The 57th Annual New York Film Festival will feature 29 films on their main slate – six from female directors, making up 20 percent of the lineup. Running from September 27 through October 13 at Film at Lincoln Center, the festival’s lineup includes films from directors Kelly Reichardt, Agnes Varda, Celine Sciamma, Mati Diop, Justine Triet and Angela Schanelec.
Opening night film, the centerpiece film and closing night film will all be from male directors: Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story and Edward Norton’s Motherless Brooklyn, respectively.
Kelly Reichardt’s First Cow:
Kelly Reichardt once again trains her perceptive and patient eye on the Pacific Northwest, this time evoking an authentically hardscrabble early 19th-century way of life. A taciturn loner and skilled cook (John Magaro) has traveled west and joined a group of fur trappers in Oregon Territory, though he only finds true connection with a Chinese immigrant (Orion Lee) also seeking his fortune; soon the two collaborate on a successful business, although its longevity is reliant upon the clandestine participation of a nearby wealthy landowner’s prized milking cow. From this simple premise Reichardt constructs an interrogation of foundational Americana that recalls her earlier triumph Old Joy in its sensitive depiction of male friendship, yet is driven by a mounting suspense all its own. Reichardt shows her distinct talent for depicting the peculiar rhythms of daily living and ability to capture the immense, unsettling quietude of rural America. An A24 release.
Agnes Varda’s Varda by Agnes:
When Agnès Varda died earlier this year at age 90, the world lost one of its most inspirational cinematic radicals. From her neorealist-tinged 1954 feature debut La Pointe Courte to her New Wave treasures Cléo from 5 to 7 and Le Bonheur to her inquiries into those on society’s outskirts like Vagabond (NYFF23), The Gleaners and I (NYFF38), and the 2017 Oscar nominee Faces Places (NYFF55), she made enduring films that were both forthrightly political and gratifyingly mercurial, and which toggled between fiction and documentary decades before it was more commonplace in art cinema. In what would be her final work, partially constructed of onstage interviews and lectures, interspersed with a wealth of clips and archival footage, Varda guides us through her career, from her movies to her remarkable still photography to the delightful and creative installation work. It’s a fitting farewell to a filmmaker, told in her own words.
Celine Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire:
On the cusp of the 19th century, young painter Marianne travels to a rugged, rocky island off the coast of Brittany. Here, she has been commissioned to create a wedding portrait of the wealthy yet free-spirited Héloise, whose hand in marriage has been promised to a man she’s never met. Resentful of the forced union, Héloise at first refuses to be painted, yet a growing bond—at first emotional and then erotic—develops between the women, exquisitely etched by Noémie Merlant as the artist and Adèle Haenel as her initially reluctant muse. With a visual precision as delicate as that of Merlant’s Marianne—whose patient acts of creation are lovingly dwelt upon—Céline Sciamma classically builds her double portrait from tentative romance to melodramatic rapture to a quietly devastating ending, all while subverting the traditional story of an artist and “his” muse. Winner of the Best Screenplay award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. A NEON release.
Mati Diop’s Atlantics: A Ghost Love Story:
Building on the promise—and then some—of her acclaimed shorts, Mati Diop has fashioned an extraordinary drama that skirts the line between realism and fantasy, romance and horror, and which, in its crystalline empathy, humanity, and political outrage, confirms the arrival of a major talent. Set in Senegal, the birth country of her legendary director uncle, Djibril Diop Mambéty, the film initially follows the blossoming love between young construction worker Souleiman (Ibrahima Traoré), who’s being exploited by his rich boss, and Ada (Mama Sané), about to enter into an unwanted arranged marriage with a wealthier man. Souleiman and his fed-up coworkers soon disappear during an attempt to migrate to Spain in a pirogue, yet somehow his presence is still quite literally felt in Dakar. Transmuting a global crisis into a ghostly tale of possession, the gripping, hallucinatory Atlantics: A Ghost Love Story was the winner of the Grand Prix at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. A Netflix release.
Justine Triet’s Sybil:
Past and present collide in an increasingly complicated and highly entertaining fashion in Justine Triet’s intricate study of the professional and personal masks we wear as we perform our daily lives. Psychotherapist Sybil (Virginie Efira) abruptly decides to leave her practice to restart her writing career—only to find herself increasingly embroiled in the life of a desperate new patient: Margot (Adèle Exarchopoulos), a movie star dealing with the aftermath of a traumatic affair with her costar, Igor (Gaspard Ulliel), while trying to finish a film shoot under the watchful eye of a demanding director (Toni Erdmann’s Sandra Hüller, splendidly high-strung), who happens to be Igor’s wife. Sybil, negotiating her own past demons, makes the fateful decision to use Margot’s experiences as inspiration for her book, as boundaries of propriety fall one after another. As she proved in her previous film In Bed with Victoria, which also starred the magnificently expressive Efira, Triet is a master at creating heroines of intense complexity, and of maintaining a tricky balance between volatile drama and sly comedy.
Angela Schanelec’s I Was at Home, But…:
Though she’s been an essential voice in contemporary German cinema since the ’90s, Angela Schanelec is poised to find wider international audiences with I Was at Home, But…, which won her the Best Director prize at this year’s Berlin Film Festival. An elliptical yet emotionally lucid variation on the domestic drama, her latest film intricately navigates the psychological contours of a Berlin family in crisis: Astrid—played with barely concealed fury by Maren Eggert—is trying to hold herself and her fragile teenage son and young daughter together following the death of their father two years earlier. Yet as in all her films, Schanelec develops her story and characters in highly unexpected ways, shooting in exquisite, fragmented tableaux and leaving much to the viewer’s imagination, hinting at a spiritual grace lurking beneath the unsettled surface of every scene. A Cinema Guild release.
The small percentage of female directors is an uptick from the percentage of women at this year’s Cannes and Venice film festivals, but remains well below the percentage of women at Sundance and Berlin. Tickets can be purchased here. For more information, visit: https://www.filmlinc.org/nyff2019/
© Brigid K. Presecky (8/7/19) FF2 Media
Featured image: Kelly Reichardt’s FIRST COW
Excerpts and photos courtesy of New York Film Festival