Film

From Julian Schnabel’s van Gogh Film to a New Godard at the 56th New York Film Festival

Standouts at this year’s New York Film Festival range from a Vincent van Gogh biopic by Julian Schnabel to a documentary on free jazz, with a range of great, art-inflected offerings in between.

At Eternity’s Gate, directed by Julian Schnabel (photo by Lily Gavin)

Every fall, for 56 years now, the New York Film Festival makes the Film Society of Lincoln Center its home for two weeks, screening high-quality films that make either their world premiere or North American debut. With works by Frederick Wiseman, Hong Sang-soo (like last year, two in the Main Slate!), Jia Zhangke, Bi Gan, Lee Chang-dong, Claire Denis, and other luminaries, the line-up this year is impressive. NYFF selection committee member and FSLC Director of Programming Dennis Lim said on Instagram, “Of the nine editions of NYFF I have worked on, this Main Slate seems to me our richest and most varied yet.”

The Image Book, directed by Jean-Luc Godard (courtesy of Kino Lorber)

The Main Slate indeed seems to contain a myriad of riches, some of which include more art-centric fare. In fact, At Eternity’s Gate is the fest’s closing night film. Julian Schnabel’s return to filmmaking after 2010’s Miral, it concentrates on Vincent van Gogh’s (Willem Dafoe) final days. Kirk Douglas, Tim Roth, and Jacques Dutronc have played him in the past, and a hand-painted animated film covering this time in van Gogh’s life was released last year. It will be intriguing to see Schnabel’s approach to such an overrepresented master. Jean-Luc Godard returns to NYFF with The Image Book, which will most likely re-frame the language of cinema, a continuing theme for this former French New Wave director. You can expect Godard’s to be a film of references and citations, of dynamic relationships between sound and image. Lastly, along with Paul Dano, Richard Billingham lands on the Main Slate with his feature debut. Ray & Liz is the Turner Prize-nominated filmmaker’s 16-mm depiction of a dysfunctional family (inspired by Billingham’s own), seen in three episodes, living in a flat on the outskirts of Birmingham.

Beyond the Main Slate, there are enticing films to see in the Projections and Spotlight on Documentary sections. The former, dedicated to more experimental sound and images, includes Your Face, the latest work by Tsai Ming-liang. Judging from the description, this 76-minute feature seems like, as with his previous seven-film Walker series, the director’s newest exercise in duration. The film consists of a series of portraits of mostly non-actors (although Tsai muse Lee Kang-sheng makes an appearance) scored to the sounds of ambient maestro Ryuichi Sakamoto.

Ray & Liz, directed by Richard Billingham (courtesy of Richard Billingham)

Over in the Spotlight on Documentary sidebar, there are a number of appetizing films to check out, especially Tom Surgal’s Fire Music. In recent years, there has been a surge in documentaries concentrating on artists (Kasper Collin’s I Called Him Morgan, John Scheinfeld’s Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary, and Jake Meginsky and Neil Young’s Milford Graves: Full Mantis) and jazz record labels (Sophie Huber’s Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes). Consisting of archival footage and photos, Fire Music is the latest addition, spotlighting the sounds of free jazz and the musicians, such as Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, and Eric Dolphy, associated with it. From an artist-turned-director to a doc on the sounds of improvisatory music, NYFF has more top-shelf art-inflected wares than in recent memory.

The 56th New York Film Festival runs at the Film Society of Lincoln Center (various venues, Manhattan) from September 28 through October 14.

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