As Film at Lincoln Center readies to mount its 59th edition of the New York Film Festival, the annual event seems hellbent on bringing the absolute best of the year’s new films to the city’s cinephiles. Today’s announcement of the festival’s Main Slate offers an enviable assortment of features, including Julia Ducournau’s Palme d’Or winner “Titane,” Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s lauded “Flee,” Joanna Hogg’s much-anticipated “The Souvenir Part II,” Todd Haynes’ archival collage “The Velvet Underground,” and many more titles.
“Taken together, the movies in this year’s Main Slate are a reminder of cinema’s world-making possibilities,” said Dennis Lim, NYFF Director of Programming and chair of the Main Slate selection committee in an official statement. “They open up new ways of seeing and feeling and thinking, and whether or not they refer to our uncertain present, they help us make sense of our moment.”
The rest of the slate is rounded out with a series of Cannes standouts, including Paul Verhoeven’s “Benedetta,” Mia Hansen-Løve’s “Bergman Island,” Nadav Lapid’s “Ahed’s Knee,” Gaspar Noé’s “Vortex,” Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s “Memoria,” Saul Williams and Anisia Uzeyman’s “Neptune Frost,” Jonas Carpignano’s “A Chiara,” and Joachim Trier’s “The Worst Person in the World.”
Rebecca Hall’s Sundance premiere “Passing” will also be screened, along with two films from both Ryûsuke Hamaguchi and Hong Sangsoo. NYFF will also offer “Futura,” billed as “a portrait of Italian youth” by a filmmaking collective consisting of Pietro Marcello, Francesco Munzi, and Alice Rohrwacher.
As previously announced, this year’s NYFF will open with Joel Coen’s “The Tragedy of Macbeth,” close with Pedro Almodóvar’s “Parallel Mothers,” and will feature Jane Campion’s “The Power of the Dog” as the festival centerpiece.
Running September 24 through October 10, NYFF will feature a combination of in-person, outdoor, and virtual events. Per today’s announcement, “in response to distributor and filmmaker partners and in light of festivals returning and theaters reopening across the country, NYFF will not offer virtual screenings for this year’s edition.”
Of note: Proof of vaccination will be required for all staff, audiences, and filmmakers at all NYFF venues. Further details about this process will be announced in the coming weeks. Additionally, the festival “will adhere to a comprehensive series of health and safety policies in coordination with Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and state and city medical experts, while adapting as necessary to the current health crisis.”
The NYFF Main Slate selection committee, chaired by Dennis Lim, also includes Eugene Hernandez, Florence Almozini, K. Austin Collins, and Rachel Rosen.
Check out the full New York Film Festival Main Slate below, with all synopses provided by the festival. Currents, Revivals, Spotlight, and Talks sections will be announced in the coming weeks.
The 59th New York Film Festival Main Slate
“The Tragedy of Macbeth,” Joel Coen, 2021, USA, 105m, World Premiere
A work of stark chiaroscuro and incantatory rage, Joel Coen’s boldly inventive visualization of The Scottish Play is an anguished film that stares, mouth agape, at a sorrowful world undone by blind greed and thoughtless ambition. In meticulously world-weary performances, a strikingly inward Denzel Washington is the man who would be king and an effortlessly Machiavellian Frances McDormand is his Lady, a couple driven to political assassination—and deranged by guilt—after the cunning prognostications of a trio of “weird sisters” (a virtuoso physical inhabitation by Kathryn Hunter). Though it echoes the forbidding visual designs—and aspect ratios—of Laurence Olivier’s classic 1940s Shakespeare adaptations, as well as the bloody medieval madness of Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood, Coen’s tale of sound and fury is entirely his own—and undoubtedly one for our moment, a frightening depiction of amoral political power-grabbing that, like its hero, ruthlessly barrels ahead into the inferno. An Apple/A24 release. Campari is the presenting partner of Opening Night.
“The Power of the Dog,” Jane Campion, 2021, Australia/New Zealand, 127m
Jane Campion reaffirms her status as one of the world’s greatest—and most gratifyingly eccentric—filmmakers with this mesmerizing, psychologically rich variation on the American western. Adapted from a 1967 cult novel by Thomas Savage notoriously ahead of its time in depicting repressed sexuality, The Power of the Dog excavates the emotional torment experienced at a Montana cattle ranch in the 1920s. Here, melancholy young widow Rose (Kirsten Dunst) has come to live with her sensitive new husband, George (Jesse Plemons), though their lives are increasingly complicated by the erratic, potentially violent behavior of his sullen and bullying brother, Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch), whose mistrust of both Rose and her misfit son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) leads to tragic consequences. Mirroring the unpredictable story turns, Campion crafts a film of unexpected cadences and rhythms, and her daring is matched every step of the way by her extraordinary, fully immersed cast and a mercurial, destabilizing score by Jonny Greenwood. A Netflix release.
“Parallel Mothers,” Pedro Almodóvar, 2021, Spain, Spanish with English subtitles, North American Premiere
In this muted contemporary melodrama, two women, a generation apart, find themselves inextricably linked by their brief time together in a maternity ward. The circumstances that brought them to the Madrid hospital are quite different—one accidental, the other traumatic—and a secret, hiding the truth of the bond that connects these two, is a powerful story that tackles a deep trauma in Spanish history. Penélope Cruz’s Janis is a uniquely complex, flawed, but ultimately alluring lead character, who finds herself in a morally and emotionally treacherous situation. She’s viewed in contrast with Ana, radiantly portrayed by newcomer Milena Smit, a discovery who brings a palpable innocence, pain, and longing to this interwoven portrait of women and motherhood. These charismatic stars inhabit characters who are singular among those drawn by Almodóvar in a career defined by striking portraits of women. A Sony Pictures Classics release.
“A Chiara,” Jonas Carpignano, 2021, Italy, 120m, Italian with English subtitles
A rising star of a resurgent Italian cinema, Jonas Carpignano continues his deeply felt project of observing life in contemporary Calabria with this gripping character study of a teenager, Chiara (a revelatory Swamy Rotolo), who gradually comes to discover that her close-knit family is not all that it seems. Keeping his camera close to Chiara as she struggles to understand the difficult truth about her mysteriously missing father—and the crime syndicates that control her region—Carpignano has created an intimate, furiously paced drama that refuses to make its unlikely protagonist either a victim or a hero. A coming-of-age chronicle like no other, the virtuoso yet naturalistic A Chiara was awarded Best European Film in this year’s Directors’ Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival. A NEON release.
“Ahed’s Knee,” Nadav Lapid, 2021, France/Israel/Germany, 109m, Hebrew with English subtitles, U.S. Premiere
Israeli filmmaker Nadav Lapid shows no signs of slowing down in this shattering follow-up to his bat-out-of-hell Synonyms (NYFF57). A film of radical style and splenetic anger, Ahed’s Knee accompanies a celebrated but increasingly dissociated director (Avshalom Pollak) to a small town in the desert region of Arava for a screening of his latest film. Already anguished by the news of his mother’s fatal illness (Lapid’s film was made soon after the death of his own mother, who had worked as his editor for many years), he grows frustrated with a speech-restricting form he is encouraged to sign by a local Ministry of Culture worker (Nur Fibak). The confrontation ultimately sends him into a spiral of rage aimed at what he perceives as the censorship, hypocrisy, and violence of the Israeli government. This boldly shot and conceived work, which won the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, feels as though it has welled up from the depths of its maker’s soul. A Kino Lorber release.
“Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn,” Radu Jude, 2021, Romania/Luxembourg/Czech Republic/Croatia, 106m, Romanian with English subtitles, U.S. Premiere
The targets are wide, the satire is broad, and every hit lands and stings in Romanian filmmaker Radu Jude’s angry, gleefully graceless Golden Bear winner from this year’s Berlin Film Festival. Evoking the unsanitized provocations of the great Dušan Makavejev in his prime, Jude crafts an invigorating, infuriating film in three movements that grows in both power and absurdity, centering around the trials of a teacher (Katia Pascariu) at a prestigious Bucharest school whose life and job are upended when her husband accidentally uploads their private sex tape to the internet for all to see. Jude has no compunction about shocking and skewering in his quest to toy with contemporary society’s religious and political hypocrisy, connecting conservative puritanical outrage to an entire history of violence. A Magnolia Pictures release.
“Benedetta,” Paul Verhoeven, 2021, France/Netherlands, 127m, French with English subtitles, North American Premiere
Based on true events, Benedetta unearths the story of Benedetta Carlini, a 17th-century nun in Tuscany who believed she saw visions of Christ and engaged in a sexual relationship with a fellow sister at her abbey. Because this is a film by genre auteur par excellence Paul Verhoeven (whose movies include Robocop, Basic Instinct, and NYFF54 selection Elle), the result is anything but a reverent treatment of an odd footnote in Catholic European history. Forgoing the hallmarks of prestige cinema, this delirious, erotic, and violent melodrama is told with a boundless spirit for scandal, and unabashedly courts blasphemy as it unfolds its tale of religious hypocrisy. Wildly entertaining, and featuring standout performances from Virginie Efira as the title character and Charlotte Rampling as the stoic, conflicted Mother Abbess, Benedetta maintains both a feverish pitch and a fascinating ambiguity in its depiction of the miraculous and the mundane, the sacred and the profane. An IFC Films Release.
“Bergman Island,” Mia Hansen-Løve, 2021, France/Germany/Belgium/Sweden, 112m, English, French, and Swedish with English subtitles
A masterful blend of the personal and the meta-cinematic, Mia Hansen-Løve’s meditation on the reconciliation of love and the creative process is also delightful cinephile catnip. Vicky Krieps and Tim Roth star as Chris and Tony, married filmmakers who venture to the remote Swedish island of Fårö—where director Ingmar Bergman lived and made many of his masterpieces—as a writing retreat for their new projects. Both inspired and troubled by the isolation and history of the place, Chris gets lost in the lives of her new fictional creations (realized on screen by Mia Wasikowska and Anders Danielsen Lie) while also reckoning with the lines between reality and fantasy. A tribute to a film artist that never crosses over into idolatry, and a sneakily emotional portrait of an artist finding her individual voice, Bergman Island is one of Hansen-Løve’s most gently profound films. An IFC Films release.
“Il Buco,” Michelangelo Frammartino, 2021, Italy/France/Germany, 93m, Italian with English subtitles
Michelangelo Frammartino returns with his long-awaited first feature in a decade, following the unforgettable Le Quattro Volte. Another work of nearly wordless natural beauty that touches on the mystical, Il Buco offers a simple premise rich with visual and symbolic possibilities. Based on the true adventures of a group of young speleologists who in 1961 descended into a hole in the mountains of southern Italy’s Calabria region to explore what was then the third-deepest known cave on Earth, Frammartino’s film interweaves astonishingly captured images of this expedition with the solitary life of an elderly Calabrian shepherd who lives not far from the spelunking site. With the gentlest of strokes, Il Buco examines the unknown depths and mysteries of the universe, life and death, progress and tradition, and parallels two great voyages to the interior.
“Drive My Car,” Ryûsuke Hamaguchi, 2021, Japan, 179m, Japanese with English subtitles, U.S. Premiere
Inspired by a Haruki Murakami short story, Ryûsuke Hamaguchi spins an engrossing, rapturous epic about love and betrayal, grief and acceptance. With his characteristic emotional transparency, Hamaguchi charts the unexpected, complex relationships that theater actor-director Yûsuke Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima) forges with a trio of people out of professional, physical, or psychological necessity: his wife, Oto (Reika Kirishima), with whom he shares an erotic bond forged in fantasy and storytelling; the mysterious actor Takatsuki (Masaki Okada), whom he’s drawn to by a sense of revenge as much as fascination; and, perhaps most mysteriously, Misaki (Tôko Miura), a plaintive young woman hired by a theater company, against his wishes, to be his chauffeur while he stages Uncle Vanya. Hamaguchi specializes in revelations of the heart, and Drive My Car—a beautiful melding of two distinct authorial sensibilities—consistently steers clear of the familiar in its characters’ journeys toward self-examination. Winner of Best Screenplay at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival.
“The First 54 Years: An Abbreviated Manual for Military Occupation,” Avi Mograbi, 2021, France/Finland/Israel/Germany, 110m, Hebrew and English with English subtitles
It has been 54 years since Israel began its official occupation of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, following the 1967 Six-Day War. That history has been recounted elsewhere, but in his provocative and direct new documentary, Israeli filmmaker Avi Mograbi (Avenge But One of My Two Eyes, NYFF43) very specifically and pointedly asks what are the circumstances, logic, and day-to-day processes that allow the normalization of a military occupation. Though appearing on screen as the narrator, Mograbi cedes the floor to a litany of former soldiers who provide firsthand accounts of Israel’s multi-decade control of the region, expressing in collective incremental fashion how the minutiae of policy can create systematic dehumanization and irrevocable conflict.
“Flee,” Jonas Poher Rasmussen, 2021, Denmark/France/Sweden/Norway, 90m, Danish, English, Russian, Swedish, and Dari with English subtitles
From a young age, Amin’s life has been defined by escape. Forced to leave his home country of Afghanistan with his mother and siblings after the U.S.-supported mujahideen toppled the government, Amin relocated to Russia as an adolescent, only to take part in a dangerous migration to Western Europe as a teenager to break away from the harsh conditions of post-Soviet living. Now that Amin is planning to marry a man he met in his new homeland, Denmark, he begins to look back over his life, opening up about his past, his trauma, the truth about his family, and his acceptance of his own sexuality. Using animation as both an aesthetic choice and an ethical necessity (to hide Amin’s true identity), Danish filmmaker Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s documentary is an illuminating and heartrending true story about the importance of personal freedom in all its meanings. Grand Jury Prize winner in the World Cinema– Documentary section of this year’s Sundance Film Festival. A NEON release.
“France,” Bruno Dumont, 2021, France/Germany/Belgium/Italy, 133m, French with English subtitles, U.S. Premiere
Léa Seydoux brilliantly holds the center of Bruno Dumont’s unexpected, unsettling new film, which starts out as a satire of the contemporary news media before steadily spiraling out into something richer and darker. Never one to shy away from provoking his viewers, Dumont (The Life of Jesus, NYFF35) casts Seydoux as France de Meurs, a seemingly unflappable superstar TV journalist whose career, homelife, and psychological stability are shaken after she carelessly drives into a young delivery man on a busy Paris street. This accident triggers a series of self-reckonings, as well as a strange romance that proves impossible to shake. A film that teases at redemption while refusing to grant absolution, France is tragicomic and deliciously ambivalent—a very 21st-century treatment of the difficulty of maintaining identity in a corrosive culture. A Kino Lorber release.
“Futura,” Dir. Pietro Marcello, Francesco Munzi, Alice Rohrwacher, 2021, Italy, 110m, Italian with English subtitles, U.S. Premiere
Following in the footsteps of a long line of documentarians, a collective of three Italian filmmakers known for their politically acute cinema—Pietro Marcello (Martin Eden), Francesco Munzi (Black Souls), and Alice Rohrwacher (Happy as Lazzaro)—set out to interview a cross-section of their nation’s youth about their hopes, dreams, and fears for the future. With today’s political divisions, socioeconomic unease, overreliance on technology, and global weather crisis, the conversations they foster feel particularly urgent—these 15- to 20-year-olds together ask the implicit question: is there a future at all? At the same time, the intelligence, expressiveness, and foresight evinced by these teenagers in this moving and masterful film kindles a form of hope in itself.
“The Girl and the Spider,” Ramon and Silvan Zürcher, 2021, Switzerland, 98m, German with English subtitles, U.S. Premiere
Everything is in its right place, yet nothing is ever what or where it seems in this alternately droll and melancholy new film from the Zürcher brothers, whose The Strange Little Cat was one of the most striking and original debut features of recent years. Their latest charts a few days in the lives of two young people on the verge of change: Lisa (Liliane Amuat), who is in the process of moving into a new apartment, and her current roommate, Mara (Henriette Confurius), who’s staying behind. Though its setup is simple, the film—and the ambiguous relationship between the women—is anything but. The architectural precision of the filmmaking belies the inchoate longings and desires that appear to course through Lisa and Mara, as well as the various characters who come in and out of their homes. The Girl and the Spider is a minor-key symphony of inscrutable glances and irresolvable tensions. A Cinema Guild release.
“Hit the Road,” Panah Panahi, 2021, Iran, 93m, Persian with English subtitles, U.S. Premiere
The son of acclaimed, embattled Iranian master filmmaker Jafar Panahi, and co-editor of his father’s 3 Faces (NYFF56), makes a striking feature debut with this charming, sharp-witted, and ultimately deeply moving comic drama. Hit the Road takes the tradition of the Iranian road-trip movie and adds unexpected twists and turns. With a tone that’s satisfyingly hard to pin down, Panahi follows a family of four—two middle-aged parents and their two sons, one a taciturn adult, the other a garrulous, hyperactive six-year-old—as they drive across the Iranian countryside. Rather than rely on an episodic structure built around external encounters, Panahi keeps the focus on the psychological dynamics inside the car and at various stops along the way. The result is a film that gradually builds emotional momentum as it reveals the furtive purpose for their journey, and swings from comedy to tragedy en route with dexterity and force.
“In Front of Your Face,” Hong Sangsoo, 2021, South Korea, 85m, Korean with English subtitles, North American Premiere
After years of living abroad, a middle-aged former actress (Lee Hye-young) has returned to South Korea to reconnect with her past and perhaps make amends. Over the course of one day in Seoul, via various encounters—including with her younger sister; a shopkeeper who lives in her converted childhood home; and, finally, a well-known film director with whom she would like to make a comeback—we discover her resentments and regrets, her financial difficulties, and the big secret that’s keeping her aloof from the world. Both beguiling and oddly cleansing in its mix of the spiritual and the cynical, In Front of Your Face finds the endlessly prolific Hong Sangsoo in a particularly contemplative mood; it’s a film that somehow finds that life is at once full of grace and a sick joke. A Cinema Guild release.
“Întregalde,” Radu Muntean, 2021, Romania, 104m, Romanian with English subtitles, U.S. Premiere
In a gripping tale of best intentions gone wrong, leading Romanian filmmaker Radu Muntean (Tuesday, After Christmas, NYFF48) follows a trio of well-meaning aid workers from Bucharest on a food delivery mission to the rural hinterlands of the Întregalde area of Transylvania. Guided off the beaten path by an elderly villager looking for a local sawmill, they find themselves trapped in an unfamiliar, dangerous place and facing the outer limits of their goodwill for each other and for strangers. An inquiry into the contemporary humanitarian impulse that moves like a suspense thriller—but which never quite goes where you expect it to—Muntean’s film knowingly plays off and subverts conventions of both horror films and social realist drama.
“Introduction,” Hong Sangsoo, 2021, South Korea, 66m, Korean with English subtitles, North American Premiere
In the steady yet playful hands of Hong Sangsoo, even the simplest premise can become a puzzle box of unpredictable, poignant human behavior. There could be no better example of his casual mastery than this breezy yet complexly structured study of a group of characters—most crucially parents and their grown offspring—trying to relate to one another via a series of thwarted or stunted meetings and introductions, centered around a young man (Shin Seok-ho) on the cusp of adulthood, confused about his romantic relationships and professional goals. It’s a film that keeps opening up to the viewer through digressions and reversals, leading to one of Hong’s most amusingly unsettling soju-soaked outbursts. A Cinema Guild release.
Tilda Swinton in “Memoria”
“Memoria,” Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2021, Colombia/Thailand/UK/France/Germany/Mexico/Qatar, 136m, English and Spanish with English subtitles, U.S. Premiere
Collective and personal ghosts hover over every frame of Memoria, somehow the grandest yet most becalmed of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s works. Inspired by the Thai director’s own memories and those of people he encountered while traveling across Colombia, the film follows Jessica (a wholly immersed Tilda Swinton), an expat botanist visiting her hospitalized sister in Bogotá; while there, she becomes ever more disturbed by an abyssal sound that haunts her sleepless nights and bleary-eyed days, compelling her to seek help in identifying its origins. Thus begins a personal journey that’s also historical excavation, in a film of profound serenity that, like Jessica’s sound, lodges itself in the viewer’s brain as it traverses city and country, climaxing in an extraordinary extended encounter with a rural farmer that exists on a precipice between life and death. Winner of the Jury Prize at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival. A NEON release.
“Neptune Frost,” Saul Williams and Anisia Uzeyman, 2021, USA/Rwanda, 105m, U.S. Premiere
Multi-hyphenate, multidisciplinary artist Saul Williams brings his unique dynamism to this Afrofuturist vision, a sci-fi punk musical that’s a visually wondrous amalgamation of themes, ideas, and songs that Williams has explored in his work, notably his 2016 album MartyrLoserKing. Co-directed with his partner, the Rwandan-born artist Anisia Uzeyman, the film takes place amidst the hilltops of Burundi, where a collective of computer hackers emerges from within a coltan mining community, a result of the romance between a miner and an intersex runaway. Set between states of being—past and present, dream and waking life, colonized and free, male and female, memory and prescience—Neptune Frost is an invigorating and empowering direct download to the cerebral cortex and a call to reclaim technology for progressive political ends.
“Passing,” Rebecca Hall, 2021, USA, 98m
A cornerstone work of Harlem Renaissance literature, Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel Passing is adapted to the screen with exquisite craft and skill by writer-director Rebecca Hall, who envelops the viewer in a bygone period that remains tragically present. The film’s extraordinary anchors are Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga, meticulous as middle-class Irene and Clare, reacquainted childhood friends whose lives have taken divergent paths. Clare has decided to “pass” as white to maintain her social standing, even hiding her identity from her racist white husband, John (Alexander Skarsgård); Irene, on the other hand, is married to a prominent Black doctor, Brian (André Holland), who is initially horrified at Clare’s choices. As the film progresses, and resentments and latent attractions bristle, Hall creates an increasingly claustrophobic world both constructed and destabilized by racism, identity performance, and sexual frustration, leading to a shocking conclusion. A Netflix release.
“Petite Maman,” Céline Sciamma, 2021, France, 72m, French with English subtitles
Following such singular inquiries into gender as Tomboy, Girlhood, and Portrait of a Lady on Fire (NYFF57), Céline Sciamma proves again that she’s among the most accomplished and unpredictable of all contemporary French filmmakers with the gentle yet richly emotional time-bender Petite Maman. Following the death of her grandmother, 8-year-old Nelly (Joséphine Sanz) accompanies her parents to her mother’s childhood home to begin the difficult process of sorting and removing its cherished objects. While exploring the nearby woods, Nelly encounters a neighbor her own age, with whom she finds she has a remarkable amount in common. Sciamma’s scrupulously constructed jewel uses the most delicate of touches to palpate profound ideas about grief, memory, and the past. A NEON release.
“Prayers for the Stolen,” Tatiana Huezo, 2021, Mexico/Germany/Brazil/Qatar, 110m, Spanish with English subtitles
In a mountainous town in rural Mexico, young Ana lives with her mother, who works in the poppy fields harvesting opium. The region offers natural splendor and small pleasures for Ana and her two best friends, Maria and Paula, yet the area’s inhabitants are gripped by a fear that is for now incomprehensible to the girls: drug cartels rule the countryside, and they regularly kidnap teenage girls for trafficking, leaving their families bereft of hope or closure. In her delicately wrought yet devastating first fiction feature, adapted from the 2014 novel by Jennifer Clement, Tatiana Huezo charts Ana’s growth from childhood to adolescence, steeping viewers in both the lyrical beauty of youth and the creeping terror of adult reality. Huezo’s film features an extraordinary cast of young actors and intimate camerawork by Dariela Ludlow, breathing naturalism into a world of desperation and despair. A Netflix release.
“The Souvenir Part II,” Joanna Hogg, 2021, UK, 108m, North American Premiere
Grieving and depleted from the tragic end of a relationship with a boyfriend who had suffered from drug addiction, young Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) summons the emotional and creative fortitude to forge ahead as a film student in 1980s London. Continuing the remarkable autobiographical saga she had begun in 2019’s The Souvenir, British director Joanna Hogg (a filmmaker of unceasing visual ingenuity and sociological specificity) fashions a gently meta-cinematic mirror image of part one, cutting to the quick in one surprising, enthralling idea after another. A film about finding one’s artistic inspiration and individuality that avoids every possible cliché, The Souvenir Part II is a bold conclusion to this story of unsentimental education, told with the filmmaker’s inimitable oblique poignancy, and featuring a mesmerizing supporting cast including Tilda Swinton, Harris Dickinson, Ariane Labed, Joe Alwyn, and a scene-stealing Richard Ayoade. An A24 release.
“Titane,” Julia Ducournau, 2021, France, 148m, French with English subtitles, U.S. Premiere
The winner of the 2021 Cannes Film Festival’s prestigious Palme d’Or, Titane is a thrillingly confident vision from Julia Ducournau that deposits the viewer directly into its director’s headspace. Moving with the logic of a dream—and often the force of a nightmare—the film begins as a kind of horror movie, with a series of shocking events perpetrated by Alexia (Agathe Rouselle, in a dynamic and daring breakthrough), a dancer with a titanium plate in her skull following a childhood car accident. However, once Alexia goes into hiding from the police, and is taken in by a grief-stricken firefighter (Vincent Lindon), Ducournau reveals her deployment of genre tropes to be as fluid and destabilizing as her mercurial main character. A feverish, violent, and frequently jaw-dropping ride, Titane nevertheless exposes the beating, fragile heart at its center as it questions our assumptions about gender, family, and love itself. A NEON release.
“Unclenching the Fists,” Kira Kovalenko, 2021, Russia, 97m, Ossetian with English subtitles
In a former mining town in North Ossetia, located in the Caucasus region of Southern Russia, Ada (Milana Aguzarova), a young woman infantilized by her family, chafes at the bonds of her suffocating home life. Traumatized both physically and emotionally by past events, Ada is kept in a state of near-servitude by her controlling father, while her obsessive younger brother leaves her with little breathing room. Her liberated older brother’s return and their father’s sudden illness point the way toward possible escape. A thrilling new talent, and a former student of the great filmmaker Alexander Sokurov, Kira Kovalenko won the Un Certain Regard prize at Cannes for this vivid, concentrated rendering of one woman’s desperate, almost bestial need for survival. A MUBI release.
“The Velvet Underground,” Todd Haynes, 2021, USA, 120m
Given the ingeniously imagined musical worlds of Velvet Goldmine and I’m Not There, it should come as no surprise that Todd Haynes’s documentary about the seminal band The Velvet Underground mirrors its members’ experimentation and formal innovation. Combining contemporary interviews and archival documentation with newscasts, advertisements, and a trove of avant-garde film from the era, Haynes constructs a vibrant cinematic collage that is as much about New York of the ’60s and ’70s as it is about the rise and fall of the group that has been called as influential as the Beatles. Filmed with the cooperation of surviving band members, this multifaceted portrait folds in an array of participants in the creative scene’s cultures and subcultures. Tracing influences and affinities both personal and artistic, Haynes unearths rich detail about Andy Warhol, The Factory, Nico, and others, adding vivid context and texture that never diminish the ultimate enigma of the band’s power. An Apple release.
“Vortex,” Gaspar Noé, 2021, France, 142m, French with English subtitles
Those accustomed to the boundary-pushing cinema of Gaspar Noé may take his latest film as his biggest shocker of all. Finding new depths of tenderness without forgoing the uncompromising fatalism that defines his work, Noé guides us through a handful of dark days in the lives of an elderly couple in Paris: a retired psychiatrist (Françoise Lebrun) and a writer (Dario Argento) working on a book about the intersection of cinema and dreams. Using a split-screen effect, Noé follows them around their cramped apartment, piled high with a lifetime of books and mementos, with two cameras—a bold aesthetic choice that both unites and isolates them. Noé leads the viewer into another downward spiral, but led by the astonishing performances of Lebrun, Argento, and Alex Lutz as their troubled grown son, he has created his most fragile and humane film yet.
“What Do We See When We Look at the Sky?,” Alexandre Koberidze, 2021, Georgia/Germany, 150m, Georgian with English subtitles, North American Premiere
Among contemporary cinema’s most exciting and distinctive new voices, Georgian director Alexandre Koberidze has created an intimate city symphony like no other with his latest film. Beginning as an off-kilter romance in which footballer Giorgi and pharmacist Lisa are brought together on the streets of Kutaisi by chance, only to have their dreams complicated when they become victims of an age-old curse, What Do We See When We Look at the Sky?continues to radically and pleasurably shape-shift. Ultimately it becomes a lovely portrait of an entire urban landscape and the preoccupations—and World Cup obsessions—of the people who live there. Koberidze has made an idiosyncratic epic out of passing glances that feels as free and fulsome as a fairy tale. A MUBI release.
“Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy,” Ryûsuke Hamaguchi, 2021, Japan, 121m, Japanese with English subtitles, U.S. Premiere
In this altogether delightful triptych of stories, Ryûsuke Hamaguchi (director of Asako I & II, NYFF56; and Drive My Car, playing in this year’s festival) again proves he’s one of contemporary cinema’s most agile dramatists of modern love and obsession. Whether charting the surprise revelation of a blossoming love triangle, a young couple’s revenge plot against an older teacher gone awry, or a case of mistaken romantic identity, Hamaguchi details the sudden reversals, power shifts, and role-playing that define relationships new and old. Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy is both ironic and tender, a lively and intricately woven work of imagination that questions whether fate or our own vanities decide our destinies. A Film Movement release.
“The Worst Person in the World,” Joachim Trier, 2021, Norway, 121m, Norwegian with English subtitles, U.S. Premiere
As proven in such exacting stories of lives on the edge as Reprise and Oslo, August 31, Norwegian director Joachim Trier is singularly adept at giving an invigorating modern twist to classically constructed character portraits. Trier catapults the viewer into the world of his most spellbinding protagonist yet: Julie, played by Cannes Best Actress winner Renate Reinsve, who’s the magnetic center of nearly every scene. After dropping out of pre-med, Julie must find new professional and romantic avenues as she navigates her twenties, juggling emotionally heavy relationships with two very different men (Trier regular Anders Danielsen Lie and engaging newcomer Herbert Nordrum). Fluidly told in 12 discrete chapters, Trier’s film elegantly depicts the precarity of identity and the mutability of happiness in our runaway contemporary world. A NEON release.
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