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2009 Tribeca Film Festival Part 3: Family Ties Around the World

Over its eight years, the festival has been leaning more towards audience friendly films from around the world that do not yet have commercial distribution. Particularly appealing this year were those that revealed that no matter the age, we are all still part of a family.

The Bronx was definitely in the house to provide the enthusiastic cheers that won the amusing City Island the Audience Award. Like a French farce on the most picturesque shore of that borough, writer/director Raymond De Felitta (Two Family House) hides and reveals family secrets behind heavy New York accents, with Andy Garcia spoofing his Mafia roles. The attractive younger generation features his daughter Dominik García-Lorido playing his on-screen daughter, hunky Steven Strait, and Ezra Miller, who could be the next Michael Cera.

A character like the narcoleptic sister in the Algerian Masquerades would usually be grist for farce. Instead, the gossip, misunderstandings, mistaken identities, and Pyramus-and-Thisbe-like romance her condition sets off are handled with charming humor and affection for village life. (She receives crucial help from her grandmother, who knows her granddaughter really is crazy when she agrees to obey men). In Pandora’s Box, a Turkish family gradually comes to grips with their mother’s Alzheimer’s. Nonagenarian Tsilla Chelton beautifully brings her long experience as a preeminent Ionesco interpreter to the comic and touching absurdities of dealing with adult children and a rebellious grandson who can only see her through the prism of their own problems.

Kevin Kline & Sandrine Bonnaire in QUEEN TO PLAY (Photo: Tribeca Film Festival)
A mother rebels and her means to blossoming liberation is chess in Queen to Play, a lovely showcase for expressive French actress Sandrine Bonnaire. Though not included in the Tribeca/ESPN Sports Film Festival, writer/director Caroline Bottaro’s first feature applies the against-all-odds heroics to a quiet hotel maid in Corsica, who defies her longshoreman husband to determinedly learn chess, and more, from reclusive expat Kevin Kline (in his French-language debut).

Vegas: Based on a True Story powerfully captures just how little it can take for a family barely holding it together to implode. A husband and wife recover from gambling addictions by sticking astringently to the straight and narrow with their 12-year-old son. They live just on the edge of town, but the siren call of Sin City looms ominously in the distance. They fall prey to destructive manipulations that are both real and freighted with symbolism of today’s toxic assets.

In Partly Private, winner of the Best New York Documentary Award, Israeli-born, New York City-based director Danae Elon (Another Road Home) humorously looks at the international and cross-cultural debates about circumcision. Though she superficially covers most of the same issues as in The Quest for the Missing Piece (told from a gay man's perspective), she adds her own personal nervousness as a pregnant woman torn between her parents’ socialist secularism and her husband’s Algerian-Jewish traditions.  

From a different part of Brooklyn, another young woman sets out to retrace her grandfather’s life and bank account from pre-1948 Palestine in Salt of This Sea, the debut feature by Annemarie Jacir, daringly filmed on location on both sides of the separation wall. Thwarted by both the Israeli and Palestinian Authority bureaucracies, Soraya (spoken-word artist Suheir Hammad) recruits new local friends to defy the authorities to create a sense of identity and freedom. The actors make their characters’ naiveté believable and tragically moving. (Jacir is now banned from Palestine though this was Palestine’s entry last year for the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award.)

The most intriguing romances in the festival were those set within complicated webs of  families and connections. Seven Minutes in Heaven applies a Sliding Doors-like premise of alternative possibilities to fill in the mysterious gaps of a young Israeli woman’s memories after a bomb blast. Although a heightened portrait of grief, it trails into sentimentality. In the South Korean My Dear Enemy, a long night’s journey into a quest for a debt payment leads a tense young woman to revelations about how her genial ex’s not-so-wonderful life has touched a surprisingly broad swath of family and society. (A Hollywood remake would have a considerably less open-ended conclusion.)

Mothers play delightfully key roles in two adorably quirky romantic films. Here and There won the New York Narrative Award. However, the heart of the film is in writer/director Darko Lungulov’s native Belgrade, Serbia, the home of Olga (Mirjana Karanovic of Grbavica and Fraulein), the mother of a son stuck back in New York. She plays host to her son’s friend, a grumpy New York jazz musician. Olga not only lights up her guests life but the screen as well. In Original, a serious young man (the ingenuous Harpo Marx-like Sverrir Gudnason) will do anything not to be like his crazy mother by trying to be normal—until friends convince him that normal will get him nowhere. With his loyalty to his mother and family restored, the comic twists and turns into magic realism are hilariously unpredictable. The comedy lives up to its name. Nora Lee Mandel
May 9, 2009

 2009 Tribeca Film Festival, Part 1

 2009 Tribeca Film Festival, Part 2



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