Home Films New York Film Festival Highlights, Week Two

New York Film Festival Highlights, Week Two


The second week of the New York Film Festival is what a film festival should be: a cornucopia brimming with more great movies than a sane person would want to see in a short time. (Last Friday I wrote about some of my favorites from the first week of the festival offerings; you can see the full range here.) This week’s most exciting movies are modest in tone but bold in substance, foremost among which “Little mom”(“Little mom“), a brief, laconic, wildly inspired and deeply mysterious drama written and directed by Céline Sciamma, whose previous film,” Portrait of a Lady on Fire “, was a highlight of the festival two years ago The new film follows an eight-year-old girl named Nelly (Joséphine Sanz), who is seen at the start of the film going from room to room in a nursing home and bidding farewell to three different elderly women. Nelly’s big goodbye is said in an empty room to someone who is no longer there: her grandmother, who had lived in the retirement home and recently died there. Nelly’s mother (Nina Meurisse), named Marion, and her father (Stéphane Varupenne) are there with a car and van to store and transport her grandmother’s things, then head to her rustic house to empty it too. of mourning soon give way to a great leap of imaginative wonder.

In this house, Marion’s childhood bedroom is filled with knick-knacks and notebooks that have been left untouched for many years, but she distrusts her memories and, emotionally charged, goes off on her own, leaving Nelly there with his father. While walking in the woods behind the house, Nelly meets another eight year old girl from the area; the girl (played by Gabrielle Sanz, Joséphine’s real twin) looks like Nelly and is called Marion, like Nelly’s mother. As she visits the girl’s home and learns some key details about the life of this family, Nelly realizes that she is facing her own mother when she is a child. The powerful mystery of their bond quivers with tenderness and quiet humor. Sciamma portrays the strangeness of this encounter, the supernatural twist of girlfriendship, with a graceful simplicity that is illuminated by a laconic and ostensibly expressive dialogue (including my favorite line of the year, on ‘music from the future’). “). No less than “Portrait of a Lady on Fire”, “Petite Maman” is a cinematic composition of skillful poses and sharp gazes. Here they resonate with secrets and time-bending ironies (including the literal meaning of the French word for au revoir, “au revoir” – essentially, see you soon). Sciamma’s exquisite sense of whimsy has a solid basis in reality: she portrays the ordinary and loving transmission of family traditions from grandparents to grandchildren as an extraordinary and transcendent gift.

Two other tales haunted by death confront the afterlife with a different range of practical, mostly artistic, means. The film by South Korean director Hong SangsooIn front of your face”(One of the two films he presents at the festival) is the story of a return to basics. A middle-aged Korean woman named Sangok (Lee Hye-yeong), who has lived in Seattle for many years, returns to her hometown of Seoul and visits her sister Jeongok (Cho Yun-hee). Sangok is seriously ill and keeps her sister’s secret, but reveals the fact to a director (Kwon Hae-hyo) that she meets, and with whose help she hopes to revive the acting career that she had abandoned there. decades ago. . The film by Japanese director Ryusuke HamaguchiDrive my car”(Based on a story by Haruki Murakami) is, on the other hand, the story of a farewell. A Tokyo-based actor and director named Yusuke (Hidetoshi Nishijima), two years after the death of his wife, Oto (Reika Kirishima), is hired by a theater company in Hiroshima to direct a production of “Uncle Vanya ”, for which his first The Rehearsal Tool is an audio cassette recording of the play, made by Oto, and with which he rehearses while driving his car. But the company demands that Yusuke have a driver – a young woman, named Misaki (Toko Miura), with little connection to the theater – and his unwanted but obligatory time with her changes his relationship to his job and past. Hamaguchi’s theater-centric three-hour film (featuring a remarkable cast of international actors performing their Chekhovian roles in their own native languages) is as structured and artificially noble as the fast-paced, cinema-centric drama of Hong is intimate and fluid. The two filmmakers – Hamaguchi sincerely, Hong ironically – create distinctive styles for their serenely passionate display of art as resistance to mortality.

In “Hit the Road”, Rayan Sarlak plays a funny, quick-witted and exuberant child.Photograph courtesy of JP Production

Take the roadIs the first feature film by Iranian director Panah Panahi (the son of filmmaker Jafar Panahi, who has been making films for ten years while he was under house arrest for political reasons). Like “Little Mum,” it features an exceptional childish character and a phenomenal child actor to match. True to its name, it is a road movie, about a family – mother (Pantea Panahiha), father (Hassan Madjooni) and two sons – on a road trip which is also a desperate and clandestine mission: to recover the adult son, Farid (Amin Simar), to the border, where a smuggler awaits him to take him out of the country (his final destination is Europe). The journey by car is difficult, for practical reasons: the father has a broken leg (Farid is driving), and his injury causes inconvenience throughout the journey. The car is borrowed from a friend, and the planned crossing across the border was funded by the family’s sale of their home. Although it has never been clarified why Farid is rushing out of Iran and why his family spares no expense (or risk) to help him, the sight of the police nevertheless throws the family into panic; their mistrust gives tiny details (like the presence or absence of a cell phone) a dramatic effect. The youngest son, played by Rayan Sarlak, is one of the funniest, liveliest, and most exuberant child characters I have ever seen, and his bond to his brother and their parents is complex. and subtle, gruff but tender. The mere fact of the impending separation from the family is the main agony of the story, but it is doubled by the fact that for safety reasons the boy is kept in the dark about the purpose of the trip, forcing his parents to hide their emotions, too. The deep loneliness and despair that the drama entails, as well as the underlying political distress of depending on outlaws to deal with unjust laws, is counterbalanced by the solidarity that forms, near the border, between the many families who similarly transport an adult child for exfiltration. Panahi films the drama with an aesthetic daring to match its psychological subtlety. The pictorial grandeur and the contemplative distance with which he films crucial moments of furious expression suggest a deep respect for the ineffable emotion of his characters, for the sublimity of their sacrifices.

Jean-Gabriel Périot’s film “Back to Reims, on the return of a prodigal son, is an unusual genre of documentary: it is an adaptation of a non-fiction delivered in the same way, from 2009, by the sociologist Didier Eribon, who had left his family’s home in this city in north-eastern France, settled in Paris and did not visit there for several years. decades, until the death of his father. Périot is a specialist in historically-edited films, but in “Retour à Reims”, his assemblage of extracts from archives – fiction films, documentaries and television news – seems organized around the solid specificity of Eribon’s reminiscences (read in voiceover by the actress Adèle Haenel, one of the stars of “Portrait of a Lady on Fire”), offering them flesh and blood.

Eribon comes from a poor working-class family, and he tells his arc with a fiery research that dates back to the beginning of his maternal grandmother’s life. Excerpts from Eribon’s text tell of the severe hardships of her youth in the 1920s and 1930s, and the cavalier methods by which she seized bits of comfort (including a relationship with a German officer during WWII) . Eribon then describes the constraints of his mother’s life (despite her intelligence, she did not have the opportunity to pursue higher education), the family’s struggles to achieve a minimum of security, the social solidarity offered by the Communist Party, the promise of housing subsidies, the rise of overt racism towards families who have emigrated from North Africa and the corresponding rise, among former Communist voters (including Eribon’s mother), of the far right . The voice-over, both historical and intimate, works alchemically on the carefully selected sequences of Périot. Snippets of fiction films (including “Zero for Conduct” and Jean-Daniel Pollet’s great short film “Pourvu nous ont l’ivresse”) gain the real anchoring of documentaries; extracts from television news and documentaries (such as “Chronique d’un été” and “Le Joli Mai”) acquire the dramatic dimensions of fiction. The overall effect is a metacinema that transforms the history of French cinema into an archaeological treasure, a secret archive of private life that is hidden in plain view.

In the great films of more than three hours, abundant and wildly imaginative, “Petit Quinquin” and “Coincoin and the extra-humans”, Bruno Dumont has been a crucial chronicler of France struggling with the extreme right but does not say why . In his new film, “France, he explains why: because the French are stunned by the mainstream media and are therefore ripe to be duped. Dumont’s bitter new comedy is sharply and pugnaciously addressed to a television journalist named France de Meurs (Léa Seydoux), who manages to ask an insignificant question but attracts attention during a press conference held by the French President, Emmanuel Macron. (A succinct title at the end of the film explains that he did not participate in the film and that the sequence was created by editing.) His right-hand man, Lou (actress Blanche Gardin), makes a series of more scenes more contemptuous. and obscene gestures to encourage France in its selfish antics. When France reports on the spot from war zones, it converts them into its own star tricks, with television-ready staging of events it ostensibly reports on.