The 59th New York Film Festival will have what the previous edition lacked: people in the seats. To tempt viewers back into its well-ventilated Lincoln Center theaters, the festival has instituted Covid-19 protocols, including mandatory masks and proof of vaccination. It has also assembled an international lineup of premieres and festival-circuit favorites, showcasing work from both established and next-generation auteurs.
As ever, there is also a robust selection of rediscoveries and revivals, including a tribute to Amos Vogel, the festival co-founder, and restorations of Wendell B. Harris Jr.’s “Chameleon Street” and Miklos Jancso’s “The Round-Up.” The Currents section continues the festival’s tradition of highlighting new work from experimental and avant-garde filmmakers.
It all starts Friday with Joel Coen’s “The Tragedy of Macbeth” and runs through Oct. 10. Plenty of tickets are available; for information on the how, the when and the where, visit filmlinc.org. Here are some of our favorites:
‘The Tragedy of Macbeth’
Blood and betrayal, toil and trouble — filmmakers from Akira Kurosawa to Roman Polanski have taken on “Macbeth.” In his stripped-down version, Joel Coen pitches his expressionistic tent between cinema and theater, taking a lead from Orson Welles, whose 1948 adaptation was one of his last Hollywood films. Is this an ill omen from Coen? (This is the first movie he’s directed without his brother, Ethan.) Whatever the answer, the play is still the thing and so is a volcanic Denzel Washington, who ferociously embodies, as Welles put it, “the decay of a tyrant.” MANOHLA DARGIS
Hot take: Denzel Washington is a good actor, with a special flair for Shakespeare. Bruno Delbonnel’s black-and-white cinematography emphasizes the salt and pepper in Washington’s beard, and he plays the Thane of Cawdor as a weary, haunted old soldier, a tender soul pitched into cruelty and madness by ambition — his own and Lady Macbeth’s. That would be Frances McDormand, bringing viperish eloquence to this lean (under two hours), mean and lyrical reading of the Scottish Play. A.O. SCOTT
Few filmmakers rage with such naked emotion and formalist conviction as the Israeli director Nadav Lapid (“Synonyms”). Based on an incident involving a proposed “Loyalty in Culture” law, the story tracks a filmmaker (Avshalom Pollak) who’s about to screen one of his movies in a remote town. There, he fumes against the state, communes with his dying mother and nearly loses himself in an apoplectic fury that Lapid visualizes with whiplash camera moves and take-no-prisoners intensity. DARGIS
‘Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn’
The titular porn is a video of marital relations between Emi, a Bucharest schoolteacher (Katia Pascariu), and her husband, and it kicks off Radu Jude’s ferocious essay film with a jolt of raunchy comedy. When the video winds up on the internet, Emi’s job is in jeopardy, and Jude stages her socially distanced, masked “trial” as a third-act circus of culture-war belligerence. The film bristles with arguments about the state of modern civilization and arresting documentary images of the Romanian capital as a city on the verge of a pandemic-assisted nervous breakdown. SCOTT
‘Bergman Island’ and ‘The Souvenir Part II’
Two films about filmmakers navigating the slippery boundaries between life and art. In Mia Hansen-Love’s latest, Chris and Tony (Vicky Krieps and Tim Roth) travel to Faro, the wind-swept Swedish island where Ingmar Bergman lived and worked. Chris’s unfinished script becomes a movie-within-the-movie, also set on Faro and starring Mia Wasikowska and Anders Danielsen Lie. The result is less a homage to Bergman than a witty, free-ranging meditation on some of his themes.
The movie inside Joanna Hogg’s sequel to “The Souvenir,” her brilliant, wrenching autobiographical feature from 2019, is “The Souvenir” itself. Once again, Honor Swinton Byrne plays Julie, a British film student in the 1980s knocked sideways by the death of her heroin-addicted boyfriend. Their relationship becomes the subject of her thesis film, and “The Souvenir Part II” becomes a collage of grief and creative ingenuity, looped around itself in a complex knot of memory, emotion and analytical detachment. SCOTT
‘Drive My Car’
Art and life blur beautifully in “Drive My Car,” one of two selections in the main slate from Ryusuke Hamaguchi. (The other is “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy.”) A meditation on love, desire, work and grief loosely adapted from a Haruki Murakami story, it centers on an actor-director, Kafuku (an outstanding Hidetoshi Nishijima). Over three unhurried, wholly immersive hours, Kafuku endures profound loss and stays busy with his experimental theater productions. When he begins working on a new staging of “Uncle Vanya,” the line between life and the play softens to devastating effect, in a movie that is itself a consideration of the Chekhov lines, “What can we do? We must live our lives.” DARGIS
In 1961, a group of Milanese spelunkers traveled to southern Italy to map a deep cave in the floor of a remote mountain valley. Their expedition is the starting point of Michelangelo Frammartino’s new film, which is neither a documentary nor a tale of adventure, but rather a quiet, intense, almost overwhelmingly beautiful meditation on life, death, human curiosity and the unfathomable power of nature. SCOTT
‘Prayers for the Stolen’
The director Tatiana Huezo opens her quiet, elliptical drama one delicate and shocking revelation at a time. Ana, a doe-eyed 8-year-old, lives with her mother (Mayra Batalla) in an isolated Mexican hamlet that’s held hostage by corrupt government forces and cartels that routinely kidnap women. With limpid beauty and blasts of violence, Huezo creates a portrait of innocence and its loss, one that turns harrowing once Ana (Marya Membreño) turns 13. The more she knows, the more you do, too — and it is brutal. DARGIS
‘The Worst Person in the World’
When you first see the irresistible, impossible title character (Renate Reinsve, an emotional quick-change artist) in Joachim Trier’s formally adventurous drama (or is it a comedy?), she is all alone, smoking against a ravishing cityscape. (Reinsve won the best actress award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.) She’s soon off and racing through life — and other people’s feelings — hurtling and stumbling, failing and succeeding. Happy, depressed, generous, cruel, impetuous and deliberate, she is a very specific human being who, at times, may remind you of the one in the mirror. DARGIS