By William Wolf

NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL 2003 (II)  Send This Review to a Friend

At the beginning of "The Best Of Youth," shown at the new York Film Festival 2003, I didn't feel a particular connection with the characters, but as the drama evolved, I was completely caught up in the saga of the Italian family under inspection over a 40-year time span and various generations. Originally made for television, the film is six hours 23 minutes long, but the time moves rapidly as so much is packed on screen while we follow the fortunes and problems of the Carati family.

Directed by Marco Tullio Giordana, "The Best of Youth," to be released by Miramax, has a remarkable cast, with Luigi Lo Cascio and Alessio Boni playing the two sons who are pivotal to the story. What makes the film especially interesting is that the family saga is interwoven with events of the time, including the flood that took place in Florence and such problems as terrorism. The history of Italy is a major part of the drama. Obviously a film like this will be tough to market, but it is an important work that audiences should find enthralling.

I liked Claude Chabrol's film, "The Flower of Evil," which has opened commercially (see review in Film or Search). Gus Van Sant's "Elephant," also in commercial release (See review in Film and Search), is impressive in terms of style and the edge he creates, although it doesn't shed any new light on the Columbine-type school killings.

"The Fog of War" could not be timelier even though its focus is on the Vietnam war. Directed by Errol Morris, it is a documentary built around the regrets of Robert S. McNamara for his role as Secretary of Defense in the escalation of the fighting. McNamara, in his 80s, sees the situation differently now, and he has plenty to say about war, government and dissembling from his present perspective. One can criticize some of his remarks as self-serving, but the fact is that he speaks plainly and provides lessons that should be applied to the present situation in Iraq. This is a film of great importance and the Film Festival selection committee did well to choose it.

I was less enamoured with "Stalingrad," the more than two and one-half hour examination of the epic battle in World War II, so crucial in the turning of the tide against Germany. There is vivid footage showing the terrible ordeal on both sides--the film was made in Germany--and there are interviews with survivors, but after a while a feeling of repetition and numbness sets in. The film is too much like an ordinary television documentary, and the commentary isn't as deep as it should be.

That said, there is no question that "Stalingrad" serves as a reminder of what a terrible battle was fought--with almost one million killed--and it helps put in perspective the role the Soviet Union played on the world scene. In the United States the role of the Russians is often forgotten and the war is seen as an American victory without regard to what happened on the Eastern front.

"A Thousand Months," set in a small town in Morocco and written and directed by Faouzi Bensaïdi, is a charming and moving film focusing on a seven-year-old lad who is given the responsibility of guarding his teacher's special chair after school hours. The boy's life is placed in a political context. The boy doesn't know that his father is really away because he is in prison, not working in France as he has been told. The story is presented simply with local atmosphere evoked, and when the chair is stolen, it sets off developments that become important to the boy and the family. "A Thousand Months" is a fresh example of some of the good film work being done in that part of the world.

As usual, the festival offered an international variety. Selections included "The Khymer Rouge Killing Machine," a documentary from France; "Young Adam," a film from Scotland; "Good Morning, Night," Marco Bellocchio's drama from Italy recalling a terrorist kidnapping; "Free Radicals" from Austria; "Crimson Gold" from Iran; "Goodbye Dragon In" from Taiwan; "Distant" from Turkey and "PTU" from Hong Kong. The festival also presented such special attractions as a revival of the 1929 British film "Piccadilly" and a newly minted version of the 1979 film about The Who, "The Kids Are Alright."


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