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Poor weather and Weekend Highlights At The New York Film Festival

I definitely do subscribe to the shitty weather theory for festival success. In short, the more dismal the weather, the better the attendance. And whether it was planned or not, this weekend's soggy, rather depressing weather has made people make a beeline for the screenings of the New York Film Festival in its first weekend. An added incentive is undoubtedly the use of the Ziegfield Theater as the Festival's main screening venue. New York City's largest single screen is being used this year as an alternative to Alice Tulley Hall at Lincoln Center, which is undergoing massive renovations (in fact., almost all of Lincoln Center is beset with scaffolding).

The first weekend is full of cinematic highlights. It takes a strong stomach but the pleasures are many for those willing to take the journey for the celebrated film HUNGER, which won the Cannes Camera d'Or Prize for first feature. An intense, you-are-there drama about Irish revolutionary Bobby Sand's hunger strike that brought about prison reform at the height of the "troubles" in the 1970s, the film features an agonizing performance by Michael Fassebender, a German-born, Irish-raised actor whose realistic portrait continues to haunt. The film is the first feature-length drama by British video artist Steve McQueen.

On another end of the spectrum is the latest bon bon from UK director Mike Leigh. In Happy-Go-Lucky, his deceivingly lightweight story of an eternal optimist, Leigh offers a portrait of another kind of courage....the determination to make the most of one's life and resources. Sally Hawkins, who won a Best Actress prize at the Berlin Film Festival, builds a gravitas that is well earned, suggesting that maintaining optimism in the face of sheer terror and boredom is a wonderfully heroic act.

Another startling performance is given by Michelle Williams in the American indie drama Wendy and Lucy by director Kelly Reichardt. As a young woman in search of her dog in an unforgiving Northwest, Williams shows a surprisingly strong backbone as they encounters a mix of indifference and unexpected kindness on the road. Director Reichardt trusts silence as much as she relies on dialogue, and the brooding landscape exists as almost another character in this simple yet stirring film about the mood of anxiety of a country buffetted by war and economic collapse.

Anxiety is also the backdrop for I'm Gonna Explode, a moody Mexican melodrama by Gerardo Naranjo. The film tells the story of two young people who meet, make love and hide away from their ridiculously bourgeoise parents. With a nod to the Terrence Malick classic Badlands, the two misfits head on the road in a journey that elliptically returns them to their parents' homes and a desperate fate. A mix of assurdist and heartbreakingk the film is another example of Mexican cinema's ongong vitality.

Sandy Mandelberger, NY Film Festival Online Dailies Editor


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