Are the movies back? To finish? The signs point to yes at this year’s New York Film Festival, which is packed with hot movies that can thrill people throughout the movie season. Below is a preview of what’s coming and what’s already here, both the exquisite Tar and the…less exquisite triangle of sadness are in theaters today.
There are great performances, and then there is the kind of possession that Cate Blanchett demonstrates in TarTodd Field’s first film since 2006 Small children. Blanchett plays Lydia Tár, the kind of superstar conductor who can command a crowd by sitting down for a New Yorker interview at Lincoln Center. The opening scenes establish Lydia’s possession and power—during a lecture at Juilliard, she dresses up a black student who says he can’t take Bach’s music seriously because of the composer’s misogyny. The silent virtuosity displayed in the scene – probably around 20 minutes captured in a single shot as the camera glides around the conference room in an unhurried, tangent-prone 180-degree turn – lets us know that we are between the hands of masters.
For quite a while, Tar lets Lydia (and Blanchett) be the virtuoso she is as she prepares for the recording of a Mahler symphony in Berlin, controlling her orchestra’s politics with the ruthless and harsh approach she takes towards the music. The film resists condemning or praising his arrogance and interpersonal abruptness – it’s as much a product of his high status as it is perhaps necessary to maintain it. (In the aforementioned interview scene, she dismisses any suggestion that she fought against gender bias in the male-dominated leadership arena.) But then the past comes back to haunt Lydia. Field makes sure we only see her cancellation from her perspective, and she just glimpses those protesting her or giving her feedback. Does she deserve what’s happening to her? Are the allegations of “grooming” tinged with homophobia? (Lydia’s down-to-earth homosexuality is rare not only in movies in general, but specifically for a character of this age.) What exactly is she entitled to?
Conversations about cancel culture so often frame things in extreme terms in an effort to nab those Substack subscriptions and Twitter likes; they tell people exactly how to be outraged. But Field conducts the speech like a symphony. Blanchett’s tics-and-all incarnation of Lydia, who leads her orchestra with all her body and soul, is astounding. It’s just another day at the office for her, but if she doesn’t get the Oscar for this, a robbery will have taken place.
Charlotte Wells’ “emotionally autobiographical” debut was celebrated with such fervor at Cannes that looking back on this press makes me feel like I’ve seen a different film. I found After Sun to be an inert double who represents father Calum (Paul Mescal) and his daughter Sophie (Frankie Corio) on vacation in Turkey. Sophie is on the verge of puberty, and some of the suggestions of her learning by example through encounters with slightly older children also vacationing at the resort are sharp and well observed. I thought the movie was, at best, a collection of nice touches. But nothing happens there for a very long time, as Calum and Sophie sit by the pool, eat dinner, sit more, and have polite conversations with strangers. I mean nothing. Nothing happens! Since nothing was happening, I was struck by the fact that, given all the praise this film received, the film had to turn into something that would make all the banality poignant in retrospect. For a film so obsessed with the details of daily life, it was all the more disappointing that it pulls a punch at the end for merely suggesting tragedy, instead of actually showing it. Scenes that depict adult or otherwise Sophie’s grief treatment, set in a strobe club, evoke much better sequences in BPM and Morvern Callar. Don’t take my word for it, but what others see in this movie about white people simply existing until they (maybe) don’t is beyond me.
Finally a film whose title delivers! Women, they talk. A lot. Sarah Polley’s adaptation of Miriam Toews’ 2018 novel is set in an isolated religious community that eschews modern conventions like technology, polymixes and girl-rearing. When the men leave the village for a while to defend someone who attacked one of the women, the women come together to decide what to do with their cultural fate: stay and fight the men for power, or leave. The caucus allows for long philosophizing about power and keeps all the action contained in one place to give women who talk the atmosphere of a filmed room. This is a film in broad strokes about a literal rape culture (men defend a rapist whose drugging and assaulting a local woman is a common practice) in which a character literally utters the words “No all the men”. The performances are strong – especially spirited ones from Claire Foy and Jessie Buckley – and the desaturated image gives the impression of a director vision. It’s a film that lays out its stakes and finds tension in its characters’ determination for resolution, an unusually articulate statement whose conclusion lines up with what was suggested in Celine Sciamma’s film. Portrait of a lady on fire: Utopia is only possible without men. The justification is foolproof.
Top/bottom politics rises and blows on deck as the wealthy rub shoulders with those who serve them on a cruise (as well as some influencers who have been invited to be exposed) in Ruben Östlund’s satire triangle of sadnesswhich won Cannes’ top prize, the Palme d’Or, earlier this year. Sadness is too long by a good 45 minutes (it arrives at two and a half hours waterlogged) and owes a great debt to Luis Buñuel (a scatalogic scene of wealthy guests losing the gastronomic oddities they have been served all over the bourgeoisie in a resolutely Buñuelian form), as well as Lina Wertmüller. Even if someone were content to summarize the plot of swept away for you, you could see the dynamic power switch coming in the second half of the movie, after a handful of cruise passengers get stranded on an island with some help. With a fraction of the charm, Östlund arrives at the exact same conclusions of the filmmakers he borrows from: rich people are too engrossed in their own grotesqueness to have any practical survival skills. Still, as redundant and reliant on the wacky stupidity of its own characters for its premise (no one bothers to look around the island they’re abandoned on), I oddly enjoyed this art-and-drama movie. popcorn essay, which is just specific enough in its rendering of his personalities to make his politics absorbing.
And then there was bones and all, an elegant film about cannibalism from which it is impossible to look away; read the full review here.