Review: New York Film Festival welcomes viewers back the movies

Alison Rosa/A24/Apple TV+

A hush in the darkened Alice Tully Hall was followed by thunderous applause as it greeted the closing credits of “The Tragedy of Macbeth,” the thrilling opener at the 59th Annual New York Film Festival. 

The film’s stars Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand took well deserved bows with director Joel Coen as the standing-room-only, fully masked audience welcomed movies back to Manhattan.

Each year, this annual celebration of cinema brings the best of film to Lincoln Center. While 2020 offered a virtual and drive-in event because of the pandemic, this year’s safety precautions enable audiences to again share movies inside theaters. And the festival’s opening weekend delivered stunning cinematic gems.

The Tragedy of Macbeth

This outrageous, unforgettable interpretation of Shakespeare makes the classic accessible to anyone who loves a thriller. Director Coen visually creates a unique movie world, realistic for film while exaggerated as theater, to explore the layers of ambition and aggression that define politicized relationships. And Washington – in a career-capping performance – should join Coen and McDormand in the chase for Oscars.

The Worst Person in the World 

This delightful romance from Norway follows a woman’s journey through the challenges that relationships and career can bring. Featuring a magnetic lead performance from Renate Reinsve, the early moments recall the carefree romantic comedies of Woody Allen before the movie takes its own, serious turns. Reinsve – named Best Actress at the recent Cannes festival – captures our hearts as a woman who hesitates to commit to a life she says she wants to live.

Benedetta

Director Paul Verhoeven, who brought the thriller “Elle” to the New York festival five years ago, returns with a compelling story from history. Belgian actress Virginie Efira plays a nun, in the 17th century, who attributes her behavior to visions she experiences of Jesus Christ. With nods to film classics “The Song of Bernadette” and “The Nun’s Story,” Verhoeven invites us into a mysterious world where actions often speak much louder than words.

The Souvenir Part II

This captivating piece continues the 2019 story of a filmmaker trying to discover a sense of purpose and foundation in her turbulent world. British director Joanna Hogg picks up where the first film concludes, helping us see inside this woman’s soul as she recovers from personal tragedy and professional confusion. Honor Swinton Byrne shines in the title role while her mother, Tilda Swinton, gives the film its emotional foundation as a mother we’d all love to know.

Bergman’s Island

Anyone who studies film remembers famed Swedish director Ingmar Bergman. In this entertaining romance, two filmmakers journey to the island where the director lived and made movies to create their own stories. As they dissect the layers and history they share, their creative minds discover ways to incorporate reality into their fictional treatments. The film helps us see how people can stand in their truth at the same time they create memorable fiction.

The New York Film Festival runs through Oct. 10. For information and tickets, go to filmlinc.org.