Beyond 'The Social Network': Other Noteworthy Movies at the New York Film Festival

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New York Film Festival

A number of this year's Oscar contenders emerged out of last month's Telluride, Venice, and Toronto film festivals, as they usually do. Danny Boyle's kinetic outdoorsman-who-amputates-his-own-arm suspenser 127 Hours, Darren Aronofsky's terror-at-the-ballet thriller Black Swan, and The King's Speech, about King George VI overcoming a stammer, were among the films making big splashes—and Toronto also saw a busier-than-expected year on the business side, with 18 films securing North American distribution there before the festival's end. Even the currently running New York Film Festival—a small-lineup festival known more for its somewhat stodgy but well-curated best-of-the-rest-of-the-fests lineup than its big-event premieres or red-carpet glamor parades—hit the ground running, getting its moment of fall-awards-season relevance by world-premiering The Social Network on opening night.

The mile-a-minute geek chamber drama instantaneously became a best-picture contender—an early favorite to win, even—but the festival's first-week schedule, heavy on favorites from this spring's Cannes Film Festival, had a distinct now-back-to-our-regularly-scheduled-programming feel. (The very active Twitter page of the Film Society of Lincoln Center, the organization that runs the festival, is single-handedly keeping the flame of the social-networking theme alive.) But that certainly doesn't mean the festival has been without its (mostly foreign) delights. Here are four of the more noteworthy under-the-radar selections from the festival so far:

The South Korean film Poetry, the screenplay winner at Cannes, follows an elderly woman who enrolls in a community-center poetry class. She's in the first stages of Alzheimer's, and thus losing her nouns, but she's also struggling to process the unspeakable actions of her grandson, whom she takes care of. Thankfully, Lee Chang-dong's moving drama about difficult choices, creative and otherwise, will see commercial release in the U.S. in the near future via Kino International.

The New York Film Festival's first week offered impressive stragglers from other world festivals, too. The Robber, an Austrian film that debuted in Berlin this spring, bursts with surgical-strike heists and high-stakes foot chases. The feature debut of writer-director Benjamin Heisenberg takes as its ripped-from-the-headlines subject a marathon runner who also compulsively robs banks—less for the money than as an integral part of his to-the-limit training regimen (think the adrenaline addiction of The Hurt Locker's bomb-defuser protagonist). Here's hoping this one finds North American distribution.

But the two best films I saw in the first week of the festival—Romanian director Radu Muntean's domestic-meltdown drama Tuesday, After Christmas and the Italian film Le Quattro Volte, by Michelangelo Frammartino, which dazzlingly tells a story of death and rebirth using primarily documentary elements—also premiered in Cannes this spring, only outside the competition. On the surface the two films couldn't be more different. The latter is quietly optimistic, flirting occasionally with the slightly hippie-dippy, and has no dialogue; the former is plain devastating and consists almost entirely of lengthy dialogue scenes. But both Muntean and Frammartino present their material with a supreme confidence; they both employ long (sometimes very long) takes, but never does anything extraneous enter their frames. Both films, picked up last month by Lorber Films, will open next spring at Manhattan's Film Forum before nationwide rollouts.

Among other things, this week offers four particularly intriguing English-language films: celebrated British filmmaker Mike Leigh's Another Year, which many Oscar pundits are touting as a potential best-picture nominee; the minimalist Western Meek's Cutoff, starring Michelle Williams; the documentary Foreign Parts, about the chop shops of Willets Point, Queens, which screens outside the main slate as a sidebar event; and Clint Eastwood's Hereafter, which stars Matt Damon and finishes the festival on October 10. By most accounts the Eastwood film is massively disappointing, but that closing-night slot suggests faith on the festival selection committee's part that there's something to the afterlife drama.

Whatever the case, Hereafter makes it four films in this year's lineup (along with Le Quattro Volte, the Russian dirge Silent Souls, and Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, by the celebrated Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul) exploring the possibility life after death—a refreshing sign of guarded cosmic optimism after last year's sometimes overbearingly miserablist Precious-as-centerpiece lineup.

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Benjamin Mercer has written on film for The Village Voice, The New York Sun, The L Magazine, and Reverse Shot. He is a copy editor at Bookforum. More

He has also copyedited for two New York dailies: The New York Sun and amNewYork.

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