2004 Palm Springs International Film Festival


REVIEW by Willard Manus

PALM SPRINGS, CA -- The recent 15th Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival chalked up some impressive numbers, including two fest records of more than 86,000 attendees and over 100 sold-out screenings. Over 200 films from 65 countries were shown, led by 53 foreign-language Academy Award entries out of a possible 56.

"It's been a remarkable year for the Festival," commented exec director Darryl Macdonald. "I think the film selection was top notch...Attendance jumped significantly and Palm Springs established itself as one of the most vital film festivals in the world."

THE RETURN (Russia) received the International Critics Prize; LOVE ME IF YOU DARE won Outstanding First Feature or Documentary; the Audience Choice Awards went to BEST OF YOUTH (Italy, narrative film) and PAPER CLIPS (USA, documentary).

BEST OF YOUTH was the best film I saw at the Festival. A six-hour drama about a middle-class Roman family, it was originally made as a mini-series for Italian television, But its uncompromising look at political, business and medical corruption proved too controversial for the network (shades of CBS and the Ronald Reagan story). BEST OF YOUTH was released in Italy as a feature, winning record-breaking box office and critical acclaim.

Spanning three decades--1960s to the present--BEST OF YOUTH weaves together personal and national histories in a gripping, expert way. Though it deals with some explosive issues, such as globalization, the Red Brigades and the brutal way the mentally ill are treated in Italy, director Marco Tulio never allows things to go over the top, become melodramatic or propagandistic. Nor does he ever descend, in the film's many tender, loving moments, into sentimentality or mawkishness. He and his co-writers, Sandro Petraglia and Stefano Rulli, are to be commended for their mature, compelling script.

American rights to the film (which I saw in two 3-hour parts on the same day) belong to Miramax. It remains to be seen whether this company, known for its ruthless editing, will chop the guts out of BEST OF YOUTH.

From the sublime to the ridiculous. TWENTY NINE PALMS, a French film by Bruno Dumont--it was shot in the desert not far from Palm Springs-- stars Karia Golubeva and David Wissack as an ill-matched couple driving aimlessly around while scouting fashion-shoot locations. Neither speaks the other's language, thus communication is non-existent except when they are making love, which is often, varied and embarrassing (especially when they go at it in a motel swimming pool). Dumont is proud of the fact that he never works with a script or story outline, preferring to improvise on the spot. Better he should hire a writer next time around. He's also proud of using non-professional actors. In Golubeva and Wissack's case, both will surely maintain their non-professional status in future.

I'M NOT SCARED, another Italian film that has been picked up by Miramax, takes its time to unfold. At first it seems like a warm, lyrical portrait of rural Italy with its wheat fields, impoverished farmers and young children left to fend for themselves under vast, sun-filled skies. Then, slowly, the film becomes a socially-conscious thriller, beginning when ten-year-old Michel discovers another boy being kept as a prisoner in an abandoned well.

The prisoner has been kidnapped by the Mafia, who are holding him for ransome. Even more shocking to Michel is the realization that his own father is involved in the crime.

Directed by Gabriele Salvatore (who won an Oscar in 1991 for Mediterraneo), written by Niccolo Ammaniti & Francesca Mariano, I'M NOT SCARED is a compelling coming-of-age tale which does not shy from confronting the face of evil.