By William Wolf

NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL 2007 (II)  Send This Review to a Friend

One especially creative film highlighted at the 2007 New York Film Festival was “The Orphanage,” produced by Guillermo Del Toro, who directed the remarkable “Pan’s Labyrinth.” This one, Spain’s entry for the Oscars, was directed by Juan Antonio Bayona. It is also a mix of reality and fantasy, this time geared to a woman’s attempt to cope with loss.

Belén Rueda gives a powerful performance as Laura, a woman who, with her husband Carlos, founds an orphanage to deal with handicapped youngsters on the site where she herself was raised as an orphan. She has a young son, Simón, who disappears, and she begins a frantic search for him. In the process she discovers secrets in a film that has a supernatural quality along with things that are very real.

An audience seeing “The Orphanage” will ponder what is actually occurring and what may be happening in Laura’s mind. From any standpoint, the film is eerily compelling, partly because of its stunning look, but more importantly as a result of what it has to say in the form of a ghost story about trying to come to terms with the past.

Ira Sachs’s “Married Life” is a serious, suspenseful noir comedy delving into the dynamics of marriage and relationships. With an appealing cast and subtle wit, the film reminds me somewhat of “Double Indemnity,” but with a more whimsical edge. The screenplay, written by Sachs and Oren Moverman, sets the story after World War II in the Pacific Northwest.

How far can you trust a best friend? Harry, played by Chris Cooper, who is married to Pat (Patricia Clarkson), confides to his pal Richard (Pierce Brosnan), that he has fallen for another woman and would like to leave his wife. The skeptical Richard is bowled over when Harry, a mousy sort of guy, turns up with his new love, Kay, a knockout, played by Rachel McAdams. What’s a type like Harry doing with a girl like that? The question nags at Rich, who becomes attracted to Kay, who seems utterly devoted to the doting Harry.

But when Harry is away, Richard will play. So begins various twists and turns, with Harry trying to find a way to get rid of Pat without upsetting her, and Richard deviously pursuing Kay. The results are entertainingly wicked, but the film keeps a cool perspective spiced with amusing dialogue and plotting, all the while feeding us some in-depth perspective on the love game.

From Japan came “I Just Didn’t Do It,” directed by Masyuki Suo (“Shall We Dance”), which takes us into the heart of the Japanese court system. Teppei (Ryo Kase) is falsely accused of groping a girl on the subway. He is arrested, and despite his protest that he is innocent, he is fed into the legal process leading up to a series of court hearings.

The detail is fascinating, and one can glean similarities with the American court system with respect to plea bargaining or the result if one refuses to admit guilt. Teppei is told that the case will go away if he just admits that he groped the young woman. But he refuses to confess to something he didn’t do, and the price to be paid in such circumstances can be steep.

The proceedings take place over a substantial time period, and the defense attempts to find a witness who could help establish the defendant’s side of the story. Unsurprisingly, the officials involved refuse to admit any error, and a judge who replaces the first more receptive judge is clearly stalwartly for the prosecution. The film could be trimmed somewhat, but otherwise it is a taut, absorbing look into an unfortunate case with the suspense of a trial drama.

The pursuit of dreams is given a metaphor in the form of a sleazy strip club in “Go Go Tales,” Abel Ferrara’s film starring Willem Dafoe as the club owner who is perpetually down on his luck and in debt. Sylvia Miles is a picture stealer as the foul-mouthed landlady who wants to toss out those she sees as hopeless losers who can’t pay their rent. Miles is a hoot as she storms around spewing invective. The cast also includes Bob Hoskins and Asia Argento.

Meanwhile, as background we see attractive go-go girls doing their thing, and get to soak up the ambiance of the club, incongruously named the Paradise Lounge. The hope that a lottery ticket may pay off encapsulates the dreams of success that are nurtured. One can take the film as a stand-in for dreams others may have whatever their field of endeavor, and for the ways in which they can be dashed.

The most laughter heard during the press screenings I attended came with the showing of the documentary, “Mr. Warmth, The Don Rickles Project,” directed by John Landis. Rickles, as anyone who has caught his act knows, is famous as an insult comic, as we see from clips of his act as performed in Las Vegas. But the film also emphasizes his career as a television and movie actor, and in addition to interviews with Rickles, contains assorted interviews with individuals who have their own take on the man. Clint Eastwood, for example, is one who pitches in with his view of Rickles, with whom he starred in the action film “Kelly’s Heroes.”

Rickles is shown in his family context, as well as in his professional life, with clips of his wife and his mother, as well as with his various associates. He continues to be a very funny guy, ready with a sharp quip as well as polished with his dynamic act involved in putting-down a wide assortment of individuals. The film also is packed with nostalgic background information on show business in Las Vegas.

Claude Chabrol, who became renowned as a force in the French New Wave of the late 1950s and 1960s, still knows how to grip an audience. His “A Girl Cut in Two” is a sophisticated study of romantic manipulations and rivalries. Ludivine Sagnier is attractive in the role of Gabrielle, a TV weather girl with a promising future. There are two men in her life. A married famous writer, Charles Saint-Denis, played by veteran actor François Berléand, wants her as his mistress. Her suitor wanting to marry her is the spoiled but wealthy young pharmaceutical heir, Paul (Benoît Magimel).

Chabrol, who co-wrote the screenplay with Cécile Maestre, follows the intricacies of developments with an awareness of class bias and the ways of the world of married men who insist upon having mistresses, then vainly become upset when a rival is in the picture. The heroine of this film is indeed some emotionally cut in two. Chabrol’s film is entertaining and suspenseful.

One of the most highly praised films was Julian Schnabel’s “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” with Mathieu Amalric playing Jean-Dominique Bauby, who suffered a stroke when he was 43, and was left without muscle control. But he could blink an eyelid, and herein lies a unique story. Bauby wrote a book about his life and it became a best-seller.

As has been customary, the Festival also presented various special events, including what was billed as the definitive cut of Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner,” John Ford’s “Drums Along the Mohawk” and Josef von Sternberg’s 1927 “Underworld.”

(More to come)


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