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New York Film Festival highlights, part 2: "Priscilla," a different P.O.V. of the Elvis legend

The 61st New York Film Festival, presenting more than 100 films from 45 countries, continues this week at venues in Lincoln Center and throughout New York City, with many of the premieres opening soon in theaters around the country or streaming online. 

Reviews of some of this week's highlights are featured below. [Previous reviews were published in Part 1.] 

The festival concludes October 15. 


Jacob Elordi and Cailee Spaeny as Elvis and Priscilla Presley in Sofia Coppola's new film, "Priscilla." A24

"Priscilla" (North American Premiere)

The legend of Elvis is pretty well-trod territory (especially after last year's gaudy Baz Luhrmann biopic starring Austin Butler), but Sofia Coppola's intimate new film examines it from the point of view of Priscilla Beaulieu, an Air Force brat from Texas living in West Germany who, at age 14, was invited to a party to meet the biggest music sensation in the world, Elvis Presley.

The King of Rock 'n' Roll, ten years her senior and smitten, briefly courted the girl – Fourteen!?! – and would, three years later, invite her to the States (promising she would be chaperoned, of course). But even if he was a gentleman, he did take her to Vegas without telling her parents. And then there were the pills.

From the vantage point of a child, it was a fairy tale, one that would stretch from romance, marriage and a kitsch-filled house in Memphis, to outbursts of anger, abuse and infidelity on the part of a partner who happened to be both a rock icon-movie star and an artist struggling to recapture a fickle audience. And it was not a fairy tale that ended happily.

Cailee Spaeny, who portrays Priscilla through an incredible arc from cloistered child to determined wife, mother and, finally, determined escapee, all the while slowly taking the measure of Elvis' seductive powers and her own independence, won best actress at the Venice Film Festival for her rich performance. Jacob Elordi is remarkable as the musician whose dissatisfaction and self-loathing is turned onto his wife. 

Coppola, whose Oscar-winning "Lost in Translation" likewise showed the struggles of a woman trapped within a bubble, keeps the focus almost entirely on Priscilla throughout. It is notable that, perhaps in hewing to the point of view of her protagonist, there are no Elvis songs in the film. They're not missed; Priscilla's voice is the music that's needed. 113 minutes. Screens October 8, 15. An A24 release. Opens in theaters November 3.

To watch a trailer for "Priscilla" click on the video player below:

Priscilla | Trailer | NYFF61 by Film at Lincoln Center on YouTube

"The Pigeon Tunnel"

Novelist David Cornwell, better known by his penname John Le Carré, was a master of conjuring the dark world of espionage and the corrupted psychologies and dubious morals of many who inhabit it. An international sensation with the 1963 publication of "The Spy Who Came In From the Cold," he continued with such works as "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," "A Perfect Spy," "The Little Drummer Girl" and "The Constant Gardener" – masterful depictions of how geopolitics can succeed or fail based on the sometimes inopportune allegiances of small operatives caught in the gears of a flawed intelligence apparatus.

A profoundly private man (fitting for his genre), Cornwell rarely gave interviews in the years before his death in December 2020. But in 2016 he published the memoir "The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories From My Life." After, he consented to on-camera questioning by documentary filmmaker Errol Morris ("The Thin Blue Line," the Oscar-winning "The Fog of War"), in which Cornwell's melancholic outlook is occasionally pierced by his caustic wit. He deflects questions about his marital life and later years, but he does speak in great depth and sorrow about the scars left on him by his father Ronnie (a con man and "crisis addict" who kept the family sprinting ahead of his many debts) and his mother Olive (who was so fed up with her life that she walked out on her husband and two sons when David was four years old). The epic betrayals of fathers, of desertions, and of sons seeking the embrace of an institution – say, an intelligence service – would be played out in his books under cover stories of shadowy operatives and Cold War stakes.

He also goes into great depth about Kim Philby, the British intelligence officer who worked as a spy for the Soviet Union for decades before being unmasked. Philby's fascinating psychology (what the writer describes as "self-imposed schizophrenia") proved to be fertile ground for Cornwell's fiction, ammunition for his indictments of England's class system and waning imperial designs.

Fans of Le Carré may be haunted by the real-life grounding of his characters' motives, but they will also appreciate the author's self-analysis as he undergoes an interrogation worthy of a spy master. 92 minutes. An Apple Original Film. To be released in theatres and on Apple TV+ October 20.

To watch a trailer click on the video player below.

The Pigeon Tunnel — Official Trailer | Apple TV+ by Apple TV on YouTube

"The Taste of Things"

Tran Anh Hung (the Vietnamese-born director of the Oscar-nominated "The Scent of Green Papaya") won the best director prize at Cannes this year for his very French period piece devoted to the sensory power of food and its connection to love. Set in the late 19th century in a French manor house, the film follows closely a man and a woman, a gourmet chef and cook, who for 20 years have shared in the delight of creating meals, for themselves and others.

Eugénie (Oscar-winner Juliette Binoche) refuses to marry Dodin (Benoît Magimel), but what they share goes beyond a wedding ring. Food is their common language, a menu or recipe a key to intimacy. And it is a marvel to watch them maneuver in a bravura-choreographed epicurean dance in their kitchen while preparing a feast. [The actors' very natural rapport is no doubt heightened by the fact that Binoche and Magimel were once a real-life couple and had a child together.]

The film is not only about food – but it is through food that the passions and pain of its characters are expressed. This meticulously-crafted film is rapturous in its attention to the ingredients, as Jonathan Ricquebourg's cinematography captures the glow of a kitchen in which mouth-watering dishes are brought to fruition. It's a film to be savored. 

"The Taste of Things" is France's official entry for the International Feature Oscar. 145 minutes. In French with English subtitles. Screens October 9, 11. An IFC Films release. Opens in select cities in December before opening wide in February 2024. (Yes, your Valentine's Day plans are made.)

The Taste of Things | Trailer | NYFF61 by Film at Lincoln Center on YouTube

"About Dry Grasses" (U.S. Premiere)

Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan (the beautiful "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia") explores the social discomfort and intellectual isolation of Samet (Deniz Celiloğlu), an art teacher whose mandatory service has rotated him to four years in a rural backwater elementary school in eastern Turkey. Desperate to be transferred to Istanbul, he maintains an easy rapport with his students, but his too-comfortable attention to teacher's pet Sevim (an astonishing Ece Bagci) leads to an embarrassing accusation of inappropriate contact.

At the same time, he becomes caught up in a romantic triangle when he and his best friend are both drawn to Nuray (Merve Dizdar), a fellow teacher physically damaged in a terrorist bombing who is trying to navigate the continuing psychic damage to her sense of self (and sense of what others seek in her). Dizdar won the best actress award at Cannes this year, and it is a transcendent performance, in which she conveys yearning, antipathy, distrust and hope.

Leisurely paced, the film is nonetheless filled with incident and engrossing interpersonal dynamics – Samet's private turmoil, Nuray's reawakening, the touchy relations among colleagues and civil service bureaucrats, and the fragile understanding of children – all played out through an incessant winter. The director also, at a particularly dramatic moment, brilliantly throws in a playful theatrical device that amounts to a moment of wordless whimsy about the personas we present to others and ourselves.

This captivating and exquisitely filmed drama is Turkey's official entry for International Feature Film at the Academy Awards. 197 minutes. In Turkish with English subtitles. Screens October 9, 10. A Sideshow/Janus Films release. Opens in theaters later this year.

About Dry Grasses / Les Herbes sèches (2023) - Trailer (English Subs) by Unifrance on YouTube

"Pictures of Ghosts" (U.S. Premiere)

Brazilian filmmaker Kleber Mendonça Filho, who had a hit at the New York Film Festival four years ago with his bloody revenge pic "Bacurau," returns with a very personal documentary about his love of cinema, and specifically the cinemas of his hometown, Recife. Such democratic palaces of communal gathering to stare at flickering images (and which in the past drew A-list Hollywood celebrities for movie premieres) are disappearing, and his film mixes archival footage of movie houses with scenes of the hollow shells that remain of them today, as well as the few that have managed to hold on. Ironically, some sites – centers of religious attention to an ephemeral art – have been converted into evangelical churches, for the practice of a different kind of devotion.

Filho also explores the apartment in which he grew up, where he has maintained a presence not just in real life but also on screen (it's served as a handy and cheap location for several of his films). The real and the artificial therefore melt into one another – architecture and set design, home and workplace, childhood memory and images on a screen. "Pictures of Ghosts" eschews nostalgia about changes in the film industry, or about his own aging, for a more haunting memory – of projection booths, marquees and lobbies that were once conduits of dreams. 93 minutes. In Portuguese with English subtitles. Screens October 9, 10, 12. A Grasshopper Film release. To be released in theatres in early 2024.

Pictures of Ghosts (Retratos Fantasmas) new clip official from Cannes Film Festival 2023 - 3/3 by The Upcoming on YouTube

"Ryuichi Sakamoto | Opus" (North American Premiere)

The Japanese composer, best recognized for his film scores for "Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence" and "The Last Emperor" (for which he shared an Academy Award), was both a classical artist and an electronic-pop musician and producer of extraordinary influence who collaborated with such figures as Talking Heads. Months before his death last March from cancer at age 71, Sakamoto sat at the piano for a series of recording sessions at NHK Studios in Tokyo, performing 20 of his best-known compositions, from his film music, to songs from his days with Yellow Magic Orchestra, to his final minimalist album, "12."

Directed by his son, Neo Sora, and elegantly filmed in black-and-white and presented in Dolby Atmos, the film is an encapsulation of Sakamoto's artistry, and of the very power of music – elegiac, melancholic, and deeply moving. If only all artists of his stature left gifts such as this. 102 minutes. Screens October 11, 12. A Janus Films release. Theatrical release date not yet announced.

In this clip Ryuichi Sakamoto performs "Tong Poo":

Ryuichi Sakamoto Opus new clip official - Venice Film Festival 2023 by The Upcoming on YouTube

The festival runs through October 15 at Lincoln Center, with additional screenings at the Paris Theater in midtown, and the Maysles Documentary Center in Harlem, as well as at venues in Staten Island (Alamo Drafthouse), Brooklyn (BAM), the Bronx (Bronx Museum of the Arts), and Queens (Museum of the Moving Image).

Watch a trailer for the 61st New York Film Festival: 

61st New York Film Festival | Trailer by Film at Lincoln Center on YouTube
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