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Film Festival Roundup—2023 Tribeca Festival

Maggie Moore(s)
2023 Tribeca Festival
Through June 18, 2023
Various locations in Manhattan
As usual, this year’s Tribeca Festival—which, although it has dropped “Film” from its title, remains movie-centric—is an interesting mix of new fiction features and documentaries. Among the former, Maggie Moore(s) (opening June 16)—which follows a small-town New Mexico sheriff (Jon Hamm) flummoxed by the murders of two women with the same name within days of each other—is hampered by director John Slattery’s insistence on making this black comedy something that the Coen brothers might have rejected: absurdist atmosphere punctuated by cartoonish violence. Hamm is charming, as always, and his scenes with Tina Fey as a nosy neighbor who enters his life are the best in an alternately enjoyable and enervating movie.
The Future
Israeli writer-director Noam Kaplan’s The Future, in which Yaffa, an Arab student from the West Bank who has murdered Israel’s minister of space and tourism, is interrogated by Nurit, a scientist and profiler whose new program, The Future Project, failed to predict this act of terrorism, asks probing questions about free will, motherhood and civilization’s advances (the first Israeli moon landing is happening while the interrogation plays out). In the leads, Samar Qupty (Yaffa) and Reymond Amsalem (Nurit) give powerful portrayals of these antagonistic but strong-willed women.
The Last Night of Amore
In The Last Night of Amore, that terrific actor Pierfrancesco Favino plays a cop who, after 35 years without firing his gun, is planning to retire. Of course, fate has other plans, and he spends his final hours on the force trying to clean up a fatal mess that he’s had a hand in creating (and yes, he does fire his gun). Andrea Di Stefano directs with assured elegance, although the too-twisty script leads him and his protagonist into contrived alleys. Still, it’s a taut thriller about how underpaid policemen are and how that might make them take a questionable or unethical side job. 
The Listener
Best known for playing the dutiful boxer’s wife in Creed and its sequels, Tessa Thompson gets a chance to stretch dramatically in The Listener, Steve Buscemi’s film about a suicide helpline volunteer that has Thompson onscreen for its entirety. Although it gets repetitious and obvious at times—each call she receives brings with it a new melodramatic hook—Thompson is magnetic, often quietly so as she alternates between talking and listening: in her silent moments, she is mesmerizing. Some of the voices may sound familiar: callers are voiced by the likes of Logan Marshall-Green, Margaret Cho and Rebecca Hall.
Marinette Pichon, France’s first female soccer star, had to go to the U.S. and play for the short-lived Philadelphia Charge team in 2002 and 2003 to make money and get respect doing what she most loved, according to Virginie Verrier’s energetic, conventional but at times rousing and enraging biopic, Marinette. Pichon was gay at a time when she couldn’t safely come out, and her relationships with women culminate with Ingrid Moatti, the paraplegic basketball player whom she would marry and have a child after her retirement. Garance Marillier’s intensely physical and thoroughly honest performance carries the film, both on and off the field.
Against All Enemies
I caught a half-dozen documentaries at the festival, starting with the necessary but scary Against All Enemies, Charlie Sadoff’s incriminating study of how and why so many veterans of the U.S. armed forces gravitate toward militias and other white supremacist groups, which are looking ahead (or maybe looking forward) to what many of them consider the next civil war. Sadoff talks with military vets, generals and civilians, along with experts on the subjects (especially Kathleen Belew, who has written about the white power and paramilitary movements), who illuminate a subject that will probably be around indefinitely, unfortunately. But why Sadoff ends his film with the fact-free rantings of the unhinged Eric “General E” Braden is a real head-scratcher.
Chasing Chasing Amy
Chasing Chasing Amy is a labor of love for director Sav Rodgers who, as a queer 12-year-old, watched Kevin Smith’s Chasing Amy over and over again—years later, Rodgers questions not only the film’s premise (a lesbian is “won over” by the perfect straight guy) but also his own relationship to it and how he feels now compared to when he was a confused youngster. Rodgers actually gets Smith himself to discuss his film’s legacy, and they become friends; Guinevere Turner, who co-wrote and starred in the breakthrough lesbian film Go Fish back when Smith made Amy, refreshingly gives her witty take on it as well, and Amy star Joey Lauren Adams opens up more candidly than maybe even she would have thought. Chasing Chasing Amy is, when all is said and done, a more important personal film than Smith’s sincere but gravely flawed original.
It's Basic
Guaranteed Basic Income, or GBI, which has been touted by Martin Luther King, Richard Nixon and, more recently, presidential candidate Andrew Yang, has yet to be part of the mainstream political and economic discourse. But, as director Marc Levin shows in his succinct documentary, It’s Basic, things are slowly changing. Levin follows several mayors who have begun a pilot program in their local municipalities as well as people who have received the monthly payments—these are not the “lazy” poor but people who are making the best of their financial boost. Just maybe, It’s Basic suggests, GBI’s time has come.
In Richland, director Irene Lusztig visits the eponymous town in Washington State that sprang up near the Hanford nuclear site for workers in WWII’s Manhattan Project who made weapons-grade plutonium to live with their families—and discovers an essential contradiction: pride in the nuclear accomplishments of 80 years ago and a sense that a reckoning with the past is overdue, i.e., the town was built on Native land. Lusztig chronicles those who are unapologetic about the town’s history (the high school football team still wears uniforms emblazoned with a mushroom cloud) and those who want to look to the future (environmental workers resoil areas that used to be contaminated by nuclear material). Most movingly, a Japanese woman whose grandparents were killed by the atom bomb in 1945 hangs a symbolic recreation of that weapon of mass destruction (see above photo) that perfectly encapsulates the subject’s complexities.
Rock Hudson—All That Heaven Allowed
Hollywood’s ultimate masculine heartthrob, Rock Hudson broke both women’s and men’s hearts in a career that encompassed movies in the 50s and 60s and TV series in the ’70s and ’80s—then was the first celebrity to die during the early years of AIDS, in 1985. Stephen Kijak’s illustrative documentary Rock Hudson—All That Heaven Allowed (premieres June 28 on MAX) recounts how the Hollywood machine ensured that gay actors remained in the closet—Hudson even had a marriage of convenience to his agent’s assistant for a few years—and also delves unblinkingly into the actor’s same-sex relationships, a secret he kept from fans until he was on his death bed. In the process, Kijak attacks the hypocrisy of the entertainment industry that still exists, in some form, today.
Ron Delsener Presents
Anyone who went to rock concerts in the New York City area since the late ’60s has probably noticed “Ron Delsener Presents” on the ticket—and this entertaining documentary, also titled Ron Delsener Presents and directed by Sting’s son, Jake Sumner, follows Delsener’s storied career as a concert promoter, from his early days working on the Beatles’ 1964 appearance in Forest Hills, through concerts at the Fillmore and the Palladium through today, where, at 85, he’s still going strong, sometimes attending several shows a night and keeping abreast everything he can. Sumner not only speaks with Delsener himself, his wife, and his children—and shows copious archival footage from many iconic concerts—but also colleagues from the business and an array of stars who touchingly remember his guiding hand, from Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel to Patti Smith and Paul Simon.

DOC NYC 2022 Roundup

DOC NYC 2022
Online streaming, in-person screenings in New York City
Through November 27, 2022
The annual documentary series DOC NYC—which returned to movie theaters after being relegated to online only in 2020—again includes the option of online watching for those who can’t get to the in-person screenings in Manhattan; anyone can access the films from anywhere through November 27.

As always, there are dozens of features and shorts to pick through; of the features I saw, most covered the art and entertainment world. Ennio Morricone, the great Italian film composer, is the subject of Giuseppe Tornatore’s loving Ennio, a 2-1/2 hour exploration of the incredible career of an artist who worked with so many different directors—including Sergio Leone, Marco Bellocchio,  Bernardo Bertolucci Roland Joffe and Tornatore himself, for whom Morricone composed the music for his international breakthrough, Cinema Paradiso—and in so many different styles, from conservative to postmodern, that it’s exhilarating to simply watch Morricone himself discuss his music so casually and charmingly. Of course, the film is also crammed with paeans from adoring colleagues and admirers, including Bellocchio, Clint Eastwood and Oliver Stone to Pat Metheny, Hans Zimmer and even Bruce Springsteen.
The End of the World

In The End of the World, Vermont’s progressive Bennington College is the locale for a snappy if slick journey through the memories of some of the trendy writers (Brett Easton Ellis, Jay McInerney, Donna Tartt) who attended the school, which was an literary hot spot for decades until it became a scholastic shadow of its former self following sex scandals and subsequent budget slashing. 
Splice Here—A Projected Journey

A very entertaining slice of movie history, Australian director Rob Murphy’s Splice Here—A Projected Journey takes us through decades of memories of theater projectionists (of which Murphy is one), who proudly discuss the unbeatable sensation of watching films on huge screens, especially in comparison to the chopped-up pan-and-scan versions so many of them grew up watching on television. When Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight is shot in 70mm, a cinema in a small Australian town scrambles to have a workable projector to be able to screen it. For film buffs, Splice Here is manna from heaven.
Immediate Family

In Immediate Family, director Denny Tedesco follows the long and winding careers of the best session musicians of the rock era—drummer Russ Kunkel, bassist Lee Sklar, and guitarists Danny Kortchmar and Waddy Wachtel—as they get together to form the group Immediate Family, playing many of the songs they originally recorded. All four men (along with Steve Postel, another longtime session player who’s part of the band) have wonderful stories about working with the likes of Jackson Browne, Don Henley, Linda Ronstadt, Carole King and James Taylor, all of whom also chip in with revealing anecdotes of their own. 
Idina Menzel—Which Way to the Stage?

Idina Menzel—Which Way to the Stage?, director Anne McCabe’s portrait of the Tony-winning Broadway star on tour supporting Josh Groban, culminates with the singer’s first-ever solo appearance at Madison Square Garden, the ultimate performance space for any native New Yorker (which she is). By turns funny and whimsical as well as serious and introspective, Menzel provides behind the scenes glimpses of a veteran performer showing her nerves at what she’s taking on and the working mom’s protectiveness of her teenage son, who travels with her.
In the Company of Rose

In the Company of Rose is director James Lapine’s valentine to Rose Styron, the still-effervescent and talkative 90ish widow of author William Styron, who wrote the classic novels The Adventures of Nat Turner and Sophie’s Choice. Rose, an accomplished poet and writer herself, is unfailingly honest as well as amusing as she recounts how she and William met, their rocky marriage and difficulties raising a family—their grown children confirm this—and Lapine (who collaborated on several shows with Stephen Sondheim and so knows the prickliness of great artists) keeps Rose chatting, to our benefit.
1946: The Mistranslation That Shifted a Culture

Other DOC NYC tries tackled provocative subject matter that touched the personal and the political. The revelation that one word in the Bible was mistranslated to make homosexuality the bigoted focus of religious zealots is the fascinating subject of 1946: The Mistranslation That Shifted a Culture, director Sharon “Rocky” Roggio’s revelatory examination that tracks that occurrence to her title’s year. With expert testimony from scholars who burrow into the original languages and explain why and how bible thumpers got their preferred interpretation, 1946 unveils a headshaking moral tragedy. 
The Corridors of Power
It’s tough to condense decades of American foreign policy failures into a gripping narrative, but director Dror Moreh achieves just that in The Corridors of Power, a spellbinding examination of how the U.S. has only paid lip service to stopping genocide worldwide over the past several decades. Moreh talks with seemingly nearly every American diplomat involved, from Henry Kissinger, Madeline Albright and Colin Powell to James Baker, Lesley Clark and Samantha Power, and their firsthand insights (especially Power’s), along with well-chosen archival footage, give the film its sadly still-relevant substance. 
Last Flight Home
Depicting the last days of her father, 92-year-old Eli, Ondi Timoner’s Last Flight Home is as heartbreaking as any film I’ve seen. But despite its profoundly sorrowful subject matter, Timoner’s film is so much more than merely heart tugging. Dad Eli uses California’s End of Life Option law to die on his own terms, while daughter Ondi unflinchingly records the emotionally fraught days that the entire family deals with once he sets things in motion. As desperately saddening as the subject matter is, Last Flight Home never gets maudlin. Eli’s the dynamic center of the family, even while being bed-ridden, and has words of wisdom for everyone, sometimes laced with sardonic quips. The final takeaway in Ondi Timoner’s insightful documentary is a family bound by love and commitment remaining united through difficulties they wouldn’t wish on anyone else.

Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2022

Between to Worlds
Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2022
Through March 16, 2022
Walter Reade Theater, 165 West 65th Street, New York, NY
In March 2020, Film at Lincoln Center was in the midst of its annual Rendez-Vous with French Cinema series when it was shuttered by COVID. Last year, Rendez-Vous returned in a hybrid form, with in-person screenings complemented by streaming, which allowed French film fans, near and far, to see their favorites without leaving the house. Now, in 2022, as things get back to what might charitably be considered comparatively normal, Rendez-Vous has returned for its 27th season, back in its fully in-theater model.
Of the series’ 23 films—many New York premieres and a classic by director Jacques Becker, 1954’s Touchez pas au grisbi—I got to see ten (three of those already have a distributor and are scheduled to be released at some point this year). 


Films about women taking on others’ identities make for a fascinating sidebar. In Emmanuel Carrère’s Between Two Worlds (Cohen Media Group, to be released later this year), Juliette Binoche gives her usual intensely committed performance as Marianne Winckler, a writer posing an an unemployed divorcee who takes a menial cleaning job in order to detail an exposé about corrupt practices. Based on investigative journalist Florence Aubenas’ book—a French bestseller when it was published in 2010—Binoche and Carrère have created an incisive look at a harrowing, mainly women’s problem.
Madeleine Collins
For most of Antoine Barraud’s mysterious movie, the viewer won’t understand why it’s titled Madeleine Collins: Virginie Efira is spectacular as Judith, a professional with one family in France and another in Switzerland. Slowly, Barraud reveals why Judith lives a double life, and the culmination of this slow-burn psychological study is devastating, dramatized with steely resolve by Efira’s performance and Barraud’s insightful writing and precise direction.
Secret Name
Set during World War I, Aurélia Georges’ Secret Name follows Nélie, a young nurse at the front who hatches an audacious scheme to take the place of Rose, whom she believes is killed in an attack, to become reader and confidante to Eléonore, an elderly widow. Nélie soon becomes a member of the family until Rose, who has survived, tries to disrupt her scheme. With understanding and subtlety, Georges has made a multilayered exploration of identity, lost and found, with fantastic acting by Lyna Khoudri, remarkably poised as Nélie, the ageless Sabine Azema as Eléonore and Maud Wyler as Rose.
Gallant Indies
Gallant Indies (Distrib Films US, to be released later this year), a bracing, exhilarating documentary by director Philippe Béziat, chronicles the sweeping production of French baroque composer Jean-Philippe Rameau’s epic opera Indes galantes at the Paris Opera in 2019, staged by director Clément Cogitore and choreographer Bintou Dembélé, who push back against racist tropes in the story by casting dancers and performers of all genres and backgrounds to create a work that transcends all categories. 
The Horizon
Environmental activism is the theme of The Horizon, an intelligent character study about 18-year-old Adja, aloof and uninterested in anything outside her friends, but who finds herself changed when she falls for a guy who’s part of a local group of young activists. Soon she is tagging along and participating in more dangerous protests, and finds her life changing irrevocably. Emilie Carpentier’s direction is spot-on, and Tracy Gotoas’ Adja is a powerhouse at the movie’s center.
Our Boys
Our Boys is Rachel Lang’s unflinching look at how war destroys relationships alongside bodies and minds, as French soldiers at an outpost in Corsica deal with being away from their wives and girlfriends back home, who are actually the focus of Lang’s penetrating but thoughtful gaze. Louis Garrel and Aleksandr Kuznetsov are fine as the soldiers, but Camille Cottin (as Garrel’s wife) and especially Ina Marija Bartaité (as Kuznetsov’s fiancée) give performances of touching elegance.
Petite Solange
Petite Solange, an exquisitely crafted character study, is writer-director Axelle Ropert’s insightful glimpse at Solange, a teenager unmoored from her family, friends and school following her parents’ sudden separation and divorce. Buoyed by the exceptional acting of young Jade Springer as Solange, Ropert’s engaging coming-of-age film nods to Francois Truffaut’s classic debut, 1959’s The 400 Blows, with its own ambiguous final freeze-frame.
A Tale of Love and Desire
Leyla Bouzid’s A Tale of Love and Desire (Distrib Films US, to be released later this year) threads the needle between modern and traditional in a sensitive love story of people who meet in an Arab poetry class: Ahmed is a conservative young Algerian while Farah is a modern young Turnisian. Bouzid explores with great resourcefulness and tact how differences in outlook threaten to torpedo their relationship, but she’s after something deeper: a thoughtful, poetic study of the diversity of Arab cultures in the heart of thriving metropolitan Paris. There are two wonderful performances at the film’s center: Sami Outalbali (Ahmed) and newcomer Zbeida Belhajamor (Farah).
Bruno Reidal—Confessions of a Murderer
Bruno Reidal—Confessions of a Murderer follows the eponymous teen in early 1900s France who kills a young child in cold blood, even decapitating him in a grisly manner. This sordid true story is brought to the screen by director Vincent Le Port, who never shies away from the more unpleasant parts of Bruno’s depressing existence—there are a few ugly moments that however need to be shown—and his psychologically acute direction is complemented by Dimitri Doré’s miraculous portrayal of Bruno as a confused young man, not a mere monster.
Pampered, aging hill actor Georges has a new assistant, Aïssa, a female wrestler, and Constance Meyer’s Robust runs through all the predictable situations of this odd couple to arrive at a familiar but entertaining vibe, mainly thanks to the inspired pairing of Gérard Depardieu—who gives an amusingly self-aware performance—and Déborah Lukumuena, whose empathetic presence prevents it from ever getting too sappy.

2021 Tribeca Film Festival Roundup

20th Tribeca Film Festival 
New York, NY 
June 9-20, 2021
After going completely remote in 2020, the Tribeca Film Festival returned to public showings—all outdoors—in various locations throughout New York City, along with online screenings. But the festival remains a base to launch worthy documentaries, as it has for the past couple of decades.
Kubrick by Kubrick

By far the most memorable doc at this year’s fest was Kubrick by Kubrick, Gregory Munro’s too-short exploration of the greatest American director’s philosophies of filmmaking, spoken by Kubrick himself in a series of interviews conducted by the great French critic Michel Ciment over a 30-year span. As we listen to Kubrick’s Bronx-accented voice discuss matters of technique and subject matter in his unpretentious and straightforward way, Munro shows key moments from several of Kubrick’s classics, from Dr. Strangelove and 2001 to A Clockwork Orange and The Shining.
Interspersed are pithy comments by close Kubrick collaborators like set designer Ken Adam, Steadicam operator Garrett Brown, actors Malcolm McDowell and Lee Ermey and actresses Marisa Berenson and Shelley Duvall, as well as his widow Christiane. At only 73 minutes, Kubrick by Kubrick leaves us wanting a lot more—perhaps there’s a Kubrick by Kubrick 2 in our future? 
The Conductor
In The Conductor, Bernadette Wegenstein gains unprecedented access to Marin Alsop, protégée of the legendary Leonard Bernstein and one of the first women to become music director of a major American orchestra (although JoAnn Falletta, music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic since 1999, also deserves to be in this conversation).
Alsop engagingly and candidly describes her long and fraught journey from New York to leading conductor on world stages; her mentoring student conductors is given ample screen time. Wegenstein makes good use of vintage footage of Alsop as a child, a student and a young conductor, showing how her tenacity and talent gained her a foothold in the notoriously sexist and misogynistic classical world.

Winner of the festival’s best documentary award, Jessica Kingdon’s Ascension is an eye-opening look at how modern China grooms—literally and figuratively—its people for success in a way that is both warning and cautionary tale. In a series of pointed vignettes astonishing in their breadth and level of access (how did Kingdon get the OK to film so much of this?), we watch a workshop in which young women learn etiquette in English and how to eat western foods properly, factory workers making sex dolls, young men rehearsing filming how-to videos in front of the camera, and aspiring entrepreneurs discussing how many millions they expect to make soon.
In her brilliantly observational style, Kingdon shows the complexity of the “Chinese dream”—from the working poor to the middle-class to the newly affluent—in a nation that remains stubbornly authoritarian as it transforms into a capitalist juggernaut. 
The Neutral Ground

The Neutral Ground (on PBS July 5; opens in select markets in July), comedian CJ Hunt attacks the loaded question of Confederate monuments, starting with his hometown of New Orleans. The question is: why do so many benighted people defend keeping monuments in the name of “history”?
Hunt explores these and other reactions up to a point: his film is more successful as a guide through the historical wreckage of white supremacy and why it’s been so difficult to take the monuments down over the years. Always interesting if only occasionally illuminating, The Neutral Ground works best as a primer about a subject that, unfortunately, will likely remain with us for the foreseeable future.
Love Spreads

Among the festival’s fiction features, Love Spreads is a messy, self-indulgent drama about messy, self-indulgent artists: an all-female band is at a fabled, remote studio to record the follow-up to its smash debut, but the leader and main songwriter, Kelly, finds herself blocked.
Writer-director Jamie Adams records the frustrations and irritations that mount among the women and their manager, Mick—including the guitarist’s departure and the arrival of a replacement, played with gusto by the always winning Eiza González —but very little of it feels organic or insightful. There’s also a fine portrayal of Kelly’s insecurity by Alia Shawkat in an otherwise familiar music tale that spreads itself thin.
In the Heights

Finally, there’s In the Heights (in theaters and on HBO Max), which opened the festival with screenings in all five city boroughs. Director Jon M. Chu’s exuberantly sentimental adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s breakthrough stage musical—which hit Broadway in 2008—retains much of its street vibe, especially the aura of Miranda’s musical mélange of hip-hop, musical theater and salsa in upper Manhattan. But at 143 minutes, the movie suffers from repetitiveness, including too many meandering storylines and climaxes.
The cast is mainly good: Olga Merediz, the only major Broadway cast member to reprise her role, is a warm Claudia; Anthony Ramos takes on Miranda’s lead role of Usnavi with aplomb; and fresh-faced Leslie Grace is a better Nina than Mandy Gonzalez was onstage. As the vivacious Vanessa, Melissa Barberra is nearly the equal of the electrifying Karen Olivo on Broadway. Miranda himself is in fine fettle as Piragüero, the ice vendor, and Christopher Jackson—also an original cast member—has an amusing cameo as the Mister Softee driver.

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