Monday, June 1, 2015

Tribeca Film Festival 2015

14th Tribeca Film Festival
New York, NY
April 15-26, 2015

Ken Loach's Jimmy's Hall
At the recently completed 14th annual Tribeca Film Festival, the film I most wanted to see was Jimmy's Hall (opening July 3), the latest and—it's rumored—last drama by prolific British director Ken Loach, whose unapologetically leftist 50-year career rarely played havoc with his features' dramatic integrity.

At his best, Loach expertly chronicles ordinary people caught up in extraordinary social, economic and political circumstances. Although a true story, Jimmy's Hall—which recounts the travails of unrepentant Communist Jimmy Gralton, back home in Ireland following a decade in America after being hounded out of his homeland during the the Irish civil war—alternates warm-hearted portraits of everyday people's unpretentious lives with one-dimensional caricatures of authority figures like the hard-headed pastor, Jimmy's biggest nemesis when the prodigal son decides to reopen a hall that once served as a secular refuge for the locals.

The 78-year-old Loach has pared his always unadorned technique even further to the bone, as in recent films like the tense 2010 Iraq war drama Route Irish and 2013's frivolous but fun The Angels' Share. Jimmy's Hall falls in between those two extremes, a solid but unspectacular film that lacks the staying power of more celebrated Loach gems like Kes, Riff-Raff, Raining Stones, My Name Is Joe and Sweet Sixteen.

Of the other features I saw, the most haunting was Bridgend, based on a true story of a Welsh town where dozens of teen suicides were recorded over several years. Director Jeppe Ronde's moody and unsettling exploration of the unique dynamic among teenagers is seen through the eyes of Sara (a winningly natural Hannah Murray), arriving with her father, a police inspector checking out the mysterious deaths.

Being 14 is another authentic French look at teenage girls that echoes earlier gems as Blue Is the Warmest Color and 17 Girls; it's unsurprising that debut director Helene Zimmer is only 25, as her simultaneous amusement and bafflement over and empathy for her thoroughly individualized young women (the cast of unknowns is splendid) are evident in every frame. Another French film, Far from Men, is David Oelhoffen's tense account of a former French soldier teaching school children in Algeria who aids a local suspect through rugged landscapes and dangerously close scrapes: a quietly imposing Viggo Mortensen is the teacher, performing his role in fluent French.

Tribeca consistently premieres interesting new documentaries. (T)error and Among the Believers trenchantly explore what's going on in the never-ending War on Terror. Lyric R. Cabral and David Felix Sutcliffe's (T)error dissects how the FBI goes off the rails in its post-9/11 mission of stopping terrorists before they start bombing, while Hemal Trivedi and Mohammed Ali Nagvi's Believers frighteningly shows the indoctrination of children at the Red Mosque, a Pakistani fundamentalist organization; its matter-of-factness its most chilling feature.

Prescription Thugs, Christopher Bell's informative expose of how America has become a slave to doctor-prescribed drugs, originated with Bell's brother's death from his own addiction; it's more bemused than outraged, making it all the more impressive. In In Transit, documentarian Albert Maysles (whose last film this is) and four collaborators take a ride on The Empire Builder, which runs from Chicago to Seattle on America's longest train route (2000+ miles): nicely observed moments make this an engaging journey.

Finally, Roger Graef and James Rogan's Monty Python: The Meaning of Live follows the surviving Python quintet in preparation for last year's comeback show at London's O2 Arena. The five are still hilarious together and separately: there are priceless onstage and offstage moments in an entertaining ride down memory lane.

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