Wild fantasias, religious fables, and salutes to artifice stole the thunder from realistic dramas at the 37th New York Film Festival, and that's not even counting the Japanese animated spectacular Princess Mononoke.

Pedro Almodovar's All About My Mother, which opened the festival on September 24, is another of the Spanish director's tributes to the resilience and magic of women in general and actresses in particular. Splashed with the customary Almodovar pop colors by the design team and cinematographer Affonso Beato, the DP and the director concentrate (in this more serious offering) on the often suffering faces of its female stars.

Theatrical artifice also provides a guiding light to the characters of Mike Leigh's Topsy-Turvy (above). The story of Victorian composers Gilbert and Sullivan's creation of the mock-Japanese operetta The Mikado, Topsy-Turvy (with Dick Pope at the helm of the camera) takes up residence in the plush backstage environs of the D'Oyly Carte's Savoy Theatre, with barely a glimmer of sunlight let in. Luckily, the Savoy was the first public building in the world to be lit by electricity.

Even more color-saturated is Jane Campion's Holy Smoke!, in which Australian Kate Winslet travels to India, falls in with a Krishna cult, and is kidnapped by her family to undergo the ministrations of a deprogrammer (Harvey Keitel). Campion proves that her visual command is every bit as strong with cinematographer Dion Beebe as it was with The Piano DP Stuart Dryburgh.

An air of the exotic also informs Claire Denis' Le Beau Travail, in which Melville's Billy Budd is loosely transposed to a French Foreign Legion outpost in the Djibouti desert. Agnes Godard, who has collaborated with Denis on all her films, lingers on the muscled bodies of soldiers working in the hot African sun.

Back on American soil, Being John Malkovich generated the most buzz. Video and commercial director Spike Jonze's debut feature incorporates puppets, 41/2'-high office spaces, and grimy portals to the title actor's mind into its plotline, with little visual fuss. DP Lance Acord, veteran of several of Jonze's short-form projects, casts the movie in an intriguing fluorescent hue.

Indie stalwart Jim Denault provides a poetic burnish to the look of Kimberly Peirce's Boys Don't Cry. The story of Brandon Teena, the young cross-dressing Nebraska woman who was raped and murdered when her secret was discovered, Boys Don't Cry is filled with images of a flat American landscape dotted by car headlights.

The October 10 closing night spot at the festival, which is presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center, went to Atom Egoyan's Felicia's Journey. The story of a shy catering manager (Bob Hoskins) who takes in a pregnant Irish teenager--and might be a serial killer--the film is shot by frequent collaborator Paul Sarossy. An Egoyan specialty--human relationships mediated by video--shows up here, in the form of tapes left by Hoskins' mother, who hosted her own cooking program. Julia Child's show never looked so good.