TIFF and the NYFF’s Expanding Lineups

Bodil Jørgensen in Lars von Trier’s The Kingdom Exodus (2022)

In less than two weeks, Venice will launch the fall festival season with the world premiere of Noah Baumbach’s White Noise. As a final touch to the programming, the Giornate degli Autori has added three master classes, a series of conversations with directors Céline Sciamma (Portrait of a Lady on Fire) and Edgar Reitz (Heimat) and screenwriter Alessandro Camon (The Messenger). Toronto and New York, in the meantime, carry on rolling out fresh lineups.

Among the twenty-two features now set for the TIFF Docs program is Werner Herzog’s Theatre of Thought. “It’s a real science-meets-poetry kind of exploration,” TIFF documentary programmer Thom Powers tells IndieWire’s Eric Kohn. “He’s exploring the landscape inside our skulls. He also asks if fish have souls and how a tightrope walker conquers fear. It’s an intersection of conspiracy theories, science, and imagination.” Next Thursday, by the way, a major Werner Herzog exhibition will open at the Deutsche Kinemathek in Berlin.

Icarus Films has just released a trailer for My Imaginary Country, Chilean filmmaker Patricio Guzmán’s latest portrait of his home country. Documenting the demonstrations that began in Santiago in 2019, Guzmán “marvels at the protestors’ demand for a new constitution that they believe will be more attuned to the people’s voice,” writes Chris Barsanti at Slant. “But unlike other broad-based, leaderless protest movements with a lengthy laundry list for how to upend society, the one that the filmmaker documents comes across as explicit, determined, organized, and in it for the long haul.”

TIFF Docs will open with the world premiere of Sacha Jenkins’s Louis Armstrong’s Black & Blues and include such promising titles as Laura Poitras’s All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, which is narrated by photographer and activist Nan Goldin and will arrive from Venice before screening as the Centerpiece presentation in New York. One of the films Eric Hynes singles out in his latest Make It Real column at Reverse Shot is Mariupolis 2, which Lithuanian filmmaker Mantas Kvedaraviciu was working on when he was killed in Ukraine.

Hanna Bilbrova, the director’s partner, edited and prepared the film for its first screening in Cannes earlier this year. Mariupolis 2 “documents the first waves of this year’s Russian bombardment, in which besieged and displaced townspeople are forced to improvise shelter, meals, hygiene, and safety protocols while enduring long days, joking with gallows humor, offering up amateur political theories, and noting the relative distances of audible artillery,” writes Hynes. “It’s an astonishing record.”

More than fifty films will screen in TIFF’s Contemporary World Cinema program, including a few critical favorites from Cannes such as Cristian Mungiu’s R.M.N., Hlynur Pálmason’s Godland, Jerzy Skolimowski’s EO, and Charlotte Wells’s Aftersun. Ulrich Seidl’s Sparta, in which the brother of the singer featured in this year’s Rimini sets out to start a new life in Romania, will see its world premiere before it heads to the competition in San Sebastián. The Short Cuts program of thirty-nine works, in the meantime, will feature new films from Mbithi Masya, Alice Rohrwacher, and Sophy Romvari.

NYFF Currents

New York Film Festival artistic director Dennis Lim calls Currents “by design, the most expansive section of the festival.” This year’s program, “an attempt to distill the spirit of innovation and playfulness in contemporary cinema,” will open with João Pedro Rodrigues’s Will-o’-the-Wisp. When it premiered in Cannes, Guy Lodge, writing for Variety, called the Portuguese director’s follow-up to The Ornithologist (2016) “a titillating parade of bare male bodies in balletic motion, and with hints of thematic import beyond that leading erotic spectacle. Climate-change anxiety, republican politics, and colonialist history are all woven into this shoestring-budgeted lo-fi sci-fi musical romance, despite a scant sixty-seven-minute runtime that scarcely has room for half its fizzing, flung-about ideas.”

Writing from Locarno just a little over a week ago, Little White LiesDavid Jenkins found “something wholly intoxicating and immersive to German filmmaker Helena Wittmann’s awesomely-named second feature, Human Flowers of Flesh—a towering, teetering, and exquisitely-wrought puzzle box whose every shot invites the viewer to play a game of cool subtextual interpretation.” Idi (Angeliki Papoulia) oversees a multinational crew sailing in search of what might be left of the French Foreign Legion, leading to a cameo from Denis Lavant, who played Galoup, the sergeant in Claire Denis’s Beau travail (1999).

Bertrand Bonello’s Coma, shot during lockdown and dedicated to his eighteen-year-old daughter, utilizes stop-motion animation, Zoom calls, and surveillance footage to “approximate what it feels like when all contact with the outside world is conducted exclusively through digital means,” wrote Erika Balsom in Film Comment when the film premiered in Berlin. For Balsom, “there is something cathartic in Bonello’s refusal of comfort as he disjunctively renders the contours of a teenager’s inner life, sketching how her psyche is shaped by the strangeness and damage of a crushing present. There’s something exciting, too, in seeing a filmmaker who customarily works on a grand scale test out a more experimental, modest form.”

Darren Hughes’s favorite film in Berlin was Ashley McKenzie’s Queens of the Qing Dynasty, an “ambitious and otherworldly fantasia about a ‘queer friendship romance’ between a suicidal young woman and a Chinese immigrant she meets while hospitalized.” For Hughes, dispatching to Filmmaker, the “other standout” was Adirley Queirós and Joana Pimenta’s Dry Ground Burning, “a ramshackle (in the most exciting sense of the word) mash-up of genres, equal parts western, gangster film, Mad Max-like dystopia, and documentary.” In Sol Nascente, one of Brazil’s biggest favelas, an all-female gang is stealing oil from the oppressive government.

Short films are often among the most stimulating works in the Currents program, and this year promises to be no exception. The 2022 lineup includes new shorts from Bi Gan, Radu Jude, Elisabeth Subrin, Nicolás Pereda, Mark Jenkin, Lois Patiño—and Ben Russell, who tells Stefano Miraglia at Alt/Kino that he’d originally intended to make Against Time, an homage to the late filmmaker Jonathan Schwartz that was shot in Finland, Greece, Belarus, Romania, Lithuania, and Marseille, an installation. “The material that I was gathering didn’t want to go in this direction, and so I ended up with a single channel piece,” says Russell. “I’m not sure how Against Time would exist in installation form as it feels quite intense.”

NYFF Spotlight

Besides a few tantalizing world premieres and two complete series, New York’s Spotlight program will present a fiftieth anniversary screening of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris. Matthew Nolan and Stephen Shannon will perform a new score that the NYFF tells us is “rooted in both Tarkovsky’s aesthetic and philosophical concerns and in the sonic architecture of Oleg Artemyev’s original soundtrack.”

Martin Scorsese and David Tedeschi have codirected Personality Crisis: One Night Only, a documentary focusing on David Johansen, the singer and songwriter of the proto-punk band the New York Dolls who later relaunched his career as Buster Poindexter, the crooner who fronted the nightclub band the Banshees of Blue. Chris Smith (American Movie) has teamed up with Robert Downey Jr. to make Sr., a portrait of the late independent filmmaker Robert Downey Sr. (Putney Swope).

Other world premieres include Maria Schrader’s She Said, starring Zoe Kazan and Carey Mulligan as Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, the New York Times reporters who broke the Harvey Weinstein story; James Ivory and Giles Gardner’s A Cooler Climate, in which the director of Merchant Ivory productions like A Room with a View (1986) and Howards End (1992) recounts his life and global travels; and Is That Black Enough for You?!?, in which Elvis Mitchell revisits the landmark work of Black filmmakers and stars from the 1970s.

The NYFF will screen all six one-hour episodes of Exterior Night, Marco Bellocchio’s blow-by-blow account of the kidnapping and assassination of former Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro by the Red Brigades in 1978. “After detailing the infamous magnicide in his 2003 feature Good Morning, Night,” wrote Manu Yáñez Murillo in a dispatch from Cannes to Film Comment, “Bellocchio expands on the story here, weaving a rich social tapestry inhabited by soulless politicians, alienated terrorists, helpless families, and a tormented pope, brilliantly played by Toni Servillo.”

With The Kingdom Exodus, Lars von Trier returns to the haunted Copenhagen hospital he first conjured in the 1994 series that Variety’s John Anderson called “a lunatic, Twin Peaks-like meld of black comedy and Z-grade horror.” As von Trier was completing this third, five-episode season, Zentropa, his production company, announced that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, but he remains in “good spirits” as he undergoes treatment.

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