NYFF: ”71′ and ‘Misunderstood’ Kick Off the Festival

nyff52NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL: The 52nd annual New York Film Festival has begun and we at The Awards Circuit are going to be bringing you coverage of every movie playing at the fest. The first day was fairly quiet, with only two films (and a program of shorts that I missed in order to conduct a trio of interviews that you’ll be seeing on the site in the next few days) playing: the coming of age story Misunderstood and the war movie/suspense tale ’71. Both of them will be getting short takes from me today, with fuller reviews coming when they hit theaters (’71 has been picked up, so we’ll be seeing that one not too long from now, thankfully). Take a look below and get set for daily NYFF coverage to begin in earnest!

asia-argento-incompresa-misunderstood-at-cannes-2014-review-trailer-and-cast-gabriel-garkoMisunderstood
Directed by: Asia Argento

The latest work from Asia Argento is a weird duck, to say the least. Really messy and all over the place, but to at least some degree intentionally so, Misunderstood is a black comedy/coming of age story that sadly overstays its welcome. The first act is darkly funny and unusual, though the second and third acts just offer more of the same, without much in the way of evolution. The main character says at the end that she hopes you now understand her better and will be nicer to her, but I’d argue that we haven’t learned that much at all.

This is a film that follows nine year old Aria (Giulia Salerno) as she finds herself as an outsider in her own family during the 1980’s in Rome. Her musician mother (Charlotte Gainsbourg) hates her famous actor father (Gabriel Garko), while neither seem to be too fond of her either. Her sisters, one from her mother’s previous relationship and one from her father’s, don’t connect with her and she’s left to basically hope that one day she’ll have a pet kitten. When the parentals eventually split, they keep their individual children and begin shuttling Aria back and forth between the two, depending on who’s madder at her currently. It’s very repetitive, though certain moments are very amusing, I must say.

There’s some strong acting on display here, I will say that. Especially from the always reliable Gainsbourg and the young Salerno, you get vivid portraits of a human being. The former is more of a cartoon character at times, but it’s quite the character, I must confess. The latter is super expressive, which certainly helps. Argento’s direction is full of energy, an important decision since otherwise boredom could have set in during the second half. Had her writing been a little more mixed and not quite as one note, Misunderstood could have been something really interesting.

I didn’t dislike Misunderstood at all, so don’t get me wrong there, but I did find it to be a bit of a missed opportunity. It has some terrific moments and some long stretches where very little happens. Overall, the mixture just was a little too uneven for my tastes.

(★★½)
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71’71
Director: Yann Demange

Mark my words ladies and gentlemen…Jack O’Connell is going to be a star. Director Yann Demange and writer Gregory Burke give him a real showcase here with ’71, a tension filled war drama centered around the Irish “Troubles”. O’Connell gets put through the ringer here, something that’s going to happen later on this year as well in Angelina Jolie‘s Unbroken. Jolie is going to have to do something really special to get O’Connell’s best work of 2014 though, as this and Starred Up represent star making turns. Her awards bait will get him the most audience members, but this could be the performance that really puts him on other filmmakers’ radars. His portrait of a young soldier trapped in a very bad place has echoes of not just other films of this ilk, but The Raid: Redemption as well. It’s early, but I suspect this could wind up one of my favorite films of the fest.

Gary Hook (O’Connell) is new Private in the British Army, one who initially seems ready for anything. That changes quickly upon his first deployment in Belfast, where during a bit of crowd control a rifle is stolen from a fellow soldier. He’s ordered to chase after it and is ambushed, beaten, and accidentally abandoned by his unit. The deadly riot has their attention and Hook is left to fend for himself. He’s a raw recruit, injured and confused but determined to survive. Thus begins a very long night where he finds himself suspicious of former comrades, having to trust former enemies, and unsure if he has any chance of getting out of this area alive. I don’t want to say too much about what happens during the second half of the movie, but it’s often riveting. ’71 is hard to forget, I can promise you that.

I can’t say enough about Jack O’Connell here in this flick. He effortlessly conveys both the confusion inherent in a young soldier in over his head as well as the dogged will to survive that takes over you during moments of truth. It proves to me that he really can do anything, so I can’t wait to see him hopefully become a superstar in the next few years. Able support is provided by Sean Harris and Sam Reid, to name two, but O’Connell is clearly the star here. Demange’s direction is documentary-like and gritty, often recalling Paul Greengrass to me. The script by Burke is sparse, but it wisely showcases the tension that seeps out of every pore of this flick.

It’s my sincere hope that ’71 winds up hitting theaters before too long, because I want you all to see the work that I saw here at the festival. O’Connell is reason enough to check this one out, but on the whole it’s really a top notch work. I’d even go so far as to say that it’s one of the top two dozen things I’ve seen in total this year. If it comes out in 2014 you’ll hear plenty more.

(★★★½)

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!