By William Wolf

NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL 2005 (I)  Send This Review to a Friend

There’s an art in choosing the right films to open and close a film festival, and this year the 2005 New York Film Festival hit it just right. The opener, “Good Night, and Good Luck” was a high-quality topical choice, and the closer, “Caché,” was the kind of film that would leave audiences talking about its meaning and resolution. There was also a choice of worthy films in between as the Festival marked its 43rd year as an important New York City institution provided by the Film Society of Lincoln Center.

“Good Night, and Good Luck,” which gets its title from CBS broadcaster Edward R. Murrow’s way of signing off, is disturbingly topical. With Clooney directing a convincing portrait of Murrow, the film conveys the chilling Red scare and blacklisting atmosphere and the courage it took for Murrow and CBS television to run a show that exposed and blasted tyrannical Senator Joseph McCarthy and helped turn the tide against him. Courage did not come easily at CBS, and the film depicts the battle by Murrow and producer Fred W. Friendly to follow their instincts. This is more than history, as broadcasting is under current pressures to play it safe. David Strathairn plays Murrow, Clooney portrays Friendly. (Click on Film on Home Page or go to Search to see full review)

“Caché,” directed by Michael Haneke, builds suspense steadily as an upscale couple finds that mysterious videotapes are arriving and are plunged into fear of being harassed or harmed. The husband, a talk show host played by Daniel Auteuil, harbors a secret from his childhood that may have something to do with what is happening. His wife, who works at a publishing house and is played by the fetching Juliette Binoche, becomes fed up with her husband’s secretive ways. Their young son appears increasingly alienated from them.

What’s going on? Who is sending the tapes? What’s their significance? It is a tribute to the skill of Handke’s filmmaking, whether in his use of visuals to help intrigue us or with his screenplay, that he is capable of increasing suspense step by step yet ultimately enticing viewers to come to their own conclusions. The open ending, embellished with a hint that might or might not be a red herring, is virtually guaranteed to send people out pondering and discussing the film.

Several of the films were scheduled to open commercially soon after their Festival screening, such as “Capote,” for example, a powerful drama depicting the author’s research into a grisly murder case for an article in the New Yorker, and eventually a best-selling, landmark book that set off a trend for non-fiction novels. Philip Seymour Hoffman has what may be his role of a lifetime brilliantly playing Capote. (Click on Film on the Home Page or go to Search for full review).

“Good Night, and Good Luck” was scheduled for quick commercial release after its Festival launching.

The same was true for “The Squid and the Whale,” Noah Baumbach’s winsome film about husband-and wife authors, played by Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney, who split up, and the effect the break has on their young sons. The film is filled with the sort of character revelations and observances of the situations in which the characters find themselves that make the story lively, bright and candid. Everyone learns something during the transitions that occur, and Baumbach’s film has heart as well as a sense of the absurd. (Click on Film on the Home Page or go to Search to see full review.)

One of the Festival’s most sophisticated entries was the ingenious comedy, “Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story.” Directed by the ever-interesting Michael Winterbottom, the film is a satire about adaptations and filmmaking itself, with attendant production problems and competition between actors. The renowned 18th century novel, Laurence Sterne’s “The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman,” which broke ground in the realm of free-association writing, has been considered a work impossible to adapt for the screen. Its plot line is thin and its wit derives from the author’s wide-ranging digressions that become more important than the narrative flow.

Winterbottom decided to make a comedy about trying to make a film adaptation. He cast the very funny Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, as well as Gillian Anderson and a company of superb British actors. The result is hilarious, with lots of in jokes about the moviemaking process and bawdy humor in keeping with the tone of Sterne’s classic. The film is a complex mix of the contemporary and an effort to recapture 18th century ambience. Picturehouse plans an early 2006 release.

Another special film was the Belgian import “L’Enfant (The Child),” the top winner of the 2005 Cannes Film Festival. Directed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, the story is a gritty exploration of what happens when Bruno (Jérémie Renier) a dispossessed young man who is a petty thief tries to sell the infant of his girlfriend Sonia (Déborah François). The act is such a flagrant abuse of trust, and Sonia is so distraught that Bruno realizes he has done wrong. But righting it is no easy proposition. The film gains its ultimate strength from Bruno’s effort at transformation. The drama is exceptionally well directed and acted.



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