Adrift in Manhattan: Alfredo De Villa’s Sundance Film

Sundance Film Fest, Jan 22, 2007 (World Premiere Dramatic Competition)– A downbeat meditation on loss, loneliness, and alienation in contemporary New York City, Alfredo de Villa’s aptly titled “Adrift in Manhattan” is the layered story of three characters in search of greater courage and hope to move on to the next stage of life.

Slow, studied, and a bit pretentious, de Villa’s second narrative (following the promising “Washington Heights”) is based on the characters’ random encounters with strangers on their daily routes, meetings that turn out to be emotionally significant and even profound in some unexpected ways.

Both thematically and structurally, “Adrift in Manhattan” belongs to a recent cycle of films, such as “21 Grams” and “Crash” that deals with grief and sorrow by interweaving various stories and characters.

The first story concerns Rose (Heather Graham), an optometrist paralyzed by crushing grief after the accidental death of her two-year-old son. She has separated from her husband (William Baldwin), a literature professor, who has not been able to express his sorrow openly, though they continue to see each other.

Second tale is about Rose’s elderly patient, Tommaso (Dominic Chianese), a sensitive painter who works in an agency’s mail room, who’s rapidly losing his vision but refuses to ask for help or sympathy-until it is almost too late.

The third, and most interesting, yarn centers on Simon (Victor Rasuk, who was so good in “Raising Victor Vargas,” which had also played at Sundance), a youngster who lives with his overbearing, temperamental, and frustrated mom, but years for independence and artistic expression.

The film begins with Simon, an aspiring photographer who stalks and shoots people at a distance with a borrowed lens in both public and private places. Intrigued by Roseand her scarf-Simon follows her day and night, to the point of becoming an annoying stalker.

The firstand bestreel is nearly silent, drawing its emotional power from the tension and melancholy that helmer de Villa successfully builds and sustains.

However, “Adrift in Manhattan” begins to lose its narrative drive and special ambiance, once the characters meet each other and begin to talk. When Rose becomes aware of Simon’s stalking, she gets more and more interested in him, and after a series of confrontations, the couple ends up in bed. Since Simon is virginal, the first sexual intercourse is abrupted by his premature ejaculation. However, the second encounter is rawer and more intense, allowing Rose let go of her repressed feelings.

The text’s weakest segment involves Simon and his middle-age mom, a lonely woman still bitter by her husband’s departure. Temperamental and unpredictable, she makes too many demands on her son and his time; often drunk, she bursts into wild dancing, forcing Simon to join her in tight physical positions that he finds intimidating, to say the least.

Some lyrical tones are achieved midway, in the late-in-life romance between Tommaso’s dying man (excellent Dominic Chianese) and his co-worker Isabel Parades (beautifully played by Elizabeth Pena), a youngish, sexy grandmother who brings unexpected joy to his routine and depressing existence.

Unlike many directors at Sundance this year, de Villa is a better director than writer. Indeed, he gets uniformly good performances from the entire ensemble, including Heather Graham, who looks lovely, Dominic Chianese, in a compelling turn of a man forced to face death, Elizabeth Pena, as a sensitive woman who’s herself surprised by the blossoming of her latent feelings, and particularly Victor Rasuk, a handsome and appealing youngster, with strong potential to become a major actor.

Technically, the most impressive element is Michael A. Levine’s score, which accentuates the melancholy and sorrowful mood of the film.

Cast

Rose Phipps (Heather Graham)
Mark Phipps (William Baldwin)
Tommaso Pensara (Dominic Chianese)
Simon Colon (Victor Rasuk)
Claire Phipps (Erika Michels)
Marta Colon (Marlene Forte)
Isabel Parades (Elizabeth Pena)

Credits

Running time: 89 minutes

Director: Alfredo de Villa
Script: Nat Moss and Alfredo de Villa
Produced by: Steven J. Brown, Josh Blum, Ian Jessel
Cinematography: John Foster
Editing: John Coniglio
Production designer: Charlotte Burke
Costume designer: Julia Mitche Santiago

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