Meryl Streep in Spike Jonze's Adaptation. Photo courtesy of COLUMBIA / THE KOBAL COLLECTION.
New York Film Festival season is starting a little early this year with the announcement of Film Society's new series NYFF: Opening Act, which will run the week leading up to the 51st edition of the festival. This showcase includes past work from the filmmakers who will debut their latest films in the festival's Main Slate. Features from Joel Coen, Claire Denis, Arnaud Desplechin, Lav Diaz, James Gray, Paul Greengrass, Spike Jonze, Hirokazu Kor-eda, and more are on tap for NYFF: Opening Act, taking place September 20 - 26.
Among the highlights are James Gray's 1994 crime-drama Little Odessa and Hirokazu Kore-eda's Venice Film Festival award-winner Maborosi (1995). Claude Lanzmann's historical doc Sobibór, 14 octobre 1943, 16 heures (2001) details one man's perspective of the uprising that took place at a Nazi extermination camp. Unconventional dramatic theater adaptations include Abdellatif Kechiche’s Games of Love and Chance (2003) and Arnaud Desplechin’s Playing In the Company of Men (2003). Also joining the series are critically acclaimed films from Joel Coen (Miller's Crossing, 1990), Claire Denis (Beau Travail, 1999), Paul Greengrass (Bloody Sunday, 2002), Spike Jonze (Adaptation., 2002), Tsai Ming-liang (The River, 1997), and more.
"This year’s New York Film Festival lineup features both returning filmmakers and relative newcomers, with a collective body of work behind them that is formidable," said Dennis Lim, Film Society Director of Cinematheque Programming. "This series, which will continue as an annual event, gives some context to the diverse festival slate but is also an occasion for us to show a wide range of terrific movies, from modern classics to cult favorites to genuine rarities, like Lav Diaz’s Hesus the Revolutionary."
Tickets to NYFF: Opening Act go on sale Thursday, August 29. For more information on the 51st New York Film Festival, click here.
NYFF: Opening Act Lineup:
Adaptation (2002) 114m
Director: Spike Jonze
“Do I have an original thought in my head?” Charlie Kaufman’s dizzying screenplay concerns, among other things, orchids, neurosis, detachment and passion, “Happy Together,” banana-nut muffins, and a screenwriter named Charlie Kaufman, who decides during a bout of intense writer’s block to write himself into his own script. Anchored by a go-for-broke comic performance from Nicolas Cage (as both Charlie and his goofball, fictional identical twin brother Donald) and visionary direction from the great Spike Jonze, Adaptation is one of the canonical on-screen depictions of the creative process, and one of the most imaginative American films of the new century.
Thursday, Sept. 26, 6:30pm
Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Pulse. Photo courtesy of TOHO/MAGNOLIA / THE KOBAL COLLECTION.
At Sea (2007) 60m
Director: Peter Hutton
Peter Hutton drew on his years of experience as a merchant seaman to create this large-scale, compressed epic, voted the best avant-garde film of the past decade in a 2011 Film Comment poll. Shot in a series of steady, meticulously composed takes, At Sea follows a massive container ship from its construction in South Korea to its lifetime out on the water to its final dismantling in Bangladesh. Taken as a wordless critique of modern global capitalism, an elegiac reflection on the passing of time, or an exercise in pure sensory immersion, the film is an overwhelming experience, in keeping with its epigraph from Joseph Conrad: A man who is born falls into a dream like a man who falls into the sea…
Skagafjördur (2004) 28m
Director: Peter Hutton
Hutton’s 2004 short, filmed on the northern Icelandic coast, is a loving tribute to the filmmaker’s favorite nature photographers and landscape painters: a beautifully shot study of reflections and mirages, jagged mountaintops and wisps of smoke, thick horizontal strips of cloud and faint, vertical shafts of light.
Monday, Sept. 23, 7:00pm
Beau Travail (1999) 92m
Director: Claire Denis
Claire Denis’s loose retelling of Billy Budd, set among a troop of Foreign Legionnaires stationed in the Gulf of Djibouti, is one of her finest films, an elemental story of misplaced longing and frustrated desire. Under a scorching sun, shirtless young men exercise to the strains of Benjamin Britten under the watchful eye of Denis Lavant’s stone-faced officer Galoup, their obsessively ritualized movements simmering with barely suppressed violence. When a handsome recruit wins the favor of the regiment’s commander, cracks start to appear in Galoup’s fragile composure. In the tense, tightly disciplined atmosphere of military life, Denis found an ideal outlet for two career-long concerns: the quiet agony of repressing one’s emotions, and the terror of finally letting loose.
Friday, Sept. 20, 7:00pm
Bloody Sunday (2002) 107m
Director: Paul Greengrass
This critical breakthrough showcases Paul Greengrass’s signature ability to make the recent past seem viscerally present. The titular Sunday was January 30 1972, when a group of British troops massacred 14 unarmed civil rights marchers in the Northern Irish city of Derry. Greengrass limits his focus to the 24 hours surrounding the massacre, documenting the proceedings with an activist’s righteous anger, a historian’s sense for the politics of the period, a journalist’s attention to the relevant facts and, last but not least, a filmmaker’s eye for the visual texture of his chosen time and place. The result feels like watching history unfold in real time, an impression that’s not entirely inaccurate: of the film’s many extras, a handful marched on that Sunday themselves.
Thursday, Sept. 26, 9:00pm
Paul Greengrass' Bloody Sunday. Photo courtesy of ITV Global / THE KOBAL COLLECTION.
Games of Love and Chance (L’Esquive) (2003)123m
Director: Abdellatif Kechiche
In Abdellatif Kechiche’s César-sweeping second feature, a group of foul-mouthed teens from the Paris banlieues act out their own romantic roundelay during a school production of Marivaux’s 18th-century comedy of manners Games of Love and Chance. Shy Krimo (Osman Elkharraz) loves sociable actress Lydia (Sara Forestier), but she has troubles of her own: fending off the jealous threats of a violent ex and the tough-love verbal jabs of an outspoken best friend. Kechiche gives a deft, nimble touch to the kids’ barbed exchanges, without ever letting us forget the social tensions and economic hardships threatening their fragile equilibrium.
Sunday, Sept. 22, 4:15pm
Hesus The Revolutionary (2002) 112m
Director: Lav Diaz
Lav Diaz’s dystopian fable—practically a short by the standards of this master of cinematic duration, clocking in at just under two hours—takes place in an eerily familiar near-future, full of graffitied buildings and plagued by guerilla warfare. In a Philippines kept under lockdown by a heavily contested military regime, poet-cum-freedom-fighter Hesus travels the country fleeing government authorities, daydreaming of a happier childhood, and struggling with his guilt over having carried out a brutal order from his revolutionary superior. An unusual foray into the science fiction genre, Hesus the Revolutionary is still very much of a piece with Diaz’s subsequent work: a film of philosophical rigor and barely muted anger.
Saturday, Sept. 21, 4:30pm
I Can No Longer Hear the Guitar (J’entends plus la guitar) (1991) 98m
Director: Philippe Garrel
Arguably Philippe Garrel’s masterpiece, I Can No Longer Hear the Guitar is a surpassingly delicate meditation on love, loss and the passage of time. As always, Garrel and his scenarist Marc Cholodenko are working in the realm of poetically refracted autobiography, one level away from psychodrama. The incandescent Johanna Ter Steege is the Nico figure and the late Benoit Régent is the Garrel stand-in, and their scenes together play like instants plucked from the past and preserved in crystalline form, under perfectly captured natural light (thanks to the great Caroline Champetier behind the camera). The guitar that is no longer heard, except in memory, belongs to the Velvet Underground, an echo of yesterday’s dreams.
—Kent Jones, Film Comment
Wednesday, Sept. 25, 6:45pm
Little Odessa (1994) 98m
Director: James Gray
James Gray was just a year out of film school when he shot this wrenching, deeply personal Brighton Beach-set crime drama about the slow implosion of a Russian-Jewish family. By the film’s release, he had developed a reputation as one of America’s most inventive genre filmmakers, earned the admiration of Claude Chabrol, and guided Tim Roth to a career-highlight performance as a hitman on the outs with his employers, struggling not to implicate his younger brother in his criminal life. Inspired in equal measure by the paintings of Edward Hopper and the elegiac earth-tones of New Hollywood, Little Odessa has a visual sensibility all its own, and confirmed Gray as a major new talent in world cinema.
Sunday, Sept. 22, 6:45pm
Maborosi (1995) 109m
Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda
One of Japan’s foremost contemporary filmmakers made his feature debut with this delicate portrait of loss and regeneration. Five years after a young wife and mother loses her husband in an unforeseen tragedy, she re-marries and moves to a small rural fishing village. She adapts gradually, but still finds herself subject to an ache she can’t soothe or name. Like Yasujiro Ozu before him, Hirokazu Kore-eda has a rare sensitivity to the place of individuals within the natural world, a cautious faith in the restorative powers of nature, family and romantic love, and an equally strong conviction, expressed with the lightest of touches, that some things can never be restored.
Tuesday, Sept. 24, 6:30pm
Joel Coen's Miller's Crossing. Photo courtesy of 20TH CENTURY FOX / THE KOBAL COLLECTION.
Miller's Crossing (1990) 115m
Director: Joel Coen
“Nothing more foolish than a man chasin’ his hat.” With this bleak, sometimes hilarious Prohibition-era noir—their third feature—the Coen Brothers secured their reputation among the most distinctive voices in American movies. Rich in period detail, rapid-fire quips, betrayals, shifting alliances, tommy guns, and, yes, hats, the film also features career-highlight turns from John Turturro as a sniveling informant and Marcia Gay Harden as a jaded gangster’s moll, as well as an unforgettable “Danny Boy”-scored shootout. Miller’s Crossing is one of the Brothers’ finest moments, and a high point of the ’90s gangster film revival.
Sunday, Sept. 22, 9:00pm
Night and Day (2008) 144m
Director: Hong Sang-soo
Country: South Korea
A successful painter facing pot possession charges flees his sleepy Korean home for the streets of Paris in Hong Sang-Soo’s ambling portrait of mid-life male discombobulation. A run-in with an old flame, now unhappily married, a series of tearful phone calls to the wife back home, a cautious affair with a young art student, a visit to a church, brief stirrings of lust and affection and homesickness and regret—Hong captures it all with effortless grace and calm matter-of-factness, until a late-film swerve into fantasy caps the whole thing off with a mischievous question mark.
Friday, Sept. 20, 9:00pm
Playing 'In the Company of Men' (2003) 121m
Director: Arnaud Desplechin
The celebrated playwright Edward Bond wrote In the Company of Men (no relation to Neil Labute’s film of the same title) at the height of his disgust over modern capitalist culture: a young businessman goes to ruin trying to outmaneuver his arms-manufacturer father. Arnaud Desplechin did for Bond’s play what Louis Malle did for Uncle Vanya: the dramatic action itself, shot with a hyperactive handheld camera, alternates with footage of the actors auditioning, rehearsing, and gearing up to perform. Desplechin locates Bond in a high-tragedy tradition stretching from Sophocles to Shakespeare: at one point, deciding the play lacks enough female roles, the cast splice in one of Ophelia’s scenes from Hamlet.
Wednesday, Sept. 25, 9:00pm
Pulse (2001) 118m
Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
With this slow-burn slice of supernatural horror, Kiyoshi Kurosawa took a now-familiar premise—ghosts making contact with the living through computer monitors and laptop screens—and spun it into an unsettling reflection on isolation, impotence and loss. Kurosawa eschews shock effects for something stealthier, keeping his audience always a little in the dark, playing on their nerves with cryptic signals and impeccable sound design. If the horror film has traditionally appealed to our fear of death, Pulse taps into an even deeper fear: that of, in the film’s words, being quietly trapped in our own loneliness forever.
Saturday, Sept. 21, 9:00pm
The River (1997) 115m
Director: Tsai Ming-liang
After spontaneously agreeing to play a drowned corpse in a film, a young man (Lee Kang-sheng) develops chronic, inexplicable neck pain. Meanwhile, his mother embarks on an affair with a pornographer, his father spends free evenings pursuing chance sexual encounters at a local bathhouse, and the family’s shared apartment keeps suffering from mysterious plumbing issues… Tsai Ming-Liang’s third feature is at once overtly metaphorical and deeply committed to the ebb and flow of everyday life: a film about individuals in crisis that builds patiently to a devastating emotional climax.
Tuesday, Sept. 24, 9:00pm
Sobibor, OCT. 14, 1943, 4 P.M. (2001) 95m
Director: Claude Lanzmann
Sobibor, Oct. 14, 1943, 4 p.m. is comprised primarily of an interview Lanzmann conducted in 1979 with a Holocaust survivor named Yehuda Lerner about the uprising at Sobibor, a Nazi extermination camp in eastern Poland, the only successful Jewish-prisoner insurrection of the war. This film isn’t just an epilogue to Shoah, it’s a rebuttal to the dominant mythology of Jewish acquiescence and martyrdom, and as such, a critique of turning history into the comforts of fiction. It’s historiography with a vengeance.
—Manohla Dargis, Film Comment, July/August 2001
Sunday, Sept. 22, 2:00pm
Useless (2007) 81m
Director: Jia Zhangke
The second documentary feature by acclaimed director Jia Zhangke (Platform, The World) is a three-part, multi-angle reflection on China’s clothing industry. A group of women sits behind sewing machines in a fluorescent-lit garment factory and struggle to make it to the lunch hall through an inexplicably locked gate. A haut couture designer develops a new line, “Useless,” in response to her country’s recent record of bottom-line-motivated mass-production. And, in the rural province of Shanxi, a traditional tailor gives up his trade to become a miner. Their stories suggest a modern China in flux, struggling to close a series of ever-widening internal divisions: between its cities and its villages; its artists and its workers; its recent history and its distant past.
Saturday, Sept. 21, 7:00pm