The Girl and the Spider, Dir. Ramon and Silvan Zürcher
Hit the Road (Jadde Khaki), Dir. Panah Panahi
In Front of Your Face, Dir. Hong Sangsoo
Întregalde, Dir. Radu Muntean
Introduction, Dir. Hong Sangsoo
Memoria, Dir. Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Neptune Frost, Dir. Saul Williams, Anisia Uzeyman
Passing, Dir. Rebecca Hall
Petite Maman, Dir. Céline Sciamma
Prayers for the Stolen, Dir. Tatiana Huezo
The Souvenir Part II, Dir. Joanna Hogg
Titane, Dir. Julia Ducournau
Unclenching the Fists, Dir. Kira Kovalenko
The Velvet Underground, Dir. Todd Haynes
Vortex, Dir. Gaspar Noé
What Do We See When We Look at the Sky, Dir. Alexandre Koberidze
Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy, Dir. Ryûsuke Hamaguchi
The Worst Person in the World, Dir. Joachim Trier
Updated health and safety policies announced, including proof of vaccination requirement for
primarily in-person festival
The 59th New York Film Festival Main Slate – Part 2
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 ofacclaimed, 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 addsunexpected twists and turns. With a tone that’s satisfyingly hard to pin down, Panahi follows afamily of four—two middle-aged parents and their two sons, one a taciturn adult, the other agarrulous, hyperactive six-year-old—as they drive across the Iranian countryside. Rather than relyon an episodic structure built around external encounters, Panahi keeps the focus on thepsychological dynamics inside the car and at various stops along the way. The result is a film thatgradually builds emotional momentum as it reveals the furtive purpose for their journey, and swingsfrom comedy to tragedy en route with dexterity and force.
In Front of Your Face, Hong Sangsoo, 2021, South Korea, 85m Korean with English subtitles NorthAmerican Premiere After years of living abroad, a middle-aged former actress (Lee Hye-young) hasreturned 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 inher converted childhood home; and, finally, a well-known film director with whom she would like tomake a comeback—we discover her resentments and regrets, her financial difficulties, and the bigsecret that’s keeping her aloof from the world. Both beguiling and oddly cleansing in its mix of thespiritual and the cynical, In Front of Your Face finds the endlessly prolific Hong Sangsoo in aparticularly 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 orstunted meetings and introductions, centered around a young man (Shin Seok-ho) on the cusp ofadulthood, confused about his romantic relationships and professional goals. It’s a film that keepsopening up to the viewer through digressions and reversals, leading to one of Hong’s most amusinglyunsettling soju-soaked outbursts. A Cinema Guild release.
Memoria, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2021, Colombia/Thailand/UK/France/Germany/Mexico/Qatar, 136mEnglish and Spanish with English subtitles U.S. Premiere Collective and personal ghosts hover overevery 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 travelingacross Colombia, the film follows Jessica (a wholly immersed Tilda Swinton), an expat botanistvisiting her hospitalized sister in Bogotá; while there, she becomes ever more disturbed by anabyssal sound that haunts her sleepless nights and bleary-eyed days, compelling her to seek help inidentifying its origins.
Thus begins a personal journey that’s also historical excavation, in a filmof profound serenity that, like Jessica’s sound, lodges itself in the viewer’s brain as it traversescity and country, climaxing in an extraordinary extended encounter with a rural farmer that existson a precipice between life and death. Winner of the Jury Prize at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival. ANEON release.
Neptune Frost, Saul Williams and Anisia Uzeyman, 2021, USA/Rwanda, 105m U.S. PremiereMulti-hyphenate, multidisciplinary artist Saul Williams brings his unique dynamism to thisAfrofuturist 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 amidstthe hilltops of Burundi, where a collective of computer hackers emerges from within a coltan miningcommunity, a result of the romance between a miner and an intersex runaway. Set between states ofbeing—past and present, dream and waking life, colonized and free, male and female, memory andprescience—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
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
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.
WORD Editor Gregg W. Morris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com