Eric Rohmer's A Tale of Winter (Conte d'hiver)

The clocks have gone back to standard time and winter is lurching. Time to tuck in with nine new releases from the Film Society through the end of the year. We begin on November 7 with the return of Robert Greene's Actress after a run as part of the inaugural Art of the Real series at the Film Society. It profiles the disgruntled Brandy Burre facing life after The Wire. The following week, the run of Doug Pray's Levitated Mass will begin: a documentary that casts a spotlight on the installation of Michael Heizer's rock sculpture at LACMA. Stephen Farber at The Hollywood Reporter calls it “a mesmerizing documentary… that illuminates the controversial nature of Modern Art.”

November 21 sees the opening of Paul Grimault's The King and the Mockingbird after its screening at NYFF52. The animated film marks Grimault's second collaboration with the writer Jacques Prévert and is said to be a huge influence on the esteemed Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki. Monk with a Camera also opens on that day. This documentary explores the life of fashion photographer Nicky Vreeland (grandson of Vogue editor Diana Vreeland) who dedicated his life to Buddhism when his camera got stolen. When his Temple falls under financial crisis he returns to the camera to raise money and awareness for his people.

On December 12, Sergei Loznitsa goes back to his nonfiction roots with Maidan, a film that made a lot of noise at this year's Cannes Film Festival. It documents the current Ukrainian revolution to stand as compelling witness to a seminal moment. Following this, Eric Rohmer creates his own Winter's Tale with A Tale of Winter (Conte d'hiver), shot in 1991 and shown at the New York Film Festival in 1992. It returns for a theatrical exclusive re-release for one week only on December 19.

Also playing will be Jennifer Kent's The Babadook (which screened at New Directors/New Films earlier this year at the Film Society), Ben Rivers & Ben Russell's A Spell to Ward of Darkness, and Stefan Haput's Sagrada: The Mystery of Creation.

First-run films screening at the Film Society of Lincoln Center this Winter:

Actress  Opens November 7
Directed by Robert Greene, USA

This thoroughly compelling and at times thoroughly unnerving new film by Robert Greene (Fake It So Real) is a documentary that feels like intimate melodrama. Brandy Burre had a recurring role on HBO’s The Wire when she gave up her career to start a family. After a few years of life in the country, she decides to return to acting, and sets the denouement of her relationship in motion. As she comes apart on camera in varying shades of drama, it's never clear at what level this film may simply be the next role. A Cinema Guild release.

Art of the Real, True/False Film Festival

Doug Pray's Levitated Mass

Levitated Mass – Opens November 14
Directed by Doug Pray, USA

“Size is one third of sculpture,” claims contemporary artist Michael Heizer. A champion of large-scale negative space—typically natural formations with the “art” removed, or “monumental absences”—Heizer creates installations that say less about the artist’s aesthetic than about the enormity and eternity of his endeavor. Like Stonehenge, we may not know why the pieces exist, but we’ll have millennia to ponder the question. His latest venture is moving a nearly billion-year-old boulder weighing 340 tons from a quarry 60 miles outside Los Angeles to the L.A. County Museum of Art, to be suspended over a trench and observed from below. Doug Pray’s film explores the undertaking from all angles, from the logistics of the move to the defensibility of its cost, suggesting that art, beyond physical beauty, serves as civilization’s bequest to posterity. A First Run Features release.

Los Angeles Film Festival

The King and the Mockingbird / Le Roi et l’oiseau – Opens November 21
Directed by Paul Grimault, France

French with English subtitles / Dubbed in English (daytime showings)
The legendary animator Paul Grimault (who had a profound and lasting influence on Hayao Miyazaki) and the writer Jacques Prévert collaborated for the second time in 1948 on an adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep.” In 1950, Grimault’s partner André Sarrut took control of the film, and he released a truncated version in 1952. Grimault spent the next 15 years retrieving the rights to the material, and the decade after looking for financing to complete the project. Grimault and Prévert’s delightful film, finished in 1980, incorporates two-thirds of the original animation into a whole new film, at once a delightful adventure story for children, a devilish political satire for adults, and a handcrafted work of tremendous beauty for all. This is the North American premiere of Studiocanal’s recent digital restoration. A Rialto Pictures release.

New York Film Festival, London Film Festival, Chicago International Film Festival

Tina Mascara & Guido Santi's Monk with a Camera

Monk with a Camera – Opens November 21
Directed by Tina Mascara & Guido Santi, USA/France/India/Italy

Born into one vocation—globe-trotter and bon vivant, grandson of illustrious Vogue editor Diana Vreeland—photographer Nicky Vreeland’s destiny led him down another road altogether. Unfulfilled by his jet-setting existence, he interpreted the theft of his cameras as a sign to trade material wealth for spiritual capital. He studied Buddhism for years before deciding to become a monk, dispatched by the Dalai Lama (charismatically featured here) to a refugee camp across the Indian border. In a third-act twist out of a Hollywood screenplay, when the 2008 economic crash wiped out anticipated funding for his monastery, Vreeland returned to photography and world travel, raising the needed revenue by selling his images. This insightful portrait of life’s unexpected turns and the winding road to contentment is gracefully directed by Tina Mascara and Guido Santi (Chris & Don: A Love Story). A Kino Lorber release.

Cleveland International Film Festival, Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival

Jennifer Kent's The Babadook

The Babadook – Opens November 28
Directed by Jennifer Kent, Australia

Young widow Amelia lives with her 7-year-old son, Samuel, who seems to get odder by the day. His father’s death in an accident when driving Amelia to the hospital to give birth to him may have something to do with the boy’s unnerving behavior, which scares other children and perhaps even his own mother. But when a sinister children’s book called Mister Babadook mysteriously appears—and keeps reappearing—Amelia begins to wonder if there’s a presence in the house more disturbed than her son. Jennifer Kent’s visually stunning debut genuinely frightens us with the revelation that the things that go bump in the night may be buried deep inside our psyches, not just in the basement. An IFC Midnight release.  

New Directors/New Films, Sundance Film Festival, Toronto After Dark Film Festival

A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness – Opens December 5
Directed by Ben Rivers & Ben Russell, Estonia/France

As collaborators, Ben Rivers and Ben Russell, two intrepid and nomadic talents of experimental film and art, have created one of the most bewitching cinematic experiences to come along in a great while. In A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness, Robert A.A. Lowe, the celebrated musician behind Lichens and Om, gives a strangely affecting, perhaps even trance-inducing performance as the film’s Parsifal figure, a quixotic man who embarks on a quest for utopia—the holy grail of infinite truth, self-knowledge, and spiritual connectedness. He finds some measure of it in three seemingly disparate contexts: in a small collective community on a remote Estonian island, in isolation in the northern Finnish wilderness, and onstage fronting a black metal band in Norway. While his experience seems to be a perpetual one of home, exile, and return, for us, it is purely magical. A KimStim Release.

New Directors/New Films, Locarno Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival

Sergei Loznitsa's Maidan

Maidan – Opens December 12
Directed by Sergei Loznitsa, Ukraine/Netherlands

Sergei Loznitsa’s return to documentary filmmaking after the breakout successes of his fiction films My Joy and In the Fog is a stunning record of a nation at a pivotal point in its history. In December 2013, thousands of young protesters rallied in Kiev’s Maidan Nezalezhnosti (“Independence Square”) after Viktor Yanukovych, the country’s president, refused to sign an association agreement with the European Union. By March of 2014, riot police had killed over a hundred protesters; Yanukovych, in the face of mounting opposition, had fled for Russia. Loznitsa’s camera captures it all in a series of lengthy on-the-ground shots, mostly devoid of camera movement but thrillingly rich in activity and momentum: a welcome reminder that a movie, like a historical moment, can cast a crowd as its hero. A Cinema Guild release

Cannes Film Festival, Jerusalem Film Festival, Odesa International Film Festival

A Tale of Winter / Conte d'hiver – Opens December 19
Directed by Eric Rohmer, France

From one angle, Eric Rohmer’s late-career masterpiece is a luminous Christian parable about the transformative effects of grace; from another, it’s a frightening, unresolved picture of the role that chance plays in human affairs. One summer, a young man and woman (Frédéric van den Driessche and Charlotte Véry) fall deeply, passionately in love. Five years later, after accidentally giving him a false address, she is raising his child and drifting back and forth between two infatuated men with whom she’s unwilling, or unable, to settle down. A Tale of Winter—which includes a generous excerpt of the play from which it takes its name—is the fullest expression of Rohmer’s career-long reckoning with Shakespeare, the most sophisticated of his many attempts to pin down the nature of faith, and one of his most graceful, mysterious, and emotionally overwhelming films. A Big World Pictures release.

New York Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival

Sagrada: The Mystery of Creation – Opens December 19
Directed by Stefan Haupt, Switzerland

More than 130 years after construction began, the Sagrada Familia (“Holy Family”) basilica in Barcelona is only halfway complete. The brainchild of Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí, who took over the project in 1883 and worked on it until his death (and now resides in its crypt), the church’s construction has spanned world wars, Franco’s regime, and dire economic downturns. Director Stefan Haupt assembles architects, art historians, and other authorities to recount the story of the Sagrada, which is inextricably bound to Gaudí’s own biography, comprising politics, cultural identity, and unorthodox architectural ideas. A testament to an artist’s imperishable vision, and how the beauty of creation lies as much in the process as the product. A First Run Features release.

Locarno Film Festival, Miami International Film Festival, Thessaloniki Documentary Festival