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23 Must-See Films at the 2021 Venice, Toronto, and New York Film Festivals

This season's packed festival lineup doesn't look quite the same as it did even two years ago, but 2021 promises to feel more like old times than 2020 ever did.

While the majority of 2020’s film festivals opted for virtual or hybrid affairs — and some were even cancelled, as was the case for both Cannes and Telluride — this year sees the world creeping, quite cautiously, back into seeming normalcy. Cannes went off without a hitch (albeit in an un-traditional July slot), while both Venice and Telluride are gearing up for in-person editions in the coming days. The Toronto International Film Festival and the New York Film Festival are both going ahead with hybrid events that will likely offer less virtual options for audiences than they did last year, with NYFF even announcing that it would not screen any films on a virtual platform, though some other events will be available that way.

So, no, this year’s packed fall festival season doesn’t look quite the same as it did even two years ago, but 2021 promises to feel more like old times than 2020 ever did.

That includes a robust selection of new films rolling out through the next few weeks, including works from perpetual festival favorites like Pedro Almodóvar, Paul Schrader, Paolo Sorrentino, Joanna Hogg, Joachim Trier, and Sean Baker; major events from the likes of Denis Villeneuve, Edgar Wright, and Julia Ducournau; and newly minted awards contenders from Jonas Poher Rasmussen, Ridley Scott, and Pablo Larrain.

Ahead, IndieWire picks through the Venice (September 1 – 11), TIFF (September 9 – 18), and NYFF (September 24 – October 10) slates to highlight the best of the best.

Zack Sharf, Ryan Lattanzio, and Tambay Obenson contributed to this article.

“Bergman Island” (TIFF, NYFF)

“Bergman Island”

A triple-layered meta-romance about a filmmaker who flies to Sweden with her partner and pitches him a screenplay about her first love — Mia Hansen-Løve’s “Bergman Island” is such a rare and remarkable movie for the very same reason that you wouldn’t expect it to exist in the first place. Set on the remote skerry in the Baltic Sea that Bergman adopted as his home and began to terraform with his artistic persona after making “Through a Glass Darkly” there in 1961, Hansen-Løve’s zephyr-calm story of loss, love, and artistic reclamation draws such an extreme contrast to the scorched Earth films that have become synonymous with Fårö that even its nighttime scenes reveal the shadows that fiction has the power to cast across reality.

In other words, Hansen-Løve’s film isn’t really an homage to Bergman at all — at least not one that worships at his altar with the kind of orthodox piety required for Paul Schrader to refract “Winter Light” into “First Reformed.” While the iconic Swedish artist is amusingly inescapable in “Bergman Island” (his films are name-checked in almost every scene, many of which take place on the exact spots where they were shot or in the house where he wrote them), this supple puzzle-box is more interested in him as a means to an end. The Cannes premiere will screen at both TIFF and NYFF before a theatrical release in October. DE

“Beba” (TIFF)

One of the potential breakouts of this year’s TIFF documentary lineup, “Beba” marks the debut of director Rebeca Huntt, and puts her on camera at the same time. A self-portrait of a Latina woman of mixed heritage, “Beba” finds Huntt musing on her family’s Dominican and Venezuelan backgrounds as well as how they inform her identity as she navigates an American society unsure exactly where to place her.

As a Bard College student, she’s forced into an environment that judges her based on her skin color even when it claims otherwise. With a bevy of top-notch documentary producers (including Brazilian Oscar nominee Petra Costa), “Beba” promises to reignite conversations about race and class among American-born Latinx individuals eager to see their struggles represented onscreen. —EK

“Il Buco” (Venice, NYFF)

It’s been over a decade since Italian filmmaker Michelangelo Frammartino wowed festival audiences with his absorbing, metaphysical cinematic tone poem “Le Quattro Volte,” and the time couldn’t be better for him to deliver another big-screen wonder. Once again eschewing dialogue for stunning natural beauty, “Il Buco” adapts the true story of cave scientists who studied the third-deepest cavern in the world in 1961.

Blending documentary imagery with the stunning wonders of the ancient countryside, the movie is said to once again explore the cosmic relationship between all forms of life and the resilience of the planet that sustains it. (There’s also a central role for an elderly Calabrian shepherd, which suggests that like “Le Quattro Volte,” sheep will play a central role.) Frammartino’s filmmaking is pure existential immersion: His movies are quiet journeys that begin with modest visuals that transform into broader revelations with time. Here’s hoping “Il Buco” keeps that tradition alive just as cinemas reopen to embrace it. —EK

“The Card Counter” (Venice)

"The Card Counter"

“The Card Counter”

HanWay

At 75, veteran director Paul Schrader shows no sign of slowing down or changing directions. Following his mesmerizing religious guilt eco-thriller “First Reformed,” Schrader continues his “man-in-a-room” trope with this intriguing look at a gambling war veteran (Oscar Isaac) who attempts to talk the son of his old war buddy (Tye Sheridan) out of exacting revenge on a man who destroyed their lives.

Set against the backdrop of smoky Vegas casinos and taut hotel room confrontations, “The Card Counter” is poised to return to Schrader’s most engaging fixations on alienated, angry men so frustrated with the world around them that they eventually decide to do something crazy to fix it. (Yes, that tradition goes all the way back to his “Taxi Driver” script.) It’s also one of several showcases for Isaac’s talent this fall, but unlike “Dune,” could provide the actor with more intimate, relatable material to foreground his ability to inject even the slightest glance with intense connotations. Tiffany Haddish also co-stars as a potential romantic interest for Isaac, and a woman with a few gambling schemes of her own. The film will premiere at Venice before a theatrical release in September. —EK

“Dune” (Venice, TIFF, NYFF)

The wait for Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune” finally ends on October 22, and here’s hoping the film fares better with critics and moviegoers than David Lynch’s infamous 1986 adaptation. Villeneuve has been wanting to make a film adaptation of Frank Hebert’s science-fiction novel since he was a teenager, and the footage that has been released so far in trailers promises eye-popping set design and breathtaking action.

“Dune” stars Timothée Chalamet in his first leading blockbuster role as Paul Atreides, whose family has ownership of the dangerous desert planet Arrakis. The planet is the home of the world’s most valuable resource, a drug called spice that extends human life and gives its users super-human abilities. By taking ownership of Arrakis, the Atreides family becomes an enemy of the rival Harkonnen empire and the planet’s natives, known as the Fremen.

The supporting cast includes Oscar Isaac, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Jason Momoa, Charlotte Rampling, Josh Brolin, Dave Bautista, and Javier Bardem, among others. “Dune” world premieres at Venice, followed by special screenings at TIFF before its October release in both theaters and on HBO Max. —ZS

“Earwig” (TIFF)

French director Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s filmmaking are bold, shocking wonders that split the difference between David Cronenberg and David Lynch. Her last one, “Evolution,” was a haunting blend of expressionistic horror, fantasy, and galvanizing coming-of-age tropes. That tendency seems to be consistent with “Earwig,” the story of a 10-year-old girl in the mid-20th century who has ice for teeth.

On premise alone, “Earwig” is poised to generate enthusiasm and curiosity from moviegoers who embrace weird, off-the-beaten path narratives. But “Earwig” promises more than just an oddball protagonist. The story, co-written by “High Life” scribe Geoff Cox, finds the girl forces to journey beyond her small apartment settings as she enters a new chapter in life. Expect another disturbing, visually immersive wonder steeped in unexpected emotional swings as only Hadzihalilovic can deliver them. —EK

“Flee” (TIFF, NYFF)

"Flee"

“Flee”

Sundance

Sundance 2021 opened on a high note with the world premiere of Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s “Flee,” which Neon is releasing in theaters this fall. The animated documentary centers around an interview Rasmussen recorded with his friend, who fled Afghanistan for Russia as a child and later struggled to come out as a gay man.

Rasmussen brings to life his friend’s story through striking animated sequences that make “Flee” not just a riveting survival story, but also an exhilarating cinematic work that blurs the line between documentary and narrative filmmaking styles. By relying on animation, Rasmussen is able to adapt portions of Amin’s interview into narrative sequences so vivid they allow the film to embody the horror of Amin’s darkest moments and the unrelenting joy of his personal triumphs. Here’s hoping “Flee” becomes an Oscar contender in both the Best Documentary and Best Animated Feature races. The Sundance premiere will screen at both TIFF and NYFF before a release sometime in the fall. —ZS

“The Hand of God” (Venice)

Italian auteur Paolo Sorrentino excels at exploring his country’s modern history through an exuberant style all his own, from “Il Divo” to the Oscar-winning “The Great Beauty” and HBO’s “The New Pope.” This time, however, he’s turning that talent into a mirror with this personal drama inspired by his youth.

Newcomer Filippo Scotti stars as a young aspiring director who comes of age while surrounded by his complex family’s lavish lifestyle and against the backdrop of soccer icon Diego Maradona joining the Napolia soccer team in the early 1980s. The Netflix project, which premieres in competition at Venice, seems likely to offer yet another example of this elegant filmmaker’s ability to reexamine modern Italian identity through rich, textured visuals and stunning emotional crescendoes. The film will premiere at Venice before a Netflix release sometime in the autumn. —EK

“Halloween Kills” (Venice)

David Gordon Green’s latest plunge into the horror universe established by John Carpenter, “Halloween Kills” gets the classy burnish of a Venice Film Festival world premiere in September before going wide in the U.S. this October, right in time for its namesake holiday. Last we saw Michael Myers in 2018’s “Halloween,” he was trapped and burning (alive?) in Laurie Strode’s (Jamie Lee Curtis) basement. Alas, anyone familiar with the Michael Myers cycle of life knows he will rise (and kill) again, this time in a movie that reportedly digs deeper into Laurie’s post-traumatic stress disorder from nearly half a century of being terrorized by the masked killer.

Green wrote the film with comedian Danny McBride and Scott Teems. The cast brings back not only Curtis, but also Judy Greer as her daughter Karen, Will Patton as Deputy Frank Hawkins from both the 1978 and 2018 “Halloween,” and they’re joined by the likes of ‘80s icon Anthony Michael Hall and even “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” star Kyle Richards, reprising her role from the 1978 movie. The slasher will premiere at Venice before its October theatrical release. —RL

“The Last Duel” (Venice)

"The Last Duel"

“The Last Duel”

20th Century Studios

One of two major Ridley Scott-directed period pieces hitting theaters this fall (along with “House of Gucci”), “The Last Duel” returns to the filmmaker to the blood-soaked, embattled territory of his biggest epics, including “Gladiator” and “Exodus.” And it also returns screen pals Matt Damon and Ben Affleck to writing, and starring in, their material: here, the story of a knight (Damon) avenging his wife’s sexual assault (Jodie Comer), committed by a squire who also happens to be his closest friend (Adam Driver).

Affleck (playing a count with, as the trailer indicates, possibly bleach-blond hair) and Damon also brought aboard savvy indie writer/director Nicole Holofcener to co-write the script based on “The Last Duel: A True Story of Trial by Combat in Medieval France,” and bring this “Rashomon”-esque story of warring perspectives a female point of view. Based on a true story, the battle between the two men became the last legally sanctioned duel in France. “The Last Duel” world premieres at Venice before its October release. —RL

“Last Night in Soho” (Venice, TIFF)

The air of mod London glamour and otherworldly detachment emanating from Anya Taylor-Joy in the first trailer for Edgar Wright’s “Last Night in Soho” brings to mind the immortal words of a certain Brit rock classic from The Zombies: “Her eyes were clear and bright/But she’s not there.” Indeed, she doesn’t seem quite all there. And neither does Thomasin McKenzie, who plays a fashion student inexplicably transported to the 1960s, and into the body of her idol, a singer named Sandy (Taylor-Joy).

From “Shaun of the Dead” to “Baby Driver,” Edgar Wright has established himself as a technically skilled filmmaker capable of catering to both the cinephile crowd (can you catch all the references?) and mainstream audiences (who cares?) alike. For “Last Night in Soho,” he digs back into his bag of tricks (and endless well of movie knowledge) to conjure a movie inspired by crimson-colored, giallo sensibilities, with a dash of Polanski paranoia, for a time-hopping, body-jumping tale of women on the collision course to a psychological meltdown. Whatever Wright is up to, this is sure to be a trippy ride. The film will screen at both Venice and TIFF before a theatrical release in October. —RL

“The Mad Women’s Ball” (TIFF)

What’s the French word for “prolific”? Actress, singer, and filmmaker Mélanie Laurent is that, and more. For her sixth feature film, Laurent herself co-stars in a historical drama made during the pandemic, and with all the claustrophobia, worry, and obvious care that should accompany such an endeavor. Based on the Victoria Mas novel, Laurent re-teams with her “Breathe” lead Lou de Laâge, who stars as an upper-class Frenchwoman plagued by voices, visions, and ghostly apparitions. Such things didn’t exactly fly in the late 19th century, and soon de Laâge’s Eugenie is carted off to a local asylum, filled with ladies just like her.

One part thriller, one part ghost story, Laurent’s film plays like a period-set “Girl, Interrupted” with a decidedly spooky bent. But its real draw is its timelessness, as Eugenie and her new pals battle back the kind of sexism that sadly doesn’t feel out of place today. As Eugenie uses her powers (or does she?) for good, she dares to dream of a bold new future for herself. But what happens when the annual “mad women’s ball” rolls out at the damned asylum? —KE

“Parallel Mothers” (Venice, NYFF)

Parallel Mothers

“Parallel Mothers”

El Deseo

While “Pain and Glory” showcased a filmmaker struggling with his ability to go on, director Pedro Almodovar is doing just fine. He followed that touching Oscar nominee with his Oscar short-listed “The Human Voice,” his first English language excursion, and went straight from there into another ambitious melodrama that draws on his key strengths. The movie finds the writer-director re-teaming with Penelope Cruz as a woman who bonds with another mother (newcomer Milena Smith) at a maternity ward, and gradually works her way into the other woman’s life.

Mistaken identities and deep-seating yearning bubble to the surface as they always do in Almodovar movies, but the emotional tenor of his work only grown richer with time. Opening Venice and closing NYFF, this Sony Pictures Classics release is bound to galvanize Almodovar’s fans as he gives them yet another reason to keep believing in the power of cinema. —EK

“The Power of the Dog” (Venice, TIFF, NYFF)

As one of only a handful of female filmmakers to be nominated for Best Director at the Oscars, Jane Campion is part of a rarefied club wherever she goes. Her latest film, an adaptation of the Thomas Savage novel of the same name, promises to only increase her profile amongst cinephiles, arthouse devotees, and film fans eager for a genuinely different kind of big screen adaptation.

The film features real-life couple Jesse Plemons and Kirsten Dunst in a domestic drama set in 1920s Montana that centers around two brothers whose relationship is upended by a woman and other new arrivals on their ranch. That may sound predictable, but the novel is a wrenching piece of art and Campion’s film has already been hailed as being filled with “unexpected cadences and rhythms” with Campion‘s”daring … matched every step of the way by her extraordinary, fully immersed cast.” The all-star cast also includes Benedict Cumberbatch, Thomasin McKenzie, Frances Conroy, Adam Beach, Keith Carradine, and Kodi Smit-McPhee. —KE

“Red Rocket” (NYFF)

A roman candle of a movie that wonders if America’s pathological narcissism will ever burn itself out, Sean Baker’s triumphant (if much less cuddly) follow-up to “The Florida Project” stars former MTV VJ and “Scary Movie” star Simon Rex (aka Dirt Nasty) as Mikey Saber, a thoroughly washed up but hyper-opportunistic ex-pornstar who returns to his Texas hometown with little money and even less concern about who he might have to fuck over for a second chance. From his estranged wife (Bree Elrod), to her skeptical mom (first-timer Brenda Deiss, who Baker discovered outside a Porta Potty), to the freckle-faced under-age girl who works at a local donut shop next to a sea of oil refineries (overnight sensation Suzanna Son), Mikey has never met a woman he isn’t willing to dick over.

Anchored by Rex’s manically self-absorbed performance — think Howie Bling meets Bradley Cooper in “Silver Linings Playbook,” but even more destructive than that sounds — and fleshed out by faded 16mm cinematography that recalls the golden years of New Hollywood, Baker’s explosive character study looks for any last scraps of light in a country that’s on the brink of darkness, and by some miracle it finds them in the most unexpected places. —DE

“The Rescue” (TIFF)

After winning the Oscar for “Free Solo,” filmmakers E. Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin return for another riveting story of high stakes and physical endurance. Yet unlike the often charming story of rock climber Alex Honnold at the center of “Free Solo,” the new movie is a harrowing survival saga, one that will be familiar to many people from the news. The definitive account of the rescue mission to recover 12 young soccer players and their coach from a cave in Thailand in 2018, “The Rescue” blends tense, up-close footage of the recovery effort with reenactments and pulse-pounding first-person accounts to go beyond the media buzz that enshrouded the effort and explain how it was done.

British divers Rick Stanton and John Volanthen were considered the best cave divers in the world when they were enlisted for a mission that called for swimming through minuscule underwater spaces for hours on end; here, they explain the daunting nature of that task — and why, at so many steps along the way, it was doomed to fail. Fortunately, that didn’t happen, and “The Rescue” chronicles how international cooperation and risky maneuvering to save lives can actually work wonders. —EK

“The Souvenir: Part II” (NYFF)

Joanna Hogg’s miraculous 2019 cine-memoir “The Souvenir” ends with its posh, navel-gazing, and newly grief-stricken heroine — a 25-year-old film student in 1980s London who falls in love with a heroin addict — standing on the precipice of herself. Her name is Julie Harte, she’s played by Honor Swinton Byrne, and she lives in an immaculate recreation of the writer/director’s former apartment, built on a soundstage and surrounded by massive blow-ups of the photos Hogg once snapped through the windows of that flat. The story could’ve ended there, but we’re so glad that it didn’t, as “The Souvenir Part II” is another extraordinary work of meta-fiction. As vulnerable as its predecessor and textured with the same velvet sense of becoming, “Part II” adds new layers of depth and distance to the looking glass of Hogg’s self-reflection, particularly when it follows Julie through the fraught process of making her graduation film… a short which just so happens to be the story of a 25-year-old film student in 1980s London who falls in love with a heroin addict.

Not only is the set in Julie’s film virtually identical to the apartment from “The Souvenir,” it is the apartment from “The Souvenir,” only this time the camera pulls back to reveal the airplane hangar that surrounds it. In essence, Hogg is making a movie about her younger self making a movie about her younger self’s worst heartbreak, which is effectively a remake of the previous movie that Hogg made (the press notes adroitly refer to “Part II” as “a deconstruction of a reconstruction”). And while the view through that infinity mirror of romantic dramas isn’t nearly as confusing as it might sound on paper, or at all, it also further complicates itself in dazzling fashion by the end, as determined recreation gives way to a richer synthesis of memory and imagination. Don’t miss it at NYFF, where both parts of the series will be screening. —DE

“Spencer” (Venice, TIFF)

"Spencer"

“Spencer”

NEON

Chilean auteur Pablo Larraín has always been rather prolific, as his 2006 debut “Fuga” was the first of eight films that he would release over the following 13 years (a blitz that included standouts like “No,” “Tony Manero,” and “Ema”). But 2021 was fast-paced even by his rapid standards: Not only did Larraín direct all eight episodes of the Stephen King adaptation “Lisey’s Story,” he also shot and edited his new Princess Diana biopic in the span of just seven-and-a-half months. A spiritual sequel of sorts to 2016’s “Jackie,” “Spencer” is another tempest-in-a-teapot chamber drama about an iconic woman dealing with a privately isolating inflection point in her otherwise very public life, this one honing in on the Princess of Wales during the royal family vacation during which she decided to end her marriage to Prince Charles.

While “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” cinematographer Claire Mathon and multi-talented Radiohead musician Jonny Greenwood are enough to make this a must-see, “Spencer” will ultimately live or die on the strength of Kristen Stewart’s performance in the title role, as the “Personal Shopper” star — celebrated for her expressive interiority — steps into a role that won’t leave her anywhere to hide. Look for it at Venice, Toronto, and possibly elsewhere before Neon releases it in theaters on November 5. —DE

“Titane” (TIFF, NYFF)

During the first half of Julia Ducournau’s Palme d’Or-winning “Titane,” it’s hard to tell if you’re watching the most fucked up movie ever made about the idea of found family, or the sweetest movie ever made about a serial killer (unforgettable newcomer Agathe Rousselle) who has sex with a car, poses as the adult version of a local boy who went missing a decade earlier, and then promptly moves in with the kid’s still-grieving father. During the second half, it becomes obvious that it’s both — that somehow it couldn’t be one without the other.

Following the cannibalistic “Raw” with another ravenous film that pushes her fascination with the hunger and malleability of human flesh to even further extremes, Ducournau has made good on the promise of her debut and then some. Whatever you’re willing to take from it, there’s no denying that “Titane” is the work of a demented visionary in full command of her wild mind; a shimmering aria of fire and metal that introduces itself as the psychopathic lovechild of David Cronenberg’s “Crash” and Shinya Tsukamoto’s “Tetsuo: The Iron Man” before shapeshifting into a modern fable about how badly people just need someone to take care of them and vice-versa. The Cannes premiere will screen at both TIFF and NYFF before a theatrical release in October. —DE

“The Tragedy of Macbeth” (NYFF)

“The Tragedy of Macbeth”

Apple/A24

Film adaptations of Shakespeare plays are plenty. Many are faithful to the original work; others take the Bard’s plot as merely a suggestion; and the rest are somewhere in the middle. It’s not entirely clear where in the spectrum Joel Coen’s “Macbeth” lies, since details have been sparse, but it remains one of the year’s most anticipated films, based almost entirely on the collaborating talent involved, both in front of and behind the camera.

Starring Denzel Washington as the title character and Frances McDormand as his scheming wife, it’s an adaptation of a Shakespearean work that has been fodder for filmmakers of note, like Orson Welles and Roman Polanski. Coen has described his black and white film, as a “tick-tock” thriller, which incorporates elements of German Expressionism. And co-star McDormand teased how the progression of the story is impacted by the aging of the Macbeths, years beyond what they are typically portrayed to be, lending it even more of an urgency than in prior adaptations.

Rounding out the cast are “In the Heights” star Corey Hawkins as Macduff, Brendan Gleeson as Duncan, and Harry Melling as Malcolm. Coen’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s tale of a savage lust for power makes its world premiere in September at the New York Film Festival, which describes the film as a “work of stark chiaroscuro and incantatory rage.” The film’s world premiere will open NYFF and it will be released by Apple and A24 this fall. —TO

“The Velvet Underground” (NYFF)

Hypnotically vibrating in the fuzzy black space between a very special episode of “Behind the Music” and the longest film that Stan Brakhage never made, Todd Haynes’s “The Velvet Underground” is a documentary (his first) by a man whose previous musical tributes include a glam-rock fantasia that gave David Bowie the “Citizen Kane” treatment, a “Mishima”-esque kaleidoscope that refracted Bob Dylan through the infinity mirror of his own myth, and an underground Karen Carpenter biopic that cast the late singer as a literal Barbie doll. Haynes is less interested in reinterpreting the Velvets than he is in remembering them. And not just them, but also remembering the perfect catalyst of creative energies and tore it asunder before most of the world even began to recognize what it meant.

The historical fact of their transgressive greatness has been distilled/immortalized/done to death by t-shirts, dorm-room décor, The Strokes, et al., but Haynes also captures the specific texture of the creative freedom that conjured the Velvets from the heteronormative safety of “Mad Men”-era New York. Just when you thought you’d rather watch all eight hours of “Empire” for the second time than ever sit through another fucking documentary about Andy Warhol, this lucid history sparks a new appreciation of what his factory made possible. —DE

“Wolf” (TIFF)

In October 2020, a curious news brief hit the wire: Focus Features had picked up the rights to Nathalie Biancheri’s third film, which follows a young man (George MacKay) who believes he’s a wolf trapped in a human body. The film, of course, is called “Wolf,” and the straight-forward nature of that title hints at the full commitment on display in the highly original and deeply felt final product, which also includes turns from Lily-Rose Depp and Paddy Considine.

Set mostly at a rural clinic for people suffering from “species dysphoria” — a real condition — “Wolf” follows Jacob (MacKay) as he alternately embraces and resists his treatment, surrounded by others who feel just like him (one patient believes he’s a squirrel, another thinks she’s a horse, and so on). Nefarious Dr. Mann (Considine) and his helpers bemoan the lack of empathy the world shows his patients, but little of it is to be found in the clinic itself — even as Biancheri’s film inspires it in her audience. MacKay is tasked with a two-fold toughie: his emotional life is as fraught as his physical one, and the rising star needs to convey internal pain alongside a challenging external performance, including numerous scenes that see him embracing his wolf-y side and then being punished for doing just that. A curious, fierce drama about self-discovery, “Wolf” seems poised to break out big time at TIFF, before going on to a fall release. —KE

“The Worst Person in the World” (TIFF, NYFF)

Julie (Renate Reinsve) is a smart Norwegian med school student in her late 20s who looks as much like Dakota Johnson as Dakota Johnson ever has. Director Joaquin Trier underscores her allure as we first meet her, poised on a balcony above downtown Oslo in a backless cocktail dress, so strongly that he even racks focus on the city behind her until it’s just a blur. She has the world at her feet, and the rat-a-tat narration can hardly keep up with her roiling sense of youthful possibility. But as anyone who’s ever wasted an hour aimlessly scrolling through Netflix knows all too well, having too many options can keep you from committing to any one of them; the bigger the menu, the harder it is to feel like you ordered the right meal.

A sharp and entrancing pivot back to the restless films he once made about beautiful young people suffering from the vertigo of time moving through them (“Reprise” and “Oslo, August 31” being the first two parts of the loose thematic trilogy that led us here), Trier’s latest film embraces the idea that originality might be a touch overrated. In fact, Julie’s life could even be seen as a cautionary tale about the perils of waiting to become the unique flowers we’re all promised to blossom into one day, even if it understands that some lessons can only be learned the hard way. “When was life supposed to start?” asks the narrator on Julie’s behalf, her rhetorical question belying the obvious fact that it already has. —DE

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