Three highlights from the first week of the 2022 New York Film Festival

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The speed of communication has put the New York Film Festival, whose 60th edition runs from September 30 to October 16, in a strange position. This New York institution, which got its start in 1963, was founded as a so-called festival of festivals; unlike Cannes, Venice and Berlin, it did not specialize in world premieres, but rather served as a curated anthology of films premiering at other festivals. Early on, good reviews and buzz from New York Film Festival screenings often led to films being selected for American distribution. But, now the news is spreading fast – film reviews and reports from these European festivals, as well as from Toronto, Telluride and others around the world, have become commonplace in the American film press and are widely available in line. Now many, if not most, of the films on the main New York slate will already have a cast in place and will often piggyback on the ballyhoo festival for release just days or weeks after its screenings at the New York Film Festival. . That’s not a bad thing, but it reverses the original equation: instead of serving as a showcase, the NYFF becomes part of the publicity for an already planned release. What was once an urgent place to see movies lest they won’t be seen elsewhere anytime soon now often feels like a mere preview.

Of course, the change in the business doesn’t make the movies themselves any less exciting, but it does change the core priorities. In this year’s festival press screenings, I’ve seen wonderful films coming out so early (like Hong Sangsoo’s “The Novelist’s Film”) that I will write about them then; others, in a similar handy version, are lower priority for festival screenings. The priorities are for a handful of extraordinary films due out later this year, sometime next year, or at any time yet. Among others, I mentioned “Descendant” (October 1-2 and 6) during its screening at Sundance, and the short films “The Potemkinists” (October 1) and “Lesser Choices” (October 8-9) in the magazine. In addition, one of the biggest films of this year’s festival – the one that also starred in the 1973 edition – is Jean Eustache’s “La mère et la putain”, which will be released on October 5 and 6 in a new long-awaited restoration that needs to be restored. separate and thorough examination. What remains exciting from the first week of the festival is a trio of films that share provocative approaches to the cinematic representation of fact – three radical varieties of epistemic cinema.

“Saint-Omer”

In criminal trials in France, defendants face direct questioning by judges and prosecutors. As a result, the French events are less like American-style chess games than terrifying, brutally thrilling bullfights. I have long recommended Raymond Depardon’s documentary “Tenth Tribunal” to show how the system works, but I had never seen a great French legal drama until now, with Alice Diop’s first feature film, “Saint Omer” (October 3 – 4th and 9th). He introduces his legal battle with detour, Henry James-ian inspiration. Diop’s protagonist, Rama (Kayije Kagame), a young black woman, is a novelist and professor of literature who is currently teaching a course on Marguerite Duras’ transformations of real material – and attempting such a transformation herself. In the town of the title, in northern France, a black woman named Laurence Coly (Guslagie Malanda), born in Senegal, is tried for the murder of her fifteen-month-old daughter, and Rama travels there to attend the trial. in order to write a book about it, which she wants to call “Medea Shipwrecked”. Laurence’s interrogations delve into her childhood, her family, her life in Paris, her academic ambitions, her relationship with the father of her child (an elderly, married white man), and her own epistemic relationship to the murder (including in relation to his Senegalese heritage). Meanwhile, Rama is pregnant (her partner is a white man), she has disturbing memories of her own family life, and the trial highlights her own intertwined cultural, intimate, and family conflicts.

The film is based on the life-size trial, in 2016, of Fabienne Kabou, in Saint-Omer, which Diop attended; the screenplay, by Diop, Amrita David and Marie NDiaye, reconstructs the affair with expansive and urgent patience. Alongside the director of photography Claire Mathon, Diop films the audience interrogations with an analytical precision that draws on his documentary experience, with attention to gestures, looks and turns of phrase on which pivot vast displacements of emotion and consciousness. The prosecution’s quarrels are not reduced to soundbites of plot points, but are expanded into powerful dialogues and soliloquies that fill the courtroom and setting with tragic fury – which Malanda unleashes, with ferocious and outspoken determination, in long portrait takes that threaten to tear the screen apart with the intense pressure they concentrate. Yet the emotional power of these high-stakes prayers also challenges the dualism of guilt and innocence, revealing the gap between legal and moral responsibility, between factual and psychological reconstruction, between political ideals and individual identities.

Actor Kwon Haehyo plays guitar in a scene from Hong Sangsoo’s film “Walk Up.”Photo courtesy of the Film Guild

“To go up”

Prolific South Korean filmmaker Hong Sangsoo has two films at this year’s festival (the other, “The Novelist’s Film,” hits theaters Oct. 28). He is an independent filmmaker of an absolute genre – with these two films he is the writer, director, cinematographer, editor and creator of the musical score (rare but significant) and, with the Resulting artistic freedom, he not only creates a personalized film range of characters and themes, but a narrative method all his own. It happens to resemble the imaginative logic of the venerable children’s book “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie”; his films are cinematographic conditionals, realizations of hypotheticals, which he often pursues by alternative paths and divergent routes in the same narrative journey. In “Walk Up” (October 2 and 8), Hong continues these dramatic connections to subtle yet stunning extremes, transforming a neat, cramped building (yes, a walk-up) into a dramatic laboratory to discover what would happen if an acclaimed medium Elderly filmmaker named Byungsoo (Kwon Haehyo) brings his adult daughter, Jeongsu (Park Miso), an aspiring interior designer, to meet his longtime friend, Ms. Kim (Lee Hyeyoung), an interior designer. accomplished insider who lives and works there, looking for advice or even mentorship.

The building turns out to be a hive of personal and professional passions. Father and daughter end up living there, but not at the same time. The leaps into action suggest both vast off-camera shifts in characters’ lives and the flipping of switches in the story’s narrative trail, and Byungsoo’s encounters with other neighbors, including a restaurant owner and a real estate agent, send the drama teetering into the odd angles of its pinball lanes. But what matters above all is the strength of individuality. The story’s leaps forwards, flashbacks, ambiguities, surprises, and contradictions transform the building and premise into a laboratory for Hong’s distinctive and idiosyncratic characters. They all have tempers, challenging each other with intrusive questions and speaking confidently in memorably candid dialogue on intimate and grand topics, such as when Ms. Kim delivers a cautionary riff about the nature of the artistic creation and when Byungsoo, decrying the constraining waste of high-budget films, jealous voices of painters who paint on a daily basis. Hong films these complex dialectical squabbles with extended shots, in incisive and dramatically charged angles, which, in the long reach of their austere authority, dovetail with Byungsoo’s lament to embody a sketch-like manifesto of practical spontaneity. .

French actress Nathalie Boutefeu sits by the sea in a scene from the film ‘Un couple’.Photo courtesy of Zipporah Films

“A couple”

Documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman constructs this medium-length fiction film (October 1-2), lasting only sixty-three minutes but loaded, from documents – the correspondence of Leo and Sophie Tolstoy as well as his diaries – which is a one-man show featuring an extensive cast of off-screen characters. Nathalie Boutefeu plays Sophia, seen walking by day amidst the natural splendors and architectural graces of the family’s waterfront villa and sitting alone inside at night, writing by candlelight and lamps, as she composes the story of her life with the great author, in the form of an open letter to history and a long suppressed reproach. The subtitle could be “It’s a miserable life”. Sophia, who married him at eighteen (he was thirty-four), was shocked when, on their wedding night, he gave her his diary, in which he confessed to his libertine sex life and having fathered a child with a maid by his side. domain. She does not lament her decades of sacrifice for him and what she sees as her only emotional and practical support to the family, but his cruelty, indifference, selfishness and ingratitude – the reduction of their partnership to his subjection. Wiseman, in conjunction with her longtime cinematographer John Davey, films with a keen eye for Sophia’s natural surroundings and its venerable but weather-worn architectural touches (such as stairs, benches and balustrades) and emphasizes his bond with them in his seemingly choreographed walks and sculpted postures.

Wiseman, who lives in Paris, delivers something of the universal confession of a male artist. There is no reason to think that he blames himself but rather blames European artistic culture as a whole, but to do this he also conveys the great audacity to film European artistic culture as such , in one cinematic stroke. Perhaps with the recent death of Jean-Luc Godard, I have his films in mind, but what “Un couple” reminds me most, in style and tone, is Godard’s film ” Nouvelle Vague” (which played at the NYFF in 1990 but never released here), in which a couple (Alain Delon and Domiziana Giordano) play out their power struggles, and the large-scale historical conflicts of money and art , on a sumptuous lakeside estate, in a dialogue composed largely of quotations and literary references. Wiseman’s film tackles these themes and tones with a documentarian’s concentrated focus on a person giving voice to their experience. Where Godard foregrounds the voices of history through the iconographic composition of his highly symbolic figures, Wiseman restores the unique voice of a single historical figure and, in doing so, makes it symbolic, emblematic, iconic. ♦

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