In addition to selections of the 57th New York Film Festival that I have singled out for full reviews, there are numerous others that merit attention, as in the following brief summary.
“Beanpole,” a most unusual Russian film directed by Kantemir Balagov, take us to Lennigrad after World War II, and surveys ways in which the war affected two women. They are played by actresses new to the screen, Viktoria Miroshnichenko and Vasilisa Perelygina. The acting rules the day in this film, although the story of what is happening to the women can seem like a stretch at times. Yet the overall vision, creativity and emotional upheaval in “Beanpole” make it special.
“First Cow,” directed by Kelly Reichardt, is set in America’s Pacific Northwest in the early 1800s. Two men seeking their fortune team up and find a way to exploit a situation, but crime will out and they run into trouble. Early on there is a shot of the remains of two people. And the plot, often with humor, but ultimately deadly serious, tells how those bones got there. While somewhat far-fetched, “First Cow” features good acting and effective scenery.
“Fire Will Come,” directed by Oliver Laxe, takes place in Spain and focuses on the character Amador, who has been released from prison after having sentenced in connection with arson. He is trying to get his life together in his village, although he is looked upon with distain by others in the area. When a nasty fire breaks out, guess who will be suspected?
There is excitement and bonding in “Bacurau,” directed by Kleber Mendonça Filho and Julian Dornelles and set in a area deep in Brazil. A community is threatened by armed mercenaries linked to politicians and the marauders try to take over a village. But the locals cleverly come together to fight the intruders, and the result is an uplifting film exalting what people can accomplish when unified and brave.
“Martin Eden,” directed by Pietri Marcello, is based on the 1909 novel by Jack London with a screenplay written by Marcello and Maurizio Braucci. The film, now transposed to Naples, explores the ambitions, career and life of Eden, played by Luca Marinelli, who longs to become a writer. There are many impressive sequences in the course of his quest, including with the upper class university student he hopes to marry. The film’s style is that of a romantic saga that unfolds broadly, sometimes with a bit of tedium, but mainly as an involving story.
A shady operator is scrutinized in “The Moneychanger,” a drama from Uruguay by director Federico Veiroj. The character, Humberto Brause, is the very definition of sleaze. Played by Daniel Hendler, Brause will move money about via crooked investing no matter whom he has to betray. The film has its humorous aspects too, but it is basically a study of corruption.
A different kind of corruption is depicted in “The Traitor,” a return to the screen by noted director Marco Bellocchio. The film is based on real-life case of Tommaso Buscetta, who was a bigwig in the Italian Mafa in Sicily, but in the 1980s turned against the Mafia to become an informer for the authorities. Bellocchio has cast Pierfrancesco Favino in the juicy role in this realistic drama.
The most noteworthy aspect of “Vitaline Varela” from Portugal is its boredom. Directed by Pedro Costa, it is a painfully slow observance of what happens when a woman from Cape Verde returns to attend her husband’s funeral after a long estrangement from him. The actress playing the title role is, as in the title, Vitalina Varela.
Espionage and terrorism go together in “Wasp Network,” director Olivier Assayas’s complicated tale about anti-Castro groups carrying out attacks in Cuba. But they are also being infiltrated in a story about betrayal and loyalties that tensely and emotionally unfolds. Apart from the various male actors in the saga, the film gains from the presence of always-intriguing Penélope Cruz. Credibility problems sometimes arise, but “Wasp Network” commands one’s attention.
How’s your whistling ability? You may feel like trying to perfect it after seeing Romanian director Corneliu Porumboiu’s “The Whistlers,” a crime film with the very odd plot involving the need for a detective in Bucharest to learn a secret tribal language that consists of whistling. P.S. The guy is susceptible to corruption. The story is full of intrigue and action, but is not always believable.
In “The Wild Goose Lake” Chinese director Diao Yinan, who also wrote the screenplay, has concocted a story around a small-time mob boss, played by Hu Ge, who unintentionally kills a cop. Now he is a hunted man desperately trying to stay alive. The film has a fascinating noir look and ambiance as we follow the plotline and admire the cast.
There were even more films on the Festival’s Main Slate, apart from attractions in other categories. As you can see, those of us covering the event were kept busy. Eventually the general public will be able to see many of the films (some have already opened), but some have yet to acquire American distribution. Reviewed November 12, 2019.