The NYFF Presents Its Main Slate

The Daily — Aug 8, 2018
Jia Zhangke’s Ash Is Purest White (2018)

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.

Cannes Contingent

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.”

Locarno Harvest

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.”

Award-winning British photographer, artist, and filmmaker Richard Billingham’s debut feature, Ray & Liz, is based on his memories of growing up in Birmingham in the 1970s and ’80s. “Shot on beautifully tactile 16 mm film, cinematographer Daniel Landin (Under the Skin) consistently focuses on small details with the kind of fascination one associates with a child’s-eye view,” writes Rory O’Connor at the Film Stage. “Furthermore, while this working class, kitchen-sink midlands mood might lead the viewer to believe that the director owes a significant debt to Ken Loach, there’s an even stronger case to be made for Lynne Ramsay’s Ratcatcher or the earlier films of Terence Davies.”

Another director looking back on childhood days is Dominga Sotomayor, who grew up in an isolated community at the foot of the Andes. Too Late to Die Young is “a satisfying sensorial work, unmistakably grounded in independent South American cinema,” finds Jay Weissberg in Variety.

Venice and Toronto

Monrovia, Indiana, Frederick Wiseman’s new documentary about rural America, will see its world premiere in Venice in a few weeks. So, too, will Joel and Ethan Coen’s The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, which began as an anthology series and then morphed into a feature. The Coens’ first bonafide western since True Grit (2010) features Tim Blake Nelson, James Franco, Liam Neeson, Tom Waits, Zoe Kazan, and Brendan Gleeson. Olivier Assayas’s Non-Fiction is a comic take on the current state of book publishing and stars Juliette Binoche and Guillaume Canet.

Slated to premiere in Toronto is one of the most anticipated films of the year, Claire Denis’s High Life, her first science fiction film and her first in English. Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche, Mia Goth, and André Benjamin play a group of criminals on a spaceship headed toward a black hole. Barry Jenkins’s If Beale Street Could Talk is an adaptation of James Baldwin’s novel about a woman fighting to free her fiancée from prison before her baby is born.

Alex Ross Perry’s Her Smell, with Elisabeth Moss as a self-destructive punk rocker, will see its world premiere in Toronto’s Platform program. Louis Garrel’s A Faithful Man, cowritten with the great Jean-Claude Carrière, centers on the reunion of lovers played by Laetitia Casta and Garrel himself.

Sundance and Berlin

Christian Petzold’s mesmerizing Transit premiered in Berlin and sets a Casablanca-like drama in present-day Marseille, where refugees seek to escape from an encroaching fascist regime.

Tamara Jenkins’s Private Life, with Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti as a couple who’ve been trying to have a child for years, was well-received when it premiered in Sundance at the top of the year. Another entry from Sundance is Wildlife, Paul Dano’s adaptation of Richard Ford’s 1990 novel, cowritten with Zoe Kazan. The dissolution of a suburban family in Montana in the 1960s is seen from the point of view of a teenage boy. Carey Mulligan, who plays the discontented mother, has been seeing some of the best reviews of her career.

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