New York Film Festival: The Hype and the Substance

This year's NYFF manages both. Plus: Our best of the fest

Also with distributors: Michelangelo Frammartino’s austere yet richly pantheist whatzit Le quattro volte, Oliveira’s delightful masterpiece The Strange Case of Angelica, Weerasethakul’s marvelously eccentric Uncle Boonmee, and Lee Chang-dong’s well- (if over-)written Poetry. All four are estimable selections and, along with Carlos, opening in just a few weeks, and Certified Copy, highly recommended. Paradoxically, it’s the movies with distribution that tend to sell out first. Four of the following six fest picks are still looking for buyers with no guarantee that, once unspooled at Lincoln Center, they will ever receive so fine a projection—or indeed, ever appear in New York—again.

Meek's Cutoff
Meek's Cutoff
Film Socialisme
Film Socialisme
Post Mortem
Post Mortem

Tuesday, After Christmas
A further example of Romanian virtuosity—impossibly long takes, remarkably disciplined acting—Radu Muntean’s domestic melodrama, just acquired by Kino, has the tension of a thriller. Tuesday, After Christmas is a succession of scenes in which, almost always living a lie, the unfaithful hero alternately interacts with his wife and mistress at length. The turning point brings all three together (in a dentist’s office, no less), one member of the triangle still oblivious to the triangle’s existence. That event is topped by the subsequent 10-minute take, in which the husband drops the bomb on her. You won’t see better performances in any film this festival. September 28 and October 1

Film Socialisme
The thorniest of entries (other than what might be in as-yet-unannounced “Views From the Avant-Garde” aside), Jean-Luc Godard’s enigmatic film essay is the NYFF’s prime head-scratcher as well as its No. 1 must-show (and -see, for some). The first half is shockingly beautiful—a dense, highly fragmented analysis of recent European history as allegorized by a Mediterranean cruise ship. The second is a bit rocky. The footage (which may or may not have been shot by the 79-year-old Godard) integrates all manner of video, digital, and online material; the dialogue mixes French with Russian, Arabic, and German. Interpolated titles are a form of concrete poetry offering little clarity to non-Francophones. Still, the first screening promises some instant illumination, or at least intellectual vaudeville: Once the lights come up, Godard’s biographer Richard Brody, former Cahiers du cinéma editor Jean-Michel Frodon, and cinema studies doyenne Annette Michelson will be on hand to puzzle it out. September 29 and October 8

Meek’s Cutoff
Based on an actual 1845 incident, Kelly Reichardt’s latest road movie (just picked up by Oscilloscope) is a great leap into the void for this talented, quirky New York filmmaker—a minimalist Western with intimations of frontier surrealism and manifest destiny madness. The members of an Oregon-bound wagon train (including a severely bonneted Michelle Williams) are misled into the desert by their bombastic, wrong-headed guide (Bruce Greenwood). The movie has a spacey, tranced-out quality, but the political implications, regarding trust given and abused, are unmistakable. October 8 and 9

A murder mystery in which the killer’s identity is known but his motives are not, Cristi Puiu’s Aurora is an experiment, as well as a test for admirers of the director’s Death of Mr. Lazarescu. The premise is absurdist, although only occasionally humorous. The compositions are typically underlit or obstructed; the movie’s characteristic shot has the action glimpsed through a half-open door. That Puiu stays resolutely outside his protagonist is all the more fascinating since he plays the role himself. Although one would have to watch this three-hour movie twice, if one were going to understand it (or not), there’s but a single Sunday-evening showing. October 3

Post Mortem
No one who appreciated Pablo Larraín’s Tony Manero will be disappointed by its follow-up. Unforgettable as the blank-faced Saturday Night Fever–obsessed serial killer in the earlier film, Alfredo Castro returns in Larraín’s more overtly political and even more disturbing Post Mortem, playing a blank-faced, purposefully enigmatic Chilean morgue employee obsessed with the nightclub dancer who lives next door even as a coup unfolds against the nation’s socialist government. Post Mortem shares Tony Manero’s shabby atmospherics and viscerally awkward mise-en-scène; it builds in intensity as Chile moves toward martial law and the protagonist is drafted to help perform the autopsy on deposed president Salvador Allende. October 4 and 5

Mysteries of Lisbon
I haven’t actually seen this, but I plan to. If Raul Ruiz, master of the artfully convoluted narrative, is on track, this four-hour-plus trip through the house of fiction, adapted from a 19th-century classic of Portuguese literature, could be the NYFF’s most rarefied treat. Another that’s only showing once, on the festival’s last day. October 10

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