Oscar History

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Directors ofFor Sama

Lulu Wang(The Farewell)
Ritesh Batra(Photograph)
Schmidt & Abrantes(Diamantino)
Wanuri Kahiu(Rafiki)
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Oct 11 2017

NYFF: "The Rider"

by John Guerin

One of the more exciting breakouts from this year's festival circuit is Chloe Zhao's elegiac equine dramaThe Rider.This wistful blend of documentary and poetic realism follows Brady Jandreau — a 20-year-old horse trainer who suffers a near-fatal head injury that stunts any chance of his continuing an impressive rodeo career.Suffused with a melancholic color palette and somber score,The Ridermakes palpable the dashed dreams of our young protagonist,charting the reverberations of his accident and their implications with impressive and authentic skill...

The Riderwon the top prize at this year's Cannes Director's Fortnight,a somewhat pleasant surprise considering that Zhao's modest and scaled back directorial flourishes were rewarded by a prize often reserved for heavy-handed and ostentatious filmmaking.Though it may not sport any ornate or especially original stylistic imprints,the film achieves a direct and substantial emotional connection to its audience.Zhao's blend of documentary and fiction doesn't douse the viewer in sentiment,but it also avoids cheapening its subjects with intense,gritty,handheld-camera realistic flourishes straining for some objective,raw truth.Instead,The Riderhonors the pain and the promise of its characters,heightening the sheer beauty of its environs and,of course,its mysterious horses,whose child-like indifference to their destructive capabilities makes the pain hurt even more.

While Zhao may sometimes come too close to spelling out the metaphors and symbolism of her protagonist's struggle,she nevertheless executes a poignant and doleful character study that is as regionally specific as it is general,interrogating the sometimes irrational chase of an impossible dream with the utmost empathy for Brady and the other defeated young men in his orbit.Werner Herzog reportedlysang the film praises at Cannes,an honor almost as exciting as getting a film with this incredibly low-budget and nonprofessional actors a distribution with Sony Pictures Classics.The Riderreminds you that,either filtered strictly through a documentary or processed through the lens of fiction,emotional honesty will radiate through any film with a director as generous in soul and prodigious in skill as Zhao does in this exquisite film.

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