October 21, 2023
Where to Watch the Queer Films from This Year's New York Film Festival
Frank J. Avella READ TIME: 13 MIN.
"The unsettled state of the industry is an unavoidable talking point these days, but my hope is that our festival, as it has done through its 61-year history, will serve as a reminder that the art of cinema is in robust health," said Dennis Lim, Artistic Director ofthe New York Film Festival explained prior to this year's event that concluded earlier this month. "The filmmakers in this year's Main Slate are grappling with eternal questions – about how movies relate to the world, about what it means to make art from life, about the most interesting ways to approach the contemporary moment and the historical past – and the answers they have proposed are thrilling in their variety, ingenuity, and urgency."
His words echo in the films by out artists working through a queer prism in films seen at the festival. Their work go far beyond the typical and expected explorations of queer life, offering up deeply flawed and damaged LGBTQ+ characters trying to navigate the world in often selfish, yet honest, ways. The bisexual writer in "Anatomy of a Fall" may very well have killed her husband, but does that make her a bad person? (It was a discussion director Justine Triet had recently in the New York Times after her film opened in the U.S.)
What of the screenwriter who has just rediscovered his pristinely-young parents after they've been dead for 30 years in "All of Us Strangers?" Is he crazy, or does he simply have a wildly creative imagination?
And speaking of wacky creatives, "Maestro" biopic subject Leonard Bernstein has his dude-cake and eats it too, as he shamelessly cavorts in front of his wife, not realizing his dalliances might hurt her. Flawed, indeed, but also infinitely fascinating.
In addition to these stunning narrative features, two queer documentaries take refreshing risks in their storytelling as well.
Here is a sampling of the (mostly queer) Best of the NY Film Festival and when they are available for wider distribution either in theatrical release or through a streaming service.
'Anatomy of a Fall'
The 2023 winner of the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, Justine Triet's absolutely riveting procedural thriller "Anatomy of a Fall" is easily one of the best films of the year.
Famed bisexual novelist Sandra Voyter ("Toni Erdmann" star Sandra Hüller in a brilliant performance) lives with her husband and 11-year-old vision-impaired son. When her spouse is found dead outside their French chalet, Sandra is arrested and put on trial for murder, her life now dissected and simplified in the courtroom. Triet searches for truth vs. perception, and examines the importance of the complexity of human beings and relationships. The film is especially urgent in our current climate of instant black-and-white judgment and immediate and certain character assassination. The film argues for nuance in the manner in which our society goes about understanding people and situations. It's an exceptional work. In French and English with English subtitles.
"Anatomy of a Fall" is in limited release. For more information, follow this link.
Todd Haynes is a filmmaker that continuously grows as an artist and explorer of human behavior. In the out director's most absorbing film since "Carol," Haynes explores a story ripped from the headlines, managing to satirize our culture while delving deep into the emotions of the fascinating characters created by screenwriter Samy Burch. Natalie Portman plays a well-known TV actor who arrives in suburban Savannah to research her new role. She will be portraying a woman who, 24 years ago, slept with a 13-year-old boy, was imprisoned, gave birth to twins, and, upon her release, married the boy. Julianne Moore is extraordinary as the non-repentant wife, and "Riverdale" hunk Charles Melton impresses as her young husband. But it's Portman who delivers a career best turn as a thesp who discovers much more than she expected. Refreshingly, the film eschews judgment, allowing the audience to ask their own questions and make their own decisions. Haynes' deliberately campy visual and aural melodramatic flourishes add to the intrigue.
Netflix releases "May December" on November 17 in a limited theatrical release. It will stream on December 1. For more information, follow this link.
'All of Us Strangers'
Out British helmer Andrew Haigh ("Weekend") has crafted an exquisite, painful, melancholy, and lyrical meditation on love and death anchored by a truly remarkable performance by Andrew Scott. "All of Us Strangers," adapted by Haigh from the Japanese novel "Strangers" by Taichi Yamada, centers on Adam, a screenwriter who lives in a practically (and spookily) empty highrise outside London. The only other apparent tenant is a sexy, boozy young man named Harry (a potent Paul Mescal), who hits on Adam. The two eventually embark on a steamy relationship. Meanwhile, Adam's long-dead parents (Jamie Bell and Claire Foy, both flawless) are back and living in the suburbs – and are the same age as when they perished in an auto accident decades ago, when Adam was 12. This is no gimmicky supernatural thriller; yes, it is a ghost story of sorts, but one about identity and desire, grief, regret, and abandonment, as well as the longing for connection – with queerness at its center.
"All of Us Strangers," from Searchlight Pictures, opens in theaters on December 22, 2023. For more information, follow this link.
Yorgos Lanthimos' bold, dizzyingly insane (in the best possible way) new film "Poor Things," defies genre categorization, although it could be the cinematic turkey baster love child of James Whale, Terry Gilliam, and Lars von Trier. Emma Stone fearlessly leaps off the cliff, (metaphorically as well as figuratively) as Bella, a weird 'n wild young woman who is kept locked up in the home of mad scientist, Willem Dafoe. Her journey from being a naive, child-like prisoner to her liberation from the shackles of controlling men is astonishing to behold. A sexy Mark Ruffalo makes his delightfully scandalous mark as an attorney and suitor who becomes obsessed with Stone. Camp flourishes abound in this cinematic visual feast.
Based on a 1992 novel by Alasdair Gray, "Poor Things" has been brilliantly adapted by Lanthimos and Tony McNamara (who should have won the screenplay Oscar for "The Favourite"), and will easily bring Stone a fourth, richly-deserved Oscar nomination. Much like M3GAN, Bella is an instant queer icon.
"Poor Things," from Searchlight Pictures, comes to theaters on December 8, 2023. For more information, follow this link.
'Strange Way of Life'
In many ways, "Strange Way of Life" – Spanish auteur Pedro Almodóvar's sexy, kitschy and decidedly tame short film – is his own version of "Brokeback Mountain" – one actually made by a queer man. The 31-minute western-romance stars Pedro Pascal ("The Last of Us," "The Mandalorian") as Silva, and Ethan Hawke ("Before Sunrise") as Sheriff Jake. They are former lovers who reunite after 25 years due to dire circumstances involving loved ones. The homoeroticism is off the charts for sure (although our two protags, strangely, never kiss), and a certain semi-nude scene involving Pascal should have gay audiences a-tingle. José Condessa and Jason Fernández, as the younger versions of Silva and Jake, make mouth-watering impressions. The film feels more like a prologue to a feature than a standalone. Adaptation here is not only encouraged, but also desired and demanded.
"Strange Way of Life," from Sony Classics, is in limited theatrical release with "The Human Voice" with Tilda Swinton.For more information, follow this link.
Bradley Cooper showed great directorial promise with "A Star is Born," but what he achieves in "Maestro" is nothing short of miraculous. As an actor, he gives a wholly immersive performance. As a filmmaker (director and co-screenwriter), Cooper fashions a work that is a true tribute to the gregarious genius Leonard Bernstein, a work that is also a singular narrative achievement. The bold "Fancy Free" sequence delights, but also manages to advance the plot. And the film doesn't shy away from Bernstein's gay side. That said, the one place where I feel Cooper could have delved a bit deeper was in the development of Bernstein's same-sex relationships, beyond the superficial. Certainly, the Bernstein family blessing was a factor, but it's a shame his gay life was given little nuance.
Carey Mulligan, who gets top billing as Bernstein's beloved and clued-in wife Felicia, anchors the film and, in a penultimate reel confrontation, delivers a knock-out acting punch.
"Maestro," from Netflix, opens in limited theatrical release on November 22, 2023. It begins streaming on December 20, 2023. For more information, follow this link.
'Orlando, My Political Biography'
Paul B. Preciado's complex, clever film "Orlando, My Political Biography" often feels more like a filmic installation than a doc/narrative feature blend. Virginia Woolf's 1928 novel "Orlando" provides Preciado with his jumping-off point, but also his life preserver as he dissects notions of gender and identity, as well as meanings of transness, and challenges antiquated notions of the binary. Casting 26 trans and non-binary people in his film, Preciado has them tell their stories, blended with Woolf's Orlando's narrative (who transitioned while in a very long slumber). The filmmaker sets out to illuminate what is presented as a societally-inflicted political notion of the binary norm. It's a fascinating work.
"Orlando, My Political Biography" opens in limited release at NYC's Film Forum on November 10, 2023. For more information, follow this link.
'Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project'
The Sundance Grand Jury Prize this year was awarded to the engaging doc "Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project," directed by Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson, a portrait of the titular Black poet and activist, who also happened to be gay. The filmmakers weave together a dense work that examines Giovanni's often-controversial politics, as well as her glorious, thought-provoking poetry. In non-linear fashion we are treated to a glimpse inside the personal and creative life of a feminist whose justified racial anger defined her work and her actions.
"Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project" opens in limited release at NYC's Film Forum on November 3, 2023. For more information, follow this link.
83-year-old Italian auteur Marco Bellocchio shows no signs of taking on less ambitious projects. His latest, "Kidnapped," is a sweeping epic, based on real events, that is another example of the Catholic Church's pomposity and inhumanity. In 1858 Bologna, a 6-year-old boy is ripped from the arms of his Jewish parents because he was believed to have been baptized (under the strangest of circumstances). The boy is sent to Rome to erase his Jewishness and indoctrinate him wholly into Catholicism. What follows is a dizzyingly astounding, decades-spanning narrative, masterfully executed in a wildly operatic fashion.
It's hard to fathom how Italy overlooked selecting "Kidnapped" as it's International Feature Oscar submission (although I have admittedly not seen "Io capitano"). In Italian and Hebrew with English subtitles.
"Kidnapped" will be released in the Spring of 2024. For more information, follow this link.
Aki Kaurismäki's wry, acerbic, sometimes hilarious, and often insightful love story "Fallen Leaves" tells the bizarre tale of two working class Helsinkians who find, lose, find, lose, and find one another (I may have skipped a few) over the course of I'm not sure how long! Along the way both quit and/or are fired from various jobs and one is almost killed, but neither ever seem too fazed by life's never-ending challenges.
Alma Pöysti and Jussi Vatanen are deadpan terrific as the couple taking the absurdities in stride. Despite the madness, hope pervades this wonderful work. In Finnish with English subtitles
"Falling Leaves" will be in limited release via the streaming service MUBI on November 17, 2023. For more information, follow this link.
'Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World'
"Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World," Radu Jude's follow up to 2021's audacious "Bad Luck Banging or Looney Porn," continues the provocateur's satiric spotlight on the absurdities in our worldwide culture, while specifically targeting Romania's past and presence. With a film that boasts a marvelously oddball turn by Ilinca Manolache, Jude has created another extraordinary and singular cinematic investigation. In Romanian with English subtitles.
"Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World" has yet to receive distribution.
Frank J. Avella is a proud EDGE and Awards Daily contributor. He serves as the GALECA Industry Liaison and is a Member of the New York Film Critics Online. His award-winning short film, FIG JAM, has shown in Festivals worldwide (figjamfilm.com). Frank's screenplays have won numerous awards in 17 countries. Recently produced plays include LURED & VATICAL FALLS, both O'Neill semifinalists. He is currently working on a highly personal project, FROCI, about the queer Italian/Italian-American experience. He is a proud member of the Dramatists Guild. https://filmfreeway.com/FrankAvella https://muckrack.com/fjaklute