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THE SWIMSUIT ISSUE (Photo: Tribeca Film Festival)

April 22 – May 2


The 2009 Tribeca Film Festival is not quite at the halfway mark, but after 23 films screened so far, here is a list of films that should be added to your to-see list for both festival- and moviegoers (keep an eye on as these films as they travel the festival circuit and, hopefully, find a distributor.)


Feature films:

A hilarious political satire, In the Loop is a follow-up to the British TV series The Thick of It, expanding the power plays from Downing Street to Washington, D.C. No need to have seen these delicious characters on the small screen first to appreciate its skewering of undiplomatic diplomacy. It’s a pleasure to see Peter Capaldi, as a scatological bully, receive well-deserved big screen time for a change, while Tom Hollander, as always, shines at befuddlement. The American cast, particularly Mimi Kennedy as a Foggy Bottom schemer and James Gandolfini as her military ally, rise to their bait. It will not seem dated by the time it opens in the U.S. in July.

A Swedish/Russian co-production, Newsmakers is a shoot-’em-up political satire, an action-packed remake of Johnnie To’s more stylish Hong Kong cops vs. robbers vs. the media thriller Breaking News. It should find a wider audience. While the reality TV stunt no longer seems futuristic, the dynamic actors dominate the gritty, yet humorous goings-on that could make them rising stars in world cinema—they will doubtlessly be showing up as villains in an action franchise.

Two intimate films take place within Japanese families, but they are recognizably, exquisitely universal. Departures won the Oscar for best foreign language film in advance of its American release next month. While it is very sentimental (bring tissues), its slow exploration of the emotional benefits of a detailed Japanese funeral ritual, for the undertakers and the bereaved, is magically involving. Still Walking looks at adult siblings coming home to visit their elderly parents, much as director Hirokazu Kore-eda wrenched hearts around the world with the abandoned children in his Nobody Knows. Nothing much happens, except that the characters are touchingly human—you too won’t resist matching up the characters to your own relatives. IFC Films will release it later this year.

ABOUT ELLY (Photo: Tribeca Film Festival
About Elly
also deals intimately with family in a very specific middle-class setting. But as Iranian director Asghar Farhadi achieved with Beautiful City, culture crosses with human nature in unexpected ways. On the shores of the Caspian Sea for a holiday from Teheran, a large group of family and friends gets caught up in a tragic web of little white lies that one by one, tensely and synergistically, multiply.

The festival makes a special effort to find sports related films, and three entertaining features have found crowd-pleasing ways to incorporate sports into their characters’ unique voyages of self-discovery. Two quirkily play off of Scandinavian stereotypes of masculinity. Norway’s North may be the first road movie on snowmobile and skis. It certainly may be the first to also make the audience sympathize with a depressed, drunken pyromaniac agoraphobe.

With a hats off to The Full Monty, a group of middle-aged, under-employed recreational hockey players work through their sexism, homophobia, and family conflicts while reviving the forgotten sport of men’s synchronized swimming in Sweden’s The Swimsuit Issue. The Israeli A Matter of Size is very similar, and not just because sumo wrestlers’ outfits look a bit like Speedos. Here a group of friends work through their dieting (and relationship) issues by working out in an unusual cross-cultural outreach. While big bears running in tiny outfits in incongruous settings becomes repetitive, there is also poignancy in how they deal with mixed-messages from well-meaning family members and significant others. Both films are amusing, touching, and even educational about their sports.


Fixer: The Taking Of Ajmal Naqshbandi is a sobering look at the dangers of intrepid journalism in Afghanistan. Through an Afghani translator, guide, and facilitator, it corrects the imbalance in Western reporting, which covers captured Westerners even as the locals may face greater risks. Fixer will be shown on HBO.

In Rachel, director Simone Bitton makes a very similar point about media attention in the Middle East. That’s presumably the cynical reason why the International Solidarity Movement put a young, barely-prepared American activist in harm’s way at a 2003 protest in Gaza. Without questioning each witness’s assumptions, Bitton, Rashomon-like, gathers testimony of how Rachel Corrie died in front of an Israeli army bulldozer. Her days leading up to and each minute through the fatal confrontation are picked over, with every person sure they understand what happened.

The Burning Season is an earnest effort to demonstrate that global warming is solvable, albeit not easily. Produced with National Geographic Television, the hope that devastating forest deforestation in Indonesia can be stopped through a combination of economics, idealism, and negotiations with farmers, politicians, and investors bogs down in an over-emphasis on one particular controversial tool, the trading of carbon credits.

Contrary to any gauzy Lifetime movie about adoption, race, and families, Off and Running is the real, messy deal, an intense portrait of adolescent identity issues. While the subject matter is timely, director Nicole Opper has been close to the Klein-Cloud family for years. As Avery’s middle-school teacher, she tried to help her adjust to being the only African-American daughter of lesbians at their Jewish day school. She followed her and her brother’s progress into high school and their difficult decisions whether to contact their biological mothers.

Only When I Dance will inevitably be billed as a real-life Brazilian Billy Elliot story. Though it is never clear how Irlan and Isabela, from one of Rio de Janerio’s most notorious favelas, discovered that everything is beautiful at the ballet, their struggles to study at a local, rigorous dance school will put to shame all those suburban American kids who take such classes for granted. As insightful as the film is about racial and class issues in Brazil, director Beadie Finzi doesn’t provide enough context of the reality of international-level competitions, as thrilling as it is that these two talented young people aspire so high. Nora Lee Mandel
April 26, 2009



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