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15 Under-the-Radar Highlights from the 56th New York Film Festival

Written by on September 24, 2018 

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Considering the esteemed level of curation at the New York Film Festival, which begins this Friday at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, a comprehensive preview could mostly consist of the entire schedule.

There’s the gala slots (The Favourite, Roma, and At Eternity’s Gate), Main Slate selections (featuring Burning, If Beale Street Could Talk, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Transit, Non-Fiction, Shoplifters, Wildlife, Ash is Purest White), two films from Film Twitter phenom Hong Sang-soo, and much more, as well as a delectable line-up of restorations.

So rather than single all of these out for our preview, we’re looking at a handful of under-the-radar highlights from across the festival. Check them out below and return for our coverage.

Asako I & II (Ryûsuke Hamaguchi)

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Best known for his five-hour drama Happy Hour, Ryûsuke Hamaguchi returned this year with the more palatable Asako I & II, clocking in at a mere 120 minutes. Following its bow in competition at Cannes Film Festival, the film will make its U.S. premiere at the New York Film Festival. Based on Tomoka Shibasaki’s novel, the film plays off Vertigo tracking a vanishing lover whose double then appears.

Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché (Pamela B. Green)

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“Alice Guy Blaché helped invent cinema as we know it,” Manohla Dargis recently wrote in The New York Times. The early cinema pioneer, who broke into the industry at the age of 21, went on to direct over 1,000 film, yet largely seems to be written out of film history, at least when compared to her male peers. A new documentary, narrated by Jodie Foster, now aims to correct that narrative with what looks to be an essential, empowering look at early movie-making.

Border (Ali Abbasi)

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“I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy the one, I will indulge the other.” At a glance, you might conclude that that line from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein has provided the foundations for pretty much every decent monster movie since James Whale adapted the text back in 1931; perhaps even before. This delightfully grungy and ethereal contemporary horror from Iranian-born, Denmark-based Ali Abbasi concerns a romance between two creatures who happen to be feeling out those opposite warring sides. One is attempting to satisfy a craving for love while the other indulges the violence (incidentally, could Abbasi’s debut Shelley be named for the 19th century writer?). Border, like Frankenstein, is a work about the “Other” and how that Other might operate if it was raised against its nature, only knowing human society. – Rory O. (full review)

Cycles (Jeff Gipson)

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We’ll soon highlight a 14-hour film that’s part of the New York Film Festival, but if you perhaps don’t have that much time in your schedule, how about a 3-minute experience? Walt Disney Animation’s first-ever virtual reality short film is coming to NYFF as part of Convergence’s Virtual Reality Arcade. Directed by Jeff Gibson, Cycles is described as “a bittersweet meditation on memory, emotion, family, and all that goes into making a home.” If one is getting some Up vibes already, they may want to bring tissues.

A Family Tour (Liang Ying)

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The last time that director Liang Ying released a film (When Night Falls, back in 2012) it was apparently deemed to be a dangerous enough critique of the Chinese police and judicial system that sending the cops to provoke not only Ying’s family in Shanghai but also his wife’s family in Sichuan was thought to be a fair response. It was also said, at the time, that the authorities had even attempted to buy the rights to Ying’s film in order to–as we can only assume–stop it from being distributed. So it’s no surprise then that Ying’s follow-up to When Night Falls and his fifth feature, A Family Tour, tells the story of a family torn apart as a result of similarly depressing state machinations. – Rory O. (full review)

La Flor (Mariano Llinás)

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I am starting this review of the 14-hour La Flor from a segment that in the film’s Borgesian labyrinthic narrative would probably go unnoticed, because I think it goes some way toward making sense of that early remark Llinás had made in the prelude, his head bent over a notebook, his hands sketching La Flor’s structure through an intricate series of lines and arrows merging into a skeleton flower. This film is about its four actresses in the sense that it is a testament to how their craft developed through time. And the feeling of awe that transpires from that late montage, the feeling of having watched four artists grow, is indissolubly contingent on the film’s colossal length. – Leonardo G. (full review)

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse with Live Score (Rex Ingram)

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Alongside the wealth of revivals and retrospectives at the festival, one special event celebrating classic cinema seems like a night to be remembered. If you’ve been listening to this season of You Must Remember This, you’ve certainly heard about the mega-hit The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, which gave Rudolph Valentino one of his first major roles. Rex Ingram’s epic will play in 35mm at the festival, backed by a new live score.

Happy as Lazzaro (Alice Rohrwacher)

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The films of Alice Rohrwacher have always been rich with the sensory magic of growing up, but that atmosphere has, up to this point, been enhanced with the knowledge that puberty was approaching, just out of sight, with all the subtlety of a B52 bomber. With her newest, Lazarro Felice, she has largely forgone that period of adolescence, while somehow not forgoing that sense of everyday magic. What emerges is not simply a next step in her oeuvre and creative growth but a fully formed expression of her virtuosic talents. – Rory O. (full review)

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