New Beginnings

A first look at the 60th New York Film Festival

Marie Kreutzer, Corsage, 2022, 35 mm, color, sound, 114 minutes. Empress Elisabeth of Austria (Vicky Krieps).

THIS YEAR’S DENSELY PACKED New York Film Festival, its sixtieth anniversary edition, just added a special event in honor of the late Jean-Luc Godard. The US landing point for most of the feature films the director made between 1963 and 2018 and the site of an extensive retrospective of his work in 2013, the festival will screen, during its first week, Godard’s final film, The Image Book, on a continuous loop in the amphitheater of the Elinor Bunin Center. Admission is free, but the quality of projection, and particularly the audio—which is crucial to the film—is, as I write, yet unknown. The festival’s technical team, which does an outstanding job in its main theaters, may be overwhelmed by the built-in limitations of the amphitheater as a screening space and the specific problems posed by The Image Book’s soundtrack. I’m also dubious about this continuous loop business. Godard once experimented with presenting The Image Book as a multiscreen installation, and he famously opined that movies have beginnings, middles, and ends, although not necessarily in that order. But that doesn’t mean you can wander into a Godard film anywhere and leave anywhere and think you’ve experienced it. His films all have stunning endings, none more so than this one, which is structured in five movements with a coda that follows the final credits. It is an ending that could not be more resonant with our broken time. I know that a continuous loop expresses the idea of “Godard Forever” (I have the T-shirt), but perhaps a schedule of the times that The Image Book begins could be posted outside the amphitheater. It would be helpful to us purists.

Laura Poitras, All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, 2022, color, sound, 113 minutes. Photograph by Nan Goldin.

So, on to the present: The sixtieth NYFF opens tonight with Noah Baumbach’s White Noise, an adaptation of Don DeLillo’s novel of the same name. Since I haven’t yet seen it, I can say nothing more than it seems an appropriate opening night choice: Baumbach is a born and bred New Yorker, and the festival has presented several of his earlier, significantly smaller movies. This one, for better or worse, is financed by Netflix, and from the trailer looks pretty showy. More, perhaps, in my festival wrap-up to come. Similarly appropriate, and guaranteed to drop some jaws in the affluent gala “Centerpiece” audience, is Laura Poitras’s All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, winner of the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. Poitras’s portrait weaves together Nan Goldin’s art—her intimate photographs of her family of friends—with her social justice activism, first in the 1980s with ACT UP and in recent years with P.A.I.N. At great risk to her career, Goldin confronts the Sackler family and Purdue Pharma’s “artwashing” of their marketing of OxyContin, now viewed as a catalyst of an opioid epidemic that has claimed the lives of 400,000 and counting. What’s extremely moving in the film is the collaboration of two lens-based if temperamentally different artists: Poitras, whose investigations of NSA surveillance in Citizenfour (2014) and other films also put her career and safety on the line, and Goldin, whose images of vulnerable people on the margins have never been as revelatory in their depiction of interiors—spaces and psyches—than when they are blown up on the big screen.

Jerzy Skolimowski, EO, 2022, color, sound, 86 minutes.

The NYFF has long raided Cannes and Venice for their selections, which is fine with me. Among the great films in the “Main Slate” are Alice Diop’s Saint Omer and Jerzy Skolimowski’s EO. I suspect Godard would have embraced both. Winner of the Silver Lion (the second prize at the Venice Film Festival), Saint Omer is based on the 2016 case of a Senegalese student who studied law and philosophy at the Sorbonne. She was also a mother, and one night she left her fifteen-month-old mixed-race daughter alone, on a beach, to drown. Was she psychopathic? Probably. What caused her psychotic break? That’s more complicated. I’ve written about the film, which is France’s entry for the foreign-language Academy Award, for the November issue of this magazine, but I want to say here that anyone who has been throwing around the phrase “the female gaze” should look carefully at Diop’s editing of looks exchanged among the four central women characters in this film (brilliant actors, all of them), and how they also look at us, in order to get a specific handle on what they’ve been talking about.

EO depicts the journey of a donkey, lovingly raised and then sold into drudgery, in search of the young woman who nurtured him. In this and other ways, EO knowingly echoes Au Hasard Balthazar, but unlike Robert Bresson, who constructed parallel trajectories for the donkey and the fucked-up young woman who abandons him, Skolimowski makes EO the sole consciousness of the film. I warn you that his travels through Poland and Italy do not end well, and I sometimes wish I could get the last glimpse we have of him out of my mind’s-eye. But I would be less alive to the world and its nonhuman inhabitants had I not wept for EO. At Cannes, where the film won best screenplay (I would have given it the Palme), Skolimowski thanked the five donkeys who played EO and said that no animals were harmed in the making of the film.

Claire Denis, No Fear, No Die, 1990, 35 mm, color, sound, 90 minutes. Jocelyn and Dah (Alex Descas and Isaach De Bankolé).

Amazingly, Claire Denis’s No Fear, No Die (1990) ends with the same disclaimer. It’s my favorite of her films, but for years has only been available on a DVD so dark that one can barely see the expressions on the faces of its two magnificent actors, Isaach de Bankolé and Alex Descas. They play undocumented immigrants working as cockfighting trainers for a gangster club owner in Marseille. It’s the must-see restoration in a widely varied “Revivals” section that also includes Kira Muratova’s mother/son psychodrama, The Long Farewell (1971), suppressed in the Soviet Union until after perestroika. Janus, which has restored the entire oeuvre of Jean Eustache, represented here by his 1973 The Mother and the Whore, should do the same for Muratova’s much more salient and intelligent films. At the more experimental end of the revivals, Cauleen Smith’s Drylongso, about a young woman who photographs the boys and men who become victims of gun violence in her Oakland neighborhood is even stronger today than when I wrote about it in 1998.

On a somewhat lighter note, Marie Kreutzer’s bittersweet Corsage stars a mercurial and admirably athletic Vicky Krieps as Empress Elisabeth of Austria, who, at least in this film, seems like a fin-de-siècle forerunner of Princess Diana, and oddly, something like Katharine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story, had all of the men around Hepburn’s character been cads and doofuses who could not appreciate her madcap brilliance. Even more uplifting is Shaunak Sen’s All that Breathes, the best documentary at Sundance and Cannes. You could wait and see it at Film Forum in October, but I want to see the black kites—the scavenger birds of Delhi—and the brothers who care for them on the big screen in Alice Tully Hall. Oops, my mistake. Like many films in the Main Slate, All that Breathes premieres in the Walter Reade. Not the biggest theater, but it has the best projection in New York.

The 60th New York Film Festival runs from September 30 to October 16 at Film at Lincoln Center and other venues in New York.

Correction: A previous version of this article imprecisely stated that OxyContin was responsible for over 400,000 deaths; while the opioid crisis has resulted in millions of addictions and hundreds of thousands of fatalities, the exact number of deaths attributable to OxyContin remains unknown.