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Entries in NYFF (126)

Friday
Sep302016

NYFF: Paterson and The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman's Portrait Photography

Here’s Manuel reporting from the New York Film Festival with two projects on unassuming artists.

Paterson
In Paterson, Adam Driver plays a bus driver named Paterson. He lives in the New Jersey town by the same name and, living up to the town's poetic tradition (it was home to both Allen Ginsberg and William Carlos Williams), jots down verses in between bus shifts.

Jim Jarmusch's latest is just as precious as that description makes it sound and that's before I tell you that it's structured around a week in the life of Paterson, with every day marked by the same routine...

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Thursday
Sep292016

NYFF: Hermia & Helena & Graduation

Bill Curran reporting from the New York Film Festival. Hot takes on two titles...

Hermia and Helena
Matías Piñeiro’s newest Bard-based roundelay belongs to that venerable arthouse tradition, the stranger-here-in-this-town movie. Far from attempting a fully foreign pose, the Argentina-bred but Brooklyn-living Piñeiro is driven by the same impulse found in Hou Hsiao-hsien’s Flight of the Red Balloon and Wim Wender’s 70’s USA road trilogy: flaunt the outsider perspective. When Carmen (Maria Villar) hustles back to Buenos Aires with an unfinished manuscript, Camila (Agustina Muñoz) all but assumes her friend’s spot—not to mention a few dangling relationships—in a literary translation fellowship in New York City. Camila’s choice of text: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, naturally, giving Hermia and Helena license to oscillate between North and South America as if they were different worlds, and to riff on the impermanency of love and self. The trouble with translation and the clash of cultures is also evoked constantly, from the Five Points apartment adjacent from Columbus Park that both Camila and Carmen separately occupy, to the recording of a Scott Joplin ditty; from Camila’s touching first trip to meet her American biological father (filmmaker/critic Dan Sallitt), to the humorously arty avant-short-within-a-film created by Carmen’s secret lover. (This bit falls flat in execution.) Returning to a traditional runtime after a brief but fruitful sojourn into featurette land (The Princess of France, Viola), Piñeiro doubles-down on his fast-established trademarks—a waltzing blocking of actors spitting very fast dialogue, a liberal if still a bit lazy referencing of Shakespeare scenes, a folding-in-on-itself structure, the idea of romance as a transitory state—while giving them a little more room to breathe and take hold. It’s a breezy delight.
 

Cristian Mungiu and his "Graduation" cast earlier this year at Cannes

Graduation
After wrestling, often in real time, with the horrors of abortion and exorcism, the most universally acclaimed of the Romanian New Wave directors, Cristian Mungiu, grapples with another the universally grave topic: college. Specifically, getting into a good one, chief concern of Romeo (Adrian Titieni) and, to a lesser extent, his seemingly ailed wife Magda (Lia Bugnar) for their daughter Eliza (Maria-Victoria Dragus). She is on the verge of a major scholarship to study psychology at Cambridge and escape the blandness of Cluj in northwest Romania, should she pass a major statewide test with near-perfect marks. As plots go, one might expect the catch of a handsome, motorcycle-wielding boyfriend and a growing my-life-to-live defiance from the dotted daughter, and the film delivers there. However, setting the story up with the news of Eliza being sexually assaulted outsider her school comes as a shock, happening off screen and with few concrete details (if only to milk the mystery for two full hours). Romeo, of course, must remain vigilant in securing his daughter’s future, even if that means cashing in on the reverberations of one kind of crime to execute another. Mungiu eyedrops the narrative details, and twists their structural importance, with placid confidence, and continues to possess a rigorous handle on percolating tensions; there’s a sharp point-counterpoint cadence to the driving scenes between Romeo and Eliza, a fine grasp of subtle yet smart visual cues (dogs, windshields and windows, cell phones), and a fundamental distrust of authority, again exemplified by the smarmy calm of Vlad Ivanov. In Graduation, though far less subtle in its ratcheting suspense (and here, superficially in service of a university-entry exam of all things) than his Palme d’Or-winning 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, the drama still manages to take hold early on and remain riveting throughout.  

Wednesday
Sep282016

NYFF - Abacus: Small Enough to Jail

Here's Jason reporting from the New York Film Festival with the latest doc from the director of Hoop Dreams.

At first Abacus: Small Enough to Fail plays like a game of chicken that director Steve James is playing with our sympathies - Bankers, the premiere villains of the 21st century, who might as well come with their own lightning strike and accompanying thunder-crack on the soundtrack, are here our Heroes. You'd be forgiven for spending the first act or so asking yourself, as the drama unfolds - am I really sympathizing with these people?

And James doesn't mess around, aiming straight for our sentimental jugulars...

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Tuesday
Sep272016

NYFF - The Unknown Girl

Here's Manuel reporting from the New York Film Festival with the latest from the Dardenne brothers.

The nameless girl at the center of the Dardenne brothers’ latest film is a black girl who, one Friday night near an expressway in Seraing, Belgium, rings the buzzer of a medical clinic. Doctor Jenny Davin (Adèle Haenel) is both too tired to see yet another patient and too riled up from a disagreement with her intern Julien (Olivier Bonnaud) to let either of them respond to see why anyone would be buzzing at such a late hour. Neither thinks twice of it. “If it’d been an emergency they’d have rung twice,” she rationalizes. But the next day a police officer informs Dr. Davin that the girl has been found dead not too far from the clinic with no ID on her—her image on the clinic’s surveillance system the only clue they have to figure out what may have happened with her...

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Tuesday
Sep272016

Ava DuVernay's "The 13th" Gets A Trailer

NYFF is about to officially kick off this Friday, and one of the festival's biggest question marks is Ava DuVernay's documentary The 13th. The opening night selection explores our current prison-for-profit system's exploitation of African Americans and its ties to the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery except under terms of punishment for crimes. The festival was something of a surprise opener for the fest (and rare doc to do so) and here is our first glimpse of what DuVernay has in store for us:

Expect an expansive and passionate timely critique from one of out most vital filmmakers. What's more is that you won't have to wait much time past its debut to see it if you're not lucky enough to attend - Netflix will make the film available to stream October 7 as well as giving it a limited theatrical run. Netflix has had some luck breaking through in the Documentary Feature race at the Oscars, so we'll also be waiting to see if DuVernay's added cache could make it a contender this year.

Monday
Sep262016

NYFF: I, Daniel Blake

Here's Jason reporting from the New York Film Festival on Ken Loach's Palme D'or winning drama

Having come from childhood poverty myself I'm always ready to side-eye a movie that directly tackles the subject - for instance I wasn't a fan of Beasts of the Southern Wild because it felt (I know I was in the wilderness on this one) as if it too romanticized Hushpuppy's home-life. But that's just one pitfall for a subject I'm probably overly picky about - if a film's too preachy, if it turns its subjects into ciphers of suffering for its noble cause, well I don't want to go to that place either.

Ken Loach's I, Daniel Blake walks the line. It's very much a Message Movie all capital letters, but as you can tell by its title it does matter to Mr. Loach who these people are...

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