By William Wolf

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

The quality of the best films at the 2007 New York Film Festival outweighed the lesser ones, but there were disappointments as well as triumphs. Perhaps the most annoying of the lot that I experienced was the French film “Actresses,” a self-indulgent work directed by Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, who starred herself as a self-absorbed actress whose life is a mess and who can’t find peace of mind.

Tedeschi attempts something like Fellini did as a director in “8 ½” but without the ability to do more than drive one crazy with the character’s endless erratic behavior. The set-up involves Marcelline (Tedeschi), who is rehearsing for Turgenev’s play “A Month in the Country.” The film feels like a year in a theater. Admittedly, the director-actress is a striking screen presence, but in this outing the ego-tripping leads only to a wish that the whole thing would end.

Perhaps the most pretentious film of all was “I’m Not There,” Todd Haynes’ ambitious riff on the life and career of Bob Dylan. Six different actors play fictionalized versions of Dylan in assortment of settings and time frames, including Marcus Carl Franklin as a black “Dylan,” and even Cate Blanchett in one version.

The highly stylized film, which also stars Richard Gere, Heath Ledger, Ben Whishaw, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Julianne Moore and David Cross, has its moments, but seems to go on forever and tends to grow boring. One admires Haynes’ nerve and vision, but at times one may wish for a straightforward portrait of the real Bob Dylan.

A more accomplished but nonetheless problematical film was the Coen brothers’ “No Country for Old Men.” There’s no question that Joel and Ethan Coen know how to make a strong movie, as their past record shows. This time around they have opted for a modern (1980) western set in Texas, steeped in violence and based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy.

Javier Bardem makes a fearsome villain, a psychopath who kills for the amusement of it as he tries to get his hands on drug money that another has made off with. He is thoroughly wicked and not the sort you would want to meet in a dark alley or anywhere else. Bardem makes the most of the character, and his portrayal of Anton Chigurth should linger as one of the screen’s most memorable bad guys.

Tommy Lee Jones plays a sheriff about to retire—if he lives—and others include Josh Brolin Woody Harrelson and Kelly Macdonald. The story certainly holds one’s attention, but there is so much violence, some on screen, some off, that one may recoil from the tale even if hooked by the expertise of the filmmakers.

After it is over, one can acknowledge how well made the film is, and yet say “So What? Did we need this?”

“Margot at the Wedding” was another disappointment. Noah Baumbach’s film, nowhere near the quality of his “The Squid and the Whale,” is a comedy with serious overtones, in which successful writer Margo (Nicole Kidman) goes to the impending wedding of her sister Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh), whereupon all of the hostilities between them erupt, and the wedding plans are ruined.

Margot disapproves of Pauline’s desire to marry the Malcolm (Jack Black), a nonentity who loves Pauline, although he cheats on her. Margot is having her own troubles being a mother and finding a happy relationship. Baumbach works with a light touch, but the film itself is lightweight and the people are not very interesting despite the efforts of a good cast to make them worth watching.

Veteran French filmmaker Eric Rohmer, long a favorite of the New York Festival, was back with “The Romance of Astrée and Céladon,” based on Honoré d’Urfé’s 17th century novel, but the work is too precious by far, and the quaint tale involving hidden sexual identity grows tiresome. It all seems very silly even though Rohmer still knows how to make a film visually interesting.

The Festival’s opening night film, Wes Anderson’s “The Darjeeling Limited,” while not an unpleasant time-passer, was a rather weak choice for an opening night selection, but it did have the virtue of not passionately dividing audiences who gather at the opening to celebrate the Festival. (See review under Film)


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