undine review

For such a romantic, Christian Petzold sure likes to keep his audience at arm’s length. The German director of alt-history star-crossed romances like the 2018 stunner Transit ventures into folklore with his latest cosmic romance Undine, a chilly, cryptic film that spends most of its runtime searching for a soul. Whether it finds it finds it or not is up for debate, but there’s no question that Undine is a lush, transporting affair whose enigmatic magic laps at your feet and slowly washes over you.

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tragic jungle review

“Unfortunate you, if you cannot understand the mysteries of the jungle…”

There’s a Mayan myth of the “Xtabay,” a female demon said to dwell in the forest who lures men to their deaths with her incomparable beauty. Described as having lustrous, shining black hair that falls to her ankles and wearing a white dress, the Xtabay is an intriguing figure in Mayan folklore who has been everything from prostitute with a heart of gold, to a vengeful spirit of a fallen woman, depending on the storyteller. In Yulene Olaizola‘s lush, sweaty Tragic Jungle she’s a slave on the run from her lustful white master and the enigmatic embodiment of the film’s ecological rage. Part feminist revenge film, part environmental cautionary tale, Tragic Jungle is a bloody fable that posits that the mysteries of women are as deep and impenetrable as the jungle…and just as deadly.

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days review

Misery may love company, but loneliness craves it. Yearns for it. Counts down the minutes waiting for company to arrive until life is but a hollow shell, an endless repetition of mindless tasks, wasting away waiting for something that may never come. And then when that company is finally there, doesn’t know what to do it with it but shyly dance around it.

Taiwanese auteur Tsai Ming-liang has long delved into the feeling of alienation, isolation, and the miracles of human connection with his films, and Days is no exception. A mesmerizing exercise in the mundane, Days is almost completely free of dialogue — and intentionally unsubtitled for this reason — inducing a kind of calm hypnotic state that makes the viewer even more aware of the sharp stabs of loneliness felt by his longtime muse Lee Kang-sheng. Lee stars as Kang, a middle-class man wandering through the lonely urban landscape of Hong Kong, biding his time until he meets Non, a young Laotian immigrant working as a masseuse in Bangkok (Anong Houngheuangsy).

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French Exit Review

Azazel Jacobs’ previous film, The Lovers, establishes its overarching and consistent tone from the time the opening studio logo appears. A self-consciously melodramatic piece of score cues the audience to recognize Jacobs’ perspective. He humorously heightens the stakes for an otherwise mundane story of aging lovers and their affairs.

His follow-up feature, an adaptation of Patrick DeWitt’s novel French Exit, contains no less vibrant an expression of Jacobs’ directorial stamp. Yet there’s something slipperier and tougher to pin down here, largely because the droll wit never seems to coalesce around a clear point of view. The result is a satire of New York’s upper crust that feels like it pulls punches, if only because it seems to have no clear direction as to where – and how – Jacobs wants them to land.

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the woman who ran review

A woman spends a couple days catching up with friends over coffee and home-cooked pasta. One is a happy spinster living in the countryside, the second is an aspiring artist who has found a second lease on life, and the last is a career woman dealing with marriage issues with her more famous husband. Are these just relaxed hangouts among friends or are they actually glimpses into three possible futures for Gamhee (The Handmaiden‘s Kim Min-hee), a pensive wanderer whose genial attitude appears to keep at bay any deeper probes into her psyche? In Korean auteur Hong Sang-soo‘s The Woman Who Ran, it could be either — the filmmaker’s penchant for the absurd poking its way through gentle, lackadaisical drama that smoothly glides through its slight story and slim 77-minute runtime.

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isabella review

All the world’s a stage, but many of its players are riddled with self-doubt in Matías Piñeiro‘s surreal exploration of female identity through the works of William Shakespeare. Isabella is the Argentinian director’s latest post-modern spin on Shakespeare, following two women who are imperfect reflections of each other as they audition for the part of Isabella in Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure.

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red white and blue review

“Big change…that is a slow-turning wheel.”

There are no easy victories in Red, White and Blue, the last in Steve McQueen’s Small Axe series highlighting the London West Indian community between the 1960s and 1980s. Following the story of Leroy Logan (John Boyega), a young forensic scientist who is driven by racial injustice against his father to become a police officer, Red, White and Blue is by far McQueen’s most challenging film of the series, not just because it takes on the tangled topic of racist policing, but because it refuses to give us, the audience, the satisfaction of a Hollywood happy ending. Instead, Red, White and Blue is a difficult, oftentimes bleak, reflection of the Sisyphean fight for racial equality with Boyega at the center as that mythic figure fruitlessly rolling the boulder up the mountain.

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mangrove review

There have been a lot of conversations about Black pain as of late, whether in the news or in the movies. How do you thoughtfully depict it? Where is the line drawn? I’m far from an expert on the topic, but it seems to me that Steve McQueen, in Mangrove, the second of his Small Axe films, has found at least one answer: counterbalance that Black pain with Black joy.

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on the rocks review

Bill Murray has become a kind of celebrity urban legend. He’s been known to crash weddings, join strangers’ karaoke sessions, or spontaneously begin bartending — building up a reputation as a sort of impish fairy man who will suddenly appear to give life-changing advice before flitting off to inject a little magic into the life of the next lost soul. It’s one of those fun Hollywood myths that might ring a little true, and it’s a persona that director Sofia Coppola taps into in her reunion with her Lost in Translation star with On the Rocks, a frothy father-daughter caper in which Murray plays an only slightly exaggerated version of himself.

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For many, the fall conjures up images of pumpkin spice lattes, flannel shirts, or the return of football. For me, the one constant of the season in recent memory has been the New York Film Festival, which I’ve attended in some form since my final year of college in 2014. As the leaves change and the seasonal weather turns, the best of world cinema has beckoned film lovers indoors to the cinemas at Lincoln Center to stare in wonder at a screen inside a dark room.

Despite fears that the pandemic would break the streak, this year marks my seventh consecutive New York Film Festival – albeit one unlike any other before it. I’ll still be enjoying NYFF from the great indoors, though in 2020, that enclosed space will be my own apartment. This year, the fest is taking their programming digital (and nationwide, to boot) while also hosting select drive-in screenings across three boroughs of New York City. It’s as unconventional as it is improbable, a testament to how artistic institutions have seized this unprecedented moment as an opportunity for experimentation and reimagination.

But being America’s first major pandemic-era film festival was never assured. As festival director Eugene Hernandez told me, none of it was ever a guarantee. But NYFF beat the odds in the nation’s first hotspot, no less, and is currently underway online and across the city. How did the Film at Lincoln Center team pull it off? Hernandez walked me through the festival’s evolution and rebirth, which began even before the coronavirus wreaked havoc on the Big Apple.

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