and departed actress Natalia (Romina Paula), as well as his muddled relations with the constellation of friends involved with the project. As the film tracks the group’s criss-crossing movements and interactions, their lives become increasingly enmeshed with the fiction they’re reworking, potential outcomes multiply, and reality itself seems subject to transformation. An intimate, modestly scaled work that takes characters and viewers alike into dizzying realms of possibility, The Princess Of France is the most ambitious film yet from one of world cinema’s brightest young talents, a cumulatively thrilling experience.
Saint Laurent (North American Première)
Bertrand Bonello, France, 2014, DCP, 146m
French with English subtitles
Running counter to the current strain of wan, mechanical biopics, Bertrand Bonello’s Saint Laurent toys deliriously with the genre’s rules and limitations. Focusing on a dark, hedonistic, wildly creative decade (from 1967 to ’77) in Yves Saint Laurent’s life and career, Bonello considers the couturier (convincingly embodied by Gaspard Ulliel and later by Visconti stalwart Helmut Berger) as a myth, a brand, an avatar of his era. Bonello’s star-studded supporting cast (including Louis Garrel, Léa Seydoux, Jérémie Renier, and Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) serves as first-rate human mise en scène amid a kaleidoscopic torrent of lavish excess, retrospectively pieced together with a Proustian form of fast-and-loose association. As much as his subject and the gravitational pull he exerts in the hothouse environments of atelier and nightclub, Bonello is interested—as he was in House of Pleasures, his sumptuous portrait of a fin de siècle Parisian brothel—in cinema’s potential both to capture and to warp the passage of time and our perception of it.
La Sapienza (U.S. Première)
Eugène Green, France/Italy, 2014, DCP, 100m
French and Italian with English subtitles
In Eugène Green’s exquisite new film, Alexandre (Fabrizio Rongione) and Aliénor (Christelle Prot Landman) are a married couple who are unhappy in an all-too-familiar way: they have retreated into silence and away from intimacy. Alexandre, an architect, decides to restore himself by renewing his old dream of writing about the great Baroque architect Francesco Borromini. They drive to Ticino, Borromini’s birthplace, and then to Stresa on Lake Maggiore, where they meet a brother and sister. Goffredo (Ludovico Succio) is an architecture student in need of support and Lavinia (Arianna Nastro) is a shut-in who goes into a panic when her brother is too far away. As Alexandre and Aliénor offer their friendship to Goffredo and Lavinia, they restore their own sense of inner balance. It’s difficult to convey the precise beauty of La Sapienza, to describe its serenity, its quiet intensity, or the delicate equilibrium Green locates between faces, landscapes, and architectural forms.
’71 (New York Première)
Yann Demange, UK, 2014, DCP, 99m
A riveting thriller set in the mean streets of Belfast over the course of 24 hours, ’71 brings the grim reality of the Troubles to vivid, shocking life. Within days of being posted to Northern Ireland in a divided province that would soon turn into a war zone after January 1972’s Bloody Sunday, squaddie Gary (Jack O’Connell) finds himself trapped and unarmed in hostile territory when a house raid provokes a riot. Running for his life as the lines between friend and foe become increasingly blurred, Gary gets a baptism of fire and we get a stark, eye-opening look at the dirty war that tore Northern Ireland apart. Suggesting an update of Carol Reed’s classic Odd Man Out, this tough, compact suspenser is tightly written by Black Watch playwright Gregory Burke and handled with a dynamic, vigorous energy by debut director Yann Demange.
Tales Of The Grim Sleeper (New York Première)
Nick Broomfield, USA/UK, 2014, DCP, 105m
When Lonnie Franklin Jr. was arrested in South Central Los Angeles in 2010 as the suspected murderer of a string of young black women, police hailed it as the culmination of 20 years of investigations. Four years later documentary filmmaker Nick Broomfield took his camera to the alleged killer’s neighborhood for another view. At first, Franklin’s pals stand up for him: he was the go-to guy, and certainly no murderer. But soon friends and neighbors start offering up chilling testimony, as do local activists who question why it took so long for the authorities to pay attention: certainly the community doesn’t trust the LAPD, with good reason, so they don’t talk. But if they did, what would the police do? Aided by Pam, a former prostitute and crack addict who knows the streets and the people walking them, Broomfield reveals the journey of a serial killer, gives voice to his victims, and finds the racial divide that still exists between the police and African-Americans in Los Angeles.
Timbuktu (U.S. Première)
Abderrahmane Sissako, France/Mauritania, 2014, DCP, 100m
Arabic, Bambara, French, English, Songhay, and Tamasheq with English subtitles
Abderrahmane Sissako’s new film looks at the terror and humiliation of occupation with an uncommonly serene eye. We are in the ancient Malian city of Timbuktu, where foreign jihadists are enforcing bans against sports, music, loafing, and bare-headed women. Sissako gracefully pivots between multiple characters, some of whom are seen only fleetingly (a group of young people who gather to sing, a woman who refuses to wear gloves), while others, like the Tuareg family living in the hills near the city, we come to know intimately. Visually, Timbuktu is a series of wonders—once seen, visions of jihadists beaming their criss-crossing flashlights into the deep blue night or of a man treading the length of a shallow river from a distant vantage point are not easily forgotten. And Sissako’s becalmed and sensitive eye for beauty intensifies the absurdity and horror of the film’s quietly unfolding tragedy.
Time Out Of Mind (U.S. Première)
Oren Moverman, USA, 2014, DCP, 117m
We are in an apartment from which the tenant has been evicted. Junk is piled everywhere. A man, sleeping in the bathtub, is awoken by the maintenance crew. He is forced onto the streets, and into a series of realizations that gradually materialize over the unending days that stretch to infinity: that he must find clothing to cover himself, food to eat, liquid to drink, a bed to sleep in. And we are simply with him, and with the sound and movement of the city that engulfs him and makes him seem smaller and smaller. As George, Richard Gere may be the “star” of Oren Moverman’s new film, but he allows the world around him to take center stage, and himself to simply be: it’s a wondrous performance, and Time Out Of Mind is as haunting as a great Bill Evans solo. With lovely work by Ben Vereen as George’s one and only friend and Jena Malone as his estranged daughter.
Two Days, One Night (New York Première)
Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne, Belgium/France/Italy, 2014, DCP, 95m
French with English subtitles
The action is elemental. The employees in a small factory have been given a choice. They will each receive a bonus if they agree to one of them being laid off; if not, then no one gets the bonus. The chosen employee (Marion Cotillard) spends a weekend driving through the suburbs and working-class neighborhoods of Seraing and Liège, knocking on the doors of her co-workers and asking a simple but impossible question: will you give up the money to let me continue to earn my own living? The force of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s new film lies in the intensity with which they focus on the second-by-second toll the situation takes on everyone directly affected, while the employers sit at a benign remove. In Two Days, One Night, the Dardennes take an urgent and extremely relevant ethical inquiry and bring it to bold and painfully human life.
Two Shots Fired (U.S. Première)
Martín Rejtman, Argentina, 2014, DCP, 105m
Spanish with English subtitles
The first feature in a decade by Martín Rejtman (The Magic Gloves), a founding figure of the new Argentine cinema, is an engrossing, digressive comedy with the weight of an existentialist novel. Sixteen-year-old Mariano (Rafael Federman), inexplicably and without warning, shoots himself twice—once in the stomach and once in the head—and improbably survives. As his family strains to protect Mariano from himself, his elder brother (Benjamín Coehlo) pursues a romance with a disaffected girl (Laura Paredes) who works the counter at a fast-food restaurant, his mother (Susana Pampin) impulsively takes off on a trip with a stranger, and Mariano recruits a young woman (Manuela Martelli) to join his medieval wind ensemble. Rejtman tells this story with both compassion and formal daring, pursuing one thread only to abandon it for another. Two Shots Fired is a wry, moving, consistently surprising film about the irrationality of emotions and how they govern our actions at each stage of our lives.
Whiplash (New York Première)
Damien Chazelle, USA, 2014, DCP, 105m
A pedagogical thriller and an emotional S&M two-hander, Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash is brilliantly acted by Miles Teller as an eager jazz drummer at a prestigious New York music academy and J.K. Simmons as the teacher whose method of terrorizing his students is beyond questionable, even when it gets results. Dubbed “Full Metal Jacket at Juilliard” at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award, Chazelle’s jazz musical was developed from his short film of the same name, which premièred at Sundance the previous year. The live jazz core that is fused with Justin Hurwitz’s ambient score, the blood-on-the-drum-kit battle between student and teacher, and the dazzling filmmaking will keep your pulse rate elevated from beginning to end. A kinesthetic depiction of performance anxiety—you don’t need to be a musician to feel it—Whiplash also presents us with a moral issue open to debate.
The Wonders (North American Première)
Alice Rohrwacher, Italy/Switzerland/Germany, 2014, DCP, 110m
Italian, German, and French with English subtitles
Winner of the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival, Alice Rohrwacher’s follow-up to Corpo celeste (NYFF 2011) is a vivid story of teenage yearning and confusion that revolves around a beekeeping family in rural central Italy: German-speaking father (Sam Louwyck), Italian mother (Alba Rohrwacher), four girls. Two unexpected arrivals prove disruptive, especially for the pensive oldest daughter, Gelsomina (Maria Alexandra Lungu). The father takes in a troubled teenage boy as part of a welfare program and a television crew shows up to enlist local farmers in a kitschy celebration of Etruscan culinary traditions (a slyly self-mocking Monica Bellucci plays the bewigged host). The film never announces its themes but has plenty on its mind, not least the ways in which old traditions survive in the modern world, as acts of resistance or repackaged as commodities. Combining a documentary attention to daily ritual with an evocative atmosphere of mystery, The Wonders conjures a richly concrete world that is nonetheless subject to the magical thinking of adolescence.