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    Doll-factory scene from Steven Soderbergh's Bubble. in New York Film Festival
    Doll-factory scene from Steven Soderbergh's "Bubble."

    Headed our way

    One thing that stands out about this year's New York Film Festival is the arrival in America of what was once a very European form of social-realist cinema.


    "The New York Film Festival," notes the festival's official press release, "is not programmed according to theme or any other specific category beyond quality."


    Related links: Official site
    New York Film Festival 2005

    Festival site
    Don't Move

    Regular Lovers
    Through the Forest
    So let's not call this a theme, as such — maybe what the festival has is an annual undercurrent. And the ripple beneath the surface of this year's program is one with a familiar name: social realism.

    Just to pick a title out of the deck, we have a very traditional festival film in "L'Enfant," by the Dardenne brothers of Belgium. Gritty and unembellished, the film focuses on the poorest of the poor — he a two-bit thief, she a brand-new single mom who little suspects what her anti-social beau is capable of doing for money. Those familiar with the brothers' previous faux-vérité work, "Rosetta" and "The Son," will be challenged but not surprised by "L'Enfant." And there are more where that came from.

    Philip Seymour Hoffman in Capote. in New York Film Festival  
    Philip Seymour Hoffman in "Capote."
    The surprise is not that European directors are making heavy-duty, anti-entertainment, pro-social awareness movies like these; it's that an American has eagerly joined them.

    Steven Soderbergh (once a chronicler of liberated yuppie lives in "Sex, Lies and Videotape") has now turned an eye on the unliberated working poor in "Bubble." Three non-actors play doll-factory workers in West Virginia, who would probably know they're poor if anybody asked but don't dwell on it with either dignity or outrage from day to day. It's just a reality. Nobody thinks twice when somebody in the break room mentions going to his or her second job after their shift, because everybody does it. It is precisely as if Soderbergh took the oops-someone-left-a-camera-in-the-room style of his HBO series "K Street" and decided to do a loose adaptation of "Nickle and Dimed to Death."

      Scene from Hany Abu-Assad's suicide-bomber thriller Paradise Now. in New York Film Festival
      Scene from Hany Abu-Assad's suicide-bomber thriller "Paradise Now."
    In a country that has just, in the last month, discovered that it has poor people, it seems momentous that one of our most prominent filmmakers has joined the social realists of the rest of the world — and plans to do more in this vein.

    There are, of course, some big names in town with high-profile films — two of which have already won raves in the press. George Clooney directed and stars in "Good Night, and Good Luck," featuring David Straithairn as journalist Edward R. Murrow. And "Capote," directed by Bennett Miller ("The Cruise"), stars Philip Seymour Hoffman as author Truman Capote during the writing of "In Cold Blood." And maybe this highlights what's good about the mainstream side of the film festival phenomenon — in this culture, Straithairn and Hoffman can be Cruise and Hanks. Two outstanding actors who aren't often seen as leading men have converged with both the ideal roles and the ideal audience.

    What may in fact be the best movie in the festival, though, is a little bit more of a dark horse. Hany Abu-Assad — who had two outstanding films, "Rana's Wedding" and "Ford Transit," in one festival at Lincoln Center two years back — has returned with "Paradise Now," a story about two Palestinian friends who agree to be suicide bombers together. Without conferring approval on their plans, the movie throws repeated complications in their way — some of them surprisingly comical, others deadly frightening, all provocative.

    Festival articles




    Factory employees struggling to get by are the focus of Steven Soderbergh's "Bubble."



    In one of the year's most astonishing performances as diminutive author Truman Capote, Philip Seymour Hoffman catapults from stalwart charactor actor to true movie star, with a fascinatingly detailed portrayal of one of America's more complex celebrities.


    Don't Move

    What's it all about, Sergio? "Don't Move" is a film of constantly changing focus, but it offers is a glorious new direction for Penelope Cruz.


    Regular Lovers

    A reaction to Bernardo Bertolucci's far more sexy and colorful "The Dreamers," also set during the French student riots of 1968, famed French cinéaste Philippe Garrel's "Regular Lovers" is 175 dragged (and drugged) out minutes of his own bleak black-and-white memories of the same tumultuous event.


    Through the Forest

    Writer-director Jean-Paul Civeyrac is more caught up in the gimmick of constructing his film out of unbroken takes than in telling a really compelling story.

    SEPTEMBER 27, 2005

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