New York Film Festival director Kent Jones suggests that if there’s a single, “unifying thread” running throughout the thirty films that make up this year’s Main Slate, it would be “the bravery needed to fight past the urge to commercialized smoothness and mediocrity that is always assuming new forms.” One of the last major festivals on the calendar, the NYFF showcases some of the most significant films to have premiered in Sundance, Berlin, Cannes, Locarno, Venice, and Toronto. This lineup, then, can be read as an early draft of a potential list of the best films of 2018, drawn up before the studios begin releasing their prestige pictures in the final quarter of the year.
As previously announced, the fifty-sixth edition will open on September 28 with Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Favourite, a boisterous tale of palace intrigue in eighteenth-century England. Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma, set in Mexico City in the 1970s, will be the Centerpiece presentation, and Julian Schnabel’s At Eternity's Gate, with Willem Dafoe as Vincent van Gogh, will see its North American premiere as the Closing Night film before this year’s edition wraps on October 14.
As usual, the NYFF has gleaned a large number of titles from Cannes, including many of this year’s top award-winners. Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Shoplifters, which won the Palme d’Or, centers on an ad hoc family struggling to make ends meet in a suburb of contemporary Tokyo. Jean-Luc Godard’s The Image Book, presented with the first ever Special Palme d’Or, is a five-part essay on topics including war and revolution, industry and law, and the West and the Arab world.
Pawel Pawlikowski won the award for best direction in Cannes for Cold War, a love story that begins in Poland in the late 1940s and moves through fifteen years and back and forth across the Iron Curtain. Alice Rohrwacher’s Happy as Lazzaro, a blend of magic realism and social drama set in Italy in the 1980s, and Jafar Panahi’s 3 Faces, in which the director and actress Behnaz Jafari take a road trip through rural Iran, shared the award for best screenplay.
The jury in Cannes may have passed over Lee Chang-dong’s Burning, but his portrait of three friends in Korea did win the prestigious FIPRESCI award. Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Asako I & II didn’t win any prizes, but the story of a woman who’s abandoned by her wild boyfriend before meeting his buttoned-up doppelgänger did score a decent round of reviews. Jia Zhangke, currently presiding over the jury in Locarno, also came away from Cannes empty-handed though many felt that Zhao Tao was a strong contender for the best actress award for her lead performance as a woman in northern China who falls for a local gangster in Ash Is Purest White. And Christophe Honoré has begun to win back his early champions with Sorry Angel, which tracks an affair between between a thirty-five-year-old writer and a twenty-two-year-old student in 1993.
Bi Gan’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night premiered in the Un Certain Regard section, winning raves from critics but no awards. The tale of a loner returning to his hometown in southwestern China is told in two parts and features a 3D long take that runs nearly an hour. In his report on Cannes for Film Comment, NYFF selection committee member Dennis Lim notes that Ulrich Köhler’s Un Certain Regard entry In My Room “takes a disarmingly realistic and restrained approach to a fantastical premise: the eternally popular fantasy of the last man on earth.”
The selection of five films from this year’s Locarno lineup is a testament to the rising stature of the Swiss festival currently running through Saturday. From a programmer’s standpoint, the most daring of the five to include is surely Mariano Llinás’s La Flor, a fourteen-hour-long collection of six disparate episodes, each told to a different stage of completion and all featuring the same four actresses.
Hong Sangsoo will have two films in the NYFF 2018 lineup. Grass, which eavesdrops on a series of conversations in a café in Seoul, premiered in Berlin in February, and Hotel by the River will see its premiere in Locarno in just a few days. The new film splits its focus between an old poet who’s convinced he’s living out his last days and a young woman recovering from a harsh breakup.
Ying Liang’s A Family Tour tracks a Chinese filmmaker living in exile in Hong Kong who visits her mother in Taiwan. For Notebook editor Daniel Kasman, the film “suggests a unique combination of autobiography, Taiwanese tour, spy film, family reunion, and behind-the-scenes look at independent Chinese filmmaking.”