NYFF 2021 Currents Lineup

Maureen Fazendeiro and Miguel Gomes’s The Tsugua Diaries (2021)

Dennis Lim, the director of programming for the New York Film Festival, describes Currents as “the section of the festival that attests to cinema’s continued capacity for reinvention.” This year’s edition will open with The Tsugua Diaries, a “faux making-of puzzle film,” as Blake Williams describes it at Filmmaker, from codirectors and life partners Maureen Fazendeiro and Miguel Gomes. They were working on Savagery—an adaptation of Euclides da Cunha’s Os Sertões, the 1902 novel set against the backdrop of the War of Canudos in 1890s Brazil—and as they tell Jordan Cronk at Film Comment, had even done some shooting on another project set in Asia, when the pandemic hit.

Returning to Portugal, Fazendeiro, Gomes, and cowriter Mariana Ricardo dreamed up a story about three housemates (Carloto Cotta, Crista Alfaiate, and João Nunes Monteiro) that could be shot while observing safety protocols. “In the absence of an appreciable narrative, the intention seems to be of luxuriating in the sensuality of 16 mm by capturing textures and the play of sunlight as the trio build a butterfly house in an orchard,” wrote Giovanni Marchini Camia for Sight & Sound when The Tsugua Diaries premiered last month at Directors’ Fortnight in Cannes.

An opening title card reads “Day 22,” and the story proceeds in reverse order, the title cards counting down toward the first day. At one point, though, The Tsugua Diaries “switches gears, from fiction to (pretend) documentary, becoming a film about its own making,” writes Marchini Camia. “It also becomes very funny.” Spell “Tsugua” backwards and up comes “August,” which isn’t the only reference in the new film to Gomes’s Our Beloved Month of August (2008), another fourth-wall breaker. “All this meta-waggishness is very self-satisfied, to be sure,” writes Marchini Camia. “And yet, through the thick blanket of irony gradually emerges genuine feeling, and the inverted chronology builds to a celebration of community that is heartfelt and poignant after the experience of the last year and a half.”

Also among the fifteen features selected for Currents is Jean-Gabriel Périot’s Returning to Reims, an examination of “the profound shift in the ideological affiliations of the working class between the post-war era and today” in France, as James Lattimer writes for Sight & Sound. Narrated by Adèle Haenel, this “adaptation of Didier Eribon’s bestselling memoir of the same name wasn’t just the only documentary in the Directors’ Fortnight selection, but also the only film to explore the pressing political issues of the current era with intellectual acuity.”

Shengze Zhu’s A River Runs, Turns, Erases, Replaces won the Caligari Film Award in Berlin, where Denis Côté won the Encounters award for best direction for Social Hygiene. From FIDMarseille come Kyoshi Sugita’s Haruhara-san’s Recorder, winner of both the grand prix and an audience award, and Ted Fendt’s Outside Noise, which scored a special mention. Eight programs of short films will feature new work from Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Kevin Jerome Everson, Lois Patiño and Matías Piñeiro, and Daïchi Saïto.

One highlight of this year’s Currents will surely be Nature, the first work from Armenian director Artavazd Pelechian in nearly thirty years. Writing for BOMB Magazine last year, Nicholas Elliott noted that, “while generally known only to the most fanatical members of the filmgoing public, Pelechian is without a doubt one of the most influential film artists of the last half century. Jean-Luc Godard’s experiments with found footage and the deconstruction of movement are unimaginable without the example of Pelechian, whose entire body of documentary essay films was no longer than a single Hollywood apocalypse spectacle until Nature clocked in at an unprecedented sixty-two minutes.”

Nature, a black-and-white montage of found footage, is not only Pelechian’s longest film, but as Michael Atkinson has pointed out in Sight & Sound, it’s “also his most strident, moving from mountainous serenity into a relentless and often terrifying cataract of found disaster footage, tsunamis and tornadoes and volcanoes and demolitions, even holding its breath for a five-minute-long chunk of iPhone footage, surveying a horrendous flash flood from a rooftop. YouTubers can binge on similar nightmares, but here the aggregate vision holds you down like an apocalyptic screed; electrocuting our love of property and control, Pelechian may be rounding up his life project here with a terrestrial alarm.”

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