The Imaginary Conversations

Where I’d Like to Take Some of My Favorite Filmmakers Out in New York

As he usually does, my father flew from Barcelona to check in on me a couple of years ago. I’ve been living in New York since 2010— he came in May of 2012 during the end of my sophomore year at the School of Visual Arts. My dad was familiar with the city since he’d lived in New York sometime in the mid-80s when he was in his 20s and has since developed a nostalgia for lower Manhattan, always insisting we tour Soho, TriBeCa and Bowery looking for a New York that no longer exists. Even though I seldom wander these now lavish neighborhoods by myself, I enjoy my dad’s remembrances of a time where junkies, artists and yuppies inhabited the area long before it became the East Coast version of Beverly Hills that it is today. Since I couldn’t accommodate him (nor would he want to) in my micro-apartment in Brooklyn, he decided to rent an apartment on Franklin and Church St for about a week.

As every college student knows, one of the perks of having one of your parents visit is eating for free. In one of our dinners, after feasting on steak frites at The Dutch, we went for one of our digestive walks and began talking about cinema and food. The conversation then turned from “What filmmaker would you have dinner with?” to “Where would you take your favorite filmmakers?”. After naming a few examples, the game increasingly became more specific, we asked each other, “Does it have to be food?”, “Does the filmmaker have to be alive?”. We added some rules to make it more stimulating. We decided that the filmmaker has to be alive and the place needs to be in New York City but it doesn’t necessarily have to be a meal. We made a list of examples, argued our reasons and laughed over it. For whatever reasons, the conversation became fixed in my memory as one of the best times I’ve intimately shared with my dad. Eventually, I wrote about this in a previous post in this blog. The thought came back to me recently and I decided to recover this conversation and reopen the list. Perhaps because I was nostalgic about that particular conversation with my dad as I remember it as a good father-son moment. But more likely because it’s fun to imagine silly things like that.

Here are the new rules of the game:

  1. The filmmaker has to be alive.
  2. The “dinner” doesn’t have to be centered on food.
  3. The “dinner” should have nothing to do with the nationality of the filmmaker or their movies, it should relate to their character and artistic sensibility.
  4. The intention of this imaginary “dinner” is to have an in depth conversation about anything you want while enjoying food and/or drinks.
  5. The place must be in New York City.

Here’s my list:

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Pierogis with David Lynch at Veselka’s in the East Village.

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Baked goods and a lemonade with Todd Haynes at the backyard of Bakeri Brooklyn in Williamsburg.

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Sushi and sake with Apichatpong Weerasethakul at Momo Sushi Shack in Bushwick.

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Cheap beer and a brawl with Werner Herzog at the Sly Fox in the East Village.

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A sour or dry gin-based cocktail with Alex Ross Perry at The Narrows in Bushwick.

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Live music and party with the Duplass brothers at Our Wicked Lady in Bushwick.

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Cortados and a shave at Parlor Cofee in the back of Persons of Interest Barbershop with Abbas Kiarostami in Williamsburg.

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Grilled cactus and enchiladas with Gabriel Mascaro at Mesa Coyoacan in East Williamsburg.

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A glass of Merlot and a cheese platter with Jia Zhangke at Tuffet in East Williamsburg.

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A 4-course tasting menu with Whit Stillman at Le Bernadin in the Theater District.

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Party all night with Leos Carax at Baby’s All Right in Williamsburg.

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Tapas and wine with Jane Campion at El Born in Greenpoint.

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A reuben sandwich with Woody Allen at Eisenberg’s Sandwitch Shop near the Flatiron.

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Oysters with Noah Baumbach at Marlow and Sons in Williamsburg.

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Drinks and a poetry slam with Olivier Assayas at Nuyorican Poets Cafe in the East Village.

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Beer, Jazz and a game of foosball with Michel Gondry at Fat Cat in the West Village.

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A ham and cheese sandwich with Claire Denis at Campbell Cheese and Grocery in East Williamsburg.

A Brief Look at Neon Bull

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One of the most exciting things about Brazil’s versatile and colorful culture is how art, sport, dance, music and other disciplines seem to all melt together in the most electrifying fashion. This is what visual artist and filmmaker Gabriel Mascaro’s Boi Neon (Neon Bull) so accurately captures in his follow-up to the beautiful and meditative Ventos de Agosto (August Winds). Mascaro’s latest drama uncovers sexuality in all its bluntness in unexpected places.

The film takes place in rural Brazil, where handsome, working-class Iremar works at the local vaquejada, (Brazil’s own version of a rodeo) where ‘cowboys’ overpower bulls by pulling their tails, making them collapse. While it might be a bit hard to watch how the men treat these animals, there’s a strong connection between these two species blurring the lines between animal and human. Iremar is in charge of sanding the bull’s tails but in his free time, he dreams of designing exotic clothes for women. His muse is Galega, an exotic dancer and a single mom who along with her daughter, Cacá, lives near the ranch where Iremar works.

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While the film’s visually lush and subtle photography is one of its most satisfying feats, the film also places importance on other sensory responses such as scent. Taboos like excrement and semen are not concealed but rather celebrated as natural elements in a world where beauty and tenderness emerge unannounced. As sensual as it may be, sex is never exploited or glamorized in Neon Bull, but is instead portrayed candidly and naturally. For Iremar however, the body is not sexually desired—he sees it more as his canvas. This is particularly obvious in a scene where Iremar picks up his co-worker’s porn magazine to draw designs on the nude models. That is not to say that Iremar’s sexuality is ignored in the film—in one of the most extraordinarily beautiful scenes, he has sex with a pregnant perfume saleswoman in a garment factory (a perfect combination of circumstances for Iremar). Mascaro explicitly portrays the two prominent female characters as mothers, exploring their sexuality in tandem with their maternal roles—something that is often overlooked or avoided in our culture.

As low-key as the narrative might seem, Neon Bull manages to bewilder us by democratizing sex and beauty, providing the opportunity for the audience to place its perspective in someone like Iremar. In the film, all that is both tasteless and luscious harmoniously contradicts each other and converge at the same time, corresponding perhaps to Brazil’s strongest and most powerful cultural trait.

Now playing at the Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York. A Kino Lorber release.