by Tony Zaza
For movie fans who are partial to movies without closure, the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival provides many good movies without complete endings. You can use your imagination to project a conclusion. Perhaps life has become so subtle and arbitrary, endings are no longer relevant. What might matter more is what brings people to the edge.
Hollywood of the 30’s and 40’s excelled at creating non-realities that a majority of moviegoers sought and accepted. The fields of dreams today are difficult to share. They are “private Idahos” that are so self-centered and bravely egocentric as to be pure cinematic narcissism. This festival had very varied and strong offerings. Here are some of the more personal films.
AT ANY PRICE (by Ramin Bahrani)
Nestled within the context of the Midwestern Iowa agribusiness and farm life, this story sets up a rather wicked conflict of interests within one family. The plot assumes bioengineering has one out over organic farming as the narrative focuses on how a father’s expectation conflicts with a son’s ambition. Lead actor Dennis Quaid saw the tale as “Willy Loman on the Prairie”. He and Zac Ephrom propel what is essentially a character-driven drama. Corporate and moral crime ensue, and you are left to decide if this tale is about personal greed or the slow decay of American values.
FRESH MEAT (by Danny Mulheron)
This is the ultimate commentary upon how we define “normalcy” as a society. It is a fresh twist on the gory horror genre because it boldly attempts to be butch, goth, Dadaist, slice’n’dice, and socially relevant. So when a gang of murderous thugs led by a merciless goth girl invade the suburban home of a traditional New Zealand family of Maori ancestry, equal parts of mayhem and sardonic humor ensue. Fresh Meat questions the authenticity of professional reputation, the deception that engenders even minor celebrity (mom is a talk show chef, dad is a novelist), and the male propensity for compulsive obsessive religious cultism.
THE ROCKET (by Kim Mordaunt)
The inspirational story of little ten year old Laotian waif, Ahlo, who through the spirit of invention and survival builds a homemade rocket from bat dung, urine and other natural materials. This work follows a convention in third world cinema that pits the enthusiasm and will of the individual against the collective corruption of societies, even tribal societies. The “feel good” expectation is admirably met, but without much insight into what keeps ancient societies ensnared in their superstitious and impractical folkways. When Ahlo’s hipster “uncle” who seems to be ex-Laotian military, gives him an encouraging wink at the end of the story, one feels that his new found talents may find darker purposes in a story yet to be told.
BEFORE MIDNIGHT (by Richard Linklater)
Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) continue the saga of their shameless, passionate relationship. Set during a vacation in Greece and a visit with friends, and using long take narrative style, the plot centers around shattering the feminine mystique once and for all while exposing male inflexibility. The issue is who wins out, the director or his muse, Julie Delpy? It’s very theatrical, a tale of bonding versus enduring. Ms Delpy expresses nearly every mid-life crisis issue a woman can harbor and voices eloquently the need for simpatico. The type of indifference she faces is not unlike that expressed in another festival film, The Patience Stone in which male-dominated social mores block self-determinism.
THE PATIENCE STONE (by Atiq Rahimi)
A woman cares for her injured rebel fighter husband in Kabul. Her loyalty is soon eroded by her desire to liberate herself from centuries of female oppression. She is a woman under the influence of memory and she seeks a saving grace. Rahimi weaves a tapestry of claustrophobic interiors and hazardous interactions with the dangerous war-scape of Afghanistan. Like a soliloquy, the narrative unfolds as a struggle to assert the rights of women through the poetic device of signification. When the dutiful wife frees herself, her fate is an echo of psychic crucifixion.
JIN (by Reha Erdem)
There is always room for a perspective on how war punishes the innocent. In this somber tone poem, a teen rebel Kurd struggles to survive alone in hostile yet beautiful mountains of Turkey. In between bombings and gunfire, Kin communes with the wonders and tranquility of the natural world and its creatures. A pensive and eloquent anti-war symphony of silences, the reverie is brutally interrupted by reminders of merciless and senseless conflict.
TABOOR (by Vahid Vakilifar)
Nearly silent but making exquisite use of aural imagery, this example of minimalist cinema exhibits all of the classical facets of the language of cinema to create mystery, a sense of danger, symbolic gesture, and a surreal portrait of a simple man in Tehran. This man carries out his life as a nocturnal exterminator expressed in a manner reminiscent of the animated films of Walerian Borowczyk. Part allegory, part absurdist cartoon, it is pervaded by a sense of great humanity and dignity.
WHAT RICHARD DID (by Lenny Abrahamson)
As hormones rage, a seemingly accidental death changes the relationships between teens and their extended families. This drama set amidst the landscape of affluence and urbanity, examines the power of jealousy and conscience in motivating behavior. To more subtle extent, this is an examination of narcissism and youthful anomie. In another era it would depict the lost generation, but in this era, it’s a novel “gotcha” melodrama.
DARK TOUCH (by Marina De Van)
As a symbolic expression of the failure of parenting, the horror elements of this tale are rather mild. Nevertheless, there is a careful delineation of parental self-deception and communal dislocation. The film’s somber tones and overall melancholia are apt metaphors for the child abuse at the heart of its theme, but the plotline translates into rambunctious bloody psychophysical vigilantism.
MOBIUS (by Eric Rochant)
As smooth and seductive as a leopard, Mobius reveals a tapestry of intricate personae and sub-plots. The chemistry between double agents Jean Dujardin and Cecile De France is as extreme as it gets in cinema. When Tim Roth inspires their reactive ambitions, sex and quiet terror commingle in a spy vs spy soup that is as savory as it is clever. The Monaco background is elegant and sensual like the main characters. Rochant develops an intense feeling of intimacy in scenes both of love and violent confrontation, and leaves the door open for your own conclusion.
BLUEBIRD (by Lance Edmands)
An aire of hopelessness pervades the lives of the inhabitants of a small Maine logging town that seems isolated from the American Dream machine. Biblical in its sentiment, the narrative plummets the “down and out” characters further into Job like despair when a tragic inexplicable oversight occurs. Two families are challenged to remain civil in the face of a dead preteen. Everyone, including the viewer, looks for signs of grace and redemption, but justice does not seem to be possible.
THE BROKEN CIRCLE BREAKDOWN (by Felix von Groeningen)
This zany, sexy creative cocktail of music, quirky romance, tragedy, and dissolution plunks the heartstrings as a bluegrass team struggles to keep devotion to each other alive. There is a subtle weaving of past and present that gets shattered when director von Groeningen has his main character denounce nearly every known social institution for supporting war instead of life.
ALI BLUE EYES (by Claudio Giovanessi)
The plight of ethnic minorities in a foreign land is given poetic vision in this drama centered around survival in the streets and the inflexibility of religious convictions. Islamic teen Nadir demands autonomy from his family beliefs and wants to be more Italian but demands his sister remain fundamentalist. When his best friend shows interest in his sister, Nadir becomes violent. His trajectory up and down results in the unexpected actions and reactions that give a verite’ feeling to emotions and to the lies hidden in the street life of a gritty city reminiscent of Napoli.
DEEP POWDER (by Mo Ogrodnik)
Essentially a “trip” movie, Deep Powder comments about the differences between the affluent and the needy. It also explores the power of young girls to seduce boys into doing anything. Peer group pressure also accounts for some plot conventions, but the real focus is upon personal responsibility.
PRINCE AVALANCHE (by David Gordon Green)
Surveying loss and disappointment, this humane “buddy film” is not very cinematic except for one exceptional aural space/time psychic zoom. Streaking to the back of a girl who dumps one of the protagonists, in an awkward way, it’s about men dealing unwell with complex women. Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch are waiting for Godot as they spend their days isolated in the forests painting roadway lines. Like absurdist boy scouts, they brave the rustic life outdoors living in tents and eating what nature provides. When potential or renewed romance enters their lives, they both seek a private kind of revelation.
SOME VELVET MORNING (by Neil LaBute)
In the theatrical world of Neil LaBute, life is defined as much by what is said as how it is said. In this closet drama, a middle-aged lawyer tries to reconnect with a former lover. The dialogue can be misleading and acting can be deception transformed into belief. The tragic denouement is not quite what it appears to be. As actors play-acting, Stanley Tucci and Alice Eve make complicit fools of all of us.