A lot of big titles screened at the NYFF this year, many of which were directed by esteemed women filmmakers. Several festival darlings were represented, including Claire Denis, Kelly Reichardt and Joanna Hogg. Also of note were new films by Sarah Polley and Maria Schneider, both of which centered on women dealing with the consequences of sexual assault (Women Talking and She Said, respectively). The presence of women creatives and women’s issues at this year’s fest was significant.
Several women directors additionally snuck in under the radar with films that largely challenged the status quo. Most of them were first-time directors or unfamiliar faces, infusing fresh blood into a somewhat tired festival circuit. We should always be on the lookout for such women, for they only serve to enrich our filmgoing experience, introducing us to new methods of filmmaking. But where do these films go after the festival screening? The answer is not always clear-cut.
The Argentinian producer and director Laura Citarella is one such unfamiliar filmmaker, hailing from a tight-knit group of creatives that include Mariano Llinás and the formidable cast of women in his 13-plus hour epic, La Flor (2018). Citarella, who produced La Flor, employs a similarly sprawling format for Trenque Lauquen, her third feature. Separated into two parts and starring Citarella’s frequent collaborator and co-writer, Laura Paredes, Trenque Lauquen is a knotty mystery that slowly unravels and re-ties over the course of four hours. Paredes plays Laura, a disappeared woman in search of a rare plant. Her boyfriend and besotted co-worker team up to look for her, unearthing convoluted clues along the way. Laura’s story flashes back and forward throughout the film, elucidating the drama in a literary manner. One side-story involves Laura’s obsession with a trail of letters hidden in library books, leading her on a fascinating and roundabout wild goose chase. Citarella’s film unfolds in a similar manner, reveling in the mystery without a firm conclusion and even dipping briefly into the realm of science fiction. Anchored by compelling performances, Trenque Lauquen is a fascinating and unique film-project, unlike any other in the fest. Represented by Luxbox, the film is still making the rounds on the festival circuit, having recently screened at AFI Fest in Los Angeles.
Marie Kreutzer’s Corsage also screened as part of the NYFF Main Slate, but it is a much more accessible, even flashier film than Trenque Lauquen. Although like Laura Citarella, Kreutzer has also directed previous films to quiet acclaim, the most notable being her last feature, The Ground Beneath Her Feet (2019). Corsage is her highest profile film yet, starring the luminous Vicky Krieps as Empress Elisabeth of Austria (also known as Sisi). Proudly defiant and naturally individualistic, Sisi chafes at her glamorous lifestyle, yearning for more responsibility in her glorified role as wife of the Emperor Franz Josef. Kreutzer shoots the film with an interesting style, injecting scenes with slow motion and anachronistic music, depicting Sisi as especially out-of-time. She is certainly a filmmaker to watch, standing out on the international circuit. Quickly after its premiere at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival, IFC picked up Corsage, with plans to release the film in theaters on December 23.
A number of documentaries screened at the NYFF this year, but one in particular stood out: Margaret Brown’s Descendant. Brown is a veteran filmmaker without much name recognition, as is often the case with documentarians. Here’s hoping that Descendant will change that. Focusing on the search for the wreck of the last illegal slave ship to enter the United States, Descendant raises many important questions about historical responsibility and reparations, while following the quest of a dedicated group of deep-sea divers along the way. Working with the writings of Zora Neale Hurston, who adapted the story of Cudjoe Lewis (a captive on the last slave ship), Brown also explores the community of Africatown in Mobile, Alabama—a neighborhood that is largely populated by descendants of the ship (the Clotilda). Thus joining the past with a still-fractured present, Brown trains a distanced but critical eye on the town as the wreck is finally discovered. Following its successful festival run, Descendant is now available to watch on Netflix.
Finally, one of the most impressive features included in the Main Slate this year was Charlotte Wells’ vibrant debut Aftersun. Hailing from Scotland with a graduate degree from NYU, Wells previously directed several shorts before Aftersun, which stars Paul Mescal and Frankie Corio as a young father and daughter on vacation in Turkey in the 1990s. Shot and edited in a beautifully experimental style, Aftersun favors young Sophie’s perspective, alternating scenes of the trip with brief flashes of the present. Sophie is now turning 30, with a child of her own, just as her father celebrated his 30th birthday on their previous vacation. Wells’ film is unclear in the best way, highly subjective with a few bursts of sweeping emotion. The acting by Mescal and Corio is top-tier; the latter incredibly natural while Mescal’s performance hints at roiling issues beneath his nerdy-dad surface. Aftersun really creeps up on you, unleashing a slew of emotions during its end sequence, tied to Sophie’s bittersweet experience in the present. Wells’ direction is surefire and exquisite, assuring us that she will not be an unfamiliar face for much longer. Aftersun is being released through A24, reaching theaters on November 18.