By William Wolf

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

One of the annual pleasures of the New York Film Festival is the opportunity to see the unusual, as in the case of the Romanian import, “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu.” We’re all privy to chilling hospital stories, and this film, directed by Cristi Puiu, is deeply moving as it dramatizes the saga of a man in Bucharest who has fallen ill and is being shunted from hospital to hospital in a nightmarish experience that seals his doom.

The film works so well because it is told in a spare, matter-of-fact style that picks up a multitude of nuances concerning rescue staff, hospital ambience and doctors who are overworked and sometimes callous in an effort to carry on with their duties. There is also an arrogance that can make one angry. Ion Fiscuteanu plays Lazarescu, and Luminta Gheorghiu does an impressive job as a rescue worker who in effect becomes the victim’s ombudsman as she refuses to let the system cast him aside. She stays with him through the night, doing her utmost to see that he gets the care he needs.

The film calls to mind experiences one might have in our own country, given the crowded conditions and the pressures that exist. The style is utterly naturalistic, and the drama sweeps us into its orbit as we follow Lazarescu’s journey and watch him getting weaker and weaker.

Another work showcased at the Festival was Steven Soderbergh’s “Bubble,” a tightly made drama set in an Ohio doll factory and involving working class folk in relationships that lead to tragedy. Debbie Doebereiner gives a remarkable performance as Martha, a woman who masks deep resentments. She is friends with Kyle (Dustin James Ashley), but when a new employee, Rose, played provocatively by Misty Dawn Wilkins, comes onto the scene and establishes her own rapport with Kyle, Martha becomes jealous.

The environment of “Bubble” offers a display of how some exist in small town surroundings and Soderbergh builds the tension quietly to its ultimate dramatic explosion involving murder and the ensuing revelation marked with pathos.

Lars von Trier was back with his sequel to “Dogville,” this time with a film called “Manderlay,” tackling the legacy of slavery in the United States. Bryce Dallas Howard now plays Grace, who, after leaving Dogville with her gangster father, comes upon a plantation in the Deep South. She gets involved in life there and tries to improve the lot of those still embroiled in the racist legacy. The results are more than she bargained for, and Grace herself is in grave trouble.

Von Trier’s plot is a muddle that twists relationships in such a way as to veer from what might be a more realistic understanding of the actual dynamics of remnants of slavery. The screenplay turns gimmicky. Yet as with Dogville, the set-up is creatively portrayed minus major scenery, with everything done in an open format. There is also an excellent cast, including Danny Glover, Willem Dafoe, Lauren Bacall, John Hurt, Udo Kier and Chloöe Sevigny, among others. Howard starts off rather tenuously as Grace, and one misses Nicole Kidman, but as the story moves along Howard comes into her own and is effective.

Neil Jordan’s intriguing “Breakfast on Pluto” follows the adventures of a transvestite and offers the opportunity for a charismatic performance by Cillian Murphy as Patrick “Kitten” Braden, who wants to establish himself/herself as a singer and opts for London over the stifling small town life. The film, set in swinging London of the 1960s-70s era, has all the earmarks of Jordon’s special ability to create a strong atmosphere and give us a work that’s decidedly different. He has also cast Liam Neeson, Stephen Rea and Brendan Gleeson in roles that add to the luster. But above all, it is Murphy’s performance that drives this film.

Amid all the talk about suicide bombers and what makes them tick, “Paradise Now,” directed by Hany Abu-Assad, offers a window into the situation by focusing on two Palestinian friends who are preparing to go on a suicide mission born of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Can they go through with it? The film examines their attitudes, loyalties and the indoctrination that leads them to wanting to strike a blow they envision as aiding their cause.

The young men are effectively portrayed by Kais Nashef and Ali Suliman, and although told from the Palestinian view rather than from the Israeli perspective, there is a segment in which a case is made for such bombings as being counter-productive to an effort for both sides to live in peace. The film is deeply involving and sheds light on the human factor involved behind the headlines.

Isabelle Huppert teams with Pascal Gregory to star in “Gabrielle,” a new film by French director Patrice Chéreau. Gregory plays a cold businessman who has married a beautiful young woman and now their bourgeois life is on the way to exploding. On the surface all is calm as they entertain friends with weekly dinners. But the wife has a shocker in store for her complacent husband. She abruptly leaves him to be with a lover. Compounding the surprise, she returns, and there is an all-out battle between husband and wife.

I don’t find much of the film believable. We learn that the couple has not been having sex throughout their marriage, and yet the husband, not a dummy, seems genuinely surprised that his wife has cheated on him. Their ensuing argument is also held in front of their friends, not likely given their habits and status. The film is based on “The Return,” a short story by Conrad, and the woman’s role has been built up for the adaptation. The acting is fine, but the matter of credibility is a problem.

Other films included on the Festival roster were Philippe Garrel’s “Regular Lovers,” Michel Negroponte’s “Methadonia,” Avi Mograbi’s “Avenge But One of My Two Eyes,” Dorota Kędzierzawaska’s, “I Am,” Bohdan Sláma’s “Something Like Happiness,” Park Chanwook’s “Sympathy for Lady Vengeance,” Hong Sang-soo’s “Tale of Cinema,” Jean-Paul Civeyrac’s “Through the Forest,” Im Sang-Soo’s “The President’s Last Bang,” Mitsuo Yanagimachi’s “Who’s Camus Anyway?,” Hou Hsiao-hsien’s “Three Times,” Aleksandr Sokurov’s “The Sun” and a revival, Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1975 classic, “the Passenger.”

The Festival also featured numerous press conferences, special events and retrospective showings, all of which added to its scope and dedication to providing a special window on cinema for New York audiences.


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