Archive for the ‘Tribeca’ Category

Fashion Reimagined (2022) Tribeca Film Festival 2022

Dir: Becky Hutner | Doc, 92′

Every now and again comes a really eye-opening documentary and one that changes your mind about our impact on the world we live in.

And Fashion Reimagined is one of those films. Not a particularly interest-sparking title, so you may flip over it, particularly if fashion is not your thing. Becky Hutner, who directed and produced it, raises the profile of one of the most wasteful and polluting industries today: that of fashion.

Fresh-faced designer Amy Powney is the rising star in the London fashion scene and the woman who has pioneered a sustainable way forward with her cult label Mother of Pearl . English country girl Amy grew up with a passion for drawing and soon discovered the devastating environmental impact of her industry on the globe. On winning the coveted Vogue award for the Best Young Designer of the Year (2017), which comes with a big cash prize, she decided to put the money towards creating a sustainable collection from field to finished garment, and in doing so transform her entire business.

The film follows her often tortuous progress in pioneering a way forward. But her personal revolution soon led to a ground-breaking societal change. The collection made its premiere at London Fashion Week in 2018 under the name “No Frills.” The mission was to make No Frills an organic, traceable line of clothing that uses minimal water and chemicals, is socially responsible, and considers animal welfare, particularly the painful process of ‘mulesing’ where sheep are mutilated to prevent infection, just for the benefit of the wool trade.

You may never think twice about buying fast fashion on the Highstreet or online – perhaps a few summer outfits from Zara or teeshirts and jeans from Uniqlo or The Gap. What could be simpler? Yet the garment trade has one of the most destructive carbon imprints with its wasteful use of water and poisoning toxic chemicals. And not to mention the mountains of used clothes that end up in landfill clogging our landscape even further.

Amy’s journey to source wool and cotton from ‘ethical’ was not easy. With her business partner Chloe, she travelled to Pedro Otegui’s family farm in Uruguay, known for its impeccable animal welfare and traceable products to the origin, and to Isko: a denim mill in Turkey certified by the Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS). Denim is one of the pernicious products in its use of water and chemicals. And this segment is arguably the most revealing a part of the documentary and also adds an interesting travelogue spin.

Amy soon realised she had a lot to learn about how the garment industry operates: it’s not just about sourcing, carding and spinning from one location: the raw material travels thousands of miles from start to finish, once again taking its toll on the planet, not to mention the plants and animals involved. English wool is not as soft – nor as white – as that sourced in Uruguay, for example, and this gives the film its educational slant, not to mention some magnificent scenery and some dramatic tension in the process.

Eventually Amy pulls through with a fabulous collection, and plaudits from fashion luminaries such as Katharine Hamnett, the UK’s first sustainable designer, who provides an opportunity to talk about the reinvention of the fashion industry during London Fashion Week, providing a hopeful trigger for change in the industry and some real interest from buyers around the world. With her label Mother of Pearl, Amy has pathed a way forward for a kinder industry and less waste and agony for animals and the environment. So time to think twice when we next head to the High Street for that shirt that may be chucked away after a year to make space for yet another new set of clothes for this season. MT

TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL 2022

 

The Integrity of Joseph Chambers (2022) Tribeca 2022

Wri/Dir: David Manchoian | Cast: Clayne Crawford, Jordana Brewster, Michael Raymond James, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Carl Kennedy | US Drama 96’

Contrary to the promise of the title Joseph Chambers is largely a twit with earnest intentions of proving his manhood with a flimsy excuse of providing for his family by bringing home the bacon in the shape of a deer,

This flimsy but faintly amusing morality tale is David Manchoian’s follow up to his incendiary drama The Killing of Two Lovers which had less of a plot but far more complexity and soul, both features exploring the deepest reaches of the male psyche in down at heel contemporary rural America.

Once again Clayne Crawford plays the man in question (and also serves as producer), but this time he is a much valued lover to Tess (Jordana Brewster), an inexperienced hunter who fancies his chances of shooting a deer to keep the proverbial wolf away from the door. But we have much less sympathy for him than for his previous character David in The Killing. 

The Integrity is slow-burning to point of pulling teeth. But to his credit, Machoian’s rigour is once again to be admired along with Peter Albrechtsen’s seething soundscape which creates the film’s compelling atmosphere in the bosky foothills of the Appalchians where Joseph ventures with a rifle borrowed from his friend Doug (Karl Kennedy) who seems to share our scepticism of Joseph’s abilities beyond the bed chamber.

Unravelling during the course of one day, Joseph’s misguided hunting trip will prove his ego and prowess as ‘king of the mountains” to be far greater than his actual skill as a hunter. When faced with an emergency exposing his inadequacies, he simply breaks down in tears and then eventually runs home as if nothing has happened. Part of the problem with Joseph is our lack of empathy with him largely due to his lack of integrity from the outset to the final scenes. MT

TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL 2022

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Breaking the Ice (2022) TriBeCa 2022

Dir.: Clara Stern; Cast: Alina Schaller, Judith Altenberger, Tobias Resch, Wolfgang Böck, Pia Herzegger; Austria 2022, 102 min.

This tour-de-force of family dysfunction and first love on the ice rink is the latest in a recent crop of films about ‘women in sport’ but lacks the slick delivery and emotional punch of Charlene Favier’s skiing thriller Slalom or even The Novice which looked at the loneliness of competitive rowing.

Austrian writer director Clara Stern certainly makes a promising start but a lack of structure makes it difficult to keep up with the main character’s changing moods, the high octane world of Women’s Ice Hockey giving the whole undertaking a sensationalist quality and contributing to the overall unevenness.

Playing ice hockey as captain of the Dragon’s team is how Mira (Schaller) handles the stress of running the family vineyard with her mother (Herzegger), after the tragedy of her grandmother’s death with her brother Paul (Resch) at the wheel. Meanwhile her grandfather (Böck) is sliding into dementia and Paul has left home in disgrace.

Paul’s sudden reappearance during a critical match involving the “Dragon’s sends Mira into overdrive. He starts playing the fool forcing her to leave the rink at a critical moment and she ends up being stripped on her captaincy after a severe reprimand from the team’s coach. Mira is told to pull herself together, to forget her family troubles and give all for the team in the forthcoming national final between the ‘Dragons’ and the ‘Lakers’.

A challenge from another player Theresa (Altenberger), is the spark that ignites an unexpected attraction from her team player Theresa who is driven by the desire to succeed professionally and wants to be selected for a try-out with the National Women’s Hockey League of the USA. Tensions rise between the women before the start of a game, Mira and Theresa creating mayhem in the dressing room.

BREAKING THE ICE is not as progressive as it thinks it is, despite a lesbian twist. Aesthetically very conventional – the sporting sequences following the same pattern as male features of the sub-genre – and are overloaded with conflict. Stereotyping the main female protagonists does not help either, and the simplistic solutions offered are too close to the usual mainstream features to be convincing. We are not particularly drawn to any of the characters and Schaller fails to bring out the humanity in Mira despite the conflict she faces.  Stern is simply is not up to the task of marshalling the strings of the narrative together to a satisfying conclusion.AS

TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL 2022

Bowery (2022) Tribeca Film Festival

Dir.: Mike Mintz, Irad Straus; Documentary with Richard ‘Dolla’ Thomas, Jaime ‘Rubia’ Gonzales. Steve Miller, Andrew Harris, Charlie ‘Sarge’ Duffy, Fifty; USA 2022, 100 min.

Bowery takes the spotlight for a year in the life of one of New York’s poorest neighbourhoods, located in the south of Manhattan, where life revolves round the subway station of the same name.

Capturing the Covid-19 epidemic and the BLM demonstrations first time filmmakers Irad Straus Mike Mintz (who also serves at DoP) and certainly see the place at its lowest ebb, Richard ‘Dolla’ Thomas is about sixty, sitting in his wheelchair, and ‘directing’ the traffic at the Delancey intersection. Hustling for a few dollars a day, he collects his ‘income’ in paper cup, all he can offer drivers is a traffic update to help them on their way. And his little ‘job’ serves as a kind of bereavement therapy since he lost his wife two years ago.

Another local character Rubia, forty-one, sometimes pretends to be his daughter; her drug habit has certainly addled her brain and she sprays the number ‘6’ three times on one of the pillars in the subway station, she is looking for work but will soon leave for New Jersey to be with her son. Fifty, in his late twenties, had previously held down a job as a courier where the money is decent. But he soon gets lost in New York, using his mobile as a Satnav, and is late for most of his deliveries, his employers disciplining him with a hefty wage cut of 90%.

Then comes the pandemic and empties the streets. Steve Miller and Andrew Harris, both in their mid-twenties, are drug dependent. They are looking for a hostel, but want to avoid the over-crowded ones. Rubia meanwhile, has spent her birthday in the launderette; and takes a break in the basket with her washing, well hidden in the shrubberies. On May 25th 2020, Geroge Floyd is killed by police officers. The first BLM marches erupt spontaneously. Police and demonstrators clash and Richard exclaims “I can’t believe I am seeing this.” We follow Charlie into a church where he begs God to help him back on his feet. He just can’t do it anymore. The last word goes to Richard: “I know, I am a survivor”.

The freewheeling lack of structure is for once just right, reflecting the lives of the protagonists struggling to stay alive and spontaneously doing what they believe can alleviate their situation. Drugs are the main problem, but hygiene and food are a close second. Bowery is certainly a tribute to human survival, faced with poverty and now the pandemic, the number of ambulances carrying the dying multiplying, this is just a question of keeping on, keeping on. Bowery is not an easy watch in its depiction of hard core realism,  but it certainly documents an important place in time.

TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL 2022

January (2022) Tribeca Film Festival 2022

Dir.: Viesturs Kairiss; Cast: Kärlis Arnolds, Avots, Alise Dzene, Baliba Broka, Aleksas Kazanavicius, Juhars Ulfsack; Latvia/Lithuvania/Poland 2022, 95 min.

Latvian director/co-writer Viesturs Kairiss recreates the turbulent days of January 1991 when Latvia – and other Baltic countries – were fighting for independence from the collapsing Soviet Union. Centred around a young student at the film school in Riga, January is shot in eight and sixteen mm, giving the feature a very intimate atmosphere. Dedicated to all the documentary filmmakers who died during the period, this is a chronicle of a lost youth set against a nation in crisis.

Jazis (Avots) is facing a crisis of a different kind: that of his own identity: he fancies himself as the new Tarkovsky, and manages to impress co-student Anna (Dzene) who is fascinated by his rather pretentious lectures, but when they end up in bed incapable of satisfying his new girlfriend, and he retreats into a depression. But the main problem in Jazis’ life are his parents: His mother Biruta (Broka) has fallen out with Communism and now activates for independence. Father Andrejs (Kazanavicius) is still a believer, even though he can see the crumbling Empire.

Then Podnieks (Ulfsack), a famous filmmaker, turns up to make matters worse for Jazis, especially when he hires Anna as his assistant. But their attraction for each other soon dies and Anna turns her affections back to Jazis who has almost lost interest in her. Everything comes to a head during the mid January demonstrations when barricades are erected in the streets of Riga and soon Jazis finds himself conscripted into the Russian army because his doctor refuses to attest to his “depression”. But when violence erupts on the streets, and demonstrators storm the Interior Ministry, Jazis problems are forced onto the back burner: “I will never find out who I am really’, he laments.

DoP Wojciech Staron frenetic handheld images capture the mayhem not only in Jazis’ mind but also in the disruption brewing around him.  January is very much a testament to the liberation movement, but the lovers are still the main protagonists: caught up in radical new ideas, but very much the victims of contradictions beyond their influence. A paean to revolutionary passion with a touch of early Truffaut.

TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL 2022 | WORLD PREMIERE JUNE 12

The Story Won’t Die (2022)

Dir.: David Henry Gerson; Cast: Abu Hajar, Diala Brisky,Tammam Azzam, Omar Iman, Medhat Aldabal, Mouafak Aldoabl, Bahila Hijazi, Lynn Mayya, Anas Maghrebi, M.H.D. Sabboura; USA 2021, 83 min.

“Art can talk about politics, but politics cannot talk about art”, says Tammam Azzam, a visual artist, living, like many other Syrian exile artists in Berlin. His work, a series of impressive collage landscapes, is possibly the most commercially viable to come out of Syria in recent years, with an exhibition in the States taking place during filming.

The Story Won’t Die is the first documentary feature by David Henry Gerson is a series of interviews with artists who have fled the ongoing Civil War in Syria and are now living in the capitals of Europe. But they are – and never will be, free of their past. Survivors’ guilt complexes are common, so is the fear that despite their newfound artistic freedom, the target audience they are looking for might not be there. Half the population of Syria has been uprooted since the war began, the largest displacement since WWII.

The story of his journey through various refuge camps in Europe is told with breath taking clarity – as if it happened yesterday. “Freedom is unlimited time for an artist”, but Azzam’s work is dominated by his nation’s tragedy: on the bombed ruins which once were streets, Azzam has superimposed Goya’s masterpiece “The Third of May 1808”. He is adamant to see his situation not at as a unique one: “It shows Goya experienced the same: innocent people killed on the streets”.

Abu Hajar, a fierce rapper who now also works in Berlin, talks about the casual violence and the role of the police in Syria: When he was walking with his girl friend in town, her father and uncle abducted him, torturing him for hours. Abu went to the police, who told him, that even if he had been killed, they would not have started an investigation.

Diala Brisly is a painter in Paris. Her works show children with missing limbs, and their pleas: “Leave me my last arm, and leave me what is left of my childhood and leave us alone.” Omar Imam is a visual artist in Amsterdam. He was kidnapped by the army, tortured for five hours. All his teeth were broken, and he could not eat the sandwich they gave him afterwards. He wanted to die, but than he remembered his daughter, who was one-year old and he decided to live. On the fields, he has put up something which looks like scarecrows, but they are really the victims of torture. He plays the violin, wearing a gas mask, to show how much art is compromised by war.

Bihali Hijazi and Lynn Maya are modern dancers in Berlin. Theirs are the most cinematographic images of the feature. But Lynn is particularly affected by survivor’s guilt. Tearfully, she tells the story of her mother who was nearly killed by a sniper, and her brother who lost his life trying to scape to Turkey. “As the oldest, I should have kept my siblings alive.” Mouafak Aldoabl, a choreographer in Berlin remembers, that he had no choice in Syria: stopped by a patrol at a roadblock, he was asked why he had not joined the army and was coerced into joining up but managed to flee the country before he was called up.

DoP Luise Schröder keeps the handheld camera focus close up and personal but never intrusive. Sometimes, it all feels like a confessional: their distance from the war, allows the artists space to reflect but the wounds are still open, and the limits of their art, however brilliant, will never make up for their loss of Heimat. Yes, art can talk politics, but if the politics are deadly, the artists will never be truly free to express their hard won freedom.

Releasing theatrically in NEW YORK (Cinema Village) ON FRIDAY, JUNE 17. A WORLDWIDE VOD RELEASE ON MAJOR PLATFORMS WILL FOLLOW ON JUNE 21 (TIMED TO WORLD REFUGEE DAY)

VOD PLATFORMS INCLUDE: Apple TV, Amazon Prime Video, Google TV, Vimeo + and more

 

 

 

Fireworks (2022) Tribeca Film Festival 2022

Dir.: Paul Franklin; Cast Charlotte Riley, Ivanhoe Jeremiah, Hammed Aminashaun, Sophie Wu, Raghad Chaar, Elyssee Adil, Denise Gough; UK 2022, 15 min.

British filmmaker Paul Franklin, well known for his VHX work with Christopher Nolan, winner of two Oscars for Best Visual Effects (Inception/Interstellar), directs Paul Lally’s script about an operation at MI6, focusing on the frailty of human judgement in a situation of life and death.

Tension reigns in the MI 6 Ops room. In Tripoli, a well known terrorist will be executed. And to make matters worse, supervisor Gillian Lye (Riley) has fallen out with her father during a phone conversation. Co-workers B (Aminashaun) and Fiza (Chaar) try to keep out of it, when Pep (Jeremiah) enters the fray, telling Gillian that there are children in the vicinity of the drone attack. When Pep finally gets through to Gillian, who wants to abort the mission, boss Ellie Sherberg (Gough) arrives having just had a conversation with the government Minister and offering Gillian an opportunity she would be mad to refuse.

Originally planned a stage play by writer Paul Lally,  the project was developed by Franklin as an immersive experience for VR headset. Instead of visiting Lebanon, PD Jamie Lapsey used Russian language search engines, to find holiday shots to build the city in an “unreal” engine. Ed Thomas, VP Supervisor, explains the target was to build a real street section, with Franklin navigated the shoot with VR goggles to plan the shoot. Franklin was able to put a virtual movie camera (an IPad on a shoulder mount), walking around and looking at the virtual world, sharing it with Ollie Downey, the cinematographer who took individual frames from the VR recce to produce storyboards for the whole film.

“Dimensions Unreal’s” Craig Stiff did not only construct the virtual world, he also acted as gaffer. The treatment was the same, as if we had created the whole set on the street in Tripoli. Franklin:” I let the background over-impose, and treated it like a view from the window on a normal was set – only this way, I would have much more control”. The real and virtual sets were blended. The texture of the ground had seamlessly blend into the texture of the digital ground. Once you get this, it is very difficult to see, were reality ends and virtual reality begins. AS

TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL 2022

The Wild One (2022) Tribeca Film Festival 2022

Dir.: Tessa Louise-Salomé; Documentary with Jack Garfein, Blanche Baker, Peter Bogdanovich, Irene Jacobs, Dick Guttmann, Geoffrey Horne, Bobby Soto, Foster Hirsch; France 2022, 94 min.

The Wild One rediscovers Jack Garfein (1930-2019) one of America’s most unsung avant-garde filmmakers and acting teachers, who survived eleven concentration camps, before being liberated in Bergen-Belsen by British troups, weighing only 48 Pounds.

In her second feature documentary Tessa Louise-Salomé opts for a parallel montage: the events of his childhood and his creative life in the USA are interrelated, the events of his youth are supplemented with archive material. Garfein grew up in a small town in what is now the Czech Republic. His father organised resistance against the Nazis but was caught in 1942 trying to emigrate to Palestine and sent to Auschwitz. A year later Jack and his mother and younger sister Hadi were smuggled to Hungary where they were hidden by relatives. After Germany took over control of Hungary, the family was deported to Auschwitz where Jack’s mother told him to line up with the adult men – cursing him as he refused to obey her orders. Later he met Mengele, who could hardly believe Jack was sixteen, but let it go. Garfein hated his mother for the rest of the war when it became clear to him “she had given birth to him again by sending him away”. Later he was saved by a camp Kapo, who did not deliver the 25 lashes that would have killed him. Rescued by the British he looked into a mirror and came to the conclusion “this guy won’t survive long”. Via Sweden, he finally found refuge with an uncle in New York.

Garfein’s creative life was a battle against segregation and other social barriers. At the Lee Strasberg Actor’s Studio he was tutored by the German director Erwin Piscator, the star of Weimar theatre landscape, and would later find success in West and East Germany. Garfein adapted the play “End as a Man” – an early success of the Actor’s Studio from 1953 – notably for the feature film The Strange One in 1957. Hollywood’s reaction to the film, featuring inhuman cruelty in the Army among other incidents, was incendiary: twenty minutes were cut, and distribution was limited. Something Wild (1961), his second feature fared even worse. Caroll Baker, his then wife, starred as a rape victim: Garfein was then blacklisted and never directed a film again.

But the wrath of Hollywood ‘powers that be’ knew no boundaries: Caroll Baker was given a seven film-contract by Colombia, but this was frozen until she relinquished Garfein’s representation. Divorce followed and Baker’s suicide attempts. Garfein’s TV work was very limited. Teaching became his focus after leaving the rather authoritarian Strasberg, and he went on to found, with Paul Newman, the Los Angles Branch of the Actor’s Studio in 1966. Eight years later he was instrumental in setting up the “Samuel Beckett Theatre”, and became its first Artistic Director. Having cast, among others, Ben Gazzera and James Dean in their 1950s debuts, Garfein was later lauded in Europe, where actors Irene Jacob were impressed by his very personal method. To the very end of his life, he dreamed of directing a third feature film.

DoP Boris Levy is particularly successful with the dream sequences underlining the feature’s rueful tone depicting Garfein as a stranger in New York, disconnected from a creative society he was once part of. Overall, The Wild One is an eye opener for all those unfamiliar with the fate of a Holocaust survivor, a victim of censorship that blighted his career and personal life. Passionate and informative, The Wild One showcases the life of Jack Garfein for a wider audience. AS

TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL 2022 | World Premiere | Documentary Competition | 11 June 2022 | winner Best Cinematography in a documentary 

 

False Positive (2021) TriBeCa 2021

Dir/Wri: John Lee | Cast: Ilana Glazer, Justin Theroux, Pierce Brosnan, Gretchen Mol, Sophia Bush, Zainab Jah, Josh Hamilton, Sabina Gadecki, Jaygee Macapugay, Danielle Slavick, Lucy Walters, Kelly AuCoin, Nils Lawton, Sullivan Jones | US Fantasy thriller 92′

Ilana Glazer co-wrote the script for False Positive in which she also stars as Lucy, a desperate New Yorker trying to get pregnant with her husband Adrian (Theroux). But this is no ordinary fertility drama – there are quirky bits like the scene where Adrian jacks off to an extreme bondage video to provide the sperm for the procedure – and so we’re not surprised when events turn more sinister as the psychological thriller unfolds with its feint echoes of Rosemary’s Baby, naturally minus Polanski’s iconic allure.

A pompous Pierce Brosnan (channelling Vincent Price) is the archetypal maverick fertility expert (and cosmetic surgeon) Dr Hindle who treats Lucy in his new age clinic where he has masterminded an enigmatic ground-breaking technique. After jumping the queue thanks to Adrian’s medical connections with the good doctor, all goes according to plan and soon Lucy is pregnant with – not one – but three potential babies: twin boys and a singleton girl. But something’s not right. And there’s not room for the three foetuses to develop, so amidst growing paranoia and a need for ‘selective reduction’ Lucy and Adrian must a harrowing decision to abort either the two boys or the girl. And they decide to keep the girl naming her ‘Wendy’ in line with the film’s burgeoning ‘Peter Pan’ motif.

Midsommer and Hereditory DoP Pawel Pogorzelski creates some sinuous visuals which add to a sinister soundscape pulsing away in the background (including a dulcet performance from Marcia Henderson of “Who Am I” from the 1950 Broadway musical Peter Pan). False Positive makes for a chilling addition to the small but perfectly formed fertility horror genre which relies on women’s natural fears and anxieties surrounding safe pregnancy and birth to drive the story forward sending it soaring into stratospheric realms of terror.

To add grist to the fearful misogynist maelstrom, derogatory phrases such as “mummy brain” are frequently bandied about in a patriarchal culture that still seems to persist in today’s medical establishment. Lee interweaves photos from the archives showing the gruesome possibilities when childbirth goes wrong, but this feels tonally out of kilter with the otherwise slick drama unfolding that even hints at artificial selection.

Meanwhile, Lucy is desperately trying to keep her job as a marketing consultant on track. Late in the day she decides to change her ‘birthplan’ after bizarre developments with Dr Hindle cause her to seek out a new midwife, the mysterious Grace Singleton (Zainab Jha).

Convincing performances from the central trio are what makes this compelling, based on an original story by John Lee and Alissa Nutting. This is a stealthy psychological thriller that keeps us glued to the screen despite some awkward elements showing that when the chips are down women can trust no one – least of all other women. That all said, the conclusion is definitely positive. MT

Tribeca Film Festival 2021

 

 

 

Ultrasound (2021) TriBeCa 2021

Dir: Rob Schroeder | Wri: Conor Stechschulte | US Sci-fi Drama 103′

Ultrasound is a curio: a visually stunning sci-fi psychodrama that often feels like several films rolled into one, a loose storyline connecting its diverse narrative strands and characters.

It seems the protagonists are as confused as we are, taking part in a  bizarre experiment masterminded by one Dr Conners (Adebimpe). There is a dreaminess here suggestive of Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color. But this desire to be inventive doesn’t necessarily make for a satisfying conclusion, although some may be intrigued by the hypnotic weirdness of it all.

Starting off straightforwardly, Glen (Kartheiser) breaks down in a rainy remote backwater after his tires puncture on a bunch of nails. Shaken and disorientated by the collision, Glen finds refuge from the elements in the home of a welcoming couple – the rather too friendly Cyndi (Lopez) and Arthur (Stephenson) who even suggests Glen stays the night in the master bedroom with his wife. Reluctantly Glen agrees to the arrangement, out of politeness rather than any sexual frisson between him and Cyndi. At some point later Arthur appears on Glen’s doorstep with the news that Cyndi is pregnant. Soon Glen and Cyndi are the bewildered central couple but whether Cyndi is actually ‘with child’ is up for grabs.

Elsewhere, and in a seemingly different film, Katie (Rainey Qualley) is in thrall to her older businessman boyfriend who works all hours while she waits for him in needy isolation. Shannon (Wool), meanwhile, is a research assistant running a human experiment while trying to unravel a subversive plot within the medical establishment where she works for the sinister boss Dr Conners.

Schroeder employs an exotic electronic soundscape to drive his mysterious vehicle forward, but at times it seems to spin out of control, not unlike Glen’s car, although ‘the science’ is the reason for the mayhem rather than nails. Certainly Ultrasound has some interesting ideas and a distinct visual flair but that doesn’t mean it makes sense as a cohesive fantasy drama. MT

Tribeca Film Festival 2021

 

 

 

Bernstein’s Wall (2021) TriBeCa 2021

Dir: Douglas Tirola | Wrs: Leonard Bernstein, Douglas Tirola | US Doc, 101′

“the artist can change the world but he can’t necessarily do it through his art” 

Leonard Bernstein became a household name for his ground-swelling score of modern Broadway classic Westside Story. In those days to be a twenty-something Jewish immigrant conductor was unheard of. But Bernstein was determined to bring music to the mainstream and it was this democratisation of his craft and the arts in general that made him his place in history.

Bernstein came from a non-musical background in Boston. His father – whom he described as a cold, authoritarian tyrant  escaped Italy on an ocean-liner and settled in Brooklyn to ply his trade as a fishmonger.

Directed by Douglas Tirola and narrated by the composer himself in modulated engaging tones, Bernstein’s story unfolds in a didactic but fascinating way, enlivened by a wealth of personal photos and archive films – and of course, audio footage in a rich musical score. In these vivid scenes Bernstein comes across as an inquiring free-thinker, his lustrous dark curls framing an opened-faced sensual masculine beauty that only got better as the years rolled by.

Cultural ambassador, artist, teacher, and philosopher, the musician’s gift to the world was his ability to bring classics to everyday audiences who would mostly see his prodigious passionate outpourings on the television during the 1950s when he was known for his CBS arts series Omnibus in 1954.

Although classically trained Bernstein developed an eclectic interest in all kinds of music, jazz and opera blurring the lines between class and culture sealing his reputation as an iconic figure whose talent would unify, engage and entertain.

Training at Tanglewood, Bernstein would soon gravitate from Boston to New York where he took to the conductor’s podium with ease and aplomb wafting aside his radical background with charismatic determination, thanks to his supportive mentors Serge Koussevitsky and Aaron Copland.

Romantically it was plain-sailing for the affable family-orientated conductor who fell for Chilean American actress Felicia Montealegre, snippets from their early love letters rendered in graceful black and white graphics. Soon he had a son and a daughter and needed to support them all. From modest beginnings in Carnegie Hall, The New York Philharmonic beckoned in 1958.

Bernstein’s way of engaging his audience was to give a rousing introduction to his dynamic stage performances – offering an entente cordiale in Russia, or laced with a political agenda at home – but always brimming with a febrile physicality as his quivering body conveyed his excitement and passion for music via the orchestra to the audience: “music keeps me glued to life even when I’m depressed”.

Tirola adds political and social footnotes. Felicia, a keen pianist and obedient fifties wife, saying all the right things, yet clearly sharing her husband with another muse, music itself. But also a burgeoning yen for men – an episode which is discretely conveyed in those same black and white graphics. And Felicia admits his confused sexuality clouded their marriage of 27 years although it was undoubtedly happy and fulfilling for a time, his homosexuality is never explored.

Politics and leftist activism takes centre stage during the Kennedy years as Bernstein increasingly warms to his role as conductor for social change, using his reputation and art to promote peace, equality and racial harmony. In Alabama he is seen joining fellow jazz musicians in a peace rally, and visiting Jerusalem to give a rousing speech on the Mount of Olives. And there snaps from his well-publicised and misinterpreted soiree in support of the civil liberties for the Black Panther party – leading to Tom Wolfe’s coining the derogatory phrase “radical chic”. This all caused a vicious backlash on the Bernsteins and a storm of critical hailstones in 1970 his subversive stance drawing suspicion from Richard Nixon.

The film coming to a satisfactory close with footage of Bernstein conducting the Ninth Symphony in East Berlin in 1989 as part of the celebration of the fall of the Berlin Wall. To mark that reunification, he rewrote part of Friedrich Schiller’s text for the “Ode to Joy” movement, and had the choir substitute the German word for “freedom” in place of “joy.”

Tirola’s warm but not hagiographic approach allows for an enjoyable and immersive look back at the conductor’s fascinating life. Of his own musical choices Bernstein talks glowingly of Beethoven although his West Side Story work is almost entirely absent, apart from a few visuals. We are left with the impression of a genius but never a showman, a true artist absorbed and taken over by his obsession – a true conductor if ever there was one – music was the lightening bolt that set Bernstein’s life on fire. MT

Tribeca Film Festival | JUNE 2021

 

 

Wildmen – Vildmaend (2021)

Dir/Wri: Thomas Dakeskov | Denmark Drama 101′

Another amusing absurdist Danish comedy along the same lines as male midlife crisis films Klown and Another Round.

Written and directed by Thomas Dakeskov it sees married man Martin escape to the wilderness of Norway – aka his ‘man cave’ – in a bid to escape growing up in the modern world and reverting to ‘hunter-gather’ mode, regretting the loss of his bankcard when the going gets tough.

Although somewhat derivative in its narrative pretensions, this is guaranteed to make you laugh – especially the scene where a ‘people carrier’ collides with a moose – and the animal comes out on top. There are some hairy moments, quite literally, when Martin dons an animal skin for a shopping trip to the supermarket – an episode which ends, inevitably  in tears – of hilarity.

On the run from life in the Norwegian mountains Martin (Rasmus Bjerg), freely engages in acts of supreme physical prowess which contrast wildly with his normal humdrum existence, but goes on to confront uncomfortable truths about the masculine reality. The film pokes fun at his macho attempts to look butch in the wild, as opposed to mild-mannered and sophisticated in his urban habitat. And while his ludicrous antics are clearly entertaining to the audience, the humour points a rather derogatory finger at Martin, making him into a pathetic figure of fun, rather than a renaissance renegade. That all said this inventive caper doesn’t aim to plumb the depths of the human psyche, merely to entertain and upliFt. And it does so admirably despite its obvious limitations, never taking itself too seriously. A little gem. MT

NOW ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE \ Tribeca Film Festival 2021

 

 

No Man of God (2021) TriBeCa 2021

Dir: Amber Sealey | Wri: Kit Lesser | 112′

Ted Bundy, one of America’s most notorious serial killers, is the subject of this evocative drama with a persuasive performance from Elijah Wood as the FBI analyst who formed a close bond with the killer before his execution in a Florida State Prison, following 10 years of exhaustive Death Row appeals.

Wood is Bill Hagmaier a rookie cop and religious family man whose thoughtful and measured approach made great inroads into understanding the felon – a compulsively watchable Luke Kirby – in the early days of the Bureau’s profiling unit. His methodology would go on to make him Chief of the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime, with ‘interviewees’ specifically asking to speak to Hagmaier because of his well-known association with Bundy.

Appealing to Bundy’s ego and ‘befriending’ him was one of Hagmaier’ masterstrokes to unlocking the killer’s mind. And this soft-peddling ‘servant and mentor’ approach seems to work wonders, the two sharing their innermost thoughts as they gradually grew closer in the interrogation suite, Bundy claiming to feel ‘like a human being’. But it’s not all plain-sailing as Hagmaier discovers despite his thorough preparation for the confrontation, and his patent awareness of Bundy’s hatred of the FEDs. At the time of the series of in-depth interviews the convicted killer had not yet acknowledged the criminal methodology he describes as his own.

Celebrating its World Premiere at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, Amber Healey’s cool and confident two-hander is imaginatively enlivened by lushing dramatised interludes and upbeat home movie clips set to a racy electronic occasional score ,adding context and cut and thrust to the intensive tete a tetes between the two men as they inveigle each other into a outwardly complicit buddy relationship. And the strength here is that we never really know who’s leading who into the terrible quagmire of a psychopath’s mind.

Other characters skating round the main narrative are Carolyn Lieberman (Aleksa Palladino), a fictionalised version of the anti-capital punishment lawyer who represented Bundy in his final appeals, and Hagmaier’s boss Roger Depue (Robert Patrick) who grants him access to the felon, the mild-mannered Hagmaier requesting that the crime-scene photos be withheld. Script-wise C. Robert Cargill writes under the pseudonym Kit Lesser, inspired by Hagmaier’s recollections, recordings and interview transcripts in this muscular and compellingly gripping psychological drama. MT

TRIBECO FILM FESTIVAL | JUNE 2021

 

Lady Boss: The Jackie Collins Story (2021) TriBeCa Film Festival 2021

Dir: Laura Fairrie | US Doc 96′

Success came to Jackie Collins beyond her wildest dreams. Despite negative vibes from her father and sister, the actress Joan Collins, she proved that women can make in bed – and in board room – coining the aspiration phase “Girls can do anything” and giving women supreme sexually agency to enjoy their own escapist fantasies not just on the page but on top of the sheets – or anywhere they chose.

This warm and witty portrait of the best-selling author -who books have sold more than 500 million copies worldwide – shows how steely determination and iron resolve eventually made her the toast of Hollywood, sending her rocketing into stardom in the 1990s with a string of raunchy chic-lit page-turners mostly centred on the “dangerously beautiful” sexually liberated Italian-American femme fatale Lucky Santangelo, the character in her most successful paperback ‘Hollywood Wives’. Jackie was also the self-styled author of her own life and chic outward persona. Guarding a secret world behind her well-penned pages, she remained positive in the face of multiple setbacks not least the suicide of her first husband Wallace Austin while her mother was dying of cancer. She would follow in 2015.

Growing up in leafy Hampstead the daughter of a Jewish showbiz agent Jo Collins and his Christian stay at home wife, family played a major part in Jackie’s life, according to director Laura Fairrie. The youngest of three children – her older brother and sister provide informative ballast along with her three voluable daughters and a clutch of close friends and colleagues (amongst them Tita Cahn, wife of Sammy). According to her big sister Joan – who frequently damns her with faint praise – Jackie was always quietly scribbling away in a diary as they enjoyed a glamorous party scene where she joined Joan in late 1950s Hollywood, and these notes would form the basis of her characters, Lucky was the one she aspired to most.

Jackie Collins’ paperbacks were the first to have shiny, gold-embossed covers (now so commonplace in airport booksellers) setting them apart from the usual fare, they looked glamorous and enticing. And while Fairrie’s film is rich in the ruminations of friends and family, what jumps out ahead of the crowd are the startling double-standards at play at the time (and nothing has really changed). Women claim – by the sheer number of books sold – to enjoy the sexually-charged escapes that would later feature in films like The Stud (Joan neatly writing herself into the picture as the main star, as her own career flagged). But on-stage Q&As show the complete opposite, with women castigating her openly with their comments: one opines: “your books are absolute filth”. To her credit Jackie is seen listening thoughtfully, never coming over as strident or outspoken, always perfectly poised and graceful. One amusing sequence sees hackneyed romantic novelist Barbara Cartland having a pop at Jackie, who looks on incredulously. Another less appealing scene shows how Jackie was mercilessly set up on a British chat show with an audience populated by puritanical prudes.

Although Jackie never made it into acting the film shows how she used her experiences observing the Los Angeles celebrity circus and it was Lerman who encouraged her  to finish her first book, The World is Full of Married Men, and agreeing to move the family to Los Angeles when Collins set out to crack the American market.In her own coterie of Hollywood jet-setters: Roger Moore is curiously seen making obscene gestures behind Jackie’s back during a drinks soiree but her second marriage to Tramp owner Oscar Lerman proved to be happy, fulfilling and supportive, paving the way to sealing her success in Hollywood.

The success story is only marred by Jackie’s own tragedy that she seems to have kept to herself and suddenly looms up from nowhere, according to her daughter Tara, possibly indicating a lack of self esteem at her innermost core, feeding into those early memories of feeling ‘less than’ and “a big fat lump” next to Joan. But

It was both a tireless work ethic and her survival instinct that kept Collins writing through her grief when Lerman died of prostate cancer in 1992. An extended engagement followed, to L.A. businessman Frank Calcagnini, described by her daughters and other intimates as like a gigolo character from one of her novels. “A gambler, a drugger, an alcoholic and an abuser,” is what Tita Cahn calls him. His death from a brain tumor nonetheless was another blow. When Collins herself was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer, she took a leaf out of the book of her father, who decades earlier had responded to her beloved mother’s cancer diagnosis by declaring: “We don’t use that word.”

The film’s account of Jackie’s final weeks, when she kept her illness almost entirely to herself, is quite affecting. There’s poignancy in Joan’s recollections, as well as those of business manager Laura Lizer, of a lunch at the Ritz Carlton where Jackie informed her sister of her condition. During that farewell trip home to London, she also appeared on an ITV chat show, looking gaunt but still full of spirit, just days before her death. She went out promoting her work and keeping her sorrows private.

Fairrie doesn’t attempt to rewrite history and make a case for Collins as an underappreciated literary genius. But she paints a stirring picture of a gifted storyteller and a brilliant female entrepreneur, who shrugged off the cultural snobbery and the misogynistic backlash sparked by her “scandalous” work and laughed all the way to the bank.

hanging out with Michael Caine and Sean Connery and making her friends with the powerful wives of studio bosses such as Barbara Davis and Tita Cahn who refer to her as “their best friend”. MT

Tribeca Film Festival | New York | JUNE 2021

 

The Last Film Show (2021) TriBeCa 2021

Dir/Wri: Pan Nalin | Cast: Bhavin Rabari, Richa Meena, Dipen Raval, Rahul Koli | India, Drama 110′

The Last Film Show is one of the most buzz worthy titles at this year’s TriBeCa film festival. Essentially India’s answer to Giuseppe Tournatore’s 1988 cult classic Cinema Paradiso it’s a lush nostalgic crowdpleaser beautifully written and directed by Pan Nalin whose Angry Indian Goddesses garnered acclaim as India’s first female buddy movie back in 2015.

A mischievous nine-year-old boy called Samay is the film’s pre-teen hero, a cross between between Toto’s child and teenager – as he never gets any older in this version – he’s altogether more sullen too without the endearing charm of Toto, but cheekily played by the tousled-haired Richa Meena who is savagely beaten by his father when he plays truant after discovering his secret new hobby.

In early scenes we see Samay (Rabari) and his mates hitching a ride on a train  trundling through the remote Gujarat village where he lives with his parents and younger sister, finding their way to a rundown cinema where the boy bribes the hungry projectionist (Dipen Raval channelling a much leaner Philippe Noiret) with the lunchbox prepared for him by his mother.

Samay slips into a daily routine captivated by his newfound love for cinema, offering Bapuji his lunch box in exchange for the best seat in the house – the projection booth. And when the cinema goes digital from 35mm, the rites of passage narrative sees Samay and his mates setting up their own projection suite, as their parental ties finally loosen.

Pan Nalin pays tribute to the cinema of yesterday with this vibrantly cinematic homage to the magic of film, its ability to unite and uplift seen through the eyes of a naughty young boy. MT

Tribeca Film Festival 2021 | 10 JUNE, 2021 WORLD PREMIERE

Brighton 4th (2021) Red Sea: Competition Best Film: BRIGHTON 4th

Dir.: Levan Koguashvili; Cast: Levan Tediashvili, Giorgi Tabidze, Nadezhada Mikalkova, Kakhi Kausadze, Tolepbergen Baisakalov, Yuriy Zur, Irakli Kavsadze, Irma Gachechiladze; Bulgaria/Georgia/Monaco/Russia/USA 2021, 90 min.

Georgian director Levan Koguashvili (Street Days) captures the essence of Boris Frumin’s idiosyncratic script – a fraught concoction of shattered dreams and fatherly love in exile, laced with dark humour and set in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, once a cultural melting pot for Jewish emigrants and artists and now home to Russian-speaking Georgian emigres not afraid to resort to gangster tactics to get what they want.

Soso (Tabidze) set off from Tbilisi with the best of intentions, his family lending him $15,000 to study medicine and pay Lena (Mikalkova) for a fake marriage and a Green Card. Once in New York the hot-tempered Soso develops a gambling habit, the money slipping through his fingers.

So it’s up to his father Kakhi (Tediashvli) to put things right. Arriving tired and stressed the former Olympic wrestler finds his son in a shabby boarding house, and soon devises a way of earning the money to get him back on his feet.

Amongst the motley crew of local Georgians – played by mostly non-pros – is fellow ex-wrestler Amir who has partly contributed to the problem, lending Soso the money, and now wants it back, threatening the young man and his father with a death squad. On a misty beach, with the now defunct fairground in the background, a bitter feud develops where they will eventually fight it out.

Shot by Oscar-nominated DP Phedon Papamichael (Nebraska) whose images of the decaying district fit in well with the dry absurdist narrative: the film shows how these hapless immigrants were aiming to capture the elusive American Dream. Instead, desperation sets in like the permanent fog that haunts the beach front, twinkling fairy lights the only beacon of hope they mistook for the promised land. Brilliantly acted, Brighton 4th is a homage to early Jarmush features: the greener grass of Brooklyn looking distinctly grey on the horizon. AS

Best International Narrative Feature Film: Brighton 4th, directed by Levan Koguashvili,

Best Actor in an International Narrative Feature Film: Levan Tediashvili

Best Screenplay in an International Narrative Feature Film: Boris Frumin,

TRIBECA 2021 | 14 JUNE 2021

Red Sea: Competition Best Film: BRIGHTON 4TH by Levan Koguashvili Georgia, Russia, Bulgaria, USA, Monaco.

The Lost Leonardo (2020) TriBeCa (2020)

Dir: Andreas Koefoed | Cast: Dianne Modestini, Yves Bouvier, Robert Simon, Alexander Parish, Warren Adelson, Luke Syson, Martin Kemp, Frank Zöllner, Maria Teresa Fiorio, Jacques Franck, Evan Beard, Kenny Schachter, Jerry Saltz, Robert K Wittman, Alexandra Bregman, Georgina Adam, Alison Cole

This year’s Tribeca Film Festival offers a treat for art lovers, especially those following the fortunes of “The Salvator Mundi”. Not just one but two documentaries explore the buzz surrounding the most expensive painting ever sold (at $450 million), claimed to be the work of the legendary artist Leonardo Da Vinci.

The Lost `Leonardo goes behind closed doors to dish the dirt on this ‘civilisational masterpiece’. Whereas Antoine Vitkine’s The Savior for Sale (2021) took a jaunty thriller approach to the picture’s authenticity and provenance, and its journey to acquiring that stratospheric price tag, the Danish director Andreas Koefoed takes a deep dive into the artful world world of art marketing and explores possible outcomes for the work which disappeared after being brought by a Saudi prince (surely a sacrilegious acquisition as Islam forbids any depiction of a prophet) and is now purportedly languishing in a secret location, or possibly back in the care of Yves Bouvier the world’s richest freeport owner.

Dividing into a series of Parts (I,II & III), the story is steeped in greed, one-upmanship and secrecy. The Lost Leonardo reveals how vested interests became all-important, and the painting itself almost secondary. Once again with almost the same players as Vitkine’s film, the story relies on a high profile array of compelling interviews illustrating how the work of art went from the discreet world of old masters to take on celebrity status as a ‘trophy piece’ thanks to Christie’s cunning marketing strategy. Bidders were required to transfer a percentage of the funds into a ‘goodwill’ sealed account to show their good intentions. And the bids came in thick and fast – possibly from entire countries rather than individuals, finally closing at $450 million.

But the fake tag still lingered. Art Critic Jerry Saltz was one of the painting’s main detractors, as was a stream of – mostly ignorant – twitter followers to the viral stream the Christie auction attracted. But the painting’s careful restorer Dianne Modestini stands by its authenticity, and Jean-Luc Martinez (president of the Louvre Museum) has confirmed it as a work by da Vinci in the museum’s catalogue.

As the documentary moves further away from the painting and its provenance, and more into the world of billionaires, it is revealed how vested interests are more relevant than the truth, in a film that studies each aspect of the art world and increasingly contemplates the religious, moral and ethical issues implicated by such a resonant painting.

A sinuous score by Sveinung Nygaard drives the story forward to the final – surprising – denouement in a film that is really more about social politics and one-up-manship than art history. MT

Tribeca Film Festival 2021

 

Ascension (2021)

Dir.: Jessica Kingdon | Documentary; China 2021, 97′

Mesmerising in its imagery, Ascension is a frightening impressionistic portrait of China’s growing class divide through staggering observations of labour, consumerism and wealth.

In her documentary debut Chinese-American Jessica Kingdon explores this study of Chinese superiority by those whose crafted the system. But there is also the hankering after western values and traditions, coupled with a search for perfection in every aspect of working life. Through sheer determination this stealthy dragon will soon be the number economic power on the globe – a nightmarish vision.

The film is structured in three parts, ascending through the hierarchical levels: workers running factory production, the middle class selling to aspirational consumers, and the elites revelling in a new level of hedonistic enjoyment. In traveling up the rungs of China’s social ladder, we see how each level supports and makes possible the next while recognizing the contemporary “Chinese Dream” remains an elusive fantasy for most.

Job-seekers gather in front of buses which will ferry the chosen ones to their factories and dorms. The pay is a couple of dollars an hour, but there are restrictions: Only applicants between 18 and 38 are welcome, men are not allowed to have tattoos or ear-studs – and no illegals will be accepted let alone those with a criminal record. Then there is the roll call for the HUWAI bus, under a big sign of “Work hard, and all wishes come true” the workers put their luggage away before entering the bus. Other poster slogans tell the workers “Be civilised, set good examples” before we set off for the factories.

In a plant producing water bottles from plastic, the female workers discuss the role of the manager: “It does not matter how many days you work, the manager will decide how many days you get paid for. I buy the boss lunch, right after having been paid. We all plead to buy lunch for him so he can pull some strings for us.” In a factory producing jeans, the workers are told “to work harder”, because these jeans are for export: the stitching reads “Keep America great”. In front of a factory producing sex dolls, the chorus shouts slogans like “I love my company, I love my colleagues, I love my career even more. My fate is tied to the company’s, my glory bound to the company”.

Books are given out to workers and they are exhorted to study them with diligence, since the boss spend much time on writing the advice for his workers. During work hours, role play about how to be a perfect workmate is transmitted via loud speakers. We see workers marching like soldiers in front of factories. Meanwhile in the sex doll factory, the workers earnestly discuss the colour of the nipples and the trimming of the pubic hair.

A little more up the food chain, the middle-managers are equally enthusiastic about paying good money to listen to champion managers, who have a large fan base. “Monetise your personal brand. Knowledge must be monetised”. Others have participated in a two-day course and promise “to make millions and millions” in the coming months and years. There are other expensive courses that tell you how to smile (show eight teeth), nod and hug, the latter not being very popular in China.

At a lecture by the Senior International trainer we learn “either you influence me, or I influence you”. There is a training school for butlers too: The new Chinese ruling classes want to copy their European counterparts. “You may not have much time for your personal life, or your family. The rich people do what they want to do, and you have to accept it. They are the people who pay you, no matter how much they humiliate you”.

We watch a group of young men being trained as body guards for the big bosses – unfortunately the applicants fail: the boss has been killed. A group of rich Chinese business people complain about the West calling them out for their Human Rights violations. “They don’t understand the poor have to learn to survive, there is no place for human rights, just survival.” One of the directors tells the audience of employees that “If your intelligence does not match your wealth, Chinese society has hundreds of ways to take your wealth away”.

Before a rather melancholic ending, we are reminded again “that dreams are “. Kingdon keeps the tone understated, letting images and the slogans talk. The result is a mixture of false naivety – on behalf of the upper classes – and a kind of religious fervour of obedience from the workers. But whatever the future holds, the mixture of state capitalism (after all the Party rules supreme) and expanding consumerism, which will see China overtake the USA’s GDP by five times, is a reason for trepidation – to say the least. A brilliant study of a communist nation on the march. AS

Documentary Films will release ASCENSION, one of the most acclaimed documentaries of 2021, on 14 January 2022 in UK cinemas.

THE 2021 ALBERT MAYSLES AWARD BEST NEW DOCUMENTARY DIRECTOR to JESSICA KINGDON AT Tribeca Film Festival | JUNE 2021

Perfume of Gardenias (2021) TriBeCa 2021

Dir.: Macha Colon aka Gisela Rosario Ramos; Cast: Luz Maria Rondon, Katia Maria, Blanca Rosa Rovira Burset, Carmen Milagros Ortiz Cruz, Abner Riviera; Puerto Rico/Columbia 2021, 97 min.

This dark but colourful comedy reflects the identity of a nation inured to adversity and where humour and drama always go side by side. Perfume of Gardenias is the feature debut of Puerto Rican director/writer Macha Colon, a queer multi-disciplinarian artist who studied in New York.

Vibrantly reflecting the director’s idiosyncratic personality, Perfume often indulges in shock-treatment and plays havoc with an audience used to mainstream aesthetics.

When theatre and television star Isabel (Luz Maria Rondon in her first starring role) loses her high-ranking officer husband Mario after a long illness, she has to rethink her life in the religious middle-class community. Daughter Melanie (Maria) comes to stay, but is not much of a help, treating her mother like a child. For example, she asks Isabel to look for a “plug-into-the wall piece” – to which her mother answers “it would have been easier if you asked me to look for your mobile charger.”

Melanie is soon off, promising – not very sincerely – to be back at Christmas leaving Isabel to restructure her life. She has made a great impression of organising her husband’s funeral paying respect to him in a very individual way. Her friend Toña (Riley), self-appointed leader of the small community, decides that Isabel should be the one to interview the moribund members of their circle, so they have an individual input in their own funeral arrangements.

Unfortunately, Toña has the tendency to speed up the process, before many potential clients are ready to leave this world. While Toña is already directing their funeral. Isabel has to learn to find a new approach to death and religion.

Perfume is highly entertaining – DoP Pedro Juan Lopez capturing the customs and characters, always making fun of the sacred religious undertones which dominate the middle classes: despite their reduced status they must still be seen to be the ruling spiritual light. Rondon carries the often rowdy proceedings with much dignity and elegance,  farce never overtaking the narrative. Colon, playing the enfant-terrible of her cultural scene, is often too self-indulgent, going for full blown radical shock-effects rather than a more sensible approach. Her attitude of wanting the cake and eating it somehow diminishes the underlying problems of the society she caricatures. But Colon and the brilliant ensemble certainly have their fun. AS

https://youtu.be/JzX-bJ_AwCg

SCREENING DURING Tribeca Film Festival | JUNE 13th 2021

Catch the Fair One (2021)

Dir.: Joseph Kubota Wladyka; Cast: Kali Reis, Daniel Henshall, Tiffany Chu, Kimberly Guerrero, Kevin Dunne; USA 2021, 86 min.

US director/writer Joseph Kubota Wladyka has a bold confession – as a kid he tried to sneak out of the local Arthouse where his parents had taken the family to watch Terminator.

It is no surprise then that Catch The Fair One – exec-produced by Darren Aronofsky (and co-producer by Molley Asher of Nomadland fame) is a straightforward action thriller. But nothing to be sneezed at – this is genre cinema at its best.

Feisty Native American Ex-champion boxer Kaylee (Reis) is having a tough time making a comeback as a boxer, well aware that competition is fierce from younger players. And with her unsupportive mother Jaya (Guerrero), a group therapist bereavement sufferers, and concerns that her sister has been abducted by sex traffickers, the outlook is grim.

Sleeping with a razor blade for protection means Kaylee often wakes up  with blood on the pillow. And this make-ship weapon comes in handy when she is drugged and ‘sold’ to sex trafficker by boss Bobby (Henshall). But Kaylee surprises her guard, kills him, and then sets off for Bobby’s place where she overpowers him and immobilises his son. But Bobby won’t reveal her sister’s whereabouts, so Kaylee must set off on a ‘no holds barred’ mission to track down her sibling.

DoP Ross Giardina’s images of the sleazy underbelly of the boxing gangland are spectacular, so are his flashbacks of Kaylee’s violent times in the ring. A real-life middle-weight champion, Reis is impressive in her hunt for vengeance, her hostile expression striking fear into opponents – both in and out of the ring. Wladyka has certainly watched enough classic movies of the genre: this is a masterclass in tempo and timing. But most awe-inspiring of all is his tight script in a narrative full of twists and turns that never relies on atmosphere alone to keep the audience in thrall for 86 minutes – even the running time is a salient reminder of former B-pictures, who are today ageless wonders. AS

ON RELEAE FROM 4 APRIL NATIONWISE | TRIBECA PREMIERE 2021

Blind Ambition (2021) TriBeCa 2021

Dir/Writers Warwick Ross & Rob Coe | Australia, Doc 96′

Driven by relentless optimism and a passion for their craft, four Zimbabwean refugees become South Africa’s unlikely top sommeliers, competing for the coveted title of ‘World Wine Tasting Champions’ as Zimbabwe’s first ever wine-tasting team.

Blind Ambition is a colourful and lively documentary cutting a dash through the stuffy, privileged world of the wine-tasting with its refreshing spin on South Africa’s storied winelands. Upbeat in tempo in its early scenes, the fractured narrative style gradually sobers up as it reflects on the sommeliers’ backstories of poverty and disadvantage back in their beleaguered homeland. Luminaries Jancis Robinson add insight and credibility to the film boosting its potential for a mainstream audience. MT

BLIND AMBITION will have its World Premiere in the Documentary Competition section of the TriBeCa Film Festival 2021.

 

The Death of My Two Fathers (2021) Tribeca 2021

Dir.: Sol Guy; Documentary with William Richard Guy, Sol Guy, Donna Guy, Freye Parkhouse, Soshana Guy; USA 2021, 96 min.

Finding the courage to look at photos and videos of a lost loved one is tough, even years after their death. It took Sol Guy decades to watch a batch of 20 VHS tapes his father William Richard Guy (1944-1998) had made, just after being diagnosed with terminal kidney cancer, when Sol was twenty. This labour of love and remembrance forms the subject of this mature feature debut that enabled the writer director to reach out and meet the extended family his father had founded.

William Richard was quiet a philanderer: he had five children with three women, compensating with his good looks for the bad cards fate dealt him by having to grow up in a segregated America. The KKK was still rampant in his youth, its members capturing Blacks and selling them to plantation owners in the South. Signs like “Waiting room for Coloured only, by order of the police.” were common; and demonstrators waved signs in favour of segregation: “We want a white School.” Housing was so poor, that rats simply came as standard with the accommodation.

Via Kansas City and Iowa, and a two-year stint in the army in Thailand, William ended up in Canada, working as DJ ‘Gigging Guy’. William’s partner Bobbie tells their son, “your father had girl-friends”. Eventually she had enough and moved in with Freye Parkhouse, an Englishman, would become Sol’s second father.

After Bobbie left, William went to Mexico where he met Lee Lee, another adoring white woman, before fathering his 5th child with “auntie” Jayda. William turned to social work which became his redemption, drink and drugs were out, caring for others made him a better person. For Sol, his father’s suffering was too much, he ran away not wanting to watch his deterioration. At William’s funeral, all his children met for the first time. Sol, like his father had a penchant for running away when the going got tough he left his own family in Germany, and travelled the world, before it occurred him that he was just repeated the same pattern as his dad. At the end of the feature, we see him and Bobbie caring for the dying man who by now had lost his ability to speak. On the 20th anniversary of William’s death, the family met again in Kansas City: for Sol a time to reconcile himself with his past, and re-connect with the family he once spurned

The feature was completed in the editing suite shown in the lively, handheld camera of DoP Rafe Scobey-Thal. Sometimes confusing it its timelines and points of view – both Sol and his father address their children, the difference being that the protagonists are one generation removed from each other. But Sol’s utter honesty is the redeeming feature here. Never resorting to the ‘race card’, Sol freely admits that  Black men often repeat the lives of their fathers’, leaving their women to bring up the kids. This way, Sol Guy creates a history of race and fatherhood in the USA, and a personal account of gender roles in the Black community. AS

SCREENING AT Tribeca Film Festival 2021 | 10 June 2020.

No Sudden Move (2021) Tribeca Film Festival 2021

Sex Lies and Videotape director Steven Soderbergh will present his latest highly anticipated crime drama NO SUDDEN MOVE as the centrepiece gala at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. The outdoor premiere will take place at The Battery in New York City on Friday, June 18 as part of Tribeca’s 12-day celebration to re-open New York and bring live entertainment back. Members of the cast will make an appearance at the live event.

Set in 1954 Detroit, No Sudden Move stars Don Cheadle, Benicio del Toro, David Harbour, with Ray Liotta, Jon Hamm, Amy Seimetz, Brendan Fraser, Kieran Culkin, Noah Jupe, Craig muMs Grant, Julia Fox, Frankie Shaw and Bill Duke. The story centers on a group of small-time criminals who are hired to steal what they think is a simple document. When their plan goes horribly wrong, their search for who hired them – and for what ultimate purpose – weaves them through all echelons of the race-torn, rapidly changing city.

TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL 2021 | 9 – 20 JUNE 2021

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