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« Happy Birthday, Jane Krakowski! | Main | Months of Meryl: Julie & Julia (2009) »
Thursday
Oct112018

NYFF: Five Favorite Performances at the Festival

As the New York Film Festival winds down, here's Murtada Elfadl with some of his favorite performances from the movies he's screened.

Sakura Ando in Shoplifters
Shoplifters, Japan's Oscar submission, is about familial bonds that unite with love and real connection rather than blood. Ando plays Nobuyo, the matriarchal figure in this family of outsiders. Her character is the wisest, always knows more than the other characters in any situation. She’s in charge emotionally and that needs an actor who's restrained yet immediate and easy with feelings. She always has the emotional truth in the scene whether her character is having a tender moment with a lover, or facing up to ignorant authority.

Ando shines everytime she’s on screen, yet there’s one moment that is forever marked in my memory...

Watch her as Nobuyo hugs Lin, the youngest and latest addition to the family, explaining to her in the kindest words what love means. I could hear the sobbing all around me in the theater. Not all affecting work has to elicit tears, but for a movie that wears its heart on its sleeve and whose characters openly seek connection, those tears felt earned as a benediction to Ando’s marvelous performance.

Nora Hamzawi in Non Fiction
Oliver Assayas' Non Fiction is a collection of conversations between a handful of characters about life, love, technology, books and sex. Hamzawi plays a passionate political operative who is married to the writer at the center of the film’s comedy of extra-marital affairs. She charges into every scene with a force of conviction. Whether she’s angry or happy or exasperated with her husband, we believe her and can’t tear our eyes away from her. The film relies on its ensemble being together in group scenes yet sometimes separates them into one on one scenes. Hamzawi is the constant high mark of the scenes she’s in, whether with many other actors or just one. Not an easy task when Juliette Binoche is part of the ensemble. Her presence in so indelible that when she’s not in a scene, the film suffers. Suffering even more are the one or two actors she doesn’t share any scenes with. They don’t stand a chance, I just kept thinking “You are not Nora, bring Nora back!"

Colman Domingo in If Beale Street Could Talk
Regina King is getting all the buzz and she’s deserving of it and more. Yet Colman Domingo complements her in their family scenes as the parents of the lead Tish (Kiki Layne). He’s so warm that looking at his face while he looks at his daughter, we understand why she’s able to soldier on despite insurmountable obstacles. She’s grown up in a house of love. Later on in the film, Domingo gets a short monologue about how black men provide for their families in an unjust society that always wants them gone whether by death or incarceration. He delivers it matter of fact, understated yet with compassionate meaning. He’s beyond anger, beyond resignation, he’s just doing what needs to be done. And he’s funny too, his delivery rings the biggest laugh in the film.

Franz Rogowski in Transit
How does an actor play a ghost? A shadow of a man, yet put him front and center. Franz Rogowski found a way. Rogowski plays a hollowed-out European refugee who has escaped from two concentration camps, assuming the identity of a dead novelist whose papers he is carrying as he tries to escape to safety. We are never sure of his allegiances. Whether he’s professing his love to a fellow refugee or playing soccer with a young orphan, we question his motives despite his tender mannerisms. Rogawski's posture and hollowed eyes aided by makeup and lighting, give us the impression of a man withered in a world of crisis. It’s a quiet performance that fills the screen with grandeur, thanks to the physicality and commitment of the actor.

Agyness Deyn in Her Smell
Deyn is the sobering and grounding counter balance to Elizabeth Moss’ big performance- which is exhausting and alienating by design. Deyn plays Marielle, Moss’ rocker bandmate and confidante. She is also the disciplined mature presence as Moss’ Becky Something spirals into loud self destructive behavior. In scenes when Moss was going big I was searching for Deyn to know how to react, in scenes where Moss was understated and seeking forgiveness I was looking for her to see if she’ll forgive. Deyn gets the mannerisms and physicality of a musician, we know she can play the guitar, and rock down with the best of them. And not just because she’s styled like Chrissie Hynde.

For more NYFF coverage, click here
More from Murtada here

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Reader Comments (13)

Could not agree more with each of these! Would add in Zhao Tao for "Ash..." She and Ando both took my breath away with their performances. More than once.

October 11, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJes V.

Jes - couldn't agree more about Zhao Tao. i wrote about her in my review of Ash is Purest White.

October 11, 2018 | Unregistered Commentermurtada

Love this shutout to Ando (in general I thought the entire cast of Shoplifters was outstanding, Kairi Jo was the other big one for me alongside Ando) and Rogowski. Both highlights so far this year.

Others that I really enjoyed thus far that haven't gotten as much attention are Pierre Deladonchamps in Sorry Angel, Masahiro Higashide in Asako I & II, Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir. in Woman at War and Alba Rohrwacher in Happy as Lazzaro. Plus the three performances in Burning, all of which blew me away.

I'm catching Non-Fiction in a few hours, looking forward to it!

October 11, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAlexD

totally agree with you on sakura and nora! both flawless!!

October 11, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterPHIL

@AlexD - LOVED both Deladonchamps and Lacoste in Sorry Angel, my personal favorite film of the entire festival.

Re Burning: I was also impressed by the lead performances but, from what I've heard from Korean friends, Yeun's accent was distractingly bad. Also Yoo Ah-in is apparently well-known to be a shamelessly misogynistic closet case, so, there's that.

October 11, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJes V.

For others who have seen the film, would you see Sakura Ando as Lead or Supporting in Shoplifters?

My initial instinct was lead, but I've seen her on someone else's Supporting ballot since then and I want to know where others sit.

October 11, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDuncan Dykes

Duncan Dykes - I thought of her as lead.

October 11, 2018 | Registered CommenterMurtada Elfadl

Jes V -- why would his accent be bad? Did they object to him sounding too American (since he was raised in the States rather than Korea)? I'm not sure why that would be an issue since all indications are the character is the globe-trotting type.

October 11, 2018 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Oh my god Yes Yes Yes re Sakura Ando - performance of the year for me. She's operating on Huppert-level genius in that (great, great, great, stunning) film.

@Nathaniel - I think the character was meant to be a globetrotter but still born and for the most part raised in Seoul. I assume someone like that would sound very different from someone who was born and grew up in USA to Korean parents but was never completely fluent in his parents' language. Not to mention dialect variations and what they reveal about class background - eg. most migrants are of very working-class/peasant background, and sound very different from wealthy youth living in contemporary Gangnam.

But all of this is me theorising purely in terms of language patterns I've noticed among other migrant communities. I myself don't speak a word of Korean. ...Perhaps not coincidentally, I also loved Burning - even if not quite as much as all those critics in Cannes.

October 11, 2018 | Unregistered Commentergoran

Ando was TRULY sublime in Shoplifters. Can't wait to see Zhao Tao again after her magnificent turn in Mountains May Depart.

October 11, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJans

I haven't seen Shoplifters but my tears start to fall just reading yo insightful description 😢

Let's hope Shoplifters get selected by Oscars (I know Roma has the win in the bag for best foreign pic), and Ando n Zhao Tao will win best actress at the Japan Film Award n Taiwan Golden Horse Award, respectively.🙏

October 11, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterClaran

So so so so so with you on Nora. LOVED her.

October 12, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDavid S.

Thanks for the compliment, Claran.

October 13, 2018 | Registered CommenterMurtada Elfadl

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