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New York Film Festival: Last Call At The New York Film Festival

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- New York Film Festival

Friday, October 12--------As the New York Film Festival enters its final weekend, there are still ample opportunities to sample a very tasty smorgasboard of international film offerings. The mix of titles includes modern film noir, an instant animation classic, a contemporary American farce, and some intriguing films from Asia and south of the border. If you've been delaying getting to Lincoln Center for this year's event, it is now last call.

Don't be daunted by the 163 minute running time of CALLE SANTA FE, director Carmen Castillo's emotional memoir of her return to Chile after decades of exile. The film, which has a single screening this coming Sunday, is an important history lesson and a cathartic odyssey that shows the cost to human lives of dictatorship. Ms. Castillo, who was a vocal opponent of the Pinochet dictatorship, returns to her native country with a sense of regret of the things that might have been. It is, in the end, the story of all refugees and all those who must leave their homelands for the security of another country.

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A different film that touches on international concerns, especially the effects of globalization, is USELESS, an eye-opening documentary on the booming fashion business arising in the new China. The film, told without voiceover narration in the style of cinema verite, begins with scenes of workers toiling in a Chinese garment factory, then narrows its focus to Ma Ke, an haute-couture designer shown for her chic design sense. Without offering a critical perspective or editorializing about its subjects, the film involves audiences in the meaning of the global economy and the costs to traditional ways of doing business in a country where growth seems the only imperative.

Two film masters unveil their latest films this weekend. Sidney Lumet, the great New York filmmaker, shows his deft hand at what he excels at most, the urban thriller, in his latest film, BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD. At age 83, he still has the fire in his loins to tell a daunting and disturbing story, and to wring out superlative peformances from his actors, toplined by Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke. The two plays brothers whose bungled robbery of their parents' jewelry stores set off a Shakespearean cycle of family tragedy.

Claude Chabrol, often referred to as the "Hitchcock of French cinema", is back with his 40th film, A GIRL CUT IN TWO. Loosely inspired by the 1906 murder of the New York architect Stanford White, the film uses classic thriller devices while also providing a sardonic and satiric comment on class divisions, sexual oneupsmanship and and the vagaries of fate. Hot young French actress Ludivine Sagnier plays a television weather girl, who becomes the erotic object of a power struggle between two men: an older, egotistical author (François Berléand), and a spoiled millionaire playboy (Benoît Magimel), who wants her as a trophy wife. This seething trio of love, lust and narcissism cannot but end badly.

Things are just as emotionally messy on this side of the Atlantic, at least as far as the American film MARGOT AT THE WEDDING is concerned. The film, by Noah Baumbach (THE SQUID AND THE WHALE) concerns a clan full of neuroses and bad behavior, while offering some insight into the screwed-up minds of East Coast literati. Nicole Kidman and Jennifer Jason Leigh play sisters who think nothing of playing out their psychosexual trumas in front of children of all ages. That these characters are too self absorbed to notice much else around them is the point. The film often leaves a sour taste, but it captures a kind of self-involvement to the point of numbness that audience members (at least in Gotham) will readily identify with.

The Festival ends on Sunday with an instant classic, the animated French film PERSEPOLIS, based on the graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi about growing up in contemporary Iran. The movie is a semi-autobiographical first-hand account of Iran’s troubled history from the days of the shah through the Islamist revolution and the Iran-Iraq war. Its narrator, also named Marjane, is a spirited young rebel from a closely knit, middle-class family, struggling to define her identity. Marjane eventually leaves Iran to settle in Paris. Chiara Mastroianni is the voice of Marjane, with the iconic French star Danielle Darrieux giving voice to the girl's wise and beneficient grandmother, the only humanistic point in a storm amidst chaos and inhumanity. PERSEPOLIS encourages viewers to contemplate how history is recorded and the effects of conflict seen through the looking glass of one young woman's coming-of-age story. Its spark of optimism offers a fitting close to the Festival. While many screenings are sold out, there are still tickets available. Consult the website of the Film Society of Lincoln Center at: www.filmlinc.com.

Sandy Mandelberger, Film New York Editor

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