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15 Under-the-Radar Highlights at the 55th New York Film Festival

Written by on September 25, 2017 

A Gentle Creature (Sergei Loznitsa)

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“Man is a wolf to his fellow man,” quotes a character early in Sergei Loznitsa’s A Gentle Creature. The ordeal suffered by its protagonist will indeed be solitary, poor, nasty, and brutish – it won’t be short, however. Powerful though bloated, A Gentle Creature is a companion to Loznitsa’s phenomenal first narrative feature, My Joy, once again following a person’s nightmarish odyssey through an allegorical rendition of post-Communist Russia. Though not as successful as its predecessor, Loznitsa’s latest nonetheless confirms the director’s place of honor amongst cinema’s most vociferous critics of Putin’s kingdom. – Giovanni M.C. (full review)

Good Luck (Ben Russell)

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There is a symbol at the beginning, middle and end of Good Luck. It is a simple geometric circle with a horizontal line evenly separating top from bottom. Does it represent above ground and below; Northern and Southern Hemispheres; Ying and Yang; daylight and darkness? It could be any one of these or all of them at once. Shot in 2016, this visually stunning, obliquely political, and rather extensive ode to the hardest of graft is built to offer the viewer the otherworldly experience of first going down the shaft of a state-run copper mine in Serbia and, in the second half, that of illegally digging for gold under the Surinamese sun. – Rory O. (full review)

Ismael’s Ghosts: Director’s Cut (Arnaud Desplechin)

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While we’ve only seen the Cannes version thus far, a director’s cut of Arnaud Desplechin’s latest is coming to NYFF. We said in our review of the previous version, “Pasolini included an ‘essential bibliography’ in the opening credits of Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, proffering five philosophical titles by the likes of Roland Barthes and Maurice Blanchot to help viewers navigate his rich and daunting Sadean masterpiece. The closing credits of Arnaud Desplechin’s Ismael’s Ghosts also feature a reading list that could be called essential. Of the four authors listed therein, one in particular might hold the key to interpreting Desplechin’s exhilarating, overflowing mindfuck of a movie: Jacques Lacan.”

The Rider (Chloe Zhao)

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What does a cowboy do when he can’t ride? Chloe Zhao’s absorbing South Dakota-set sophomore feature has its titular rider come to terms with such a fate, in a film that’s a beguiling mix of docudrama and fiction whose story echoes much of history of its actors’ own lives. Zhao’s combination of the visual palette of Terrence Malick, the social backbone of Kelly Reichardt, and the spontaneity of John Cassavetes creates cinema verité in the American plains. – Ed F. (full review)

Tonsler Park (Kevin Jerome Everson)

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One of the highlights of Projections, a showcase of avant-garde and experimental films, is a new work from Kevin Jerome Everson, who also has a short in the line-up. Tonsler Park finds the director taking his 16mm camera to a polling precinct in Charlottesville, Virginia on election day 2016. With its unfortunate new relevance in mind, we’re looking forward to seeing this experimental look at one of the biggest turning points in American politics.

Voyeur (Myles Kane and Josh Koury)

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While there are a number of premieres in the Spotlight on Documentary section at NYFF, this peculiar one has really caught our attention. Voyeur looks at the story of Gerald Foos, who used his Colorado motel in the 1960s to spy on his guests’ sexual activity, and much more. Based on Gay Talese’s New Yorker article, which was controversial in its own right, it promises to be a potentially disturbing look at the thin line between fact and fiction.

Western (Valeska Grisebach)

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It is, undeniably, a bold decision to title one’s film Western: on the one hand, the word carries geopolitical weight and a cultural hegemony that the cinema is dominated by; this truth remains an important one at the Cannes Film Festival, where white men dominate the competition (Western opened in the sidebar program, Un Certain Regard). On the other hand, of course, Western implies a cinematic reference—a genre, in and of itself. A genre, to be clear, with tropes galore that are just as problematic as the industry that propagates them. In titling her film as such, however, Valeska Grisebach’s contemplative, brilliant film sparks a dialogue on all of these components, prompting us to think critically on their intersections. – Jake H. (full review)

The 55th New York Film Festival takes place from September 28-October 15. See more information on the official site.

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