Despite Bradley Cooper potentially being on strike (in solidarity!), the New York Film Festival continues to forge ahead without any hindrance. Throughout its impressive 61-year history, this esteemed institution has endured financial difficulties, changes in leadership, and even the occasional unfortunate choice for opening night films. Therefore, it was never in doubt that the festival would persevere, even in the absence of notable stars like Cooper and Natalie Portman. The festival's enduring presence and esteemed reputation serve as a testament to the fact that the world of cinema encompasses much more than just glamorous red carpet events and photo opportunities.
The festival will commence on Friday with the screening of Todd Haynes's critically acclaimed film "May December," which garnered significant attention at the Cannes Film Festival. This thought-provoking film delves into the intriguing dynamics that unfold when an esteemed actress, portrayed by Portman, encounters the real-life woman she is set to portray in a biographical film, played by Julianne Moore. The New York Film Festival consistently curates a selection of the finest films from previous events, yet its true significance lies not only in the premieres but also in its exceptional programming. While there exist larger and more glamorous festivals, New York continues to uphold its reputation as a trailblazer in the realm of artistic expression. It serves as a necessary response to the superficiality associated with the term "content."
One of the greatest sources of satisfaction lies in the extensive and overwhelming diversity present in this event. The program encompasses a wide range of genres, including short films, feature films, personal narratives, historical epics, austere dramas, and comprehensive documentaries. Additionally, there are exceptional works such as Paul B. Preciado's "Orlando, My Political Biography," which defy simplistic categorization. Narrated by Preciado himself, this unique creation utilizes Virginia Woolf's renowned 1928 novel, "Orlando: A Biography," as a foundation for a complex and thought-provoking exploration of transgender identity. It stands as an indispensable highlight of the festival, and one that I eagerly anticipate revisiting upon its opening in November.
I am eagerly anticipating the opportunity to revisit "Menus-Plaisirs - les Troisgros," the latest offering from Frederick Wiseman. This captivating four-hour portrayal of a family, a business, and a world centers on the Troisgros, a renowned dynasty of chefs, most notably recognized for their three-star Michelin restaurant located in central France. The film is both intimate and expansive, taking the viewer on a journey from the kitchen to the farm fields, while chronicling the triumphs and daily frustrations, as well as the aesthetic and ethical sensibilities of individuals whose passion for their craft is evident in every meticulously prepared dish. This level of dedication is reminiscent of the filmmaker himself, who was born in 1930, the same year the Troisgros family opened their first restaurant.
Other notable attractions at the festival include "Here," a tender and elegantly paced narrative by Bas Devos. The film revolves around the serendipitous meeting of two individuals - a construction worker and a botanist specializing in moss - on a melancholic day in Brussels. Although not much unfolds in terms of action, the film encapsulates the essence of life, work, and possibly even love. Devos skillfully captures the beauty of his characters, allowing them to gradually emerge through minimal dialogue. He meticulously follows their individual journeys before bringing them together in a chance encounter amidst a lush woodland setting. Each moment in this enchanting and unpredictable film holds significance, beginning with the striking opening shot of a towering building framed by vibrant foliage.
The latest offering from Brazilian writer-director Kleber Mendonça Filho, known for his work on "Bacurau," is a profoundly personal and intricately crafted contemplation on a wide range of subjects, with a particular focus on movies and his life within the realm of cinema. Presented in three seamless chapters and blending elements of both documentary and fiction, this film nostalgically and playfully centers around the apartment, the city of Recife, and the movie theaters that Mendonça Filho frequented, which in turn provided him with sustenance and inspiration. "Pictures of Ghosts" carries a mournful tone, as many of the once vibrant cinemas and familiar locations have fallen into disrepair, yet the vitality of the filmmaking serves as a testament to the enduring presence of our cherished memories.
In her commendable directorial debut, "All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt," Raven Jackson skillfully strips her narrative of a girl's journey and her subsequent transformation to its bare essence. The film is visually stunning and meticulously staged, offering an elliptical portrayal of a young Mississippian's coming-of-age that gradually unfolds over the years. Jackson's penchant for lingering on images beyond their maturation may test one's patience, yet the film remains a compelling watch. Similarly, "Do Not Expect Too Much From the End of the World," a vexing tour de force by Radu Jude, captivates with its unpredictable narrative that begins with a young woman awakening and evolves into a humorous and, at times, indignant exploration of Romania's past and present. The film's direction and purpose may be enigmatic, but it rewards the viewer's patience, albeit in a more teasing manner. One of this year's less surprising offerings is "Maestro," a personal and dynamic portrayal of Leonard Bernstein's life, both on and off the conductor's podium. Directed and starring Bradley Cooper, the film provides an intimate glimpse into the multifaceted existence of Bernstein (1919-90), while remaining largely apolitical and impeccably well-mannered. "Maestro" will premiere at David Geffen Hall, the esteemed venue of the New York Philharmonic. In 1943, at the age of 25, Bernstein made headlines with his sensational conducting debut for the Philharmonic, subsequently leading the orchestra and influencing generations of Americans to embrace a love for both Mahler and Broadway musicals.