Thursday, May 16, 2013

Tribeca Film Festival 2013

Tribeca Film Festival 2013
April 18-27, 2013

Now in its 12th year, the Tribeca Film Festival has slimmed down nicely, now showing only twice as many films as its fall cousin, the more established New York Film Festival (which regularly programs 25 to 30). Alongside local, U.S. and world premieres of new features, there are also an inordinate number of documentaries, which are fast becoming the fest’s calling card. 

Haute Cuisine
Notable features included Haute Cuisine, the latest by Christian Vincent, once a promising young French director in the ‘90s (La Discrete, La Separation) who has fallen completely off the radar, until now. His delectably frothy comic portrait based on the rural Frenchwoman who became French president Mitterrand’s personal chef is food porn unlike no other in recent years, displaying dozens of mouth-watering French dishes. Catherine Frot’s believable heroine, who whips up meals in a snap, turns Vincent’s breezy movie into the perfect cinematic soufflĂ©.

There were two other interesting French films. Eric Rochant’s Mobius, with The Artist Oscar winner Jean Dujardin as a Russian double agent in Paris who falls for his latest mark (a stunning Cecile de France), is a breakneck thriller with enough dizzying double crosses to make one forget its inconsistencies that are par for the genre. Just a Sigh, Jerome Bonnell’s intimate character study of a French actress and Englishman who meet in Paris while in emotional distress, has moments of ringing authenticity, but there’s little onscreen resonance despite flavorful performances by Emmanuelle Devos and Gabriel Byrne.

The amusing Adult World, which opens with a struggling poetess (the always adorable Emma Roberts) attempting suicide, is director Scott Coffey’s alternately biting and banal exploration of another aimless, entitled 20-something. But unlike those Lena Dunham-Greta Gerwig-Joe Swanberg snoozers, Coffey actually makes his characters sympathetic and credible. Its setting (porn store in rundown Syracuse) grounds it in reality, and Roberts is complemented by a sharp-edged John Cusack as a half-crazed poet she adores. In David M. Rosenthal’s one-note A Single Shot, Sam Rockwell plays a hunter who accidentally kills a young woman and takes her money, which makes life hell for him. Rosenthal lays everything on extra thickly, and it’s ultimately so much ado about nothing, with—at no extra charge—a dumbly “ironic” comeuppance.

The Broken Circle Breakdown
The winner of the festival’s Best Actress award was Dutch actress Veerle Baetens in Felix von Groeningen’s The Broken Circle Breakdown, whose fearless performance as a tatted tattoo artist emotionally distraught over a volatile relationship with a fellow musician and their little daughter’s cancer makes it hard to look away from a devastating if obviously symbolic drama. In Jonathan Gurfinkel’s tough-minded Six Acts, Israeli actress Sivan Levy gives an equally revelatory portrayal of confused teenager who lets herself become a whore for horny male classmates, tragically equating sex with love.

If Lance Edmands’ Bluebird wastes Amy Morton, John Slattery and Louisa Krause in a dreary drama about small-town tragedies, Lenny Abrahamson’s What Richard Did—a low-key glimpse at a “perfect” high school student (popular, handsome, smart, athletic) who nearly ruins his life with an ill-timed moment of losing control—scores thanks to Jack Reynor in the lead, exceptional as the bemused teen.

Tribeca documentaries ran the gamut from politics, sports, entertainment, poets and filmmakers to mental illness, the end of publishing in the Internet age and the war on drugs. Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg’s Let Them Wear Towels, an ESPN “30 for 30” presentation, succinctly recounts the bruising battles for equality waged by female reporters trying to enter professional sports teams’ post-game locker rooms. Vivienne Roumani’s short but illuminating Out of Print expertly describes how e-books, Ipods and Kindles have nearly destroyed the publishing industry and uncovers new avenues for authors to self-publish.

HBO documentary I Got Somethin’ to Tell You is Whoopi Goldberg’s heartfelt paean to trailblazing comedienne Moms Mabley, a huge influence on Whoopi and other comics. The movie digs into her sketchy life story, discovering that she was an essential part of the civil rights movement and a forgotten but important comedy trailblazer. In Bill Siegel’s The Trials of Muhammad Ali, the world’s once most famous man—known as much for his brash mouth as his pummeling fists in the ring—is shown as a polarizing cultural and political figure. From changing his name to joining the Nation of Islam, Ali’s very public mistakes and successes outside the ring are as important as his boxing achievements. Interviews with Ali’s brother, daughter and ex-wife are touching while others like Louis Farrakhan come off self-serving: but all paint a fuller portrait of a complicated man.

Yves Montmayeur’s 90-minute look at Michael Haneke—whose Amour brought him out of the art-house arena and into the (sort of) mainstream with Oscar nominations and a Best Foreign Film win—Michael H—Profession Director straightforwardly chronicles the Austrian director who refrains from discussing his films’ meanings. His onscreen provocations, manifested in a series of films that punished his protagonists and audiences, are mitigated by his personal charm—we see him joke with a young girl on The White Ribbon set, and hear from admiring actors like Amour’s Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva and Isabelle Huppert.

Many might be unaware of James Broughton, but Eric Slade and Stephen Silha’s enlightening documentary Big Joy makes a persuasive case for Broughton as a seminal San Francisco artist who made avant-garde films, wrote acclaimed poetry, fathered critic Pauline Kael’s lone child and became a lightning rod for the homosexual artistic sensibility in the second half of the 20th century. 

Gore Vidal—the United States of Amnesia
In Gore Vidal—the United States of Amnesia, director Nicholas Wrathall presents an irresistible glimpse at the great American liberal, an unapologetic critic and raconteur who memorably fought William Buckley and Norman Mailer on television, wrote trenchant political commentary, along with novels, plays, movie scripts….but through it all remained Gore Vidal ®, a brand name for liberal enlightenment who died last year at age 86.

Matthew Cooke’s How to Make Money Selling Drugs begins as a mocking how-to, showing the fruits of drug dealers’ labors in making easy riches. Then imperceptibly it morphs into a clinically detailed and brilliant expose of the U.S. government’s disastrous war on drugs, which has become a cash cow for law enforcement agencies whose arrest records get them more funds. Running from Crazy, a remarkable return to form by director Barbara Kopple, delves into the mental illness history that has haunted the Hemingway family—especially its patriarch, novelist (and suicide) Ernest Hemingway—through the eyes and words of actress Mariel Hemingway, who honestly dissects her contentious relationships with older sisters Joan and Margaux (who died of a drug overdose in 1995), her parents, her famous grandfather and her two daughters, who she hopes will finally leave beyond an awesomely terrifying family curse.

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