Don’t miss these experimental works at the New York Film Festival

The New York Film Festival spear its Currents program two years ago to highlight avant-garde trends in cinema. While innovation is not uniformly felt in its selections this year, the lineup still includes a good number of formally adventurous films, especially among the short films. Impressionist by Daïchi Saïto terreterreterre, which we praised from Rotterdam earlier this year, is part of the “Vibrant matter” series, which includes two films richer in textures and rhythms: Fiction by Manuela de La Borde and Tonalli by the experimental collective Los Ingrávidos.

At Rhyne Vermette Ste. Anne (which we covered as part of Toronto’s Wavelengths program not too long ago) and Kiro Russo’s El Gran Movimiento are among the great discoveries of Currents this year. Both focus on the marginalized and mix intimacy with spiritualistic nocturnal reverie. Where Vermette follows a tight-knit Métis community, Russo once again works with non-professional actor Israel Hurtado. With a characteristic grainy lens, it portrays the precariousness among Bolivia’s urban poor.

Of Tonalli (2021), dir. Los Ingrávidos

Filled with crystal-clear light and stoic acceptance, Kyoshi Sugita Haruhara-san’s Recorder has the opposite vibe. But such calm is deceptive. After Sachi (Chika Araki) briefly meets the owner of the apartment she is renting, she finds a recorder among her belongings. Soon after, she learns of his death, which brings together friends and strangers in a dismal ritual. Absence and presence are complemented by a soft but insistent resonance. A similar sobriety emanates from two short films also made in Japan: Luise Donschen’s SHE and Shun Ikezoe What did you say?. In SHE, a woman confides in a stranger about missing her dog, which gave her an excuse to visit a local park. In Ikezoe’s palpably anguished approach to social disconnection and grief, a mosaic of alienated characters, death is equally haunting.

Longtime documentary filmmaker Claire Simon returns with fiction / non-fiction hybrid I want to talk about Duras, starring Emmanuelle Devos as journalist Michèle Manceaux and Swann Arlaud as Yann Andréa, the much younger partner of famous French intellectual Margarite Duras. The film is a minimalist dramatization of the transcription of a 1982 interview between Manceaux and Andréa. Duras (mostly an unseen presence, but seen briefly in archive clips) is a gripping subject – bossy and possessive, ominously condescending about Andrea’s homosexuality, but outraged over his own sexual greed. The film is tantalizing both as a possessive love story and the embodiment of a shameless (albeit anguished) literary crush.

Of All about my sisters (2021), dir. Wang qiong

that of Wang Qiong All about my sisters is just as engaging. The documentary follows the director as she reunites with her older sister Jin. When Wang was born in the 90s, China’s one-child policy meant that their parents couldn’t keep another child, so Jin was adopted by her maternal uncle. Jin and Qiong find that although blood may be thicker than water, it does not guarantee romantic reconciliation. The two grew up in very different circumstances, Qiong a studious and sheltered city dweller and Jin a rambling country girl. Their broken, sometimes bitter confessions blend into the portrait of a broken family beyond healing.

Jean-Gabriel Périot’s feature film Back to Reims and the short film by Virgil Vernier Kindertotenlieder both make impressive use of the images found. Narrated by Adèle Haenel, Périot’s free adaptation of a memoir by Didier Eribon looks back on the growing political awareness of the French working class, then asks what remains of this fervor today. It is richly illustrated with numerous scenes from French cinema, including works by Godard, Marker and Rouch and Morin. Meanwhile, Vernier, a burgeoning experimental filmmaker, uses footage from the mass demonstrations in France in 2005 to offer an urgent look at police brutality and workers’ solidarity in the large arrondissements of Paris. The inclusion of these films in this year’s program alongside other urgent documentaries such as Just a move and Prism suggests an ambition that Currents keeps abreast of not only the larger cultural and political impetus.

Of Back to Reims (2021), dir. Jean-Gabriel Périot

New York Film Festival takes place from September 24 to October 10 at various locations in New York City. Other films in the Currents program that we have already praised include Nature, a night without knowing anything, and A river flows, turns, erases, replaces.

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About Monty S. Maynard

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