Manuel Betancourt

53rd New York Film Festival

October 13, 2015 · in Film

NYFF53 lockup

I covered the 53rd New York Film Festival over at The Film Experience. Below find all the films I viewed. (Links send you to full reviews).

The Walk

The Walk (Dir. Robert Zemeckis)

The Walk is a movie about showmanship. That means it’s at times too eager to please, unafraid to show its sweat. But it is all in the service of entertaining you. And so, Zemeckis throws everything he’s got at you (black and white sequences! Immersive 3D! A hokey framing device!) which just makes you understand why he found in Petit and his walk such an enthralling cinematic story.

And so we get The Walk, essentially a heist movie filtered through the eyes of a street performer, complete with stylistic flourishes and plenty of winking humor that may just make you want to walk away from “le clown du cirque.” And yet, if you stick with Petit all the way up to his walk between the Twin Towers in 19??, what you get is kinetic filmmaking at its finest. It thrills you. It scares you. It dazzles you. And then, it moves you. In celebration of Petit’s feat, Zemeckis has clearly crafted a celebration of the Towers themselves; not an elegy, per se, but an unforgettable epic reminiscence of their splendor.

Carol NYFF

Carol (Dir. Todd Haynes)

Should you begin a review of Carol by praising the impassive mask of a performance delivered by Blanchett? Or focus instead on Mara’s blushed blossoming portrayal of Therese, Carol’s love? Perhaps one should begin by singling out all the below-the-line work that make Haynes’ film a beauty without prettying it up its 1950s setting; Carter Burwell’s minimalist score which fittingly compliments the fifties hits that pepper the film, Sandy Powell’s gorgeous costumes which constrict and exacerbate Carol and Therese’s femininity, Judy Becker’s beautifully grimy production design, so lovingly shot by Edward Lachman (Never has a dirty rain-splattered window looked so beautiful.)
No. If one is to begin a review of Todd Haynes’ Carol, one should begin with the man himself. Haynes, whose sensibility has always seemed tailor-made for the glamor of downtrodden, depressed women of the midcentury, has found in Patricia Highsmith’s novel, The Price of Salt, a novel that explores the fallout from a lesbian affair in a time where the word was not only taboo but a death knell, a moody narrative that fits him like a leather driving glove, the very kind that Carol (intentionally?) leaves at Therese’s sales counter, setting their whole affair into motion.

The Lobster NYFF

The Lobster (Dir. Yorgos Lanthimos)

What animal would I like to be turned into should I fail to find a mate in Yogos Lathimos’ absurdist take on a a romantic comedy (of the blackest kind)? A lobster seems like the wrong choice, though perhaps David (Colin Farrell) is on to something.

This may be a silly way to begin talking about The Lobster but it is an apt one seeing as how one of the many ways in which the film succeeds is in sucking you into the bizarre rules of the world and accepting them as fact. But that’s one of its many joys. Among others? Farrell’s performance. Rachel Weisz’s silky smooth voice over. The entire roster of supporting players: Ben Whishaw (whose boyish looks hide a cunning sense of survival), Olivia Colman (whose icy stares epitomize this cold-blooded world), Lea Seydoux (fantastic as a rebellious leader, as cruel as her institutional counterparts). The clipped, discomforting dialogue. The world-building which is both sparse and exhaustive. And, of course, its fable-like narrative whose violence jolts you whenever you feel you’re in solid ground.

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs (Dir. Danny Boyle)

Act 1. You’re dazzled by the way Boyle’s kinetic filmmaking fits Sorkin’s ra-tat-tat dialogue like a glove. You enjoy watching Fassbender ping pong his performance against able and game performers like Winslet, Daniels, Rogen and Waterston.
Act 2. The conceit (three product launches) makes the film feel like a play, one expertly acted and executed, unafraid to hit its thematic chords bluntly enough to reach the balcony but softly enough to play to the front row.
Act 3. Schmaltz! And yet, it somehow emboldens the film, keeping it from being a slick and cool exercise. I already can’t wait to see it again and experience it anew.

Miles Ahead

Miles Ahead (Dir. Don Cheadle)

There’s an argument to be made about Cheadle’s Miles Ahead borrowing its structure from improvisational jazz, but where the syncopations of Davis and his contemporaries felt loose, they were in fact, impossibly surgical in their deployment. Thus, while Cheadle’s performance shines (his Davis can land a zinger while holding a gun like no one else), the film feels fussy and messy when it should be razor sharp.


Junun (Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)

After the careful formalism that so characterized There Will Be Blood and The Master it’s a joy to see Paul Thomas Anderson let loose, without needing Pynchon’s help. Junun is pure bliss; its exuberance radiating from every frame as PTA immerses us in Jonny Greenwood’s collaboration with Israeli composer Shye Ben Tzur and the Rajasthan Express as they record the eponymous album in the Mehrangarh Fort in Rajasthan, India.

Arabian Nights

Arabian Nights (Dir. Pablo Gomes)

Vol 2. The Desolate One: There’s little attempt here to pit community against the government, or the individual against society. Institutions like social services and their recipients, for example, are presented as mutually dependent and it is in that interconnectedness that Gomes’s tales take flight, never taking an optimistic view of those afflicted by political policies without also indicting the very unwelcome actions that such policies necessarily impel citizens to make. It’s all a vicious circle, “The Desolate One” argues, where heroes are also murderers, where thieves are also kind, where good intentions only go so far.

Vol 3. The Enchanted One: For a story that (at least in this film, but more largely in the previous two films) has been marked by impossible feats of fantasy storytelling, Gomes drives his point home that these Arabian Nights are about crafting a contemporary polemic. It’s admirable — not to mention impressive — that Gomes so effortlessly slips from one to the next, but this is one of those cases where the effect of the whole exceeds that of its parts.

The Assassin

The Assassin (Dir. Hou Hsia Hsien)

This is such a gorgeous film one almost doesn’t begrudge its own obstinate intentions to deprive you of necessary information to follow the intricate if sparse plot on which the film stands on. The meditative shots, so enamored with silence and stillness, become almost soporific so that even the most breathtaking moments of fighting emerge as all too short reprieves.

Journey to the Shore NYFF

Journey to the Shore (Dir. Kiyoshi Kurosawa)

“Gorgeously shot and languidly paced, Kurosawa’s film was, I have to admit, a bit of a drag, its ideas both too blunt and too obscure, and try as it might, it never quite moved me, even though plenty of tears were shed on screen.” (Full Review)

Everything is Copy NYFF 01

Everything is Copy (Dir. Jacob Bernstein)

“Smart, witty, and moving, Everything is Copy is a tender, but not for that hagiographic, portrait of Nora Ephron that emerges as a keen meditation on death, privacy, and the power of telling one’s own story.” (Full Review)

NYFF Short Mad Half Hour

Shorts Programs (Animated & International)

Shorts are “not a form I watch often, though you’d think it’d be growing in popularity given our ever-shrinking attention spans. And with that in mind, rather than review all thirteen shorts I watched, I’ve singled out highlights from the programs screening at the festival, which include Pixar’s latest and a dazzling black and white queer short from Argentina.” (Full Reviews)

Mia Madre NYFF

Mia Madre (Dir. Nanni Moretti)

“As autobiography-as-fiction, it is a fascinating piece of atonement and one easier to unpack by those who’ve followed Moretti’s career.” (Full Review)

No Home Movie NYFF 01

No Home Movie (Dir. Chantal Akerman)

“There’s a way of talking about No Home Movie as a taxing experience. At just under two hours, much of it transpires in silence, with Akerman’s camera lingering on shots of empty living rooms, and open roads.” (Full Review)

Bridge of Spies (Dir. Steven Spielberg)

“For a Spielberg film, it’s surprisingly barren of flashy set-pieces that focus on action. Instead, the film plays almost like a languid Jon LeCarré novel, if one filtered by the star-spangled sentimentality that not even this most restrained of Spielbergs can resist.” (Full Review)

My Golden Days NYFF 01

My Golden Days (Dir. Arnaud Desplechin)

“No one does brooding romantic despair like the French. Arnaud Desplechin’s My Golden Days, a pseudo-prequel to his 1996 My Sex Life… or How I Got Into an Argumentso revels in it that you could just as easily title it “The Sorrows of Young Esther.”” (Full Review)

Where to Invade Next NYFF

Where to Invade Next (Dir. Michael Moore)

“Moore’s Where to Invade Next is born out of the same sense of anger and despair that characterizes his earlier docs, but as he noted himself in yesterday’s press conference, he found a way to funnel that anger in a more productive way.” (Full Review)

In Jackson Heights 01

In Jackson Heights (Dir. Frederick Wiseman)

In Jackson Heights may be called a celebration of the “melting pot” that is America, New York City, Jackson Heights, but one may do better in referring to it as a visual reframing of such a metaphor; there is nothing that compels Wiseman to melt down these differences to create something new.” (Full Review)

Ingrid Bergman In Her Own Words

Ingrid Bergman – In Her Own Words (Dir. Stig Björkman)

“The film is not really interested in hagiography; frank conversations with her children paint a picture of an ambitious woman who did everything and anything she needed to do what she wanted to do above all: be in front of the camera, in many cases at the expense of her children and her marriages.” (Full Review)


Maggie’s Plan (Dir. Rebecca Miller)

“while the overall plotting is a bit off (Maggie is compared to Titania, Shakespeare’s meddling fairy Queen, though she’s closer to Austen’s clueless protagonists in the way she approaches relatively simple endeavors with needless complexity), it gives these performers some howlers to milk.” (Full Review)

The Treasure

The Treasure (Dir. Corneliu Porumboiu)

“As much as we like to think cinema is a universal language, we sometimes forget that the best storytelling need not transcend its own borders. Sometimes, as is the case here, it’s about precisely looking inward to Romania’s own history” (Full Review)

Son of Saul NYFF 01

Son of Saul (Dir. László Nemes)

““I needed to find a new angle,” Nemes confessed, and while Son of Saul has both a visual and thematic angle that makes it stand out from the long cinematic history to which it is indebted, it’s clear such an angle was not taken lightly and what may look like a visual gimmick, is in fact, proof positive of the ethical orientation of the film itself.” (Full Review)


In the Shadow of Women (Dir. Philippe Garrel)

“I felt wholly indifferent to Garrel’s film. Part of this has to do with the way the film wants to position itself as ironically pointing at the male protagonist’s self-aware brand of misogyny (we know he’s a pig, okay?) but it never quite distances itself enough from it, coming off instead as all but endorsing it.” (Full Review)