Are movies back? Finally? Signs point to yes at this year’s New York Film Festival, which is packed with buzzy films that may keep people buzzing throughout the movie season. Below is a look at some of what’s coming and what’s already here—both the exquisite Tár and the...less exquisite Triangle of Sadness are in theaters today.
There are great performances, and then there’s the kind of possession that Cate Blanchett evinces in Tár, Todd Field’s first movie since 2006’s Little Children. Blanchett plays Lydia Tár, the kind of superstar conductor who can command a crowd by sitting down for a New Yorker interview at Lincoln Center. Early scenes establish Lydia’s possession and power—during a lecture at Juilliard, she dresses down a Black student who says he can’t take Bach’s music seriously as a result of the composer’s misogyny. The quiet virtuosity displayed in the scene—probably around 20 minutes captured all in one shot as the camera glides around the lecture hall in an unhurried and tangent-prone, 180-degree turn—lets us know we’re in the hands of masters.
For a good while, Tár lets Lydia (and Blanchett) be the virtuoso that she is as she prepares for the recording of a Mahler symphony in Berlin, controlling the politics of her orchestra with the unsparing and severe approach she takes to music. The movie resists condemning or praising her arrogance and interpersonal brusqueness—that’s as much a product of her high status as it is, perhaps, necessary for maintaining it. (In the aforementioned interview scene, she brushes away any suggestion that she’s struggled with gender bias in the male-dominated field of conducting.) But then, the past comes back to haunt Lydia. Field ensures we see her cancellation only from her perspective, and she merely glimpses those who protest against her or give her feedback. Does she deserve what happens to her? Are the allegations of “grooming” tinged with homophobia? (Lydia’s matter-of-fact queerness is rare not just in movies in general, but specifically for a character of this age.) What exactly is she entitled to?
Conversations about cancel culture so often frame things in extreme terms for the sake of catching those Substack subscriptions and Twitter likes; they tell people exactly how to be outraged. But Field conducts discourse like a symphony. Blanchett’s tics-and-all embodiment of Lydia, who leads her orchestra with her full body and soul, is astounding. It’s just another day in the office for her, but if she doesn’t get the Oscar for this, a robbery will have taken place.
Charlotte Wells’ “emotionally autobiographical” debut was so fervently celebrated at Cannes that looking back on that press makes me feel like I saw a different movie. I found Aftersun to be an inert two-hander that depicts father Calum (Paul Mescal) and daughter Sophie (Frankie Corio) on vacation in Turkey. Sophie is on the brink of puberty, and certain suggestions of her learning through example via encounters with slightly older kids also vacationing at the resort are sharp and well-observed. I thought the movie was, at best, a collection of nice touches. But nothing happens in it for a really long time, as Calum and Sophie sit by the pool, eat dinner, sit more, and have polite conversations with strangers. I mean nothing. Nothing happens! As this nothing was happening, it struck me that given all the praise this movie garnered, the movie must be building up to something that would render all the banality poignant in retrospect. For a movie so obsessed with the details of daily life, then, it was that much more disappointing when it pulled a punch at its end to merely suggest tragedy, instead of actually showing it. Scenes that depict the grown-up Sophie’s processing of grief or whatever, which take place in a strobing club, conjure much better sequences in BPM and Morvern Callar. Don’t take my word for it, but what other people see in this movie about white people merely existing until they (maybe) don’t is beyond me.
Finally, a movie whose title delivers! The women, they talk. A lot. Sarah Polley’s adaptation of Miriam Toews’s 2018 novel is set in an isolated religious community that shuns modern conventions like technology, poly blends, and the education of girls. When the men leave the village for a period to defend someone who attacked one of the women, the women convene to decide what to do about their cultural plight: stay and fight the men for power, or leave. The caucus allows for lengthy philosophizing about power and keeps the action all contained in one place to give Women Talking the feel of a filmed play. This is a movie of broad strokes about a literal rape culture (the men are out defending a rapist whose drugging-and-assaulting of a local woman is a standard practice) in which a character literally says the words, “Not all men.” The performances are strong—particularly feisty ones by Claire Foy and Jessie Buckley—and the desaturated picture gives the impression of a directorial vision. This is a movie that lays out its stakes and finds tension in its characters’ determination for a resolution, an uncommonly articulate statement whose conclusion aligns with what was suggested in Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire: Utopia is achievable only without men. The rationale is ironclad.
Triangle of Sadness
Upstairs/downstairs politics goes above and blow deck as the wealthy rub elbows with those who serve them on a cruise (as well as some influencers who were invited along for exposure) in Ruben Östlund’s satire Triangle of Sadness, which won top Cannes prize the Palme d’Or earlier this year. Sadness is overlong by a good 45 minutes (it comes in at a waterlogged two-and-a-half hours) and in great debt to Luis Buñuel (a scatalogical scene of wealthy guests losing the gastronomical oddities they’ve been served shits all over the bourgeoisie in a decidedly Buñuelian shape), as well as Lina Wertmüller. Even if someone merely summarized the plot of Swept Away to you, you could see coming the power dynamic switch in the film’s second half, after a handful of the cruisetakers wash up on an island with some of the help. With a fraction of the charm, Östlund comes to the same exact conclusions of the filmmakers from which he borrows: Rich people are too absorbed by their own grotesqueness to have any practical survival skills. Yet, as redundant and dependent on its own characters’ farfetched stupidity for its premise as it is (no one bothers to look around the island on which they are marooned), I weirdly enjoyed this popcorn arthouse film, which is just specific enough in its rendering of its personalities to make its politics absorbing.
And then there was Bones and All, an elegant movie about cannibalism that’s impossible to look away from; read the full review here.