Tolstoy, Anarchism and Hong Sang-soo x 2


The first on this second NYFF dispatch is the latest from one of cinema’s great documentarians. However, it’s not quite the movie you’d expect from a director like Frederick Wiseman. The legendary documentary filmmaker leaves the world of non-fiction cinema to bring to life the writings of one of history’s great muses. With Nathalie Boutefeu, who also co-wrote the play with Wiseman, A couple recounts, through her own words, the life of Sophie Tolstoy, wife of the legendary author Leo Tolstoy.

Structured around a diary entry and as a collection of static, often leafy monologues about the couple and their relationship, the film finds Wiseman working not only in a more theatrical mode but also on a much less epic scale. Just over an hour in length, the film carries with it an incredibly light, almost dreamlike energy, though much of it is a portrait of a woman fighting for her place in a relationship when faced with a figure of historical renown. Interspersed with shots of flowers, water features and landscapes, Wiseman’s direction is subtle and focused, allowing Boutefeu’s inspired performance to truly breathe and take on tactile form. A thoughtful and plaintive recontextualization of one of the great lives of literary history, told through the eyes of the woman by his side, A couple is a beautifully composed rumination on the creative experience. “Most men live most of their lives as if in front of a mirror.”

The Next Step is arguably the most beautiful film of the festival. Directed by Cyril Schaublin, Disorders introduces viewers to Josephine, a cog in the great machine that is a Swiss watch factory in 1877. After becoming frustrated with the organization of work and the emphasis on possession, she meets the famous Russian anarchist Piotr Kropotkin and begins to dive deeper and deeper into the movement, to a point where the production itself is set to evolve after the introduction of things like photography and time studies.

Painter and painfully romantic, Schaublin returns to feature films after the brilliance of 2017 Those who are well and transformed this quiet meditation on work, production and class into a painterly and achingly romantic character study. The cinematography here is rich and feels oddly delicate, like the watches we see being created. A deeply political film, the film has the trappings of a richly composed period drama, but is a film of genuine rebellion and revolution. From the start, with these beautiful women in their beautiful dresses discussing, without holding hands, the politics of the day, Schaublin’s film leans into the density of its narrative. It’s a surprisingly mature work and one of the best films of the year.

Finally, NYFF wouldn’t be NYFF without at least two films from director Hong Sang-soo, and that’s exactly what we have here. The first is To go up, yet another film from the director that more or less speaks for itself. Here, it’s common for Hong’s proxy, Kwon Hae-hyo, to be the director, who tries to reconnect with his estranged daughter. Although it all looks like a typical Hong picture, To go up feels decidedly different, or at least decidedly more mature. The self-reflection here has a tinge of regret, or perhaps more of a sense of melancholy that feels more brooding than her previous diary work. While the jokes of “his characters drink wine not soju so his evolution” can absolutely be made, they feel infuriating, as not only are the performances beautifully textured and layered, but Hong’s direction is subtle and indicates that This is a film of a different ilk.

And then there is The novelist’s film. Possibly Hong’s best film to date, this work follows a novelist who sets off on a journey to return with a friend. Far from his drunken ruminations on male/female relationships, The novelist’s film tells the story of Jun-hee (Lee Hye-young), as she connects with an actress (Kim Min-hee) and tries to satisfy her creative spirit. Absolutely a self-reflective film (Kwon Hae-hyo even returns as, you guessed it, a middle-aged filmmaker of some fame), the film is also absolutely about Hong’s own relationship with Kim Min-hee. , culminating with Hong’s unquestionably greatest final scene. There’s a stylistic shift in that last scene that turns the movie into something surprisingly lovely, deconstructing the very movie we just spent 90 minutes watching. It’s not a rug, no. Instead, Hong gives us this film about the beauty of spontaneity and makes that theme literal in her gushing love letter to her partner. If truth is beauty, and beauty is truth, then few films this year are more evocative, more authentic.


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