WITH FIFTEEN FEATURES and eight short film programs, the second edition of the New York Film Festival’s “Currents” sidebar almost qualifies as a festival in itself. Once again international in scope, this year’s selections reflect the continued impact of social media, not only in terms of how it has altered the speed and perspective by which world events are recorded, but also in the way it is recorded. how they suggest a possible new direction for cinema; this seems to be the point of Tiffany Sia Do not circulate. By reworking cell phone footage of the violent police response to the protests in Hong Kong in 2019, Sia’s work seeks to keep events immediacy.
The found images, long a staple in the history of cinema, appear in other films this year. For example, in Just a move, chronicle of Vincent Meessen on the influence and the fate of the Marxist activist Omar Diop, the director interviews some old friends and colleagues of Diop in Senegal but also includes scenes of Godard The Chinese in which Diop appears. Legendary Armenian filmmaker Artavazd Pelechian Nature, composed entirely of found images, begins harmlessly enough with majestic images of mountains and clouds accompanied by Beethoven’s Kyrie Missa solemnis. But the film quickly becomes a relentless onslaught of volcanic eruptions, landslides, melting glaciers, and tsunamis – footage no less terrifying than when it was initially captured.
The masterful of Jean-Gabriel Périot Back to Reims is one of the most remarkable films using found footage that I have ever seen. The film is based on the memoirs of philosopher and historian Didier Eribon of his childhood in a working-class family, told against the social and political history of France over the past seventy-five years. The text, perfectly narrated by Adèle Haenel, is accompanied by dozens of extracts from an astonishing range of documentary and narrative films from French cinema archives. If the life of Eribon is retraced from the 1950s, the extracts range from early silent and sound cinema (Dimitri Kirsanoff, Jean Vigo, Germaine Dulac, Jean Renoir), to the New Wave (Godard, Jean Rouch, Chris Marker) and recent television reports. In doing so, Periot expands its source material, placing and editing familiar film footage so seamlessly that it becomes part of the story being told. They not only help bring the past to life, but evoke the personal and social history of Eribon – and undoubtedly of Périot – with extraordinary depth and intensity.
Family Portrait of a Different Kind includes another of this year’s strongest offerings: Wang Qiong’s portrait All about my sisters, a burning documentary on China’s one-child policy from 1980 to 2015 and its deadly effects on the filmmaker’s family. Considering Wang’s direct and ruthless approach, it is astonishing that his parents and sisters agreed to participate in his project. No one comes out in a flattering light. An uncle recalls that to avoid violating the nation’s policy, he let a newborn female die in the woods. The film begins and ends with Wang’s interview with her younger sister, Jin, who survived her parents’ attempt to abort her, before being given to a foster family. Jin’s bitter resentment towards his birth parents is transparent, conveyed in the most disturbing way through his verbal abuse and harsh treatment of his young son. We see her for the last time, after abandoning this child, moving to a big city, allegedly to find work, with her second husband, a gambling addict who she prefers to his siblings and parents.
The captivating of Claire Simon I want to talk about Duras dramatizes the relationship between one of the new Romanand Yann Andréa, an idolatrous homosexual who became her lover at seventy and he at thirty-two. Based on interviews with Yann, conducted in 1982 by journalist Michèle Manceaux, the film has the conviction of a good documentary but is played out as a series of captivating psychoanalytic encounters (Duras herself is only seen fleetingly, in archive images). But both Swann Arlaud in the role of Yann and Emmanuelle Devos in the role of Michèle animate the text with sobriety and finesse. staging, the camera work and editing are exemplary in their frankness. This style provides a neutral setting for the painful and often sensational nature of Yann’s account of a bond that consumed all aspects of his being, leading to mating confusion and suicide attempts.
If Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet had already made a comedy, it might look like the charming comedy of Denis Côte Social hygiene. In the manner of Straub / Huillet, the characters of the film, in long shots and long shots, stand against serene backdrops of mountains, fields and sky, reciting their dialogue with a minimum of inflection. We listen to a young man named Antoninus who is interviewed by his sister, his wife, and various lovers about his life as a pickpocket and his general inability to make important decisions. Côté seems determined to eliminate many of the conventions typical of narrative film, but the pithy effect he gets here demonstrates that sometimes less can indeed be more.
Eléonore Yaméogo’s, A van. that of Dienderen and that of Rosine Mbakam Prism, an atypical exploration of ingrained racism, presents us with a protagonist – or perhaps we should say an antagonist – unlike any other. In one of the key moments of the film, an actress confronts this invisible figure and sums up the main argument of the film: that from its invention, the camera was calibrated for white skin. What do you think, she asks her potential interlocutor: “Are you guilty or innocent? The reverse shot reveals that she is speaking to the camera itself, which, of course, remains silent.
For pure aesthetic impact, it would be hard to beat that of Kyoshi Sugita Haruhara-san’s Recorder and the shorter work of Daichi Saïto, terreterreterre. While the former is ostensibly a tale of a young woman who lives alone and works in a local cafe, neither the story nor the character are more than a peripheral concern. Yet virtually every interior shot is framed and lit as carefully as a Vermeer painting, as if to reflect the calm and serenity of the person inside. She remains little more than a benevolent presence, but the sense of place created by Sugita is anything but evanescent.
Daichi Saïto continues to be obsessed with the film image itself and the myriad possibilities to which it can be subjected. Like Peleshyan, his conspicuous subject is nature, but in terreterreterre it is transformed, often unrecognizable, by the eye of the filmmaker and digital processing. A series of unidentified landscapes unfold intermittently, interspersed with leading noir and transforming into undulating fields of changing colors and textures as an improvised soundtrack by Jason Sharp accentuates each gesture of estrangement. It is as if we were watching a film made by a primitive witness to the beginning of the world.
The New York Film Festival Currents sidebar runs from September 24 to October 10.