Last Flag Flying
Dir. Richard Linklater, USA, 2017, 119m
In Richard Linklater’s lyrical road movie, as funny as it is heartbreaking, three aging Vietnam-era Navy vets—soft-spoken Doc (Steve Carell), unhinged and unfiltered Sal (Bryan Cranston), and quietly measured Mueller (Laurence Fishburne)—reunite to perform a sacred task: the proper burial of Doc’s only child, who has been killed in the early days of the Iraq invasion. As this trio of old friends makes its way up the Eastern seaboard, Linklater gives us a rich rendering of friendship, a grand mosaic of common life in the USA during the Bush era, and a striking meditation on the passage of time and the nature of truth. To put it simply, Last Flag Flying is a great movie from one of America’s finest filmmakers. An Amazon Studios release.
Dir. Todd Haynes, USA, 2017, 117m
In 1977, following the death of his single mother, Ben (Oakes Fegley) loses his hearing in a freak accident and makes his way from Minnesota to New York, hoping to learn about the father he has never met. A half-century earlier, another deaf 12-year-old, Rose (Millicent Simmonds), flees her restrictive Hoboken home, captivated by the bustle and romance of the nearby big city. Each of these parallel adventures, unfolding largely without dialogue, is an exuberant love letter to a different bygone era of New York. The mystery of how they ultimately converge, which involves Julianne Moore in a lovely dual role, provides the film’s emotional core. Adapted from a young-adult novel by Hugo author Brian Selznick, Wonderstruck is an all-ages enchantment, entirely true to director Todd Haynes’s sensibility: an intelligent, deeply personal, and lovingly intricate tribute to the power of obsession. An Amazon Studios release.
Dir. Woody Allen, USA, 2017
In a career spanning 50 years and almost as many features, Woody Allen has periodically refined, reinvented, and redefined the terms of his art, and that’s exactly what he does with his daring new film. We’re in Coney Island in the 1950s. A lifeguard (Justin Timberlake) tells us a story that just might be filtered through his vivid imagination: a middle-aged carousel operator (Jim Belushi) and his beleaguered wife (Kate Winslet), who eke out a living on the boardwalk, are visited by his estranged daughter (Juno Temple)—a situation from which layer upon layer of all-too-human complications develop. Allen and his cinematographer, the great Vittorio Storaro, working with a remarkable cast led by Winslet in a startlingly brave, powerhouse performance, have created a bracing and truly surprising movie experience. An Amazon Studios release.
Before We Vanish
Dir. Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Japan, 2017, 129m
The latest from master of art-horror Kiyoshi Kurosawa is perhaps his most mainstream film yet, a throwback to 1980s sci-fi. An advance crew of three aliens journey to Earth in preparation for a complete takeover of the planet. They snatch not only bodies but memories, beliefs, values—everything that defines their conquests as human—leaving only hollow shells, which are all but unrecognizable to their loved ones. This disturbing parable for our present moment, replete with stunning images—including a drone attack and a bit of Clockwork Orange–style murder and mayhem—is also a profoundly mystical affirmation of love as the only form of resistance and salvation. A NEON release.
BPM (Beats Per Minute)/120 battements par minute
Dir. Robin Campillo, France, 2017, 144m
In the early 1990s, ACT UP—in France, as in the U.S.—was on the front lines of AIDS activism. Its members, mostly gay, HIV-positive men, stormed drug company and government offices in “Silence=Death” T-shirts, facing down complacent suits with the urgency of their struggle for life. Robin Campillo (Eastern Boys) depicts their comradeship and tenacity in waking up the world to the disease that was killing them and movingly dramatizes the persistence of passionate love affairs even in dire circumstances. All the actors, many of them unknown, are splendid in this film, which not only celebrates the courage of ACT UP but also tacitly provides a model of resistance to the forces of destruction running rampant today. A release of The Orchard.
Bright Sunshine In/Un beau soleil intérieur
Dir. Claire Denis, France, 2017, 95m
North American Premiere
Juliette Binoche is both incandescent and emotionally raw in Claire Denis’s extraordinary new film as Isabelle, a middle-aged Parisian artist in search of definitive love. The film moves elliptically, as though set to some mysterious bio-rhythm, from one romantic/emotional attachment to another: from the boorish married lover (Xavier Beauvois); to the subtly histrionic actor (Nicolas Duvauchelle), also married; to the dreamboat hairdresser (Paul Blain); to the gentle man (Alex Descas) not quite ready for commitment to . . . a mysterious fortune-teller. Appropriately enough, Bright Sunshine In (very loosely inspired by Roland Barthes’s A Lover’s Discourse) feels like it’s been lit from within; it was lit from without by Denis’s longtime cinematographer Agnès Godard. It is also very funny. A Sundance Selects release.
Call Me by Your Name
Dir. Luca Guadagnino, Italy/France, 2017, 132m
A story of summer love unlike any other, the sensual new film from the director of I Am Love, set in 1983, charts the slowly ripening romance between Elio (Timothée Chalamet), an American teen on the verge of discovering himself, and Oliver (Armie Hammer), the handsome older grad student whom his professor father (Michael Stuhlbarg) has invited to their vacation home in Northern Italy. Adapted from the wistful novel by André Aciman, Call Me by Your Name is Guadagnino’s most exquisitely rendered, visually restrained film, capturing with eloquence the confusion and longing of youth, anchored by a remarkable, star-making performance by Chalamet, always a nervy bundle of swagger and insecurity, contrasting with Hammer’s stoicism. A Sony Pictures Classics release.
The Day After
Dir. Hong Sang-soo, South Korea, 2017, 92m
Hong continues in the openly emotional register of his On the Beach at Night Alone, also showing in this year’s Main Slate. Shot in moody black and white, The Day After opens with book publisher Bongwan (Kwon Hae-hyo) fending off his wife’s heated accusations of infidelity. At the office, it’s the first day for his new assistant, Areum (Kim Min-hee), whose predecessor was Bongwan’s lover. Mistaken identity, repetition compulsion, and déjà vu figure into the narrative as the film entangles its characters across multiple timelines through an intricate geometry of desire, suspicion, and betrayal. The end result is one of Hong’s most plaintive and philosophical works.
Faces Places/Visages villages
Dir. Agnès Varda & JR, France, 2016, 89m
The 88-year-old Agnès Varda teamed up with the 33-year-old visual artist JR for this tour of rural France that follows in the footsteps of Varda’s groundbreaking documentary The Gleaners and I (NYFF 2000) in its celebration of artisanal production, workers’ solidarity, and the photographic arts in the face of mortality. Varda and JR wielded cameras themselves, but they were also documented in their travels by multiple image and sound recordists. Out of this often spontaneous jumble, Varda and her editor Maxime Pozzi-Garcia created an unassuming masterpiece (the winner of this year’s L’Oeil d’or at Cannes) that is vivid, lyrical, and inspiringly humanistic. A Cohen Media Group release.
Dir. Alain Gomis, France/Senegal/Belgium/Germany/Lebanon, 2017, 124m
The new film from Alain Gomis, a French director of Guinea-Bissauan and Senegalese descent, is largely set in the roughest areas of the rough city of Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Here, a woman named Félicité (Véro Tshanda Beya Mputu) scrapes together a living as a singer in a makeshift bar (her accompanists are played by members of the Kasai Allstars band). When her son is seriously injured in an accident, she goes in search of money for his medical care and embarks on a double journey: through the punishing outer world of the city and the inner world of the soul. Félicité is tough, tender, lyrical, mysterious, funny, and terrifying, both responsive to the moment and fixed on its heroine’s spiritual progress. A Strand Releasing release.
The Florida Project
Dir. Sean Baker, USA, 2017, 105m
A six-year-old girl (the remarkable Brooklynn Prince) and her two best friends run wild on the grounds of a week-by-week motel complex on the edge of Orlando’s Disney World. Meanwhile, her mother (talented novice Bria Vinaite) desperately tries to cajole the motel manager (an ever-surprising Willem Dafoe) to turn a blind eye to the way she pays the rent. A film about but not for kids, Baker’s depiction of childhood on the margins has fierce energy, tenderness, and great beauty. After the ingenuity of his iPhone-shot 2015 breakout Tangerine, Baker reasserts his commitment to 35mm film with sun-blasted images that evoke a young girl’s vision of adventure and endurance beyond heartbreak. An A24 release.
Ismael’s Ghosts/Les fantômes d’Ismaël
Dir. Arnaud Desplechin, France, 2017, 132m
North American Premiere
Phantoms swirl around Ismael (Mathieu Amalric), a filmmaker in the throes of writing a spy thriller based on the unlikely escapades of his brother, Ivan Dedalus (Louis Garrel). His only true source of stability, his relationship with Sylvia (Charlotte Gainsbourg), is upended, as is the life of his Jewish documentarian mentor and father-in-law (László Szabó), when Ismael’s wife Carlotta (Marion Cotillard), who disappeared twenty years earlier, returns, and, like one of Hitchcock’s fragile, delusional femmes fatales, expects that her husband and father are still in thrall to her. A brilliant shape-shifter—part farce, part melodrama—Ismael’s Ghosts is finally about the process of creating a work of art and all the madness required. A Magnolia Pictures release.
Dir. Greta Gerwig, USA, 2017, 93m
Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut is a portrait of an artistically inclined young woman (Saoirse Ronan) trying to define herself in the shadow of her mother (Laurie Metcalf) and searching for an escape route from her hometown of Sacramento. Moods are layered upon moods at the furious pace of late adolescence in this lovely and loving film, which shifts deftly from one emotional and comic register to the next. Lady Bird is rich in invention and incident, and it is powered by Ronan, one of the finest actors in movies. With Lucas Hedges and Timothée Chalamet as the men in Lady Bird’s life, Beanie Feldstein as her best friend, and Tracy Letts as her dad. An A24 release.
Lover for a Day/L’Amant d’un jour
Dir. Philippe Garrel, France, 2017, 76m
North American Premiere
Lover for a Day is an exquisite meditation on love and fidelity that recalls Garrel’s previous NYFF selections Jealousy (NYFF 2013) and In the Shadow of Women (NYFF 2015). After a painful breakup, heartbroken Jeanne (Esther Garrel) moves back in with her university professor father, Gilles (Eric Caravaca), to discover that he is living with optimistic, life-loving student Ariane (newcomer Louise Chevillotte), who is the same age as Jeanne. An unusual triangular relationship emerges as both girls seek the favor of Gilles, as daughter or lover, while developing their own friendship, finding common ground despite their differences. Gorgeously shot in grainy black and white by Renato Berta (Au revoir les enfants), Lover for a Day perfectly illustrates Garrel’s poetic exploration of relationships and desire. A MUBI release.
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
Dir. Noah Baumbach, USA, 2017, 110m
North American Premiere
Noah Baumbach revisits the terrain of family vanities and warring attachments that he began exploring with The Squid and the Whale in this intricately plotted story of three middle-aged siblings (Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, and Elizabeth Marvel) coping with their strong-willed father (Dustin Hoffman) and the flightiness of his wife (Emma Thompson). Baumbach’s film never stops deftly changing gears, from surges of pathos to painful comedy and back again. Needless to say, this lyrical quicksilver comedy is very much a New York experience. A Netflix release.
Mrs. Hyde/Madame Hyde
Dir. Serge Bozon, France, 2017, 95m
North American Premiere
Serge Bozon’s eccentric comedic thriller is loosely based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, with many a twist. Mrs. Géquil (Isabelle Huppert), a timid and rather peculiar physics professor, teaches in a suburban technical high school. Apart from her quiet married life with her gentle stay-at-home husband, she is mocked and despised on a daily basis by pretty much everyone around her—headmaster, colleagues, students. During a dark, stormy night, she is struck by lightning and wakes up a decidedly different person, a newly powerful Mrs. Hyde with mysterious energy and uncontrollable powers. Highlighted by Bozon’s brilliant mise en scène, Isabelle Huppert hypnotizes us again, securing her place as the ultimate queen of the screen.
Dir. Dee Rees, USA, 2017, 134m
Writer/director Dee Rees’s historical epic details daily life and social dynamics in the failing economy of Mississippi during the World War II era. Two families, one white (the landlords) and one black (the sharecroppers), work the same miserable piece of farmland. Out of need and empathy, the mothers of the two families bond as their younger male relatives go off to war and learn that there is a world beyond racial hatred and fear. The flawless ensemble cast includes Carey Mulligan, Mary J. Blige, Garrett Hedlund, Jason Mitchell, Jason Clarke, Rob Morgan, and Jonathan Banks. A Netflix release.
On the Beach at Night Alone
Dir. Hong Sang-soo, South Korea, 2017, 101m
Hong Sang-soo’s movies have always invited autobiographical readings, and his 19th feature is perhaps his most achingly personal film yet, a steel-nerved, clear-eyed response to the tabloid frenzy that erupted in South Korea over his relationship with actress Kim Min-hee. The film begins in Hamburg, where actress Young-hee (played by Kim herself, who won the Best Actress prize at Berlin for this role) is hiding out after the revelation of her affair with a married filmmaker. Back in Korea, a series of encounters shed light on Young-hee’s volatile state, as she slips in and out of melancholic reflection and dreams. Centered on Kim’s astonishingly layered performance, On the Beach at Night Alone is the work of a master mining new emotional depths. A Cinema Guild release.
The Other Side of Hope/Toivon tuolla puolen
Dir. Aki Kaurismäki, Finland, 2017, 98m
Leave it to Aki Kaurismäki (Le Havre, NYFF 2011), peerless master of humanist tragicomedy, to make the first great fiction film about the 21st century migrant crisis. Having escaped bombed-out Aleppo, Syrian refugee Khlaed (Sherwan Haji) seeks asylum in Finland, only to get lost in a maze of functionaries and bureaucracies. Meanwhile, shirt salesman Wikström (Sakari Kuosmanen) leaves his wife, wins big in a poker game, and takes over a restaurant whose deadpan staff he also inherits. These parallel stories dovetail to gently comic and enormously moving effect in Kaurismäki’s politically urgent fable, an object lesson on the value of compassion and hope that remains grounded in a tangible social reality. A Janus Films release.
Dir. Chloé Zhao, USA, 2017, 104m
The hardscrabble economy of America’s rodeo country, where, for some, riding and winning is the only source of pleasure and income, is depicted with exceptional compassion and truth by a filmmaker who is in no way an insider: Zhao was born in Beijing and educated at Mount Holyoke and NYU. Set on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, The Rider is a fiction film that calls on nonprofessional actors to play characters similar to themselves, incorporating their skill sets and experiences. Brady Jandreau is extraordinary as a badly injured former champion rider and horse trainer forced to give up the life he knows and loves. A Sony Pictures Classics release.
Dir. Agnieszka Holland, in cooperation with Kasia Adamik, Poland/Germany/Czech Republic, 2017, 128m
Janina Duszejko (Agnieszka Mandat) is a vigorous former engineer, part-time teacher, and animal activist, living in a near wilderness on the Polish-Czech border, where hunting is the favored year-round sport of the corrupt men who rule the region. When a series of hunters die mysteriously, Janina wonders if the animals are taking revenge, which doesn’t stop the police from coming after her. A brilliant, passionate director, Agnieszka Holland—who like Janina comes from a generation that learned to fight authoritarianism by any means necessary—forges a sprawling, wildly beautiful, emotionally enveloping film that earns its vision of utopia. It’s at once a phantasmagorical murder mystery, a tender, late-blooming love story, and a resistance and rescue thriller.
Dir. Ruben Östlund, Sweden, 2017, 150m
A precisely observed, thoroughly modern comedy of manners, Ruben Östlund’s Palme d’Or–winner revolves around Christian (Claes Bang), a well-heeled contemporary art curator at a Stockholm museum. While preparing his new exhibit—a four-by-four-meter zone designated as a “sanctuary of trust and caring”—Christian falls prey to a pickpocketing scam, which triggers an overzealous response and then a crisis of conscience. Featuring several instant-classic scenes and a vivid supporting cast (Elisabeth Moss, Dominic West, and noted motion-capture actor Terry Notary), The Square is the most ambitious film yet by one of contemporary cinema’s most incisive social satirists, the rare movie to have as many laughs as ideas. A Magnolia Pictures release.
Dir. Joachim Trier, Norway/Sweden/France, 2017, 116m
In the new film from Joachim Trier (Reprise), an adolescent country girl (Eili Harboe) has just moved to the city to begin her university studies, with the internalized religious severity of her quietly domineering mother and father (Ellen Dorrit Petersen and Henrik Rafaelsen) always in mind. When she realizes that she is developing an attraction to her new friend Anja (Okay Kaya), she begins to manifest a terrifying and uncontrollable power that her parents have long feared. To reveal more would be a crime; let’s just say that this fluid, sharply observant, and continually surprising film begins in the key of horror and ends somewhere completely different. A release of The Orchard.
Dir. Valeska Grisebach, Germany and Bulgaria, 2017, 119m
As its title suggests, German director Valeska Grisebach’s first feature in a decade is a supremely intelligent genre update that recognizes the Western as a template on which to draw out eternal human conflicts. In remote rural Bulgaria, a group of German workers are building a water facility. Meinhard (Meinhard Neumann), the reserved newbie in this all-male company, immediately draws the ire of the boorish team leader, not least for his willingness to mingle with the wary locals. Cast with utterly convincing nonprofessional actors, Western is a gripping culture-clash drama, attuned both to old codes of masculinity and new forms of colonialism. A Cinema Guild release.
Dir. Lucrecia Martel, Argentina/Brazil/Spain, 2017, 115m
The great Lucrecia Martel ventures into the realm of historical fiction and makes the genre entirely her own in this adaptation of Antonio di Benedetto’s 1956 classic of Argentinean literature. In the late 18th century, in a far-flung corner of what seems to be Paraguay, the title character, an officer of the Spanish crown (Daniel Giménez Cacho) born in the Americas, waits in vain for a transfer to a more prestigious location. Martel renders Zama’s world—his daily regimen of small humiliations and petty politicking—as both absurd and mysterious, and as he increasingly succumbs to lust and paranoia, subject to a creeping disorientation. Precise yet dreamlike, and thick with atmosphere, Zama is a singular and intoxicating experience, a welcome return from one of contemporary cinema’s truly brilliant minds.
SPOTLIGHT ON DOCUMENTARY
PROJECTIONS (aka VIEWS FROM THE AVANT-GARDE)