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Highlights from the 2019 New York Film Festival

New films by directors Martin Scorsese, Pedro Almodóvar, Bong Joon-ho and Agnès Varda are among the main attractions of the 57th edition of the New York Film Festival, which opened Friday.

The festival, which runs through October 13 at Lincoln Center, features more than 150 films, with many U.S. and New York premieres, including some of the top prize winners from this year's Cannes, Berlin and Venice Film Festivals. There are also panel discussions, filmmaker workshops, revivals and free screenings, all in the company of the most appreciative movie audiences in the world.

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The festival's centerpiece and closing night presentations (not screened at press time) are two New York-centric films: Noah Baumbach's "Marriage Story," starring Adam Driver and Scarlett Johannson as a couple untangling their marriage with their young son caught in the middle (screens Oct. 4 and 12); and "Motherless Brooklyn," directed by and starring Edward Norton as a detective piercing a political conspiracy, in his adaptation of Jonathan Lethem's novel, transitioned to 1950s New York City (October 11).

Lee Sun-kyun and Cho Yeo-jeong in Bong Joon-ho's acclaimed thriller, "Parasite."  Neon

Also coming up is the winner for the Palme d'Or at this year's Cannes Film festival: Bong Joon-ho's acclaimed thriller, "Parasite" (Oct. 5, 7).

"Joker," which took top prize at the Venice Film Festival, will have its New York premiere at the festival October 2, along with a panel discussion featuring the filmmakers (including director Todd Phillips and star Joaquin Phoenix). Cosplayers, take note: masks and face paint are not allowed.

Francis Ford Coppola, who debuted his sensorially-splendid restoration of "Apocalypse Now" at the Tribeca Film Festival earlier this year, brings a restored edition of his 1984 dramatic musical, "The Cotton Club." With sound and image restored from the original elements, "The Cotton Club Encore" will be presented on October 5, followed by a Q&A with the director.

Joe Pesci, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, director Martin Scorsese, and New York Film Festival director Kent Jones at a press conference following the world premiere of "The Irishman," at Alice Tully Hall in New York, September 27, 2019.  David Morgan/CBS News

Main Slate Highlights

Not all of the festival's main features have been previewed by press time, but of those that have, here are 9 films not to be missed:

"The Irishman" (World Premiere) – Just as one would have eagerly awaited the latest western by John Ford or thriller by Alfred Hitchcock, how could one not be dying to see the latest mob film by Martin Scorsese, the director of "Mean Streets," "Goodfellas" and "Casino"? Based on Charles Brandt's 2004 book "I Heard You Paint Houses," "The Irishman" is an epic story of power, loyalty and corruption centered around mob hitman Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro), who is taken under the wing of crime boss Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci), and becomes a virtual aide de camp to Teamsters president Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). Scorsese's technical mastery is undeniable, and while there are some callbacks to his earlier work, and the period detail is exceptional, the defining characteristic of "The Irishman" is the space the director gives to De Niro, Pesci and Pacino to strut their stuff, creating characters representing the human capacity to demonstrate loyalty, or disloyalty, at sometimes painful personal cost. Screens at the New York Film Festival today, Saturday and October 13. Opens in select theatres nationwide on November 1, before streaming on Netflix beginning November 27.

To read a full review of "The Irishman" click here.

To watch a trailer for "The Irishman" click on the video player below.

The Irishman | Teaser | NYFF57 by Film at Lincoln Center on YouTube

"Pain and Glory" (New York Premiere)

In what might be temptingly considered an autobiographical story, Spanish writer-director Pedro Almodóvar's latest film concerns a director who believes he can no longer direct, who has withdrawn into himself as he feels the increasing physical deprivations of age, and who turns to the past by delving into memories and regrets as he enters what may be the last act of his life. From such a dark juncture Almodóvar has conjured a story that is ultimately positive and resistant to doubt, even when the specter of death and loss is not very far away. Antonio Banderas (winner of the Best Actor award at this year's Cannes Film Festival) is terrific in a subtly-shaded performance, as his character focuses on the aging of the body (which can defeat the artistic will) and the power of memory (which can rescue it). Screens September 28-29. From Sony Pictures Classics. Opens October 4 in New York and Los Angeles.

To read a full review of "Pain and Glory" click here

To watch a trailer for "Pain and Glory" click on the video player below.

PAIN AND GLORY | Official Trailer HD (2019) by Sony Pictures Classics on YouTube

"Portrait of a Lady on Fire" (New York Premiere) – What happens when the subject of a painted portrait refuses to pose? The artist must resort to duplicity, and furtively-scratched sketches, in order to observe the essence of a woman and preserve that impression in paint. But that isn't quite enough, and so the dynamic between the painter, Marianne (Noémie Merlant), and the young woman, Héloïse (Adèle Haenel), whose portrait is to be delivered to a prospective groom, becomes by turns confrontational, conspiratorial and erotic. Celine Sciamma's enthralling period romance, set on an island off the French coast in the 18th century, has volumes to say about the representations of a figure in art, the power of memories, and the unspoken, shared experience that may result from an artist trying to capture the presence of a person on canvas. Merlant and Haenel are terrific, as are Luàna Bajrami as a young servant who becomes entwined with the couple, and Valerie Golino as Héloïse's mother, determined that art will seal the deal on a marriage contract. Screens September 29-30. Neon will release the film in select theaters beginning December 6.

To watch a trailer for "Portrait of a Lady on Fire" click on the video player below.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire | Trailer | NYFF57 by Film at Lincoln Center on YouTube

"Bacurau" (U.S. Premiere) – A quaint mountain village in Brazil finds itself totally cut off from the outside world, a state of affairs brought about by some deplorable hunters from America who have the town's residents in their sights. Now, the villagers of Bacurau may be simple folk, but they are not to be underestimated. The political stance of co-directors Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles isn't hard to discern – gringos getting the comeuppance they deserve – but the film's slow build to something resembling justice is both bloody and slyly humorous, with imaginative visual touches (one shot in an unprepossessing local museum draws breaths of eager anticipation) that both advance the story and twist the knife in the hunters' fate. Shot with swagger and gleeful bloodletting, it reminds us that revenge exploitation films of the 1970s and '80s never really died, they were just sleeping. Stars Sonia Braga and Udo Kier add simmering juice to their roles as figureheads on opposite sides of a gun. Screens Oct. 1-2. To be released by Kino Lorber in early 2020.

To watch a trailer for "Bacurau" click on the video player below.

Bacurau | Trailer | NYFF57 by Film at Lincoln Center on YouTube

"Zombi Child" (U.S. Premiere) – A Haitian girl, Melissa (Wislanda Louimat), brought to France to live with an aunt and attend an elite girls' school, fascinates the other girls in her clique, particularly Fanny (Louise Labèque), who falls under the spell of legends about zombies and voodoo. Those legends, which we see in flashbacks of a 1960s Haiti, aren't actually legend, though – it turns out Melissa's own grandfather was the unfortunate victim of a plot to turn him into an undead, unpaid harvester of sugar cane. Not dream-like (as in Jacques Tourneur's "I Walked With a Zombie") nor gruesome (any of George Romero's), Bertrand Bonello's bifurcated drama explores the allure of the exotic, and how strongly we may wish that the most far-fetched and fantastical of stories might be true after all. (And they might be! Clairvius Narcisse, the unfortunate man who was buried and then came back, did really live, and "die," in Haiti in the '60s.) With exceptional cinematography by Yves Cape, the zombie flashbacks are dramatized in an almost documentary fashion, which frankly makes them more horrifying. Screens October 1-2. To be released by Film Movement in January 2020.

To watch a trailer for "Zombi Child" click on the video player below.

Zombi Child | Trailer | NYFF57 by Film at Lincoln Center on YouTube

"Sibyl" (U.S. Premiere) – Sibyl, a psychotherapist in the process of chucking her profession for writing fiction, comes to the aid of a patient, a young actress who has been sleeping with her film's costar. That actor turns out to be the husband of the film's director, and when the actress' mental state becomes untenable, Sibyl is summoned to the film's location on Stromboli in order to keep her patient on an even keel and to run interference between her and her beau, to prevent the film shoot from being scuttled. And that love triangle? Think quadrangle. An enjoyable romp from director Justine Triet, "Sibyl" features fun and un-self-conscious performances by Virginie Efira, Adèle Exarchopoulos ("Blue is the Warmest Color"), Gaspard Ulliel as the two-timing actor, and Sandra Hüller ("Toni Erdmann") as the director whose artistic pursuit might be fueled by passive-aggressive (or just plain aggressive) jealousy. Screens October 5-6. To be released by Music Box Films in 2020.

To watch a trailer for "Sibyl" click on the video player below.

Sibyl | Trailer | NYFF57 by Film at Lincoln Center on YouTube

"Beanpole" (New York Premiere) – Demobbed from Berlin following the end of World War II, Masha (Vasilisa Perelygina), a Russian tank gunner, arrives in Leningrad for a reunion with her friend Iya (Viktoria Miroshnichenko), a formidably tall woman who was Macha's compatriot on the battlefield. They are joined not only by friendship, but by the gruesome scars of war, as well as the death of a little boy. Kantemir Balagov (winner of a director's prize at Cannes) expertly captures a stark world of deprivation and longing, with exceptional performances from his cast, including his two lead actresses making their film debuts. Screens Oct. 6 and 8. To be released by Kino Lorber January 29, 2020.

To watch a trailer for "Beanpole" click on the video player below.

Beanpole | Trailer | NYFF57 by Film at Lincoln Center on YouTube

"Varda by Agnès" (New York Premiere) – With the filmmaker referred to as the godmother of the French New Wave no longer with us, we at least have her generously sharing herself in this documentary, which debuted (shortly before her death last March) at the Berlin Film Festival. It is comprised of excerpts from lectures about her processes and aesthetics for filmmaking, packed to the brim with clips representing her career of short and feature-length fiction films (including "Cleo From 5 to 7" and "Vagabond"), documentaries ("Black Panthers," "Mur Murs," "The Gleaners and I"), and her later-in-life video and mixed-media art installations, up to her 2017 Oscar-nominated "Faces Places." At age 90, Agnès Varda was still vibrant and opinionated about cinematic storytelling, and what "Varda by Agnès" reminds us of is how a very curious, radical, experimental artist with a motion picture camera, unbound by convention, could create memorable characters and magical images that linger once the projector lamp is switched off. Screens Oct. 9-10. Janus Films will release "Varda by Agnès" on November 22. Film at Lincoln Center will host a retrospective of Varda's movies later this year.

To watch a trailer for "Varda by Agnès" click on the video player below.

Varda by Agnès | Trailer | NYFF57 by Film at Lincoln Center on YouTube

"The Moneychanger" (U.S. Premiere) – A cautionary tale that seems particularly timely (even though this film from Uruguayan director Federico Veiroj spans 1956-1975), "The Moneychanger" recounts a neophyte banker's rise through the ranks as the loyal right-hand man of a Montevideo money launderer. Eager to wear the vest hiding thousands of dollars on flights to Geneva, Humberto (Daniel Hendler) is also eager to wed the comely young daughter of his boss. But unlike, say, "The Wolf of Wall Street," where financial malfeasance is depicted as a glamorous, decadent lifestyle (at least until the feds come knocking), "The Moneychanger" is the tale of a schlub who, bit by bit, gets in over his head as he juggles accounts and currencies for people carting suitcases bursting with cash. Taking more and more risks with less and less scrupulous people, Humberto might believe that the politicians he deals with present a sheen of respectability, or at least cover, for his crimes. But when men with guns start popping up out of the woodwork, he finds himself acquiescing to the necessity of violence in order to stay afloat, and discovering there is a price for failing a loyalty test. Screens October 9-10. No U.S. distributor announced.

To watch a trailer for "The Moneychanger" click on the video player below.

The Moneychanger | Trailer | NYFF57 by Film at Lincoln Center on YouTube


The festival also offers a vast roster of documentary films, unscreened at press time. Some of the intriguing titles include the New York premiere of "63 Up," the latest installment in Michael Apted's acclaimed "Up" series, in which he has followed a cohort of Britons from age 7 to, now, 63. Time sure flies!

Also: "Oliver Sacks: His Own Life," Ric Burns' film about the noted neurologist; the 3-D "Cunningham," which charts the artistic evolution of famed chorographer Merce Cunningham; "College Behind Bars,' Lynn Novick's portrait of incarcerated students; "The Booksellers," a love letter to New York City's book world; and "Born to Be," which examines patients undergoing surgical transitioning. Ivy Meeropol, the grandchild of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, directs "Bully. Coward. Victim. The Story of Roy Cohn," a portrait of the lawyer responsible for prosecuting her grandparents for espionage.

The festival revivals include the classics "Los Olvidados" by Luis Buñuel, "Bert Stern's "Jazz on a Summer Day"; Béla Tarr's "Sátántangó"; and the 1957 sci-fi thriller "The Incredible Shrinking Man."

The festival "Secret Screening" has been announced: the crime thriller "Uncut Gems" (Oct. 3, 12), starring Adam Sandler, and directed by Josh and Benny Safdie ("Heaven Knows What," "Good Time").

"Projections" is the festival slate of experimental and short films, along with films projected in loops, for free, at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center Amphitheater. "Convergence" is a roster of virtual reality projections and interactive displays.

Olivier Assayas (whose previous festival entries include "Clouds of Sils Maria," "Personal Shopper" and "Non-Fiction," and who is back this year with "Wasp Network") will head a screenwriting master class on October 6.

Finally, to mark the 100th anniversary of the American Society of Cinematographers, the festival is hosting screenings of such luminous works as "Leave Her to Heaven" (a most beautiful color film noir), "Days of Heaven," "Dead Man," "America, America," "McCabe & Mrs. Miller," and a rare I.B. Technicolor print of "The Godfather Part II." It's an offer you can't refuse.

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