The 60th New York Film Festival opened Friday night, with the North American premiere of “White Noise,” Noah Baumbach’s adaptation of Don Delillo’s 1985 darkly-humorous novel of a consumerist society confronting an environmental disaster.
This year’s edition, showcasing 120 films from 40 countries, features premieres starring Cate Blanchett, Woody Harrelson, Anne Hathaway, Tilda Swinton, Timothée Chalamet, Sigourney Weaver, Claire Foy, Vicky Krieps, and Michelle Williams. Among the noted directors whose works are on display are Martin Scorsese (the David Johansen music documentary “Personality Crisis: One Night Only”), James Gray (“Armageddon Time”), Luca Guadagnino (“Bones and All”), Kelly Reichardt (“Showing Up”), Sarah Polley (“Women Talking”), Claire Denis (“Stars at Noon”), and James Ivory (“A Cooler Climate”). In a major switch, veteran documentarian Frederick Wiseman, known for his hours-long, fly-on-the-wall observational films (such as “High School,” “Central Park,” “National Gallery” and “City Hall”) is represented by his first fiction film, “A Couple,” featuring actor Nathalie Boutefeu as Sophia Tolstoy, wife of writer Leo Tolstoy. And it’s only 63 minutes long.
New York represents one of the best curated showcases for international cinema, as it contains award-winners from Cannes (“Triangle of Sadness,” “Corsage,” “Decision to Leave,” “Stars at Noon,” “Eo”), Berlin (“Alcarràs,” “The Novelist’s Film” ), and Venice (“All the Beauty and the Bloodshed,” “Tár,” “Saint Omer,” “Bones and All”), as well as highlights from Sundance (the Indian documentary “All That Breathes” about brothers who nurture back to health birds of prey).
The festival’s Spotlight screenings include the world premiere of “She Said,” Maria Schrader’s dramatization of the investigation by New York Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey (Zoe Kazan and Carey Mulligan) into the sexual misconduct that sparked the #MeToo movement (Oct. 13, 14, 15); Chris Smith’s “Sr.,” a portrait of filmmaker Robert Downey Sr. (Oct. 10, 11); Sarah Polley’s “Women Talking,” in which women respond to sexual assault in a remote religious community (Oct. 10, 11, 16); “Till,” Chinonye Chukwu’s drama of Mamie Till-Mobley, mother of lynching victim Emmett Till (Oct. 1, 2, 6); “Is That Black Enough for You?!?,” critic Elvis Mitchell’s examination of African American representation in cinema in the 1970s (Oct. 9, 10, 13); and Lars von Trier’s “The Kingdom Exodus,” a continuation of his series of surreal tales set in a haunted hospital (Oct. 8).
The 50th anniversary of Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky’s science fiction classic “Solaris” will be marked by a screening accompanied by a live performance of a newly-created score by Matthew Nolan and Stephen Shannon (Oct. 12).
Revivals include the 1964 “Black God, White Devil” by Brazilian Glauber Rocha (Oct. 1, 10); Jacques Tourneur’s 1946 Technicolor Western “Canyon Passage” (Oct. 2, 4); and a restoration of Jean Eustache’s 1973 “The Mother and the Whore” (Oct. 5, 6).
And in tribute to festival favorite Jean-Luc Godard, who died September 13, his 2018 film “The Image Book” will be presented free and on a loop October 1-7.
Free talks feature “White Noise” director Noah Baumbach (October 1); “Master Gardener” director Paul Schrader (October 2); Cauleen Smith, whose 1998 indie film “Drylongso” is among the festival’s revival screenings (October 2); photographer-artist Nan Goldin, subject of the documentary “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” (October 8); Korean director Park Chan-wook, of “Decision to Leave” (October 9), and French writer Annie Ernaux, of “The Super 8 Years” (Oct. 11).
The festival runs through October 16 at Lincoln Center, and at partner venues in Staten Island (Alamo Drafthouse), Brooklyn (BAM), the Bronx (Bronx Museum of the Arts), Harlem (Maysles Documentary Center), and Queens (Museum of the Moving Image).
Of the festival entries screened at press time, here are a few highlights. (More reviews will be published as the festival continues.)
Don DeLillo’s 1985 novel about 20th century consumerism, academia, societal paranoia and an “airborne toxic event” had been considered unfilmable, with its shifting tones, ironic dialogue and sprawling plot. In his adaptation, director Noah Baumbach (“The Squid and the Whale,” “Frances Ha”) replicates the book’s mix of tones – from busy family situation comedy to mordant satire of academia to disaster film to murder (?) mystery – and preserves much of the dialogue, suffusing it with the characters’ existential dread, set against brightly colored and fully stocked supermarket aisles.
Adam Driver stars as Jack Gladney, a professor of Hitler studies at an Ohio college, whose comfortably chaotic family life, and a marriage suffused with an inchoate fear of impending death, is interrupted with a very real fear of impending death after a toxic chemical spill forces the evacuation of their town. Suddenly, his academic interest in mass psychosis, as exemplified by Nazi rallies, is more than just an intellectual exercise – as is his propensity for violence, and belief in the solidity of his marriage.
Driver and Greta Gerwig as his wife, Babbette, do a terrific job of breathing life into the couple, and marshalling their blended family of four children through disaster, while Baumbach definitely proves the novel is filmable, and (curiously) timely. And do not leave before the end credits are over, unless you don’t want to watch extravagant musical numbers staged in a supermarket set to LCD Soundsystem (and why wouldn’t you?). 136 mins. (Also screens October 15; opens in theaters November 25, before streaming on Netflix December 30. A Netflix release.)
To watch a trailer for “White Noise,” click on the video player below
Cate Blanchett won best actress at the Venice Film Festival for her riveting and at times grueling performance as Lydia Tár, a celebrated Berlin orchestra conductor whose professional success (cresting with her rehearsals for a cycle of Mahler recordings) and marriage to Sharon (Nina Hoss) are jeopardized by a cancel culture fueled by social media. The favoritism Lydia employs when it comes to pretty young musicians, and the bitchiness with which she addresses music students, come back to haunt her as allegations of abuse threaten to undermine her carefully-crafted image of a classical music icon.
Blanchett’s physically demanding performance showcases her dedication to detail (she studied both conducting and German to lead the Berlin players, and their performances of Mahler’s Fifth are genuinely rousing), but it’s when she is at her most quiet, and self-absorbed, that her Lydia reveals herself to be a psychologically brittle woman who slowly paints herself into a corner. Hoss (known for such films as “Barbara” and “Phoenix” and the TV series “Homeland”) is sensational as the supportive but fragile spouse whose fortitude and forgiveness are, finally, faced with a breaking point. Written and directed by Todd Field. who has been sadly absent from screens since the 2006 adultery drama “Little Children.” 157 mins. (October 3, 4; opens in theaters October 7. Released by Focus Features.)
To watch a trailer for “Tár,” click on the video player below
A true “voyage of the damned,” Ruben Östlund’s Palme D’Or winner at Cannes this year (the Swedish director’s first English-language film) is an acidic satire in which a yacht cruise full of uber-wealthy passengers (as well as a freeloading social media influencer and her snapshot-taking lover), and their desperate-to-please crew members, are tossed about by stormy seas and armed pirates. The result? A lot of rich people subjected to increasingly dodgy stomachs, and a band of castaways on a deserted island being forced to rewrite the social hierarchies in ways that are liberating and humiliating. The game cast features Woody Harrelson as a Marx-spouting captain; Harris Dickinson and Charlbi Dean as a young couple whose conflict over money and gender roles is sidelined by the requisites of survival; Vicki Berlin as the officious chief steward; and Dolly De Leon as a lowly crew member who suddenly finds herself at the top of the heap.
Östlund hit a home run with his 2014 film “Force Majeure,” in which a man is forced to revise his image of himself as a protective husband and father after he runs panicked from an oncoming avalanche. “Triangle of Sadness” is his blackly-humorous triple, with the runner desperately sliding into home plate. Whether he dodges the throw will depend on the umpire’s tolerance for projectile vomiting. 145 mins. (October 1, 2, 3; opens in theaters October 7. Released by Neon.)
To watch a trailer for “Triangle of Sadness” click on the video player below:
Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook (“Oldboy”) earned his best director award at Cannes for this policer that seems born of film noir. The apparent suicide of an older man, and his younger wife who curiously seems not all that broken up about it, stir suspicion on the part of police detective Hae-joon (Park Hae-il). He can’t quite let go of the case – nor can he ignore the widow, a Chinese national, Seo-rae (Tang Wei), who gets under his skin in a way the married detective can’t ignore.
Despite some injections of humor to remind us of the common drudgery of most police work, the film is a delicate and emotionally charged character study of a man for whom resolutions seem always out of reach, that delves deeply into the moral dilemma that Hae-joon must grapple with as he is drawn closer and closer to a woman who may have killed – and who may kill again. Korean and Chinese with English subtitles. 138 mins. (October 8, 9; opens in theaters October 14. A MUBI release.)
To watch a trailer for “Decision to Leave” click on the video player below: