NYFF 2022’s Revivals

Pedro Costa’s O Sangue (1989)

When Film at Lincoln Center announced the lineup for the Revivals of this year’s New York Film Festival, Florence Almozini, Senior Director of Programming, noted that the selection of remastered, restored, and preserved works “proves once again that even relatively recent decades are full of potential cinematic discoveries.” Eleven features, a four-part miniseries, and five short or medium-length films will screen in the program during the NYFF’s sixtieth anniversary edition, which opens on Friday and runs through October 16. Only one of these films predates the 1960s.

Martin Scorsese has called Jacques Tourneur’s Canyon Passage (1946) “one of the most mysterious and exquisite examples of the western genre ever made.” The Oregon Territory of 1856 is rendered in vivid Technicolor by cinematographer Edward Cronjager, and Dana Andrews stars as a trader torn between two women. “Tourneur sets in motion a complex array of subplots and side characters . . . that offers a quasi-sociological view of frontier life,” writes the New Yorker’s Richard Brody. “The relentless drinking, gambling, gunplay, and battles with Native Americans blend with struggles for love and money to evoke a raw and violent culture that plays, in the year after the Second World War ended, as utterly contemporary; avoiding history and politics, Tourneur serves up, in a dreamlike Technicolor glow, a pastoral film noir.”

The Sixties

The turbulent decade gave rise to New Waves in France, Japan, and Czechoslovakia as well as to Brazil’s Cinema Novo. In Black God, White Devil (1964), Glauber Rocha’s second feature, a ranch hand kills his exploitative boss, becomes an outlaw, and falls in with a self-proclaimed saint who preaches a gospel of violence. “Combining Dada, surrealism, anarchy, mystical Trotskyism, candomblé, and the anthropophagic tropicalism of the modernist poet Oswald de Andrade, Rocha flummoxes, perverts, howls with freedom and despair,” writes Carlos Valladares in the current issue of Gagosian Quarterly.

On Thursday, October 6, the NYFF will present four films that Edward Owens made in the late 1960s before he turned twenty—and stopped. “By his own account, his addiction to drugs and an as-yet-undiagnosed bipolar disorder began to take their toll,” wrote Ed Halter in an introduction to a screening of Owens’s work at Light Industry in 2015. Halter was able to interview Owens just before the filmmaker—whose work had only recently been rediscovered—passed away at sixty in 2010.

Gregory Markopoulos taught Owens at the Art Institute of Chicago and convinced him to move to New York, where he mingled with future legends of the New American Cinema. “Owens created a cluster of films that display an increasing mastery of form, inspired by Markopoulos’s style but transformed into something purely his own,” writes Halter. Writing about these “precocious 16 mm movies” for Artforum in 2015, J. Hoberman noted that Jonas Mekas “once called avant-garde filmmakers members of the fourth world.” As a Black queer experimental filmmaker, Owens “belonged to the fifth, perhaps the sixth, maybe even the seventh world.”

The Seventies

Kira Muratova completed The Long Farewell, the story of the strained relationship between a divorced translator and her teenaged son, in 1971, but Soviet authorities immediately shelved it and kept it from being publicly screened until 1987. But as Muratova’s biographer, Jane Taubman, points out, the film was frequently shown to film students in Moscow, “where it influenced a whole new generation of Soviet filmmakers.”

Bill Gosden, the late director of the New Zealand International Film Festival, found it “notable how often men in an audience will empathize with the unhappy woman; and women with the uneasy young man.” An “almost unbearable tension is explored in a series of fluid, inventive sequences,” found scholar Ian Christie. “Editing is a game, not an exercise,” Muratova told Mart Dominicus and Mark-Paul Meyer in 1988. “In The Long Farewell, the love of editing became a principle.”

When the late historian and filmmaker Peter Von Bagh brought the five-hour miniseries Eight Deadly Shots (1972) to the Museum of Modern Art in 2013, he noted that it was “a news report—a poor farmer kills four policemen—that inspired what all agree, including Aki Kaurismäki, is Finnish cinema’s masterpiece.” Starring Mikko Niskanen, who also wrote, directed, and produced, Eight Deadly Shots is “a Zola-esque depiction of life’s complicated reasons, where time and duration become little by little a hypnotic force: the very ordinary seems to float in a strange realm of unknown dimensions.”

The new restoration of Jean Eustache’s The Mother and the Whore (1973) opened the Cannes Classics program in May, and last month, Sight and Sound republished a feature on the film starring Jean-Pierre Léaud, Bernadette Lafont, and Françoise Lebrun from its October 1977 issue. “Try to imagine a film set in early ’70s Paris which definitively distills the emotional changes wrought by the May 1968 events, while making only passing reference to them,” wrote Keith Reader. He noted that “of all the films I have taught,” this black-and-white, 219-minute feature “remains the only one where I have come upon passionate students arguing about it exactly as though they were discussing real people—and this, I suspect, because rather than in spite of the extreme stylization and hyperreality of the dialogue, which on first viewing may seem improvised but which was actually most meticulously scripted.”

The Eighties

Borhane Alaouié, who passed away just over a year ago, set Beirut the Encounter (1981) in 1977, two years after the outbreak of the Lebanese Civil War that pit the eastern and western halves of the capital against each other. As the film opens, the telephone lines between the two sides are restored, and two old friends, a Christian woman and a Shiite man, reconnect. When the Berlinale’s Forum screened Beirut the Encounter in February, novelist and playwright Hoda Barakat wrote: “This humbly visionary film is getting a new lease on life in present-day Lebanon, where disaster has taken on the dimensions of a Greek tragedy in Beirut, a city agonizing as it watches this theater of the absurd play itself out. These are resurrected images of the happy year that followed what we naively called the ‘Two Years’ War’—which ended up dragging on for fifteen years, and then forever.”

Directed by Maureen Blackwood and Isaac Julien of the Sankofa collective, The Passion of Remembrance (1986) juxtaposes scenes from the personal lives of a Black British family from the 1950s through the ’80s with a heated discussion between a man and a woman in a desert. In her 1992 essay “The Oppositional Gaze,” the late bell hooks singled out a sequence that offered a “representation of black females nurturing one another via recognition of their common struggle for subjectivity . . . Disrupting conventional racist and sexist stereotypical representations of black female bodies, these scenes invite the audience to look differently. They act to critically intervene and transform conventional filmic practices, changing notions of spectatorship.”

In O Sangue (1989), Pedro Costa’s debut feature, two brothers living in a rundown house outside of Lisbon decide to keep their father’s disappearance a secret to be shared only with a beautiful woman who works at the local school. Writing in 2007, Adrian Martin observed that the “black-and-white cinematography (by Wim Wenders compatriot Martin Schäfer) pushes far beyond a fashionable effect of high contrast, and into something visionary: whites that burn, blacks that devour . . . Carl Dreyer in Gertrud (1964) gave cinema something that Jacques Rivette (among others) celebrated: bodies that disappear ‘in the splice,’ that live and die from shot to shot, thus pursuing a strange half-life in the interstices between reels, scenes, shots, even frames. Costa takes this poetic system of light and shade, of appearance and disappearance—the poetic system of Dreyer, F. W. Murnau, Tourneur—and radicalizes it still further.”

The Nineties

Next Tuesday, Claire Denis and Isaach De Bankolé will introduce No Fear No Die (1990), in which De Bankolé and Alex Descas play Dah and Jocelyn, immigrants who train roosters for cockfights staged at a restaurant run by Pierre (Jean-Claude Brialy) on the outskirts of Paris. This is “a low-rent underworld of illegal bets, middle-aged white guys, and nightclubs that look like warehouses from the outside,” wrote Ignatiy Vishnevetsky at the A.V. Club in 2016. “No Fear No Die is gritty and loose enough to sometimes pass for documentary, yet it’s put together with a novella’s sense of theme and progression . . . It’s violent, but subtle, equal parts meticulously researched and allegorical.”

Following Doomed Love (1979), an adaptation of the 1862 novel by Portuguese writer Camilo Castelo Branco, and the recently revived Francisca (1981), in which the author is a key character, Manoel de Oliveira’s The Day of Despair (1992) depicts Castelo Branco in his final days. His eyesight is fading, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to carry on writing. Of the three films, The Day of Despair is “comparatively minor and minimalist, but it’s an affecting chamber piece,” finds Jonathan Rosenbaum. “The ironic treatment of aristocracy and romantic decadence found in Doomed Love is regrettably absent, but Teresa Madruga, as the most prominent character, Castelo Branco’s last mistress, delivers her lines with commanding passion.”

In Edward Yang’s A Confucian Confusion (1994), the head of an advertising agency, her wealthy boyfriend, and their circle of Taipei up-and-comers are “all fundamentally at odds with one another,” as Jesse Cataldo wrote in the Notebook in 2011. A Confucian Confusion is “a farce that progresses glacially over a remarkably dense two hours, which repeatedly threatens ridiculousness but never succumbs, grounded by the same insistent mournfulness that has inflected all of Yang’s films.”

When the new restoration screened in Venice, the festival included a statement from Yang in the program notes: “The situation in all of Asia is terrible now. It’s not an economic problem, it’s not a financial problem, it’s not a political problem, it’s a serious cultural problem. A Confucian Confusion is the first and so far only attempt at self-reflection: at examining what is wrong with trying to head into the twenty-first century with a fourth century BC ideology.”

The ruler of a fictitious African country and a vagabond who claims to be a champion checkers player face off for an all-night match in Balufu Bakupa-Kanyinda’s forty-minute comedy Le Damier (1996). In The Second Century of Cinema: The Past and Future of the Moving Image (2000), Wheeler W. Dixon points out that the young vagabond faces the prospect of being killed “if he wins (thus affronting the ruler) and death if he loses (proving unworthy of competition).” Le Damier is “a funny, profane, and violent meditation on the capriciousness of rule by force alone.”

Among “Afrofuturists and community activists, the artists and writers and theorists imagining ways of living that dignify themselves as Black subjects as well as all of humanity,” multidisciplinary artist Cauleen Smith is “something of a heroine for the breadth and generosity of her work,” wrote Siddhartha Mitter in Artforum in 2019. In her debut feature, Drylongso (1998), Pica (Toby Smith), an art student in Oakland, fears that the young Black men around are “becoming extinct,” and she begins documenting their lives with her Polaroid camera. When Drylongso came up in Ella Alexander’s interview with Smith for an issue of Harper’s Bazaar published in the wake of the summer of 2020, Smith said, “I never expected it to be as relevant now as it was then.”

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