While navigating the 59th New York Film Festival’s (NYFF)  website, it was quite difficult to resist the urge of buying tickets for the entire lineup. A part of me wanted to temporarily move into the epic Alice Tully Hall for three weeks and install a small tent on the grass roof of Elinor Munroe Film Center so I could gaze at stars and rewind favorite scenes from the films I watched daily. So many interesting films from all over the world were included in each category: Main Slate, Currents, Spotlight, and Revivals were frequently overlapping in the course of one day.

Many of them were forced to postpone their opening dates several times in the course of the last year and a half because of the pandemic and closed cinemas. Hence an overabundance in terms of quality compared to previous years.

For cinephiles, film critics, and the film industry, NYFF offers a perfectly curated ride. Only New Directors/New Films draws my attention at a similar level.

At the end of three weeks, after watching 18 great films, two inspiring film talks, and a Shorts selection at NYFF, I was happy and grateful. Maybe a bit worn out as well.

Petite Maman

Celine Sciamma’s last film, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, was one of the most memorable releases of 2019. In Sciamma’s fifth feature, Petite Maman, the director surprises us by shifting her attention towards the childhood universe and rendering it with so much flair. It is a simple, moving fairytale drama in which the lines between past and present are blurred.

Nelly (Josephine Sanz) is a wise 8-year-old girl whose grandmother has just passed away. Her mother Marion (Nina Meurisse), takes Nelly to the house where she (Marion) grew up, intending to clear out the belongings. The process of emptying a familiar space activates many memories and a general sense of dissatisfaction. While she is sorting through various objects from her childhood, Marion sinks deeper and deeper into a cloud of sadness, and one morning she leaves suddenly. Nelly is used to her solitude, but she worries about her mom. In a way, the roles between them are reversed.

While playing in the nearby forest, Nelly meets another young girl—her mirror image—and helps the girl finish building a hut with strange-looking branches. Her new friend’s name is…Marion. There is no coincidence here; Nelly has indeed spent time with the younger version of her mom and formed a close bond. The film enters a new phase in which everything is possible. There are no longer age barriers or invisible walls.

Petite Maman is a real gem. For 66 minutes we return to the boundless imagination, curiosity, playfulness, and honesty of our childhood. We wish to view the world with Nelly’s kindness and sense of wonder. How can we connect again with our inner child and dream again?

We are also left with a desire to cook French crepes, throw them in the air without caring about the mess in our kitchen, and call our best friend to improvise a two-character play in our bedroom.

The Worst Person in The World

Joachim Trier makes a triumphant return with The Worst Person in the World and puts us through an entire range of emotions. The only other film that made me swim in an ocean of tears and feel as if I went to five therapy sessions in two hours was Derek Cianfrance Blue Valentine (2011). I loved Oslo, August 31st (2011) and Reprise (2005), and Trier’s new feature has the same intensity and rawness.

We get immersed completely in the story and invested in the life of the main character: Julie (Renate Reinsve), an indecisive young woman who is smart and talented but doesn’t seem to know which path to choose for her future or to whom she should give her heart. There are limitless options in front of her and above all, she craves freedom. Her father doesn’t seem to care about her, and his apathy has left some mark on her self-esteem.

Apparently, Renate wanted to give up acting before she received Trier’ script. The Danish-born Norwegian director wrote the role for her and it fits perfectly. She won the award for best actress at the Cannes Film Festival and I bet there will be many more prizes to come.

It is impressive how precisely Julie’s moods, thoughts, and emotions are depicted. The attention to detail is incredible, and some of the scenes are filled with contagious laughter, sensuality, and sexual tension. One night, Julie crashes a wedding party and bonds with a charming stranger-Eivind (Herbert Nordrum) after trying to convince some young mothers that hugging their children is bad for them.

They invent a series of goofy activities until dawn and their flirting is hilarious and…creative. There is magic too–because we all wished to freeze time and love makes you forget about everybody else. The Worst Person in the World is a romantic film, but not at a superficial level. It is a reminder to love and value yourself and to celebrate life.

More to come…