The arrival of fall means it’s festival season. And while perhaps not as glamorous as Cannes nor as audience-friendly as Toronto, the New York Film Festival arrives this week as a carefully curated “best of the fests” festival with a number of high-profile premieres. It’s here where you’ll first see Ava DuVernay’s documentary on mass incarceration and where you’ll catch (count them) three different Kristen Stewart projects, including the Ang Lee-directed Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.
Most refreshingly, of course, is the amply represented Latino and Latin American contingent. In addition to a new restoration of Tomás Gutiérrez Alea’s Cuban film Memories of Underdevelopment as well as an inadvertent companion piece, Olatz López Garmendia’s documentary Patria o Muerte: Cuba, Fatherland or Death, there are a number of great features coming from south of the border that remind us just how strong the region’s cinema is.
In addition to Pedro Almodóvar’s Julieta (an across-the-pond film we couldn’t not include in our must-watch list,) the New York Film Festival’s 54th edition is full of projects from established Latin American auteurs as well as up and comers who have already made waves in festivals around the world. Oh, and then there’s a documentary about arguably this century’s most buzzed-about Broadway musical that’s as much a celebration of American history as it is about Latino talent. Check out our top picks below and be sure to take advantage of one of the city’s most enviable cultural events of the fall.
New York Film Festival runs September 30-October 16, 2016
Clara (a luminous Sonia Braga) is the last resident of the Aquarius, an classic art deco building built in Recife’s upper-class Boa Viagem Avenue. Despite being offered a good deal for her apartment by developers, this spry 65-year old is not ready to part from the place she’s made her home and where she raised her children. The construction company, which is intent on building a New Aquarius, begins implementing increasingly aggressive methods to get the former music critic to sell. But all this drama creates for Clara is a renewed sense of vigor that pushes her to think back to her life lived and to embrace her her present-day vitality.
Hermia & Helena
Proving that he’s one of William Shakespeare’s most attentive contemporary readers, Matías Piñeiro’s Hermia & Helena sets its sights on the Bard’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, weaving in an episodic and fragmented tale of love lost and gained, and the wildly magical ways in which desire can shift around you. Set between a wintry New York City and a sun-dappled Buenos Aires, Piñeiro introduces us to Camila (Agustina Muñoz), an Argentinean playwright who’s earned a fellowship to go to the Big Apple to work on her Spanish translation of Shakespeare’s famous play. There, we witness Camila taking a page out of the Bard in her interactions with an old flame, a new one, and a mysterious visitor who keeps sending her postcards. Playful and heartfelt, the film is a testament to the joys of cross-cultural adaptation.
A project that was long rumored to have been Pedro’s first English-language feature film — an adaptation of a trio of stories by Canadian author Alice Munro — Julieta was ultimately produced in Spanish, but it’s still a pitch-perfect translation of Munro’s meditations on motherhood. With Almodóvar’s signature bold colors and melodrama (if perhaps a bit light on the comedy we’ve come to expect from the Spanish auteur,) his latest is more Volver than I’m So Excited. A return to the world of women, Julieta follows the title character as she reminsces about her youthful and kinetic encounter with the man of her life, the child they bore together, and the estranged daughter she hasn’t seen now in years.
Those looking for a straight-up biopic of famed Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda, have come to the wrong film. In its place, Pablo Larraín has crafted a meta-poetic treatise on fiction and politics. Ostensibly, we’re being told the story (in first person voiceover narration) of how police officer Óscar Peluchonneau (Gael García Bernal) is trying to capture Neruda (Luis Gnecco), now a wanted man by the state. But with a dreamlike, fragmented shooting style that disorients you from line to line, Larraín is as interested in evoking Neruda’s artistry as he is in crafting a thrilling chase through late ’40s Chilean landscapes.
Obliquely inspired by Bela Bartok’s sole opera, Kékszakállú is an elliptical take on the Bluebeard tale transposed into a social critique of contemporary Argentina. Solnicki looks at the country’s economic malaise and class differences through unconventional portraits of several women in Buenos Aires and Punta del Este that’s as bewitching as it sounds.
Todo lo demás
How do you set about discovering yourself at sixty-three? This is the question that documentarian Natalia Almada asks us in her first fiction film. With a powerful central performance by Oscar nominee Adriana Barraza, Todo lo demás follows Doña Flor, who mourns the death of her cat as she tries to take solace in the one daily activity that’s always soothed her: swimming. Examining this one seemingly invisible life (at least, that’s how Doña Flor feels at her job as a government clerk,) Almada shows deep empathy for her main character, etching an unforgettable poetic portrait of one women finding herself anew.
You saw the Grammy performance. Then the Tonys sweep. You know the Broadway Cast recording by heart. You’ve read Hamilton: The Revolution more times than you can count. Perhaps you’ve even been lucky enough to see Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton on Broadway. But if you still want to feel like you’re in the room where it happens, then you won’t want to miss Hamilton’s America. Presented as part of THIRTEEN’s Great Performances, Alex Horwitz’s documentary follows Miranda, his collaborators, and key members of the original cast as they track the evolution of this Broadway blockbuster from its 2009 White House performance to the sold-out run on the Great White Way, along with the historical events the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical has revitalized.
El auge del humano
Structured as three different sections (shot in Argentina, Mozambique, and the Philippines,) Teddy Williams’ experimental film quite literally tracks our current global culture. From the story of a bored young man in Buenos Aires who loses his job at a supermarket, Williams’ film then travels across the globe to follow a group of African teenagers in Maputo who are seen engaging in cybersex for money, and then to an electronics factory in Bohol after tracking a young woman eager to charge her phone in the middle of the jungle. With a fluid camera and an immediacy that speaks to a current discussions on leisure and labor, El auge del humano captures the isolation that comes from being and feeling disconnected.