Shot in New York by Danish director Puk Grasten, 37 chronicles a story that’s become synonymous with the city’s fabled indifference to the pain of others.
The 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese in Kew Gardens, Queens, became a national talking point when a New York Times article accused 37 people in the surrounding apartments of witnessing the attack without offering help or calling the police. More than forty years later, Grasten’s film attempts to resurrect the controversy by dramatizing what, exactly, was going on in those apartments.
Grasten’s re-envisioning of the incident isn’t the most entertaining in recent memory; in a clever comic device, a recent episode of HBO’s Girls turned it into an immersive theater piece that the attendees ironically bulldozed with their own personal drama. As Grasten frames it, the original crime was also overrun with the mundane details of private lives: The neighbors (including Orange Is the New Black‘s Samira Wiley and Maria Dizzia) weren’t guilty of indifference — they were just really busy with seething marital conflicts, inconsistent disciplinary tactics, and miserable family dinners. For all its postures of humanism, the film is remarkably cold toward the victim herself, who appears only briefly.
As it happens, the attack, heard from afar and glimpsed briefly by certain characters, most directly affects three local children; having been emotionally manipulated by their guardians throughout the film, their pleas to help the lady outside go duly ignored. The great irony is that the aspect of the story that was largely fabricated by the press — our selfish disregard — remains the focus here, while the actual details of the attack are left unexamined.
Grasten’s film succeeds in further muddying the moral backwater dredged up by the Times story, but viewers who don’t come forearmed with background knowledge will find it hard to stick with.
Directed by Puk Grasten
Opens October 7, Cinema Village
Available on demand