Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Day 6: NYFF: World Ends and so Does a Friendship

Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley) following a moment of complete ecstasy in "A Dangerous Method." Photo from HanWay Films.

SABINA Spielrein did not come between Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung; the germs of a rift were already present before she entered their sphere.

The general scuttlebutt around “A Dangerous Mind,” which makes its U.S. debut today at the 49th New York Film Festival, is quite the opposite. But as presented in the film, the men’s respective egos were the trigger. Like the works it is taken from – Christopher Hampton’s The Talking Cure play based on John Kerr’s book, “A Most Dangerous Method” – “A Dangerous Method” chronicles the birth of pyschoanalysis through the professional and personal relationship of Freud and Jung. (See trailer below).

Naturally, the film version takes a few more leaps of imagination with the personal lives of the three main characters. It is clear from the first meeting of Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and Jung (Michael Fassbender) that theirs will be a high-maintenance association both personally and professionally. At dinner at Freud’s house Jung, while talking glibly about the intersection of sexual proclivity and mental instability that Freud advocates, is helping himself to a rather larger portion of the food on the dinner platter while Freud’s stunned family looks on mutely.

Freud is merely middle class, while Jung unapologetically lives high on the hog, owing to the immense wealth of the wife (Sarah Gadon) whom he does not love but is necessary for the lavish life he enjoys to the full. A brilliant man, Freud has a complex around his Jewishness, no doubt from the larger society that won’t let him forget it. On more than one occasion he makes reference to it while pointing out Jung’s Aryaness. Freud is a little envious of Jung and Jung is a little insensitive to Freud, obliviously so.

The film seems to make the point by simplying showing that no matter how brilliant, rich or celebrated we are, we never rise above our baser impulses to lie, cheat, steal and envy.

Sabina (Keira Knightley) is a patient of Jung’s whom he has been treating with the talking cure advanced by Freud before either doctor or patient meet the great man. After Sabina, now a student of pyschoanalysis, reaches out to Freud further fissures in the men’s relationship develop but not because of anything she has done.

David Cronenberg’s “A Dangerous Method” is an intelligent and beautifully shot film, set in various civilized milieux. It is also an actor’s film with copious amounts of smart, witty, arch dialogue. Indeed, the bulk of the action is in the dialogue, which engages the viewer from the first. The credit for this goes to CH, a natural choice for the screenplay since it is based on his play.

The actors, too, deserve praise for delivering CH’s line with proper credibility. Vincent Cassel almost steals the movie as the brilliant and sadistic Otto Gross, an early disciple of Freud who ultimately seduces Jung into throwing off his chain of repression.

Jung (Michael Fassbender) and Freud (Viggo and Mortensen) have a meeting of the minds before they part ways in "A Dangerous Method." Photos from HanWay Films.

KK is required to be the most physical as the hysterical Sabina, a role she handles well, though at times the bearing of teeth and jutting of the jaw threatens to be – well – hysterical. Her turn as Sabina with a passable Russian-sounding accent, though, will help her define herself beyond “Pirates of the Caribbean.”

Also playing at NYFF today in is North American premiere is Abel Ferrera’s scatterbrained take on world’s end, “4:44: Last Day on Earth.” The 4:44 of the title is the exact time the world is supposed to end. The film opens on the evening before in the Lower East Side apartment shared by Cisco (Willem Dafoe) and Skye (AF’s real-life girlfriend Shanyn Leigh).

In AF's meditation on the end, the last day is no different from any other. Life is still going on as before – at least in the United States, at least in New York City. An eerie calm has settled over the town. Cisco and Skye’s apartment is equipped with the latest techological gadgets, including Skype and a flat-screen TV. On the tube the Dalai Lama is discussing various issues, including the importance of some money. Al Gore addresses the global warming that has contributed to the end that is now imminent. New York’s News 1 anchor Pat Kiernan wisely suggests that everyone should be with their loved ones as he plans to.

Cisco (Willem Dafoe) and Skye (Shanyn Leigh) during one of several close encounters in “4:44: Last Day on Earth.” Photo from 49th New York Film Festival.

It is not clear what is the message in “4:44,” or is it? Is it that we are so locked into technology that even an event as momentous as the last day can’t break our cycle? Is it about last meals - Chinese - and performing an act of kindness such as giving the Chinses food delivery guy a huge tip and allowing him to use your Skype to say goodbye to his family? Do you create several graffiti-type paintings? Visit former drug addict pals who are engaged in a pseudo intellectual conversation? What of changing clothes several times, though you don’t leave the apartment? Do you watch a classic NFL football game while plundering with your fingers the buttocks of your girlfriend who is young enough to be your granddaugther? Do you have sex several times with the aforementioned girltoy? Perhaps one's last day can be as mundane and routine as he wishes it to be.

In the end, “4:44: Last Day on Earth” is a muddle spiked with gratuitous sex and an incongruous freak-out moment that do not assist the general comprehension.

Other screenings today at NYFF include ”Dreileben, Pt. 2,” “Invasion,” “Earth” and “Le Havre.”

Visit to learn more about the 49th New York Film Festival: including schedule, repeat screenings, ticket and venue information.

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