The 2021 New York Film Festival ends with Denzel Washington in “The Tragedy of Macbeth”
The 59th New York Film Festival opened Friday night and moviegoers couldn’t be more relieved.
Following last year’s pandemic “virtual festival”, in which most screenings took place online, this year’s festival is bringing audiences to venues in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Pleasantville, NY, with a program that features works by some of the greatest talented filmmakers.
At the world premiere of Joel Coen’s “The Tragedy of Macbeth” on Friday, festival director Eugene Hernandez called the launch event a “homecoming”.
The film, an austere German expressionist take on Shakespeare, was actually in production in March 2020 when it was halted by the COVID pandemic (Friday the 13th, no less). Coen told the crowd his team “blithely ignored” the superstition of uttering the real name of Scottish Play, until the film was stopped. “Then we all had religion,” he said. “We started to call it simply ‘The Tragedy’.”
The film stars Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand, captured in shimmering black and white, and is an invigorating launch of this year’s festival, which runs through October 10.
See below for a review of “The Tragedy of Macbeth” and other highlights from this weekend screened at press time. [Updates of highlights will be published as the festival continues.]
Among the films that will be presented in world, American or New York premiere at the festival: “The Power of the Dog” by Jane Campion, a period western with Benedict Cumberbatch and Kirsten Dunst; “Parallel mothers” by Pedro Almodóvar, with Penelope Cruz; the big winner in Cannes, “Titane”; Memories of Todd Haynes from the New York avant-garde / rock band “The Velvet Underground”; Paul Verhoeven’s tale of 17th century nuns in lust, “Benedetta”; Joaquin Phoenix in “Come on, come on”; and the highly anticipated New York premieres of Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune” and Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch”.
Also: “Petite Maman”, the sequel to “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” director Céline Sciamma; “Vortex”, a split-screen construction by Gaspar Noé; “France”, with Léa Seydoux as a TV journalist; “Jane by Charlotte”, an intimate portrait of actress-singer Jane Birkin by her daughter, actress Charlotte Gainsbourg; Maggie Gyllenhaal’s first film “The Lost Daughter”; “Întregalde”, Radu Muntean’s murky story of aid workers lost in rural Transylvania; the Japanese anime “Belle”; and “Drive My Car”, adapted from a short story by Haruki Murakami.
The festival requires proof of COVID vaccination to attend screenings. (Audiences, staff, and filmmakers in attendance should all remain masked inside.) So if vaccine-hesitant need some extra encouragement to finally get a jab, this could be an opportunity to see two of the best. This year’s films: the Iranian family trip “Hit the Road” and the Swiss charmer “The Girl and the Spider”, none of which will hit theaters in the US until 2022. Don’t delay!
Festival rerun screenings include restorations of Joan Micklin Silver’s “Hester Street” (1975), starring Oscar nominee Carole Kane; “The Bloody Child” by Nina Menkes (1996); and Melvin Van Peebles’ blaxploitation classic “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song” (1971).
Also: “Radio On”, a 1979 British road movie with music by Kraftwerk, David Bowie and Devo; “Songs For Drella,” a 1990 concert film starring Lou Reed and John Cale’s song cycle dedicated to Andy Warhol; Michael Powell’s “Bluebeard Castle” (1963); and John Carpenter’s 1976 thriller “Assault on Precinct 13”.
The festival’s conversations with filmmakers include “Mississippi Masala” director Mira Nair, actress Sarita Choudhury and cinematographer Ed Lachman on the film’s 30th anniversary (September 25); Mia Hansen-Løve (“Bergman Island”) and Joachim Trier (“The Worst Person in the World”) on September 27; Jane Campion, director of “The Power of the Dog”, interviewed by Sofia Coppola (October 2); writer-director Ryûsuke Hamaguchi, of “Drive My Car” and “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy” (Oct. 3); and “Memoria” director Apichatpong Weerasethakul (October 7). There are also panel discussions on labor movements in film, the New York avant-garde movement and a festival report with critics and the editors of Film Comment magazine.
Click here for a full schedule.
Among the films screened at press time, here are some of the highlights of this weekend. [More highlights will be published as the festival continues.]
“The Tragedy of Macbeth” – It’s not so strange, given the bubbling cauldron of crime and punishment in the Coen Brothers’ CV, that Joel Coen’s living account of Shakespeare’s bloody murder and revenge story would work so well to dramatize the naked ambition of Lady Macbeth (Frances McDormand) and her flexible husband (Denzel Washington).
Shot in black and white against beautifully abstract, shadowy sets that blur the staging with film noir, this is an invigorating addition to the cinematic Macbeths of Orson Welles, Akira Kurosawa, and Roman Polanski. Washington’s Magnetic Murderer is a jumble of pride, indecision, fury and weakness in the face of supernatural predictions, while McDormand (who first played Lady Macbeth at age 14) brings tortured sterility to his desire. of aging power. With a cast that includes Brendon Gleeson as Duncan, Corey Hawkins as Macduff, Bertie Carvel as Banquo and Harry Melling in Malcolm, the performances are powerful without being gaudy, while the verse is beautifully complemented by the mystical incantations of the film (The Three Sisters Bizarre are particularly chilling).
Praise goes to the veteran collaborators of the Coen brothers: production designer Stefan Dechant, cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel, costume designer Mary Zophres, sound designer Skip Livesay and composer Carter Burwell. The film is a 105-minute float, with footage that will linger long after the last black drop of blood has been shed. In theaters nationwide on December 25, before streaming on Apple TV + starting January 14.
To watch a trailer, click on the video player below.
“The First 54 Years: A Short Handbook for Military Occupation” – In this examination of the root causes and justifications for military occupations and resistance, taking the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip as an example, Israeli filmmaker Avi Mograbi addresses the camera directly in this which is essentially a lecture (comparing it to a Powerpoint presentation would be too generous), interspersed with archival footage and interviews with former Israeli security forces that bear witness to the tactics of keeping a population at bay. But the dry and clinical presentation, without resorting to the heartbreaking testimonies of witnesses and victims, or even to music, actually reinforces the intellectual ideas being debated about why an occupying force resorts to measures which, almost by definition, create a quagmire of which the extraction becomes practically impossible. In English and Hebrew with English subtitles. Screenings on September 25 and 26.
Watch an excerpt here:
“To come up” – In an experience reminiscent of Michael Apted’s “Up” series, filmmakers Pietro Marcello (“Martin Eden”), Francesco Munzi (“Black Souls”) and Alice Rohrwacher (“The Wonders”) traveled through Italy to interview young people on the verge of adulthood (“those who become” in their lingo) to learn about their aspirations, goals and fears for the future, in rural and urban communities, in a nation that has been hard hit by economic and political conflicts, even before pandemic containment and the proliferation of N95s. What is hopeful in the film is the number of young people who seem lucid about their opportunities, who see the future as “an imaginary land” which is not the product of “adults” but of their own motivations and fears. A young man said: “Our future is the consequence of our present choices. So if we make the right choices, we will get the future we want. If we make the wrong choices, we will get the future we deserve. “Proof that wisdom is not exclusive to the elderly. In Italian with English subtitles. Screenings September 26 and 27. A Grasshopper Film release.
Watch an excerpt here:
“Exterior noise” – The pandemic looms over several films at this year’s festival – stories of how social isolation affects us, with or without the deadly virus. But this portrait of young people from Berlin and Vienna who fail to blend in with the flow of adulthood is characterized by their bouts of insomnia, apathy and dislocation, crashing into the homes of friends of friends, while searching for a purpose – or an excuse for not look for a goal. Ted Fendt gives a documentary dimension to the observations of his camera on the languid existence of twenty years. In German with English subtitles. Screenings on September 27 and 29.
To watch a trailer, click on the video player below: