When shall we three meet again? (Ahem, ahem.)
After taking a year off from indoor screenings due to COVID-19, the New York Film Festival returned to Alice Tully Hall on Friday night with the world premiere of “The Tragedy of Macbeth.”
The kickoff to the 59th edition of the fall celebration of independent movies, held at Lincoln Center, felt like old times. Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand — who play Macbeth and Lady Macbeth in the latest onscreen adaptation of the Shakespeare drama — received a rapturous standing ovation after the film’s first (of two) screenings at 6 p.m.
On the red carpet later, Washington reflected on his career as a Shakespearean actor. The actor first developed his love for the playwright’s works as a student at nearby Fordham University, even playing Othello at Lincoln Center.
When asked what it meant to come full circle, Washington told Variety, “It’s good work. It’s what I do. It’s a company of actors — and that’s not what it means to me, that’s what it is — just a great group of unselfish actors, and obviously a brilliant director, who had a vision, and we’re all a part of his vision.”
Coen posed with Washington, McDormand and Washington’s wife Pauletta on the red carpet. The quartet was joined by a handful of the film’s ensemble cast, including Corey Hawkins (Macduff), Moses Ingram (Lady Macduff), Harry Melling (Malcolm), James Udon (Seyton), Bertie Carvel (Banquo), Miles Anderson (Lennox) and Stephen Root at the premiere.
Apple and A24 will release the black-and-white movie, which is being positioned as an awards contender in next year’s Oscars race, on Dec. 25.
But it wasn’t all business as usual. The NYFF screenings adhered to strict COVID protocols, as guests were told twice before the movie played to keep their masks on — covering both their noses and mouths. Regarding the protocols, Film at Lincoln Center executive director Lesli Klainberg admitted feeling “relieved” that everyone was finally on site.
“My staff has done an extraordinary job trying to figure out what’s the most up to date, and dealing with the state, the city and the federal guidelines,” Klainberg explained. “They roll with the punches.”
Inside the theater, there were crowds at a bar, as people clamored for a free cocktail with Campari (the festival’s sponsor) and soda.
“I want to point out just because it’s a tragedy it doesn’t mean you can’t have a good time,” Coen said as he introduced the film, which he made without his brother Joel.
Judging from the early reviews and the response at the screening, “The Tragedy of Macbeth” could mean another trip to the Academy Awards for both Washington and McDormand. He’s been nominated eight times for acting (and won two statues). She’s been nominated six times for acting (and won three times).
In Variety’s review, chief film critic Owen Gleiberman praised Coen’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s famous play, writing, “[Coen] has made a “Macbeth” that is sure to seduce audiences — one that, for all its darkness of import, is light-spirited, fleet, and intoxicating. It shows you, through the ironic empathy summoned by Washington’s performance, just how fast the human race can slip off the tracks. And it brings that drama into ravishing deep focus.”
“The Tragedy of Macbeth” shot in the early days of the pandemic, and had to stop production on March 13, 2020 for five months due to COVID. It was on that day, Coen quipped, that the troupe stopped blithely ignoring the superstition around “Macbeth” (which is oft referred to as “The Scottish Play”) and began calling their production “The Tragedy.”
“Before we got back together, I said, ‘Joel, we got to get everyone back on Zoom,’” McDormand said in a Q&A following the film. “I need to know how everyone is since the revolution.”
And although he’s Zoom-averse, Coen did make a cameo on the call to talk to his cast.
The film’s after party was held at Tavern on the Green, where guests — from Isabelle Huppert to Daveed Diggs — and press gathered until after 2 a.m.