By William Wolf

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

A number of top level films graced the 2007 New York Film Festival, the 45th in its long, illustrious standing, The Festival is not one that gives prizes, but if there were, I would have a substantial list of nominations for consideration. It would be difficult to choose the top standout, as those up against each other would be of such different styles and packed with so much different content. Some of the films, while new to New York, had already been showcased shortly before at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival.

Veteran filmmaker Sidney Lumet is still at the top of his powers, having unleashed his latest, “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead.” Lumet delves into film noir with a tale of two sons who set out to rob their parents’ jewelry store, with consequences that flow out of the plan. The brothers are played by Ethan Hawke and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Albert Finney and Rosemary Harris are cast the parents.

In fine form, Lumet is able to build tension as the work escalates into a New York version of Greek tragedy. He knows how to meld background and events for maximum effect, and the moral decay depicted provides a jolting comment on how pressures and greed can spiral into the unthinkable. The acting is commanding and the scenes well shot, with Lumet’s instinct for when to use close-ups and tighten the contact with the audience revealed as all-wise.

Some years ago Lumet told me in an interview that he envisioned a time when film would become obsolete and the movies would be based on developing new technology. “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” was a step toward fulfilling that prediction. It was all shot with high definition, and the technique helped provide a fresh impression of immediacy. At a cocktail party in connection with the film, Lumet remarked to me that there would be no film used at all in about five years.

Perhaps the most creative and original film of the Festival was the animated “Persepolis,” an adaptation of Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical graphic novel about growing up in Iran. She co-directed the film with Vincent Paronnaud. This is not animation geared to children. It is a very witty, adult tale that entwines the personal and the political as it gives a stunning portrait of repressiveness in that country and describes a young woman’s gradual liberation of mind and spirit.

Anyone who balks at seeing “Persepolis” because of not being attuned to animation would be making a foolish, shortsighted mistake. The film rivals live action in its perceptiveness and entertainment qualities. There are also superb voices provided by Gabrielle Lopes, Danielle Darrieux, Catherine Deneuve, Chiara Mastroianni and Simon Abkarian.

The Festival nailed horrors of the Iraq War with writer-director Brian De Palma’s provocative and disturbing “Redacted,” which creates a convincingly realistic look at an atrocity by American troops. De Palma constructs his film along the lines of cable news, and interviews, with a cast that makes the film seem utterly immediate. “Redacted” is a tough film that shows how an atrocity can occur in the context of brutalized troops under the pressure of a brutal, misbegotten war.

The film itself has been redacted, as the distributor, fearing legal vulnerability, covered up faces in the film’s closing montage. De Palma has protested, including at a press conference held by the Festival. He said he had offered to indemnify the distributor against possible lawsuits, and he expressed a commitment to legally fighting to restore his original version.

Another of the most impressive films shown was the Romanian import, “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days,” Christian Mungiu’s drama about a university student trying to help her roommate get an abortion. Anamaria Marinca and Laura Vasiliu give strong performances as they navigate the underground and have to find a room in a hotel where a secret abortionist can do the job.

The horror of the search and the dangers involved are presented harrowingly, and there is the added interest of the student doing the assisting having second thoughts about the relationship with her boyfriend because she finds him revealingly insensitive to the situation. The film became a favorite of many at the Festival who were deeply moved by it.

(More to come)


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