NYFF early bird highlights

The Zone Of Interest, The Boy And The Heron, The Beast and Fallen Leaves

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Bertrand Bonello’s inspired The Beast (La Bête) is a highlight of the 61st New York Film Festival
Bertrand Bonello’s inspired The Beast (La Bête) is a highlight of the 61st New York Film Festival Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Jonathan Glazer’s brilliant Cannes Grand Prix winner The Zone Of Interest (UK Oscar submission for Best International Feature Film) starring Sandra Hüller (of Justine Triet’s Cannes Palme d’Or winner Anatomy Of A Fall, also in the Main Slate) and Christian Friedel (of the Babylon Berlin series), Bertrand Bonello’s The Beast (La Bête, inspired by Henry James’s The Beast In The Jungle) starring Léa Seydoux and George MacKay (original score by Bertrand and Anna Bonello); Kaurismäki’s Fallen Leaves (Kuolleet lehdet, winner of the Cannes Jury Prize) starring Alma Pöysti and Jussi Vatanen (with a Bill Murray and Adam Driver scene from Jim Jarmusch’s The Dead Don’t Die) are three highlights from the Main Slate. Hayao Miyazaki’s The Boy And The Heron in the Spotlight programme round out the four early bird highlights of the 61st New York Film Festival.

Jonathan Glazer’s adaptation of Martin Amis’s The Zone Of Interest is brilliant
Jonathan Glazer’s adaptation of Martin Amis’s The Zone Of Interest is brilliant Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Todd Haynes’s May December (Christine Vachon, his longtime producer was honoured at this year’s Karlovy International Film Festival), starring Natalie Portman, Julianne Moore, and Charles Melton is the Opening Night selection. Todd Haynes will participate in a Q&A on September 29 following the 6:00pm screening and introduce the 9:00pm showing at Alice Tully Hall.

Sofia Coppola’s Priscilla, a portrait of Elvis Presley’s (Jacob Elordi) wife, born Priscilla Ann Wagner (Cailee Spaeny) is the Centerpiece. Sofia Coppola, Cailee Spaeny, and Jacob Elordi will participate in a Q&A on October 6 following the 6:00pm screening and there will be an extended introduction before the 9:00pm show at Alice Tully Hall.

Michael Mann’s Ferrari, starring Penélope Cruz and Adam Driver (as Enzo Ferrari) with Shailene Woodley, Gabriel Leone, Patrick Dempsey, and Jack O’Connell will be the Closing Night selection. Michael Mann will participate in a Q&A on October 13 following the 6:00pm screening and introduce the 9:00pm showing at Alice Tully Hall.

New York Film Festival 61
New York Film Festival 61

In the Henry James 1903 novella, The Beast in the Jungle, the female protagonist proclaims: “That’s it. It’s all that concerns me - to help you to pass for a man like another.” The male protagonist is happy to hear this and after a grave pause she continues, “By going on as you are.”

The themes of the films I’ve seen so far are very much in line with Henry James, and the warning not to miss what is most important, not to be outside your own life, and beware of the “train of fire” and “anguish of inward throbs.” Justine Triet’s Anatomy of a Fall vivisects particularized dynamics of a family unit, as Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s About Dry Grasses does for a remote Turkish village, while Paul B. Preciado’s Orlando, My Political Biography paves a way from Virginia Woolf into a future where gender may not be a category in the passport anymore. The relationship with parents is explored as the, more or less shrouded, core of Pedro Almodóvar’s A Strange Way Of Life, Andrew Haigh’s All Of Us Strangers, and Martín Rejtman’s La Práctica.

The Zone Of Interest
The Zone Of Interest

The Zone Of Interest

Jonathan Glazer’s The Zone of Interest, which took the best of Martin Amis’s novel and left all exaggerations aside, is unmistakably a masterpiece, one of the best films in the 2020s so far. The power of wilful ignorance in humans is enormous and the more it is encouraged, the more it will thrive. There are no shortcuts in this film, no conventions and nothing careless. The costumes, the haircuts, the flowers in the garden fed by ash, the furniture, the German language of the 1940s, aid to transport us to the house, adjacent to the camp, of the commandant of Auschwitz, Rudolf Höss (Christian Friedel), his wife Hedwig (Sandra Hüller), and his family. Every detail matters, because the triggers distract us, the viewers of this film in the 21st century, from the horrors happening beyond the wall of the death camp, which we do not see. But never for long. As the family lives its normal life with its petty worries, the dogs bark, shots ring out, the furnaces burn in nonstop destruction. Mica Levi’s brilliant score prepares us from the get-go. The noise in each viewer’s mind will fill in images, the information you know or surmise. A father reads his children the story of Hansel and Gretel from the Grimms' collection, about the witch being tricked into the oven. This is precisely his job. A girl leaves apples for the inmates during clandestine night endeavours, which cannot even be shown in the same filmic way, because compassion is so alien to those who inhabit the land of cruel denial. There are human bones in the river and ashes in the air. The sounds of atrocities bleed in from next door. Taught not to question and enable the “going on as you are,” anything is possible.

Public screenings: Sunday, October 8 at 3:00pm - Alice Tully Hall; Monday, October 9 at 12:00pm - Alice Tully Hall; Wednesday, October 11 at 7:00pm - Museum of the Moving Image; Friday, October 13 at 1:15pm - Walter Reade Theater; Saturday, October 14 at 3:15pm - Florence Beale Theater - Jonathan Glazer, Christian Friedel, and Sandra Hüller will participate in Q&As on October 8 and October 8 Sandra Hüller will be participating in a Deep Focus Free Talk on Sunday, October 8 at 6:00pm - Amphitheater

The Boy And The Heron
The Boy And The Heron

The Boy And The Heron

Studio Ghibli co-founder, Hayao Miyazaki’s The Boy and the Heron, his most autobiographical work to date, connects the dots between much of his previous work. From why My Neighbour Totoro resonates so deeply with so many children and adults to The Wind Rises (2013), which had to come before this story of life and death, before and after. Sirens and wartime and sparks that resemble fireflies start the film. The hero’s mother will die in a hospital in the blaze and the boy Mahito and his father move to the countryside with his stepmother/aunt, the dead mother’s younger sister, pregnant with his sibling to be. This is a lot to come to terms with under any circumstance - think Cinderella - but here in Miyazaki’s most wonderfully magical world, the new abode holds many mysteries. There the hero encounters seven old servant women, as distinct as Disney’s dwarfs, and a strange grey heron who sometimes speaks and has teeth and who is connected to the magical tower nearby, built by an ancestor, which seems to hold ancient clues about life and death.

Public screenings: Sunday, October 1 at 12:45pm - Alice Tully Hall; Monday, October 2 at 5:30pm - Alice Tully Hall; Thursday, October 12 at 12:00pm - Walter Reade Theater; Saturday, October 14 at 12:00pm - Walter Reade Theater

The Beast
The Beast

The Beast

The Civil War mentioned as an aside in Bonello’s The Beast, which takes place in three distinct points in time (1910, 2014, and 2044), is that of 2025. As musical variations on a theme, The Beast explores what Henry James diagnosed so devastatingly. The chill of egotism and the feverish dance around the void are so desperately relevant today that it leaves one breathless. Gabrielle (Léa Seydoux) and Louis (George MacKay) meet in the earlier sequences, with some of the James dialogue reversed in gender, and a subplot of doll-making added, which makes you think of E.T.A. Hoffman’s 1817 story The Sandman. The future in 2044 has developed an apparatus that can erase all the emotional baggage of history and tame those beasts once and for all, at least for most. The 2014 sequences feature Seydoux as an aspiring actress and model, housesitting in L.A and MacKay as an incel who is stalking her, which may be the most disturbing and pressing episode of them all. Lots of clairvoyant details, a pigeon in the house, music as the spirit of its years, the power of dance, tears and knives and floods and a brilliant brooch of wings speak of a panorama of the same beast to look out for. The unfilmable text has found its 21st century elucidation.

Public screenings: Sunday, October 8 at 8:30pm - Alice Tully Hall; Monday, October 9 at 8:15pm - Walter Reade Theater - Bertrand Bonello will participate in a Q&A following both screenings.

Fallen Leaves
Fallen Leaves

Fallen Leaves

Aki Kaurismäki, in all his Finnish wisdom, has made a romantic comedy, which, with its unique lightness exposes the small and big social injustices and insults that are almost taken for granted. The war in Ukraine is a constant presence every time someone turns on the radio in the film. The inherent, palpable, yet selective optimism tells you that the abandoned dog will be well taken care of (unlike the stray dogs thematised in About Dry Grasses). The absurd injustice, simplified and real, is shown by Ansa (Alma Pöysti) being fired from her supermarket job because during a search they find one expired sandwich in her bag. “It belongs to the trash” she is being told and an entire system of waste, corruption, and profit at the expense of the weakest is exposed. Her male counterpart Holappa (Jussi Vatanen), a metal worker, drinks because he is depressed, and is depressed because he drinks. The work involvements revolve around: Am I in trouble or is it you? How can I spin the situation? Through subtle shifts and casual maneuvers, and the primary colors of beverages and clothes, sofas and walls, Kaurismäki is fighting the Beast invading every part of our lives.

Public screenings: Sunday, October 1 at 3:45pm - Alice Tully Hall; Monday, October 9 at 12:45pm - Walter Reade Theater; Thursday, October 12 at 12:00pm - Francesca Beale Theater; Friday, October 13 at 5:00pm - Museum of the Moving Image - Alma Pöysti will do an introduction on October 1

The New York Film Festival Main Slate selection committee, chaired by Dennis Lim, also includes Florence Almozini, Justin Chang, K. Austin Collins, and Rachel Rosen.

The 61st New York Film Festival runs from Friday, September 29 through Sunday, October 15.

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