Film critic Jesse Hawthorne Ficks has returned to the theater to experience the New York Film Festival, which runs September 24 to October 10. Here’s the second spoiler-free Ficks’ Picks for the upcoming end-of-the-year onslaught of high profile international films — check the first installation with Paul Verhoeven’s ‘Benedetta’ here.
MICHELANGELO FRAMMARTINO’S IL BUCO [THE HOLE] (ITALY/FRANCE/GERMANY)
This film deservedly won the Special Jury Prize at this year’s 78th Venice International Film Festival. Director Frammartino has created another uniquely hypnotic, observational narrative — without a single line of dialogue. In some ways, the work is similar to his previous treasure Le Quattro Volte (2010), a film that patiently captured the profound transformations of four entities: an elderly man, a baby goat, an aging tree, and a cluster of charcoal. This most recent excursion is based on a real spelunking expedition from 1961. As a group of young cave explorers descend into a hole located in Italy’s southern region of Calabria, they slowly begin to unearth what was then the third-deepest known cave on Earth. The film is uniquely cross-cut with an elderly shepherd coming to the end of his life on earth. The peaceful, methodical filmmaking style allows the viewer to sink into one’s own existential dilemmas, right alongside Frammartino’s. With no distributor or release date in the ‘States, those of you who seek out this kind of meditational cinema should keep your eyes peeled for a rare festival screening.
JULIA DUCOURNAU’S TITANE (FRANCE/BELGIUM)
Following up on her audacious 2016 feature debut Raw, Ducournau doubles down on another excruciating exploration of “body horror,” and won her this year’s prestigious Palme d’Or from the Cannes Film Festival. While definitely not for everyone, Ducournau lets it all hang out fearlessly and fervently, and the film should attract anyone drawn to the dilemmas of demons, dysmorphia, and daddy issues. Combining David Cronenberg’s Crash (1996) with Claire Denis’ L’intrus (2004), newcomer Agathe Rousselle gives such a phenomenal performance that it should be remembered for decades to come. Vincent Lindon also brings a remarkable amount of heart-wrenching levity as an incessantly supportive father, while Ruben Impens distinctive cinematography is worth the admission alone. This is not a film to read about, though much will be written. Get to the theater as soon as possible, buckle up, and enjoy one of the year’s wildest rides. The film is theatrically distributed in the US by Neon and locally, has its debut October 1 at the Alamo Drafthouse.
JOACHIM TRIER’S THE WORST PERSON IN THE WORLD (NORWAY)
Trier rounds out his Oslo trilogy perfectly with his breathtaking new film. Winning the award for Best Actress at this year’s Cannes, Renate Reinsve’s devastating performance inhabits a young woman looking for love while feeling completely empty. It allows Trier to return to his roots of capturing the cultural zeitgeist, as he did in his debut feature Reprise (2006). There’s nothing cinematically fancy here, outside of the film being structured into 12 parts — and perhaps that is why the story resonates so powerfully. In fact, once the end credits began to roll, I realized I had been fully immersed for all 122 minutes and was genuinely surprised to find myself in a theater. Don’t let this unassuming gem slip through the cracks. The film is theatrically distributed in the US by Neon with no set release date as of yet.
Jesse Hawthorne Ficks is the Film History Coordinator at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, teaches adjunct at Chapman University, is part of the San Francisco Bay Area Film Critics Circle and curates/hosts “MiDNiTES FOR MANiACS,” a film series celebrating underrated & overlooked cinema in a neo-sincere manner.