Goings On

Film Comment Selects 2019

On Film / The Daily — Feb 6, 2019
Juli Jakab in László Nemes’s Sunset (2018)

Not only has Film Comment selected ten forward-looking features and a few revivals to screen from today through Sunday at New York’s Film Society of Lincoln Center, it’s also provided supplementary reading material. The nineteenth edition of Film Comment Selects opens this evening with László Nemes’s Sunset, which premiered in Venice last fall before splitting the critics in Toronto. As a young woman arrives in Budapest in 1913 to unwittingly uncover a conspiratorial web of opposing forces that will set the stage for the First World War, the camera clings to her face or wheels around for a tight over-the-shoulder, never leaving her immediate space. It’s a relentless and unnerving method of mapping the geography and action of a scene that Nemes used in his debut feature, the Holocaust drama Son of Saul (2015). “From the start, everything about the film’s style is designed to unsettle and disorient,” writes Imogen Sara Smith for Film Comment, adding that “the mood of the film is enveloping, musky with sinister decadence, lurking hysteria, and occult ritualism.” Nemes will be at the FSLC this evening and will return on Saturday to present clips and discuss his work.

Last December, Smith wrote here in the Current about John M. Stahl, the director known to most for his melodramas Imitation of Life (1934) and Magnificent Obsession (1935). The occasion for the piece was the recent revival of Stahl’s neglected work in the silent era, and on Saturday, FC Selects will present a series of ten short films from 1917, The Lincoln Cycle. The series was more or less commissioned by producer Benjamin Chapin as a way to bring his performance as the sixteenth president to a wider audience. “It is tempting,” writes Smith, “though speculative, to see some of Stahl’s signature virtues in these films—the restraint and tenderness with which he handles emotional moments, his ability to balance drama and light humor, and his interest in the way the past shapes and overshadows the present.” The two other FC Selects revival screenings are Edward Dmytryk’s widescreen western Warlock (1959), with Henry Fonda, and as a tribute to the late cinematographer Robby Müller, Jerry Schatzberg’s Honeysuckle Rose (1980). Schatzberg will be taking part in a Q&A on Saturday.

Tomorrow, the day before High Flying Bird begins streaming on Netflix, Steven Soderbergh and his cast will be on hand for the New York premiere. As we noted last Friday, when Soderbergh previewed the film at Slamdance, it was met with solidly positive reviews. Since then, Chuck Bowen has caught up with it and draws comparisons and contrasts between the new film and Soderbergh’s debut feature, sex, lies, and videotape, which turns thirty this year. “Both are lean dramas composed of alternating dialogues between a handful of characters,” Bowen writes at Slant, “and both are obsessed by intersections between money, technology, and personal longing.”

At ScreenAnarchy, Dustin Chang’s posted a handful of capsule previews of films in the series, including Bettina Poggi and Jonathan Vinel’s Jessica Forever, “a sort of a gamer's answer to all YA dystopia novel adaptations”; Zhang Yang’s “gorgeous” documentary about a master painter who teaches the elderly in southwestern China, Up the Mountain; and Beatriz Seigner’s Los Silencios, which centers on Colombians seeking refuge in an island shanty town near the borders of Brazil, Colombia, and Peru.


Unsurprisingly, the meatiest previews of this year’s edition come from Film Comment itself. With Los Reyes, Chilean directors Bettina Perut and Iván Osnovikoff set out to make a documentary about skateboarders in a park in Santiago, but wound up focusing on two dogs that also hang out there. While the humans aren’t entirely absent, Jonathan Romney notes that, “like the best films about the everyday, Los Reyes makes us reassess our ideas of what is and isn’t interesting in the world.”

Daniel Witkin talks with Beata Bubenec, whose Flight of a Bullet documents eighty-one harrowing minutes of the conflict in Ukraine in a single take. “It’s a lot like war itself,” she tells him. “You might be killed, but you also might just have a completely normal day, and the line between the two is incredibly thin. That’s what it’s like over there. It’s about the everyday life of wartime.”

Film Comment editor Nicolas Rapold interviews Victor Moreno, whose The Hidden City takes us to the labyrinthine system of underground tunnels in Madrid. “One big inspiration for me is Michel Foucault’s concept of heterotopia, a place that is close to us but unknown,” says Moreno. “It’s not a utopia, but by going there and looking, we can maybe see what the future will be.”

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