Frederick Wiseman is in his sixth decade as a giant of the documentary film world. But for his first film after emerging from the pandemic, the 92-year-old filmmaker was ready to try something new. While he is best known for his lengthy documentaries such as “Public Housing” and “Belfast, Maine” that meticulously capture portraits of institutions and communities, the director’s latest endeavor is a fictional film with a running time that barely exceeds 60 minutes.
“A Couple,” which premiered in competition at the 2022 Venice International Film Festival, is a dramatization of the marriage between “War and Peace” author Leo Tolstoy and his wife, Sophia Tolstoy. Sophia takes center stage in Wiseman’s film, which unfolds in a series of monologues based on her letters and diary entries. Nathalie Boutefeu plays Sophia in the film, which seeks to recontextualize the Tolstoys’ marriage and explore the sacrifices that she made to support her husband’s writing career.
“The issues between them seem very contemporary now,” Wiseman said in an interview with IndieWire’s Eric Kohn. “Who was going to take care of the kids? What was their education going to be? How much time did each parent spend with them? The personal issues for them are the kind of questions that come up in the lives of many couples.”
The film is set to make its North American premiere at the New York Film Festival, following a strong showing in Venice where early reviews were extremely positive.
“’A Couple’ is Wiseman working to bottle a human soul. His customary forensic treatment is in evidence, even over the course of just 64 minutes, through what he chooses not to show,” Sophie Monks Kaufman wrote in her IndieWire review of the film. “Wiseman has made a vocation out of filming what is right in front of him, and he applies that schematic to a dead woman whose words are all that remain. Her husband did not see her, but we will.”
“A Couple” screens at the New York Film Festival on Friday, October 1 and Saturday, October 2. You can watch the trailer and check out the film’s official poster, both IndieWire exclusives, below.
Zipporah Films releases a “A Couple” at Film Forum on November 11.